Achieving Disarmament: Strengths and Weaknesses of International NGOs

The author stresses the importance of NGOs working collectively to reduce risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation, and highlights how one program, the Strategic Concept for the Removal of Arms and Proliferation (SCRAP), can effectively create the needed synergy between all such NGO’s, while complimenting other existing campaigns to end the risks associated with nuclear weapons proliferation.


By Akhshid Javid,6th December, 2015


The Rise of the Global Movement for Disarmament 

Since 1945, nuclear disarmament has been a concern for many organizations around the world.  Moreover, there have been strong waves of public support for disbandment of nuclear weapons across the globe over the last 50 years.

Continue reading

Pyongyang’s Quandary

The provocative rhetoric coming from North Korea could hide a faint sense of desperation.


By Gulshan Roy, 3rd April, 2013

On Saturday 30th March, a statement released by the highest North Korean command warned that it was entering “a state of war” with its feuding southern neighbour. As Koreans on both sides watched the unfolding drama being broadcast on every major international television news channel, Mr Kim Jong-un managed to conjure an even more spectacular artifice by releasing photographs of him discussing with his senior commanders under the backdrop of a ‘Plan to Hit the U.S Mainland’ written in bold. News channels are not often presented with opportunities for such great TV. Yet, Mr Kim’s moment of teeth-showing turned into bathos once it reached its intended audience: instead of injecting any sense of panic on the other side of the Pacific, the images received in Washington were swiftly turned into material fit for some banter over bourbon.

Continue reading

Iran: The Waiting Game

As talks have resumed over Iran’s nuclear program in Almaty, the failure of the sanctions regime raises serious questions about mainstream diplomatic commonplaces. Far from being the favour it is portrayed to be, the rapprochement effort towards Tehran from the P5+1 is borne out of necessity.


By Gulshan Roy, 8th March 2013

“Iran won’t retreat one iota from its nuclear program” was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s declaration on Iranian national television on the 9th of November 2011. The Iranian President is used to defiant flourishes as evidenced by his repeated promises to ‘finish off’ Israel. To his credit, however, his resolve not to sink in the face of gradually increasing pressure from the West has been steadfast. His country is weathering a deadly sanctions regime that has all but crippled the Iranian economy. Last week, the two sides met in Almaty, Kazakhstan in a desperate attempt to salvage the worsening situation. And as a beaming Mr Ali Baqeri (Iran’s deputy chief negotiator) left the fruitless round of negotiations with the P5+1 (the five permanent Security Council members and Germany), sanction-fanatics in the West were uncomfortably loosening their ties and scratching their moist foreheads. They ought to.

Continue reading

Resolving Iran’s nuclear stand-off with the west

By Alireza Ahmadian, 7th August, 2012

The two days of talks in Moscow between the representative of P5+1 (US, UK, China, France, Russia and Germany) led by Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative and Dr. Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, ended with no major breakthrough and the possibility of further negotiations in Istanbul in July. “It remains clear that there are significant gaps between the substance of the two positions,” commented Ashton.

Concerned about uranium enrichment in Iran and the possibility of weaponization of its nuclear programme, the United Nations Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions, resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929 on Iran asking the country to “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.” Moreover, The US House of Representative passed a resolution on May 11, 2012  asking for “the full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.” Jalili, on the other hand, has repeatedly stated  that “enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes in all levels is an inalienable right.”

Continue reading

Iran Should Not Allow the Talks to Be a “Success” If …

In this post, Shirin Shafaie offers a policy recommendation paper for Iran ahead of the Moscow talks between the P5+1 and Iran.


By Shirin Shafaie

Iran should not allow the Moscow talks (18 June, 2012) to be announced, declared or referred to as “successful”, “positive”, “constructive” or even “promising” by the other party or the Western media in the absence of absolutely concrete and tangible concessions from the West in terms of sanctions relief and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA. I explain why.

Continue reading

Addressing the Asymmetry in Negotiations between Iran and P5+1: a critical review of Oxford Research Group’s briefing

In this article, the author presents a critical review of the briefing, “Iran´s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock”, published by the Oxford Research Group on 1 May 2012. As negotiations over Iran´s nuclear programme stall, the author criticises the lack of neutrality of the briefing by the Oxford-based think tank, and calls for a review of the same in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, when pro-war think tanks played a key role in manufacturing consent for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.


By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 10 July 2012

The Oxford Research Group’s briefing, Iran’s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock (1 May 2012) [1], published before the second round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (permanent Security Council and Germany) in Baghdad on 23 May, whilst proposing some positive principles for a successful outcome of the negotiations – such as Iran’s right to enrichment, “reciprocity”, “defining endgame”, and “taking regime change off the table” – suffers serious drawbacks, which have become even more glaringly clear with the result of the recent Moscow negotiations.

Continue reading

Non-Proliferation: Are we heading in the right direction?

In this article, the author reports from the first session of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee conference being held in Vienna, Austria. The international community, including Iran and the US, have gathered at the IAEA headquarters to discuss next steps while non-participants Israel, India and Pakistan follow the progress of the conference from the comforts of distance.


By David J. Franco, 2nd May, 2012

Ignored by the mainstream media, the world’s nuclear weapons and energy problems are being tackled by the international community gathered in Vienna. Attended by a gallant but tiny band of NGOs the meeting witnesses states from Iran to the US engaged in the debate, while the non-participants Israel, Pakistan and India cast a shadow over the proceedings.

On Monday, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, of the Philippines, declared open the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Ambassador Cabactulan led a successful process that culminated in the 2010 NPT Action Plan agreed with the consensus of all states parties to the NPT. After his opening statement, in which he emphasized the need to build upon pass success, Ambassador Cabactulan declared elected Ambassador Peter Woolcott, of Australia, as the Chair-designate for the first session of the 2015 NPT review conference cycle.

Continue reading

Time to reframe the debate on the Iranian nuclear programme

In this article, Paul Ingram* argues it is time to reframe debates on the Iranian nuclear programme. If we want to solve the current impasse, we need to move from a pervasive rhetoric based on security threats and mutual accusations to a cooperative framework more apt for negotiations. 


By Paul Ingram, 25th April, 2012

All too often the story around the Iranian nuclear issue is framed as our effort to contain the wild ambitions of a delinquent revolutionary state that with nuclear weapons given half a chance will threaten the stability of the world. This frame sticks for two key reasons: firstly because it plays into some of our greatest fears, and second, because there is enough of a hint of truth to it that people forget the qualifications, the underlying causes and the contrary evidence. In short, we fail in the face of complexity to understand the challenge, and the role of both sides in creating it. And in fact, many of the accusations made against Iran are mirrored in Tehran in things said about the West.

Western intelligence agencies continue to confirm that there is no strong evidence to back up the claim that Iran is engaged in a technical sprint to fulfil an ‘ambition to attain nukes’. Postulating reasons why Iran might want such capabilities is all very well, but such approaches are fraught with analytical and cultural traps. There are equally persuasive explanations for Iran’s programme that it would be equally dangerous to depend upon, such as the idea that Iran is caught up in an effort to demonstrate its modernity through the development of cutting-edge technologies, or that it is pursuing an energy-mix that both brings in foreign exchange and provides for an ever-increasing energy-hungry economy. The truth probably includes a balance of many explanations, including the fact that its technology development gives the administration a future option for nuclear deployment that may be seen as valuable in itself.

The talks in Istanbul last weekend between the E3+3 and Iran were best summed up by Guardian journalist Julian Borger as a play for a score draw, at least for now. Emerging without recriminations was in itself an achievement. But of course the challenge is how we get beyond this to reaching more substantive agreement in Baghdad on 23 May, when there have been so many factors in the way. Over the coming months, Iran faces some pretty severe additional sanctions, on top of crippling ones recently imposed. When previously people may have accused them of playing for time this is no longer be the case. In fact if anything it was Catherine Ashton, lacking a mandate, who last Saturday was playing for time when Jalili was looking for a deal that would soften impending sanctions. The best way of securing stocks of material in Iran is by negotiating access, not by threats, which only provide Iran an incentive to continue. Israeli protests over Iran’s increasing ‘immunity’ to attack ignores the fact that Iran has every right to protect themselves against illegal military threats. As Peter Jenkins, former UK Ambassador to the IAEA puts it, Iran bought itself immunity from attack by being a member of the United Nations and a signed up member of the NPT. Israeli military threats only make it more difficult for Iranian politicians and diplomats to sell any deal to their constituents.

There are plenty of frameworks out there to negotiate on that take the parties step-by-step in the direction of a technical agreements whilst the underlying trust essential to lasting improvement can be built up. Indeed, this is the only approach that holds any promise of working in negotiations. It will require parties to drop preconditions and talk with a view to understanding the other side’s perspective. Each step will need to involve net gains for both sides, as well as a clear sense of where the process is going. There will need to be maximum exploitation of common interests in other security areas – such as counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics activities. Positive signals such as those given recently by both President Obama and Ayatollah Khameini will need reflection, and negative, hostile rhetoric scaled back.

But we will also, in parallel have to tackle some of the deep-seated fears and attitudes that prevent progress. One such on the western side is a deep-seated exceptionalism around sovereignty that pervades the majority view. How much do we all share the attitude that we have a right to demand unlimited access and control over others’ nuclear programmes whenever we have our own suspicions? We have every reason to develop international systems based upon agreement and universal application, but we cannot force others into agreements, and certainly not those we are not willing to submit ourselves to. As a nuclear weapon state Britain is unwilling to seriously consider abandoning the highly expensive practice of keeping a nuclear submarine at sea at all times, or to share such a practice with France, for example, because we have such a powerful attachment to the concept of British sovereignty based upon the ability to threaten massive retaliation against any other state on the planet. This is bound to drive proliferation, sooner or later. Regionally, the inconsistent focus on Iran without any clear plan to address Israeli possession of a nuclear arsenal cannot be justified by a legalistic appeal to Israel’s non-membership of the NPT. As non-signatories the Israelis may not be directly breaking the law, but if we are to claim that the health of the international community depends upon a strong ethic of non-proliferation, then Israel cannot remain an out-law.

We cannot continue to have partial approaches to dangerous technologies. Did you know that India’s successful missile test this week broke a UN Security Council resolution, just as North Korea’s failed one last week did? Few have reported it.

On the Iranian side, it’s time they evolved the rather male pig-headed pride so ably illustrated in last year’s prize-winning film ‘the Separation’, an approach that too often characterises (though not uniquely) Iranian diplomacy and politics. Standing on one’s rights or maintaining an inflexible position can harm one’s own interests in fundamental ways, and destroy one’s position within the community, international or otherwise. International communities require trust, empathy and reassurance. They also depend upon a level of transparency and responsibility. Iranians have to recognise that for a variety of reasons they have a long way to go to build the trust of their neighbours, the sort of trust that will enable them to overcome the isolation they have suffered, isolation that threatens to deepen as the Syrian government goes down and their allies in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories start to look elsewhere for sponsorship in the context of the Arab Spring.

But the deeper choices lie in the international community’s relationship to nuclear deterrence, and how power has in the past been mediated by possession of nuclear arsenals. If we cannot break free from Cold War theologies that place such magical powers in the possession of nuclear weapons, we will only have ourselves to blame when the weapons spread, and those we fear most acquire the magic we have sought to invoke in defence of our privileged positions.

The views expressed in this article solely reflect Paul Ingram’s personal perspective.

____________________________________________________________________________________

*About the author: Paul Ingram is Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) where he develops BASIC’s long-term strategy to help reduce global nuclear dangers through disarmament and collaborative non-proliferation, coordinating operations in London and Washington. He is also a weekly talk-show host on Iranian TV. This article was first published in Open Democracy on 23 April 2012 (the original article can be accessed here).

Will Iran be accorded its rightful place in the world?

In an inspiring analysis, Peter Jenkins analyses the current state of affairs over Iran’s nuclear file in advance of the April 14 meeting in Istanbul between members of the international community (the P-5 + Germany and the EU) and Iran. Jenkins warns that the scope for any process on nuclear talks with Iran to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Furthermore, he sees the wider political realities surrounding the Iranian case as ‘disturbing’ and calls for a more active role from the BRICS, especially India, in helping resolve the conflict. Iran’s nuclear programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift, he argues, and the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia.

This article was first published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations on 10 April under the title ‘Iran: An opportunity for BRICS‘.


By Peter Jenkins*, 12 April, 2012

The winter months saw the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme become dangerously heated. Western media were encouraged to interpret recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) findings as proof that Iran is bent on making nuclear weapons, despite the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community remaining that a weapons decision has not been taken and is in no sense inevitable.

The U.S., UK, and European Union (EU) used the concern aroused by media reporting to justify a further sharpening of their attack on the Iranian economy, while Israel pressed for a different sort of attack, to wipe out Iranian nuclear facilities before the programme enters a so-called “zone of immunity”. Iran reminded its adversaries that it could retaliate by closing the Straits of Hormuz to oil and gas shipments.

As spring has come, passions have cooled. U.S. President Barack Obama seems to have felt able to tell Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu that a military attack is unnecessary at this juncture, even though the U.S. President is vulnerable to Israeli influence on U.S. public opinion in an electoral year. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, the EU and Germany have agreed to talk to Iran’s nuclear negotiator despite the latter’s failure to commit Iran to full implementation of the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council since 2006 (Notably these require Iran to suspend all production of the enriched uranium that can be converted into reactor fuel, but which Iran could divert to military use if it decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], or to ignore its NPT obligations).

There are signs that the U.S., UK and Germany, if not France under President Sarkozy, are moving towards the Russian and Chinese position of accepting Iranian enrichment as long as Iran offers the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear material will remain in non-military use.  Public diplomacy has moderated rude aggression yielding to civility and reason.

The risk of disruption to oil and gas shipments has receded – for the time being at least – although recent U.S. and EU measures are causing problems for some of Iran’s traditional customers, and are hurting consumers everywhere through their effect on prices.

So it is not irrational to hope that when the eight parties – Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S., the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, the EU and Iran – meet on 14 April in Istanbul, they may find some way of launching a process that can, over time, lead to agreement. At long last, perhaps there can be concurrence on handling Iran’s nuclear ambitions in accordance with the treaty to which Iran is a founder-party, the NPT.

An NPT deal would recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium and would accept its taking advantage of that right, in return for Iran placing all nuclear material in its possession under IAEA safeguards and renewing its commitment to refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons.

In one sense, the West approaches these talks from a position of weakness. The Iranians have shown no sign of buckling under the pressure of ever-tighter sanctions. They know that the West’s military option is deeply unattractive to any of sane mind.

In another sense, the West has many good cards in its hand.  Sanctions are hurting Iran and it has an interest in having them lifted provided the price is not intolerable.  Abandoning its enrichment plans would be intolerable; volunteering full access to IAEA inspectors, and other measures that can allay the concerns aroused by the clandestinity of some of its past nuclear activities, need not be.

To say that hope is permissible is not to say that the odds on yet another disappointment are long.  In 2007 a promising opening vanished when Iran’s chief negotiator clashed with President Ahmedinejad.  In 2009 it was President Ahmedinejad’s turn to be thwarted by domestic rivals; and President Obama, under pressure from hawks, withdrew his negotiators rather than wait for the Iranians to sort out their differences. In 2010, the timing of Iranian assent to a confidence-building proposal brokered by Turkey and Brazil cast doubt in Western minds on Iran’s sincerity.

In other words, the scope for any process to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Equally disturbing are the wider political realities.

Since 1992 both leading Israeli parties, Likud and Labour, have sought to convince Washington that Iran is a mortal threat to U.S. interests in South West Asia. This they have done in order to maintain Israel’s value to the U.S. as an ally in a post-Cold War Middle East and to avert a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations that they fear might entail a cooling in U.S.-Israeli relations.  For these Israelis, Iran’s nuclear programme, and especially its undeclared activities prior to 2003, has been a gift from heaven.

Iran’s transgressions are a matter for persuading Americans that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, that these weapons will be used to destroy Israel, they say. Iran’s programme, if left unchecked, will precipitate nuclear proliferation in an unstable region, leading Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to acquire similar capabilities. U.S. conservatives, in thrall to dreams of re-shaping the Middle East and regime-change in Iran, have been eager echoers of these (highly questionable) arguments.

These constituencies, Israeli and American, have no interest in the normalisation of the Iranian nuclear case through an NPT deal.  On the contrary, they have every interest in making it as politically difficult as possible for any U.S. administration to arrive at such a deal.

Saudi Arabia has been even less transparent than Israel.  It is not obvious that the Saudis have been poisoning the wells of American opinion to thwart a deal with Iran.  But Saudi-Iranian rivalry, multifaceted and acute since the advent of an Islamic Republic that challenges the legitimacy of Saudi occupation of the Holy Places, seized from the Hashemites in 1924, and which shows up the undemocratic nature of the Saudi monarchy, is well-documented.  There have been veiled threats that Saudi Arabia will ignore its NPT obligations if Iran is left in peace to exploit nuclear technology that the Saudis themselves are decades away from mastering without outside help.  Saudi Arabia too has an interest in thwarting any deal that leaves Iran in possession of enrichment plants.

There are additional factors.  Ever since the NPT opened for signature in 1968, U.S. officials have found it hard to accept that the treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) access to technologies that can serve both civil and military purposes. There’s been a 44-year itch to close what Americans see as a loop-hole, despite all the evidence that many NNWS are unready to concede a back-door renegotiation of a carefully-balanced instrument.

There is also in the U.S. a tendency to blind self-righteousness that can lead Americans to treat non-Americans as miscreants when the latter err. Iran’s failure to respect its NPT safeguards commitments prior to 2003, ill-disposes American officials to accord Iranian representatives the respect the latter crave.  There’s a risk Iran’s negotiators will be made to feel like criminal suspects invited to engage in plea-bargaining.

For their part, the Iranians have a tendency to give way to the temptation to retaliate when instead keeping a stiff upper lip would be wiser. For instance, they retaliated for the 2006 reporting of their IAEA non-compliance to the Security Council by ceasing to allow the IAEA the access it needed to arrive at the conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material in Iran.  They retaliated for recent UK sanctions on financial dealings by trashing the British embassy in Tehran, an act of vandalism ill-calculated to make it easier for the British government to accept their enrichment activities. Will they be able to resist the urge to retaliate if some indignity is inflicted on them while negotiations are underway?

These wider factors suggest that India, Brazil and South Africa could play a part in resolving this controversy if they chose.  They could act as auxiliaries of their BRICS partners, Russia and China, whose role in a negotiating process will be to help narrow differences.  India could use its influence in Washington and European capitals to urge patience and the turning of deaf ears to special pleading from Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could draw attention to the way in which Western slowness to accept evidence that the Iranian nuclear threat had been exaggerated, has damaged Indian economic interests.

India could also stress the unacceptability of any attack on Iran that has not been authorised by the Security Council, both on legal grounds and on account of its probable consequences for Indian living standards. It could draw on 2,500 years of cultural affinity with Iran to offer advice on Iranian sensibilities: the dos and don’ts that matter in any negotiation.

The underlying need is for the BRICS to make their voice heard on this issue, to counter-point the tunes composed by the West’s Middle East allies. The BRICS are qualified to argue against seeing Iran’s nuclear programme in isolation. They can point out that the programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift: Iran is slowly returning to the ranks of Asia’s greater powers.

This shift is unwelcome to some of Iran’s neighbours, it seems.  They have sought to prevent it by distorting Western perceptions, by encouraging Western governments to assume the worst of a state whose intentions the West finds it hard to fathom, and by playing on the negative prejudices that are the legacy of past clashes with Iran.

But this kind of shift cannot be prevented without a conflict that would entail hardship or suffering for most of mankind. So the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours accommodating what can hardly be prevented, and according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia – what the Iranians see as their rightful place in the world.

_________________________________________________________________________________

*Peter Jenkins is a former British diplomat who worked on the Iranian nuclear issue when ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (2001-06).