The 2020 NPT Review Conference: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

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Opinion

VIENNA, Mar 12 2020 (IPS) – This year marks the 50th anniversary of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and coincidentally the tenth quinquennial (five yearly) review conference is scheduled to be held at the United Nations in New York from 27 April to 22 May.


With 191 States parties, the NPT is the cornerstone of the global regime for nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

An unexpected complication is that of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on the NPT review conference – thus far, there is an inexplicable thundering silence from the UN regarding the postponement of the conference.

COVID-19

Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 to be a global pandemic affecting more than 114 countries with 118,000 people infected, 4,291 fatalities and many thousands more fighting for their lives in hospitals.

The WHO stated that this is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus and that never before has there been a pandemic that can be controlled.

In the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the total number of cases as of 11 March is 938, total deaths 29, in 38 states and the District of Columbia). The New York State Department of Health is reporting 52 cases in New York City and 164 in the State.

Thus, it is clear that New York City is affected by COVID-19 and there is a high risk of the further spread of the virus. Add to this, the expected arrival of more than 400 delegates from all parts of the world, to attend the NPT conference, including obviously from countries and regions already afflicted with the corononavirus.

Should this transpire, it would not take a virologist or a rocket scientist to predict a rapid transmission of the virus to many of the delegates all concentrated in the UN General Assembly chamber for several days and in other large meeting rooms for another three weeks.

Furthermore, the US may restrict entry to delegates coming from countries afflicted with coronavirus and either deny visas or place them under quarantine for two weeks or more? In fact, President Donald Trump already has suspended all travel from mainland Europe for 30 days starting on Friday.

So, why has not the UN ordered the postponement of all large conferences till the virus infections subside and the environment is safe again for large and small congregations of people drawn from all corners of the world?

And, why have not the diplomats accredited to the UN in New York, from States parties to the NPT, already decided to postpone the NPT review conference? What is it about COVID-19 that they do not understand and why are they delaying taking the common sense decision to postpone the event?

The UN Secretary-General’s “Message on COVID 19” is limited to bulleted points such as, “All of us face a common threat – the coronavirus – COVID 19. Today’s declaration of a pandemic is a call to action – for everyone, everywhere”, which is not reassuring!

UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, on the other hand, has stated that the coronavirus will only be tackled “through a multilateral response” in which the UN “must lead by example” and that the UN should take a “coordinated and coherent approach” regarding decisions on whether major meetings can go ahead.

He added that at the UN Secretariat “we have started the process looking at scaling down, postponing and/or cancelling meetings, as appropriate”. Well, it’s high time to do so – the sooner the better!

Options for the NPT Review Conference

Reportedly, “options” are being considered but no decision has been taken as yet. One option seemingly gathering support, and reportedly pushed by some States, is to convene the NPT Review Conference as scheduled on 27th April but then to immediately prorogue (or adjourn) it to August or later this year after possibly adopting a statement or declaration commemorating 50 years of the NPT.

The stated rationale being that the NPT conference is a scheduled quinquennial event according to the Treaty and therefore must be convened – if only for a day under present circumstances – going from the sublime to the ridiculous!

The logic of such a bizarre “option” can only emanate from New York and capitals, as oftentimes they tend to be oblivious to the calendars of events and meetings in other UN capitals that deal with nuclear matters, namely Vienna (Austria) and Geneva (Switzerland).

Not surprisingly, the reaction in Vienna and Geneva has tended to be one of shock and disbelief. What were these diplomats/officials thinking? Are they not aware that the third session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva is scheduled for 3 August to 18 September?

And, do they not realize that in Western Europe the civilized practice of annual vacation in August is nearly sacrosanct! Just because in the United States the concept of taking an annual vacation is generally frowned upon is no reason to subject others to this stress of giving up their vacation time.

Postpone to 2021 and Convene in Vienna

As I have recommended earlier this month, there is only one sound course of action: that to postpone the NPT review conference to 2021 (possibly 26 April to 21 May) and to convene it from then on in Vienna. The following are the reasons for my recommendation, which is beginning to get some traction:

    1. The year following an NPT review conference always is a gap year; hence there should not be any impediment to moving it to next year. No important decisions need to be taken this year and the 50th anniversary of the NPT can be marked by speeches and statements by ministers in capitals, New York, Geneva and Vienna.
    2. At present, there are no prospects for any progress on nuclear disarmament – a key element of the NPT. Both the Russian Federation and the United States are engaged in modernization of their nuclear weapons; and the United States is pursuing a policy of steadily abandoning treaties, multilateralism and striking out in favour of unilateral nationalistic policies. Last year, the United States abandoned the 1987 Intermediate- and Shorter-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as well as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) limiting Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme; earlier in 2002 it pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that formed the basis of strategic stability between Russia and the United States. In addition, thus far, the United States has not indicated any interest in extending the 2010 New START Treaty limiting strategic nuclear weapons that will expire in February 2021, and in preserving the Open Skies Treaty that permits confidence-building aerial overflights. In addition, some officials now are openly verbally attacking those in countries who promote fulfilling the nuclear disarmament obligations under the NPT. Thus, postponing the NPT conference to 2021 provides a respite of a year with the possibility of an improved climate in 2021?
    3. The technical and policy expertise for nuclear verification, safety and security, and peaceful uses always has resided in Vienna (Austria) at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA provides secretariat support and expertise to the NPT review conference on two of the three pillars of the NPT – nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful uses.
    4. The expertise and experience for negotiating multilateral nuclear arms control resides at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (Switzerland) – the third pillar of the NPT.
    5. UN New York has no diplomatic or technical expertise related to the NPT; it is basically a political talk shop. Negotiations on resolutions on nuclear arms control matters in the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, as well as in the UN Disarmament Commission, normally are conducted by diplomats coming over to New York from Geneva and from capitals.
    6. Staff from the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) in New York, together with IAEA staff form the “secretariat” for NPT review conferences and their preparatory committees. UN ODA New York staff travel to Vienna and Geneva, respectively, to service the preparatory committee sessions held there along with UN ODA staff based in these two European cities. Thus, UN ODA New York staff can easily support the review conference held in Vienna.
    7. The claim that participation in NPT review conferences held in New York is higher as all Member States of the United Nations are represented there is not credible. Of the 191 States Parties to the NPT, generally not more than 150 attend review conferences and then too small delegations only make a showing on the first and last days in order to be listed in the official list of participants. It need not be a burden for small States to attend review conferences in Vienna.
    8. Given concerns about the effect on the climate from air travel and current tendency to minimize long distance travel by air to reduce the carbon footprint; convening the review conference from 2021 onwards in Vienna also can have a positive impact in reducing the carbon burden of attendance. The geographic location of Vienna in Central Europe will greatly reduce distances to be travelled by delegates from Asia, Africa and Oceania, as well as of course by European countries – these regions put together comprise the largest number of countries in the world. Only the North and South American delegates will have increased travel distances, but these obviously are a minority compared to those from the regions noted above.
    9. It is obvious that costs of hotel accommodation in New York are inordinately high with tax upon taxes, as are the high costs of food and meals. Hotel and food costs in Vienna are much cheaper than in New York or Geneva, as are hotel costs. Thus, significant savings can be incurred by foreign ministries in connection with participation in the review conference held in Vienna. Such savings would be even more beneficial for civil society representatives, who obviously cannot draw upon tax payer funding as can official delegates.
    10. Finally, there is now no rationale to hold NPT review conferences at any location in any nuclear-weapon State (NWS), especially since 25 years after the indefinite extension of the NPT the deficit in nuclear disarmament remains significant, nuclear weapons are being modernized in some NWS, the threshold of possible use of nuclear weapons has been lowered, and existing treaties are under threat. Better to hold review conferences in a “neutral” country such as Austria that is a strong champion on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.

Decide Now

The longer this decision is delayed to move the NPT review conference to 2021 in Vienna, the higher the costs incurred this year in cancelling New York flights and hotel rooms. While government delegates may well be able to afford such penalties as tax dollars pay for their expenses, for civil society participants cancellation costs would be onerous and unaffordable as they either self-finance or rely on charitable donations.

Thus, as I have described in some detail above, there are no compelling reasons at all to convene the presently scheduled NPT review conference in New York this year. It makes eminent common and fiscal sense to convene it next year in April-May and to hold it in Vienna – the historic capital location of important conferences for more than two centuries and imbued with the intangible “spirit of Vienna” that encourages harmony and compromise.

* Tariq Rauf has attended all nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meetings since 1987 as a delegate, including as senior adviser to the chair of Main Committee I (nuclear disarmament) in 2015 and to the chair of the 2014 preparatory committee; as alternate head of the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation to the NPT; and as a non-proliferation expert with the Canadian delegation from 1987. Personal views are expressed here.

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Coronavirus Threatens to Wreck Nuclear Review Conference

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

An increasing number of New Yorkers appear to have started wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus. The city recorded its first case 1 March. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 2020 (IPS) – First, it was the ill-fated annual sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), scheduled for March 9-20, which was undermined by the spreading coronavirus COVID-19.


Now comes a second potential casualty—the upcoming month-long (27 April-22 May) Review Conference of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which may be upstaged by the deadly virus.

The landmark treaty— which represents the only binding multilateral commitment to the goal of disarmament by the world’s nuclear-weapon States—would also mark its 50th anniversary this year.

But a lingering question remains: will the Review Conference be either postponed, cancelled or held under restrictive conditions–even as the Trump administration plans to deny entry visas to visitors, and by extension delegates, from heavily-infected countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy and the Philippines, among others.

The 10-day CSW meeting, one of the key annual gatherings of women, was shrunk to a one-day event, scheduled for March 9 — because of the fast-spreading coronavirus—which would have shut off most of the approximately 8,000-9,000 participants from overseas.

“The 50-year old NPT is threatening the world with an even worse illness than the new terrifying coronavirus,” one anti-nuclear activist warned.

According to the United Nations, the Treaty, particularly article VIII, paragraph 3, envisages a review of the operation of the Treaty every five years, a provision which was reaffirmed by the States parties at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

John Burroughs, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, New York City, told IPS that aside from whether protection of health warrants a postponement of the Review Conference, delay could be good for the non-proliferation/disarmament regime.

Right now, the United States, Russia, and China have nothing to offer in the way of nuclear arms reductions, actual or prospective, he argued.

Signing ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 20 September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

“This is despite the commitments they made, along with the United Kingdom and France, at the 2010 Review Conference, “to undertake further efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate all types of nuclear weapons”.

The failure to fulfill this and other commitments made at the 1995, 2000, and 2010 conferences is the single most important factor casting a pall over the upcoming conference and making a consensus substantive outcome unlikely, warned Burroughs.

Dr Rebecca Johnson, Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament and Diplomacy, who has reported on every NPT meeting since 1994, told IPS “the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads quickly, so on grounds of public health, we all need to limit physical meetings and travel.”

“On those grounds, I think it would probably be prudent to postpone the NPT Review Conference to a time when we have a clearer idea of the COVID-19 impacts and there is greater capacity to deal with it’.

If this is to be their decision, she noted, the UN and NPT states need to make it sooner rather than later, as a lot of people — myself included — have already booked travel and accommodation in New York.

“I would not support any proposals to “limit” the NPT Review Conference as this would likely be used to restrict the full participation of civil society and many delegations who do not have their nuclear experts based in New York”.

Dr Johnson said the postponement of the Review Conference to 2021 should not be a political problem for the NPT and non-proliferation regime, and may even turn out to be advantageous for the health of the NPT.

“This year, there are deep concerns that toxic political relations between several nuclear-armed or significant NPT States Parties will cause the NPT Review Conference to fail, the third time since 2015. There may be better prospects for a positive NPT outcome in 2021, though of course nothing is certain in life or politics!”

She added: “If held in 2021, it would be sensible to choose the most practical NPT-related city, whether Vienna, Geneva or New York.”

Burroughs said it is conceivable that the picture will be better by the end of 2020. He said Reuters reports that on February 28, a senior US administration official said that President Trump is willing to hold a summit of the five NPT nuclear weapon states to discuss arms control.

“While China maintains that it will not join trilateral arms control negotiations due to the vast disparity between its nuclear forces and those of the United States and Russia, it has said that it would discuss “strategic security” issues in a five-power format”.

China’s position that it will not engage in arms controls talks should be challenged. Negotiators can be creative, he said.

One can imagine, for example, addressing intermediate- and short-range missiles, most conventionally armed, fielded in its region by China, as well as US and Russian actual and planned deployments of such missiles, Burroughs said.

“Or China’s long-range nuclear forces could be capped while US and Russian reductions proceed. More ambitiously, the five NPT nuclear weapon states could launch negotiations on global elimination of nuclear arsenals and invite non-NPT nuclear-armed states and perhaps other states to join”.

The five NPT nuclear weapons states are the US, UK, China, Russia and France – all veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council– while the four non-NPT nuclear armed states are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-summit-idUSKCN20M3CJ
https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjbxw/t1746174.shtml

Dr M. V. Ramana, Professor and Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security, and Director, Liu Institute for Global Issues, at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, told IPS “I think there is a good case to postpone the Review Conference”.

“At this point, we don’t know how the coronavirus infections will spread — and bringing together a large number of people from different countries to one building definitely contributes a level of risk”.

Further, he said, there will be the additional uncertainty imposed by the Trump administration’s plans to block people from various countries with high levels of infections. Some of those countries, China and Iran, are central to the future of the NPT.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US Mideast Peace Plan: from a Paper Pharaoh & a Fake Moses

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb 3 2020 (IPS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was slapped corruption charges last week while he was hobnobbing with US President Donald Trump in Washington. Bibi has, apparently, done his homework in psychology. He knew the quickest way to get around Trump was to flatter him.


Addicted to praise, Trump is incapable of understanding that there is a great deal of deception if someone praises him too much. In a June 16, 2017 article, USA Today opinion columnist Windsor Mann wrote, “Flattery is Trump’s cocaine — he’s addicted to it — and, like cocaine, it’s not always genuine.”

Rarely does he get sincere praises from honest people. So, Trump often self-praises himself.

On Tuesday, when Trump announced his Middle East peace plan, Bibi was superlative in his praises. As the drama unfolded in a White House room full of sycophants ready with applauses to ego massage praise-addict Trump and insincere Netanyahu, it became obvious that the peace plan was not worth the paper it was written on.

It also became clear that Trump did not have a thorough knowledge of the Middle East, for he failed to identify a typo in the text on the teleprompter. He read al-Aqsa as al-Aqua.

Many believe that the timing of the announcement was aimed at bolstering the political base of both Trump and Netanyahu – Trump embroiled in an impeachment battle was trying to appease pro-Israeli evangelical Christian voters, a key component of his support base, while Netanyahu used the occasion to go one-up over his political rival Benny Gantz in Israel’s election battle of the right-wings.

When Trump, impeached by the House of Representatives, and Netanyahu, an indicted suspect in a corruption case — a paper pharaoh and fake Moses – make a plan, it will be far from being value-based.

No wonder, the peace plan they unveiled promotes anything but peace and is an agenda to legalise Israel’s illegal land grab on the West Bank. No wonder peace analysts are unanimous in condemning the Trump plan as ‘dead on arrival’. (DOA)

It is one-sided and a travesty of justice in breach of the hallowed legal principle Audi alteram partem —which requires that the other side also be listened to. There was no Palestinian side in this ex-parte ruling that Trump’s pro-Israeli son-in-law Jared Kushner was instrumental in drafting.

If there is one US president who cares no two hoots about the Palestinians, it is Trump. He stopped aid to Palestine and his country’s annual US$ 360 million contribution to the United Nations Relief Work Agency which cares for more than five million Palestinian refugees.

Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu could not find a single Palestinian to endorse the plan made by Zionists for Zionists to continue their crimes in Palestine. Pro-American Arab states, however, have welcomed the peace effort but avoided extending support for the content of the plan.

Key regional powers Turkey and Iran, meanwhile, have given an outright thumbs-down to Trump’s plan, which declares Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, thus ignoring the Palestinians’ aspiration of making East Jerusalem their future capital. The Palestinians are condescendingly told they can have their capital anywhere east of Jerusalem.

Rejecting the Trump plan, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Jerusalem and “all our rights are not for sale and are not for bargain.”

The Palestinians have dismissed the plan as Balfour 2.0, whereby one country (the United States) is trying to hand over chunks of another’s country (Palestine) to a third country (Israel) just as Britain in 1917, through an atrocious colonial act of injustice, allowed the Zionist movement to set up a homeland in Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations adopted a partition plan that unfairly divided historic Palestine, giving the Jews who were a little more than 30 percent of Palestine’s population, 55 percent of the land. Most of them were European migrants who came to Palestine following the 1917 Balfour declaration. The indigenous Palestinians who were about 67 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land.

The Trump plan will leave the Palestinians with a mere 15 percent of historic Palestine. In other words, 85 percent of Palestine will come under Israel’s sovereignty while the balance to be declared as the State of Palestine will be bits and pieces of territory – or Bantustans connected by tunnels and roads guarded by the Israeli military.

Trump’s plan was unofficially conveyed to Arab leaders more than two years ago. This came after the Trump administration on December 6, 2017 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.

At the US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain in June last year, the plan was partially unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Kushner. The Palestinians boycotted the event where they were promised billions in development aid if they accepted the plan.

To promote the plan, Kushner partnered Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. On December 3, 2017, a New York Times report said the Saudis had summoned Palestinian President Abbas to force him to accept Trump’s plan, where, instead of Jerusalem, the neighbouring town of Abu Dis that overlooks the Dome of the Rock mosque, was offered as the Palestinian capital.

When news leaked out that the Saudis were backing Trump’s plan and had no qualms over al-Aqsa– Islam’s third holiest site –being placed under Israeli sovereignty, the Saudi royals became jittery, fearful of the reaction on the Arab streets.

King Salman invited Abbas to Saudi Arabia again and assured his support for the Palestinians’ stand. Abbas’ Saudi visits indicated that the Saudi establishment is divided over the Palestinian issue. Once the old king becomes history, the kingdom is likely to endorse Trump’s plan.

In December 2017, after Trump misused the US veto to quash yet another United Nations mechanism to bring peace to Palestine, the world community overwhelmingly passed a UN General Assembly resolution asking nations not to establish diplomatic missions in the historic city of Jerusalem.

They did so, defying Trump’s threat to developing nations that they would face an aid cut if they voted for the Jerusalem resolution. Just as the then US president George W. Bush’s 2003 Middle East peace roadmap, Trump’s plan, touted as the deal of the century, is bound to collapse, because it is not founded on justice. It is the fraud of the century.

It ignores international law, numerous UN resolutions, principles of justice, and norms of decency. Sri Lanka, as a true friend of Palestine, should not endorse Trump’s plan which promotes chaos and conflict instead of peace.

*Ameen Izzadeen is Editor International and Deputy Editor, Sri Lanka Sunday Times

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US Mideast Peace Plan: Israelis Offered the Cheese & Palestinians the Holes

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Credit: Palestine Campaign.Org

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2020 (IPS) – The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has described the much-ballyhooed US Middle East peace plan as “more like Swiss cheese– with the cheese being offered to the Israelis and the holes to the Palestinians”.


“There are many ways to end the occupation, but the only legitimate options are those based on equality and human rights for all,” said the Jerusalem-based B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

“This is why the current plan which legitimizes, entrenches and even expands the scope of Israel’s human rights abuses, perpetuated now for over 52 years, is utterly unacceptable”, it said.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, based in Johannesburg, drew a parallel between Israel and apartheid South Africa of a bygone era.

“We concur with our Israeli comrades, and we painfully recall how Apartheid South Africa tried to impose its own plan during the 1980s where white people would own South Africa and the indigenous Black South Africans needed to be happy with small enclaves called Bantustans.”

“We rejected this then in Apartheid South Africa, and we, today, join those in rejecting it in Palestine-Israel,” said BDS in a statement released here.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor Jadaliyya, an ezine focusing on the Middle East and produced by the Arab Studies Institute (ASI), told IPS the Trump Plan is not a peace initiative, that seeks to lay the basis for meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the core issues of the conflict.

Rather, it seeks to unilaterally implement a permanent status reality that is tantamount to the extreme reaches of the Israeli political spectrum, with the imprimatur of US recognition and legitimacy, he said.

Any analyst with even a passing acquaintance of this conflict can immediately recognize that it cannot possibly serve as a basis of negotiations, let alone a negotiated settlement, because it prejudges virtually every Palestinian right, claim, and interest, Rabbani argued.

“This is deliberate — the references to negotiations are no more than a diplomatic fig leaf to enable Israeli to proceed unilaterally with acts of territorial annexation, the liquidation of the refugee question, the transfer of Arab citizens of Israel to Palestinian jurisdiction (thus removing there status as Israeli citizens), and the like,” he added.

Credit: PalestineUN.Org

Ramzy Baroud, a syndicated columnist, editor of The Palestine Chronicle and a senior research fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs in Istanbul, told IPS the Deal of the Century is a complete American acquiescence to the right-wing mentality that has ruled Israel for more than a decade.

This is certainly not an American peace overture, he pointed out, but an egregious act of bullying.

However, it is hardly a deviation from previous rounds of “peace-making,” where Washington always took Israel’s side, blamed Palestinians and failed to hold Tel Aviv accountable to its violations of previously signed treaties and international law, he noted.

“In truth, the Deal of the Century is not a ‘peace plan’, nor was it ever intended to be, despite what its chief architect and White House adviser Jared Kushner has been claiming”.

As expected, said Baroud, Trump has handed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu everything that he and Israel ever wanted.

He also pointed out that the Middle East Plan does not demand the uprooting of a single illegal Jewish settlement and recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘undivided’ capital.

“It speaks of a conditioned and disfigured Palestinian state that can only be achieved based on vague conditions, rejects the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, and doesn’t mention the word ‘occupation’ even once”, said Baroud, author of the newly-released book These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons.

According to Cable News Network (CNN), the Trump administration unveiled its much-anticipated Middle East plan, which it’s touting as a “realistic two-state solution.

But Palestinians definitely don’t see it that way. The plan caters to nearly every major Israeli demand, including the annexation of its settlements in the contested West Bank region, said CNN.

“A future Palestinian state, meanwhile, would get a capital in eastern Jerusalem, physically separated from the rest of the city. The plan doesn’t lay out what would happen to Palestinian refugees displaced by ongoing conflict”.

In a brutally frank comment, Robert Malley, president of the International Crisis Group, was quoted as saying: “The message to the Palestinians, boiled down to its essence, is: You’ve lost, get over it.”

Rabbani said the peace plan is also not a framework for a two-state settlement.

“The potential Palestinian entity presented in the initiative, assuming it comes to pass, does not have any – I repeat, any – of the attributes of statehood as commonly understood.”

He said its objective is not the establishment of a Palestinian state but rather the permanent expansion of the Israeli state into occupied territory, less those areas heavily populated by Palestinians that Israel does not intend to annex.

The Palestinian entity, or rather the patchwork of Palestinian-populated regions within Israel according to this plan, are held together by some 15 bridges and tunnels, he noted.

“The purpose here is not Palestinian statehood, but rather achieving Israel’s long-term objective of maximum territory with minimum Arabs – an objective additionally furthered by the proposed transfer of Palestinian population centers within Israel to the jurisdiction of this entity”.

The broader purpose of this initiative, he argued, is to utilize the weakness, fragmentation, and polarisation of the Palestinians, and the Arab world more generally, to ram through a unilateral settlement of this conflict while the opportunity presents itself.

A second objective is to facilitate the formalisation of Israeli-Arab normalisation, though given the contours of this plan that is unlikely to be achieved.

In a word, the formalisation of Palestinian capitulation to not only Israel but a particularly extremist Israeli agenda, he declared.

More broadly, said Rabbani, it seeks to replace international law and the international consensus with the principle that might makes right and thus the law of the jungle in which power is the sole principle for the resolution of international disputes.

From the Trump administration’s perspective this therefore has much broader application than only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he declared.

Baroud said the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ has confirmed what many have argued for years: a just and peaceful future in Palestine and Israel cannot be achieved with Washington at the helm.

“So obviously only Israel benefits from the plan, as the Zionist discourse, predicated on maximum territorial gains with minimal Palestinian presence, has finally prevailed.”

He said every Israeli request has been met, to the last one. Meanwhile, Palestinians get nothing, aside from the promise of chasing another mirage of a Palestinian state that has no territorial continuity and no true sovereignty.

Not only will Trump’s plan fail to resolve the conflict, he argued, it will exasperate it as well; it will divide the region into blocs, with some Arabs normalization with Israel and others refusing to do so, especially while Palestinians continue to live in perpetual suffering.

As for the economic component of Trump’s plan, history has proven that there can be no economic prosperity under military occupation. Netanyahu and others before him tried such dubious methods, of ‘economic peace’ and such, and all have miserably failed.

“Time and again, the UN has made it clear that it follows a different political trajectory than that followed by Washington, and that all US decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem, the illegal settlements and the Golan Heights, are null and void; only international law matters, and none of Trump’s actions in recent years have succeeded in significantly altering international consensus on the rights of Palestinians”.

As for the status of and Palestinian rights in their occupied city, said Baroud, East Jerusalem, renaming a few neighborhoods – Kafr Aqab, the eastern part of Shuafat and Abu Dis – as al-Quds, or East Jerusalem is an old Israeli plan that failed in the past.

The late Yasser Arafat rejected it, and neither Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian official would dare compromise on the historic and legal Palestinian rights in the city.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Achieving the Possible: “Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East”

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Tariq Rauf, former Head of Verification and Security Policy Coordination, Office reporting to the Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2011), was responsible for safeguards and security policy, the Director General’s annual report on the Application of Safeguards in the Middle East and for the IAEA Forum on the Experience of NWFZs relevant for the Middle East.

Credit: United Nations

VIENNA, Nov 20 2019 (IPS) – A historic conference on the Middle East opened at the United Nations in New York on 18th November and will continue until 22nd November. The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction is presided over by Ambassador Sima Bahous of Jordan.


This matter has been before the international community since 1974 and remains controversial and unresolved to this day. On the one side, the Arab States of the region of the Middle East and Iran have called for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the dismantlement of Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapon programme.

On the other side, Israel supported by the EU member States, Canada and the US, maintain that regional peace and security is a pre-condition for any negotiations on such a zone and that concerns about nuclear programmes in certain Arab States also need to be resolved first.

Thus, this matter has simmered for decades, plagued the proceedings and outcomes of the review conferences of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the annual General Conferences of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as the First Committee and the United Nations General Assembly.

Now finally, pursuant to a decision by the General Assembly in December 2018, this conference is going ahead albeit without the participation of Israel and the United States.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones

The original concept of establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZs) was conceived with a view to preventing the emergence of new nuclear-weapon possessor States.

Efforts to ensure the absence of nuclear weapons in other populated parts of the world have led to five regional denuclearization agreements—the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco covering Latin America, the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga covering the South Pacific, the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok covering Southeast Asia, the 1996 Pelindaba Treaty covering Africa, and the 2006 Central Asian NWFZ treaty, all are in force—thus the entire southern hemisphere below the Equator is covered by NWFZ treaties.

In addition, in 1992 Mongolia declared itself to be a nuclear-weapon-free space that was approved by the Great Hural in 2000 and endorsed by UNGA in 2002.

Also, certain uninhabited areas of the globe have been formally denuclearized. They include Antarctica under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty; outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1979 Moon Agreement; and the seabed, the ocean floor, and the subsoil thereof under the 1971 Seabed Treaty.

General Assembly resolution 3472 B (1975) defines a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone as

    • any zone recognized as such by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which any group of States, in the free exercises of their sovereignty, has established by virtue of a treaty or convention whereby:
    a) The statute of total absence of nuclear weapons to which the zone shall be subject, including the procedure for the delimitation of the zone, is defined;
    b) An international system of verification and control is established to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from that statute.

NWFZs ban the production, testing and stationing of nuclear weapons, permit peaceful uses, include verification provisions and in some cases an institutional set up; and require security assurances from nuclear-weapon States.

Article VII of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) affirmed the right of States to establish NWFZs in their respective territories and the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (NPTREC) expressed the conviction that regional denuclearization measures enhance global and regional peace and security.

The NPTREC adopted a Resolution on establishing a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as well as delivery systems in the region of the Middle East. The 2000 NPTRevConf reiterated the importance of the 1995 Resolution, and the 2010 RevConf mandated that a conference be held on such a zone by 2012; and the 2015 RevConf came to an inglorious end over disagreements on the Middle East zone.

Earlier in 2000, the IAEA General Conference adopted a Resolution for the IAEA Director General to convene a Forum on Experience of NWFZs Relevant for the Middle East. On joining the IAEA in 2002, the Director General assigned me the task to make the arrangements for holding this Forum – during the course of the summers of 2002-2004, I was able to get agreement on the Agenda but the Forum itself was convened only in November 2011.

Representatives from all five zones and Mongolia attended and made presentations at the IAEA Forum; however, under the-then Director General the Agency acceded to pressure from certain sources to ensure that the Forum was a one-off event and that there would not be any follow-up activities.

In terms of new NWFZs, the Middle East remains an old unfulfilled aspiration. First jointly proposed by Egypt and Iran in 1974 through a General Assembly resolution, the concept was broadened in 1990 through the Mubarak Initiative to cover all weapons of mass destruction.

There is as yet no general agreement on the contours and details of a WMD-free zone (WMDFZ), however keeping to basics it is possible to identify practical measures and elements – as is endeavoured in the draft treaty text prepared by The METO Project.

Middle East

Traditionally, Egypt has taken the lead in promoting efforts for the implementation of the 1995 NPTREC Resolution on the Middle East in the NPT review process, as well as at the IAEA General Conference and at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the establishment of a NWFZ in the region of the Middle East.

Last year, UNGA First Committee adopted by voting (103 yes :3 no : 71 abstentions) decision (A/C.1/73/L.22/Rev.1) co-sponsored by Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt,* Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and State of Palestine on Convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The UNGA decision A/73/546, adopted on 22 December 2018 by a vote of 88 to 4 with 75 abstentions, called on the UN Secretary General to:

    • convene a conference for the duration of one week to be held no later than 2019 dealing with the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction;
    • the conference shall take as its terms of reference the 1995 NPTREC resolution;
    • all decisions emanating from the conference shall be taken by consensus by the States of the region;
    • all States of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, the other two nuclear-weapon States and the relevant international organisations (IAEA, OPCW, BTWC ISU) to participate;
    • the Secretary-General to convene annual sessions of the conference for a duration of one week at United Nations Headquarters until the conference concludes the elaboration a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the States of the region ; .

Accordingly, Under-Secretary General and High Representative for Disarmament Izumi Nakamitsu and the Department for Disarmament Affairs made the preparations to hold the conference on 18-22 November 2019.

The main areas of contention between the Arab States and Israel can be summarized as follows: that there still continues to be a long-standing and fundamental difference of views between Israel, on the one hand, and other States of the Middle East region, on the other hand, with regard to the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the region of the Middle East (MENWFZ/WMDFZ).

Israel takes the view that MENWFZ/WMDFZ and related regional security issues, cannot be addressed in isolation from the regional peace process and that these issues should be addressed in the framework of a regional security and arms control dialogue that could be resumed in the context of a multilateral peace process.

These should help reduce tensions, and lead to security and stability in the Middle East, through development of mutual recognition, peaceful and good neighbourly relations and abandonment of threats and use of force by states as well as non-State actors as means to settlement of disputes.

Following the establishment of full and lasting peaceful relations and reconciliation among all nations of the region, such a process could lead to the adoption of confidence-building measures, discussion of arms control issues, and eventually pave the way to regional negotiations of a mutually and effectively verifiable regime that will establish the Middle East as a zone free of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles.

Israel also holds the position that any modalities, obligations or provisions should be solely addressed by the states concerned through direct negotiation.

The other States of the region maintain that there is no automatic sequence which links the establishment of the zone, the application of IAEA comprehensive safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, to the prior conclusion of a peace settlement, and that the former would contribute to the latter.

The Arab States maintain that all of them have acceded to the NPT, while Israel continues to defy the international community by refusing to become a party to the Treaty or to place its installations under the Agency’s comprehensive safeguards system, thus exposing the region to nuclear risks and threatening peace.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region; especially if Israel’s nuclear installations remain outside any international control.

Most Arab States of the region of the Middle East consider that:

    • the 2018 UNGA decision A/73/546 on convening a conference on the zone was a breakthrough;
    • the new initiative through the UNGA is directed at all States of the region of the Middle East, the three co-sponsors of the1995 NPTREC Resolution are invited and no States of the region shall be excluded;
    • while the UNGA route was not ideal, it was resorted to as there was no realistic alternative due to the prevailing situation regionally and globally; and
    • the initiative shall be fully inclusive, involve direct dialogue, be based on arrangements freely arrived at, there will be no singling out of any State of the region; however, if any State of the region does not attend, this cannot prevent other States of the region to attend the conference slated for November this year.

Regarding the question of how to deal with the Middle East issue at the 2020 review conference of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the following points are relevant:

    (a) the NPT review process remains the primary focus and the UNGA initiative is not an alternative to the NPT process but should be regarded as parallel and complementary;
    (b) it can alleviate pressure on the 2020 review conference;
    (c) there is no intention to hold the review conference hostage to the Middle East issue and the NPT States of the region want the review conference to be successful;
    (d) the UNGA conference shall be open to all States and now it is important to start engagement and preparations on the modalities and procedural aspects;
    (e) the assertion is incorrect that Israel was not consulted in advance on the 2018 resolution at UNGA, in fact it was consulted in advance of the decision;
    (f) the decision garnered more than 100 affirmative votes at UNGA, which was a clear majority;
    (g) the 2019 NPT PrepCom should take factual note of the UNGA decision to convene the conference in November;
    (h) the Middle East zone issue remains within the NPT process and the 2020 review conference would have to reaffirm and recognize this;
    (i) the November conference provides an opportunity to all States to meet and discuss zone matters, express views, all decisions shall be by consensus, it is an opportunity for direct consultations among the States of the region of the Middle East, and it is up to the States of the region to decide whether to sign/ratify a future MEWMDFZ treaty;
    (j) the Middle East zone now can be considered as the fourth pillar of the NPT;
    (k) it is regrettable that some States (Israel and the United States) had urged the IAEA (and other relevant international organizations) not to attend the November conference;
    (l) the NPT States of the region believe in collective not selective security and this calls for the universalization of the NPT and the cessation of granting privileges to States not party to the Treaty (Israel);
    (m) regarding the three co-sponsors (Russia, UK, USA) of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference Resolution calling for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction: the UK has voiced support for the vision of a MEWMDFZ and is attending the November conference; the Russian Federation endorsed the convening of the conference also is attending the November conference which it regards as easing pressure at the 2020 review conference; while the US has indicated support for the goal of a Middle East free of WMD based on direct dialogue and consensus but has condemned the General Assembly decision of 2018 to convene the November conference as “illegitimate” and is boycotting the conference; and
    (n) Israel too has decided not to attend the November conference.

The METO Project

The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) Project for a zone free of WMD in the Middle East represents a civil society initiative on “Achieving the Possible” was launched and sustained by Sharon Dolev of the Israeli Disarmament Movement and has attracted support from experts from States of the region of the Middle East as well as from other countries. The METO project has developed the elements of a text of a MEWMDFZ treaty that has been shared with the States of the Middle East region and is designed to serve as a catalyst for them to jump start discussions on such a treaty.

Ii is hoped that the States attending the current conference can draw motivation, ideas and elements from the draft treaty text prepared by the METO Project as they discuss the possible elements and provisions of a future treaty that can garner the support of the States of the region.

Some may find shortcomings or omissions in the draft text but States of the region and other concerned parties are invited to further develop, enhance and enrich the elements presented in the draft text.

This effort needs to be joined not by sceptics nor naysayers but by optimists and those who are serious about promoting the cause of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and of its transformation into a region of peace, justice and security.

Conclusion

The Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction now underway at the United Nations in New York provides a belated but important opportunity to address regional security, non-proliferation and disarmament matters in the region of the Middle East.

It sets into place an annual process focusing on discussing matters pertaining to eliminating the threats, dangers and risks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the region; achieving universal adherence in the region to the NPT through the verified elimination of Israel’s nuclear weapon programme, and also securing universal adherence in the region to and compliance with the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that prohibit biological and chemical weapons, and signature and/or ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) that prohibits all types of nuclear explosive tests.

Bringing peace and security to the region of the Middle East should be accorded the highest priority by the States of the region as well as by all other States.

The views expressed are the writer’s personal observations.

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Trump Poised to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KINGSTON REIF is director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant.

WASHINGTON DC, Oct 18 2019 (IPS) – The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, according to lawmakers and media reports. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, first sounded the public alarm in an Oct. 7 letter to National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien.


“I am deeply concerned by reports that the Trump Administration is considering withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and strongly urge you against such a reckless action,” Rep. Engel wrote. “American withdrawal would only benefit Russia and be harmful to our allies’ and partners’ national security interests.”

Slate columnist Fred Kaplan reported Oct. 9 that former National Security Advisor John Bolton pushed for withdrawing from the treaty before departing the administration.

Following Bolton’s departure in September, White House staff continued to advocate for withdrawal and convinced President Trump to sign a memorandum expressing his intent to exit the treaty. The Omaha World-Herald reported that the signed document directed a withdrawal by Oct. 26.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) joined Rep. Engel in an Oct. 8 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper denouncing a possible withdrawal.

The lawmakers wrote that “pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, an important multilateral arms control agreement, would be yet another gift from the Trump Administration to Putin.” They also noted that the treaty “has been an essential tool for United States efforts to constrain Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

The United States and several allies in December 2018 conducted an “extraordinary flight” over eastern Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty. The flight followed a Russian attack in late November 2018 on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea.

Republican lawmakers also expressed concern about ditching the treaty. In an Oct. 8 statement, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) stated that he has “yet to see a compelling reason to withdraw from Open Skies” given the “valuable access to Russian airspace and military airfields” the United States gains from the treaty.

Signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the others’ entire territories in order to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia.

According to the treaty, states-parties must give one another 72 hours advance notice before conducting an overflight. At least 24 hours in advance of the flight, the observing state-party will supply its flight plan, which the host state-party can only modify for safety or logistical reasons.

No territory is off-limits under the treaty. Each participating country is assigned a quota of overflights it can conduct and a quota, based on its geographic size, of overflights it must accept every year.

Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States. After the overflight, the information collected must be provided to all states-parties.

In recent years, disputes over implementation and concerns from some U.S. officials and lawmakers about the value of the treaty have threatened to derail the pact.

For example, Washington has raised concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty, citing, in particular, Russia’s restricting of observation flights over Kaliningrad to no more than 500 kilometers and within a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In response, the United States has restricted flights over the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii and the missile defense interceptor fields in Fort Greely, Alaska.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization act included a provision that would reaffirm Congress’ commitment to the treaty and prohibit the use of funds to suspend, terminate, or withdraw from the agreement unless “certain certification requirements are made.”

The Senate version of the bill did not include a similar provision. The House and Senate continue to negotiate a final version of the bill.

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