UN Ready for Breakaway Nations but the Pace Remains Slow

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Armed Conflicts

South Sudan’s independence from the rest of Sudan was the result of a January 2011 referendum held under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the decades-long civil war between the North and the South.

South Sudan’s national flag (centre) flies at UN Headquarters following its admission as the 193rd Member State. Credit: UN/E. Schneider

South Sudan’s national flag (centre) flies at UN Headquarters following its admission as the 193rd Member State. Credit: UN/E. Schneider

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 5 2021 (IPS) – When the United Nations renovated its building at a cost of over $2.1 billion, as part of a seven-year refurbishing project back in 2014, the seating in the cavernous General Assembly hall was increased from 193 to 204—primarily in anticipation of at least 11 new member states joining the world body sooner or later.


But the pace of new member states joining the UN, primarily from half a dozen breakaway regions dominated by separatist movements, has remained slow.

East Timor, described as the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, broke away from Indonesia and joined the UN in May 2002.

The UN played a significant role in supporting the democratic process in the country, now known as Timor-Leste. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was deployed from 1992 to 2002 to administer the territory, exercise legislative and executive authority during the transition and support capacity-building for self-government.

Meanwhile, the Republic of South Sudan (population: 11.3 million), which seceded from Sudan, was the last of the 193 UN member states, joining the world body in July 2011.

But at least one potential member state— Kosovo– has been knocking at the door trying to seek admission rather unsuccessfully primarily because of opposition from one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The UN’s relatively new member states, beginning in the 1960s, included Singapore (1965), Bangladesh (1971) and six republics, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, resulting from the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Still, if political fantasies become realities, a lineup of new U.N. member states may include potential breakaway regions, including Kurdistan, Western Sahara, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Catalonia, Scotland and Palestine—not forgetting Tibet and Taiwan whose membership will be shot down by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UNSC.

But currently the most likely candidate is Tigray which is moving towards an independent state after nearly eight months of fighting against Ethiopian military forces, described as one of Africa’s most powerful, this time backed by Eritrea.

If it does happen, Ethiopia would have generated two breakaway states: first Eritrea which became independent of Ethiopia in 1993, and now Tigray, with a population of 7.1 million.

The Tigray Independence Party (TIP) has long campaigned for secession from Ethiopia which it described as an “empire”.

Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of Tigray, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “even if the conflict ends soon, Tigray’s future, as part of Ethiopia, is in doubt”.

In the Times report on July 4, Gebremichael said “The trust has broken completely. If they don’t want us, why should we stay?”. Still, he added, nothing has been decided because “It depends on the politics at the centre”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, told reporters on July 2 the Security Council has held six closed-door meetings “and the situation in Tigray has not improved.”

She said the open meeting last week was the first opportunity to show that African lives matter as much as other lives around the world.

“But an open meeting is not enough,” she said, pointing out that “what we need to see is action on the ground.”

“We need to see a ceasefire that is permanent; that all of the parties agree to. We need to see the Eritrean troops return to their own border. We need to see unfettered access for humanitarian workers. “We need to see accountability for the atrocities that have been committed.”

“And at this moment I just want to express, again, our sympathy for the many losses of lives, including for MSF (Doctors Without Borders) staff who were killed recently,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) says the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is in control of most of the Tigray region, including major towns.

William Davison, ICG’s Senior Analyst, said the Front has achieved these gains “mainly through mass popular support and by capturing arms and supplies from adversaries.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week he is deeply concerned with the present situation in Tigray.

“It is essential to have a real ceasefire paving the way for a dialogue able to bring a political solution to Tigray.” He said the presence of foreign troops is an aggravating factor of confrontation.

“At the same time, full humanitarian access, unrestricted humanitarian access must be guaranteed to the whole territory. The destruction of civilian infrastructure is totally unacceptable,” he declared. 

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From Non-aligned to One Aligned

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Opinion

The implications of Colombo’s foreign policy shift under Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from a time-honoured adherence to non-alignment to a clear affiliation with Beijing. Former minister Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said Colombo Port City (above) might turn out to be a ‘colony’ of China.

LONDON, Jun 4 2021 (IPS) – June 4, 2021 marks 30 years since the killings of an undisclosed number of Chinese protestors at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. For many years, the Chinese government and its ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with characteristic understatement, called it the ‘June Fourth incident’.


It was the hardliners in the CCP who forced the ouster of its general secretary Hu Yaobang, a party moderate who had encouraged democratic reform, and eventually ordered the military crackdown on the protestors at Tiananmen – perhaps the blackest day in the history of post-revolutionary China.

Sri Lankans should recall the central role of the Chinese Communist Party in turning Tiananmen Square into a horrendous killing field that provoked an unprecedented outpouring of public grief and condemnation from neighbouring Hong Kong, in light of the apparent reverence that Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appears to pay to the CCP’s style of governance.

And he has done so more than once, even telling China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, during his visit to Colombo in April, that he hoped to ‘learn from the governance experience’ of the CCP in poverty alleviation and rural revitalisation.

While the CCP’s role in poverty alleviation might be conceded, the same cannot be said of corruption elimination. It was growing corruption among those in the Chinese government and Communist Party that triggered the massive student protest, which demanded an end to the burgeoning graft and lack of accountability by officialdom, and collectively called for democratic reform in China’s politically regimented society.

Critics say Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and its ‘India First’ declaration are mere geopolitical window dressing.

While President Rajapaksa, who has been invited to China, might pick up a thing or two about the success of the CCP in alleviating poverty, there is little he could learn about ridding society of other malaise prevalent in China – a pity, as such knowledge might help to eliminate Sri Lanka’s own political viruses that are causing serious concern, not only in Sri Lankan society but also in the region.

From the early years of Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule, Ceylon (as it was then known) had followed a policy of peaceful co-existence, articulated earlier by India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as the five principles of ‘Panchaseela’, deriving from Buddhist Thought.

It was this Nehruvian Panchaseela that eventually formed the bedrock of the foreign policy of most newly independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America, under the banner of non-alignment.

Under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world’s first woman prime minister, Ceylon was among founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) when 25 countries met in Belgrade at NAM’s first summit in 1961

It was a foreign policy that most Ceylon/Sri Lanka governments were wedded to, except perhaps the pro-western United National Party (UNP) government under President Junius Richard Jayewardene, who cynically told me there were only two non-aligned countries in the world: the USA and the USSR.  

This was in 1979 and, ironically, he was then the Chairman of NAM having taken over the chairmanship from Sirimavo Bandaranaike who lost the 1977 general election having hosted the NAM summit in Colombo in 1976.

President Jayewardene was very much pro-American. Still, he went to Communist Cuba, an arch enemy of the US to pass on the baton to President Fidel Castro who was hosting the next NAM summit in Havana in 1979.

Then, with the advent of another Rajapaksa, Gotabaya, as president, Sri Lankan foreign policy was redefined. He said at his inauguration in November 2019 that it was now one of ‘neutrality’, dropping any reference to the long-standing policy of non-alignment.

Though never clearly defined, to Rajapaksa junior this meant staying aloof from Big Power conflicts. By that time, the Indian Ocean had perceptibly turned into a conflict zone as China’s push into this vital maritime international sea route led to counter responses from other major powers, namely the US, Japan, Australia and India.

Moreover, New Delhi saw the growing Chinese naval and economic presence in the region under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Maritime Silk Route as an intrusion into its sphere of influence, raising strategic security concerns.

So, there was a congruence of interest among other major powers and users of the Indian Ocean in challenging what was perceived as Beijing’s expansionism, that is, asserting its own presence in the region and the freedom of navigation for all.

Shortly after Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister in 2014, he made a dramatic shift in India’s own foreign policy, turning from a ‘Look East’ policy to an ‘Act East’ one. This implied a more conscious and determined involvement in South East Asia, particularly ASEAN.

If Modi enunciated a ‘Neighbourhood First’ doctrine, Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed his to be ‘India First’, perhaps in an attempt to balance the elder Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s, pro-China predilections as president. It was during Mahinda’s nine years at the helm, from 2005, that bilateral relations were at their strongest, perhaps not without cause.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with brother Gotabaya as his defence secretary, was at war with the ruthless separatist Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), popularly known as the Tamil Tigers.

The only country at the time ready to help the Rajapaksas defeat the separatists, with substantial finance and arms aid, was China, which it did in May 2009.

Mahinda returned the favour by contracting China for some major infrastructure projects, including the new Hambantota port in the deep south some 15 nautical miles or so from vital international sea lanes. This port, which is now on a 99-year lease to China because Sri Lanka could not meet its loan repayments, has turned out to be a serious strategic concern to India and other major trading nations.

Last month another major Chinese project Colombo Port City (CPC), some 270 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea close to the capital’s principal port, came alive after the Supreme Court approved the Bill to set up the managing commission after the Court called for several changes to clauses that were inconsistent with the constitution.

The CPC, in which the Chinese development holds 43 per cent of the land (also for 99 years) is intended to be a huge investment and business centre for foreign investors. This made the US ambassador in Colombo, among others, reach for the panic button for fear that the CPC could be a source of money laundering and other ‘dirty’ money.

A former minister in the previous government and a member of the ruling party, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, even warned that the Port City might well turn out to be a ‘colony’ of China, given the exclusion of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs from investing there, even if they had foreign currency to do so.

Critics of the Rajapaksa government’s policies – including the militarisation of the civil administration and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that is still surging in the country – say that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality and its ‘India First’ declaration are nothing more than geopolitical window dressing.

They claim it is unsupported by fact and is meant to cover the government’s strong pro-China commitments. They also point to a media release by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, following Defence Minister Wei Fenghe’s April visit, in which President Rajapaksa is quoted as telling the visiting minister that Sri Lanka ‘has prioritised developing relations with China and firmly supports China’s positions on issues concerning its core issues’.

If, by jettisoning non-alignment and embracing ‘neutrality’, Sri Lanka means it is following an equidistant foreign policy, it has not shown so by its actions. China obviously knows best. In its statement on the defence minister’s visit, the Chinese embassy says: ‘China appreciates Sri Lanka’s independent and non-aligned foreign policy.’

Scant wonder many are puzzled by the nomenclature.

Source: Asian Affairs

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in London

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Biden’s Opportunity To End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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

Opinion

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU) and teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies

Time is running out fast. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) doesn’t improve promptly, says Philippe Lazzarini, the organization’s commissioner-general. Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Dec 7 2020 (IPS) – Recently I had an opportunity to brief a group of European diplomats and journalists on a variety of conflicts, with a focus on the Middle East. During the Q&A I was asked which of the region’s conflicts Biden should tackle first.


Without much hesitation I said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only because it is over seven decades old, but because it is an increasingly intractable, explosive, and destabilizing situation, which reverberates throughout the Mideast, and several regional powers are exploiting it to serve their own national interests, which sadly contributes to its endurance.

It is expected that Biden will support a two-state solution given his past position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians no longer believe that such an outcome remains viable.

I disagree with this belief: the Palestinians will never give up their right to establish an independent state of their own, and the one-state solution, which is being floated as an alternative, will never be accepted by the Israelis, because that would compromise the Jewish national identity of the state and undercut its democratic nature.

Due to the inter-dispersement of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the two independent states, however, will have to fully collaborate in many areas, especially on security and economic development. This will lead to the establishment of the framework for a confederation, which will be the final outcome after several years of peace and reconciliation.

For Biden to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians’ confidence in a new negotiation that could, in fact, lead to a permanent solution.

To that end, he must take specific measures before the start of the talks and establish rules of engagements to which both sides must fully subscribe to demonstrate their commitment to reaching an agreement.

Preliminary Measures

Reestablish the PLO mission in DC: Biden should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its mission in DC. This would immediately open a channel of communication which is central to the development of a dialogue between the US and the PA and to clear some of the initial hurdles before resuming the negotiations.

Resuming financial aid: It is essential that Biden restore the financial aid that the Palestinians had been receiving from the US. The Palestinian Authority is financially strapped and is in desperate need of assistance. The aid given should be monitored to ensure that the money is spent on specific program and projects.

Prohibiting territorial annexation: The Biden administration should inform the Israeli government that it will object to any further annexation of Palestinian territories. It will, however, keep the American embassy in Jerusalem and continue recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, leaving its final status to be negotiated.

Freezing settlement expansion: Given the intense controversy about the settlements and their adverse psychological and practical effect on the Palestinians, Biden should insist that Israel impose a temporary freeze on the expansion of settlements. This issue should top the negotiating agenda to allow for a later expansion of specific settlements in the context of land swaps.

Invite Hamas to participate: The Biden administration should invite Hamas to participate in the negotiations jointly with the PA or separately, provided they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If they refuse, they should be left to their own devices and continue to bear the burden of the blockade.

Appoint professional and unbiased mediators: Unlike Trump’s envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians’ aspirations, Biden’s envoys should be known for their integrity, professionalism, and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution.

Invite Arab and European observers: The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.

Rules of engagement

Establishing the end game: No negotiations succeed unless the parties involved agree on the nature of their desired outcome. For the Palestinians it is establishing an independent Palestinian state, and for Israelis it is maintaining the security and independence of a democratic Jewish state. Before embarking on new negotiations, the Biden administration should insist that both sides unequivocally commit to a two-state outcome.

Acknowledging historical and psychological impediments: Both sides have paid little heed in the past to the need to understand each other’s historic experiences—the Holocaust for the Israelis and the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians—which they subconsciously use as protective shields. Acknowledging each other’s respective traumatic experiences would help mitigate the psychological impediments which continue to feed into the mutual distrust and hatred.

Ending public acrimony: No negotiations can be conducted in good faith in an atmosphere of mutual public acrimony, as had been the case in all prior peace talks. An integral part of any negotiating process is to build trust, which cannot be nurtured while denouncing each other publicly. Leaders on both sides must end acrimonious statements, as their respective publics will have no faith in negotiations under such an atmosphere.

Renouncing and preventing violence: Both sides must commit not only to renouncing violence but to doing everything in their power to prevent acts of violence against one another. To be sure, nothing is more disruptive to the negotiations than a wanton act of violence.

To that end, both sides need to fully collaborate on all security matters and send a clear massage, especially to extremists on both sides, that violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators will suffer severe consequences.

Delinking and “banking” agreed-upon issues: What will be necessary in future talks is to commit to “bank” any agreement reached on a specific issue, delink it from all others, and not subject it to renegotiations should the talks stall or collapse. This would prevent the resumption of negotiations from ground zero and allow for the building blocks that could eventually lead to an agreement.

In that regard, five critical issues—the settlements, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, national security, and borders—have been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum in past negotiations. The Biden team should identify any common denominator on these issues to prevent renegotiating certain elements over which both sides have already agreed.

Establishing a process of reconciliation: The negotiating process must simultaneously be accompanied by a process of reconciliation. Both sides must initiate widespread people-to-people interactions to gradually mitigate the deep animosity and distrust between them which cannot simply be negotiated away.

Israelis and Palestinians should engage in many activities, including sports, performing arts, tourism, development projects, and student interactions, to foster trust and confidence that peaceful coexistence is possible.

Keeping the public informed: Given that both sides will be required to make significant concessions, it will be imperative to keep their respective publics informed about the progress being made in the negotiations to engender support.

Keeping the public in the dark, as was the practice in past, prevented the public from developing any vested interest in the negotiating process and its successful outcome.

The failure of both sides to agree in the past to establish and be governed by the above rules of engagement clearly suggests that neither side negotiated in good faith. The Biden administration must insist that Israelis and Palestinians accept the above rules if they want to resume the negotiations in earnest. Otherwise, the new talks will be nothing but an exercise in futility.

Sadly though, the current leaders in Israel and Palestine are not in a position to enter into serious negotiations, and must leave the political scene before Biden resumes new talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on record opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state; he is also facing three criminal charges of corruption, and in spite of his impressive accomplishments, he may well have outlived his usefulness.

President Abbas too has taken a hard position in connection with the settlements, Jerusalem, and the refugees, and it will be nearly impossible for him to make any significant concession and survive politically.

He is also “too comfortable” in his position and does not want to leave the political scene accused of having sold the Palestinian cause. In the interim, Biden should reiterate the US commitment to Israel’s national security and his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, giving a clear signal that only moderation will win the day.

The US remains the indispensable power that can bring both sides to an enduring peace, because no other power can exert the kind of influence needed to reach a breakthrough.

For the Biden administration to bring this about, it must play an active role by advancing its own ideas and put its foot down when necessary because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can have it only their way, and certainly not without direct US involvement.

As president, Biden has a momentous opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both sides will do well to grasp the moment.

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

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

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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