nuclear weapons

By Gideon Rachman
Is Vladimir Putin a wimp? The Russian president has a macho image and has shocked the west with his annexation of Crimea. But, in Moscow, there are hardliners who seem frustrated that he has not gone further.

Gideon Rachman

In the press conference announcing he will retire next year, Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, predicted that “history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media”. That is the kind of thing that disappointed and embittered politicians often say. But, in Singh’s case, I think it is undoubtedly true. In fact, Singh is likely to go down as a man who, more than any other politician, helped to transform modern India. 

James Blitz

Can Iran and the west finally do a deal on the Iranian nuclear programme, ending the decade long stand-off that has plagued international diplomacy? As we watch the extraordinary set of encounters at the UN General Assembly in New York this week between leading Iranian and US figures, that question will be on the mind of every diplomat and journalist.

The atmospherics between Iran and the US this week are certainly exceeding expectations. All the attention on Tuesday will be on whether an encounter occurs between Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. But whatever happens on that front, other important encounters are already being scheduled that say a lot about just how much the mood has changed. 

 

 

James Blitz

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama and Medvedev signing the 2010 treaty (Getty)

Can Barack Obama use his second term of office to push through another round of cuts in American and Russian nuclear weapons? After declaring in his State of the Union address that he will “engage Russia” on this issue, the question is suddenly back on the international security agenda.

In his first presidential term, President Obama and his then Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev pushed through big cuts in the number of deployed nuclear weapons each side possesses, with each pledging to have no more than 1,550 each by 2018. Now, Mr Obama has come back to the issue and says he wants to do more – with his officials indicating they want to see deployed US and Russian nuclear weapons coming down another third – to around 1,000 on either side.

Discussions about US- Russia arms control are very technical and the detail quickly gets mind-boggling. To the outsider, the subject also seems dispiriting. Even a big cut like the one Mr Obama is proposing would still leave both countries with massive capability to destroy each other and the world. Still, there are a number of reasons why Mr Obama’s attempt to get new cuts is worth attention in the months ahead. 

 

James Blitz

South Koreans protest this week about a possible North Korean nuclear test. (AP)

This is turning out to be a rather fraught time for people who worry about the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. In recent days, there has been much dismay about the way talks are going between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Iran does not look like it wants to make the kind of concessions that the US and its allies seek if there is to be a deal that averts Israeli or US military action over the programme.

Now it looks like there is about to be bad news from the world’s other nuclear pariah state – North Korea. All the signs are that Pyongyang is about to conduct another nuclear test, its third since 2006 and potentially one that is far bigger than the two it has conducted previously.

Nobody can be 100 per cent sure that North Korea will test a nuclear weapon in the next few days. But the signs are growing that something is afoot. North Korea announced last month that it would conduct a nuclear test to protest against UN Security Council sanctions, stating it would be an explosion at a “higher level” than has been seen in the past. 

James Blitz

Last month, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, made two announcements regarding his country’s stance on the Iranian nuclear programme.

First, he said that Israel would not be going ahead with a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities this year, abandoning the much feared “October surprise.” Secondly, he spelled out a new “red line” that Iran will not be allowed to cross as far as its nuclear activities are concerned. This will be the moment when Iran has acquired enough more highly enriched uranium to build one nuclear bomb – a moment that in Mr Netanyahu’s view may come by next summer.

In recent days, Israeli officials visiting London have spelled out the details regarding this new red line. In their view, Iran by next summer will have acquired some 240kg of more highly enriched uranium (that is uranium at a 20 per cent concentration). This could be converted by Iran into enough weapons grade uranium (at a 90 per cent concentration) to provide Iran with one nuclear weapon.

The difficulty for the Israeli government is that while western leaders are relieved that Mr Netanyahu postponed plans for a strike this autumn, they don’t regard his new red line as having much credibility either.