Defense budgets have hit the headlines again this week, as United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power, flew to Brussels to urge European nations to rethink their defense spending plans.
With just under six months to go until the referendum on Scottish independence, there is still little clarity about how any independence agreement would shape up in practice. A myriad of issues remains on the table, ranging from the everyday – Will there be border control? How will the postal system function? Which television stations will be available? – right up to the most complex strategic questions over currency and economic independence, membership of international organisations, and the future of the UK and Scotland’s defense policies.
When Ukraine became a newly independent state after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, its future security was far from assured. Yet in 1994, an era in which nuclear deterrence remained a central security strategy for others, Ukraine opted for nuclear disarmament – despite its own vulnerability and without securing a place under any nuclear umbrella. In return, it sought alternative guarantees for its borders.
All eyes are on Russia’s next moves in Ukraine, and Crimea in particular, with news outlets reporting a strengthened Russian military presence on the peninsula. A referendum proposed by members of the Crimean parliament is set to take place in Crimea this Sunday, 16th March, to choose its future as part of either Ukraine or the Russian Federation, a move that could irreversibly deepen the crisis.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) articulates a collective ambition: a world free of nuclear weapons. And since its inception, we have made significant progress: 189 countries have signed up to the NPT; nuclear weapons have reduced in number from an estimated 70,000 at the height of the Cold War to somewhere in the region of 17,000 today;
It is ironic, but not completely surprising, that our desire for nuclear disarmament has its roots in the same principles that drive our continued military investment in nuclear weapons: predominantly the dire humanitarian consequences that would result from a nuclear attack or accident. The potential consequences are what inspire the global community to keep pressing for change. But the belief in deterrence, that our ability to inflict huge reciprocal damage is what keeps others from attacking us, is also what makes proponents of nuclear weapons feel protected.
Today marks the start of implementing the interim deal with Iran, which will halt the development of its nuclear programme for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief from the international community. Since the interim deal was struck in November 2013, the parties have been working together to agree on the terms of implementation.
Absent any major catastrophe involving a nuclear weapon (which isn’t out of the question but let’s all hope we don’t get to that point), established nuclear-weapons policies look unlikely to shift dramatically in 2014. Predictably, for an issue involving diverse interests, entrenched mistrust and engagement across the entire international community, the rate of change often feels glacial.