Getting the Balance Right

Three high-level meetings this week sum up the interconnected challenge of global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Washington to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton will then later in the week go on to Turkey to sign the basing agreement for missile defense radar infrastructure. On Tuesday Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi meets with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who since taking over from Mohamed ElBaradei in December 2009 has been responsible for a harder IAEA line toward Iran.

US-Russian negotiators are unlikely to be pulling anything new out of their bag until after their Presidential elections, both in 2012 (Russia in March, US in November). There is much work yet to be done to hammer out the scope and nature of any future bilateral agreement. Linking missile defense, future strategic technologies, conventional forces and tactical nuclear weapons will require them to span some politically challenging landscape.

The challenges of developing and agreeing new methods of intrusive verification are also awesome. But there is a deeper complexity. Though New START leaves both states with much greater numbers than other states, Russia will want to include consideration of UK and French nuclear weapons. Stonewalling such a proposal is not an option if Russia is to be brought to the table.

The agreement to be signed this week by Clinton in Ankara could put Turkey’s relationship with Russia under some strain, but the Turks have some confidence that this is easily surmountable. Under a popular government Turkey also is pursuing a broader policy of reconciliation with its neighbors, so that it faces a tight-rope act, both in being an influential NATO member and engaging in activities that prepare for emerging threats from the Middle East, whilst reassuring regional states such as Iran of their friendly intentions.

The global strategy to tighten the nuclear non-proliferation structure is intimately linked to disarmament. Even if the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon arsenal is some years away, providing little strategic
justification to derail disarmament at this stage, politically it renders progress much more difficult. Getting the balance right in nuclear negotiations with Iran is thus critical not only to preventing proliferation and stabilizing the Middle East, but also to disarmament negotiations, which themselves are essential to global buy-in for stronger non-proliferation measures. Iran needs to become an active and willing participant, not simply punished as a naughty challenger unwilling to accept the terms handed down by the recognized nuclear weapon states.

These are the personal views of the author.

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