The CSS Blog Network

Russia’s Dual Assault: How Brussels, Washington, and Beijing Helped Moscow to Undermine the Non-Proliferation Regime

Cartoon of man holding atomic bomb

Jared Rodriguez/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 20 August, 2015.

The “Ukraine crisis” concerns more than lofty European values, Ukrainian humanitarian issues, or abstract international law. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is also an assault on the world’s nuclear nonproliferation regime. It subverts the logic of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Given its purpose of curtailing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, namely nuclear missiles and atomic bombs, the NPT is one of the most important international accords in human history. » More

Nuclear Talks to Resolve the East-West Standoff?

A defunct missile silo in Ukraine. Image: Andy Shustykevych/Flickr

The Ukrainian crisis has entered its second summer. While the ferocity of the clashes in East Ukraine has eased since the Minsk Agreement in February, deadly fighting continues on a daily basis. In the meantime, the conflict has fallen somewhat off the radar of Western media, while the suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ukraine continues. There are no signs on the horizon of any accommodation between the governments of Ukraine and Russia. Must Europe accept an ongoing, low-intensity military conflict on its fringes as the new normal?

The Western bloc’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and subsequent sponsoring of an anti-government insurgency in Donbass has remained remarkably coherent so far. It is also having an effect: as Alexei Kudrin, Putin’s Minister of Finance from 2000 to 2011, remarked last month, “Russia is in the midst of a fully-flegded crisis.”  In part because of the West’s co-ordinated economic pressure the Russian Central Bank expects the country’s GDP to shrink by up to 4% in 2015.   So far this has not prompted a shift in Russian attitudes towards key issues regarding Ukraine. Putin continues to enjoy sky-high domestic approval ratings while the Russian government’s creeping takeover of the media landscape is eliminating political dissent from mainstream outlets. Spinning a tale of aggressive American intervention in Russian affairs, the national media are rallying nationalist sentiments and pushing a narrative of a declining, decadent West, all while successfully maintaining that Russia is not involved in a military conflict with its neighbour Ukraine.

The origins of the East-West stand-off over Ukraine are systemic in nature: neither side is prepared to give any ground. For the West, matters of principle are at stake: the inviolability of Ukraine’s sovereign borders as guaranteed by the Budapest Accords, and the right of nations to choose their alliances freely and without external interference. For the Kremlin, the conflict has become deeply intertwined with wider calculations about regime survival, making unilateral concessions unlikely.

Some 20 years ago, the US and Russia began a process of sustained engagement that culminated in the end of the Cold War. Then, as now, efforts at nuclear arms control could generate the initial diplomatic capital needed for a wider improvement in relations.

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Chemical Disarmament in Syria and the Future of the Chemical Weapons Control Regime

Soldiers wearing protection suits. Image: Percy Jones/Wikimedia

What questions has the Syrian conflict raised about the current and future efforts to dismantle and destroy all known stockpiles of chemical weapons? To answer this and a host of other questions, our parent organization, the Center for Security Studies (CSS), hosted an Evening Talk on 23 October 2014 that offered a Swiss perspective on the global chemical weapons control regime and related developments in Syria. The guest speakers were Ambassador Benno Laggner, who is the Head of Security Policy at the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and Stefan Mogl, who currently leads the Chemistry Division at the Spiez Laboratory, which analyzed suspected chemical warfare samples in the aftermath of the August 2013 chemical attacks in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. » More

Myanmar on a Nonproliferation Roll

Thein Sein, President of Myanmar. Image: Chatham House/Wikipedia

This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 16 October 2014.

On September 30, Myanmar’s parliament approved the government’s proposal to accede to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The proposal to accede to this convention, which bans the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons and which Myanmar had signed the year of its inception, was submitted to parliament by Thant Kyaw, deputy minister for foreign affairs, who stated that “Over 170 countries have already ratified the BWC. All ASEAN countries have except us.” Later, he added that Myanmar’s accession would demonstrate its commitment to abide by nonproliferation rules. » More

Obama’s Nuclear Agenda: The Next Four Years

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev at the Nuclear Security Summit 2010. Photo: www.kremlin.ru

At a recent international conference on nonproliferation and disarmament, a colleague asked, somewhat irreverently (but not irrelevantly), “Now that Obama has been re-elected, will he finally earn his Nobel Prize?” It’s a fair question.

Hopes were high within the international disarmament community after President Obama’s 2009 Prague speech when he pledged to move toward a nuclear weapons-free world. But those who cheered the loudest then are among the most disappointed now, frustrated over the slow progress toward this goal.

To be fair, there were a few other challenges on his plate: an economy and financial system in disarray; two messy, unfinished wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the United States’ international authority at a record low; an increasingly polarized and politicized domestic scene; other pressing priorities (universal health care being not the least); and more. » More

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