Many countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and North Africa already have nuclear programs or are planning to set up new ones with the help of the US, Russia, Europe, or China.
A great deal of attention has been paid to Iran’s nuclear program, with the UN Security Council making special demands on that country’s research and development that fall outside of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There are a number of in depth articles on this issue currently available, yet not as much is at hand when it comes to a comprehensive review of the proliferation of nuclear technology in the wider region. I will here briefly outline the various nuclear deals and programs in that large yet interrelated swath of territory spanning two continents.
Iran’s desires for nuclear energy began in the late 1950s, under the now deposed Shah, and kicked into full gear with Western help in the early 1970s under US president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. The Iranian revolution put an end to this cooperation in 1979, but, in the 1990s, an independent nuclear program was revived under the Islamic government. (Read about some of this history at the Council on Foreign Relations).
Some of the criticism of the UN Security Council’s barriers in place against Iran’s nuclear program touch on the fact that many of the same opposing countries are actively supporting the expansion of existing programs and the creation of new ones throughout neighbouring regions. Furthermore, Iran is a signatory of the NPT, giving it the right to a civilian nuclear program. The opposition to Iran’s efforts seem mainly based on the assumption that that country seeks to build nuclear weapons and that the presence of a civilian program enables and facilitates a military one. In this case, the proliferation of internationally supported nuclear programs throughout the region raises the question of why other countries might be exempt from similar concern. Perhaps it is believed that the spread of at least civilian technology is inevitable over the medium to long term and that participation in these country’s programs will help mitigate perceived and real threats as well as allow more direct supervision and influence over the programs’ establishment.
Iran’s north western neighbour plans to build a new power plant starting April 1, 2010. The new plant is meant to replace the existing 33 year-old Soviet era Metsamor nuclear power plant that is to be shut down in 2016. The new plant is supposed to generate twice or more energy than its predecessor, enough for Armenia to export electricity to other countries.
Turkey, a NATO member, has been in talks with Armenia to cooperate on the construction of the new plant. This is mainly a political move on Turkey’s part, supported by the current US administration under president Barack Obama. Armenia is close to Russia and bitter rivals with Western-leaning neighbouring Azerbaijan. Though it is very unlikely that Turkey would indeed become involved in the program, the fact that they’re talking about it is a diplomatic measure that may well be used to leverage Armenia away from an unmitigated pro-Russia stance.
Turkey has no nuclear power plants. This makes it even more unlikely that they would get involved in an Armenian program, and supports the notion that Turkey is using nuclear talks to forward NATO’s political aims in the region.
Turkey, however, has expressed plans to build two power plants in the near future (each about the size of the Armenian one). (1)
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
The GCC officially expressed its desire to seek a civilian nuclear program after its December 2006 summit. The GCC is composed of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman.
The US, under president George W. Bush, has signed nuclear cooperation agreement with a number of GCC members: with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain (click on each country name to read the agreement). All of these agreements were signed in 2008, save one with the UAE in 2009.
Jordan has expressed its desire for a civilian nuclear program and in September 2007 signed a memorandum of understanding with the US on nuclear cooperation.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a nuclear weapons arsenal, with an estimated supply in the hundreds. Its nuclear program was assisted by France (with reactors, heavy water, uranium and components), Norway (heavy water), and the UK (heavy water). The US did not formally support or impede the program.
Egypt plans to go ahead with nuclear power, citing energy concerns. The US had previously agreed to cooperate on the project.
Other Middle Eastern and North African Countries
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Yemen have also expressed their desire to consider launching a civilian nuclear program. These announcements have often coincided with or closely followed announcements by US supported GCC and Egyptian plans. Though these plans may seem unrealistic in the medium term, they signal a growing support for and movement toward nuclear technology in the region.
Iran’s initial dream of nuclear energy was supported by the US. Plans began in the late 1950s, under the Shah.
Recently, there has been talk of a potential shift in US policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. International relations expert and former Indian diplomat MK Bhadrakumar has written in a recent article that “according to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is ‘carefully considering’ the setting up of an international uranium fuel bank in Kazakhstan, which could form the exit strategy for the historic US-Iran standoff.”
Kazakhstan possesses no nuclear power plants but is considering plans for the construction of two reactors.
The president of Kazakhstan, Nurusultan Nazarbayev, on April 6, announced that his country would be willing to host a US-backed plan for an international nuclear fuel bank. The US supported plan would place all uranium enrichment under international control and supervision.
Kazakhstan has about 19% of the world’s total uranium deposits and is expected to produce 11,900 tons of it in 2009.
The passage of a recent India-US nuclear pact has strengthened India’s hand in the field of nuclear technology. Despite India’s refusal to sign the NPT and its active weapons program, the US, under president George W. Bush, brokered a deal that essentially circumvents the non-proliferation treaty and allows India international access to fuel and technology.
The deal may well be used to pull India into US foreign policy plans for the Asia-Pacific region, such as on issues relating to Iran and China.
First published at Rabble.ca.
Most sources can be found as hyperlinks within the body of the article.
(1) World Nuclear Association, ‘World Nuclear Power Reactors 2007-09 and Uranium Requirements,’ 1 April 2009, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/reactors.html.
The US-India nuclear deal explicitly binds India into several foreign relations policies demanded of it by the US in exchange for cooperation on limited access civilian nuclear technology and fuel.
India expressed its commitment to the deal by voting against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decision of September 2005, opening the door to sanctions against Iran due to that country’s investment in nuclear technology. This was a sharp turn for Indian foreign policy, and took place during protracted and labyrinthine negotiations around commitment to the US-India nuclear deal, thus signaling India’s commitment to a foreign policy alignment with certain US interests.
Below are some passages from the Hyde Act, a US Congress passed bill that shapes much of the nuclear deal. These passages relate to Indian policy regarding Iran.
A description and assessment of the specific measures that India has taken to fully and actively participate in United States and international efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability and the capability to enrich uranium or reprocess nuclear fuel and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
Secure India’s full and active participation in United States efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability and the capability to enrich uranium or reprocess nuclear fuel, and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
Under the Hyde Act, India must yearly be “assessed” to make sure it is in compliance with the above mentioned clauses. If it is not, then the US has the right to terminate the deal.
You can read the entire Hyde Act here.
Iran prepares to further its US ‘interests’. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is taking domestic heat over his participation in a regional Arab conference and his declarations of “victory” over the United States following its positive assessment of Tehran’s nuclear program. All the same, a window has now opened to explore what some influential Iranians call the “shared interests” between the US and Iran. (Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Asia Times)
China’s Decision to Deny U.S. Ships from Port of Hong Kong. Diplomatic friction between the United States and the People’s Republic of China has grown more palpable during the past week. A series of high profile events involving the port of Hong Kong have unfolded on the international stage, leaving observers, political analysts and military planners contemplating the significance of these incidents. (Richard Komaiko, Power and Interest News Report)
Japan as a Plutonium Superpower. For 60 years the world has faced no greater threat than nuclear weapons. Japan, as a nuclear victim country, with “three non-nuclear principles” (non-production, non-possession, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan) and its “Peace Constitution,” had unique credentials to play a positive role in helping the world find a solution, yet its record has been consistently pro-nuclear, that is to say, pro-nuclear energy, pro-the nuclear cycle, and, pro-nuclear weapons. This paper elaborates on Japan’s aspiration to become a nuclear state, arguing that attention should be paid to Rokkasho, Tsuruga, and Hamaoka, the places at the heart of Japan’s present and future nuclear plans, no less than to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose names represent the horror of its nuclear past. (Gavan McCormack, Japan Focus)
Power Shift? Australia and the Asia Pacific. The election of Kevin Rudd as Australian Prime Minister in a Labor Party sweep has led many to anticipate a major shift in Australia’s international relations and environmental policies, and possible realignments in Asia. We offer four brief assessments of the significance of the election for the region at a time when long-entrenched governments in England, Poland, and many parts of Latin America point to possible sea changes in international affairs. (The Asahi Shinbun, Ramesh Thakur & Richard Tanter, Japan Focus)
Kosovo Countdown: A Blueprint for Transition. Kosovo’s transition to the status of conditional, or supervised, independence has been greatly complicated by Russia’s firm support of Serbia’s refusal to accept that it has lost its one-time province. Recognition of conditional independence has broad international, and certainly European Union (EU) and American, support. Under threat of Moscow’s veto, the Security Council will not revoke its Resolution 1244 of 1999 that acknowledged Serbian sovereignty while setting up the UN Mission (UNMIK) to prepare Kosovo for self-government pending a political settlement on its future status. Nor will the Council be allowed to approve the plan for a conditionally independent Kosovo devised by the Secretary-General’s special representative, Martti Ahtisaari, earlier this year and authorise the EU-led missions meant to implement that plan. (International Crisis Group)
Roundup of Analysis and Investigative Articles: Foreign aid, treason, enemy combatants, weapons and strategy
Nuclear Weapons, Criminal States, and the US-India Deal. Nuclear-armed states are criminal states. They have a legal obligation, confirmed by the World Court, to live up to Article 6 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which calls on them to carry out good-faith negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely. None of the nuclear states has lived up to it. The United States is a leading violator, especially the Bush administration, which even has stated that it isn’t subject to Article 6. On July 27, Washington entered into an agreement with India that guts the central part of the NPT, though there remains substantial opposition in both countries. India, like Israel and Pakistan (but unlike Iran), is not an NPT signatory, and has developed nuclear weapons outside the treaty. With this new agreement, the Bush administration effectively endorses and facilitates this outlaw behaviour. (Noam Chomsky, Japan Focus)
‘Enemy Combatant’ or Enemy of the Government? By introducing the concept of war into national law, the latest U.S. anti- terrorist law, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), produces a turning point in the legal and political organization of the Western world. It puts an end to a form of state that succeeded in “establishing peace internally and excluding hostility as a concept of law.”1 It is the constituent act of a new form of state that establishes war as a political relation between constituted authorities and national populations. (Jean-Claude Paye, Monthly Review)
Unable to Defeat Mahdi Army, U.S. Hopes to Divide It. Although the U.S. military command’s frequent assertions that the primary threat to U.S. forces in Iraq comes from Iranian meddling, its real problem is that Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army is determined to end the occupation and is simply too big and too well entrenched to be weakened by military force. The U.S. command began trying to enter into a political dialogue with Sadr’s followers in early 2006 and now claims that such a dialogue has begun, according to a Sep. 12 article by Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times. But the George W. Bush administration is not prepared to make peace with the Mahdi army. Instead it believes it can somehow divide it if it applies military pressure while wooing what it calls “moderates” in the Sadr camp. Parker quoted an anonymous administration official last month as suggesting that there were Sadrists “who we think we might be able to work with”. (Gareth Porter, IPS)
India holds key in NATO’s world view. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s agenda is centered on its further enlargement as well as lengthening its reach to undertake missions with new partners in every corner of the world. Many of its main challenges are in the Indian Ocean region, which makes a friendly India a priority. Washington fully backs a NATO-India partnership, while Delhi has some critical decisions to make. (M.K. Bhadrakumar, Asia Times)
At last, some good news from Iraq. Iraq’s two rival Shi’ite clerics, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr, who with their powerful militias have long fought for control of the Shi’ite community, have decided to lay down their arms and unite their efforts to bring stability and security to the country. It’s the first genuinely good news from Iraq for a long time. (Sami Moubayed, Asia Times)
CIDA: foreign “aid” in name only? Recent stories about Canada’s foreign aid programs should make us ponder some important foreign policy questions. A Senlis Council report released in August detailed the failure of Canadian programs supposedly aimed at alleviating poverty in Kandahar province. The mainstream media criticized the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) inability/unwillingness to successfully distribute aid and even questioned Canada’s justification for a military presence in Afghanistan. Six months earlier, the media was abuzz over a report that called for the abolition of CIDA because of its failure to alleviate poverty in Africa. On the surface this criticism seems reasonable. All government spending should be effective. But what if this focus on the effectiveness of aid to alleviate poverty narrows the parameters of the debate and excludes the real questions that should be asked?
(Yves Engler, Rabble)
Pakistan at Sixty. Disillusionment and resentment are widespread. Cultivating anti-Indian/anti-Hindu feeling, in an attempt to encourage national cohesion, no longer works. The celebrations marking the anniversary of independence on 14 August are more artificial and irritating than ever. A cacophony of meaningless slogans that impress nobody, countless clichés in newspaper supplements competing for space with stale photographs of the Founder (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and the Poet (Iqbal). Banal panel discussions remind us of what Jinnah said or didn’t say. The perfidious Lord Mountbatten and his ‘promiscuous’ wife, Edwina, are denounced for favouring India when it came to the division of the spoils. It’s true, but we can’t blame them for the wreck Pakistan has become. In private, of course, there is much soul-searching, and a surprising collection of people now feel the state should never have been founded. (Tariq Ali, London Review of Books)
Somalia’s President Yusuf Loses His Grip on Power. The failures of the two national conferences aimed at devising a political formula for Somalia — the National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.) sponsored by the country’s internationally-recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), and the Somali Congress for Liberation and Reconstitution (S.C.L.R.) organized by the political opposition based in Eritrea — have led to a continuation of Somalia’s spiral into political fragmentation and conflict. (Michael A. Weinstein. Power and Interest News Report)
Egypt: Rumour and retribution. The trial of Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Dostour, opened on Monday only to be adjourned until 24 October. More than a dozen armoured vehicles added to the daily congestion in Downtown Cairo’s Galaa Street while the scenes around the Galaa Court Complex, blockaded by state security personnel, plain clothes security men and high ranking police officers speaking loudly into walkie-talkies, resembled the trials of Muslim Brotherhood members or else of a high- profile spy rather than that of a journalist accused of spreading false rumours about the health of President Hosni Mubarak. (Shaden Shehab, Al-Ahram)