How West sees Iran's nuclear program
October 16th, 2013
08:51 AM ET

How West sees Iran's nuclear program

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

As American, European, Russian, Chinese and Iranian negotiators jockey in Geneva over ending the West’s economic sanctions on Tehran in return for a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, European and U.S. publics are sending negotiators on both sides a clear message: they oppose Iran having nuclear armaments. They agree on the current imposition of economic sanctions. And they generally support the use of military force if sanctions fail. The Chinese and Russian publics, though, dissent.

At a time when people on both sides of the Atlantic have turned critical of the Afghan War and have recoiled from involvement in Syria’s civil war, there is relative cohesion on Iran in both Europe and the United States. Indeed, there are some signs such solidarity may be strengthening. Yet although Iranian negotiators in Geneva will find little daylight between the American and European publics that they can exploit, differences between transatlantic views and those held by the Chinese and Russian publics may yet prove critical in the talks.

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Topics: Europe • Iran • Nuclear • United States
October 14th, 2013
10:50 AM ET

Don’t expect miracles in Iran nuclear talks

By Ali Vaez, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Ali Vaez is senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are his own.

Seldom has there been so much anticipation of a breakthrough in talks over Iran’s nuclear crisis than is the case for the negotiations starting Tuesday in Geneva. But inflated hopes are dangerous, and the sobering reality of tough negotiations could quickly dash hopes and even derail diplomacy.

The reality is that despite the recent election of a new Iranian administration, one that has been keen to stress that a breakthrough could be just around the corner, it would be naïve to expect a decade-old impasse to be resolved in just two days. After all, Iran’s nuclear crisis is one of the most complex issues in international politics today. And the last time President Hassan Rouhani and his current foreign minister, Javad Zarif, were Iran’s nuclear negotiators – back in 2003 to 2005 – there were two years of talks over a crisis that was then barely a year old.

A deal today would be even harder to imagine. In 2003, Iran was struggling to assemble 164 centrifuges. Today, it has more than 18,000. Back then, Iran had one enrichment facility, one type of centrifuge, no fissile material stockpile and sought to enrich uranium to 5 percent. Now, it has two enrichment facilities, several types of advanced centrifuges, tons of fissile material and is enriching both to 5 and 20 percent levels. These advancements have come at a hefty price. Today, there are numerous sanctions backed by the United States and international community.

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear
My experience of the nuclear horror
September 25th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

My experience of the nuclear horror

By Karipbek Kuyukov, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Karipbek Kuyukov is an artist and Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project, a global campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons testing. The views expressed are his own.

As world leaders gather for the United Nations High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in New York, I would like to deliver a short message from the survivors of nuclear weapons testing in Kazakhstan.

The perpetual question of whether to pursue the nuclear arms race or eradicate nuclear weapons has divided international opinion. Experts, politicians and world leaders have traditionally sided either for or against nuclear arms. Some believe that nuclear weapons help preserve peace, yet surely many more believe these weapons are a certain path to another world war and the eventual obliteration of mankind.

But although there has been much discussion of the issue, few on either side have turned for advice to the victims of nuclear tests and explosions. We have a lot to say and a right to be heard.

I was born in 1968, about 100 kilometers away from the notorious Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in eastern Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union tested hundreds of nuclear devices over four decades. I was born without arms, a result of the horrific impact of nuclear radiation on the health of our people. As I grew up, I saw that I was not alone.

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Topics: Central Asia • Nuclear
Why Fukushima is worse than you think
August 30th, 2013
09:02 AM ET

Why Fukushima is worse than you think

By Mycle Schneider, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mycle Schneider is an independent international consultant on energy and nuclear policy based in Paris. He is the coordinator and lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report. The views expressed are his own.

“Careless” was how Toyoshi Fuketa, commissioner of the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority, reportedly described the inspection quality of hundreds of water tanks at the crippled Fukushima plant following the recent discovery of a serious radioactive spill. China’s Foreign Ministry went further, saying it was “shocking” that radioactive water was still leaking into the Pacific Ocean two years after the Fukushima incident.

Both comments are to the point, and although many inside and outside Japan surely did not realize how bad the March 11, 2011 disaster was – and how bad it could get – it seems clear now that we have been misled about the scale of the problem confronting Japan. The country needs international help – and quickly.

While the amount of radioactivity released into the environment in March 2011 has been estimated as between 10 percent and 50 percent of the fallout from the Chernobyl accident, the 400,000 tons of contaminated water stored on the Fukushima site contain more than 2.5 times the amount of radioactive cesium dispersed during the 1986 catastrophe in Ukraine.

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Topics: Japan • Nuclear
How U.S. nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorists
August 26th, 2013
08:49 AM ET

How U.S. nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorists

By Alan J. Kuperman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Kuperman is editor of Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium, and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, where he is an associate professor. The views expressed are his own.

Nearly a dozen years after the al Qaeda strikes of September 11, 2001, America’s nuclear power plants – and civilian research facilities with bomb-grade uranium – are still not required to protect against a maximum credible terrorist attack of this scale. It is time for policymakers to act, if they want to prevent disaster.

The vulnerability to a terrorist strike was a key finding of a year-long study that I co-authored, as part of a larger interdisciplinary project at the University of Texas at Austin, under a contract for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (which has no responsibility for the final contents of the study).

The good news is that America’s military-related nuclear facilities, operated by the Departments of Defense and Energy, are generally much better protected. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also modestly raised security requirements at civilian facilities, which have bolstered their protective measures.

Disturbingly, however, nuclear power plants still must protect against only five or six attackers (according to published reports), less than one-third the number who engaged in attacks on 9/11. Nor are these existing facilities required to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner, as hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Unlike the Navy’s nuclear assets, civilian reactors adjacent to large bodies of water are not required to deploy floating barriers to defend against ship-borne attacks. Nuclear utilities are not even required to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles with armor-piercing ammunition, weapons that are possessed by many terrorist organizations.

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Topics: Nuclear • Terrorism • United States
Zakaria: No time for hot-headed response to North Korea
April 10th, 2013
11:03 AM ET

Zakaria: No time for hot-headed response to North Korea

As speculation grows that a North Korean missile test could be imminent, discussion has turned to the question of whether the United States should shoot down any missile fired, even if it appears heading into the ocean.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer speaks with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on the latest developments and why China is key to resolving the current tensions.

What do you make of Senator John McCain and some others who say if they launch a missile, shoot it down, intercept it, destroy it – even if it's heading into the middle of the water? Obviously if it's heading toward a populated area in Tokyo or Guam or South Korea, that goes without saying. But just knock it out to make a point?

I think it's a very good example of the difference between what a John McCain foreign policy would be and what President Obama’s has been.

President Obama throughout this has been trying to show some restraint, not to play into the kind of the yank your chain that the North Koreans are trying to do. The North Koreans are desperately trying to get attention, to get some kind of negotiations going, to get concessions. So they have been threatening, clearly like a child who keeps screaming and has not been paid attention to. They're screaming more and more loudly.

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Topics: China • Military • North Korea • Nuclear
Time for long-term solution with North Korea?
February 12th, 2013
12:10 PM ET

Time for long-term solution with North Korea?

By Heather Williams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Heather Williams is a research fellow in international security at Chatham House in London. The views expressed are her own.

Whether the latest North Korean nuclear test destabilizes Northeast Asia in the short-term depends on how it is handled within the U.N. Security Council. The major players in the region have made stability a priority, and are likely to continue to do so. And certainly, if stability is defined as the absence of conflict or risk of immediate conflict, all signs suggest the region will indeed remain stable. After all, China’s continued economic growth is dependent on regional stability, South Korea and Japan are terrified of war with nuclear-armed North Korea, and the United States is anxious about becoming embroiled in another regime change.

But regional players will likely still have to take some sort of action against a belligerent and increasingly aggressive North Korea if there is to be a meaningful chance of maintaining stability in the long term. The hard part, though, is balancing short-term and long-term gains.

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Name and shame China over North Korea launch
December 13th, 2012
04:04 AM ET

Name and shame China over North Korea launch

By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stephen J. Yates is former Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs (2001-2005) and currently CEO of DC International Advisory. The views expressed are his own.

North Korea’s seemingly successful long-range missile test presents a significant challenge to the U.S. and its allies.

This is North Korea’s most successful provocation since demonstrating the ability to detonate a nuclear device in 2006. North Korea has now demonstrated a significant leap in its long-range missile capability, and it would be a mistake to assume further leaps forward are beyond its reach in the not too distant future. New and very young leader Kim Jong Un has succeeded where his father did not – a major propaganda victory for him.

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Topics: Asia • China • North Korea • Nuclear
December 4th, 2012
03:08 PM ET

What does North Korea's planned rocket launch mean?

By David Wright, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Wright is senior scientist and co-director on the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The views expressed are his own.

North Korea has announced that it will attempt another satellite launch in mid-December, only eight months after its failed effort last April. That rocket failed shortly after launch and dropped debris in the waters off South Korea’s west coast.

The Korean Central News Agency reported on December 1 that North Korea will launch its Unha-3 rocket during the period December 10 to 22, and that it will carry a second copy of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite shown to reporters in April. This announcement was not a surprise since experts monitoring the launch site using commercial satellite images have seen evidence of preparations for a launch over the past few weeks.

Press reports on December 3 said that North Korea is starting to assemble the launch vehicle, with the first stage now on the pad. In the past two attempts the rocket has been assembled on the pad about 10 days before the launch. Also on December 3, North Korea announced the splashdown zones where the rocket stages will fall into the ocean – a common practice that warns ships and aircraft to avoid those areas during the launch window. These show that the launch will be essentially a repeat of the April attempt: North Korea will launch from its Sohae facility on the west coast, and the rocket will fly south rather than east over Japan as several previous launches did. Launching south significantly constrains the launch direction and the trajectory will pass close to South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and several Japanese islands. This path is similar to that of South Korea’s launches.

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The military uncertainties of an attack on Iran
August 15th, 2012
04:37 PM ET

The military uncertainties of an attack on Iran

By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN

Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.

Military strikes against the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, together with other possible targets related to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, could last for a single day and single sortie – or they could last for several days or even weeks. The latter possibility of course implies American participation too, and probably requires the use of air bases in one or more Gulf states as well, given the likely U.S. interest in using stealthy planes that at present don’t fly from aircraft carriers (though B-2 bombers could fly from Diego Garcia, for example).

So what is the likely effectiveness, and what are the likely risks, of each possible approach? I’d argue that there is there is significant unpredictability about how well an air campaign by Israel in particular would work – not least in terms of how much of the existing Iranian nuclear infrastructure it would destroy, and how long it might take Iran to recover (and that’s even leaving aside the huge issue of how Iran might retaliate).

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Israel • Middle East • Military • NATO • Nuclear • United States
Will Kim Jong Un’s leadership be music to U.S. ears?
July 27th, 2012
12:51 PM ET

Will Kim Jong Un’s leadership be music to U.S. ears?

By Brian P. Klein, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brian P. Klein is an economic consultant and former U.S. diplomat. The views expressed are his own.

Disney characters dancing on stage, women wearing short skirts, and a country's new leader making speeches, smiling, and glad-handing military officers. In most places around the world, that’s nothing unusual. But for North Korea, it marks a sea change in image if not quite reality.

Political transition in Pyongyang has reached its apex with every major title bestowed on Kim Jong Un from head of the military to party boss. Despite concerns over a dynastic handover to the young and untested leader, purportedly just shy of 30 and apparently married, the regime didn’t collapse. And in a highly unusual show of openness this past April, foreign journalists were allowed to cover a rocket launch that ultimately crashed soon after take off. State media even reported the failure.
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'Reality check' for Iran nuclear talks
Iran demands the right to a nuclear program, including enrichment. But that is unacceptable to Israel, says Geneive Abdo.
May 21st, 2012
03:13 PM ET

'Reality check' for Iran nuclear talks

Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington. The views in this article are solely those of Geneive Abdo.

By Geneive Abdo — Special to CNN

Iran is set for nuclear talks Wednesday with members of the U.N. Security Council, and the Obama administration, as well as some Iranian and European Union officials, expressed optimism that a compromise will be reached.

But it is useful to examine Israel’s long-term objectives for a bit of a reality check.

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Topics: Iran • Israel • Nuclear
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