The states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) have begun their fourth review conference last week, to discuss the implementation of the convention in the past five years and to set its goals to the near future. This review conference is facing some major challenges, derived from the weakening of the CWC non-use norm and the deepening of political polarization between key players. The CWC set ambitious goals and gained wide support from the international community since its entry into force in April 1997. Nevertheless, chemical activities related developments in the international arena dissolved the unified position that was expressed in the convention’s previous review conference of 2013. Today’s main challenges relate to Syria, Iran and Russia activities in the chemical sphere, as well to the structural limitations of the review process and the convention’s implementing body – The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The previous 2013 review conference concluded with a final document and with the states parties political declaration. The declaration expressed an unequivocal commitment for chemical weapons ban and the expected goals of the OPCW. Despite this commitment, chemical weapons have been in use repeatedly since 2013,and some of the states’ declarations to the OPCW on their related chemical activities, a component of the CWC’s advanced verification mechanism, were not fully disclosed, and, hence less reliable. The U.S closing remarks in the 2013 CWC review conference, expressed disappointment from the political declaration’s vague text. The declaration did not address directly to the chemical weapons use in Syria and to the promotion of the United Nations Secretary-General’s investigation in this regard. The U.S remarks came to realize as a self-fulfilling prophecy when chemical weapons have been in use repeatedly, and particularly in Syria and Iraq. The Assad Regime in Syria, according to the U.S and European media, kept using chemical weapons even after declaring its stockpiles destruction in August 2014. Furthermore, recent mutual accusations between Iran and the U.S on violations of the CWC were making headlines just days before the beginning of the current review conference. These events join the two recent incidents of alleged Russian use of nerve agent (determined to be “Novichok”) in Amesbury and Salisbury, England, that have also raised the profile of breaking the non-use taboo of chemical weapons.
Addressing these developments in the current review conference requires to balance between dealing with noncompliance issues, as well as other core issues of dispute, and with the need for strengthening the CWC states parties’ cohesion, that involves the alleged violators. The first challenge of the current review conference, as seen in the U.S-Iran relations, for example, is when countries exploit the review conference platform as a mean to advance their broader agendas. In this case, the exploitation comes following the U.S sanctions renewal against Iran and the attempts to promote its political isolation. This challenge relates to a broader context when political tensions that do not necessarily relate to the context of the CWC leak to its review conferences. Bridging this gap, between promoting the goals of the convention and isolating the broader political context is a weak point of review conferences in general. This was also the case in the failure of the 2015 Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons review conference when the concluding statements of Egypt and the U.S were mutual accusations of exploiting the review process for advancing other political goals. Such events could create an opposition that prevents the ability to promote the convention’s future goals and risk its implementation. The exploitation challenge, highlights the structural limitations of the review conference, since phrasing the final document to the conference does not have the same legal binding standing as the convention itself. Not fulfilling the commitments under final documents usually do not include penalties or consider a violation of the convention, but could certainly erode the chemical weapons-ban regime over time.
The political gaps between the western bloc of the US and other western powers, to the Russian oppositional approach that gains the support of China, Iran, and Syria are also more prominent in this review cycle. One indication for it is the issue of the OPCW’s attribution mechanism, known as the Watchdog’s Initiative. Last week (21.11) the state parties rejected the Russia-China proposal to establish a group of experts to review the OPCW’s mandate of creating an organizational team that would be able to attribute blame to a chemical weapon use to a violator. So far, the OPWC could only determine if there was the use of chemical weapons without indicating specifically on the attacker. This development also reflects the balancing dilemma of the need for political compromises, while not achieving them can harm the effectiveness of the CWC implementation. States that oppose core issues, such as the Watchdog initiative, can undermine cohesion and the ability to reach a unified and unequivocal commitment to the convention. This situation damages the stability of the CWC since even when a final document and a political declaration are gaining consensus, they are phrased in a way that relates to the lowest common denominator, as was in the Syrian case in the 2013 conference, which lowers their value.
Despite the above-mentioned examples of the political challenges in the CWC review conferences framework, the foundations of the convention lay on the states parties’ ability to cooperate. More than one hundred episodes of chemical weapons use recorded in the past three years shows how actual the threat of chemical weapons is, and how global cooperation to deal with it is important. There are important goals for the CWC that would be achieved despite the parties’ political contradicting interests. Among these goals, are issues such as inspection and verification measures in countries that are characterized by political instability, updating the lists of restricted chemicals, physical protection on chemical facilities, scientific and technological developments that challenge the convention, and the threat of states and non-states actors using chemical weapons. These issues show not only the importance of the CWC in regulating chemical weapons abolishment, but they also highlight the risks that undermine the convention’s purpose.
NATO’s expanded presence in Latvia is myth
In November NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia was strengthened by Iceland. This information was disseminated across Europe. But what is behind this fact?
November 3, at Ādaži base, Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks and Commander of the National Armed Forces Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš marked Iceland’s accession to the NATO Battlegroup in Latvia.
It is reported that as part of NATO’s expanded presence in Latvia, Iceland will make a contribution in the field of strategic communication. Communication experts from Iceland have also joined NATO’s expanded presence battlegroups in Lithuania and Estonia.
This event shows nothing more but NATO’s tools of manipulating public opinion. In this particular case, NATO tries to give weight to a very minor event in order to simulate its activity in the Baltic States. Taking into account the fact that Latvia as well as Lithuania and Estonia are increasing their defence spending at NATO request, the Alliance has to do something to show its commitment to maintain the security in the Baltic region. In reality NATO authorities are sick and tired of the Baltic States constantly asking for help.
It’s hard to imagine how Iceland could strengthen NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in the Baltic countries. Though it is known that Iceland is a NATO member since the alliance’s foundation on April 4, 1949, few people know that Iceland does not even have a standing army, and its defence forces consist of a militarized coastguard and a paramilitary force. The more so, Iceland’s strong pacifist history has led to considerable opposition to NATO membership in Iceland.
In 2019 while during a visit by the Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to Iceland, the Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke of her support for withdrawing Iceland from NATO. Her party, the Left-Green Movement, is the senior partner of the Icelandic government also supports withdrawing!
So, NATO and Iceland have found a way how to actively demonstrate their help without doing anything in reality.
The purpose of establishing and deploying NATO’s enhanced presence battlegroups in the Baltic States is to enhance NATO’s deterrence and strengthen the Alliance’s defense by demonstrating solidarity against all forms of aggression. The only thing Island could do in this situation is to demonstrate solidarity with Latvia. But Latvia needs much more and hopes for real aid. Does Latvia need such military contingent on its territory which could not really defend it in case of aggression? Should Latvia pay for such unreliable defence? Does NATO deliberately weaken its enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia?
The Danger of NATO Platitudes: What a Biden Presidency Means
Absent the specific context of American politics in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden has proudly served a lifetime in politics as very much a member of the traditional establishment. This means, in foreign policy circles, most of his positions are pinned to what have always been formal American positions, some of which go back literally decades in time. Now add to the fact that Biden has just won an election where the defeated incumbent actually grew to believe in the vitriol with which his most ardent followers sent him to Washington in 2016, ie, Trump’s job more than anything else while in the White House was to undermine the power of the DC Beltway crowd and ‘drain the swamp’ with all of its requisite institutions. One of those institutions for Trump was NATO. While it is true Trump slowly dialed back some of his highly critical rhetoric against the organization over the last four years, it was clear the outgoing president did not see the organization as valuable and would be unlikely to call upon it to serve any vital role in his vision of foreign policy.
Thus, when considering the incoming presidency of Joe Biden, combining together his long history of traditional support for long-existing foreign policy institutions and his understandable desire to stand in direct opposition to previous Trump positions, the future of NATO looks bright if also uninspired. Indeed, as far back as 2016 before Trump actually won the presidency, Biden went on record to declare how remaining a part of NATO and honoring all of its obligations and responsibilities was a “sacred honor” and questioned whether Trump even understood what some of those duties (like protecting Article 5 dealing with the Baltics) actually meant. It would be difficult for Biden to more dramatically express support for NATO as he did here, going beyond diplomatic alliance and discussing it in far more emotional, personal terms. Jump forward to today and there really isn’t anything new indicating a change in Biden’s take on the organization.
In his lead-up to victory this month, out on the campaign trail in 2019, Biden slightly shifted tactics to reinforce the importance of NATO in the face of Trump’s quasi-isolationist, go-it-alone positions across most foreign policy issues. In this take, Biden moves beyond sacred duties and historical obligations and emphasizes how it would simply be “disastrous” for the United States to think it could continue to be seen as the world’s global policeman or try to perform such a role without relying on international alliances of like-minded organizations. NATO, for Biden, stood out as one of the ideal organizations meant to help the United States move forward. He even came out with tired Cold War melodrama to scare the American public, unequivocally stating that a second term for Donald Trump would likely not just mean the end of NATO as a functioning organization but the de facto acquiescence by the United States to “bad actors” in the greater European region like President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation.
It is this formulation that is the most significant in terms of Biden support for NATO. His traditionalism means there is no push or desire to see any mission evolution or adaptation for the organization. The NATO of 1965 is perfectly fine for a Biden presidency in 2020. In short, its need is to function as a bulwark alliance against any and all Russian initiatives and maneuvers. If Biden wants to lean on alliance partnerships for a sharing of responsibilities, then it is clear the NATO version of this is to treat the Russian Federation exactly as the organization treated the Soviet Union fifty years before. This is where traditionalism can become problematic. While it would be naïve to see the Russian Federation in 2020 as a willing ally to the United States or Western Europe, it is still an overstatement and hyperbolic political melodrama to purposely position Russian interests as being a perfect mirror to the danger and tension felt by the world during the height of the Cold War with the ideological battle between the United States and Soviet Union. It is this failure to be innovative in new policy and to be willing to consider new relationship positions, instead maintaining traditional strategic alliances and adversarial dualities, that means a Biden presidency will see a reinvestment in NATO relevance while maintaining depressingly familiar political rhetoric that will miss opportunities for new engagement.
When we look at some of the issues that could fall under the concerns of NATO during a Biden Presidency and involve Russia, they can be extensive but also tend to be described in media and diplomatic circles in purposefully hostile terms that are often overstated. For example, Russian interests in the Arctic Circle are plans to dominate and exclude all others; engagement with Belarus is an effort to forcefully absorb the country into the Russian Federation; reinvestment and modernization of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is an attempt to make NATO’s deterrence posture impotent; countering NATO’s attempts to place air defense batteries closer to the Russian border is an example of ‘Russian provocation.’ As one might expect, Russia has its own perspective on the necessity of these interests and maneuvers but does not describe them in the same intensive adversarial manner. In other words, Russia accepts the natural tension that exists on an issue-by-issue basis but isn’t looking to return to a Cold War-style rhetoric that makes almost any positive engagement between East and West impossible. This is the real problem to be faced with an incoming Biden Presidency: reinvesting in the relevance of NATO and wanting it to share in some of the diplomatic and/or military responsibilities that might arise on the European continent is fine, even wise. But reinvesting in NATO with political rhetoric that shoves the continent back into 1965 simply to avoid the burden of policy/relationship innovation is a horrible step backward.
India is posing a threat to SCO
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a competent intergovernmental international organization, the creation of which was declared on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai (China) by the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Five mechanism preceded it. The SCO’s primary goals are as follows: strengthening mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states; promoting their practical cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology, and culture, education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other domains; creating joint efforts to maintain and guarantee peace, security, and stability in the region; and stirring towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new geopolitical political and economic order. Later on, India and Pakistan joined as full members in 2018. The SCO counts four observer states: the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Republic of Belarus, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Republic of Mongolia. And six dialogue partners: namely the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the Republic of Turkey, and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Observer states and Dialogue partners are expected to join SCO in the near future. Proceeding from the Shanghai Spirit, the SCO pursues its internal policy based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and a desire for joint development. In contrast, its external policy is conducted under the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting any third country, and openness.
To date, SCO has achieved success in maintaining peace, security, and cooperation among member states. However, in recent developments, since the extremists hijacked India and causing a lot of disturbance domestically, as well as with its neighbors. Sino-Indian tension has increased to an unacceptable level, where India has Occupied almost 20 peaks in the disputed territory of Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Indian Claims over Tibet and parts of Xinjiang, and banning Chinese Apps, Chinese Investments, imposing Trade restrictions on China are totally against Shanghai Spirit.
On the other hand, Indian Occupation of Kashmir, violation of Line of Control (LoC), Continued Occupation of Junagarh, and other princely states, uninterrupted state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan, Trade sanctions on Pakistan, refusal to UNSC resolutions on Kashmir, Refusal to dialogue with Pakistan to address the differences and amicably solving the issues, etc., all are totally against the Shanghai Spirit.
In fact, India hijacked SAARC – The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, is an economic and geopolitical organization established in 1985 to encourage socio-economic development, stability, and welfare economics, and collective self-reliance within its member nations, and turned it into absolutely dysfunctional. The Indian role in BRICS was also similar. India is opposing BRI, while all members of SCO are beneficiary of BRI.
India, aligning itself with the US, has become the most beneficiary country of US assistance and aid just after the State of Israel. India focuses on green paster in the US. India joined the Indo-Pacific Alliance with Japan, Australia, and the US. India, by choice, has opted to be in the US camp. After singing a series of defense and strategic agreements with the US, especially BECA, India is totally in the laps of the US. India kept a distance from all neighboring and regional countries and created disputes with all of them. With Nepal, territorial and trade disputes, with Bangladesh, border, ethnic, and trade disputes, with Myanmar, trade, border and refugees disputes, with Pakistan, Kashmir, princely states, trade disputes, Bhutan, political, territorial, trade and ethnic disputes, even with Sri Lanka and the Maldives have differences.
Indian extremist policies and the domestic divide have made the situation even worst. India faces internal insurgencies and civil war due to its discriminatory policies toward minorities and low caste Hindus. Indian censorship on Media is another example of its extremism. India is leading toward a new Nazism threat to the region and globally.
It is absolutely Indian right to be in an American camp, but while staying in SCO, it might serve the role of spy for the US. Although, SCO has no secret agenda against any country but wants to keep its sensitive information limited to its members only. Whatsoever is India’s plan, but SCO may face a threat from Indian presence.
Russia and China are big powers in SCO; it is time to judge Indian intentions and take appropriate measures. However, It is desired that SCO may achieve its aims and goals and set-up an example for other nations to form regional alliances in the rest of the world.
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