Peace and security overview of 2020: the year when things didn’t get better or worse

Histories of 2020 will start with the Covid-19 pandemic and there will probably be a lot about the US presidential election. Both the pandemic and the election have big implications for peace and security in 2021 and further ahead. Despite Covid, on the security horizon, 2020 was different from the three preceding years: at last, things didn’t get worse. It doesn’t sound like much but given how badly global security had deteriorated, it was an important, refreshing and much needed change.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get better either. But read on.

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Extending New START

So Joe Biden, as anticipated, has moved quickly to arrange with Russia the extension of the New START bilateral nuclear arms control agreement. Signed in 2010, taking effect in 2011, and due to expire on 5 February this year, the treaty permits extension for up to five years by mutual consent.

The good people at Deutsche Welle asked me the two key questions – “Is this good news?” “Why”? And let me answer them on their 8 o’clock bulletin yesterday evening.

For a more extended discussion, Jan Eliasson and I put out our thoughts earlier this week. In brief, as I argued in my previous post, in a tough period with a complex set of issues, the approach on arms control of the new US President is welcome. He faces some demanding tasks. And the first signs are positive.

Arms control in 2021

There are so many crucial items on the global agenda that one struggles to keep up (though I do wonder whether there really are more now than there used to be or does it just feel that way?). Covid-19 and its economic consequences, the likely increase in extreme poverty and hunger, climate change and the rest of the compound environmental crisis, the attack on democracy in the world’s richest and most powerfully armed state, rising inequality, toxic geopolitics, intractable armed conflicts. And more. This does not seem to be a happy age that we are living through.

In this (rather lengthy) post, I focus on prospects for arms control in 2021. The big challenge is how to make progress against such an unpromising backdrop.

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The US withdrawal from the Iran deal: one year on

On 8 May last year, US President Trump announced that the United States would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which sets limits on Iran’s nuclear programme to ensure that it cannot produce nuclear weapons. Despite the US withdrawal, the JCPOA remains in force. Today, however, Iranian state TV reported that, while remaining in the JCPOA, Iran is planning to resume some nuclear activities that were ceased under the agreement. Continue reading

Arms control: scanning the landscape

Even before President Trump announced the USA would withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 (see my last blog post on this), the arms control landscape did not present a happy picture. Experts from SIPRI and from the Russian Institute, IMEMO, met in October and discussed the problem. The occasion marked the 25th anniversary of the SIPRI Yearbook being published in Russian, thanks to translation effected through IMEMO, together with a Russian supplement produced by IMEMO. We captured some of the key themes in this short film in SIPRI’s Spotlight series.

2017: looking back

2017: it’s been some year, eh? It was the first year of the Trump presidency. All UN members bar one were signed up to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was open for signature and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize. North Korea carried out more missile tests and one nuclear test and moved closer to having a nuclear ICBM capable of hitting targets in the continental US. The Iran nuclear deal came under severe pressure despite Iran implementing it fully. The people of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya continued to suffer the ravages of violent conflict. Elsewhere in the region and outside it, people faced the threat of random terrorist attacks. Arms spending and arms trading continued to rise. In SIPRI’s Peace Points series of short films, I set out some views on these events and trends as they unfolded.

Best wishes for a peaceful 2018!

North Korea and the US: are there ways out?

Was it a response? Was it not a response? Following a missile test on 15 September, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) went two months without another one. On 20 November, President Trump formally designated the DPRK as a state that sponsors terrorism. On 28 November the DPRK carried out launched what may have been an intercontinental-range missile, reckoned by some reports to be its 20th test-firing of the year. The risk of the US-DPRK face-off leading to conflagration is still not huge but it is increasing. With such high stakes, it is urgent to find a way to cool things down. Continue reading

Iran nuclear deal under pressure

The Iran nuclear deal – formally, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA – is under pressure. In his speech to the UN General Assembly today, 19 September, President Trump called it “one of the worst and most one-sided deals” and said it is “an embarrassment to the United States.” Some commentators already see this as advance notice that the US will pull out of the agreement. But it was a good deal when it was made in 2015, it is being properly implemented, and it should be upheld. Continue reading