Biden needs to clean the Augean nuclear stables

18/1/21 | 0 | 0 | 338 εμφανίσεις

Former IAEA nuclear inspector Pantelis Ikonomou writes:

US president-elect Biden assumes responsibility Wednesday facing an extraordinary reality: nuclear risks. Ahead even of climate change and disruptive technologies, nuclear weapons pose a vital challenge to world leaders. Shifting geopolitics have raised nuclear risks higher than ever before. Intent, accident, or miscalculation could lead to a nuclear apocalypse. According to the Atomic Scientists, the its Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight than at any time since1947: 100 seconds.

Biden, commander-in-chief of the world most powerful nuclear arsenal, is urgently called to overcome numerous legacies of his predecessor:

  • Trump disliked arms control and multilateralism and considered treaties and international agreements unacceptable legal restraints on US freedom.
  • Trump  withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear missiles in Europe.
  • Trump’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review included deployment of new low-yield nuclear weapons, making the use of such mass destruction armaments more tempting.
  • Trump announced non-extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between USA and Russia, set to expire in February 2021, due in part to Beijing’s refusal to join because of its disproportionately smaller nuclear arsenal.
  • President Trump’s erratic behavior on 6 January  2021, inciting insurrection against his own country,  points out the need for establishing procedures that limit a US president’s exclusive authority to order a nuclear strike.

In addition, two on-going nuclear sagas will challenge Biden’s courage and decisiveness right away:


Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw unilaterally from the 2015 nuclear deal shredded an achievement of 12 years of intense multilateral diplomacy and re-activated tensions with. The US withdrawal overturned all fundamental restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, damaging a proven approach to countering proliferation based on international monitoring and verification. The US neglected the authority and competence of the UN watchdog IAEA, undermined international confidence in the UN Security Council and in multilateral diplomacy, and jeopardized the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture.

Rejoining the 2015 Iran deal, as Biden pledged to do upon taking office, is complex and risky. Tehran, in reaction to the US withdrawal, is growing its uranium enrichment capacity in violation of the agreement. Moreover, its parliament voted to end IAEA inspections next month if the US does not lift key sanctions. The IAEA maintains that the Iran deal would not be implementable without amendments agreed by all parties involved. Israel, America’s top strategic ally in the region but an alleged nuclear proliferator, along with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners, keep urging  Washington to refrain from any compromise with Tehran, while the EU says it will redouble efforts to save the nuclear agreement.

North Korea

Diplomatic efforts to solve the almost three decade-long North Korean nuclear issue have desolately failed.  During Trump’s years, Washington oscillated between theatrical summits and hyperbolic threats, while Pyongyang continued to develop its long-range nuclear strike capability in secret. The option of forcing North Korea to nullify its nuclear capability is no longer realistic. Pyongyang has no other strategy available for deterring its decapitation.

Circumstances are not propitious

Continuation in the current course could lead to nuclear breakouts in the vulnerable regions of Middle East and East Asia. Biden, in his interview with The New York Times on 2 December 2020, recognized this grave likelihood by referring to ”Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and other countries” as potential nuclear proliferators.

The 2019 Munich Security Conference found that in seven major countries (France, Germany, USA, Japan, Canada, UK and Russia) when answering the question: “Which of the three countries—USA, Russia or China—do you consider as the biggest threat to your country?” citizens of France, Germany, Canada and Russia consider the US the greatest threat to their country while the Japanese consider the US as the second biggest threat by a small margin after China. America is perceived as presenting the biggest threat to peoples of almost all major world powers!

Biden’s upcoming challenges call to mind the myth of Hercules’ labor:  cleaning the Augean stables.

Category: International

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