When the Unthinkable Becomes Possible

The deal between Iran and the P5+1 group (the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) would have been unthinkable a few months ago but is a reality now. It is just an interim agreement which may provoke international and domestic opposition (both in the US and Iran), but it is undoubtedly an important first step, not only to deal with the nuclear issue but also to more general normalization. 

This is probably the first positive development in a decade-long crisis that erupted with the revelation of Iran nuclear facilities in 2002. But its importance goes beyond, since it may also be the first approximation to what could be a normalization in relations.

In short, Iran agrees to certain limitations of its nuclear programme while the P5+1 removes certain economic sanctions. During six months, the parties agree to:

Iran

  • Uranium enrichment above 5% halted.
  • Stockpile of 20% enriched uranium to be diluted or converted to a form not suitable for further enrichment (oxide, for fuel fabrication).
  • Stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium to remain untouched (not increased) at the end of six months
  • No more centrifuges installed, centrifuge production just for replacement, and IAEA access to places where they are assembled.
  • No further construction or experimental work at the Arak reactor, and no new locations for enrichment (halting plans for new ten sites).
  • Daily monitoring of enrichment, and more access to uranium mines.

P5+1

  • No new nuclear-related economic sanctions, particularly for oil.
  • Relief of sanctions on Iran exports of gold, some metals, auto sector and petrochemical sectors.
  • Part of $4.2bn frizzed assets from Iran oil sales allowed to be transferred.
  • Part of $400m frizzed Iranian funds allowed to be transferred for educational purposes.
  • More flexibility for non-sanctioned trade with Europe.

The whole amount of Iran assets now available is around $7 billion, according to some analysts. A Joint Commission is also established to monitor implementation and address issues that may arise.

The next phase of negotiations is scheduled in six months (provided that both parts adhere and comply) and expected to seek a more permanent and comprehensive agreement. What the concrete points in the table will be is unknown, but an ambitious attempt would seek to remove all sanctions on Iran in exchange of this country accepting further supervision of nuclear activities that in fact prevent it from developing nuclear weapons.

A few topics to be addressed in the final agreement have been laid out in the pact, as well as the goal of reaching it within a year. These elements include:

  • Comprehensive relief for sanctions (multilateral, national and those of the Security Council).
  • Limits established for a fixed term, after which Iran civilian program will be treated such as that of any other country party of the Non Proliferation Treaty.
  • A limited (but continued) enrichment program.
  • Resolve concerns over the Arak reactor.
  • Enhanced monitoring.
  • A step by step approach, and the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

Back to the current situation, progress can be hampered by a great deal of problems. The obvious first case: any of the parts fail to comply. Iran could still try to restrict IAEA supervision. The US Congress could refuse to lift sanctions (in this case, however, it is worth remembering that many sanctions were imposed by Presidential Decree and the president can cancel them without Congress approval. And of course, the European Union can (and should) act independently).

Hardliners, both in Iran and in the US, may attempt to boycott any development, or be ready to take advantage of any problem to derail the whole process.

Any international diplomatic effort involves a degree of intangible –but key- issues. One of them is trust. A long problematic relationship such as the US-Iran one creates distrust and suspicion, issues that are difficult to overcome.

The main advantage of this deal is that it relies on a series of specific, measurable and verifiable actions by each part, leaving less space for those matters to play a role. In this sense, the agreement is ground-breaking in that it has created a concrete agenda for cooperative action.

In this regard, former Iranian president Rafsanjani has argued in an interview with the Financial Times that a comprehensive deal will be easier after the taboo (of talking to each other) has been broken. While the interim deal required “breaking the ice, the second stage will be more routine. Part of it was because talking to the US was a taboo. That taboo could not be easily broken.”

The reactions, and what they mean

Israel and Saudi Arabia have been the harshest critics of the agreement (although there are more, of course). Israel has called it a ‘historical mistake’ while Saudi Arabia had repeatedly threatened before with developing its own nuclear programme in case a nuclear Iran was tolerated.

What both countries have in common is that they have been the closest US allies in the region for decades. Both have been dependent on the US for matters of national security (including at times direct military involvement). And the US has intervened in whatever problem in the region in order to protect them.

Instances of US support for Israel are widely known. But the same plays for Saudi Arabia. Only US protection provided this kingdom with the kind of security needed to transform oil revenues into political power and influence throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Israel and Saudi Arabia have also enjoyed for a long time the greatest levels of influence in Washington. This could no longer be the case.

For the US, a new situation is emerging in the region after Afghanistan and Iraq, the Syrian and Libyan wars, and the Arab spring. Turmoil has increased, autocratic regimes have proven to be unreliable partners and there is a rise in radical Sunni forces. Iran, with all its Shia agenda, can be a counter balance to those forces.

Other members of the P5+1 are also adapting their strategies. France challenged previous attempts to reach an agreement, probably with an eye on its own defence and energy companies and the market possibilities of the Persian Gulf regimes. Meanwhile, Germany and the UK have taken into account the opportunities that Iran provides for their energy firms.

Whatever the rhetoric, Israel is clearly benefited with the deal. It may have to get used to the new Iran regional status, although it could benefit from it provided that it weakens other Arab states. Prominent members of the security forces have taken views that are significantly different from those of Netanyahu maximalist instance (maybe because they are conscious of this reality).

Saudi Arabia and Gulf monarchies are those who should feel more endangered, given that their concern goes beyond nuclear issues. A US- Iran normalized relationship is a nightmare for Riyadh, given their concerns over Iranian rise and the fact that they still face potential domestic consequences of the Arab turmoil. It also goes against their positions in the Syrian conflict. In short, the changing geopolitical trends in the Middle East are aligning against them in terms of foreign and domestic policy.

To conclude this long entry. One point for the critics: Yes, it is only a partial agreement with a six-month duration; it will face huge obstacles; and a final comprehensive deal may be much more difficult. And one point for the defenders. The deal has the advantage of being action-based, with verifiable and measurable indicators of compliance. It may create room for trust and constructive relations. And is an example of how diplomacy may achieve more than hostility (and of course war).

Let’s see what happens. 

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¿Sirve de algo llamarles terroristas?

EE UU ha incluido al grupo islamista nigeriano Boko Haram en su lista de organizaciones terroristas extranjeras (FTO). Esta iniciativa se aplica a grupos que usan tácticas terroristas y son percibidos como una amenaza a la seguridad estadounidense.

A partir de ese momento, diferentes agencias pueden bloquear las transacciones financieras e intercambios con este grupo, y cualquier tipo de asistencia viola la ley. EE UU ya comenzó a tomar medidas contra este grupo en 2012, cuando incluyó a varios de sus líderes en la lista de Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Boko Haram nació en 2002 como una iniciativa opuesta a la educación de estilo occidental en el norte de Nigeria. Sus apoyos fueron creciendo y en 2009 lanzó una serie de operaciones terroristas y militares con el objetivo de crear un estado islámico. Sus objetivos han sido civiles y militares, incluyendo escuelas, y se han enfrentado abiertamente con las fuerzas armadas. Después de esto, Boko Haram fue objeto de una durísima represión. El gobierno de Nigeria lo designó como amenaza a la seguridad y en junio de 2013 fue calificado de terrorista. También se declaró el estado de emergencia en las regiones del noreste (donde tiene sus bases).

Pese a todo sus operaciones continuaron e incluso escalaron, y han contribuido a un aumento de las tensiones entre poblaciones cristianas y musulmanas. Sus ataques han sido cada vez más sofisticados. Cuando el actual presidente nigeriano Goodluck Jonathan tomó posesión en 2011, Boko Haram provocó numerosas explosiones y atacó el cuartel general de la policía y la sede de la ONU en Abuja. El grupo ha usado técnicas como los ataques suicidas, inéditos en este país. Desde la Corte Penal Internacional han comenzado a investigar sus acciones como posibles crímenes contra la humanidad.

Con la pregunta que titula este texto no cuestiono si Boko Haram es una organización terrorista. Está claro que ha cometido graves actos de terror indiscriminados contra la población y contra el gobierno de Nigeria. Lo que me pregunto es si esta designación aporta algo positivo para abordar el problema de la violencia en Nigeria, incluyendo la de Boko Haram y otros actores armados, en un país altamente dividido.

En este caso concreto hay un primer riesgo claro. Si la inclusión en la lista no va acompañada de un mensaje al gobierno de Nigeria, éste puede interpretarla como un respaldo a sus tácticas anti-terroristas. Y éstas incluyen violaciones masivas de los derechos humanos que tampoco deberían ser toleradas. Amnistía Internacional documentó casi 1.000 muertes violentas en las cárceles, muchas de ellas de personas sospechosas de simpatizar con Boko Haram. Human Rights Watch ha documentado la violencia de Boko Haram y la del gobierno y afirma que ambas pueden constituir crímenes contra la humanidad.

Si no se abordan las raíces y manifestaciones (y responsabilidades) de la violencia por todas las partes, se corre el riesgo de polarizar aún más la situación, y de que haya más violencia como consecuencia.

De un modo más general, un buen número de actores y organizaciones involucrados en diferentes niveles de la construcción de la paz han señalado los riesgos de las listas de organizaciones terroristas (que no sólo tiene EE UU, sino también la ONU, la UE, o el Reino Unido, entre otros). Un ejemplo es este informe del United States Institute of Peace, o éste de Conciliation Resources y Berghof Peace Support. Prácticamente todos los grupos armados envueltos en conflictos actualmente forman parte de alguna de ellas.

Incluir a un grupo en una lista de organizaciones terroristas tiene varios efectos. Por un lado puede limitar sus actividades (por ejemplo, de captación de fondos), sus movimientos o sus vínculos con otros grupos. Por el otro, los esfuerzos regionales o internacionales de mediación para poner fin a un conflicto afrontan mayores dificultades o son paralizados. En ciertos casos, reunirse con un representante de esos grupos puede ser delito. Actores no gubernamentales, pero también gobiernos, activos en mediación y resolución de conflictos, ven así sus manos atadas.

Otro problema es que los actores internacionales no son siempre coherentes al aplicar sus criterios, mantienen diferencias entre sí, y no han establecido canales o vías claras para salir de la lista una vez que se está dentro. En varios casos, la definición de actividades terroristas es tan amplia que podría afectar a derechos como el de reunión, asociación y manifestación. Otro efecto de la inclusión en las listas es la potencial radicalización del grupo y de los sectores que lo apoyan. Esto puede agravar la violencia y dificultar cualquier intento de lograr la paz en el futuro.

En la actualidad, la mayor esperanza de poner fin a conflictos como el de Siria, el de Colombia, o el del programa nuclear iraní, recae en procesos de negociación multilateral. Si se reconoce la necesidad de diálogo y negociación en estos casos, resulta difícil de entender que se cierre absolutamente la puerta en otros.

Syria (2 of 3): On the brink of a military attack

The Syrian conflict has caused a huge civilian suffering since spring 2011 with battles, massacres, widespread torture and forced disappearances, displacement of populations and a break-down of important structures like the health and education systems. More than 100,000 people have dead and more than one third of the population has been displaced, and tensions in the region have soared. 

The military attack seems to be (hopefully) on hold now, after the US and Russia agreement over the Syrian chemical weapons program. However there are reasons to keep this conflict this conflict now and for the future, due to an array of reasons. Firstly, the conflict is far from resolved and internal, regional and international actors continue (and will do so in the near future) playing their interests there. Violence is far from gone. This welcomed agreement cannong make us forget that we (the world) have been on the brink of another potentially catastrophic intervention in the Middle East. And issues of international legality, external intervention, power, management of arms control and proliferation, and humanitarian responsibility, are still here.

Why was an external intervention considered now?

Last year, the US president Barack Obama signaled that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a “red line” in the face of the international community. It was after the August chemical attack with about 1.000 people dead when statements and negotiations about a strong (military) international response soared.

Military action was first proposed by the US, UK and France to deter further actions by the Assad regime. The underlying arguments are: the regime has crossed the ‘red line’ and it is imperative to deter it and other actors from eventually using those weapons; International Law bans chemical weapons and action is imperative; we must protect the Syrians from further massacres; the credibility of the West is at stake, etc.

Finally the British Government could not go ahead due to the rejection of military action by the Parliament, on August 29, and president Obama spent time seeking approval from Congress. France said it was still prepared to take action at any moment.

Different military options were considered and finally the decision involved the use of limited air strikes to enforce a no-fly zone, control the arsenal of chemical weapons and further support for the rebel groups although not to the point of ‘regime change’.

In the first days of September the US Government seemed to rush towards getting Congress approval. But a new Russian diplomatic initiative has apparently allowed to gain (at least) some time as it proposes a 4 step plan to put Syrian weapons and chemical program under control of international observers.

Russia and the US reached an agreement about the Syrian chemical arsenal and disarmament on September 14.

In short: The Syrian chemical weapons program

Syria possession of a chemical weapons arsenal has never been in doubt, although its location and size have been subject to high degrees of speculation. Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) neither ratified the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). It has never formally admitted the stock or made a formal declaration about it (similar to Israel with its nuclear program).

A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service says Syria began stockpiling chemical weapons in 1972 or 1973, when Egypt gave the country a small number of chemicals and delivery systems before the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Later it got the help of the Soviet Union. According to a French intelligence assessment published in September 2013, Damascus has more than 1,000 Tm of chemical agents and precursor chemicals, with stockpiles dispersed across some 50 different towns and cities. The exact size is not known despite statements.

Main analytic and legal arguments

Pro Military Action

A military intervention is legal or legitimate when facing crimes against humanity because there is a moral reason to act; Law needs to evolve to address new situations

  • President Obama and allied leaders should declare that international law has evolved and there are compelling moral reasons to bomb Syria even without Security Council approval. 
  • Jurist Geoffrey Robertson argues that “the Security Council is an unsatisfactory tribunal to decide urgent moral questions because it can be rendered ineffective by politics” (as, some authors suggest, is happening now with the Russia and China positions).

An attack with a widely forbidden weapon as chemicals needs an international response as a way to end impunity and to prevent further use

  • President Obama: “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” “What is the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the government of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?”
  • Richard Haas argues that “chemical weapons, like any weapon of mass destruction, including biological and nuclear, cannot become a normal weapon, cannot be used. The taboo, the barrier cannot in any way be diluted. This far transcends Syria.”
  • If United States does not act decisively now, it will be revisiting same issue months later when conflict worsens and Assad uses these weapons again.

It is necessary to defend American and Western interests in the region

  • American interests in Syria are clear: preventing terrorists from acquiring chemical weapons; depriving Iran of its most important ally and staging-base in the Middle East; and preventing al Qaeda from establishing an uncontested safe haven in the Levant. Reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which President Obama’s proposed “limited strike” will secure these interests, but not about whether the interests are real or vital.
  • If Congress does not agree to conduct military strikes, United States will have closed door on having any serious influence in Syria.

It is a decision on limited strikes, of last resort, and taken without further desire to involve in more wars

  • Secretary Kerry: “I remember Iraq. Secretary Hagel remembers Iraq. General Dempsey especially remembers Iraq…And so we are especially sensitive, Chuck and I, to never again asking any member of Congress to take a vote on faulty intelligence.”

 Against Military Action

External military intervention is not legal nor ethical

  • The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has insisted the use of force will only be legal if it is self-defense or undertaken with authorization from the UN Security Council, as set out in the UN Charter. He is probably the most prominent voice heard in this regard.
  • An attack on Syria without UN Security Council authorization sets a more dangerous precedent than Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
  • Syria is not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the essence of the 1925 Geneva Protocol was to ban use of chemical weapons in international war, not in civil conflict or use against non-combatants.
  • U.S. enforcement of international law is selective and invoked only when it serves its aims. How can a leading international law breaker seek to hold Syria to a higher standard than it sets for itself?

The main objective of any action undertaken should be the safety of the Syrian population and a political solution for the conflict. Both would be undermined by an attack

  • International Crisis Group: At best, the impact of a military strike would have “unpredictable” consequences for Syrians. Only a ceasefire and political solution can secure the “welfare of the Syrian people.”
  • African Forum: Multilateralism and the Rule of International Law are the best and only ways to achieve a political way out of the Syrian crisis.

Why a red line on chemical weapons now?

  • Red lines have been crossed more than once”: Iraq used them both on war with Iran and at home; and during the 2003 Iraq war, the US itself used white phosphorous (considered a chemical weapon when used directly against soldiers).

Why the red line only affects chemical weapons?

  • Why this red line? With over a hundred thousand dead, over five million people displaced by civil war, and atrocities of diverse kinds, why focus on chemical weapons?  Is it that deaths by chemical weapons are somehow more appalling and outrageous? Why is it that a death toll greater than 5,000, 10,000 or 100,000 does not cross a red line, but the deaths from chemical weapons do?

There is not enough evidence about authorship of the attack

  • Intelligence pointing toward Assad’s culpability in August 21 chemical weapons strike is not compelling enough. Having in mind the red line set up by the US it is difficult to see the advantages of their use for the regime, and Russia had warned before about other possibilities.
  • The rebels also have chemical weapons, obtained from different sources.

Limited aerial strikes would not affect (except for worse) the situation on the ground and will reinforce the regime 

Intervention would lead the US to go deeper in this conflict and possibly become trapped there

  • If it doesn’t work, if there is another atrocity—chemical or otherwise—can the Administration sit back and not do more?

Syria (1 of 3): A catastrophic humanitarian situation

Syria has grabbed headlines of international media for months but especially after the August chemical weapons attack that raised the stakes of an international (US) retaliation to punish the supposedly responsible Syrian regime. The roots and development of the crisis, the multiplicity and changing composition of the actors involved, and the complex international alliances and power games played around this conflict make Syria one nightmare scenario, especially for the situation on the ground but also for the level of difficulty for understanding and analysis.

In the last weeks most media have centered around arguments pro and against the intervention, with analytical lines based its legality (or lack thereof) under International Law; the application of normative principles as the Responsibility to Protect; the adequate response for a chemical attack (and only for some voices, doubts around who perpetrated it); and strategic considerations about potential regional shifts in this already unstable environment if an external action takes place.

In this this The Making of War and Peace series about the Syrian situation, I’ll try to find and show here the most useful resources to follow this conflict and understand different positions. The series will unfold like this:

  1. The first post (this one) focus on a few aspects of the catastrophic humanitarian situation created and the responses undertaken as well as in a brief summary of this complex crisis and its evolution.
  2. Time of actors: international powers (the US, UK, France, Russia, China) and regional countries (Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia). What are their interests and strategic calculations? What are their positions and/or doubts and what is behind them? September 16th
  3. Key debates: legality/illegality of intervention according to international Law; relevant Law regarding chemical weapons; relevant approaches and doctrines for the protection of civilians. And, is there a responsibility to protect (and if it is the case, why is it so selectively applied)? September 18th

Just hope it is useful.

——-

The conflict started in the spring 2011 with popular protests that matched others in the region under the Arab Uprisings. The regime undertook a few changes in security and political structures and engaged in repression, something that triggered more protests and demonstrations and later armed responses in some cities and regions. International sanctions and diplomatic moves took place throughout the year, although action by the UNSC was restricted by Russia and China positions on behalf of the regime, while the US, UK and France opposed. Opposition groups joined the Syrian National Council as the main opposition body and fighting intensified. The Council was recognized as a legitimate representative of Syrian people at an international conference held in Turkey by April 2012.

By the end of 2012 violence had exploded long time ago and reached regional levels affecting places in Turkey and involvement by Israel. The opposition formed the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The UNSC estimated around 70.000 the civilians killed in this conflict by then. US support (weapons) to the rebels intensified, but also did doubts and evidences about involvement of jihadist foreign fighters in violence, with their own interests and political goals.

In June 2013 the first allegations of chemical weapons use arose, and also US support for rebel groups. A ‘red line’ for the regime was set up by the US in the use of those weapons. But in August 21, Syrian anti-regime activists claimed that the Government used chemical weapons in an attack on civilians. According to those sources, more than 1,300 people were killed in the attack. Evidences of use were found (there were UN inspectors in the country before the attack that were allowed to conduct investigations). However, conclusive evidence about the responsibility for the attack proved more difficult to find. At any case, the international trumps of war began.

The humanitarian situation

Syria is facing a huge humanitarian crisis, with about one-third of its 21 million population in situation of refuge or internal displacement. Humanitarian actors and UN agencies estimate that 4.25 million people have fled their homes although remaining in the country, while 2 million more have reached one of the neighboring ones. Around 5.000 persons are fleeing every day according to RELIEFWEB, the humanitarian news service of the UN that provides useful updates.

Two million children have left school only since the end of the last academic year. The situation deteriorates every day and the upsurges of violence result in further displacement and increase the vulnerability of the whole population. Civilians throughout the country become trapped in areas surrounded by violence. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 4 million people are at risk of food insecurity and more than half of the public hospitals have limited or no capacity to address needs. The health system is in the point of collapse.

Syria is probably nowadays the most compelling international crisis and (for sure) the one with more media attention and coverage. Real and potential Western involvement plays an important role here. However, and as happened in the past, attention and debate about international options does not automatically translate into attention for people in need. Many humanitarian organizations and UN personnel (not to mention the local Red Crescent volunteers that are paying a huge prize in death and personal injury) are fighting to address the needs and reach new areas.

The international humanitarian response is scarce from the part of donors. The UN system has requested 1.5 billion dollars for the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP), of which only a 45% has been funded. The Financial Tracking Service (FTS) informs that a lower 42% is the funding reached for the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), budgeted in 3 billion dollars. The figures can be better seen in this graphic:

Source: Financial Tracking System, UN (www.fts.unocha.org)

Source: Financial Tracking System, UN (www.fts.unocha.org)

There is a sheering scale of attention that gives preeminence to high level political figures and leaders, especially when war-talk is in the room. At other moments, when diplomacy and negotiation are on their way, attention lowers although remains high when (as now) the crisis is unfolding.

It is ok to pay attention to grandiloquent statements, and even more to negotiations and to people figuring alternative paths to find political solutions. What is at odds with any supposed preoccupation with the protection of civilians is not responding to the immediate circumstances of people in need.

What do you think that Syrians need more?

Looking for additional resources?

The CNN provides here a useful timeline of this conflict and episodes or regional and international involvement. Some basic (or as they say, the “very very” basic) facts about Syria can be found in this Washington Post blog. For interesting historical, cultural and political information, check this piece by The Guardian.

If you need additional information, the BBC World Service provides a complete dossier about the Syrian conflict with background, basic facts, actors involved, international alliances and the forth. A useful resource is this page by the Syrian Needs Analysis (SNS) project, by ACAPS, including maps. For live updates, don’t miss the Syria Live Blog at Al Jazeera.

Next post: The actors (2 of 3; Monday 16th)

Hiroshima Day

Today August 6th is Hiroshima Day, a date for remembrance of the nuclear bombing over this Japanese city in 1945, at the end of the II World War. Three days later, Nagasaki was also bombed. Around 250.000 persons died in both places as a result of the immediate effects of the explosion, and many others did in the weeks, months and years that followed. The urban centres were destroyed in the first (and only up to now) time that nuclear weapons were effectively used in war.

Remember Hiroshima. Source: Indymedia

Remember Hiroshima. Source: Indymedia

It was 8.00 am in Japan when the US bomber Enola Gay dropped a uranium bomb of 4 Tm over Hiroshima. The city was devastated and an estimated 140.000 persons died. Three days later, a second bomb was delivered over Nagasaki, also destroying the city and killing 100.000 people.

As a consequence of the bomb on Hiroshima, a huge fire enveloped the city reaching incredibly high temperatures. Some buildings melt down and many persons simply vanished, leaving only their shadows as paintings over the walls. These ‘death shadows’ are reproduced every year by the city inhabitants as a commemoration for those who died. Many of them were killed instantly while others did in the mid term due to different injuries and illness caused by radiation. Others survived, but had to learn how to live with acute health problems.

The Cold War ended two decades ago but nuclear arsenals remain in place. There are an estimated total number of around 20.000 nuclear warheads. 4.500 out of them are considered operative. Around 2.000, in the US and Russia, remain in state of alert and could be used without delay. The Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognized five countries as ‘legitimate’ nuclear powers (US, Russia, China, France and the UK). Others have informally joined that ‘club’ by 2013: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The number of countries with nukes has doubled since the entry into force of the NPT in 1970.

The Iranian nuclear programme has been subject to pressures for years, ranking from bilateral and multilateral negotiation to threats. But those pressures face many obstacles. One of them is the double standard of the international community. Of the aforementioned new powers, two (India and Pakistan) have nuclear weapons although they are not ‘recognized’ by the NPT, and one else (Israel) is not even part of the Treaty. If you add the fact that recognized nuclear powers are not undertaking real and decisive steps towards disarmament (as the NPT establishes), the credibility of the international community is clearly undermined when trying to deal with Iran or whatever other country.

The good news is the combination of citizen engagement and mobilization, as well as Governments ready to act, that led to the adoption of five Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, covering most of the Southern countries.

This day is an occasion to remember the victims and the terrible effects of nuclear weapons. It should also remind us the need to work towards disarmament and non proliferation. It looks like something of the past when we talk about nuclear weapons. Maybe it sounds like an old Cold War relic. Nothing further from reality: nuclear weapons are still here and their danger remains intact.