Tag: nuclear diplomacy

Presidential Reading List: (After you probably get through the ones with ‘Bacevich’ on the cover)

Dan Drezner has issued a call to arms!… or to your library card:

“I therefore call upon the readers of this blog to proffer up their suggestions — if you had to pick three books for an ambitious U.S. politician to read in order to bone up on foreign affairs, what would they be?”

I have a gut feeling that all of the answers are going to be grand strategy, grand strategy and some war on terror/Afghanistan. (Although, maybe I’m not being generous enough… but looking at the comments on Drezner’s post, I don’t think so.) So I’m going to suggest three books that touch on issues presented by ethical and political leadership as well as the war on terror, with a little bit of history thrown in on the side. Oh yeah – they’re all very good reads – Senators are going to be reading these things on planes, right?

(And for comparison, with an American IPE guy, Kindred Winecoff’s take is here.)

1. Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea.

I think this book actually deserves its own post, let alone a mention here. It won (and very much deserved) the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize in 2010. Basically Demick interviews North Korean defectors who now live in South Korea about their experiences north of the 38th Parallel. But it’s not just a book about North Korea – most of the individuals in the book lived through the famine that struck the country in the 1990s. And gradually, as the story of the expats unfold, you learn what it is like to live through a famine – bonuses slowly disappear, soon the shelves aren’t stocked, and people begin to sell off their possessions to buy food on a dangerous black market. It gets worse – seeing increasing numbers of abandoned children at the train station, walking overtop of people literally starving to death – but in such a way that you’ve become numb to the suffering, so as to not be overwhelmed buy it. And eventually to see your family and friends die.

“From the outside, Chongjin looked unchanged. The same gray facades of the Stalinist office buildings stared out at empty strtches of asphalt… But Mrs. Song knew better. It was a topsy-turvy world in which she was living. Up was down, wrong was right. The women had the money instead of the men. The markets were bursting with food, more food than most North Koreans had seen in their lifetime [in the black markets], and yet people were still dying from hunger. Worker’s Party members had starved to death; those who never gave a damn about the fartherland were making money.” (p. 157)

It’s a powerful book and a brilliant insight into a country which we know little about. In short, learn about North Korea, but also what it is like to live through starvation and suffering and how people cope and survive. And I’m sure there’s a lesson in there for dealing with North Korea for the aspiring policy maker.

2. Peter Hennessy, The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945-2010

This is a book by one of the UK’s foremost historians of the Cold War. Effectively, it is about how governments counter threats – whether it is through intelligence agencies or nuclear deterrence. It is on this later topic, nuclear weapons and nuclear politics where Hennessy’s book is really chilling. How would a society cope with the ultimate worst case scenario – nuclear war? How can governments plan for the unthinkable? One of the most unsettling chapters is about Exercise INVALUABLE – a simulation for UK government officials in 1968 of a weeklong countdown to WWIII. According to the exercise at 1200 hour ZULU:

“Today’s newspapers give particular prominence to Soviet advances into West Germany and of the fighting in Northern Norway and on the Jugoslav/Italian border. Radio programs were interrupted this morning to report the amphibious attack against the Danish Islands. In leading articles, the ‘Times’ and the ‘Guardian’ urge that the West should not initiate a tactical nuclear exchange.”

Beyond this, it is a useful look back at how government looked at ‘subversive’ organizations, managed intelligence and threats to the nation. It’s a useful reminder of where we’ve been with regards to national threats that provides good insight as to where we might be going.

3. Conor Folely, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

An excellent book by a former (recovering?) humanitarian. In short. Folely looks at the real consequences of good humanitarian intentions. How, for example, the international community’s intervention in East Timor completely distorted their economy – raising prices in local communities; and how the Timorese saw little of the billions of dollars spent on the peacekeeping mission there.

“A sudden, large influx of resources will invariably distort the local economy and the arrival of an international mission will have a destabilizing effect. However well-intentioned, the intervening participants will almost always be inadequately informed regarding specific local politics and culture. Even the worst-paid international aid workers are likely to earn several times more than the average local salary. …” (p. 143) 

Or while the intervention in Kosovo helped to protect the Kosovar Albanians, it failed to preent a reverse population expulsion as the Serbs were forced to leave Kosovo. It’s a very good critique – and a useful reminder that every humanitarian action seems to have an equal and opposite reaction. Additionally, it’s a useful examination of what happens when bodies established to alleviate human suffering and put an end to war end up making a case for just that.

So there you are – three books that have done well in the UK which may have some lessons for US policy makers (and none with Bacevich on the cover!)

Cheeky honourable mention: I realize that I have no IPE on this list. Not my area – but I like the writings of Michael Lewis. I’ve just started The Big Short and I’m looking forward to Boomerang.


Some NPT Reading… if you’re out of summer novels.

International Affairs – the (increasingly policy oriented) official journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House) has published a “virtual” issue of articles on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) dating back to 1968 and going up to the present. It includes one by Hedley Bull published in 1975 which (although very much dated) highlights the dilemmas of nuclear diplomacy during the period of detente and when India shocked the world by conducting a nuclear explosion in 1974 and China re-emerged as a major player on the world stage.

Not exactly beach-y kind of summer reading, but an interesting collection nevertheless – and possibly of use to some readers.


The Security Council Goes Nuclear

I just finished reading the UN Security Council’s latest Cross-Cutting Report on The Security Council’s Role in Disarmament and Arms Control; Nuclear Weapons, Nonproliferation and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It’s an excellent overview for non-experts on the relationship of the UN Security Council to nuclear diplomacy. Background sections cover the history of UNSC’s involvement in disarmament and arms control and why it mostly failed during the Cold War; the nature of alternative bilateral and non-UNSC multilateral arrangements to date and their drawbacks; the Security Council’s engagement with a series of WMD crises since 1977; and the relationship between nuclear weapons and other WMD (though the report accepts as valid the socially constructed distinction between WMD and conventional weapons – obviously the authors haven’t read Tannenwald). Anyway, it’s useful reading for anyone wanting the current skinny on disarmament and non-proliferation regimes and where the UNSC fits.

But the report also includes an optimistic, forward-looking and (I think) a little bit naive appraisal of the Council’s resurgent role in nuclear diplomacy, which was set out in Article 26 of the UN Charter but fell by the wayside for much of the UN’s history:

“The Security Council has shown… that it has the potential – and the power, if it chooses to exercise it – to contribute to addressing both specific and broader disarmament dimensions of security issues… Clearly there are a huge range of options the Council members can pursue in their national capacities that would have positive impacts on the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda.”

These, the report goes on, include “national statements in UNSC debates, committing the UNSC to “play a regular role,” an annual high-level meeting, an omnibus resolution bringing together and updating existing resolutions, statement and decisions on disarmament; and “establishing a high-level subsidiary body to support the Council in discharging a strategic-level role in the area of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.”

But most of avenues envisioned here for SC involvement seem halfhearted and largely rhetorical. On the one hand, the Security Council has one thing going for it that other nonproliferation forums lack: a 2/3 majority voting process rather than a consensus process where every stakeholder has a veto. On the other hand, the P5 veto dilutes this advantage for all issues; and it’s particularly problematic on nuclear policy given that the P5 are all on one side of the disarmament debate. Indeed the report’s appraisal of the SC’s earlier efforts at nuclear diplomacy paints a more somber picture of its ability to exert more than an epiphenomenal effect on political outcomes, for this very reason:

“The P5 – all of whom have nuclear weapons – seem unusually united about compliance with the nonproliferation obligations in the NPT and preventing other states and nonstate actors from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the Council’s record of effectively addressing the parallel obligations on the P5 under article VI of the NPT [which requires nuclear states to work in good faith toward disarmament] is almost completely absent in any practical sense… Council action against state proliferation has been uneven and is often criticised as selective… it has acted firmly against nuclear programmes in Iraq, the DPRK and Iran. Nuclear weapons programmes in Israel, Pakistan and India were largely ignored.”

As anyone schooled in realist theory knows, this is precisely the pattern that would be predicted in the absence of the Security Council.

So ultimately I think it is naive to place much faith in the UNSC as a bulwark against nuclear proliferation. This doesn’t mean it’s entirely devoid of power. The UNSC is good for three things, all significant:

First, as Inis Claude famously argued, it functions as a collective legitimation body, so it has some role to play in reproducing norms negotiated in other forums like the Conference on Disarmament. Second, it may be poor at helping states escape collective action dilemmas, but it does constitute a forum for states to coordinate policy responses vis-a-vis non-state actors – perhaps it should be taking the lead particularly on this aspect of non-proliferation policy. Third, as any civil society actor who has attempted to influence a Security Council resolution knows, it functions to securitize issues: the agenda of the UN Security Council is considered a signal to the global community about the significance of threats and concerns, and in this sense alone its re-engagement with disarmament and proliferation issues is important.

Doesn’t mean we should pin all our hopes on New York, however. I think it is far more significant that the United States is now playing a lead role on nonproliferation issues as well holding the rotating Presidency for the month of September. To the extent that the UNSC has power to play a constructive role, it will be wielded through sympathetic P5 governments.


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