US Declares 4,804 Active Nuclear Weapons

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April 29, 2014 –  The United States has reduced its active nuclear arsenal by six percent under President Barack Obama with the number of warheads for delivery now less than 5,000.

At its height in 1967, the US had 31,255 nuclear weapons. The reduction under Obama is still far less than under his predecessor, President George W Bush, who reduced the active arsenal by 25 percent in the first six years of his presidency.

The US had 5,113 active nuclear weapons in 2009.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that as of September 2013, the number of nuclear weapons in the active U.S. arsenal has fallen to 4,804,” US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said at an NPT preparatory committee meeting held at UN headquarters on Tuesday. “This newly declassified number represents an 85 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear stockpile since 1967.”

Gottemoeller hinted that recent divisions with Russia over Syria and Ukraine is hindering further cuts in the nuclear arsenal.

“Recent actions have significantly undermined mutual trust and that trust will take time to rebuild,” she said. “Still, no one should forget that even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found it in our mutual interest to work together on reducing the nuclear threat.

Gottemoeller also said the US remains committed to ratifying the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty. The treaty cannot go into force until it has been ratified by the eight remaining countries of the 44 that initially negotiated it - China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the US, which have signed the treaty, and North Korea, India, and Pakistan, which have not signed.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image: Wikimedia

Russia Isolated in UNSC Over Ukraine Incursion

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin at UN Security Council Meeting, Marc 3, 2014 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin Addresses Security Council Meeting, March 3, 2014 (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

March 3, 2014 – Russia received no support for its takeover of the Crimea region in Ukraine at an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Monday.

On his way to the Council chamber, Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that he requested the meeting “to explain in considerably more detail” his country’s actions in Ukraine.

He told the 15-nation body that troops were there to protect Russian citizens and compatriots and the that the actions of Russia were “fully appropriate and legitimate.”

Churkin also read a letter from ousted president Viktor Yanukovych requesting Moscow’s help in restoring law and order. He added that Russia was “defending the most important right, the right to life.”

When her turn came to speak, US envoy Samantha Power said listening to her Russian colleague, “you would think Russia was the rapid response arm of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

“Russia has every right to wish that events in Ukraine had turned out differently, but it does not have the right to express that unhappiness by using military force or by trying to convince the world community that up is down and black is white,” she said.

In response to the letter from Yanukovych, Britain’s UN envoy, Mark Lyall-Grant, said Yanukovych had “abandoned his office, his capital and his country” and his pronouncements carried no legitimacy.

Nigeria UN ambassador, Joy Ugwu, reminded parties to the Budapest Convention -Ukraine, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States – that they are required to meet in a time of crisis. No such meeting has yet taken place.

Even Russia’s ally China offered no support for Moscow’s incursion into Crimea with Amb. Liu Jieyi telling the Council that Beijing “believes in non-interference in the internal affairs of a country.” He added that China is closely following events in Ukraine.

Kiev’s envoy, Yuryi Sergeyev, told the Council that there are now an estimated 16,000 Russian troops in Crimea. He earlier sent a letter to all UN missions outlining Russia’s actions in his country.

This was the third emergency meeting of the Council on Ukraine in the past four days but other than offering up a heated debate, there is little it can do to address a crisis involving one of its permanent members other than to convince Russia to agree to a joint UN-OSCE mediation mission.

Churkin said he supported the visit of Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson to Ukraine – Eliasson travelled to Kiev yesterday – but he could not speak about “my country’s position on the OSCE because I am ambassador to the UN.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Ukraine Envoy to UNSC: Russia Violating Budapest Memorandum

Ukraine's UN Ambassadir, Yuriy Sergeyev, speaking at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, March 1, 2014.

Ukraine’s UN Ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, speaking at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, March 1, 2014.

March 1, 2014 – Russia is violating the 1994 agreement it made with Ukraine when the former Soviet state abolished its nuclear weapons program, Kiev’s UN ambassador told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Saturday.

“The Russian Federation doesn’t comply with its obligations as state guarantor of Ukraine under Budapest Memorandum which obliges Russia as well as other permanent members of the Security Council to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Amb. Yuriy Sergeyev said.

In recognition of Ukraine joining the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Russia, Britain and the United States agreed under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and not launch aggressive actions against the country.

US President Barack Obama also told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that Moscow’s takeover of the Crimea region violates the agreement while William Hague invoked the agreement earlier on Saturday when he tweeted that the UK supported Ukraine’s request for an urgent meeting of the Council.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, made no mention of the text in his remarks to the Council, instead saying Russian troops were invited to the pro-Moscow region and he blamed EU officials for meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Speaking to reporters later, this month’s president, Luxembourg’s Amb. Sylvie Lucas, said the Council will continue discussions on a US proposal to send a mediation team consisting of UN and OSCE officials to Crimea.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s envoy to Ukraine, Robert Serry, had planned to visit Crimea on Saturday but after speaking with officials there, he said the visit was “not possible.” Serry is scheduled to brief Ban in Geneva on Sunday.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Envoy Power Skeptical of Reported Homs Deal

Perm rep of the USA speaking to the press regarding the situation in Syria
Feb. 6, 2014 – Samantha Power on Thursday cast doubt on whether the reported deal to allow aid into, and civilians out of, Homs would result in an easing of the humanitarian situation in the besieged old part of the central Syrian city.

Earlier on Thursday, the UN issued a statement welcoming reports that a humanitarian pause had been agreed in Homs by parties to the conflict.

“Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, welcomed the news of the humanitarian pause agreed in Homs, which will allow civilians to leave and the delivery of essential, life-saving supplies for about 2,500 people,” the UN statement said. “She will continue to follow developments closely.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Security Council, US envoy Power said: ” I note regime statements this morning describing a willingness to evacuate ‘innocents.’ Given that the regime, up to this point, has described just about anybody living in opposition territory as a terrorist – and has attacked them as such – you know, we have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical and, frankly, very concerned about anybody who falls into regime hands who comes from a part of the country that has been under opposition control.”

A similar deal was announced during the first round of Geneva II talks last month but failed to come to fruition.

There is further skepticism that Thursday’s announcement of a humanitarian pause in Homs is aimed at creating an appearance of progress ahead of the second round of Geneva II talks next week as well as responding to a draft UN Security Council resolution circulated among council members today that calls for unhindered humanitarian access in Syria.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday said Moscow would not support a humanitarian resolution.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

photo/UN Photo

Jump in New HIV Cases in Eastern Europe

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Nov. 27, 2013 – New diagnoses of the HIV virus are up nine percent in Eastern Europe, according to figures released by the World Health Organization on Thursday.

Of the 131,000 new cases of HIV reported in the European region in 2012, 102,000 occurred in Eastern Europe, with 76,000 of those cases reported in Russia, accounting for almost 60 percent of new infections, according to the data which was released ahead of World Aids Day on Dec. 1.

About 35 percent of HIV cases in Russia occur among injecting drug users while heterosexual transmission accounts for about 30 percent of cases. The exposure route of the remaining 35 percent is unknown but it is thought that most occur among men who have sex with men.

It was reported last month that a new virulent strain of HIV in Russia was spreading at a rapid rate and accounts for more than 50 percent of new infections.

The Moscow Times reported that Russian schools generally offer little or no sex education, which contributes to the high rate of infection. The paper added that Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights advocate, said in September that he opposed teaching teenagers about sexual health in school, saying that Russian literature is “the best sex education there is.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Will Ban Ki-moon’s words be used to bolster US case for strike against Assad?

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For many months, it has been evident that President Assad and his Government have lost all legitimacy.” – Ban Ki-moon, June 7, 2012

Sept. 5, 2013 – These words from the UN secretary-general could be used in arguments to justify a US strike against targets inside Syria by the United States in the coming weeks.

The UN charter prohibits military action against another member state unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense. 

But the US has argued that the Assad government has lost legitimacy, and they have the words of Ban Ki-moon to back them up.

The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly at the recommendation of the Security Council and the question of whether he is a secretary or a general is open to interpretation, that’s to say how much weight do his words carry. Here is the UN charter’s vague description of the role of the secretary-general.

As this ASIL article by Kenneth Anderson points out, saying a government has lost legitimacy is a political statement not a legal statement but the US “might go a step further and say that the Assad government is no longer the legitimate, lawful government of Syria, and argue that it uses force not against UN member state ‘Syria,’ but rather against the illegitimate Assad regime and in collective self-defense of the Syrian people.”

While such a claim will be contested, not least by Russia, who could argue that “the Assad government meets essentially all the formal requirements of international law to be the legal government,” a number of countries including the six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council have recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) and the 22-nation Arab League has given Syria’s seat to the SOC, against the objections of Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon. Britain, France, Italy and Spain have also recognized the group as a legitimate representative.

One way around the legitimacy question would be a General Assembly vote on who should represent Syria at the UN, though the US is thought to be unwilling to establish such a precedent should countries unfriendly to Israel consider a similar move in the future with regard to Palestinian representation.

Ban said today in Russia that he has taken “note of the ongoing debate over what course of action should be taken by the international community” regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use and that “all those actions should be taken within the framework of the UN Charter, as a matter of principle.”

- Denis Fitzgerald

photo: UN photo/Eskinder Debebe

Why Syria’s Opposition Won’t Get UN Seat Anytime Soon

March 26, 2013 – Arab League members at their Doha summit on Tuesday agreed to give Syria’s seat to the opposition coalition. The Syrian government has been suspended from the 22-nation group since Nov. 2011.

The New York Times reported that opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib said after the meeting that the opposition now wanted “the seat of Syria at the United Nations and at other international organizations.”

A recent precedent would be the Sept. 2011 decision to grant Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) the country’s seat at the United Nations after a recommendation from the credentials committee and after a vote in the General Assembly to block the move was roundly defeated.

But by that stage, Libya’s UN delegation, along with several other of Tripoli’s diplomatic missions, had long defected to the NTC, and NATO-backed rebels were on their way to victory. Not so with Syria, whose UN envoy, Bashar Jaafari, continues in his post and continues to defend the regime, and the fall of Assad still not imminent.

That aside, the unanimity that existed among the nine credentials committee members with regard to Libya does not exist for Syria. While a new committee is appointed each year, there are three de-facto permanent members – the United States, along with China and Russia. The latter two have vetoed three draft Security Council resolutions on Syria in the past 18 months.

The list of credentials committee members for the current General Assembly session is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald

$11.8bln Donated to UN Aid Appeals in 2012 – EU, US Top Givers

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The UN’s top aid official, Valerie Amos, meets child refugees in Kabul, May 2012 (photo: UN Photo/Fardin Waezi)

Jan. 6, 2013 – Almost $12bln was donated to UN aid appeals last year with the European Union and the United States contributing more than half that amount.

The European Union (European Commission + 27 Member States) was the largest donor providing $4.9bln while the U.S. was the largest individual donor providing $3.1bln to humanitarian aid appeals in 2012.

A breakdown of the EU number shows that the European Commission – the legislative arm of the EU – donated $1.8bln to UN aid appeals last year while member states provided just over $3bln. The biggest member state donors were Britain ($809mln) and Sweden ($684mln).

Non-EU members Norway and Switzerland donated $493mln and $324mln respectively.

Outside of Europe and the US, Japan was the largest provider of aid to the UN, donating $658mln last year, followed by Canada who gave $496mln, and Australia, $296mln.

Among emerging donors, Brazil provided $54mln to UN humanitarian relief in 2012 while the UAE gave $43mln, Russia, $39mln, China $27mln, and Saudi Arabia $27mln. BRICS countries combined contributed $126mln last year with South Africa giving 3.5mln and India $2.7mln..

The Republic of South Sudan ($792mln), Somalia ($676mln), and Sudan ($588mln) were the biggest recipients of UN aid in 2012.

A tally of the top donors is here.

Denis Fitzgerald

Obama’s Next Bid for Re-Election – the UN Human Rights Council

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Ban Ki-Moon addresses the opening of the Human Rights Council’s current session in Geneva on Sept. 10 (photo credit: UN photo)

Nov. 7, 2012 – Among those running for 18 available seats on the UN Human Rights Council in Monday’s election is the United States, whose newly re-elected president, Barack Obama, decided to embrace the controversial body after his 2008 victory, arguing that Washington could better change and influence from inside than from outside.

Former US president George W. Bush boycotted the Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, but Obama reversed course and the US was elected to a three-year term in 2009.

The 47-nation Council has seen its influence grow in the past two years. With the Security Council deadlocked on taking action on Syria, the Human Rights Council appointed a commission of inquiry that’s investigating and documenting allegations of human rights abuses and possible war crimes in the country over the past 19 months. It also suspended Libya’s membership during Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal crackdown and prevented Damascus from vying for a seat in 2012, as well as blocking Sudan’s bid.

The Council has won praise too from pro-Israel groups – who’ve criticized the body for its disproportionate focus on the Jewish state – for appointing a human rights investigator on Iran in March 2011 and it has also won plaudits from Human Rights Watch for addressing human rights situations in Guinea, Myanmar and North Korea.

The US is one of five countries vying for three seats available in the Western European and Other States category. The other four candidate countries in the group are Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden.

The Western group is the only one with a competitive election as the other categories (Asia, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Eastern Europe) are running on a pre-arranged clean slate.

Countries ending their terms this year include China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Each country is elected to a maximum of two consecutive three-year terms.

Among the US allies who will join the Council in 2013 are Japan, South Korea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Estonia.

A list of all candidate countries and the current composition of the Council is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald 

UPDATE Nov 12: US reelected to Council with 131 votes along with Germany, 127, and Ireland, 124 – both serving for first time. Greece, 77, and Sweden, 75, defeated.