Monthly Archives: August 2010

Losing Its Edge? The U.S. and Nuclear Cooperation Deals

by Micah J. Loudermilk, Center for Strategic Research

During the last year of the George W. Bush administration, the United States pursued a number of civilian nuclear cooperation deals with countries around the world including, among others, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, and Vietnam. President Barack Obama, since taking office in 2009, has largely followed in the footsteps of his predecessor on this subject – concluding significant nuclear deals with both the UAE and India – whose civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. has been in the works since 2005.

 Both of these agreements are important for their own reasons. On the Indian front, the civilian nuclear agreement puts the two countries on the path to full cooperation in exchange for India placing its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. In regards to the UAE, President Obama signed a nuclear energy deal with the country in May 2009, opening the door for U.S. reactor builders in the UAE and closing the door on proliferation fears – as the UAE renounced uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. Additionally, agreements are currently being pursued with Vietnam and Jordan as well.

 The UAE’s nuclear deal set the so-called “gold standard” for nuclear cooperation agreements as the nation foreswore both uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing. This agreement is of paramount importance as it demonstrates the necessity of having the United States involved in the international nuclear fuel and energy markets. By using technology, equipment, and a fuel supply as bargaining chips, the government possesses the ability to heavily influence the open nuclear market. In doing so, the U.S. not only helps itself economically but, more importantly, can help to promote the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy while minimizing or even eliminating the risks of proliferation inherent in the production of nuclear energy.

 However, how long can this continue? With the U.S. nuclear energy industry dead domestically for over thirty years, much of the knowledge, technology, and expertise in the field has departed overseas. As time passes, the ability of the United States to control and influence such issues as reactor safety, fuel supply, safeguards, and IAEA monitoring of programs is waning rapidly. If the nuclear power industry remains dormant domestically, how much longer can the U.S. continue to exert power and influence on the industry globally while working to promote nonproliferation objectives? Nuclear power expansion at home may be extinct, but the creation of civilian nuclear energy programs internationally is expanding rapidly. Without advances in the field, the need for other countries to strike civilian nuclear agreements with the U.S. will begin to diminish and the global leader in nonproliferation efforts will eventually be forced into a backseat.


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by Kimberley Berlin & Jordyn Dowd

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announcement of retirement comes at a time when the DOD is facing increasing pressure in Afghanistan, looming budget cuts and discussions about its proper role in the future.

Appointed as SECDEF by President George W. Bush in 2006, the former Director of Central Intelligence, has proven himself to be a force in the political landscape. Asked by President Obama to stay on – an unusual request in the partisan politics of Washington – Gates’ performance has rewarded the President’s faith in him. Widely respected for providing exceptional leadership to a Department heavily stressed by multiple conflicts and major procurement problems, Gates has worked to prepare the Department for a future of continued conflicts, declining budgets and rising threats. While his retirement is no surprise, he will be a very tough act to follow.

Will his impending retirement adversely impact the Department and this administration?

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Russia’s Fires: What is the Fallout?

By Adam Lukszo, Center for Strategic Research

Silhouette of two fire fighters against the background of a forest fire.At this time there is no consensus on what the potential health hazards will be should the forest fires in Russia burn in the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl accident. Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, independent organizations, and individual scientists appear to agree that the fires have the potential to re-release nuclear contamination from the Chernobyl accident into the air should the fires burn in the affected zones. 

However, it is the impact of this potentially radioactive laced smoke that is currently unknown and in dispute.  It may spread the area of contamination but as to where it will spread, the level of radioactive re-release, and how hazardous it will be to the population’s health is unknown.  Currently, the exposure to carbon monoxide and particulate pollution, at five and three times acceptable levels respectively, appear to be the greater concern for Russian health officials.

 What is known is that Moscow is struggling to deal with the outcomes from one of the worst heat wave-induced series of fires (500 as of yesterday) raging across the Eurasian plateaus, that is causing a serious economic and public health crisis for the population.

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Vietnam – Weighing the Options: Hanoi’s “QDR”

By Lewis Stern, PhD, Center for Strategic Research

Line of women wearing cone hatsSenior Vietnamese defense officials have evinced a continuing interest in the U.S.  Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  They have worked hard and read voraciously in order to understand this complex, multi-agency process.  In private conversations and formal bilateral meetings in the last two or so years, senior Vietnamese military officials have attempted to grasp  this regular review that coincides with presidential terms, imagining at first that it accounted for policy visions with a ten year life span.  They have come to equate the QDR with their own national policy review generated in the context of the national congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VNCP).   Vietnam’s defense strategy coincides with a five year socio-economic strategy, and is separate and distinct from the periodic defense white paper that talks about defense policies and capabilities. 

In fact, the Vietnamese strategic blueprint to which senior SRV defense officials refer in attempts to draw a connection between the U.S. defense review and their own process derives from the length party political report system that begins over one year in advance of the national VNCP congress.  It is a highly politicized process that involves every level of the VNCP from the district up through provincial, ministerial and national level party committees in the process of generating an agenda of broad national priorities, and inventorying a wide range of social, economic, policy and defense problem sets.  It is a system that, once it reaches the national level, generates as a report card on the successes of the party-driven system that provides guidance to governing administrative levels throughout the country, and articulates the party’s vision for the country across all these issue areas.  It is part of the process that generates a new slate of party leaders at all local levels as well as electing Central Committee and Politburo members.  This preparation for the 11th National Congress, scheduled to convene in early 2011, is underway. 


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Turkey: Flirting with New Friends

by Adam Lukszo

             Over the past decade Turkey has slowly drifted away from its close relationship with the West and come to pursue a more independent foreign policy. There are a number of reasons why this relationship has deteriorated and brought about this drift.

            First, accession talks between the European Union and Turkey have been stalled since 2005 and Turkey is not expected to join in the next 10 years partly due to opposition from countries such as France. Also, Turkey’s unwillingness to recognize Cyprus, European concerns regarding Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish minority, and movement by the Turkish government’s perceived tilt away from secularism have all become roadblocks. Meanwhile, the Turks’ anger has been stoked by a slow EU accession process tinged with racism, anger over American and European declarations about the Armenian genocide, destabilization in Iraq as a result of the 2003 U.S. invasion, and Israeli policy in the Middle East, particularly toward the Gaza strip. 

            As a result, Turkey has embarked on a new foreign policy of “zero problems with the neighbors” intent on creating and improving ties in the region. Recent improvements include Syria, Iran, and Russia. Syria and Turkey in particular have grown close after conducting join military exercises and the signing of several bilateral trade and cooperation agreements. The economic growth between the two is driving this renewed relationship as Turkey provides Syria an access point for Western consumer goods and Syria provides cheap labor and a large consumer market eager to spend. (The economic relations are so good that Syria actually supports Turkish EU accession.) Turkey has also stepped in and attempted to negotiate a resolution to the Iranian nuclear program. Finally, Russia and Turkey are jointly patrolling the Black Sea; Turkey has become a major consumer and transit point for Russian energy; and increased trade and travel ties have strengthened this relationship as well.

            These changes in Turkish foreign policy have not been lost on some in the West. On his first visit to Turkey, UK Prime Minister David Cameron came out in strong support of Turkish membership in the EU citing its increased growth and economic prosperity. Mr. Cameron emphasized Turkey’s current role as a member of NATO and Turkey’s ability to act as a critical bridge to build links with the Middle East. He stated that for the EU Turkey was “vital for our economy, vital for our security and vital for our diplomacy.”

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Battle for the “ni-ni” in Mexico

by Walter Rodriguez

Recent kidnappings of Mexican journalists and attacks on media news outlets have drawn focus on an important underlying aspect of Felipe Calderon’s War on Drugs- the battle over the Mexican citizenry. Drug cartels utilize fear and money as a means of obtaining and strengthening power over law enforcement, the government and civil society. With the expansion of cartel efforts into the realm of extortion and kidnapping, has come a more fervent public outcry with the creation of community involvement initiatives such as “We Are Juarez,” as well as various organizations created by the families of kidnap victims. However given these flare-ups of citizen unrest turned citizen initiative, many still find themselves victims to cartel propaganda in the form of brutal violence and “narco-mantas,” or bed-sheets hung on walls and overpasses comprised of warnings and threats, with occasional allegations concerning the corruption of political figures at the hands of rival cartels.

            Some organized groups, such as Nuestra Familia, have even pushed it one step further with the indoctrination of the citizenry through booklets and artwork emphasizing religion, manners, and brotherhood, as evidenced by the Nuestra Familia’s requirement of its members to watch the Godfather 1, 2 and 3 in order to learn familial values and respect. All aforementioned themes are aimed at the high-risk, 14-25 year old sub- population of Mexico’s 50 million and growing impoverished class. This subgroup comprised of young Mexican males, and sometimes females, has come to be known as the “ni-ni,” short for “ni estudia, ni trabaja,” translated to “neither study nor work.” This group of about 7 million Mexican youth serves as a large pool from which to recruit lower rank street soldiers who take part in most of the violence and account for most of the dead.

            The cartels are tipping the scales in the battle over recruitment through their use of media suppression and ransom demands asking for the promotion of an increasingly popular drug culture, filled with romantic tales of Robin Hood-like figures, as well as themes of retribution, wealth and family. However, given enough attention, and with the creation of educational and career opportunities the “ni-ni” could also prove to be a source of recruitment for the Mexican government and investment in a bright future. To say the least, the “ni-ni” could serve as allies in intelligence gathering for law enforcement, and the backbone of the political will needed to create citizen resistance against organized crime. For this to happen, it is argued that the War on Drugs needs to win individualized battles over the media, and aim to attack structural problems of poverty and inequality to win over the hearts and minds of its citizenry.

            The goal has been outlined as the Fourth Pillar of the Merida Initiative strategy, however the extent to which this provides a solution can be characterized by three serious questions: Will the government’s mission of strengthening communities by “implementing job creation programs, engaging youth in their communities, and building community confidence in public institutions” remain high on its list of priorities?  Can the government tailor such programs to appeal to and attract the “ni-ni” population? And finally, is it too late?

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