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Foreign Affairs Roundup

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This Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

End of START and A New Beginning for Disarmament
SI Analysis: An agreement on a follow-up treaty to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) -- that expired on December 5th -- seemed close at hand according to statements made by Russian President Medvedev and US President Obama in Copenhagen. This newest pact would reduce both countries strategic nuclear arsenal by 25%, specifically reducing strategic nuclear warheads on either side from 2200 to 1600 and strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles from 1600 to below 800. What is even more promising is that Russia and the US have both pledged to work on seeking the reduction of nuclear storerooms and tactical nuclear weapons, neither of which are not covered in the old or new treaties, as well a further reduction on strategic nuclear warheads (down to perhaps 1000 each). If a further treaty on these issues could be met, it would signify a real breakthrough nuclear disarmament as tactical not strategic warheads represent the greatest modern threat to peace and security, since they are more mobile and harder to track (and thus more susceptible to illicit trading and theft). Moreover, Russia as well as China among others also consider tactical nuclear weapons as the key to asymmetrical deterrence from the American nuclear powerhouse.

Teetering Copenhagen
SI Analysis: US President Obama makes a plea for common global action in Copenhagen, pledging US financial support -- up to $100 billion a year in long-term climate aid for poor countries -- if common compliance measures could be put in place (a direct call for China to accept monitoring of its carbon-reduction pledges). Though there has been significant progress on forest preservation and political commitments to carbon reduction, at the time of publication it was unclear whether a legally binding pact with clear emission reduction pledges could emerge from the talks.

Iranian Missile Test
SI Analysis: Iran continues to test Western powers' restraint and presents a proposal to export its uranium in exchange for fuel but with a self-determined time line and with its own verification mechanisms. This is essentially a tactic to refuse the proposed agreement without refusing it. Even more disturbing, it seems that Iran is accelerating its missile program: on Wednesday, Iran tested its Sajjil-2 ballistic missile, which is a solid fuel powered ballistic missile that it said to have a longer range and greater accuracy than any known missile in its arsenal. This suggests that Iran is making significant progress in its tactical delivery systems that could eventually carry a nuclear weapon.

War Reports:

SI Analysis: Following the increase in attacks in Iraq, US General Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, calls on Syria to do more to secure its border with Iraq and stave off the influx of foreign militants into the country. Iraq held an auction and secured oil exploitation deals with foreign oil companies for some of its largest oil fields ( which could boost its production potential from 2.5 million barrels per day to as much as 12 million in the next 10 years).

SI Analysis: In Afghanistan, a suicide blast near a hotel rocked Kabul on Tuesday, the first such attack in over six weeks. Following the poor handling of the election, the UN envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide will be replaced. Meanwhile, Pakistan seemed on the brink of a domestic political crisis as President Zardari is facing growing pressure to resign, following a court ruling that strips him of his amnesty from previous corruption charges. Meanwhile, a spate of suicide bombings on the border between North West Frontier Province and Punjab heightened concerns that militants in Punjab were mobilizing to help the Taliban to the north. That being said, the Brookings Institute's Pakistan Index suggest that following the Pakistani incursions into Swat and South Waziristan this year, overall attacks are down. Elsewhere, there are increased reports of factions of the Pakistani military and Intelligence Service harrassing American officials in Pakistan, suggesting a growing anti-American sentiment within the security community and resistance to the growing American influence and presence in the country. Moreover, there appears to be continued Pakistani resistence to a crackdown on foreign militants and Afghan Taliban within Pakistan.

Under the Radar:

North Korean Weapons Seizure:

SI Analysis: Thai authorities discovered a large illicit weapons cache (35 tons!) on a plane making a fuel stop in Bangkok this week. This follows a similar seizure by the UAE earlier this year of a ship carrying North Korean weaponry, ostensibly bound for Iran. These successful maritime and aviation crackdowns suggest that the internaitonal community, notably including Russia and China, are doing more to apply sanction on North Korea and pressure Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table.

Turkmen Pipeline to China:
SI Analysis: The war of influence over Central Asian energy resources has been ongoing for sometime, but China marked a solid strategic victory this week with the launching into operation of a pipeline that carries gas from Turkmenistan, through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into China. What is remarkable is that China has secured a key energy transit corridor outside of direct Russian influence and one that is slated to carry a majority of Turkmen gas to China over the next few decades. This is a blow to Russia who seeks to maintain a strong influence in all Central Asian affairs, especially energy affairs. But this is also a setback to Europe and its Nabucco pipeline, which seeks to diversify its energy sourcing away from the current Russian hegemony.

You can read this Foreign Affairs Roundup on Simple Intelligence and on the Huffington Post World page.