Patricia Lewis

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Army cadets walk along London Wall before the Lord Mayor's Show in the City of London on 11 November 2023 (Photo by Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images)

Much of the UK election campaign has focused on domestic issues, but security and defence have also been on the pre-election agenda. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party have centred the idea that the median voter feels insecure. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have sought to portray themselves as guarantors of the nation’s security – and queried Labour’s commitment to defence.

But in the campaign, these important issues have often been covered via narrow competitive rhetoric on defence spending and the UK’s nuclear weapons system.

Even before the campaign began, Sunak accused Labour of making the UK ‘less safe’ for not committing to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence by 2030.…  Seguir leyendo »

A test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile at the Kapustin Yar training ground in Russia's southern Astrakhan region near the Caspian Sea (Photo by Russian Defense Ministry/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A month after the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, a junior Israeli government minister, Amihai Eliyahu, suggested that an atomic bomb could be dropped on Gaza.

Almost all analysts and certainly all governments took his remarks as an empty gesture aimed at a specific domestic audience – the minister later said his comments in the radio interview were metaphorical, and he was suspended from the government.

Behind the headlines and resulting fury, however, is a long-held common understanding that Israel has an undeclared nuclear weapons capability, and that Iran is closer to crossing the nuclear weapons threshold.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made little secret of his desire to address Iran’s developing capacity with military force.…  Seguir leyendo »

The nuclear talks could lay the groundwork for crucial agreement on risk reduction

After many years of fruitless ‘talks about talks’, China and the US have just met in Washington for what is hoped to be the first in a series of discussions on nuclear arms control, the first since the Obama administration.

The meetings, said to be at the ‘working level’, will likely focus on developing a new approach based on increasing transparency and risk reduction rather than on numbers and inspections. It is hoped that this discussion will feed into a high-level meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in San Francisco later in November.

Until now, China has resisted attempts to enter into talks with the US on either a trilateral (with Russia) or bilateral basis, saying that until the US and Russia reduce their numbers down to China’s level – or until China’s build-up matches the numbers of Russia and the US – they would not join the talks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Unexploded cluster bombs collected by members of a sapper group of the Karabakh Ministry of Emergency Situations (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

On 7 July, days before the NATO summit in Vilnius, the US announced that it would supply Ukraine with cluster munitions – until it can ramp up production of other types of ammunition.

It is a controversial decision which is at odds with the views of NATO allies that have foresworn the possession and use of the weapons under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Biden administration said it had received assurances from Ukraine that the munitions will not be used in areas populated by civilians, that Ukraine will keep records and maps of where they are used, and that it will conduct a post-war clean-up.…  Seguir leyendo »

An attendee controls an AI-powered prosthetic hand during the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

As AI technologies are developed and deployed at scale, concern is growing around the risks they pose. In May, some industry leaders and scientists went as far as to claim AI is as great a threat to humanity as nuclear war.

The analogy between both fields is gaining increasing traction and influential figures, including OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, have proposed the establishment of an international agency akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But they are very different types of technology, and the nuclear governance model would not work at all well for AI.…  Seguir leyendo »

10 Downing Street in London, United Kingdom as seen on 05 September 2022 as Liz Truss was announced as the UK's next prime minister. Photo: Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

It says something of the UK that the incoming prime minister has ordered a rewrite of British foreign policy barely 18 months after the last one was published.

Liz Truss, who has become the fourth prime minister in Downing Street in six turbulent years, is not prone to risk aversion or offering bland reassurances. She made clear during the campaign for the Conservative leadership that she wants the 2021 Integrated Review redrawn with a far greater focus on combating the ‘growing malign influence’ of Russia and China. She has also pledged to increase defence spending from its current 2.1 per cent of GDP, to 2.7 per cent, and then to 3 per cent by 2030, which will include more support for the intelligence services and cyber security, a further £10 billion overall at a time when public finances are in dire straits.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the war in Ukraine continues, further shelling of the Zaporizhzhia power plant prompts fresh concerns over nuclear safety in the region.

Zaporizhzhia, one of the world’s largest nuclear power stations, is situated on the southern bank of the Dnipro River and, as of early August, in a region controlled by Russian military forces. Within days of the start of the war, Russian forces sought to take control of nuclear facilities in the north of Ukraine (Chernobyl) and in the southeast at Zaporizhzha. The unprecedented attack on Zaporizhzhia was followed by a military takeover of the facility on the 4th of March.  Despite the military confrontation, Ukrainian staff have continued to operate the plant and continue to do so to this day.

Although the shelling of the station did not result in the release of radiation, Olexiy Kovynyevis, an independent expert and former reactor supervisor, reports that shells hit the turbine buildings as well as the external power supply which was ‘almost completely disrupted’.…  Seguir leyendo »

Unloading US-made FIM-92 Stinger missiles and other military assistance shipped in from Lithuania at the Boryspil Airport in Kyiv. Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images.

The Pentagon’s decision to turn down the proposal by its fellow NATO member Poland to put Russian-made MiG-29 jets at its disposal demonstrates again how keen the US and allies are to avoid risking major confrontation with Russian forces.

The US Department of Defense says the offer to locate jets at bases in Germany was ‘not tenable’ as this risks flying into contested airspace over Ukraine – a non-NATO member – raising ‘serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance’ and echoing the continuing rejection of calls to implement no-fly zones (NFZs) as a way of easing the devastation being faced by trapped Ukraine civilians.…  Seguir leyendo »

US president Joe Biden meets with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Villa la Grange in Geneva. Photo by MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images.

When deep in bilateral negotiations, usually one side may produce a draft treaty for the purposes of having text on which to negotiate or, in a multilateral negotiation, the chair or a group of trusted states may produce an attempt at a draft consensus text. In both cases, it is a stage in the negotiations to help focus minds and to move deliberations to the next stage, and normally the draft treaty will be drastically altered by the end of the process.

Tabling a draft treaty in the absence of negotiations tends to be more the statement of a vision, a set of principles, or elements of a possible eventual treaty – a wishlist perhaps – but has little grounding in any agreed reality which can form the basis of genuine negotiation.…  Seguir leyendo »

HMS Astute nuclear submarine, equipped with cruise missiles and torpedoes, has more firepower than any previous British attack submarine. Photo by BAE Systems via Getty Images.

Technology and cyber threats

Dr Beyza Unal

The announcement mentions developing joint capabilities and information and technology sharing across the UK, US, and Australia and picks up on cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum communications.

As part of this defence agreement, the UK, US, and Australia are aiming to protect the undersea fibre optic cables that provide part of the military and civilian communication for the West. Both Russia and China possess cyber and submarine technology. They could tap into these cables, allowing for eavesdropping and collecting data through cyber means. It is a matter of national and of NATO Alliance’s security to protect undersea cables.…  Seguir leyendo »

Flowers at the monument in New York for victims of the 9/11 attacks. Photo by Volkan Furuncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, analysts said everything was going to change and they were proved right. Just as the decades following the two world wars were heavily influenced by their outcomes and atrocities, the ‘war on terror’ has been the backdrop and set the tone for most international interactions for the past 20 years.

And yet just weeks before the attacks, two international arms control measures were coming to a head at the United Nations (UN) which – without the impact of 9/11 – could have changed the future history of arms control for the better. But as the world changed course, both measures ended up creating major repercussions still being played out now.…  Seguir leyendo »

A US soldier stands with a bouquet of flowers among headstones of those killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

Afghanistan goals were laudable but open-ended

Sir Simon Fraser

The outcome in Afghanistan should not have been a surprise, even if the way it happened was a shock. For foreign policy in general, and foreign military interventions in particular, it is essential to be clear about goals and the capacity to deliver. In Afghanistan, the US and its allies have fallen short on both these counts.

This is a serious reversal for the US and its closest allies, but not a strategic disaster. The threat from Islamist terror will increase, but its significance is sometimes exaggerated and, to some extent, can be addressed by other means.…  Seguir leyendo »

Examining a patient while testing for COVID-19 at the Velocity Urgent Care in Woodbridge, Virginia. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

A controversial debate during COVID-19 is the state of readiness within governments and health systems for a pandemic, with lines of the debate drawn on the issues of testing provision, personal protective equipment (PPE), and the speed of decision-making.

President Macron in a speech to the nation admitted French medical workers did not have enough PPE and that mistakes had been made: ‘Were we prepared for this crisis? We have to say that no, we weren’t, but we have to admit our errors … and we will learn from this’.

In reality few governments were fully prepared. In years to come, all will ask: ‘how could we have been better prepared, what did we do wrong, and what can we learn?’.…  Seguir leyendo »

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) is the mainframe for space law. It recognizes the importance of the use and scientific exploration of outer space for the benefit and in the interests of all countries. It also prohibits national sovereignty in space, including of the Moon and other celestial bodies.

The OST prohibits all weapons of mass destruction in space – in orbit or on other planets and moons – and does not allow the establishment of military infrastructure, manoeuvres or the testing of any type of weapon on planets or moons. As the treaty makes clear, outer space is for peaceful purposes only.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan shake hands after signing the INF Treaty in 1987. Photo: Getty Images.

Although the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is a bilateral agreement between the US and Russia, the recent threat from the US to withdraw from the long-standing, highly successful agreement is not an issue that should be decided only between the two countries.

We are all affected by the US–Russia relationship in its highs and its lows. Their security dialogue is a global security discussion. US nuclear weapons systems are part of NATO’s weapons systems and nuclear arms control agreements between the two states affect everyone in the world. Most significantly, any use of nuclear weapons that resulted from a conflict between them would have disastrous impacts for the whole planet.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pyongyang in July. Photo: Getty Images.

On the anniversary of the US nuclear bomb attack on Nagasaki in 1945, rhetoric from both Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump has one again raised the spectre of nuclear war in the Pacific.

Nuclear weapons have not been used in conflict since the end of the Second World War – although many have been exploded as part of weapons development and testing programmes. They are qualitatively different from other weapons. Because the energy in the atomic nucleus is much larger than the energy in chemical bonds, nuclear explosions have far greater impacts than conventional explosives. This is why one nuclear bomb could destroy a city such as Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nighttime view of the strait of Gibraltar. Photo by NASA

Space is a vital part of national and international infrastructures. Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, humanity has been using space for the purposes of communications, monitoring our environment, tracking the planets in the solar system and the stars in the galaxies, proving data for global positioning, navigation and timing, and conducting vital scientific experiments. We are increasingly dependent on the global space-based satellite constellations for the workings of the national and international infrastructure such as the piloting of aircrafts, navigation at sea, military manoeuvres, financial transactions and internet and phone communications.

Two recent developments in China – the launch of a ‘quantum satellite’ designed to transmit hack-proof keys from space and its loss of control of the space station Tiangong-1 – highlight the security challenges, and dangers, space presents.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thirteen years ago, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Up until the end of 2015, it had since conducted three underground nuclear test blasts, despite strict international sanctions aimed at its nuclear programme and almost universal condemnation of each test.

But last week, it made its most dramatic claim yet - that it had tested a hydrogen bomb. And regardless of whether it was truly an H-bomb (and there is considerable skepticism over whether it was) decision-makers cannot relax - there are still serious long-term implications to what took place this week.

As with all new nuclear weapons possessors, North Korea first developed fission bombs, which are based on the process of heavy nuclei (such as uranium and plutonium) splitting into fragments, releasing large amounts of energy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Thirteen years ago, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Up until last week, it had since conducted three underground nuclear test blasts, despite strict international sanctions aimed at its nuclear program and almost universal condemnation of each test.

But on Wednesday, it made its most dramatic claim yet -- that it had tested a hydrogen bomb. And regardless of whether it was truly an H-bomb (and there is considerable skepticism over whether it was) decision makers cannot relax -- there are still serious long-term implications to what took place this week.

As with all new nuclear weapons possessors, North Korea first developed fission bombs, which are based on the process of heavy nuclei (such as uranium and plutonium) splitting into fragments, releasing large amounts of energy.…  Seguir leyendo »