Exclusive: UN Dithers While Dangerous Alliances Form

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS May 10, 2010
Officials from 189 nations opened a month long conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at the United Nations on May 3rd. It would be useful to look back at what happened after the last major gathering meant to improve nuclear safeguards. President Barack Obama held a much ballyhooed Nuclear Security Summit April 13th-14th attended by 47 nations. A four-year plan to control nuclear materials that could be used for weapons was signed, but there is no enforcement mechanism. Even President Obama had to concede, “We're relying on good will on the part of those who are signatories. I believe they take their commitments very seriously.”
But do they? After the NSS, Chinese President Hu Jintao traveled to Brasilia for the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) summit at which support was voiced for Iran’s nuclear program against any new international sanctions. Though Obama had tried to give the impression that he had persuaded Hu to support action on Iran when they met at the NSS, this was not the case. When Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu was asked about this at a press conference on April 13th, he stated, “On the Iranian nuclear issue, our position has been consistent....Sanctions and pressure are not the fundamental way out.”
In Brasilia, Hu stood beside Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as the latter stated his opposition to sanctions. News reports cited Brazilian officials as saying that their country shares “great affinity” with China over what course to take on Iran. Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim visited Iran April 27 and again denounced sanctions. President Lula is expected in Tehran later this month.
After the BRIC summit, Hu went home to deal with the Tibet earthquake, but a high-level Chinese delegation continued on to Venezuela. The rabidly anti-American strongman President Hugo Chávez was offered $20 billion in “soft loans” from the state-owned China Development Bank and a $16 billion investment package for oil development in the eastern Orinoco region. The loan will be paid back with increased oil exports to China. Venezuela has already increased oil shipments to China by 21 percent over the last year, while cutting back exports to the U.S.
The Chinese interest in Latin America reinforces the radicalism of the region and furthers its incorporation into a global anti-American alignment. The core of this movement is a deepening relationship between Brazil and Venezuela with Iran, under the diplomatic umbrella of China. Key elements of this development were examined at a conference sponsored by the Menges Hemispheric Security Project of the Center for Security Policy on Capitol Hill, April 22nd.
The project is named after the late Constantine Menges who devoted his life to defending America and promoting liberty around the world. An expert in both Latin American and Asian politics, he served on President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council. Menges was among the first to see how Beijing was taking the place of the old Soviet Union in exploiting opportunities spawned from the turmoil of Latin America, and for the same strategic ends—opening another front America would have to protect. As he argued in his last book China: The Gathering Threat, “From China’s perspective, all this would certainly be another means of reducing the U.S. military presence and effectiveness in the Pacific region, where China has more immediate objectives.”
Iran also sees Latin America as a strategic base from which to operate against the United States. There are Tehran-backed Hezbollah terrorist cells in Venezuela interacting with the FARC narco-insurgents operating against neighboring Columbia. Luis Fleischman of the Menges Project reported that, “Young Venezuelans are being trained in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.” The most alarming analysis of what this cooperation between state-sponsored terrorist groups means was presented by Norman Bailey, another veteran of Reagan’s NSC now at the Institute of World Politics. Terrorist bases in Venezuela and the vicinity “make it possible for Iran to retaliate against the United States in the event Iran is attacked by Israel or the U.S.” said Bailey. This is due to the ease by which smugglers and criminals are able to cross the open southern border of the U.S. and reach any part of the country.
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Reich (who served in the Bush Administration 2002-2004) told the audience that the United States “should declare Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. The evidence is there. The Defense Department has it. The Congress has it. The political will is missing.” Trying to stiffen political will in Washington is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She confirmed the Iranian-Venezuelan links at the Menges Project event.
Though Fidel Castro is still the godfather of Latin radicalism, U.S. economic sanctions have denied Cuba the resources needed to spread his ideology. Venezuela, with its oil revenues, has taken charge of the campaign, financing left-wing parties throughout the region as well as sending money to prop up Chavez’ ailing mentor in Havana. Chavez also gets a cut from the large-scale drug smuggling that passes through his country from the FARC network in Columbia. And Venezuela may have also sent uranium to Tehran. Luis Fleischman said, “There is a real possibility” that Venezuela could get a nuclear weapon from Iran or at least help in developing its own. During Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Caracas on April 2, a letter of intent was signed for Russia to build a nuclear power plant in Venezuela.
So while the Obama administration talks about a world without nuclear weapons and puts his faith in the UN, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other advanced systems continues apace. At the opening of the UN NPT Review meeting, Li Hong, Secretary-General of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told reporters that the Iran and North Korea nuclear issues should be dealt with outside of the conference! Tehran and Pyongyang are both violating the NPT and UN resolutions, but Beijing is determined to block action in a forum dedicated to the issues in contention.
Iran is attending the UN conference, as is Venezuela. Indeed, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave the opening speech, attacking the United States as the greatest threat to world peace. Michael Krepon, co-founder of the prestigious Henry L. Stimson Center dubbed both Iran and Venezuela “ruckus makers” that could be expected to disrupt the UN proceedings. Since the conference runs on the basis of consensus, these two rogue regimes, with the tacit support of many other developing states and rising powers, can prevent the conference from adopting any provisions that would impede their agendas.
Any documents that emerge from the UN session in New York will simply end up gathering dust in the diplomatic archives alongside the paperwork for the NSS summit. They will wait to amuse future historians who will find the real basis for world events to be in the age-old struggle between competing alliances and alignments, great power rivalries, arms races and war.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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