Presidential debate should include nuclear weapons discussion

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 19, 2016 at 10:19 pm

By Tom Le, The Hill, October 18. 2016

Last May, I traveled to Japan to observe President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima. Obama stopped short of an apology for the use of atomic bombs that took the lives of 140,000 in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki, but he delivered a lengthier and more substantive speech than many predicted.

The President’s remarks highlighted the dangers of technology and the need for interdependence and strong institutions to promote cooperation and avoid conflict.
In August, I returned to Hiroshima the “Obama buzz” was still in the air as the president mulled a no-first-use policy for the U.S. But when that idea faded away, so did attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Now another grueling U.S. presidential campaign is passing by with scant mention of this life-and-death issue. Some may argue that the use of nuclear weapons is unlikely and there are more immediate concerns to be discussed, such as jobs and terrorism.

Yet, nuclear weapons are an expensive tax on the domestic economy and pose significant costs when managing global security. Even though the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal has slowed down under Obama, the US is expected to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years upgrading its arsenal.

Currently, nine nations possess approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons, 90% of which are held by the U.S. and Russia. North Korea has already conducted two nuclear weapons test this year and Iran’s nuclear ambitions have only recently been stalled.

U.S.-Russia relations have not been this frail since the Cold War and terrorism and proliferation are ever present dangers to the U.S. and global security. However, from the tone of this year’s presidential election, it seems neither candidate nor the public are particularly concerned about this threat.

Throughout the campaign, political commentary on the U.S. nuclear arsenal and global anti-proliferation measures has been almost non-existent. During the Republican Primary, nuclear weapons were only mentioned in relation to Donald Trump’s temperament and his lack of qualifications to be president.

Questioning Trump’s temperament is a valid concern, but there needs to be genuine discussion of whether anyone is qualified to use nuclear weapons. What specific qualifications does Clinton have that suggest she is prepared to use weapons that are hundreds of times more powerful than the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

In their first debate, Trump and Clinton were asked whether they supported Obama’s consideration of ending the U.S.’s long-standing policy on first use, and neither gave a comprehensive answer.

Trump stated that the U.S. was “not keeping up with other countries” and would “certainly not do for a strike,” but would not “take anything off the table” when it comes to first use. Clinton used her two minutes to assure U.S. allies that she would honor mutual defense treaties and said nothing concerning first use, non-proliferation, or the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In the second presidential debate, Clinton briefly mentioned nuclear weapons when elaborating on her successes, such as negotiating treaties to reduce nuclear weapons and Iran’s nuclear program. Donald Trump countered by saying that the U.S. nuclear program had “fallen behind” and was “old” and “tired.”

Clinton was not given a chance to respond and North Korea’s nuclear program was not mentioned once in the debate.

Clinton has largely been silent on non-proliferation, while Trump has been absolutely flippant on the prospects of using nuclear weapons. According to one report, during a meeting with a foreign policy expert Trump asked three times why the U.S. could not use nuclear weapons if it had them.

During one interview, Trump stated that he would consider using nuclear weapons against ISIS, the stateless terrorist entity with a footprint in several states. In another interview, Trump openly advocated for proliferation, suggesting that Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia acquire their own nuclear weapons.

Trump would undo decades of hard work in mere seconds. These answers are consistent with his general lack of knowledge on nuclear weapons, demonstrated back in the Republican Primary when he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” was. Clinton’s position is consistent with long standing U.S. policy, focus on horizontal proliferation and downplay vertical proliferation.

The U.S. inability to take a firm stance on proliferation worries non-nuclear states, weakens the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and halts any momentum for meaningful changes in how we thinkabout nuclear weapons. Seven decades of not using nuclear weapons may have led to us to forget how immediate and devastating a nuclear attack would be.

Nuclear weapons breed distrust in the international community and their production and maintenance cause immeasurable environmental damage. And the threat of increases with each passing day as the likelihood of use increases, whether due to terrorism, accidental launch or conflict.

In Obama’s Hiroshima speech, he said, “We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

Critical examination cannot come only during momentous visits or anniversaries; it needs to be constant because nuclear weapons will always be a threat in the here and now. The mushroom cloud casts a long shadow and completely defined the way the U.S. conducts international relations.

In order to “do things differently to curb such suffering again”, we must urge our presidential candidates to have the intellectual honesty and the moral strength to make nuclear weapons a front and center issue of this election for the sake of lasting world peace.


Le is an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College whose research interests include Japanese security policy, militarism norms, military/security balance in East Asia and war memory and reconciliation. He was a Sasakawa Peace Foundation non-resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS and a Fulbright Fellow at Hiroshima City University.

NY Times Absurd New Anti-Russian Propaganda

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 19, 2016 at 12:30 am

October 16, 2016
The New York Times is so determined to generate hate against Russia that it has lost all journalistic perspective, even portraying Russia’s military decoys – like those used in World War II – as uniquely evil, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry


If the dangers weren’t so great – a possible nuclear war that could exterminate life on the planet – The New York Times over-the-top denunciation of all things Russian would be almost funny, like the recent front-page story finding something uniquely sinister about Russia using inflatable decoys of military weapons to confuse adversaries.

The Oct. 13 article, entitled “Decoys in Service of an Inflated Russian Might,” was described as part of a series called “DARK ARTS … How Russia projects power covertly,” suggesting that the nefarious Russians aren’t to be trusted in anything even in the case of “one of Russia’s lesser-known military threats: a growing arsenal of inflatable tanks, jets and missile launchers.”

The bizarre article by Andrew E. Kramer, one of the most prolific producers of this anti-Russian propaganda, then states: “As Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin has muscled its way back onto the geopolitical stage, the Kremlin has employed a range of stealthy tactics. … One of the newer entries to that list is an updating of the Russian military’s longtime interest in operations of deceit and disguise, a repertoire of lethal tricks known as maskirovka, or masking. It is a psychological warfare doctrine that is becoming an increasingly critical element in the country’s geopolitical ambitions.”

What is particularly curious about Kramer’s article is that it takes actions that are typical of all militaries, going back centuries, and presents them as some special kind of evil attributable to the Russians, such as Special Forces units not dressing in official uniforms and instead blending in with the surroundings while creating deniability for political leaders.

American and European Special Forces, for instance, have been deployed on the ground in Libya and Syria without official confirmation, at least initially. Sometimes, their presence is acknowledged only after exposure because of casualties, such as the death of three French soldiers near Benghazi, Libya, in July.

Indeed, one could argue that the United States has excelled at this practice of stealthily entering other countries, usually in violation of international law, to carry out lethal operations, such as drone assassinations and Special Forces’ strikes. However, rather than condemning U.S. officials for their sneakiness, the Times and other mainstream Western publications often extol the secrecy of these acts and sometimes even agree to delay publication of information about the covert attacks so as not to jeopardize the lives of American soldiers.

U.S. Propaganda Network

The U.S. government also has built extensive propaganda operations around the world that pump out all sorts of half-truths and disinformation to put U.S. adversaries on the defensive, with the American financial hand kept hidden so the public is more likely to trust the claims of supposedly independent voices.

Much of that disinformation is then promoted by the Times, which famously assisted in one major set of lies by publishing a false 2002 front-page story about Iraq reconstituting its nuclear weapons program as a key justification for the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Yet, the Russians are called out for activities far less egregious than what the U.S. government – aided and abetted by the Times – has done.

You could even view the Times’ article citing inflatable weapons as proof of Moscow’s perfidy as itself an example of another U.S. psychological operation along the lines of the Times’ article accusing Iraq of obtaining aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges, when the tubes were actually unsuited for that purpose. In this new case, however, the Times is heating up a war fever against Russia rather than Iraq.

Yet, as in 2002, this current psy-op is not primarily aimed at a foreign adversary as much as it is targeting the American people. The primary difference is that in 2002, the Times was helping instigate war against a relatively small and defenseless nation in Iraq. Now, the Times is whipping up an hysteria against nuclear-armed Russia with the prospect that this manufactured outrage could induce politicians into further steps that could lead to nuclear conflagration.

As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in a recent opinion piece, the current tensions between Washington and Moscow are “more dangerous” than during the Cold War.

“It’s a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War,” Steinmeier wrote. “The current times are different and more dangerous” because there were clear “red lines” during the Cold War where the rival nuclear powers knew not to tread.

Though Steinmeier, as a part of the NATO alliance, puts most of the blame on Moscow, the reality is that Washington has been the prime instigator of the recent tensions, including pressing NATO up to Russia’s borders, supporting an anti-Russian putsch in neighboring Ukraine, and helping to arm rebel groups fighting in Syria alongside Al Qaeda’s affiliate and threatening Russia’s allied Syrian government.

‘Regime Change’ in Moscow?

Further feeding Russia’s fears, prominent Americans, including at least one financed by the U.S. government, have called for a “regime change” project in Moscow. Yet all Americans hear about is the unproven allegation that Russia was responsible for hacking into Democratic Party emails and exposing information that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has tried to keep secret, such as the content of her speeches to Wall Street investment banks and other special interests.

Vice President Joe Biden has announced Washington will retaliate with some information-warfare strike against Moscow. But the reality is that the U.S. government, working hand-in-glove with the Times and other mainstream American publications, has been waging such an information war against Russia for at least the past several years, including promotion of dubious charges such as the so-called Magnitsky case which was largely debunked by a courageous documentary that has been virtually blacklisted in the supposedly “free” West.

The Times also has embraced the U.S. government’s version of pretty much every dubious claim lodged against Moscow, systematically excluding evidence that points in a different direction. For instance, regarding the shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, the Times ignored a published Dutch (i.e. NATO) intelligence report stating that the only powerful anti-aircraft missiles in the area capable of hitting MH-17 were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

While it may be understandable that the Times opts to embrace claims by a Ukrainian-dominated investigation that the Russians were responsible – despite that inquiry’s evidentiary and logical shortcomings – it is not journalistically proper to ignore official evidence, such as the Dutch intelligence report, because it doesn’t go in the preferred direction. If the Times were not acting as a propaganda vehicle, it would at least have cited the Dutch intelligence report as one piece of the puzzle.

The Times’ relentless service as the chief conveyor belt for anti-Russian propaganda has drawn at least some objections from readers, although they are rarely acknowledged by the Times.

For instance, Theodore A. Postol, professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tried to lodge a protest with the Times’ editors about the “inflatable weapons” story.

In the email, a copy of which he forwarded to me, Postol wrote: “This article is a very good example of the misleading foreign policy reporting that has unfortunately become a hallmark of the New York Times.

“The complete lack of sophistication of this article, coupled with the implication that the use of such decoys is somehow an indication of a Russian cultural bias towards deception is exactly the kind of misleading reporting that cannot possibly be explained as a competent attempt to inform Times readers about real and serious national security issues that we are today facing with Russia.”

Postol attached to his email a series of photographs showing decoys that were used by the Allies during the Battle of Britain and the D-Day invasion. He noted, “There is a vast popular literature about this kind of deception in warfare that is available to even the most unsophisticated nonexperts. It is simply unimaginable to me that such an article could be published in the Times, yet alone on the front page, if the oversight mechanisms at the Times were properly functioning.”

Postol, however, assumes that the editorial system of the Times wishes to provide genuine balance and context to such stories, when the pattern has clearly shown that – as with Iraq in 2002-2003 – the Times’ editors see their role as preparing the American people for war.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print or as an e-book.

Why the resolution on a ban treaty matters to me

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on October 17, 2016 at 10:37 pm

Dear friend,

When I speak about my experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, often the first thing that comes to mind is an image of my four-year-old nephew Eiji —transformed into a charred, blackened and swollen child who kept asking in a faint voice for water, until he died in agony.

Had he not been a victim of the atomic bomb, he would be 76 years old this year. This idea still shocks me. Regardless of the passage of time, he remains in my memory as a 4-year-old child who came to represent all the innocent children of the world. And it is the image of massive death of innocents that has been the driving force for me to continue my struggle against nuclear weapons.

Many survivors of the nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been passing in recent years with their dreams of nuclear abolition unfulfilled. Their motto was, “abolition in our lifetime”.

Nuclear weapons are far from abolished. As you know, the nuclear-armed states are continuing to upgrade and modernize their nuclear arsenals, and disarmament negotiations continue to be blocked while international tensions are on the rise.

But the world now has an historic opportunity to achieve something remarkable.

Over the past five years, I have witnessed the mounting momentum of a global movement involving states without nuclear weapons and NGOs working together to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons.

This movement has shown beyond all doubt that nuclear weapons are first and foremost a grave humanitarian problem, and that the terrible risks of these weapons cast all techno-military considerations into irrelevance.

Thanks to the work of ICAN and committed people around the world, the proposal for negotiating a treaty banning nuclear weapons is now on the table

At the end of this month, all governments will vote yes or no to starting negotiations of a treaty that will prohibit nuclear weapons. With every fiber of my being, I support this resolution and I am working to get all governments to vote yes. You can contact your government too, and do the same here.

The number of people who experienced the catastrophic humanitarian suffering caused by nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are rapidly diminishing. This is an historic moment for us, for you, and for the world.

Let us seize this opportunity to ban nuclear weapons – in our lifetime. Together, we have the power to make this happen.

Yours sincerely,

Setsuko Thurlow
Survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and anti-nuclear activist

Copyright © 2016 International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,