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The Bomb: How Shimon Peres Outwitted the U.S. to Bring Nukes to Israel

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on September 30, 2016 at 12:10 am

Renowned for his decades-long quest for peace in the Middle East, Shimon Peres’s greatest triumph was his cunning and successful plan to bring nuclear weapons to Israel.
Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, September 28, 2016

PARIS —Shimon Peres is recognized as a great statesman and will be remembered after his death early Wednesday morning at age 93 as a passionate advocate of peace between Israel’s Jews and the Arabs of the Middle East.
With a longer view, historians will note that he managed to become prime minister twice and president of the State of Israel, but he never clearly won the powerful premiership in popular or parliamentary votes. He was always admirable, but in the end, proved almost unelectable, a brilliant rhetorician, but not nearly as successful a politician as, say, long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Even as a peacemaker, or perhaps especially as a peacemaker, Peres could articulate brilliantly and beautifully the desires for peace, the reasons for peace, the benefits of peace, and indeed he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s Yassir Arafat. But Peres could not bring home the goods, and the relative calm that exists in Israel and the occupied territories for the moment is far from the peace that Peres so often and so eloquently described.

So it is ironic that his greatest single accomplishment—the one that has protected his nation decade after decade in the savage landscape of the Middle East, is one the Israeli government still, as a matter of form, will not acknowledge. Because it was Peres who brought home to Israel the nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles that were and, for better or worse, still are the ultimate guarantor of its survival.
One key to the Israeli nuclear-weapons program launched in the mid-1950s was France, where the young Peres—still in his thirties and serving as the director general of Israel’s defense ministry—cultivated a vast array of important political and scientific contacts.
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The other key was the systematic deception of the United States, which at first opposed Israel’s development of a nuclear-weapons capability, then failed to connect the dots that showed that’s what it was doing, then tried to buy it off with a huge increase in conventional weapons shipments, and finally, in 1969 accepted tacitly what it had failed to prevent explicitly.
Avner Cohen’s book Israel and the Bomb, published in 1998, still offers some of the most detailed and thoughtful information about what he calls Israel’s “nuclear opacity,” the refusal to admit what the world knows and what is, in fact, a vital source of deterrence. To study that history of 60 years ago is also to understand why Israel is so suspicious of Iran’s nuclear deceptions. It’s been there, done that, and Peres led the way.
That said, Israel’s perilous situation in the 1950s was hugely different than it is now. Today it is seen, rightly, as the region’s pre-eminent military power, with solid, massive, unequivocal backing by the United States.

In the mid-1950s, no country was ready to guarantee Israel’s survival, and its Arab neighbors were committed to its obliteration, exploiting the massive displacement of Palestinian refugees as a central cause around which to build pan-Arab nationalism, even as the Palestinians themselves were forced into camps and isolated in these supposedly sympathetic countries.
As early as 1954, then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was speaking obliquely and behind closed doors about the importance of “science.” “It might be that our ultimate security would rest on that. But I will not talk about it any further. This could be the last thing that may save us.” In an address to the nation in 1955, he said “the future of Israel was not dependent on what the gentiles would say, but on what the Jews would do.”
“This attitude,” writes Cohen, “became the motto of the nuclear program.”
The Polish-born Peres, more at ease in European political and social circles than some of his sabra colleagues, had been exploring the possibility of defense cooperation with the French from early in the decade. By the spring of 1956, as Cohen writes, “Peres had reached a comprehensive security understanding with the government of Guy Mollet.”
The government of the Fourth Republic in Paris was badly divided, and facing a growing rebellion in Algeria, where Arabs inspired by Egypt’s new leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, no longer wanted to be an ostensible part of France.
At the time, the Americans, Russians, and British had developed nuclear weapons, but the French themselves, while they had the technology, had not decided what to do. Peres exploited the situation for all it was worth, forming bonds with the pro-nuclear factions in France, trying to persuade them to give Israel the technology the Americans would only share under strict safeguards, which would have prevented its use to make or develop weapons.
“Peres arranged to obtain French weapons through unconventional channels, using these channels to explore whether France would assist Israel in pursuing nuclear weapons,” Cohen writes. “That France itself was still undecided about the acquisition of its own nuclear weapons, and that the pro-nuclear camp advanced its cause stealthily and incrementally, made it easier for Peres to advance Israel’s nuclear objective. Defense Minister Maurice Bourges-Maunoury, a supporter of French nuclear weapons, understood Peres’s vision just as he understood the need to keep the two countries’ nuclear plans opaque.”
The decisive moment came in 1956, when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, previously controlled by the British, and London and Paris wanted to cut a deal with Israel to launch a tripartite war against Egypt. Peres, greatly exceeding his authority as the appointed head of the defense ministry’s bureaucracy, could not let the opportunity pass. He believed such a deal would open the door to the nuclear-weapons cooperation he wanted. Ben-Gurion’s government eventually agreed to the alliance. When the war began, Israeli troops rolled across the Sinai toward the canal.
The Eisenhower administration in Washington demanded an end to the fighting and the withdrawal of the Israeli and allied forces, while the Soviets, who backed Nasser, made a clear and potentially apocalyptic threat. The Israeli government was “criminally and irresponsibly playing with the fate of its own people,” Moscow declared, “which puts in jeopardy the very existence of Israel as a State.”
Peres spoke to his French counterparts. “I don’t trust the guarantees of others,” he said. “What would you think if we prepared our own retaliation force?”
The French agreed in secret to help Israel build a nuclear reactor and underground reprocessing plant that would allow Israel to produce sufficient quantities of plutonium to build atomic weapons. Construction began at Dimona, in the Negev desert.
All this while Peres and successive Israeli governments insisted in public that any work being done on a nuclear program was for strictly peaceful purposes—to produce energy for a country that often had limited access to fossil fuels. But those directly involved in France and Israel never had any doubt about what was going on. Peres reoriented the atomic energy program from research to weapons development, and the lid of secrecy around it was screwed on ever more tightly.
By 1958, American intelligence was getting wind of the developments at Dimona, but failed to connect the dots. Over the next couple of years, as evidence accumulated, the Israelis agreed to let the Americans visit Dimona, and managed to convince them nothing was amiss. In 1962, Peres persuaded the French to sell Israel its first ballistic missiles.
But by then, Charles De Gaulle was president of the new Fifth Republic in France, and he was not happy about the nuclear deal with the Israelis. He ordered it stopped. Peres worked around him, and his persistence and his contacts paid off once again. The program managed to continue with French cooperation for another two years or more after De Gaulle ordered it halted.
One big problem was where to get 20 tons of “heavy water” for Dimona. The United States would not cooperate without safeguards, and Peres wanted no part of those. De Gaulle would not supply the heavy water either. But Norway had begun producing it for its own peaceful reactors, and agreed with Peres to sell the needed quantity.
In 1967, Israel’s preemptive war against Egypt and, quickly, against Jordan and Syria, lasted just six days, and the nuclear program was not a direct factor, although rumors and reports of its developments clearly had increased tensions.
Once the victory was achieved, and Israel set about occupying East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank, the exaltation of victory and the promise of “land for peace” seemed to show that Israel was secure with conventional weapons. But the nuclear program continued nonetheless.
By 1969, the CIA was certain that Israel had at least a nuclear-weapons “capability,” and in 1970 the Nixon administration let it be known publicly that the U.S. government believed this to be the case. But efforts to get it to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were unavailing. In fact, it was building an atomic arsenal that would grow to 80 and, by some estimates, as many as 200 warheads.
Peres had, by the late 1960s, gone into politics. He’d been elected to the Knesset and began his rise to the top of what eventually became the Labor Party.
As he tried and failed repeatedly to win a clear-cut victory as prime minister, one of the things that the Israeli electorate held against the intellectual Peres was his lack of experience as a soldier. Given his decisive contributions to Israel’s phenomenal military power, that must go down as one of history’s great ironies.

Congressman Lieu & Senator Markey Introduce the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 28, 2016 at 5:16 am

Washington – Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) and Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2016. This legislation would prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. The crucial issue of nuclear first use – discussed in last evening’s Presidential Debate – is all the more urgent given the fact that a majority of Americans do not trust Republican Nominee Donald Trump with our nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Upon introduction of this legislation, Senator Markey issued the following statement:
“Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival. Unfortunately, by maintaining the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, U.S. policy increases the risk of unintended nuclear escalation. The President should not use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. This legislation enshrines this simple principle into law. I thank Rep. Lieu for his partnership on this common-sense bill during this critical time in our nation’s history.”
Upon introduction of this legislation, Mr. Lieu issued the following statement:
“Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves if they knew the President could launch a massive, potentially civilization-ending military strike without authorization from Congress. Our Constitution created a government based on checks and balances and gave the power to declare war solely to the people’s representatives. A nuclear first strike, which can kill hundreds of millions of people and invite a retaliatory strike that can destroy America, is war. The current nuclear launch approval process, which gives the decision to potentially end civilization as we know it to a single individual, is flatly unconstitutional. I am proud to introduce the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2016 with Sen. Markey to realign our nation’s nuclear weapons launch policy with the Constitution.”

Praise for the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2016
William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense – “During my period as Secretary of Defense, I never confronted a situation, or could even imagine a situation, in which I would recommend that the President make a first strike with nuclear weapons—understanding that such an action, whatever the provocation, would likely bring about the end of civilization. I believe that the legislation proposed by Congressman Lieu and Senator Markey recognizes that terrible reality. Certainly a decision that momentous for all of civilization should have the kind of checks and balances on Executive powers called for by our Constitution.”
Tom Z. Collina, Policy Director of Ploughshares Fund – “Current US nuclear policy is undemocratic and unconstitutional. In the realm of nuclear weapons, the United States is closer to a dictatorship than a democracy. The President has absolute authority to use nuclear weapons, and Congress has been cut out. It is time to bring democracy to nuclear policy, and Rep. Lieu and Sen. Markey’s bill moves us in that direction.”
Megan Amundson, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) – “Rep. Lieu and Sen. Markey have rightly called out the dangers of only one person having his or her finger on the nuclear button. The potential misuse of this power in the current global climate has only magnified this concern. It is time to make real progress toward lowering the risk that nuclear weapons are ever used again, and this legislation is a good start.”
Catherine Thomasson, MD, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – “We must understand that our own nuclear weapons pose an unacceptable risk to our national security. The “successful” use of our own nuclear arsenal would cause catastrophic climate disruption around the world including here in the United States. These weapons are suicide bombs, and no one individual should have the power to introduce them into a conflict. The Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2016 is an important step to lessen the chance these weapons will be used.”
Congressman Ted W. Lieu serves on the House Committees on the Budget and Oversight & Government Reform.
He is also the Democratic Freshman Class President and a Colonel in the Air Force Reserves.

25 Years Ago Today a President Changed Nuclear Policy Forever. Will This One?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 28, 2016 at 2:15 am

Stephen Young, Washington representative and senior analyst, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists | September 27, 2016
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the most remarkable and rapid changes ever made in U.S. and Soviet/Russian nuclear posture and policy.

Susan Koch, who was director for defense policy and arms control on President George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council at the time, summed up what became known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) this way:

President Bush’s first PNI announcement was unprecedented on several levels. First, in its scope and scale; it instituted deeper reductions in a wider range of nuclear weapons systems than had ever been done before. Second, the PNIs were primarily unilateral—not to be negotiated, but instead implemented immediately. While Soviet/Russian reciprocity was encouraged, it was not required for most of the U.S. measures. Third, the decisions announced on September 27, 1991, were prepared with a speed and secrecy that had never been seen before in arms reduction, and have yet to be duplicated. The PNIs were developed in just 3 weeks and involved very few people. In contrast, most arms control measures, before and after the PNIs, required months and often years of interagency and international debate and negotiation by scores of military and civilian officials.

In just four years, as a result of the PNIs and the 1991 START arms reduction agreement, the U.S. nuclear stockpile of active and inactive warheads dropped from 21,392 to 10,979, a reduction of more than 50 percent. Most of those cuts were due to the PNI-mandated elimination or sharp reductions in entire classes of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

Under the PNIs:

U.S. ground-launched nuclear artillery shells and short-range ballistic missiles—around 2,100 weapons in total, most deployed in Europe—were withdrawn from the field and destroyed. (Note that is more than the current total number of U.S. or Russian deployed strategic weapons.)
All tactical nuclear weapons on U.S. navy surface ships and attack submarines, and on land-based naval aircraft, were withdrawn from deployment. All of the nuclear depth bombs—approximately half of the total naval tactical nuclear stockpile—were destroyed; half of the other types were also destroyed.
U.S. strategic bombers were de-alerted, the first time since 1957 that planes were not either in the air or on the ground, engines running and fully loaded with nuclear weapons. All Minuteman II missiles that were slated for elimination under the START agreement were rapidly removed from alert posture and scheduled for quick destruction, ahead of the treaty’s deadlines.
A host of planned U.S. nuclear systems were cancelled, including a short-range air-to-surface missile, the mobile version of the 10-warhead long-range Peacekeeper missile and a small mobile long-range missile.
Just eight days after President Bush’s September 27 announcement, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev followed suit, declaring a range of similarly dramatic reductions in nuclear forces. The speed and reach of the Soviet leader’s response was far beyond what the Americans has expected. Only a few months later, after the Soviet Union collapsed, President Bush and newly elected Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced a second round of nuclear reductions. It was a cycle of reciprocal, unilateral steps to reduce the nuclear threat, unlike anything before or since.

Implications for Today

Twenty-five years later, what implications do the PNIs have for today?

Start with the most notable fact about the PNIs: they were unilateral steps taken at the president’s initiative. President Bush, joined by his national security advisor, decided to push for dramatic change and three weeks later he announced them from the White House. The president rejected negotiating an agreement with Russia or instigating a lengthy review by the Pentagon of options (although a review of nuclear war plans completed earlier in 1991 did provide useful background). Moreover, while President Bush clearly hoped for reciprocation from the Soviet Union, he decided to move forward with his plans regardless of whether Gorbachev responded or not.

Move to the current era, which began with President Obama early in his first term calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons and talking about putting an end to Cold War thinking. Yet he has not, or not yet, changed nuclear policy or posture in any deeply significant way. The successes, such as the New START arms control agreement, have been modest and in the more traditional arms control mode.

Now in the president’s final months, the White House is conducting a new review of possible nuclear policy changes. According to the press, some of the more significant changes, such as declaring that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, have already been rejected. Other options, like reducing U.S. deployed or reserve forces, may still be under consideration, but no decision has been announced.

What might hold President Obama back from following President Bush’s bold path?

One difference, opponents of nuclear reductions often point out, is the overall direction of the security landscape in 1991 versus today. Twenty-five years ago, the Soviet Union was collapsing. President Bush’s greatest worry was the possible loss of control of some of the nuclear weapons spread across four Soviet republics. That concern was perhaps the primary motivation behind the PNIs.

Today, Russia is no longer the same conventional threat to Europe that the Soviet Union was, but under Vladimir Putin’s leadership it has become an international bad actor, while maintaining a nuclear arsenal that is the only threat to the survival of the United States.

But it is that last of these factors that should provide all the motivation President Obama needs to act boldly. It is a simple truth that nuclear weapons are no longer a security asset for the United States, but a liability. The only role for U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and its allies. And in 2013, based on the Pentagon’s analysis, President Obama concluded that the United States could safely cut its nuclear stockpile by another one-third, to roughly 1,000 deployed long-range nuclear weapons, regardless of what Russia did.

To date, the president has not acted on this conclusion, instead waiting for Russia to agree to further reductions. But, following the model of his predecessor, President Obama should act boldly and quickly, reducing U.S. strategic weapons to 1,000 deployed warheads. He should also remove land-based nuclear-armed missiles from hair-trigger alert, which would significantly reduce the likelihood that a U.S. nuclear weapon will be used by mistake.

And he should take these steps even if he does not have a willing partner in Putin. Showing leadership on the nuclear issue will further isolate Russia in the international community, while freeing up resources and energy to devote to more important security concerns. President Bush decided to make changes in U.S. nuclear forces and posture without requiring a Soviet response because they were in U.S. security interests regardless of whether Russia reciprocated. That is as true today as it was 25 years ago.

It’s Time to Ban and Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 27, 2016 at 9:56 pm

By Kazumi Matsui, September 26, 2016

The mayor of Hiroshima calls for a global security paradign based on dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation, instead of doomsday threats.

September 26, the United Nations International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, is a fitting time to take stock of current nuclear dangers and rededicate ourselves to the urgent task of abolishing nuclear weapons. I encourage all readers of The Nation to take this opportunity to listen to the earnest message of the atomic-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (hibakusha) who have been telling their tragic real-life experiences, expressed in their words that “no one else should ever again suffer as we have.”

The August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki incinerated tens of thousands of children, the elderly, women, and men in an instant, with their fierce heat rays, blast, and radiation. By the end of that year, more than 210,000 people were dead. Among them were many Koreans, as well as international students from China and Southeast Asia, and American prisoners of war. Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction. Even today, 71 years after the atomic bombings, the hibakusha and their families continue to suffer physical, psychological, and sociological effects of the bombings.

More than 15,000 nuclear weapons, most an order of magnitude more powerful than the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, continue to pose an intolerable threat to humanity. Not only that, but all of the nuclear-armed nations are modernizing their arsenals with plans to maintain them for the foreseeable future. As global awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons expands, the international community has also learned through a series of international conferences that the risks of inadvertent nuclear weapons use due to accident or miscalculation are quite high. And we cannot ignore the possibility of nuclear terrorism.

As a result, more members of the international community, especially those of non-nuclear-armed states, have started paying attention to the firsthand experiences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha, and have developed a keen awareness that they themselves could become victims of nuclear detonations caused by accident or miscalculation, if not by a limited or all-out nuclear war. In response to this shared awareness and these growing concerns, the United Nations earlier this year convened an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), open to all UN member states, to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons. The OEWG met three times in Geneva. As president of Mayors for Peace, an international non-governmental organization with a current membership of 7,132 cities in 161 countries representing over a billion people worldwide, I had the privilege of addressing the OEWG about the urgent need to promote nuclear disarmament.

International security still depends on the threatened use of nuclear weapons as prescribed by the doctrine of “nuclear deterrence”—a notion based on mutual distrust and the unspeakable horror the term implies. However, this theory’s power exists only in the minds of its policy-makers. Not only does nuclear deterrence offer no effective solution to the global security challenges we face, nuclear weapons are useless both in preventing and responding to terrorism—rather, their very existence brings new risks of use each day.

In order to address emerging challenges, world leaders must solidify their commitment to seek security without relying on nuclear weapons, with a sense of urgency based on a deep understanding that people at the grassroots level expect them to do so. Along the way, these leaders will also come to understand that the wider international community places great emphasis on uniting through a growing awareness that we all belong to the same human family.

It is time for the policy-makers of the world to change their perspective and exercise the decisive leadership required for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. It is only with such decisiveness that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives can be accelerated. We believe that efforts to conclude a nuclear weapons convention will advance when government representatives who have understood the fervent desire of the hibakusha for nuclear disarmament can reach out to others to transcend their differences and overcome the obstacles to nuclear abolition.

A growing number of policymakers are visiting the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in response to the persistent call of Mayors for Peace and hibakusha to do so. On May 27, President Obama visited Hiroshima where he called for a “world without nuclear weapons” and declared: “[A]mong those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”

Regrettably, none of the nuclear-armed states took part in the OEWG. However, in August the nearly 100 participating states adopted a final report with recommendations that will be forwarded to the UN General Assembly for action this fall. These recommendations include pursuing additional efforts to elaborate concrete effective legal measures, legal provisions and norms that will be needed to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons, and implementing various measures relating to reducing and eliminating the risks of nuclear-weapons use, enhancing transparency about nuclear weapons, and increasing awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. In addition, the working group, with “widespread support,” called on the General Assembly “to convene a conference in 2017, open to all States, with the participation and contribution of international organizations and civil society, to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination.”

Mayors for Peace welcomes the outcome of the OEWG, in particular its clear mandate for the commencement of negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. While we understand that the nuclear-armed states and states under their “nuclear umbrellas” oppose starting these negotiations, the serious sense of crisis shared by the majority of the international community must not be neglected. When government representatives gather at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee to consider the recommendations of the OWEG, they must engage in cooperative dialogue, overcome their political and ideological differences, and bring us closer to achieving a world without nuclear weapons. We especially expect the nuclear-armed states and their allies to take innovative approaches and demonstrate decisive leadership.

Mayors for Peace, with a wide range of civil-society partners, wholeheartedly supports initiatives by world leaders to develop a new global security paradigm based on dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation, instead of doomsday threats. We will also intensify our efforts to promote such understanding and cooperation within international society. Now is the time for state and city governments, as well as diverse civil-society actors, to consolidate their efforts and promote the legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 25, 2016 at 1:57 am

Monday, September 26, 2016

United Nations General Assembly
Special Plenary Session

“The consequences of any further use of nuclear weapons, whether intentional or by mistake, would be horrific. When it comes to our common objective of nuclear disarmament, we must not delay — we must act now.”
Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon

Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations. It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. After general and complete disarmament first came onto the General Assembly’s agenda in 1959, nuclear disarmament has remained the most important and urgent objective of the United Nations in this field. Since 1975, it has been a prominent theme of the review conferences of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In 1978, the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament reaffirmed that effective measures for nuclear disarmament have the highest priority. And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.

Yet today, some 15,000 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernize their nuclear arsenals. More than half of the world’s population still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances. As of 2016, while there have been major reductions in deployed nuclear weapons since the height of the Cold War, not one nuclear warhead has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway. Meanwhile, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies. This is so—despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war.
These facts provide the foundation for the General Assembly’s designation of 26 September as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

This Day provides an occasion for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to global nuclear disarmament as a high priority. It also provides an opportunity to educate the public—and their leaders—about the real benefits of eliminating such weapons, and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them.

Commemorating this Day at the United Nations is especially important, given its universal membership and its long experience in grappling with nuclear disarmament issues. It is the right place to address one of humanity’s greatest challenges, achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Should we let an unstable person have control of the nuclear arsenal? No, but that’s not the right question

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 10:03 pm

By Ira Helfand and Robert Dodge. Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2016.
A growing chorus of politicians and national security experts have questioned whether it would be safe to have Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button. But are they asking the right question?

In an open letter, 50 leading Republican national security experts warned that Trump possesses “dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in her speech accepting the Democratic nomination: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Indeed, it would be very dangerous for an unstable, ill-informed person to have control of the nuclear arsenal.

Implicit in these admonitions, however, is the notion that it is OK to have a “normal” person in charge. In fact, many of Trump’s critics explicitly endorse the idea that nuclear weapons, in the right hands, constitute an effective deterrent to nuclear attack by other powers and are the best, even the ultimate, guarantors of our national security.

Their argument — for the continued maintenance of a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying human civilization — depends on the assumption that these weapons only exist to persuade other nuclear powers not to attack, and that we will never actually use them.

The “normal” leaders of nuclear weapon states have already decided that under a variety of circumstances, nuclear weapons can and will be used.
Unfortunately, the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review explicitly rejects the notion that the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons is deterrence, and the U.S. has threatened to use them many times. Leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for instance, the U.S. refused to take the nuclear option off the table. Russian nuclear policy is even more dangerous, explicitly endorsing the early use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional war with NATO.

Pakistan has a similar nuclear doctrine that envisions the early first use of nuclear weapons if it should find itself in another war with India.

So the “normal” leaders of nuclear weapon states have already decided that under a variety of circumstances, nuclear weapons can and will be used.

Even if none of these nuclear powers ever makes a deliberate decision to use its nuclear arsenal, there is a very real danger that these weapons will be deployed because of miscalculation or computer error.

An article published this summer in the journal Space Weather described for the first time how a solar flare in May 1967 knocked out communication with a number of key radar installations in the Arctic. The U.S. military incorrectly concluded that the Soviets had disabled these early warning stations as the opening move in a surprise attack and prepared American nuclear armed bombers for takeoff. War was averted at the last minute when the Air Force received information about the true cause of the black out.
There have been at least five other major episodes when computer errors or misinterpretation of intelligence data led either Moscow or Washington to prepare to launch a nuclear war in the mistaken belief that the other side had already initiated an attack. The most recent of these took place in 1995, well after the end of the Cold War.

Furthermore, studies have shown that we don’t need to have a full-scale nuclear war to destroy human civilization. Even a very limited nuclear war, confined to one corner of the globe, would have disastrous consequences across the planet. The use of just 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs — less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — against targets in urban areas could loft enough soot into the upper atmosphere to disrupt climate worldwide, cutting food production and putting 2 billion people at risk of starvation.

For the nuclear weapon states, these are most inconvenient truths. They view their nuclear arsenals as tools to project national power that they do not want to give up. All nine are currently spending enormous sums on upgrading their arsenals, and they have shown a fierce opposition to the efforts of non-nuclear weapon states that wish to legally prohibit the possession of these weapons.

Commenting on the Cuban missile crisis, the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said, “It was luck that prevented nuclear war.” Nuclear weapons do not possess some magic power that keeps them from being used. We have survived the nuclear era so far because of an incredible string of luck, and we cannot expect that luck to last forever. Sooner or later, if we do not get rid of these weapons, they will be used and they will destroy us.

The right question for us to ask is: “Should anyone be able to press the nuclear button?” And the right answer is a resounding “No.”

Ira Helfand is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Robert Dodge is president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles.

We Need to Ban Nuclear Weapons (In Spite of Canada)

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 7:09 am

By Cesar Jaramillo. Huffington Post, Sept. 22, 2016
Make no mistake: neither North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test nor the recent high-stakes stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program are the root of nuclear insecurity. They are but symptoms of a nuclear disarmament regime in a severe state of disrepair.

While every other category of weapons of mass destruction has been specifically prohibited under international law, nuclear weapons — by far the most destructive of them all — remarkably still have not. What is needed is a global legal ban on nuclear weapons, with specific provisions for the elimination of existing arsenals and a timeline for verified implementation.

A rare opportunity for progress on this front has opened up. A UN-established Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) met in Geneva three times this year with a mandate to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The final OEWG report included a recommendation, supported by a majority of participating states, to convene a conference in 2017 “to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” The expectation is that there will be a resolution to operationalize this proposal at the UN General Assembly First Committee (on disarmament and international security) when it meets in October.

Notably, Canada voted against the OEWG recommendation — along with most other members of NATO, itself a nuclear weapons alliance.

Despite being a non-nuclear weapons state, Canada stands not with the growing number of nations, organizations, and individuals that believe that a legal prohibition on nuclear weapons is long overdue. Instead, Ottawa’s position is aligned with that of the few who question the merits of a nuclear weapons ban.

Canada’s current stance — and that of most nuclear weapons states — is that conditions are not ideal for a ban on nuclear weapons. But the reality is that they never may be. Nuclear disarmament negotiations must therefore be started, realized and concluded under geopolitical conditions that are predictably less than perfect.

An increasingly loud denunciation of the intransigence of states with nuclear weapons, however, has done little to persuade them to change course. Nuclear-weapons states still purport to be at the same time arbiters and direct beneficiaries of global norms on the acceptability of nuclear weapons possession.

Consider the lopsided logic by which the very states that have developed, stockpiled, tested, and used nuclear weapons deem themselves fit to chastise others on the risks of proliferation. The moral high ground they claim is built upon an extremely weak and inherently unjust foundation.

They demand immediate, consistent compliance with non-proliferation obligations, but disregard their own responsibility to disarm. They extol the value of nuclear weapons in safeguarding their national security, but expect no one else to embrace the same rationale.

Some countries deem the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons by certain states unacceptable, but seem content to accept the nuclear-weapons programs of military or economic allies, even outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) framework.

The United States and Canada, for instance, not only turn a blind eye to the notoriously opaque Israeli nuclear weapons program, but engage in nuclear cooperation agreements with India, contravening the longstanding principle that such cooperation should be reserved for NPT states parties.

The pervasive notion that the primary problem of nuclear weapons is the risk of their proliferation, and not their very existence, cannot be further perpetuated.

So let us be clear: the main problem with the existence of nuclear weapons is the existence of nuclear weapons. Proliferation concerns are no doubt important, but they will not be fully allayed unless and until the responsibility to disarm is taken seriously by states with nuclear weapons.

Especially problematic is the determination of several nuclear-weapons states to retain a nuclear arsenal as long as such weapons exist. This strategic, political, and logical straitjacket all but ensures that a world without nuclear weapons will never be achieved.

Today, more than 15,000 nuclear warheads continue to threaten civilization. Even a limited nuclear exchange would bring about incalculable loss of human life and catastrophic effects for the environment. So the objective cannot be nuclear weapons management or containment. Nor are sporadic reductions and reconfigurations of nuclear systems sufficient. Only complete and irreversible disarmament will do.

Tired arguments over the purported value of nuclear weapons possession have been replaced by a renewed emphasis on the humanitarian imperative for nuclear disarmament. The catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use outweighs any and all alleged benefits.

Further, billions of dollars (some estimates put the price tag at more than $1-trillion) are slated to be spent modernizing arsenals and related infrastructure while the most basic needs of a significant segment of the world’s population are still unmet. From this perspective, the time certainly seems ripe for turning nuclear swords into ploughshares, so to speak.

The UN First Committee resolution on a legal instrument to ban nuclear weapons will afford Canada a unique opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the security of a world free of these instruments of mass destruction. Come October we will know whether it was seized. Or squandered.

Cesar Jaramillo is the Executive Director of
Project Ploughshares, Waterloo, Ontario.

Storing nuclear waste: Is ‘consent’ OK when future generations can’t weigh in

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health on September 23, 2016 at 6:55 am

PUBLISHED: September 21, 2016 at 8:52 am | UPDATED: September 21, 2016 at 8:57 am

There are barbs about “mobile Chernobyls” and “floating Fukushimas,” fears of “coerced consent” and “economic racism,” and deep philosophizing about the nature of “consent” itself. Is such a thing possible when generations unborn will be impacted by decisions made today?

“‘Consent’ to dump nuclear waste in America’s back yard is not going to be approved by the American people no matter how your PR strategists massage the lipstick on that pig,” David Osinga told the U.S. Department of Energy in an email.

The DOE’s latest idea for figuring out where to stash millions of pounds of nuclear waste garnered more than 10,000 comments from concerned citizens nationwide, according to documents released last week. And while many disagree vehemently on the particulars, they are largely united on one point: After decades of dithering, the federal government must finally take action on its long-broken promise to permanently dispose of highly radioactive spent fuel.

This collection of carping and commentary (“I’ve seen people grow old in this business of trying to solve the nuclear waste problem”) is part of DOE’s new push to create temporary nuclear waste storage sites in regions eager for the business, such as West Texas and New Mexico. Several such sites could be up and running while the prickly question of finding a location for a permanent repository – the root of the present paralysis in nuclear waste disposal – is hashed out.

That could mean removing spent fuel from the bluffs beside the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station a decade or so earlier than currently envisioned, which is now 2049, according Southern California Edison’s decommissioning plan.

Across America, some 165 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel cools at 75 commercial reactor sites, due to the federal government’s failure to honor the contractual promise it made to utilities back in 1982. But more on that in a minute.


The day before this treasure trove of public opinion was compiled, nuclear power’s future in America was the focus of a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

There, Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed deep frustration.

“I can’t just support nuclear power generation if there is no strategy for the interim storage and long-term disposal of the waste,” she said.

“If we can’t properly store the waste, we shouldn’t build the reactors.”

Feinstein, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee – who dearly wants to see more reactors as part of a clean energy future – have worked across the aisle for five years in an effort to break bureaucratic paralysis on nuclear waste policy. So far, they have gotten nowhere.

“This is one of my great disappointments,” Feinstein said.

Some 130 million people live within 50 miles of a nuclear storage site in the U.S., she said – more than 2 in 5 Americans. In California alone, there are nearly 8,000 highly radioactive spent fuel assemblies stored in pools and dry casks at four sites, including San Onofre and Diablo Canyon. All are shut down, or will close shortly, leaving behind what is known in the industry as “stranded waste.”

“The future of nuclear power in this country depends on a solution to the waste problem,” Feinstein said. “Public safety and public acceptance of nuclear power, I believe, depend on it.”

The lesson of the moribund Yucca Mountain repository – largely a waste of time and $10 billion – is that state governments and local communities must be willing to host a repository, she said.

Storage should also be far from population centers. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact we’re dealing with very dangerous materials,” she said. “Problems at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico are a prime example of the risks we face.”

That New Mexico plant is a deep geologic repository to permanently dispose of waste from nuclear weapons research and production. On Valentine’s Day in 2014, radioactive materials leaked from a damaged storage drum. Cleanup could top $2 billion and still is not complete.

“Here we have one of the premier laboratory facilities in world, at Los Alamos, making a basic chemistry error on the packaging of waste drums,” Feinstein said. “One mistake in a single drum contaminated more than a third of the entire site.

“That, to me, is really striking. If we can’t trust these experts to handle radioactive waste safely, what confidence can we have in other efforts to manage this material safely and securely, long-term, at 78 sites around the country?”

The same question was raised in many ways in the public comments to DOE.


By the end of December, the Department of Energy will publish details on how the consent-based siting process will work, as well as “considerations for interim storage and deep geologic repositories,” Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz told Feinstein’s committee last week.

The department’s 2017 budget sets aside $39.4 million for the consent-based siting effort, including $25 million for grants to interested states, Native American tribal nations and local governments. The money will help communities learn more about nuclear waste management and explore their potential roles in the effort.

Such interim storage facilities would allow the federal government to begin meeting its contractual waste management commitments; enable the permanent removal of spent nuclear fuel from shutdown reactors like San Onofre; provide crucial flexibility for the overall nuclear waste management system, such as the ability to conduct thermal management activities and repackage spent nuclear fuel; and be a useful learning experience with research on the behavior of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste over time, he said.

Private initiatives are in addition to the DOE’s efforts and may accelerate the schedule to remove spent fuel from the shutdown reactor sites, Moniz said.

“These initiatives present a novel approach that is distinctly different from DOE’s consent-based siting approach, as they essentially already include an aspect of community, state and tribal consent,” he said. “DOE is encouraged by the opportunities presented by these private initiatives, and we are preparing to seek public input on how a privately owned storage facility could fit into the overall integrated waste management system.”

That will move us toward a solution, and avoid leaving the burden to future generations, he said.


To encourage the development of nuclear power, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Act in 1982. It promised to accept and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste from commercial reactors by Jan. 31, 1998. In return, utilities operating nuclear plants promised to make quarterly payments into a Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for disposal.

The utilities, and consumers, held up their end of the bargain – pumping about $750 million a year into the fund – but the DOE has not accepted a single ounce of commercial nuclear waste for permanent disposal.

Saddled with decades’ worth of waste, utilities sued the DOE for breach of contract and won. The federal government has paid more than $3.7 billion to utilities thus far, and taxpayers could fork over another $21 billion to $50 billion before Uncle Sam figures it all out, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Nuclear Waste Fund cannot collect more money. A federal judge said DOE couldn’t charge for a service it not only wasn’t providing, but wouldn’t provide for many decades. In 2014, utilities all across America stopped charging customers the disposal fee (some 20 cents a month on the average electric bill).

About $41 billion had been collected by the Nuclear Waste Fund over three decades. Some $30 billion remains in the fund, after spending $10 billion on a Yucca Mountain disposal site.

Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s owner, has recovered more than $300 million from the federal government over this failure. Dry storage is being built on a bluff above the Pacific, and spent waste will remain there until the government finds a solution.


The Department of Energy received more than 10,000 comments on its plans for interim, consent-based storage for nuclear waste. Full text with attribution can be found here, but here are some highlights:

“Two key questions for reaching a siting agreement are who negotiates and who decides?”

“There is a fine line between incentives and coerced consent. We need to acknowledge that line, and walk it carefully.”

“Economically disadvantaged communities are especially at risk. Special effort must be made to inform and engage disadvantaged groups that could possibly be affected.”

“We are talking about something that stays toxic and dangerous for generations to come. How can one generation give ‘consent’ for future generations?”

“I think this process is going to work for DOE. It just has to be done carefully and tactfully to be a success. Benefits of accepting a site must be communicated to communities.”

“My concern is what I feel is the lack of urgency in dealing with this…. We’ve already been dealing with this problem for 70 years. It’s time to get the solution done, resolved and unless we can’t get it done very quickly, I contend that we need to stop making this stuff.”

“I’m tired of hearing DOE talk about being in the early stages of something we’ve been at for decades.”

Austria announces UN General Assembly resolution to prohibit nuclear weapons in 1917

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on September 23, 2016 at 1:02 am

ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) September 22, 2016

Austria’s foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz, announced on Wednesday that his country would join other UN member states in tabling a resolution next month to convene negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons in 2017.

Speaking in the high-level debate of the UN General Assembly in New York, he said that “experience shows that the first step to eliminate weapons of mass destruction is to prohibit them through legally binding norms”.

The announcement follows a landmark recommendation last month by a UN working group in Geneva for the General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

The Austrian-sponsored resolution would take forward this recommendation by establishing a formal mandate for negotiations. The deadline for tabling the resolution in the General Assembly’s First Committee, which deals with disarmament matters, is 13 October.

Following the tabling, nations will debate the resolution, then vote on whether to adopt it in the final week of October or first week of November. A second, confirmatory vote will take place in a plenary session of the General Assembly early in December.

ICAN warmly welcomes Austria’s announcement. “This is a major breakthrough in global efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The resolution will be of enormous historical importance,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.

“The proposed treaty will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction, which have long been prohibited under international law. It will be a major step towards the goal of elimination,” she said.

In 2014 Austria hosted an intergovernmental conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, at which it launched a diplomatic pledge, supported by 127 nations, “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons”.

The Conservation Crisis No One Is Talking About

In Environment, Justice, Peace, Public Health on September 22, 2016 at 10:03 am

TAKEPART, Sept. 21, 2016

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.


Coastal sand is disappearing as a growing construction industry sucks up a valuable resource.

Beaches around the world are disappearing.

No, the cause isn’t sea-level rise, at least not this time. It’s a little-known but enormous industry called sand mining, which every year sucks up billions of tons of sand from beaches, ocean floors, and rivers to make everything from concrete to microchips to toothpaste.

In the process, conservationists warn, the sand mining industry is damaging ecosystems, changing coastal water flows, and making beaches and communities less resilient to storm surges and floods as climate change accelerates.

“Sand is actually the second-most-used natural resource on Earth, behind water,” said Claire Le Guern Lytle, general director of the Santa Aguila Foundation, which was founded in 2009 to focus on coastal preservation. “It’s a finite resource, and it’s depleting very quickly, but nobody thinks about it.”

“No one ever thought we’d run out of sand,” said Gary Griggs, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “It’s a devastating problem, but nobody in the U.S. has a concept of it because we go to the beach and see this big wide expanse of sand.” The problem is worse, he said, in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. “They’re basically just sucking the sand up, taking entire coastlines and islands away.”

Most of the extracted coastal sand is used to make concrete and glass, the staples of the construction industry. “The numbers are staggering,” Le Guern Lytle said. “An average-size house requires 200 tons of sand. A hospital requires 3,000 tons. Every kilometer of highway requires 30,000 tons.”

A 2014 report from the United Nations Environment Programme estimated that the construction industry consumed 25.9 billion to 29.6 billion tons of sand in 2012. The numbers are based not on reports of extraction—those reports don’t exist—but on how much concrete was used around the world that year. The U.N. called extraction rates “unsustainable” and noted that the rate of sand mining far exceeds the ability of natural systems to replenish themselves.

The problem is only going to get worse. As the human population grows, the construction industry is rushing to fill the need for housing, roads, hospitals, and other structures. As a result, the use of sand has soared. China’s construction industry has grown so large that it used more concrete between 2011 and 2013 than the United States did during the entire 20th century.

China is hardly alone. A recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the global construction industry will grow 85 percent between now and 2030. China, the U.S., and India, the report found, will account for 57 percent of that growth. Meanwhile, the U.N.’s World Urbanization Prospects report predicts that the cities will add 2.5 billion residents by 2050, requiring the construction of a lot of new buildings.

It’s not just construction. “Sand is in everything we do,” Le Guern Lytle said. It’s used in products ranging from microchips to tires. The natural gas industry also relies on sand as part of the fracking extraction process. “Sand is used in many, many, many ways that are unknown to most,” she said.

Some of the sand comes directly from the beach, which can damage habitats for sea turtles and birds, but much of it is dredged up off the seafloor by large ships. Le Guern Lytle said that destroys critical breeding habitats for fish and other marine life. “Extracting sand from the sea bottom just dissolves that ecosystem,” she said.

Although much of the industry is legal, sand mining has become so lucrative that illegal activities are rife. Numerous reports out of India carry news of murders and other crimes carried out by “sand mafias” during the course of illegal sand mining activities. Other countries with recent reports of illegal sand mining include Namibia, Morocco, Malaysia, and Israel. “Sand mining is as much a human tragedy as it is an environmental tragedy,” Le Guern Lytle said.

Even as many beaches are mined, others need new sand to repair damage from ever more severe storms. Normally that would require trucking in sand from other sites, but that may not always be an option. “Beaches are the most effective natural buffer from waves, storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis,” said Griggs, who also pointed out their economic and cultural importance. “Here in California, almost half of the roughly $45 billion in the coastal economy comes from tourism and recreation.”

A recent warning from the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association noted that coastal communities may need to start exploring new and more expensive ways to shore up their shores, possibly by importing sand from faraway sources or turning glass back into beach-quality sand.

Although there is just one coastal sand mine in the U.S.—a huge, century-old operation near Monterey Bay that is being targeted by the California Coastal Commission for causing too much erosion—other mines are located inland. Wisconsin, for example, has dozens of mines extracting sand for use in fracking. “About 60 percent of all sand that’s used in fracking comes from Wisconsin,” said Bill Davis, director of the Sierra Club’s John Muir Chapter in Madison. “It tends to be a real nightmare for the people that live around the mines.” The mining process, he said, often releases particulate matter into the air that can choke people’s wells and airways. “It can very easily lodge in your lungs,” he said.

Le Guern Lytle said that although the sand mining problem is invisible to most people, she has hope. “The United Nations report in 2014 was a humongous step,” she said. “The greatest progress now is bringing more awareness.”