Archive for October, 2016|Monthly archive page

Doubts About the Promised Bounty of Genetically Modified Crops

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Public Health on October 31, 2016 at 6:55 am

By Danny Hakim, New York Times, October 29, 2016

LONDON — The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat.

But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides.

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.
An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.


At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides.

One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.

By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

Profound differences over genetic engineering have split Americans and Europeans for decades. Although American protesters as far back as 1987 pulled up prototype potato plants, European anger at the idea of fooling with nature has been far more sustained. In the last few years, the March Against Monsanto has drawn thousands of protesters in cities like Paris and Basel, Switzerland, and opposition to G.M. foods is a foundation of the Green political movement. Still, Europeans eat those foods when they buy imports from the United States and elsewhere.

Fears about the harmful effects of eating G.M. foods have proved to be largely without scientific basis. The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design — weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany — and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer.

“These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.”

The industry is winning on both ends — because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half. The two companies are separately involved in merger agreements that would lift their new combined values to more than $100 billion each.

When presented with the findings, Robert T. Fraley, the chief technology officer at Monsanto, said The Times had cherry-picked its data to reflect poorly on the industry. “Every farmer is a smart businessperson, and a farmer is not going to pay for a technology if they don’t think it provides a major benefit,” he said. “Biotech tools have clearly driven yield increases enormously.”

Genetically modified crops can sometimes be effective. Monsanto and others often cite the work of Matin Qaim, a researcher at Georg-August-University of Göttingen, Germany, including a meta-analysis of studies that he helped write finding significant yield gains from genetically modified crops. But in an interview and emails, Dr. Qaim said he saw significant effects mostly from insect-resistant varieties in the developing world, particularly in India.

“Currently available G.M. crops would not lead to major yield gains in Europe,” he said. And regarding herbicide-resistant crops in general: “I don’t consider this to be the miracle type of technology that we couldn’t live without.”

A Vow to Curb Chemicals

First came the Flavr Savr tomato in 1994, which was supposed to stay fresh longer. The next year it was a small number of bug-resistant russet potatoes. And by 1996, major genetically modified crops were being planted in the United States.

Monsanto, the most prominent champion of these new genetic traits, pitched them as a way to curb the use of its pesticides. “We’re certainly not encouraging farmers to use more chemicals,” a company executive told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. The next year, in a news release, the company said that its new gene for seeds, named Roundup Ready, “can reduce overall herbicide use.”

Originally, the two main types of genetically modified crops were either resistant to herbicides, allowing crops to be sprayed with weedkillers, or resistant to some insects.

Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture show herbicide use skyrocketing in soybeans, a leading G.M. crop, growing by two and a half times in the last two decades, at a time when planted acreage of the crop grew by less than a third. Use in corn was trending downward even before the introduction of G.M. crops, but then nearly doubled from 2002 to 2010, before leveling off. Weed resistance problems in such crops have pushed overall usage up.

To some, this outcome was predictable. The whole point of engineering bug-resistant plants “was to reduce insecticide use, and it did,” said Joseph Kovach, a retired Ohio State University researcher who studied the environmental risks of pesticides. But the goal of herbicide-resistant seeds was to “sell more product,” he said — more herbicide.

Farmers with crops overcome by weeds, or a particular pest or disease, can understandably be G.M. evangelists. “It’s silly bordering on ridiculous to turn our backs on a technology that has so much to offer,” said Duane Grant, the chairman of the Amalgamated Sugar Company, a cooperative of more than 750 sugar beet farmers in the Northwest.

He says crops resistant to Roundup, Monsanto’s most popular weedkiller, saved his cooperative.

But weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup around the world — creating an opening for the industry to sell more seeds and more pesticides. The latest seeds have been engineered for resistance to two weedkillers, with resistance to as many as five planned. That will also make it easier for farmers battling resistant weeds to spray a widening array of poisons sold by the same companies.

Growing resistance to Roundup is also reviving old, and contentious, chemicals. One is 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange, the infamous Vietnam War defoliant. Its potential risks have long divided scientists and have alarmed advocacy groups.

Another is dicamba. In Louisiana, Monsanto is spending nearly $1 billion to begin production of the chemical there. And even though Monsanto’s version is not yet approved for use, the company is already selling seeds that are resistant to it — leading to reports that some farmers are damaging neighbors’ crops by illegally spraying older versions of the toxin.

Two farmers, 4,000 miles apart, recently showed a visitor their corn seeds. The farmers, Bo Stone and Arnaud Rousseau, are sixth-generation tillers of the land. Both use seeds made by DuPont, the giant chemical company that is merging with Dow Chemical.

To the naked eye, the seeds looked identical. Inside, the differences are profound.

In Rowland, N.C., near the South Carolina border, Mr. Stone’s seeds brim with genetically modified traits. They contain Roundup Ready, a Monsanto-made trait resistant to Roundup, as well as a gene made by Bayer that makes crops impervious to a second herbicide. A trait called Herculex I was developed by Dow and Pioneer, now part of DuPont, and attacks the guts of insect larvae. So does YieldGard, made by Monsanto.

Another big difference: the price tag. Mr. Rousseau’s seeds cost about $85 for a 50,000-seed bag. Mr. Stone spends roughly $153 for the same amount of biotech seeds.

For farmers, doing without genetically modified crops is not a simple choice. Genetic traits are not sold à la carte.

Mr. Stone, 45, has a master’s degree in agriculture and listens to Prime Country radio in his Ford pickup. He has a test field where he tries out new seeds, looking for characteristics that he particularly values — like plants that stand well, without support.

“I’m choosing on yield capabilities and plant characteristics more than I am on G.M.O. traits” like bug and poison resistance, he said, underscoring a crucial point: Yield is still driven by breeding plants to bring out desirable traits, as it has been for thousands of years.

That said, Mr. Stone values genetic modifications to reduce his insecticide use (though he would welcome help with stink bugs, a troublesome pest for many farmers). And Roundup resistance in pigweed has emerged as a problem.

“No G.M. trait for us is a silver bullet,” he said.

By contrast, at Mr. Rousseau’s farm in Trocy-en-Multien, a village outside Paris, his corn has none of this engineering because the European Union bans most crops like these.

“The door is closed,” says Mr. Rousseau, 42, who is vice president of one of France’s many agricultural unions. His 840-acre farm was a site of World War I carnage in the Battle of the Marne.

As with Mr. Stone, Mr. Rousseau’s yields have been increasing, though they go up and down depending on the year. Farm technology has also been transformative. “My grandfather had horses and cattle for cropping,” Mr. Rousseau said. “I’ve got tractors with motors.”

He wants access to the same technologies as his competitors across the Atlantic, and thinks G.M. crops could save time and money.

“Seen from Europe, when you speak with American farmers or Canadian farmers, we’ve got the feeling that it’s easier,” Mr. Rousseau said. “Maybe it’s not right. I don’t know, but it’s our feeling.”

Feeding the World
With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, Monsanto has long held out its products as a way “to help meet the food demands of these added billions,” as it said in a 1995 statement. That remains an industry mantra.

“It’s absolutely key that we keep innovating,” said Kurt Boudonck, who manages Bayer’s sprawling North Carolina greenhouses. “With the current production practices, we are not going to be able to feed that amount of people.”

But a broad yield advantage has not emerged. The Times looked at regional data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, comparing main genetically modified crops in the United States and Canada with varieties grown in Western Europe, a grouping used by the agency that comprises seven nations, including the two largest agricultural producers, France and Germany.

For rapeseed, a variant of which is used to produce canola oil, The Times compared Western Europe with Canada, the largest producer, over three decades, including a period well before the introduction of genetically modified crops.

Despite rejecting genetically modified crops, Western Europe maintained a lead over Canada in yields. While that is partly because different varieties are grown in the two regions, the trend lines in the relative yields have not shifted in Canada’s favor since the introduction of G.M. crops, the data shows.

For corn, The Times compared the United States with Western Europe. Over three decades, the trend lines between the two barely deviate. And sugar beets, a major source of sugar, have shown stronger yield growth recently in Western Europe than the United States, despite the dominance of genetically modified varieties over the last decade.

Jack Heinemann, a professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, did a pioneering 2013 study comparing trans-Atlantic yield trends, using United Nations data. Western Europe, he said, “hasn’t been penalized in any way for not making genetic engineering one of its biotechnology choices.”

Biotech executives suggested making narrower comparisons. Dr. Fraley of Monsanto highlighted data comparing yield growth in Nebraska and France, while an official at Bayer suggested Ohio and France. These comparisons can be favorable to the industry, while comparing other individual American states can be unfavorable.

Michael Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said that while the industry had long said G.M.O.s would “save the world,” they still “haven’t found the mythical yield gene.”

Few New Markets

Battered by falling crop prices and consumer resistance that has made it hard to win over new markets, the agrochemical industry has been swept by buyouts. Bayer recently announced a deal to acquire Monsanto. And the state-owned China National Chemical Corporation has received American regulatory approval to acquire Syngenta, though Syngenta later warned the takeover could be delayed by scrutiny from European authorities.

The deals are aimed at creating giants even more adept at selling both seeds and chemicals. Already, a new generation of seeds is coming to market or in development. And they have grand titles. There is the Bayer Balance GT Soybean Performance System. Monsanto’s Genuity SmartStax RIB Complete corn. Dow’s PhytoGen with Enlist and WideStrike 3 Insect Protection.

In industry jargon, they are “stacked” with many different genetically modified traits. And there are more to come. Monsanto has said that the corn seed of 2025 will have 14 traits and allow farmers to spray five different kinds of herbicide.

Newer genetically modified crops claim to do many things, such as protecting against crop diseases and making food more nutritious. Some may be effective, some not. To the industry, shifting crucial crops like corn, soybeans, cotton and rapeseed almost entirely to genetically modified varieties in many parts of the world fulfills a genuine need. To critics, it is a marketing opportunity.

“G.M.O. acceptance is exceptionally low in Europe,” said Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division, in an interview the day the Monsanto deal was announced. He added: “But there are many geographies around the world where the need is much higher and where G.M.O. is accepted. We will go where the market and the customers demand our technology.”


How David Petraeus and Vladimir Putin Are Risking a Syrian Armageddon

In Peace, War on October 30, 2016 at 7:23 am

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

28 October 16

“We did a no-fly zone to support the Iraqi Kurds for the better part of a decade or so following the Gulf War until we ultimately went into Iraq to take down Saddam Hussein,” Gen. David Petraeus explained in September in an interview with Charlie Rose.

A major figure in America’s winless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus went on to serve as Obama’s CIA director until he was forced to resign for revealing high-level classified information to his mistress and then lying about it to the FBI.

“It’s not too late to declare a safe zone” in Syria, he said. “It’s not too late to declare a no-fly zone. And indeed if the regime air force, for example, bombs folks we are supporting or we’re concerned about, we tell them we’re going to ground your air force.”

“You don’t even have to enter their airspace, although we’re already there. You can do it with cruise missiles, air launched, sea launched and others.”

Petraeus was not talking about shooting down a lone Russian plane, which Hillary Clinton did not want to talk about in the third debate. Petraeus is calling for using cruise missiles against Assad’s air force bases, planes, runways, radar, other air defenses and infrastructure.

In his time as CIA director, Petraeus backed the so-called moderate rebels backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and he now defends a no-fly zone and safe havens as a way to protect those rebels and their families. Like Hillary and to a lesser degree President Obama, he backs the Saudi and Qatari effort to overthrow the Assad regime. This ensures that the civil war ‒ and the slaughter ‒ will go on and on.

Petraeus spoke only of taking out Assad’s air force, and said that he did not want to “provoke some war with the Russians.” But the cruise missiles would kill Russians and wreck their aircraft, since they share military bases with the Syrians. They also have their own long-distance missiles, and their lone aircraft carrier and flagship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, and other ships are now steaming toward Syria.

“You can’t pretend you can go to war against Assad and not go to war against the Russians,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post.

Whatever one may think of Petraeus – or of Putin – the danger is all too real. Until now, the US and Russia have engaged in a proxy war. An American-imposed no-fly zone risks a direct military confrontation between two nuclear-armed powers. Neither side wants a nuclear war. But the more the US and Russia confront each other militarily, the greater the threat that Syria will become an atomic Armageddon.

What, then, of Russia’s role?

Over a year ago, I challenged the small minority of Russia’s supporters on the American left with a simple question: “Is Bombing Syria Any Better if Putin Drops the Bombs?” Aleppo answers the question, full stop.

No matter that Assad heads Syria’s legitimate government and has every right in international law to invite the Russians to come to his aid. International law did not stop the Americans from covertly putting together the coup in Kiev that overthrew the legitimately elected government of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, with hands-on help from Hillary and Bill Clinton. Nor did international law and explicit treaty obligations stop Putin from annexing Crimea.

Both the US and Russia play by the rules when it suits them. Both are rattling nuclear sabers, and not just in Syria. Both refuse to take their first-strike nuclear option off the table. And both are playing an imperial role in Syria, as are the Saudis, Qataris, Turks, and Iranians. As I previously quoted journalist Patrick Cockburn, the conflict in Syria is infinitely complex, much like three-dimensional chess played by nine players and with no rules.

Is there a solution? The only one I can see would be a grand bargain among all the imperialists. Nothing short of that will work in the long term, and I frankly don’t think the players are ready for anything close. I hope it won’t take a nuclear blast to open their minds to change.

In the near term, the American people need to push President Hillary to stop open and covert support for the Saudi and Qatari-backed rebels, drop any idea of an American-imposed no-fly zone, back away from her Cold War, anti-Russian thinking, and look for new agreements of mutual interest similar to the one that removed most, though not all, of Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons. Putin was more than open to that agreement. Washington needs to work with him to look for others.

Pushing Clinton will not be easy. Neither were the movements for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam.

Voting Result in UN on Negotiating a Treaty Banning Nuclear Weqapons

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 28, 2016 at 8:28 am

Voting result on the UN resolution L.41
October 27, 2016 From ICAN at http://www.icanw.org/campaign-news/results/

On 27 October 2016, the First Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted resolution L.41 to convene negotiations in 2017 on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The voting result was 123 nations in favour and 38 against, with 16 abstentions.

Afghanistan – – – –
Albania – No – –
Algeria Yes – – –
Andorra – No – –
Angola Yes – – –
Antigua & Barbuda Yes
Argentina Yes – – –
Armenia – – Abstain –
Australia – No – –
Austria Yes – – –
Azerbaijan Yes – – –
Bahamas Yes – – –
Bahrain Yes – – –
Bangladesh Yes – – –
Barbados Yes – – –
Belarus – – Abstain –
Belgium – No – –
Belize Yes – – –
Benin – – – –
Bhutan Yes – – –
Bolivia Yes – – –
Bosnia & Herzegovina No
Botswana Yes – –
Brazil Yes – –
Brunei Darussalam Yes
Bulgaria – No – –
Burkina Faso  Yes
Burundi Yes – – –
Cabo Verde Yes
Cambodia Yes – – –
Cameroon Yes – – –
Canada – No – –
Central African Republic Ues Yes
Chad Yes – – –
Chile Yes – – –
China – – Abstain –
Colombia Yes – – –
Comoros Yes – – –
Congo Yes
Costa Rica Yes
Cote d’Ivoire Yes
Croatia – No – –
Cuba Yes – – –
Cyprus Yes – – –
Czech Republic
– No – –
DPRK (North Korea) Yes
DRC (Congo)Yes – – –
Denmark – No – –
Djibouti – – – –
Dominica Yes – – –
Dominican Republic Yes – – –
Ecuador Yes – – –
Egypt Yes – – –
El Salvador Yes – – –
Equatorial Guinea Yes – – –
Eritrea Yes – – –
Estonia – No – –
Ethiopia Yes – – –
Fiji Yes – – –
Finland – – Abstain –
France – No – –
Gabon Yes – – –
Gambia Yes – – –
Georgia – – – –
Germany – No – –
Ghana Yes – – –
Greece – No – –
Grenada Yes – – –
Guatemala Yes – – –
Guinea Yes – – –
Guinea-Bissau Yes – – –
Guyana – – Abstain –
Haiti – – – –
Honduras – – – –
Hungary – No – –
Iceland – No – –
India – – Abstain –
Indonesia Yes – – –
Iran Yes – – –
Iraq Yes – – –
Ireland Yes – – –
Israel – No – –
Italy – No – –
Jamaica Yes – – –
Japan – No – –
Jordan Yes – – –
Kazakhstan Yes – – –
Kenya Yes – – –
Kiribati Yes – – –
Kuwait Yes – – –
Kyrgyzstan – – Abstain –
Lao PDR Yes – – –
Latvia – No – –
Lebanon Yes – – –
Lesotho Yes – – –
Liberia – – – –
Libya Yes – – –
Liechtenstein Yes – – –
Lithuania – No – –
Luxembourg – No – –
Madagascar Yes – – –
Malawi Yes – – –
Malaysia Yes – – –
Maldives Yes – – –
Mali – – Abstain –
Malta Yes – – –
Marshall Islands Yes – – –
Mauritania Yes – – –
Mauritius Yes – – –
Mexico Yes – – –
Micronesia (FSM) – No – –
Monaco – No – –
Mongolia – – – –
Montenegro – No – –
Morocco – – Abstain –
Mozambique Yes – – –
Myanmar Yes – – –
Namibia Yes – – –
Nauru Yes – – –
Nepal Yes – – –
Netherlands – – Abstain –
New Zealand Yes – – –
Nicaragua – – Abstain –
Niger Yes – – –
Nigeria Yes – – –
Norway – No – –
Oman Yes – – –
Pakistan – – Abstain –
Palau Yes – – –
Panama Yes – – –
Papua New Guinea Yes – – –
Paraguay Yes – – –
Peru Yes – – –
Philippines Yes – – –
Poland – No – –
Portugal – No – –
Qatar Yes – – –
Republic of Korea – No – –
Republic of Moldova – – – –
Romania – No – –
Russia – No – –
Rwanda Yes – – –
St Kitts & Nevis Yes – – –
St Lucia Yes – – –
St Vincent & Grenadines Yes – – –
Samoa Yes – – –
San Marino Yes – – –
Sao Tome & Principe – – – –
Saudi Arabia Yes – – –
Senegal – – – –
Serbia – No – –
Seychelles – – – –
Sierra Leone Yes – – –
Singapore Yes – – –
Slovakia – No – –
Slovenia – No – –
Solomon Islands Yes – – –
Somalia Yes – – –
South Africa Yes – – –
South Sudan – – – –
Spain – No – –
Sri Lanka Yes – – –
Sudan – – Abstain –
Suriname Yes – – –
Swaziland Yes – – –
Sweden Yes – – –
Switzerland – – Abstain –
Syria – – – –
Tajikistan – – – –
Thailand Yes – – –
TFYR Macedonia Yes – – –
Timor-Leste Yes – – –
Togo Yes – – –
Tonga Yes – – –
Trinidad & Tobago Yes – – –
Tunisia Yes – – –
Turkey – No – –
Turkmenistan Yes – – –
Tuvalu Yes – – –
Uganda Yes – – –
Ukraine – – – –
United Arab Emirates Yes – – –
United Kingdom – No – –
UR Tanzania Yes – – –
United States – No – –
Uruguay Yes – – –
Uzbekistan – – Abstain –
Vanuatu – – Abstain –
Venezuela Yes – – –
Viet Nam Yes – – –
Yemen Yes – – –
Zambia Yes – – –
Zimbabwe Yes – – –
TOTAL 123 Yes   38 No   16 Abstain

UN votes to outlaw nuclear weapons in 2017

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 28, 2016 at 7:44 am

October 27, 2016. http://www.icanw.org/campaign-news/un-votes-to-outlaw-nuclear-weapons-in-2017/

NEW YORK – The United Nations today adopted a landmark resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. This historic decision heralds an end to two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, with 38 against and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March next year, open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of ICAN.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour and 124 against, with 74 abstentions – inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament,” she said.

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

Nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organization’s formation in 1945. Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernization of their nuclear forces.

Twenty years have passed since a multilateral nuclear disarmament instrument was last negotiated: the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which has yet to enter into legal force due to the opposition of a handful of nations.

Today’s resolution, known as L.41, acts upon the key recommendation of a UN working group on nuclear disarmament that met in Geneva this year to assess the merits of various proposals for achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world.

It also follows three major intergovernmental conferences examining the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, held in Norway, Mexico and Austria in 2013 and 2014. These gatherings helped reframe the nuclear weapons debate to focus on the harm that such weapons inflict on people.

The conferences also enabled non-nuclear-armed nations to play a more assertive role in the disarmament arena. By the third and final conference, which took place in Vienna in December 2014, most governments had signalled their desire to outlaw nuclear weapons.

Following the Vienna conference, ICAN was instrumental in garnering support for a 127-nation diplomatic pledge, known as the humanitarian pledge, committing governments to cooperate in efforts “to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons”.

Throughout this process, victims and survivors of nuclear weapon detonations, including nuclear testing, have contributed actively. Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing and an ICAN supporter, has been a leading proponent of a ban.

“This is a truly historic moment for the entire world,” she said following today’s vote. “For those of us who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is a very joyous occasion. We have been waiting so long for this day to come.”

“Nuclear weapons are absolutely abhorrent. All nations should participate in the negotiations next year to outlaw them. I hope to be there myself to remind delegates of the unspeakable suffering that nuclear weapons cause. It is all of our responsibility to make sure that such suffering never happens again.”

There are still more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, mostly in the arsenals of just two nations: the United States and Russia. Seven other nations possess nuclear weapons: Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

All nine nuclear-armed nations either voted against the UN resolution or abstained. [Correction: North Korea voted for the resolution.] Many of their allies, including those in Europe that host nuclear weapons on their territory as part of a NATO arrangement, also failed to support the resolution.

But the nations of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resolution, and are likely to be key players at the negotiating conference in New York next year.

On Monday, 15 Nobel Peace Prize winners urged nations to support the negotiations and to bring them “to a timely and successful conclusion so that we can proceed rapidly toward the final elimination of this existential threat to humanity”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also appealed to governments to support this process, stating on 12 October that the international community has a “unique opportunity” to achieve a ban on the “most destructive weapon ever invented”.

“This treaty won’t eliminate nuclear weapons overnight,” concluded Fihn. “But it will establish a powerful new international legal standard, stigmatizing nuclear weapons and compelling nations to take urgent action on disarmament.”

In particular, the treaty will place great pressure on nations that claim protection from an ally’s nuclear weapons to end this practice, which in turn will create pressure for disarmament action by the nuclear-armed nations.

Historic UN Vote on Banning Nuclear Weapons

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 28, 2016 at 7:39 am

Joe Cirincione, Plowshares Foundation, October27, 2016
History was made at the United Nations today. For the first time in its 71 years, the global body voted to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

All nine nations with nuclear arms (the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) opposed the resolution. [CORRECTION: North Korea voted for the resolution, and China, India and Pakistan abstained.] However, with a vote of 123 for, 38 against and 16 abstaining, the First Assembly decided “to convene in 2017 a United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

The resolution effort, led by Mexico, Austria, Brazil and Thailand, was joined by scores of others.

“There comes a time when choices have to be made and this is one of those times,” said Helena Nolan, Ireland’s director of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, “Given the clear risks associated with the continued existence of nuclear weapons, this is now a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility. Governance requires accountability and governance requires leadership.”


Nuclear-Armed Foes Unite Against a UN Call to Shed Their Weapons

In Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 28, 2016 at 12:25 am

By Kambiz Foroohar, Bloomberg, October 26, 2016

U.S, Russia, North Korea all join effort to defeat resolution
It’s awkward for Obama, whose advocacy won a Nobel Peace Prize

For all the divisions among world powers, one concern unites Russia and the U.S., India and Pakistan, North Korea and Israel at the United Nations: Keeping their nuclear weapons.
Those nuclear-armed states and the three others — China, France and the U.K. — are working to head off a resolution calling for a global conference to establish a binding “legal process” to ban the manufacture, possession, stockpiling and use of the weapons. They’re bucking a popular cause backed by 50 nations, from Ireland to Brazil, which say the measure could win as many as 120 votes in the 193-member General Assembly.
While the resolution to be voted on Thursday would be non-binding, opposing its call for a nuclear-free world is awkward for world leaders, and none more so than U.S. President Barack Obama. He’s preparing to leave office seven years after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in large part for what the award panel called his “vision of, and work for, a world without nuclear weapons.”
The U.S. plans to vote “no” on the resolution and would refuse to participate in the negotiations over a nuclear ban if it passes, Robert Wood, the U.S. special representative to the UN’s Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, said Oct. 14.
‘Regional Security’
“How can a state that relies on nuclear weapons for its security possibly join a negotiation meant to stigmatize and eliminate them,” Wood said in an address at the UN. Because nuclear weapons play a role in maintaining peace and stability in some parts of the world, a “ban treaty runs the risk of undermining regional security,” he said.
Echoing that view, Matthew Rowland, the U.K.’s representative to the disarmament conference, said the same day that his country’s nuclear deterrence must be maintained “for the foreseeable future” because of the “risk that states might use their nuclear capability to threaten us, try to constrain our decision-making in a crisis or sponsor nuclear terrorism.”
After international efforts to ban the use of biological and chemical weapons, land mines and cluster bombs, arms control advocates say it’s time to deal with nuclear bombs as the remaining weapons of mass destruction that aren’t prohibited. Sponsors of the resolution include Austria, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa.
“Given the tremendous humanitarian consequences of any nuclear explosion, we have to take action,” Thomas Hajnoczi, Austria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said in an interview. “Nuclear weapons states always say it’s too early for such a treaty but we think time is right to create legal norms to ban weapons of mass destruction.”
The initiative comes 70 years after a resolution was adopted in 1946 establishing a commission to make proposals for “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” It also comes a year after the formal adoption of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program that was negotiated by some of the same nations opposing the new resolution.
U.S.-Russia Treaty
In 2011, Obama negotiated a nuclear treaty with Russia requiring each country to reduce its arsenal to 1,550 operational warheads, and that accord remains intact. But amid worsening relations between the Cold War rivals, the Pentagon plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its air-land-sea triad of nuclear weapons. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has suspended a nuclear nonproliferation treaty and vowed to develop new arms systems to neutralize the U.S.’s missile defense shield, which he sees as a breach of the nuclear balance.
Faced with a more assertive China in the South China Sea and the rapid advances of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the U.S. is lobbying NATO allies such as the Netherlands to vote against the resolution, according to European diplomats.
Land Mines Ban
“Successful nuclear reductions will require participation from all relevant parties, proven verification measures, and security conditions conducive to cooperation,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said. “We lack all three factors at this time.”

Supporters of the resolution cite the success of efforts to ban land mines. The Ottawa Convention, which prohibited their manufacture and use, was drafted in 1997 and more than 160 countries have ratified it. While Russia, China and the U.S. refused to sign it, the Obama administration announced in 2014 that it planned to comply with the ban outside the Korean Peninsula, and to destroy its stockpile there if it wasn’t needed for the defense of South Korea.
“The resolution can help to further delegitimize nuclear weapons,” said Susie Snyder, a nuclear disarmament program manager at PAX, an advocacy group. “It will pass. The question is how many will vote yes and will participate in the conference.”


In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 27, 2016 at 9:58 pm

The Obama administration once sought a nuclear-free world. Now it’s fighting a ban on those very weapons.

By Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy, October 21, 2016

Almost eight years after President Barack Obama pledged in a landmark speech in Prague to seek “a world without nuclear weapons,” U.S. diplomats are mounting an aggressive campaign to head off a bid by non-nuclear states to ban such atomic arms.

American diplomats say the increasing belligerence of China and Russia — from the South China Sea to Syria to the Baltic — as well as the advancing pace of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, make it untenable for the United States and its allies to support such a far-reaching commitment to scrap their nukes.

“The security climate is not such that it is conducive to nuclear disarmament,” said a senior U.S. official, asserting that a treaty could undermine the nuclear deterrent in Europe and Asia.

“Until we have a relaxation of these tensions, and you’ve got a Russia that is willing to engage in further nuclear disarmament, it’s going to be difficult to make progress,” he said.

But supporters of the ban, including delegates from non-nuclear states and arms control experts, say that Washington is exaggerating the risks. They believe a ban would increase pressure on the world’s major nuclear powers to abide by their decades-long obligation to dismantle their nuclear weapons arsenals, the cornerstone of global efforts at limiting nuclear proliferation.

“I would argue this [nuclear weapons ban] is consistent with Obama’s vision of having a world without nuclear weapons,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told Foreign Policy. “The legal prohibition of nuclear weapons is by no means a substitute for the disarmament actions that need to be taken, but it can contribute to further delegitimization of nuclear weapons.”

The U.S. diplomatic blitz against the proposed ban, which includes strong pressure on allies inside NATO and in East Asia, reflects mounting pessimism in the Obama administration about realizing the president’s vision of a nuclear-free world. Paradoxically, U.S. resistance means Washington is aligning with Beijing, Moscow, London, and Paris — nuclear powers that seek to preserve their atomic prerogatives and vow not to participate in negotiations on the proposed ban. What’s more, the heavy-handed U.S. push seems to be backfiring in some cases, driving non-nuclear countries to openly support banning nuclear weapons.

Austria, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa have spearheaded the drive for a resolution calling for the formal launch of negotiations on a nuclear ban in 2017. The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution as early as next week. Proponents expect it to pass easily; success, they say, would mean winning 120 votes in the 193-member assembly.

The 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the foundation of nuclear disarmament efforts, struck a critical bargain: The five major nuclear powers would gradually dismantle their arsenals in exchange for a commitment from other governments to forgo such weapons. South Africa and Brazil, for example, developed nuclear weapons starting in the 1960s and 1970s but scuttled their programs.

Kimball said that non-nuclear states, including some of the more than 40 co-sponsors of the resolution, have grown increasingly frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of nuclear disarmament and the recent efforts of nuclear powers to revitalize their nuclear arsenals.

The United States, for example, plans to spend as much as $1 trillion over 30 years to modernize its nuclear arsenal. China, Russia, and the United States are reportedly developing the next generation of nuclear weapons, or upgrading the technical capability of existing weapons.

The United States maintains that the NPT has been a major success. It has greatly limited the number of countries pursuing nuclear weapons even though it has not prevented outliers that never ratified the treaty — including Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea — from developing nuclear weapons programs. The NPT has driven generations of disarmament pacts that have eliminated 85 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. It also provided a legal basis to pressure Iran to place its nuclear program under international scrutiny to prevent Tehran from developing a secret nuclear weapons program.

That’s one reason Washington is lobbying so hard against the resolution. U.S. officials argue that the proposed ban would do nothing to further global disarmament because it wouldn’t include the nuclear powers.

“A treaty banning nuclear weapons will not lead to any further reductions because it will not include the states that possess nuclear weapons,” Robert Wood, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, told foreign delegates at the U.N. on Oct. 14. The United States, he pledged, will vote no on the resolution and refuse to participate in negotiations. “We urge all others to do the same,” he added.

Susie Snyder, a nuclear disarmament program manager at PAX, an advocacy group devoted to a nuclear free world, said Washington has faced setbacks in its diplomatic campaign. On Oct. 18, Wood pressed his case to African ambassadors behind closed doors at the U.N. to oppose the resolution. In the days following that meeting, four African countries — Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, bringing the number of co-sponsors to 44, she said.

“The arguments used by the U.S. against a ban treaty are just scare-mongering and threats,” she told FP. “The really interesting thing is that their efforts are backfiring.”

Despite plentiful apparent support for the resolution, the United States and its nuclear peers hope to peel off enough support to persuade the sponsors to withdraw it, or at least slow the momentum for a ban.

Washington has pressured treaty allies, including Japan and South Korea and fellow NATO members Norway and the Netherlands, to vote against the resolution. U.S. diplomats say a yes vote by NATO members would be “incompatible” with their obligations as members of the alliance, according to a senior European diplomat. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington has warned states considering voting in favor of the resolution that a ban could jeopardize defense arrangements with allies around the globe.

The diplomatic pressure has fallen heavily on the Netherlands, a stalwart NATO ally whose Parliament strongly supports a nuclear weapons ban. Europeans outside of NATO, like Sweden, are also facing pressure to vote no or at least abstain. But Sweden, which participates in a number of cooperation agreements with the alliance, has vowed to vote yes on the resolution. Norway and Japan, meanwhile, are said to be on the fence. But officials say Washington has gained ground with its close allies, including the vast majority of NATO members, which are expected to vote no.

“The Americans are tough,” the diplomat added. “They are saying, ‘You can’t do anything else but vote no, because you are part of an alliance. It would be completely incompatible and irresponsible to support that [ban]. It’s a threat to the core of our security doctrine.’”

Why President Hillary Will Not Stop the Slaughter in Syria

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 27, 2016 at 9:24 am

By Steve Weissman


“I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria,” Hillary Clinton repeated again in the third presidential debate. “Not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track.”

Clinton has pushed a no-fly zone and safe havens in Syria since the early days of her campaign in the Democratic primaries. But over the last month her remarks have revealed why these measures have little chance of ending the slaughter in Syria, whether in Aleppo or elsewhere in the hideously ravaged country.

“The situation in Syria is catastrophic,” she said in the second debate. “Every day that goes by, we see the results of the regime, by Assad in partnership with the Iranians on the ground and the Russians in the air, bombarding places, in particular Aleppo, where there are hundreds of thousands of people, probably about 250,000 people still left. And there is a determined effort by the Russian Air Force to destroy Aleppo in order to eliminate the last of the Syrian rebels who are really holding out against the Assad regime.”

Clinton was telling part of the truth, and masking the rest. Crushing Aleppo as it earlier crushed the Chechen rebels in Grozny, Russia and its Syrian allies were refusing to pull their punches just because the rebels were using a quarter of a million civilians in east Aleppo as human shields. But Clinton never mentioned that American and coalition air forces similarly killed thousands of human shields in conquering Fallujah and will likely kill many thousands more in their current attempt to capture Mosul. The Saudis have been doing the same in Yemen, enabled by weapons, refueling, intelligence, and increasingly direct participation from Britain and the United States. Horrific in the extreme, the medieval-like siege of Aleppo follows the modern logic of asymmetric warfare ‒ the rich and powerful have air forces while the rebels generally do not, though they are beginning to use drones.

Like most mainstream American pols and pundits, Clinton also failed to mention that the rebels – armed and supported by the US, Qatar, and the Saudis ‒ have fired back, killed civilians, cut off the water supply, and done extensive damage to west Aleppo, which Assad’s forces now hold. Nor did she admit that as many as 900 of the rebels “holding out” in east Aleppo were militants of the former Jabhat al-Nusra, which ostensibly separated from al-Qaeda in July and rebranded itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Nor did she explain why Washington’s Saudi and Qatari allies had also funded the Islamic State (ISIS), or how her making the fight against Assad a priority over fighting ISIS ensured that the slaughter would go on and on, as the Sunni kingdoms of the Gulf continue to pursue their Washington-backed campaign to force regime change in Syria.

Wrapping herself in the holy cloth of humanitarianism, Clinton has also kept a tight lip about one of the more telling aspects of the campaign. The White Helmets, who were loudly touted for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, turn out to have a highly suspect relationship with the jihadis, as the tireless Max Blumenthal recently documented. The White Helmets also played a central role in providing the heart-rending photograph of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh and eyewitness testimony and other purported evidence that the Russians and/or Syrians bombed the UN’s humanitarian aid convoy.

As most Western media have conveniently failed to report, a “former” British intelligence officer, James Le Mesurier, created and still runs the White Helmets operation, and most of the funding comes from USAID, the British Foreign Office, and a host of Western nations. Welcome to the world of humanitarian aid.

Clinton continues to play down the Saudi, Qatari, and covert parts of her plans for Syria. What she plays up is her focus on Vladimir Putin and the Russians. She does this to discredit Donald Trump as a Putin puppet, shamefully echoing America’s long history of red-baiting. But even more disturbing, she is building public support for either a new Cold War with Russia, or a very hot one.

In the third and final debate, host Chris Wallace asked Clinton about her plans to impose a no-fly zone in Syria. “President Obama has refused to do that because he fears it’s going to draw us closer or deeper into the conflict,” Wallace reminded her. “And General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says you impose a no-fly zone, chances are you’re going to get into a war ‒ his words ‒ with Syria and Russia.”

“If you impose a no-fly zone and a Russian plane violates that,” asked Wallace, “does President Clinton shoot that plane down?”

This was one of the most consequential questions of the debate, and Clinton ducked it completely, sounding more like Trump and his hopes of doing a deal with Putin. “I think we could strike a deal and make it very clear to the Russians and the Syrians that this was something that we believe was in the best interests of the people on the ground in Syria, it would help us with our fight against ISIS,” she said.

Is Clinton suddenly pulling back from the war-like ways that our country’s foreign policy elite and some of our military mavens, like Gen. David Petraeus, now favor? Or, as seems far more likely, is she simply side-stepping any discussion of a likely military conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia? Either way, the American people need to know, as do the Syrians.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.

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.