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WORLD WAR THREE, BY MISTAKE

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 24, 2016 at 11:01 am

By Eric Schlosser, The New Yorker, December 23, 2016

Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.
On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (norad), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

U.S. Air Force ballistic-missile crews removed their launch keys from the safes, bomber crews ran to their planes, fighter planes took off to search the skies, and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared to order every airborne commercial airliner to land.

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at norad headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

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The NORAD headquarters, in Colorado Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL CHELSEY / GETTY
A similar false alarm had occurred the previous year, when someone mistakenly inserted a training tape, featuring a highly realistic simulation of an all-out Soviet attack, into one of norad’s computers. During the Cold War, false alarms were also triggered by the moon rising over Norway, the launch of a weather rocket from Norway, a solar storm, sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds, and a faulty A.T. & T. telephone switch in Black Forest, Colorado.

My book “Command and Control” explores how the systems devised to govern the use of nuclear weapons, like all complex technological systems, are inherently flawed. They are designed, built, installed, maintained, and operated by human beings. But the failure of a nuclear command-and-control system can have consequences far more serious than the crash of an online dating site from too much traffic or flight delays caused by a software glitch. Millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, could be annihilated inadvertently. “Command and Control” focusses on near-catastrophic errors and accidents in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that ended in 1991. The danger never went away. Today, the odds of a nuclear war being started by mistake are low—and yet the risk is growing, as the United States and Russia drift toward a new cold war. The other day, Senator John McCain called Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, “a thug, a bully, and a murderer,” adding that anyone who “describes him as anything else is lying.” Other members of Congress have attacked Putin for trying to influence the Presidential election. On Thursday, Putin warned that Russia would “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” and President-elect Donald Trump has responded with a vow to expand America’s nuclear arsenal. “Let it be an arms race,” Trump told one of the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?

“The pattern of the use of atomic weapons was set at Hiroshima,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, said in November, 1945, just a few months after the Japanese city’s destruction. “They are weapons of aggression, of surprise, and of terror.” Nuclear weapons made annihilation vastly more efficient. A single bomb could now destroy a target whose elimination had once required thousands of bombs. During an aerial attack, you could shoot down ninety-nine per cent of the enemy’s bombers—and the plane that you missed could obliterate an entire city. A war between two countries with nuclear weapons, like a Wild West shoot-out, might be won by whoever fired first. And a surprise attack might provide the only hope of national survival—especially for the country with an inferior nuclear arsenal.

During the same month that Oppenheimer made his remarks, Bernard Brodie, a political scientist at Yale University, proposed a theory of nuclear deterrence that has largely guided American policy ever since. Brodie argued that the threat of retaliation offered the only effective defense against a nuclear attack. “We must do what we can to reduce the advantage that might accrue to the enemy if he hit first,” Brodie wrote, after the Soviet Union had obtained its own nuclear weapons. Despite all the money spent on building nuclear weapons and delivery systems, their usefulness would be mainly psychological. “What deters is not the capabilities and intentions we have, but the capabilities and intentions the enemy thinks we have,” a classified Pentagon report explained. “The mission is persuasion.”

The fear of a surprise attack and the necessity for retaliation soon dominated the strategic thinking of the Cold War. Every year, technological advances compressed time and added more urgency to decision-making. At a top-secret briefing in 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was told that a Soviet surprise attack on just five targets—the Pentagon, the White House, Camp David, Site R, and High Point, a bunker inside Mount Weather, Virginia—had a good chance of wiping out the civilian leadership of the United States. By striking an additional nine targets, as part of a “decapitation” attack, the Soviet Union could kill America’s military leadership as well. The Soviets might be able to destroy America’s nuclear command-and-control system with only thirty-five missiles. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Kennedy Administration sought ways to maintain Presidential control over nuclear weapons. The Pentagon deployed airborne command posts, better communications and early-warning systems, Minuteman missiles that could be quickly launched, and a large fleet of ballistic-missile submarines.

Many of these elements were put to the test during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a series of misperceptions, miscalculations, and command-and-control problems almost started an accidental nuclear war—despite the determination of both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to avoid one. In perhaps the most dangerous incident, the captain of a Soviet submarine mistakenly believed that his vessel was under attack by U.S. warships and ordered the firing of a torpedo armed with a nuclear warhead. His order was blocked by a fellow officer. Had the torpedo been fired, the United States would have retaliated with nuclear weapons. At the height of the crisis, while leaving the White House on a beautiful fall evening, McNamara had a strong feeling of dread—and for good reason: “I feared I might never live to see another Saturday night.”

Today, the United States has four hundred and forty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, sitting in underground silos scattered across the plains of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The missiles are kept on alert, at all times, ready to take off within two minutes, as a means of escaping a surprise attack. Each missile carries a nuclear warhead that may be as much as thirty times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The Minuteman III was first deployed in 1970 and scheduled for retirement in the early nineteen-eighties. The age of the weapon system is beginning to show. Most of the launch complexes were built during the Kennedy Administration, to house an earlier version of the Minuteman, and some of the complexes are prone to flooding. The command centers feel like a time capsule of late-twentieth-century technology. During a recent visit to a decommissioned Minuteman site, I was curious to see the big computer still used to receive Emergency Action Messages—launch orders from the President—via landline. The computer is an I.B.M. Series/1, a state-of-the-art machine in 1976, when it was introduced. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” a report by the Government Accountability Office said last May, with some understatement, about a computer that relies on eight-inch floppy disks. You can buy a smartphone with about a thousand times the memory.

The personnel who command, operate, and maintain the Minuteman III have also become grounds for concern. In 2013, the two-star general in charge of the entire Minuteman force was removed from duty after going on a drunken bender during a visit to Russia, behaving inappropriately with young Russian women, asking repeatedly if he could sing with a Beatles cover band at a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, and insulting his military hosts. The following year, almost a hundred Minuteman launch officers were disciplined for cheating on their proficiency exams. In 2015, three launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, were dismissed for using illegal drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines. That same year, a launch officer at Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for heading a violent street gang, distributing drugs, sexually assaulting a girl under the age of sixteen, and using psilocybin, a powerful hallucinogen. As the job title implies, launch officers are entrusted with the keys for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Minuteman III is a relic of the Cold War not only in design but also in its strategic purpose. The locations of the silos, chosen more than half a century ago, make the missile useful only for striking targets inside Russia. The silos aren’t hardened enough to survive a nuclear detonation, and their coördinates are well known, so the Minuteman III is extremely vulnerable to attack. The President would be under great pressure, at the outset of a war with Russia, to “use them or lose them.” The missiles now have two principal roles in America’s nuclear-war plans: they can be launched as part of a first strike, or they can be launched when early-warning satellites have determined that Russian warheads are heading toward the United States. After being launched, a Minuteman III cannot be remotely disabled, disarmed, or called back. From the very beginning of the Minuteman program, the Air Force has successfully fought against adding a command-destruct mechanism, fearing that an adversary might somehow gain control of it and destroy all the missiles mid-flight. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” an Air Force officer told “60 Minutes” a few years ago.

The dangers of “launch-on-warning” have been recognized since the idea was first proposed, during the Eisenhower Administration. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara advised Kennedy that the United States should never use its nuclear weapons until a nuclear detonation had occurred on American soil, and could be attributed to an enemy attack. The first Minuteman missiles had already become a great source of stress for McNamara. The control system of the original model had a design flaw: small fluctuations in the electricity entering the command center could mimic the series of pulses required by the launch switch. An entire squadron of fifty missiles might be launched accidentally without anyone turning a key. “I was scared shitless,” an engineer who worked on the system later confessed. “The technology was not to be trusted.” McNamara insisted that the control system be redesigned, at great expense. The destruction of fifty Soviet cities because of a mechanical glitch, a classified history of the Minuteman program later noted, would be “an accident for which a later apology might be inadequate.”

The launch-on-warning policy became controversial during the nineteen-seventies, once it was publicly known. The hundreds of missiles based on American submarines, almost impossible to find in the depths of the ocean, seemed more than adequate to deter a Soviet attack. During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in 1979, Fred Iklé, a conservative Republican who later became a top Pentagon official during the Reagan Administration, said, “If any witness should come here and tell you that a totally reliable and safe launch-on-warning posture can be designed and implemented, that man is a fool.” The Pentagon repeatedly denied that launch-on-warning was American policy, claiming that it was simply one of many options for the President to consider. A recent memoir, “Uncommon Cause,” written by General George Lee Butler, reveals that the Pentagon was not telling the truth. Butler was the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for all of America’s nuclear weapons, during the Administration of President George H. W. Bush.

According to Butler and Franklin Miller, a former director of strategic-forces policy at the Pentagon, launch-on-warning was an essential part of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (siop), the nation’s nuclear-war plan. Land-based missiles like the Minuteman III were aimed at some of the most important targets in the Soviet Union, including its anti-aircraft sites. If the Minuteman missiles were destroyed before liftoff, the siop would go awry, and American bombers might be shot down before reaching their targets. In order to prevail in a nuclear war, the siop had become dependent on getting Minuteman missiles off the ground immediately. Butler’s immersion in the details of the nuclear command-and-control system left him dismayed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, [the siop] was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” Butler concluded. “We escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” The siop called for the destruction of twelve thousand targets within the Soviet Union. Moscow would be struck by four hundred nuclear weapons; Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, by about forty.

After the end of the Cold War, a Russian surprise attack became extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, hundreds of Minuteman III missiles remained on alert. The Cold War strategy endured because, in theory, it deterred a Russian attack on the missiles. McNamara called the policy “insane,” arguing that “there’s no military requirement for it.” George W. Bush, while running for President in 2000, criticized launch-on-warning, citing the “unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” Barack Obama, while running for President in 2008, promised to take Minuteman missiles off alert, warning that policies like launch-on-warning “increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.” Twenty scientists who have won the Nobel Prize, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, have expressed strong opposition to retaining a launch-on-warning capability. It has also been opposed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn. And yet the Minuteman III missiles still sit in their silos today, armed with warheads, ready to go.

William J. Perry, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration, not only opposes keeping Minuteman III missiles on alert but advocates getting rid of them entirely. “These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Perry wrote in the Times, this September. For many reasons, he thinks the risk of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than it was during the Cold War. While serving as an Under-Secretary of Defense in 1980, Perry also received a late-night call about an impending Soviet attack, a false alarm that still haunts him. “A catastrophic nuclear war could have started by accident.”

Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer, heads the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, teaches at Princeton University, and campaigns against a launch-on-warning policy. Blair has described the stresses that the warning of a Russian attack would put on America’s command-and-control system. American early-warning satellites would detect Russian missiles within three minutes of their launch. Officers at norad would confer for an additional three minutes, checking sensors to decide if an attack was actually occurring. The Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack System collects data from at least two independent information sources, relying on different physical principles, such as ground-based radar and satellite-based infrared sensors. If the norad officials thought that the warning was legitimate, the President of the United States would be contacted. He or she would remove the Black Book from a briefcase carried by a military aide. The Black Book describes nuclear retaliatory options, presented in cartoon-like illustrations that can be quickly understood.

Missiles launched from Russia would give the President about twenty minutes to make a decision, after consultation with the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. The President might have as few as five minutes, if missiles had been launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic. A decision to retaliate at once, to launch Minuteman missiles before they could be destroyed, runs the risk of killing millions of people by mistake. A decision to wait—to make sure that the attack is for real, to take no action until Russian warheads began to detonate in the United States—runs the risk losing the ability of the command-and-control system to order a retaliation. In that desperate situation, with the fate of the world in the balance, the temperament of the President would be less important than the quality of the information being offered by the system. Could you trust the sensors?

At about one-thirty in the morning, on October 23, 2010, fifty Minuteman III missiles deployed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Wyoming, suddenly went offline. Launch officers could no longer communicate with their missiles. The letters “LFDN” appeared on their computer screens: Launch Facility Down. Every so often, an underground control center would lose contact with missiles, briefly. It wasn’t a big deal. But having an entire squadron go down at once—and remain offline—was a highly unusual event. For almost an hour, officers tried to regain communication with the missiles. When it was reëstablished, remotely, by computer—the control centers are miles away from the missiles—closed-circuit-television images from the silos showed that the fifty missiles were still down there. As a precaution, Air Force security officers were dispatched to all the silos in the early-morning hours.

The Air Force denied that someone had hacked into the computer network and disabled the missiles. A subsequent investigation found that a circuit card, improperly installed in a weapon-systems processor, had been dislodged by routine vibration and heat. The misalignment of the circuit card sent messages to the missiles in the wrong timing sequence. The Minuteman III’s complicated launch procedures were designed to allow the missiles to be fired even if some command centers were destroyed, and to prevent rogue officers from firing them without proper authorization. As a result, the fifty missiles in each squadron are connected by coaxial cable to ten control centers, assuring redundancy and enabling one center to veto another’s launch decision. Throughout the day, at designated times, each control center sends a signal to the missiles, checks their status, and receives a reply. By disrupting the time sequence, the misaligned circuit board created a cacophony of signals and blocked all communication with the missiles. The system jammed itself.

Although the Air Force publicly dismissed the threat of a cyberattack on the nuclear command-and-control system, the incident raised alarm within the Pentagon about the system’s vulnerability. A malfunction that occurred by accident might also be caused deliberately. Those concerns were reinforced by a Defense Science Board report in January, 2013. It found that the Pentagon’s computer networks had been “built on inherently insecure architectures that are composed of, and increasingly using, foreign parts.” Red teams employed by the board were able to disrupt Pentagon systems with “relative ease,” using tools available on the Internet. “The complexity of modern software and hardware makes it difficult, if not impossible, to develop components without flaws or to detect malicious insertions,” the report concluded.

In a recent paper for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Andrew Futter, an associate professor at the University of Leicester, suggested that a nuclear command-and-control system might be hacked to gather intelligence about the system, to shut down the system, to spoof it, mislead it, or cause it to take some sort of action—like launching a missile. And, he wrote, there are a variety of ways it might be done.

During the Cold War, as part of an espionage effort known as Project gunman, Soviet agents managed to tamper with the comb-support bars in sixteen I.B.M. Selectric typewriters at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Mission in Leningrad. Between 1976 and 1984, every keystroke from those typewriters was transmitted by radio to nearby Soviet listening posts. The tampering was so ingenious that it took twenty-five engineers at the National Security Agency (N.S.A.), working six days a week for several months, with X-ray equipment, to figure out how it was done. Today’s integrated circuits contain billions of transistors. As the Defense Science Board notes in its report, a “subversive” chip “could destroy the processor and disable the system by simply shunting power to ground, change the processor output to incorrect results for specified inputs, or allow information leakage to the attackers.” A subversive chip would look identical to a normal one.

The cybersecurity of the Minuteman III, aging and yet still on alert, is also questionable. About five thousand miles of underground cable link the control centers to the missiles, as part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System. The cable mainly traverses privately owned land. “One of the difficult parts about fixing missile cable is . . . that the wires are no longer in production,” a newsletter at Minot Air Force Base explained a few years ago. The wires are copper, like old-fashioned telephone lines, surrounded by pressurized air, so that attempts to tamper with the cable can be detected. But in the early nineteen-seventies, during Operation Ivy Bells, the United States attached recording devices to similar underwater cable used by the Soviet Navy, tapping into it without piercing it. The mission was accomplished using divers and a submarine, at a depth of four hundred feet, in the Sea of Okhotsk. Digging up part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System in the middle of the night, three to eight feet under a farmer’s back yard in Wyoming, would be less challenging. (The Air Force declined to comment on the specific vulnerabilities of the Minuteman III.)

Even if the hardware were pristine, malware could be inserted into the system. During Operation Orchard, in September, 2007, Israel may have hacked into Syria’s early-warning system—either shutting it down completely or spoofing it into displaying clear skies—as Israeli fighters entered Syrian airspace, bombed a nuclear reactor, and flew home undetected. In 2012, the Stuxnet computer worm infiltrated computers running Microsoft Windows at nuclear sites in Iran, collected information about the industrial process there, and then issued instructions that destroyed hundreds of centrifuges enriching uranium. A similar worm could surreptitiously enter a nuclear command-and-control system, lie dormant for years, and then create havoc.

Strict precautions have been taken to thwart a cyberattack on the U.S. nuclear command-and-control system. Every line of nuclear code has been scrutinized for errors and bugs. The system is “air-gapped,” meaning that its networks are closed: someone can’t just go onto the Internet and tap into a computer at a Minuteman III control center. At least, that’s the theory. Russia, China, and North Korea have sophisticated cyber-warfare programs and techniques. General James Cartwright—the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command who recently pleaded guilty to leaking information about Stuxnet—thinks that it’s reasonable to believe the system has already been penetrated. “You’ve either been hacked, and you’re not admitting it, or you’re being hacked and don’t know it,” Cartwright said last year.

If communications between Minuteman control centers and their missiles are interrupted, the missiles can still be launched by ultra-high-frequency radio signals transmitted by special military aircraft. The ability to launch missiles by radio serves as a backup to the control centers—and also creates an entry point into the network that could be exploited in a cyberattack. The messages sent within the nuclear command-and-control system are highly encrypted. Launch codes are split in two, and no single person is allowed to know both parts. But the complete code is stored in computers—where it could be obtained or corrupted by an insider.

Some of America’s most secret secrets were recently hacked and stolen by a couple of private contractors working inside the N.S.A., Edward Snowden and Harold T. Martin III, both employees of Booz Allen Hamilton. The N.S.A. is responsible for generating and encrypting the nuclear launch codes. And the security of the nuclear command-and-control system is being assured not only by government officials but also by the employees of private firms, including software engineers who work for Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Lord Des Browne, a former U.K. Minister of Defense, is concerned that even ballistic-missile submarines may be compromised by malware. Browne is now the vice-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to reduce the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction, where he heads a task force examining the risk of cyberattacks on nuclear command-and-control systems. Browne thinks that the cyber threat is being cavalierly dismissed by many in power. The Royal Navy’s decision to save money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, as the operating system for its ballistic-missile subs seems especially shortsighted. Windows XP was discontinued six years ago, and Microsoft warned that any computer running it after April, 2014, “should not be considered protected as there will be no security updates.” Each of the U.K. subs has eight missiles carrying a total of forty nuclear weapons. “It is shocking to think that my home computer is probably running a newer version of Windows than the U.K.’s military submarines,” Brown said.

In 2013, General C. Robert Kehler, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the risk of cyberattacks on the nuclear command-and-control system. He expressed confidence that the U.S. system was secure. When Senator Bill Nelson asked if somebody could hack into the Russian or Chinese systems and launch a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead, Kehler replied, “Senator, I don’t know . . . I do not know.”

After the debacle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union became much more reluctant to provoke a nuclear confrontation with the United States. Its politburo was a committee of conservative old men. Russia’s leadership is quite different today. The current mix of nationalism, xenophobia, and vehement anti-Americanism in Moscow is a far cry from the more staid and secular ideology guiding the Soviet Union in the nineteen-eighties. During the past few years, threats about the use of nuclear weapons have become commonplace in Moscow. Dmitry Kiselyov, a popular newscaster and the Kremlin’s leading propagandist, reminded viewers in 2014 that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive dust.” The Kremlin has acknowledged the development of a nuclear torpedo that can travel more than six thousand miles underwater before devastating a coastal city. It has also boasted about a fearsome new missile design. Nicknamed “Satan 2” and deployed with up to sixteen nuclear warheads, the missile will be “capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France,” an official news agency claimed.

The bellicose pronouncements in Moscow suggest that Russia is becoming a superpower again, modernizing its nuclear arsenal and seeking supremacy over the United States. In fact, Russia’s arsenal is more inferior today and more vulnerable to a surprise attack than it was forty years ago. The Kremlin’s recent propaganda brings to mind some of Nikita Khrushchev’s claims from 1959: “Now we have such a stock of missiles, such an amount of atomic and hydrogen warheads, that if they attack us we could raze our potential enemies off the face of the earth.” The Soviet Union did not have a single intercontinental ballistic missile when Khrushchev made those remarks.

At the moment, Russia has newer land-based missiles than the United States does, but it also has about a hundred fewer. During the Cold War, Russia possessed hundreds of mobile missiles that were hard to spot from satellites; today, it has only a hundred and fifty, which are rarely moved from their bases and more readily detected by satellite. Russia’s ten ballistic-missile submarines now spend most of their time in port, where they are sitting ducks. An American surprise attack on Russian nuclear forces may have the best chance of success since the days of the Kennedy Administration. During the Cold War, as many as five warheads were targeted at each enemy missile to assure its destruction. In an age of cyber warfare, those missiles could be immobilized with just a few keystrokes. The United States Cyber Command—which reports to the U.S. Strategic Command—has been assigned the mission of using “cyber operations to disrupt an adversary’s command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure, and weapons capabilities.”

Russia’s greatest strategic vulnerability is the lack of a sophisticated and effective early-warning system. The Soviet Union had almost a dozen satellites in orbit that could detect a large-scale American attack. The system began to deteriorate in 1996, when an early-warning satellite had to be retired. Others soon fell out of orbit, and Russia’s last functional early-warning satellite went out of service two years ago. Until a new network of satellites can be placed in orbit, the country must depend on ground-based radar units. Unlike the United States, Russia no longer has two separate means of validating an attack warning. At best, the radar units can spot warheads only minutes before they land. Pavel Podvig, a senior fellow at the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, believes that Russia does not have a launch-on-warning policy—because its early-warning system is so limited.

According to Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, the deficiencies in Russia’s command-and-control system feed the country’s long-standing fears of encirclement by enemies ready to strike. During the twentieth century, Russia was attacked with little warning by both Germany and Japan. “I think the Russian leadership is terrified of a decapitation strike,” Lewis told me recently. “Perhaps some of that is paranoia, but, on the other hand, the United States opened Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003, by striking Dora Farm—a failed decapitation strike against Saddam Hussein.” Russia’s fierce opposition to an American missile-defense system in Europe is driven by fear of the role it could play in a surprise attack. During a crisis, Russia’s inability to launch on warning could raise the pressure on a Russian leader to launch without any warning. The logic of a first strike still prevails. As John Steinbruner, a renowned nuclear theorist, explained more than thirty years ago, shooting first “offers some small chance that complete decapitation will occur and no retaliation will follow. . . . [It] is probably the only imaginable route to decisive victory in nuclear war.”

Vladimir Putin now wields more power over Russia’s nuclear forces than any leader since Khrushchev. Putin has displayed great boldness and a willingness to take risks in foreign affairs. A surprise attack on the United States, given its nuclear superiority and largely invulnerable ballistic-missile submarines, would probably be suicidal. And yet the alternative might appear worse. Putin has described an important lesson he learned as a young man in Leningrad: “When a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first.”

For the past nine years, I’ve been immersed in the minutiae of nuclear command and control, trying to understand the actual level of risk. Of all the people whom I’ve met in the nuclear realm, Sidney Drell was one of the most brilliant and impressive. Drell died this week, at the age of ninety. A theoretical physicist with expertise in quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, he was for many years the deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator and received the National Medal of Science from Obama, in 2013. Drell was one of the founding members of jason—a group of civilian scientists that advises the government on important technological matters—and for fifty-six years possessed a Q clearance, granting him access to the highest level of classified information. Drell participated in top-secret discussions about nuclear strategy for decades, headed a panel that investigated nuclear-weapon safety for the U.S. Congress in 1990, and worked on technical issues for jason until the end of his life. A few months ago, when I asked for his opinion about launch-on-warning, Drell said, “It’s insane, the worst thing I can think of. You can’t have a worse idea.”

Drell was an undergraduate at Princeton University when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed. Given all the close calls and mistakes in the seventy-one years since then, he considered it a miracle that no other cities have been destroyed by a nuclear weapon—“it is so far beyond my normal optimism.” The prospect of a new cold war—and the return of military strategies that advocate using nuclear weapons on the battlefield—deeply unnerved him. Once the first nuclear weapon detonates, nothing might prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control. “We have no experience in stopping a nuclear war,” he said.

During the recent Presidential campaign, the emotional stability of the Commander-in-Chief became an issue, with some arguing that a calm disposition might mean the difference between peace on Earth and a nuclear apocalypse. The President of the United States has the sole power to order the use of nuclear weapons, without any legal obligation to consult members of Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ideally, the President would never be short-tempered, impulsive, or clinically depressed. But the mood of the Commander-in-Chief may be irrelevant in a nuclear crisis, given the current technological constraints. Can any human being reliably make the correct decision, within six minutes, with hundreds of millions of lives at stake?

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin confront a stark choice: begin another nuclear-arms race or reduce the threat of nuclear war. Trump now has a unique opportunity to pursue the latter, despite the bluster and posturing on both sides. His admiration for Putin, regardless of its merits, could provide the basis for meaningful discussions about how to minimize nuclear risks. Last year, General James Mattis, the former Marine chosen by Trump to serve as Secretary of Defense, called for a fundamental reappraisal of American nuclear strategy and questioned the need for land-based missiles. During Senate testimony, Mattis suggested that getting rid of such missiles would “reduce the false-alarm danger.” Contrary to expectations, Republican Presidents have proved much more successful than their Democratic counterparts at nuclear disarmament. President George H. W. Bush cut the size of the American arsenal in half, as did his son, President George W. Bush. And President Ronald Reagan came close to negotiating a treaty with the Soviet Union that would have completely abolished nuclear weapons.

Every technology embodies the values of the age in which it was created. When the atomic bomb was being developed in the mid-nineteen-forties, the destruction of cities and the deliberate targeting of civilians was just another military tactic. It was championed as a means to victory. The Geneva Conventions later classified those practices as war crimes—and yet nuclear weapons have no other real use. They threaten and endanger noncombatants for the sake of deterrence. Conventional weapons can now be employed to destroy every kind of military target, and twenty-first-century warfare puts an emphasis on precision strikes, cyberweapons, and minimizing civilian casualties. As a technology, nuclear weapons have become obsolete. What worries me most isn’t the possibility of a cyberattack, a technical glitch, or a misunderstanding starting a nuclear war sometime next week. My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, some day, they will. The “Titanic Effect” is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.

Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” from 2013, and the producer of the documentary “Command and Control,” from 2016.

By striking a single word, Congress shakes up U.S. nuclear defense doctrine and opens door to space arms race

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, War on December 22, 2016 at 11:35 pm

By David Willman, Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2016

By removing a single word from legislation governing the military, Congress has laid the groundwork for both a major shift in U.S. nuclear defense doctrine and a costly effort to field space-based weaponry.

Experts say the changes, approved by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, could aggravate tensions with Russia and China and prompt a renewed nuclear arms race. The bill awaits action by President Obama. The White House has not said what he will do.

For decades, America’s defense against nuclear attack has rested on twin pillars: The nation’s homeland missile defense system is designed to thwart a small-scale, or “limited,” attack by the likes of North Korea or Iran. As for the threat of a large-scale strike by China or Russia, the prospect of massive U.S. retaliation is supposed to deter both from ever launching missiles.

Central to this strategy was a one-word qualifier – “limited” — used to define the mission of the homeland defense system. The language was carefully crafted to avoid reigniting an arms race among the superpowers.
Now, with virtually no public debate, bipartisan majorities in Congress have removed the word “limited” from the nation’s missile defense policy. They did so in giving final approval over the last month to the year-end defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act.
A related provision of the law calls for the Pentagon to start “research, development, test and evaluation” of space-based systems for missile defense.

A space-based defense program would hinge on annual congressional appropriations and decisions by the incoming Trump administration.

Yet both proponents and opponents say the policy changes have momentous implications.

“These amendments were historic in nature — given the paradigm shift forward that they represent,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced and shepherded the amendments in the House.

Leading defense scientists said the idea that a space-based system could provide security against nuclear attack is a fantasy.

“It defies the laws of physics and is not based on science of any kind,” said L. David Montague, a retired president of missile systems for Lockheed Corp. and co-chair of a National Academy of Sciences panel that studied missile defense technologies at the request of Congress.

“Even if we darken the sky with hundreds or thousands of satellites and interceptors, there’s no way to ensure against a dedicated attack,” Montague said in an interview. “So it’s an opportunity to waste a prodigious amount of money.”

He called the provisions passed by Congress “insanity, pure and simple.”

The National Academy study, released in 2012, concluded that even a bare-bones space-based missile defense system would cost about $200 billion to put in place, and hundreds of billions to operate in subsequent years.

Franks, asked whether the country could afford it, replied: “What is national security worth? It’s priceless.”

Philip E. Coyle III, a former assistant secretary of Defense who headed the Pentagon office responsible for testing and evaluating weapon systems, described the notion of a space-based nuclear shield as “a sham.”

“To do this would cost just gazillions and gazillions,” Coyle said. “The technology isn’t at hand — nor is the money. It’s unfortunate from my point of view that the Congress doesn’t see that.”

He added: “Both Russia and China will use it as an excuse to do something that they want to do.”

The word “limited” has guided U.S. policy since the National Missile Defense Act of 1999. The qualifier reflects, in part, the reality that intercepting and destroying incoming warheads is supremely difficult, and that it would be impractical to field enough interceptors to counter a large-scale attack. Any such system, by its very nature, would be limited.

The current homeland anti-missile system — the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD — relies on interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Ft. Greely, Alaska. In flight tests, the system, which has cost taxpayers more than $40 billion, has managed to destroy mock enemy warheads only about half the time.

Military officials estimate that, in the event of an attack, the U.S. would have to fire four or five interceptors for every incoming warhead. As a result, the system’s arsenal of 34 operational interceptors could be rapidly depleted.

The 1999 law “threaded the needle between defending against a potential North Korean or Iranian threat and not rocking the boat too much with Russia and China,’’ said Laura Grego, a physicist who led a recent study of GMD for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“So just trashing that without a real substantive discussion is, I think, shameful,” Grego said.

Franks said in an interview that he drew inspiration from President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s, which was intended to use lasers and other space-based weaponry to render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.” Known as “Star Wars,” the initiative cost taxpayers $30 billion, but no system was ever deployed.

Franks said that by striking the word “limited” from the homeland defense system’s mission, and at the same time pursuing a space-based system, the U.S. is on a path to better safeguard its security. He said the new approach would protect both U.S. territory and surveillance satellites.

“I hope that the day will come when we could have solid-state lasers in space that can defeat any missile attack,” said Franks, who represents suburbs north and west of Phoenix. “That day is a long ways off. But fortunately, it’s a little closer, and a little more certain, with the passage of these amendments.”

The new policy he championed says America “should maintain and improve a robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat.”

Franks suggested that Americans have no reason to fear a space-based arms race with China or Russia. He also said he had been surprised by the absence of Democratic opposition to his proposals.

The first of his amendments — to eliminate “limited” from U.S. policy — was approved in April by the House Armed Services Committee with no debate and without a recorded roll-call vote.

At a committee hearing May 17, a senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, offered mild protest.

“I think it was a mistake to mandate a poorly thought out, unaffordable and unrealistic missile defense policy, including plans for a space-based missile deterrent,” Cooper said.

But neither Cooper nor any other House Democrat sought to overturn the provisions, and he was among those who voted to pass the overall bill the next day.

“I’m a little stunned that we didn’t get more profile on it,” Franks said. “That’s fine with me, because that may have made my job easier.”

Franks’ Republican partner on the legislation, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, enjoyed a similarly smooth path.

Deliberations of the Senate Armed Services Committee were closed, forestalling public debate. The legislation was approved by a roll call vote of 16-10, with two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tim Kaine of Virginia, the party’s eventual vice presidential nominee, joining the Republican majority.

In June, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sought to restore “limited,” saying that the change in U.S. policy would create “the impetus for a new arms race” with Russia and China. Markey offered an amendment on the Senate floor but could not muster enough support to bring it to vote.

The same month, the Obama administration criticized the changes in the Senate bill, saying it “strongly objects” to removing “limited” and to placing anti-missile weaponry in space. The statement stopped short of threatening a veto.

The policy changes were greeted with opposition from another quarter as well. At a congressional hearing in April, Franks pressed Vice Adm. James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, for his stance on expanding U.S. capability into space.

Syring pushed back.

“I have serious concerns about the technical feasibility of the interceptors in space and I have serious concerns about the long-term affordability of a program like that,” he said.

A first look at a 21st century disarmament movement

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 19, 2016 at 11:49 pm

John Carl Baker, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 16, 3016

John Carl Baker is a Mellon-ACLS Public Fellow at the Ploughshares Fund, where he works as political engagement strategist. Baker holds a doctorate in cultural studies, and his work focuses on disarmament movements, late Cold War culture, and critical theory. His current book project examines the intersection between the nuclear freeze movement and the transition to neoliberalism in the United States.
With Donald Trump set to ascend to the presidency, many in the disarmament and nonproliferation community are deeply concerned and searching for a path forward. The comparisons to the election of Ronald Reagan are not perfect, but they do contain at least one kernel of truth. Just as in the early 1980s, those who seek to eliminate nuclear risk today feel left out in the cold—and they are understandably frightened. Much like Reagan’s loose talk about nuclear war, the thought of Trump’s finger on the button sends chills down the spines of experts and laypeople alike.

It is not surprising then that some are floating the possibility of a revived disarmament movement as a counterbalance to the incoming Trump administration, which seems primed to continue and perhaps even accelerate the modernization of the US nuclear arsenal. Here in the Bulletin, Frank von Hippel recently wondered whether a millennial-led “general citizen uprising” against Trump’s policies might include a disarmament component. This is certainly a possibility. But if the “new generation of nuclear disarmament activists” he foresees actually emerges, what might it look like when compared to, say, the nuclear freeze movement of the Reagan era?

In my view, a 21st century disarmament movement will be–and should be–distinct from the freeze in three main ways. It will be intersectional, it will be digital, and it will be confrontational.

The nuclear freeze movement accomplished a great deal in its brief existence. It challenged the Reagan administration to temper its rhetoric and engage with the Soviets. Along with other peace movements around the globe, it helped bring the world back from the brink of nuclear war. These achievements made the joint weapons reductions of the late Cold War possible, and for that we owe the freeze movement a debt of gratitude. But the movement was not without its faults. It presented the freeze policy as a common denominator around which everyone from dissident Republicans to radical leftists could rally and consciously cultivated a public image that was politically moderate and middle class. In theory the freeze movement was a big tent that welcomed all comers, but in practice it tended to be white, affluent, and strangely cordoned off from other activist causes.

A contemporary movement will not be nearly as exclusionary and single-issue oriented. While there are clearly targeted forms of activism today—against police violence, economic inequality, and climate change, to name just a few—no sharp line exists between them, and they are constantly making connections with one another. Black Lives Matter activists point out the links between economic inequality and over-policing, while environmental advocates discuss the disproportionate impact of climate upheavals on people of color and the poor.

Social movements today are foundationally intersectional, and a new disarmament movement will be too. It may emphasize the trade-off between social spending and defense spending, or criticize the orientalist quality of much nonproliferation discourse. It may note the racist and environmentally destructive history of nuclear testing, or draw attention to male domination of the national security sphere. A new movement will face the exclusionary qualities of disarmament activism head-on and replace them with a firm emphasis on diversity and cross-issue collaboration. A revived disarmament movement will acknowledge that its goal cannot take primacy over other struggles but can come to fruition in and through them. Much like the other new social movements, it will see itself as one element in an overarching global push for democracy, civil rights, and economic justice.

Media forms have historically played a significant role in promoting the disarmament cause. In the Reagan era, films about nuclear war proliferated, and activists seized upon them as a way of galvanizing the public against the arms race. These texts were “mass media” in the truest sense of the term. They were delivered instantaneously to huge audiences, who experienced them collectively, whether in the movie theater or the family living room. On one evening in 1983, a stunning 100 million people watched the TV movie The Day After, which portrayed the impact of a nuclear war on a Midwestern community in the United States. In the weeks before and after the film was broadcast, it spurred a nationwide discussion on the dangers of nuclear weapons. The film kept the freeze issue in the public eye and presented an enormous organizing opportunity, which activists were more than happy to exploit.

Mass media are still with us, of course, but a 21st century disarmament movement will likely take a more decentralized, digital approach to media engagement and popular mobilization. Social media has already played an enormous role in organizing new social movements (particularly Black Lives Matter), and a new disarmament movement would no doubt follow suit. Indeed, organizations like the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) are already using digital media forms as a cornerstone of their activism. During the recent UN First Committee session, ICAN and its coalition used Twitter to engage in instantaneous critiques of the nuclear-armed states, calling them out for their hypocrisy and underhandedness in trying to scuttle the ban treaty. They did this not only through expert analysis, but also through appropriately biting humor—sometimes delivered via internet memes. Mainstream US media have been remarkably uninterested in the UN ban treaty discussions, but through digital platforms like Twitter, groups like ICAN are disseminating the latest news, pushing back against the claims of the nuclear-armed states and encouraging newcomers to get involved in the issue. Their success at the international level may provide a model media strategy for a new US movement.

The third and most distinctive quality of a 21st century disarmament movement is that it will be confrontational, a major departure from the freeze in both tactics and strategy. From its inception, the freeze movement defined itself in opposition to radical politics and unilateral disarmament, hence its emphasis on bilateralism, verifiability, and traditional civic participation. It’s true that the freeze engaged in public demonstrations and protest marches (most notably the June 1982 Central Park rally of 750,000 people), but its primary form of political engagement was the ballot box. It eschewed most forms of direct action in favor of state and local ballot initiatives calling for the institution of a bilateral freeze on the testing, deployment, and production for nuclear weapons. These initiatives clearly expressed opposition to the status quo but were non-binding; the hope was that Congress would take up the issue, which it eventually did, with mixed results. The point here is that the freeze movement sought a kind of accommodation with the powers-that-be. This was evident in the policy itself, designed to be non-threatening and bipartisan, and in the freeze’s inoffensive, even patriotic model of political participation: localized voting, public education, grassroots legislative pressure.

Today’s social movements, while not antagonistic to voting and, say, writing your congressperson, do not regard these activities as the end-all-be-all of political participation. They place a much stronger emphasis on protest in its varying forms: rowdy demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience, the reclamation of public space.

The 21st century is the time of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Fight for $15, and it seems likely that a renewed disarmament activism will take a cue from these movements’ confrontational tactics. Today, the dominant style of protest does not passively ask to be heard, but demands it, by actively challenging an injustice at its source. There is of course a long history of peaceful direct action in the disarmament movement, and activists may revive this tradition in the coming years. The US nuclear weapons complex, spread out over multiple sites across the country, certainly provides ample opportunity for disruptive—but peaceful—protest. Thinking intersectionally, though, activists may focus their ire on the defense corporations of the “nuclear enterprise,” who receive billions from the federal government at a time when many Americans feel economically left behind. So far, inequality activists have not stressed the trade-off between defense spending and social spending. But with the US set to spend $1 trillion modernizing its nuclear arsenal, and Trump adding numerous critics of social welfare programs to his administration, there is significant potential for cross-issue mobilization.

The freeze movement was reluctant to make broader political connections and engage in direct action for fear of being tarred as unserious and left wing. Whether this choice was correct in the early 1980s is open for debate. But today, a raucous intersectionality–digitally savvy but materially focused–seems absolutely essential for preventing a new arms race. This 21st century movement will look radically different from the freeze. Its form will pose a challenge not only to Donald Trump and nuclear modernization but to those of us in the arms control community who sometimes value subdued professionalism over committed action. Still, we should welcome it. A renewed movement will give a much-needed injection of youthful excitement to the issue of nuclear arms control and will help turn the slow drip of progress over the past 30 years into a flood of momentous change. It happened before, and it can happen again.

Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Race, War on December 19, 2016 at 3:19 am

By STEVEN LEVITSKY and DANIEL ZIBLATT, New York Times., Sunday Review, Dec. 16, 2016

Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? With the possible exception of the Civil War, American democracy has never collapsed; indeed, no democracy as rich or as established as America’s ever has. Yet past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival.

We have spent two decades studying the emergence and breakdown of democracy in Europe and Latin America. Our research points to several warning signs.

The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

Mr. Trump tests positive. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton; threatened legal action against unfriendly media; and suggested that he might not accept the election results.

This anti-democratic behavior has continued since the election. With the false claim that he lost the popular vote because of “millions of people who voted illegally,” Mr. Trump openly challenged the legitimacy of the electoral process. At the same time, he has been remarkably dismissive of United States intelligence agencies’ reports of Russian hacking to tilt the election in his favor.

Mr. Trump is not the first American politician with authoritarian tendencies. (Other notable authoritarians include Gov. Huey Long of Louisiana and Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.) But he is the first in modern American history to be elected president. This is not necessarily because Americans have grown more authoritarian (the United States electorate has always had an authoritarian streak). Rather it’s because the institutional filters that we assumed would protect us from extremists, like the party nomination system and the news media, failed.

Many Americans are not overly concerned about Mr. Trump’s authoritarian inclinations because they trust our system of constitutional checks and balances to constrain him.

Yet the institutional safeguards protecting our democracy may be less effective than we think. A well-designed constitution is not enough to ensure a stable democracy — a lesson many Latin American independence leaders learned when they borrowed the American constitutional model in the early 19th century, only to see their countries plunge into chaos.

Democratic institutions must be reinforced by strong informal norms. Like a pickup basketball game without a referee, democracies work best when unwritten rules of the game, known and respected by all players, ensure a minimum of civility and cooperation. Norms serve as the soft guardrails of democracy, preventing political competition from spiraling into a chaotic, no-holds-barred conflict.

Among the unwritten rules that have sustained American democracy are partisan self-restraint and fair play. For much of our history, leaders of both parties resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage, effectively underutilizing the power conferred by those institutions. There existed a shared understanding, for example, that anti-majoritarian practices like the Senate filibuster would be used sparingly, that the Senate would defer (within reason) to the president in nominating Supreme Court justices, and that votes of extraordinary importance — like impeachment — required a bipartisan consensus. Such practices helped to avoid a descent into the kind of partisan fight to the death that destroyed many European democracies in the 1930s.

Yet norms of partisan restraint have eroded in recent decades. House Republicans’ impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 abandoned the idea of bipartisan consensus on impeachment. The filibuster, once a rarity, has become a routine tool of legislative obstruction. As the political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have shown, the decline of partisan restraint has rendered our democratic institutions increasingly dysfunctional. Republicans’ 2011 refusal to raise the debt ceiling, which put America’s credit rating at risk for partisan gain, and the Senate’s refusal this year to consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee — in essence, allowing the Republicans to steal a Supreme Court seat — offer an alarming glimpse at political life in the absence of partisan restraint.

Norms of presidential restraint are also at risk. The Constitution’s ambiguity regarding the limits of executive authority can tempt presidents to try and push those limits. Although executive power has expanded in recent decades, it has ultimately been reined in by the prudence and self-restraint of our presidents.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Trump is a serial norm-breaker. There are signs that Mr. Trump seeks to diminish the news media’s traditional role by using Twitter, video messages and public rallies to circumvent the White House press corps and communicate directly with voters — taking a page out of the playbook of populist leaders like Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.

An even more basic norm under threat today is the idea of legitimate opposition. In a democracy, partisan rivals must fully accept one another’s right to exist, to compete and to govern. Democrats and Republicans may disagree intensely, but they must view one another as loyal Americans and accept that the other side will occasionally win elections and lead the country. Without such mutual acceptance, democracy is imperiled. Governments throughout history have used the claim that their opponents are disloyal or criminal or a threat to the nation’s way of life to justify acts of authoritarianism.

The idea of legitimate opposition has been entrenched in the United States since the early 19th century, disrupted only by the Civil War. That may now be changing, however, as right-wing extremists increasingly question the legitimacy of their liberal rivals. During the last decade, Ann Coulter wrote best-selling books describing liberals as traitors, and the “birther” movement questioned President Obama’s status as an American.

Such extremism, once confined to the political fringes, has now moved into the mainstream. In 2008, the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin linked Barack Obama to terrorism. This year, the Republican Party nominated a birther as its presidential candidate. Mr. Trump’s campaign centered on the claim that Hillary Clinton was a criminal who should be in jail; and “Lock her up!” was chanted at the Republican National Convention. In other words, leading Republicans — including the president-elect — endorsed the view that the Democratic candidate was not a legitimate rival.

The risk we face, then, is not merely a president with illiberal proclivities — it is the election of such a president when the guardrails protecting American democracy are no longer as secure.

American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency. It is less clear, however, how democracy would fare in a crisis. In the event of a war, a major terrorist attack or large-scale riots or protests — all of which are entirely possible — a president with authoritarian tendencies and institutions that have come unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy. We must be vigilant. The warning signs are real.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are professors of government at Harvard University.

UN: Threat of a Hacking Attack on Nuclear Plants Is Growing

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, War on December 17, 2016 at 3:58 am

By The Associated Press, December 15, 2016

UNITED NATIONS — The “nightmare scenario” is rising for a hacking attack on a nuclear power plant’s computer system that causes the uncontrolled release of radiation, the United Nations’ deputy chief warned Thursday.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a Security Council meeting that extremists and “vicious non-state groups” are actively seeking weapons of mass destruction “and these weapons are increasingly accessible.”

Non-state actors can already create mass disruption using cyber technologies — and hacking a nuclear plant would be a “nightmare scenario,” he said.

The open council meeting focused on ways to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by extremist groups and criminals. Members unanimously approved a resolution to strengthen the work of the council committee monitoring what countries are doing to prevent “non-state actors” from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction, known as WMDs.

Eliasson said there are legitimate concerns about the security of stockpiles of radioactive material suitable for making nuclear weapons but that are outside international regulation.

In addition, he said, “scientific advances have lowered barriers to the production of biological weapons.”

“And emerging technologies, such as 3D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, are adding to threats of an attack using a WMD,” Eliasson said.

He said the international community needs robust defenses to stay ahead of this technological curve. “Preventing a WMD attack by a non-state actor will be a long-term challenge that requires long-term responses,” Eliasson said.

U.N. disarmament chief Kim Won-soo said the new resolution recognizes “the growing threats and risks associated with biological weapons” and the need for the 193 U.N. member states, international groups and regional organizations to step-up information sharing on these threats and risks.

Kim said it is important that the Security Council keep up its focus on preventing deadly weapons from getting into the hands of extremists and criminals, but it also needs to study how to respond if prevention fails.

“The consequences of an attack would be disastrous and we must be prepared,” he said.

Eliasson said that “a biological attack would be a public health disaster,” but that there is no global institution capable of responding.

Brian Finlay, president of the Stimson Center in Washington, which has been supporting the work of the Security Council committee since 2004, said the resolution requiring all countries to take action to prevent non-state actors from getting WMD “has provided a near unprecedented rallying point for global efforts to prevent terrorist acquisition of these weapons.”

But challenges remain, he said, citing a steady increase in nuclear, biological and chemical incidents around the globe, “including notably by non-state actors.” He also cited growing access to the internet and potentially illegal technology transfers, saying there is “evidence that terrorist groups with regional or global ambitions continue to seek weapons of mass destruction.”

He called for civil society, industry and the general public to support the campaign against the growing threat of the world’s most dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands.

If nuclear war broke out, where’s the safest place on Earth?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 17, 2016 at 3:49 am

By Dr. Becky Alexis Martin and Thom Davies, The Guardian, December 15, 2016

The recent death of Fidel Castro – a man synonymous with the threat of nuclear war and the Cuban Missile Crisis – has reminded us how much the world has changed since the end of the Cold War.

We are safer now than perhaps any time in our history. Let’s take the cheery topic of violent death, for example. In most of the world, murder rates are falling along with other violent crimes. A recent UN study reported that homicide rates in North America, Europe and Asia have been declining for last 15 years, and wars have also become less deadly when compared to conflicts in the 20th century. Even contemporary atrocities in the Middle East do not compare to the industrial genocide of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. Research by the Early Warning Project for example, has shown a clear decline in mass killings in wars and conflicts since 1992.
Despite gruesome on-going conflicts, as a planet we are arguably living in the most peaceful time in human history. On the surface, that goes for nuclear threats too. Nuclear bunkers have been turned into nightclubs, civil defence has become an interesting historical curiosity, and the five countries of the “nuclear club” have successfully adhered to major international treaties that ban making and testing nuclear weapons for over two decades.

A mutually-assured obsession
Recently however, the atomic landscape has begun to shift. North Korea has undertaken a series of nuclear tests, including its fifth and largest detonation in September 2016, and the UN Security Council will soon be implementing sanctions, which could have wide-reaching consequences. Although the vast majority of UN member states voted in favour of a ban on nuclear weapons, there are increased tensions between NATO and Russia, continuing volatility between India and Pakistan, and new nuclear nightmares and geopolitical scenarios that never existed during the halcyon days of the Cold War.

Ex-Pentagon chief William Perry claimed this year that nuclear destruction is a bigger risk today than during the 70s and 80s. The shock election of Donald Trump, described by US military officers as ‘easily baited and quick to lash out’, has also revived our atomic anxiety. With Donald soon to be in sole command of 7,000 nuclear warheads, are we one step closer to nuclear annihilation?

Being the cheerful optimists that we are, we decided to explore how attitudes have changed towards nuclear deterrence, the current emotional geopolitics attached to nuclear weapons, and to consider what would happen in the basically impossible scenario that an instantaneous and multilateral nuclear war occurs in 2017.
Emotional geopolitics
So what is it about nuclear weapons that provoke such a strong emotional response? One only has to look at the debates over Trident renewal this year to see how nuclear issues can still incite such passion, anger and hostility. Global society has constructed a norm against the use of nuclear arms, but like any human construction, it can be repurposed. The idea that nuclear weapons have a unique psychological effect emerged following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2. Since then, nuclear things have possessed an exceptional political power, and atomic bombs became the ultimate taboo weapon.

When the British Government published its infamous September Dossier in 2002 to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, they drew upon the powerful stigma of nuclear weapons, by including an atomic threat among a long list of – now debunked – reasons to invade. Though other weapons of war can be equally damaging, they do not hold the same emotional stigma as ‘The Bomb’. Even gas – rightly stigmatized after WW1 – has recently been deployed against civilians in Syria with little military backlash. It is doubtful that Obama’s weak response to this outrage would have been so anodyne (remember the ‘red line’, anyone?) if the Syrian Army had used tactical nukes.

But what would happen if there was a nuclear war today? We thought there was one way to find out – by modelling a simultaneous and multilateral contemporary nuclear apocalypse, to look at the safe places that emerge, and consider the meaning of it. We modelled one possible scenario for January 20th 2017, which just happens to be Donald Trump’s inauguration date.

We looked at the current international nuclear stockpile of the ten nuclear states for guidance, and considered the likelihood of conflict with other nations, to create a ranking of risk trajectories. Combining this with numerical weather prediction data enabled us to gain an approximate idea of what could happen if we had an all-out nuclear war. The modelled output of our crude atomic plaything produced fallout across the world, which would eventually plunge us into a nuclear winter.

So where is the safest place?
Our computer modelling shows that should atomic annihilation be on the cards, one of the safest places to live would be Antarctica. Not only is this sub-zero continent miles from anywhere, it was also the sight of the world’s first nuclear arms agreement in 1959. The Antarctic Treaty banned the detonation of all nuclear weapons and dedicated this frozen landscape as a space for peaceful research. But who’d want to live there? It wouldn’t be the first time polar regions have been used as nuclear hideouts: in perhaps the coolest mission of the Cold War, codenamed ‘Project Iceworm’, a huge nuclear base was secretly buried deep within the Arctic Circle. Known as “the city under the ice”, this vast bunker, which is now full of abandoned toxic waste and radioactive coolant, will soon be disentombed from its frozen lair as the icecaps continue to melt. So if Antarctica doesn’t take your fancy, where else?

Another option would be Easter Island in the South Pacific, over 2000 miles from South America. While spending time here as the rest of the world burns, you could check out the massive mysterious statues, known as Mo‘ai. These monoliths were carved by ancient Polynesians who cut down all the trees on the island in order to move these giant stone figures. Sadly, as Jared Diamond writes in his book ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’, this deforestation turned the isolated island into an ecological ruin. What better place to ponder the hamstrung future of mankind than an island that encapsulates our ability to kill ourselves through damaging our environment?

 
If Easter Island’s barren landscape sounds too depressing, why not try the archipelagos of Kiribati or the Marshall Islands? These remote and sunny island chains come complete with tropical beaches and are surrounded by 750,000 square miles of ocean. Once the home to much of the historical nuclear weapons testing, it is somehow poignant that sites that were previously peppered with fallout could be the safest places on earth during our hypothetical nuclear apocalypse.

Whist we have geologically defined our atomic Anthropocene by our nuclear weapons testing, the future of humanity and the fabric of the planet is now being tested and moulded by pollution and climate change. Perhaps now it is time to reconsider the emotional connections that we have designated to nuclear weapons, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to think ourselves beyond the psychology of atomic apocalypse, if humanity is to survive.

Dr Becky Alexis-Martin is based at the University of Southampton, Dr Thom Davies is based at the University of Warwick.

Trump taps former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head Energy Department he once vowed to abolish

In Climate change, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on December 14, 2016 at 2:27 am

By Juliet Ellperin and Steven Mufson, Washington Post, December 13, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rick Perry to head the Energy Department, said two people familiar with the decision, seeking to put the former Texas governor in control of an agency whose name he forgot amid a presidential debate even as he vowed to abolish it.

Perry, who ran for president in the past two election cycles, is likely to shift the department away from renewable energy and toward fossil fuels, whose production he championed while serving as governor for 14 years.

The Energy Department was central to the 2011 gaffe that helped end his first presidential bid. After declaring that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies during a primary debate in Michigan, Perry froze after mentioning the commerce and education departments. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Later during the debate, Perry offered: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”

Speaking to reporters once the event was over, he said, “The bottom line is I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles, and that’s what this campaign is really going to be about.”

[What Rick Perry’s wink says about his own art of the deal]

Despite its name, most of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to maintaining the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads and to cleaning up nuclear waste at sites left by military weapons programs. The department runs the nation’s national laboratories, sets appliance standards, and hands out grants and loan guarantees for everything from basic research to solar cells to capturing carbon dioxide from coal combustion.

Four years after his first Oval Office bid, the former governor sought it once again in the big GOP field that included Trump. Perry touted the high rate of job growth and the low tax rate his state enjoyed under his leadership. At one point, he dismissed Trump’s campaign as a “barking carnival act.”

The child of a cotton farmer and county commissioner from West Texas, Perry immersed himself in politics from a young age. He was elected as a Democrat to the state legislature, but switched to the GOP when he ran for Texas agriculture commissioner.
As governor, he recruited out-of-state firms to Texas. In 2013, he starred in an ad that aired in California in which he declared that companies should visit his home state “and see why our low taxes, sensible regulations and fair legal system are just the thing to get your business moving. To Texas.”

Salo Zelermyer, who served as a senior counsel at the Energy Department’s general counsel’s office under President George W. Bush and is now a partner at the Bracewell law firm, said Perry has proven “it is indeed possible to successfully balance appropriate environmental regulations with domestic energy production and use.”

“During his time in office, Perry embodied the type of ‘all of the above’ approach to U.S. energy production that many have advocated on both sides of the aisle,” Zelermyer added. “Rick Perry’s Texas was not only a world leader in oil and gas production; it was also a global leader in wind power and renewable energy investment. This approach is a big reason Texas experienced such enormous job growth during Perry’s tenure.”

But environmentalists take a dim view of Perry. The former government has repeatedly questioned scientific findings that human activity is helping drive climate change. In 2011 during a presidential debate, he compared the minority of scientists who challenged this assumption to 17th-century astronomer Galileo, who was persecuted by the Catholic Church after suggesting that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the reverse.

“The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense,” Perry said at the time. “Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”

In his 2010 book, “Fed Up!” Perry described the science showing that climate change was underway and caused by humans as a “contrived phony mess,” writing that those who embraced this idea “know that we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time.”
“Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult, and now even moderate Democrats aren’t buying it,” he added, referring to the former vice president, who met with Trump recently to discuss climate change.

Later, during the 2012 presidential campaign, said, “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”

In fact, the top 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1998, and 2016 is expected to be the hottest year since formal record-keeping began in 1880. The 2014 summary report for policymakers by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was endorsed by officials from nearly 200 countries, stated, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic [human caused] emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history..”

“There is no doubt that Rick Perry is completely unfit to run an agency he sought to eliminate — and couldn’t even name. Perry is a climate change denier, opposes renewable energy even as it has boomed in Texas, and doesn’t even believe CO2 is a pollutant,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement. “Not only that, he is deep in the pocket of Big Polluters, who have contributed over $2.5 million to his presidential campaigns, a disturbing sign that they expected him to protect their profits in office, not do what’s best for the American people.”

Wind power did expand under Perry during his tenure in Texas, and he supported the construction of transmission lines nearly a decade ago that helped bring wind-generated electricity to market.

It started with 116 megawatts of installed wind power when he took office, according to the World Resources Institute, and now ranks as the nation’s No. 1 wind producer with 18,000 megawatts. But during a 2015 Iowa Agricultural Summit in Des Moines, the former governor said he opposed extending the federal tax credit for wind power. “I do if a state wants to do it,” he said. “I don’t at the federal level. I think all of these need to be looked at, whether it’s oil and gas, whether it’s the wind side, whether it’s the [Renewable Fuel Standard program] — I think all of them need to be put on the table, prove whether or not these are in fact in the best interest of this country.”
Referring to renewable sources, Jennifer Layke, the World Resource Institute energy program director, said: “The Department of Energy leads essential programs that drive innovation and fill important gaps to get new technologies off the ground. These are vital to keep the U.S. at the frontier of energy technology. In recent years, the Department of Energy has given U.S. businesses a significant boost to accelerate the development of battery storage, solar panels and electric vehicles. These programs must continue.”

[DOE leaders refuse to identify specific climate change employees for Trump transition team]

If confirmed, Perry would walk into an agency where many career civil servants are likely to be wary of him, not only because of his past pledge to abolish the department. Employees there are already on edge, given the fact that Trump’s transition team gave a questionnaire to DOE officials asking that they identify which employees have worked on either international climate negotiations or domestic initiatives to cut carbon.

Current DOE leaders have declined to provide any individual names of employees to Trump transition team members.

Dan Balz contributed to this report.

NONVIOLENCE: A STYLE OF POLITICS FOR PEACE – POPE FRANCIS’ MESSAGE FOR THE 50TH WORLD DAY OF PEACE

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Public Health, Race on December 14, 2016 at 1:56 am

GMP2017_ENG

L World Day of Peace 2017: «Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace»
[ Arabic – English – French – German – Italian – Polish – Portuguese – Spanish ]
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Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace
1. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”,[1] and make active nonviolence our way of life.
This is the fiftieth Message for the World Day of Peace. In the first, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed all peoples, not simply Catholics, with utter clarity. “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order”. He warned of “the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.” Instead, citing the encyclical Pacem in Terris of his predecessor Saint John XXIII, he extolled “the sense and love of peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love”. [2] In the intervening fifty years, these words have lost none of their significance or urgency.
On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.

A broken world
2. While the last century knew the devastation of two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts, today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past, or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it.
In any case, we know that this “piecemeal” violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few “warlords”?
Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

The Good News
3. Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21). But Christ’s message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39). When he stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11), and when, on the night before he died, he told Peter to put away his sword (cf. Mt26:52), Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross, whereby he became our peace and put an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts”.[3]
To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence. As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed, that teaching “is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This ‘more’comes from God”.[4] He went on to stress that: “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behaviour but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution’”.[5] The Gospel command to love your enemies (cf. Lk 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil…, but in responding to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:17-21), and thereby breaking the chain of injustice”.[6]

More powerful than violence
4. Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: “We in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another… And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world”.[7] For the force of arms is deceptive. “While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another”; for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is “a symbol, an icon of our times”.[8] Last September, I had the great joy of proclaiming her a Saint. I praised her readiness to make herself available for everyone “through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes – the crimes! – of poverty they created”.[9] In response, her mission – and she stands for thousands, even millions of persons – was to reach out to the suffering, with generous dedication, touching and binding up every wounded body, healing every broken life.
The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.
Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice”.[10] This peaceful political transition was made possible in part “by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth”. Pope John Paul went on to say: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones”.[11]
The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace.
Such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which “compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life”.[12] I emphatically reaffirm that “no religion is terrorist”.[13] Violence profanes the name of God.[14] Let us never tire of repeating: “The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!”[15]

The domestic roots of a politics of nonviolence
5. If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that nonviolence be practised before all else within families. This is part of that joy of love which I described last March in my Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in the wake of two years of reflection by the Church on marriage and the family. The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness.[16] From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society.[17] An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue. Hence, I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics.[18] I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children.
The Jubilee of Mercy that ended in November encouraged each one of us to look deeply within and to allow God’s mercy to enter there. The Jubilee taught us to realize how many and diverse are the individuals and social groups treated with indifference and subjected to injustice and violence. They too are part of our “family”; they too are our brothers and sisters. The politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family. “Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures that break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness”.[19]

My invitation
6. Peacebuilding through active nonviolence is the natural and necessary complement to the Church’s continuing efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms; she does so by her participation in the work of international institutions and through the competent contribution made by so many Christians to the drafting of legislation at all levels. Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.
This is also a programme and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires “the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process”.[20] To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected.[21] Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that “tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,” preserving “what is valid and useful on both sides”.[22]
I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. On 1 January 2017, the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development will begin its work. It will help the Church to promote in an ever more effective way “the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation” and concern for “migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture”.[23] Every such response, however modest, helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace.

In conclusion
7. As is traditional, I am signing this Message on 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the Queen of Peace. At the birth of her Son, the angels gave glory to God and wished peace on earth to men and women of good will (cf. Luke 2:14). Let us pray for her guidance.
“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers”.[24] In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace”.[25]

From the Vatican, 8 December 2016

Franciscus

[1] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 228.
[2] PAUL VI, Message for the First World Day of Peace, 1 January 1968.
[3] “The Legend of the Three Companions”, Fonti Francescane, No. 1469.
[4] BENEDICT XVI, Angelus, 18 February 2007.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] MOTHER TERESA, Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1979.
[8] Meditation, “The Road of Peace”, Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, 19 November 2015.
[9] Homily for the Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, 4 September 2016.
[10] No. 23.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Address to Representatives of Different Religions, 3 November 2016.
[13] Address to the Third World Meeting of Popular Movements, 5 November 2016.
[14] Cf. Address at the Interreligious Meeting with the Sheikh of the Muslims of the Caucasus and Representatives of Different Religious Communities, Baku, 2 October 2016.
[15]Address in Assisi, 20 October 2016.
[16] Cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 90-130.
[17] Cf. ibid., 133, 194, 234.
[18] Cf. Message for the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, 7 December 2014.
[19] Encyclical Laudato Si’, 230.
[20] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 227.
[21] Cf. Encyclical Laudato Si’, 16, 117, 138.
[22] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 228.
[23] Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio instituting the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, 17 August 2016.
[24] Regina Coeli, Bethlehem, 25 May 2014.
[25]Appeal, Assisi, 20 September 2016.

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Fukushima radiation has reached U.S. shores

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Public Health on December 12, 2016 at 10:36 pm

USA TODAY NETWORK Tracy Loew, (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal, December 9, 2016

SALEM, Ore. — For the first time, seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster has been detected on the West Coast of the United States.

Cesium-134, the so-called fingerprint of Fukushima, was measured in seawater samples taken from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon, according to researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Because of its short half-life, cesium-134 can only have come from Fukushima.

For the first time, cesium-134 has also been detected in a Canadian salmon, according to the Fukushima InFORM project, led by University of Victoria chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen.

Should we be worried? In both cases, levels are extremely low, the researchers said, and don’t pose a danger to humans or the environment.

Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. More radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea.

Woods Hole chemical oceanographer Ken Buesseler runs a crowd-funded, citizen science seawater sampling project that has tracked the radiation plume as it slowly makes its way across the Pacific Ocean.

The Oregon samples, marking the first time cesium-134 has been detected on U.S. shores, were taken in January and February of 2016 and later analyzed. They each measured 0.3 becquerels per cubic meter of cesium-134.

Buesseler’s team previously had found the isotope in a sample of seawater taken from a dock on Vancouver Island, B.C., marking its landfall in North America.

In Canada, Cullen leads the InFORM project to assess radiological risks to that country’s oceans following the nuclear disaster. It is a partnership of a dozen academic, government and non-profit organizations.

Last month, the group reported that a single sockeye salmon, sampled from Okanagan Lake in the summer of 2015, had tested positive for cesium-134.

The level was more than 1,000 times lower than the action level set by Health Canada, and is no significant risk to consumers, Cullen said.

What the U.S. Government Really Thought of Israel’s Apparent 1979 Nuclear Test

In Environment, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on December 12, 2016 at 12:26 am

By AVNER COHEN and WILLIAM BURR, Politico Magazine, December 08, 2016

On the dawn of September 22, 1979, a U.S. Vela satellite used to detect nuclear explosions spotted a double flash somewhere in the South Atlantic. Normally characteristic of nuclear detonations, the double flash quickly set off a panic within the U.S. national security apparatus: Had a nation really detonated a nuclear weapon, possibly in violation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty? And if so, who had done it? Or was it simply a technical malfunction, or even a reflection of a natural cosmic phenomenon?

Over the months that followed, U.S. scientists and intelligence experts launched a series of investigations to determine what happened, but the results were never conclusive. While White House science advisers officially maintained that the double flash was a result of a technical malfunction, others in the government believed that it was a nuclear test, possibly by South Africa or more likely Israel. Today, U.S. government officials appear more interested in preserving secrecy about the incident than shedding light on what it might have known at the time.
What the Vela 6911 satellite actually detected on September 22 is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the nuclear age, and probably will remain so as long as significant intelligence reports on the Vela flash remain classified. But thanks to a new trove of declassified documents at the National Archives (from the files of Ambassador Gerard C. Smith, President Jimmy Carter’s special representative for non-proliferation matters) and a few items from the Carter Presidential Library—all published today for the first time by the National Security Archive—we are able to discover more about what really happened that morning, how the Carter administration reacted and why many in the intelligence community never accepted the official White House narrative.

***

The Vela satellite data gathered on September 22 did not provide an indisputable conclusion. Technically, the flash signals contained certain peculiarities and anomalies: Corroborative radioactive fallout could not be detected; the double flash signal had certain atypical characteristics; questions emerged about the reliability of the instruments on the 10-year-old Vela 6911 satellite, more than two years beyond its “design lifetime.”

Even so, in the first few days after the double flash, U.S. scientists and intelligence analysts shared the view that it was the result of a nuclear test. A technical malfunction was highly unlikely, they maintained—and so was a cosmic phenomenon triggering the satellite’s sensors.

More complicated was determining who carried out the nuclear detonation. No smoking gun could attribute it to any particular country, but because the source of the signal was in the far South Atlantic, many assumed that nearby South Africa was responsible. Another possible culprit was Israel. In 1979, Israel was widely known to be a nuclear state, though it had never (and still to this day has never) admitted its nuclear capability. Israel had also not yet conducted a test of its weapon, but was alleged to have a special relationship with South Africa that could have provided access to its territory. What President Jimmy Carter wrote in his diary on September 22, 1979—a record that became public only in his 2010 book—reflected the ambiguity of the situation: “There was indication of a nuclear explosion in the region of South Africa—either South Africa, Israel using a ship at sea, or nothing.”

It’s no wonder the double flash concerned Carter. Had it been confirmed as a nuclear test, the Carter administration would have been facing a touchy political situation—especially if the culprit turned out to be Israel. In Washington, the existence of Israel’s nuclear program has always been a national security taboo, never mentioned so as not to avoid upsetting other Middle East nations as well as the nonproliferation regime. Admitting Israel had been behind the Vela incident would have forced Carter to recognize its nuclear program, and also to levy sanctions against the country for violating U.S. nonproliferation legislation and the Limited Test Ban Treaty—another political nightmare. Not to mention that any such admission could unravel Carter’s most important international legacy—the peace treaty he just had negotiated between Egypt and Israel, signed only six months earlier at the White House. Egypt and the rest of the Middle East would have been in an uproar.

***

It has always been fairly well known that initial official investigations of the Vela incident came down on the side of a nuclear test, but newly declassified documents in the Gerard C. Smith files shed light on the details of the early inquiry. According to the files, in the days September 22, three well known scientists who had long-standing associations with the U.S. government reviewed the Vela data for the CIA. They were former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory Harold M. Agnew, Richard L. Garwin (H-bomb designer, distinguished scientist at IBM’s Watson Laboratory) and the FCC’s Chief Scientist Stephen Lukasik (also former chief Scientist at RAND Corporation). Their report from October 1979, revealed for the first time in the Smith files, concluded that the “signals were consistent with detection of a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere,” while acknowledging that “the Vela sensor outputs were less ‘self-consistent’ than usual.” The latter was a reference to the fact that the two bhangmeters on the Vela satellite did not yield “equivalent or ‘parallel’ readers for the maximum intensity of the second flash.”

In a letter found in the Smith file, dated October 19, one of the scientists, Richard Garwin, noted that he would “bet 2 to 1 in favor” of the nuclear test thesis. Nevertheless, he proposed to revisit the findings of the three-man CIA panel by forming a larger group of scientists and focusing “on the possibility that a combination of real [natural] phenomena could have produced the data presented to us.” This group of “skeptical critical experts,” Garwin suggested, would take another look at “the primary data … to determine the rate of individual events which could mimic the components of the data which we saw”—in other words, to check whether some other phenomenon could have produced the Vela results.

While Garwin and others were reviewing the Vela data, U.S. intelligence was searching on the ground for radioactive substances that would constitute evidence of a nuclear detonation, but had found none. The Smith file includes telegrams about efforts, during November 1979, to confirm reports by scientists at New Zealand’s Institute of Nuclear Science (INS) about the detection of radioactive substances in specially collected rainwater. According to the documents, the highly secret Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) sent one of its experts, Colonel Robert McBryde, to New Zealand to confirm the story. But McBryde confirmed that the reports of radioactive rainwater were a “false alarm.” The “evidence of fresh fission products in INS sample is flimsy.”

With the lack of new technical information about the Vela event, Garwin’s suggestion for a meeting of “skeptical critical experts” may have ultimately led Carter’s science adviser, Frank Press, to commission a panel of eight prominent scientists to review the Vela data and determine what had happened. When he set up a panel in late October, Press limited the mandate of the panel to purely technical aspects, i.e., to investigate whether the signal had “natural” causes and to evaluate the possibility that it was a “false alarm.” Non-scientific intelligence information (e.g., reports by human sources on the ground) was excluded. Jack Ruina, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a trusted friend of Press, chaired the special panel.

The panel’s provisional analysis, which was circulated within officialdom in classified form but leaked to the press in January 1980, and the final conclusions, released in May (also in classified form), questioned the nuclear test interpretation. The central conclusion was the Vela signal was “more likely … one of those zoo [unusual but natural] events, possibly a consequence of the impact of a small meteoroid on the satellite.”

But ever since, as other writers such as National Security Archive analyst Jeffrey Richelson have noted, the Ruina panel’s conclusion has been a subject of controversy, mostly within the U.S. intelligence community. During 1980 and over the following years, intelligence insiders as well as scientists at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Labs and the Naval Research Laboratory (NLR) rejected the “zoo event” conclusion and argued that the double flash had been a nuclear detonation. In a response to a leak of one of those views, in June 1980, the White House released a mildly redacted copy of the Ruina panel report. Most of the debate, however, took place within the walls of official secrecy, the details of which have trickled out slowly over the years.

The harshest allegations come from those who claim that the Ruina panel was an elegant way for the White House to use science to serve its political needs. In other words, the White House didn’t want the Vela incident to be determined to be a nuclear test, and the Ruina panel—chaired by a White House ally—placed uncomfortable facts and conclusions in doubt, if it didn’t contradict them altogether. Even today, little is known about how the Ruina panel was set up: The role of the National Security Council and the president himself remain obscure, as well as why the panel’s mandate was so narrow. The panel’s internal files are not available, if they still exist at all. Moreover, files in the Carter Library on the September 22 event, which include material by National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, remain classified, although declassification requests have been filed. One thing we do know is that in 1990, one well known panel member, Stanford University physicist Wolfgang Panofsky, referred to the Ruina’s conclusions as a “scotch verdict” in an interview. Why he did is unclear.

Another mystery is why Richard Garwin, a key member of the panel, signed off on its conclusions even though, as noted earlier, he had been an early proponent of the nuclear test interpretation. To this day, we do not know exactly why, how and when Garwin changed his judgement about the Vela event.

It even appears that Carter himself didn’t share the panel’s early findings. On February 27, 1980, shortly after the panel’s tentative conclusion were circulated within the administration, the president wrote in his diary, “We have a growing belief among our scientists that the Israelis did indeed conduct a nuclear test explosion in the ocean near the southern end of South Africa.”

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Thanks to the new files, we now know more about why many in the intelligence community never accepted the Ruina panel’s findings. According to a June 1980 State Department report in the Smith file, Jack Varona, then the Defense Intelligence Agency’s assistant vice director for scientific and technical intelligence, claimed that the Ruina panel was a “white wash, due to political considerations,” using “flimsy evidence” to arrive at a “non-nuclear” explanation. On the contrary, Varona argued that the “weight of the evidence pointed towards a nuclear event,” in particular the hydroacoustic data, which was analyzed by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The data, which had not been fully available to the Ruina panel, involved “signals ‘which were unique to nuclear shots in a maritime environment.’” The source of the signals was the area of “shallow waters between Prince Edward and Marion Islands, south-east of South Africa.”

The DIA’s major report on the September 22 event remains classified almost in its entirety, as does one by the Nuclear Intelligence Panel to Director of Central Intelligence Stansfield Turner. But, there are good reasons to suspect that the two reports also came to the conclusion that a nuclear test had occurred. One of us recalls Admiral Turner told him in the late 1990s that he never took the Ruina panel seriously and has always supported the prevailing view among the Agency’s analysts that the double flash was a nuclear test, most likely conducted by Israel. Turner refused to elaborate on details.

State Department telegrams in the Smith file also shed light on a small episode related to the controversy over the Vela incident. On February 21, 1980, CBS Evening News aired an exclusive report by Tel Aviv based CBS correspondent, Dan Raviv, saying that CBS learned that the Vela event was indeed an Israeli test. The report cited an Israeli book manuscript titled None Will Survive Us: The Story of the Israeli Atom Bomb by journalists Eli Teicher and Ami Dor-On, a book that was never published as it was banned by Israeli censors. According to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Raviv had reported his story to CBS from Rome to evade Israeli press censorship; he subsequently lost his press credentials and was thrown out of the country for his censorship offense, on direct order from Minister of Defense Ezer Weizman.

Many years later correspondent Dan Raviv acknowledged to one of us that in addition to Teicher and Dor-On’s book, he had another source for his story. The late Eliyahu Speiser, a high level and reliable Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset from 1977 to 1988, confirmed to Raviv that an Israeli nuclear test had occurred.

State Department telegrams in Smith’s file also confirm the previously reported detail that in February 1980, MIT Professor Jack Ruina had received unique personal information about the Israeli-South African connection. According to Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option (published in 1991) the source of Ruina’s information was an Israeli missile expert, who at that time was a visiting fellow at MIT (in a program which Ruina directed). That missile engineer was Dr. Anselm Yaron, as MIT records from that period indicate. According to Hersh’s account, Yaron acquired the reputations of someone who enjoyed talking rather openly about his defense experience and told Ruina about his work on Israeli missiles program and also of his knowledge of Israel’s nuclear capability.

Hersh did not say how explicit Yaron was when he told Ruina about the events of September 22, but the implication was that he revealed that a joint Israeli-South African nuclear project had caused the double flash. One of the State Department telegrams supports this implication, suggesting that Ruina’s information was about Israeli involvement. According to the telegrams, Ruina had forwarded Yaron’s statements to Spurgeon Keeny, then deputy director of the Arms Contorl and Disarmament Agency, but, as the new documents reveal, Keeny was dismissive of the story—as was Frank Press’s executive secretary, John Marcum.

A recently unearthed document from the Carter Library also provides interesting details in support of the nuclear test thesis. In December 1980, as the Carter administration was winding up, the DIA reported to the White House that the analysis of thyroid glands from Australian sheep killed in October 1979 indicated that that year showed “abnormally high levels” of Iodine 131, a “short-lived isotope that occurs as the result of a nuclear event.” More analysis had to be done to demonstrate whether the iodine might have had industrial non-weapons origins, but the implication of the report was that the September 22 event produced enough fallout to contaminate meadows in Australia (if not rain water in New Zealand) for a brief period.

At the close of the 1980s, Gerard C. Smith told Time Magazine, “I never been able to get rid of the thought that [the Vela incident] was some sort of joint operation between Israel and South Africa.” No incontrovertible evidence to support Smith’s nagging doubts has surfaced, but Dan Raviv’s reporting, the information from Yaron, the hydroacoustic signals and the contaminated thyroid glands, while not definitive, raise doubts about the Ruina panel’s conclusions and point towards the possibility of a nuclear test, likely linked to Israel.

With so much of the story unknown, nagging questions persist. What did U.S. intelligence truly know about the September 22 event? Do the intelligence reports remain classified for standard “sources and methods” reasons or have diplomatic and political considerations contributed to the secrecy? What is the story of the Ruina panel’s internal workings? How did eight distinguished scientists arrive at a “scotch verdict”? If a nuclear weapons test did occur, why and how many tests were conducted in such a desolate part of the world? Was it one country alone or was it a joint operation? If Israel was responsible, why did a country that used opacity as a strategy to conceal its nuclear activities feel so compelled to risk of a test?

Declassification requests and appeals are under review in the government bureaucracy and may provide some insight. But it will probably be years, even decades, before many of these questions about the Vela incident are answered. Nevertheless, in the meantime, thanks to these new files, we’ve learned a little bit more of one of the Cold War’s enduring mysteries.
Avner Cohen is a professor of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and the author of Israel and the Bomb.
William Burr is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, George Washington University, where he directs the Archive’s Nuclear Documentation Project and edits its special Web page, The Nuclear Vault.