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U.N. Considers a Historic Ban on Nuclear Weapons, But U.S. Leads Boycott of the Talks

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on March 31, 2017 at 10:51 pm

Some 120 countries gathered at the United Nations this week to draft a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. But the United States is leading a boycott of the talks. Meanwhile, more than 2,000 scientists signed an open letter endorsing the U.N. talks, and, on Tuesday, Pope Francis encouraged the United Nations to pursue the “total elimination” of nuclear weapons. We speak to Zia Mian, physicist, nuclear expert and disarmament activist. He is co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to a historic debate at the United Nations. Some 120 countries gather this week to draft a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. But the United States did not take part. In fact, the U.S. led a boycott of the talks. This is U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

NIKKI HALEY: You’re going to see almost 40 countries that are not in the General Assembly today. And that’s 40 countries that are saying, in this day and time, we would love to have a ban on nuclear—on nuclear weapons. But in this day and time, we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them, and those of us that are good, trying to keep peace and safety, not to have them.
AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley was joined by envoys from Britain, France, South Korea and other nations in opposing the U.N. talks on a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Russia and China have also declined to participate in the conference.

We’re joined now by Zia Mian, physicist, nuclear expert and disarmament activist, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He’s co-author of Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation.

What’s happening here? Why is the U.S. leading this boycott?

ZIA MIAN: The news is not that the U.S. is leading a boycott. We knew the United States wasn’t going to participate and that it’s been trying to force its nuclear NATO allies also to not participate. The news here is that, after 70 years, the vast majority of countries in the world have decided they’ve had enough of waiting for the United States and the other countries with nuclear weapons to keep their promise that they would get rid of nuclear weapons, and said, “Enough is enough. We are now going to create an international treaty that will ban nuclear weapons, and you are going to be nuclear outlaws. And you’re going to have to deal with this new reality.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So how did these nations come together now?

ZIA MIAN: It’s taken years and years of effort by non-weapons states and peace movements around the world to build the kind of coalition that it’s taken to bring a resolution to the United Nations last year, in which 123 countries, as you mentioned, voted in support of the beginning of talks. The United States tried actively to block that resolution being passed. It actually sent a classified memo to all of the NATO allies the U.S. protects with its nuclear weapons, saying, “Don’t support this resolution at the United Nations. And if the resolution passes, don’t go, or else.” It was actively threatening its own allies to make sure they wouldn’t participate, because they know that in many of the countries in Europe, in particular, and in countries like Japan, which are protected by U.S. nuclear weapons, public opinion and many parliaments are actually in favor of joining the process to ban nuclear weapons. And it’s taken a lot of effort by the United States to keep these countries out of the process.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump said recently, “If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.” And, of course, you had Nikki Haley saying, “Sure, I’d like a nuclear ban, but what about North Korea?” Your response? What has to happen?

ZIA MIAN: Well, you can’t wait for the worst actors in the world before you pass laws about what’s right and wrong. If that was the way the world worked, we would never have banned slavery, if you had to wait for slave owners to agree in advance that slavery is a bad thing. What countries are doing is laying down a marker, just like we did with chemical weapons, biological weapons, land mines, cluster munitions and creating the laws of war, that simple humanitarian principles apply. There are limits on what states are allowed to do, no matter what. You don’t commit genocide. You don’t use chemical weapons, biological weapons, and you shouldn’t use nuclear weapons. And we’re going to pass a law that says having nuclear weapons and threatening to use nuclear weapons and using nuclear weapons is forbidden under international law. And if you’re going to keep your weapons, then you are going to be on the outside of what the international community considers is acceptable.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What about other nuclear weapon states—India, Pakistan and so on? Did they issue any statement about why they wouldn’t participate?

ZIA MIAN: They haven’t said why they wouldn’t participate. But what happened when the U.N. was passing the resolution at the end of last year, which the U.S. tried to block, was that China and India and Pakistan abstained. They didn’t vote no, unlike the United States and Russia and Britain and so on. And there was a possibility that at some stage in the future they might actually think about joining the negotiations, even if they’re not ready right now to sign the treaty, because it’s hard to imagine that countries like China, which have 250 nuclear weapons, are going to agree on a process to ban nuclear weapons, where the United States, which has 7,000 nuclear weapons, is going to sit outside this treaty.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump has proposed slashing the budgets of the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, at the same time proposed boosting federal spending on the production of nuclear weapons by more than a billion dollars. Your final response?

ZIA MIAN: Well, the Trump administration’s plan to increase spending on nuclear weapons in perfectly consistent with what President Obama’s administration was also doing, which was increasing spending on nuclear weapons. There is a shared commitment by the U.S. policymaking process on spending a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize the nuclear weapons, the submarines, the bombers and every part of the nuclear weapons production complex to get ready for a hundred more years of nuclear weapons. And this is part of what this U.N. process is trying to block, which is that we are not willing to live with nuclear weapons for another hundred years.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to ask you to stay with us. We’ll do Part 2 of our conversation and post it online as a web exclusive at democracynow.org. Zia Mian, physicist, nuclear expert and disarmament activist, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. And he’s author of the book Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation.

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Trump’s Air Force nominee: no need to detail her work under nuclear lab consulting contracts

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on March 31, 2017 at 10:39 pm

By Patrick Malone, The Center for Public Ingegrity, March 30, 2017

President Trump’s Air Force Secretary nominee, Heather Wilson, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 30 that she had consulted honorably for four U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories years ago, even though she never produced a detailed written accounting of how she had spent her time while earning $20,000 a month.

Wilson, a former Air Force pilot and House lawmaker who now runs the South Dakota School of Mines, was questioned closely about her work for the laboratories and her billing practices by two Democratic Senators on the committee, following the Center for Public Integrity’s disclosure that she had frustrated laboratory accountants by refusing to detail what she had done.

Wilson, who had just left Congress in 2009, said she was working for the labs’ directors, that she had complied with the terms of her contracts, and that they were satisfied she had done a good job, suggesting that should be the end of the story.

But the questions arose because the Energy Department and the Justice Department in 2013 and 2014 concluded that the labs had improperly billed the government for her work, and forced them to return the federal funds they had been paid as a result. One laboratory, run by the Sandia Corporation, paid $4.7 million to settle a complaint that Wilson’s work was aimed at helping the labs win new federal contracts, a task that is not supposed to be paid for by federal dollars.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former attorney general in his home state, asked a series of pointed questions about how Wilson’s approach might work at the Air Force, which spends more than $167 billion a year, much of it on contractors that bill the government for their labors.

Waving a copy of a bill she sent to one of the labs, which listed only the dollar amount she expected to be paid, the senator said “there is no way of knowing from this invoice what you did.”

“I’m asking you as a potential secretary of the Air Force whether you will hold contractors to a higher standard than is indicated by this document,” Blumenthal said. “Isn’t this a bad example — leadership is by example, the best leadership is by good example — of how billing and invoice submission should be conducted?” He also entered into the hearing’s written record invoices showing two occasions when Wilson had billed two separate nuclear weapon contractors for attending a single meeting.

Wilson replied, “Sir, the United States of America deserved my best work, and that’s what they got.” In government work, “we should expect contractors to comply with the contracts which they signed. In this case, I did.”

Drafts of Wilson’s contracts contained a standard clause requiring that she detail her tasks and accomplishments, but the clause was removed from the copy she signed, according to internal reports by investigators at the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General.

The irregular arrangement, which contradicted federal acquisition guidelines for subcontractors, made contractor officials and Energy Department personnel uneasy, according to internal government documents obtained by the Center under the Freedom of Information Act. One of the contract officers said it was the only contract with such provisions that had ever crossed his desk.

When Wilson was asked by the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island — a former Army captain, private attorney, and state lawmaker — whether she intentionally negotiated contract language with the weapon firms that exempted her from federal acquisition guidelines, Wilson said, “I don’t recall.” But she said she did recall discussing with their senior executives what she would be doing for the labs.
Part of Wilson’s work for Sandia, she said, was to help it navigate the Washington contracting thicket. “I was always available to them to answer the [lab] vice president and the president’s questions regarding the United States Congress and the federal bureaucracy,” Wilson said.

Wilson added that Sandia’s director had liked her consulting work enough to offer her a position as one of its vice presidents. She also said that if auditors at the Energy Department’s inspector general’s office had wanted to know more about exactly what she did, they could have asked her directly during their probe. But they never did, she said.

Asked for comment, the inspector general’s spokesperson Felicia Jones said in a written statement that her office’s probe “involved allegations of misconduct by Sandia Corporation,” and that “It was Sandia’s responsibility to ensure only allowable and properly supported costs were charged to the Department of Energy. Consequently there was no need for the OIG to contact Ms. Wilson.”

Wilson also acknowledged during the hearing that as part of her consulting work, she had indeed told Sandia executives — who were seeking to extend their contract with the government — that “your message to these people [at the Department of Energy] is that competition is not in the best interest of the government.”

Asked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, if she believes competition for contracts isn’t always in the government’s best interest, Wilson gave an answer that will cheer many existing Air Force contractors. On a select basis, she said, longstanding relationships between the government and its contractors on particular projects are better off if they are not disrupted by competitions.

Wilson said she would exercise that philosophy, in her future role, “when it’s in the best interest of the government.”

Wilson’s perspective clashes with the findings of a 345-page Government Accountability Office study published in March 2011. “The benefits of competition in acquiring goods and services from the private sector are well established…” the GAO report said. “Competitive contracts can save money, improve contractor performance and promote accountability for results.”

Sandia and the other three labs that employed her — Los Alamos, the Nevada National Security Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory — play a pivotal role in producing the nuclear weapons that the Air Force puts atop its ballistic missiles and inside its bombers. As such, if confirmed, Wilson will be responsible for helping to pay for and to oversee some of the work that the laboratories, her former clients, undertake.

In all, five Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed support for Wilson’s nomination during her hearing. Nine more Republicans on the committee and all 13 Democrats have yet to say whether they support sending Wilson’s nomination to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation.

During the hearing, Republicans and Democrats alike on the committee implored her to follow through with Air Force commitments that would sustain economic drivers in their states or consider their states for fresh Air Force roles, such as bases for the new F-35 aircraft under contract with Lockheed Martin, which owns the Sandia Corp. Those moments made it clear that if confirmed, Wilson would have a hand in choosing winners and losers.

After the hearing ended, Wilson stopped briefly to talk with reporters on the way out. But when questions turned to her work for the labs and the investigations they’d spawned, she walked away.

The committee’s vote is expected next week.

How Donald Trump Could Blow Up The World All By Himself

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 30, 2017 at 10:56 pm

Joe Cirincione, Huffington Post, 3-29-2017

President Donald Trump alone controls the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He alone decides whether to use one or one-thousand nuclear weapons. He does not have to check with anyone, not even Steve Bannon.

At a moment’s notice, he can launch some 900 nuclear weapons with the destructive power of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs, and there is nothing anyone could do to stop him.

Thirty minutes after launch, the missiles would hit their targets. Just this fraction of our total active arsenal of some 4,000 weapons would be enough to destroy all humankind has built over the millennia.

Why does he have this power? Why does anyone have this power?

In America, the world’s greatest democracy, there are no checks and balances on the president’s ability to launch nuclear war. He doesn’t have to ask Congress for permission, or consult with the Joint Chiefs; there is no possible appeal to the Supreme Court. He simply has to give the order to launch. As President Nixon said, “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in twenty-five minutes seventy million people will be dead.”

In America, the world’s greatest democracy, there are no checks and balances on the president’s ability to launch nuclear war.
But we have never had a president this unpredictable, this impulsive, in charge of the most powerful nuclear arsenal on the planet.

This is undemocratic. This is un-American. That is why Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress. This would block the president from launching nuclear weapons first in a crisis, unless he gets approval from the most democratic branch of our government.

As Rep. Lieu has said, “Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves if they knew the President could launch a massive, potentially civilization-ending military strike without authorization from Congress.”

“It is a frightening reality,” said Lieu, “that the U.S. now has a Commander-in-Chief who has demonstrated ignorance of the nuclear triad, stated his desire to be ‘unpredictable’ with nuclear weapons, and as President-elect was making sweeping statements about U.S. nuclear policy over Twitter. Congress must act to preserve global stability.”

“While it won’t go anywhere in this Republican-led Congress,” The New York Times editorialized, endorsing the bill, “it sends a clear message to Mr. Trump that he should not be the first since World War II to use nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump could more usefully deploy his energies engaging with Russia to further reduce both countries’ nuclear arsenals, maintaining the Iran nuclear deal and finding new ways to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.”

This is not a theoretical problem. “President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists,” warns Senator Markey. “Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law.”

If President Trump’s administration continues to flounder, the risk of a “wag the dog” scenario increases. Trump could create a national security crisis, I told Bill Press on March 28, to repress opposition or efforts to remove him. Many believe this was precisely the motivation behind President Richard Nixon taking the nation’s military to DEFCON 3 when he was threatened with impeachment.

What can we do?

Ploughshares Fund has joined with 16 organizations to support this bill. With our partners, we have collected over 400,000 signatures on petitions backing its passage. We hope to get to a half million before this petition is delivered to Congress next week.

Senator Markey, Representative Lieu and other patriotic members of Congress will have a press conference to receive the petition, highlight this danger and focus on this common-sense fix.

Please, take a moment to stand with them. Please, sign the petition. Tell Congress that it is time to end this nuclear insanity.

 

To sign the petition, go to Huffington Post

UN Negotiations to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on March 30, 2017 at 8:29 am

Here is a ten page newsletter on what is going on at the UN nuclear negotiations for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons:
http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/nuclear-weapon-ban/reports/NBD1.3.pdf

The format is large print, very informative and easy to read.

Hawking, Higgs and Over 3,000 Other Scientists Support UN Nuclear Ban Negotiations

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 29, 2017 at 10:20 pm

Future of Life Institute, By Ariel Conn, March 27, 2017

Delegates from most UN member states are gathering in New York to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban, where they will also receive a letter of support that has been signed by thousands of scientists from around over 80 countries – including 28 Nobel Laureates and a former US Secretary of Defense. “Scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought”, the letter explains.

The letter was delivered at a ceremony at 1pm on Monday March 27 in the UN General Assembly Hall to Her Excellency Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez from Costa Rica, who is presiding over the negotiations.

Despite all the attention to nuclear terrorism and nuclear rogue states, one of the greatest threats from nuclear weapons has always been mishaps and accidents among the established nuclear nations. With political tensions and instability increasing, this threat is growing to alarming levels: “The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war,” according to former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, who signed the letter.

“Nuclear weapons represent one of the biggest threats to our civilization. With the unpredictability of the current world situation, it is more important than ever to get negotiations about a ban on nuclear weapons on track, and to make these negotiations a truly global effort,” says neuroscience professor Edvard Moser from Norway, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine.

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle from MIT, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physics, agrees: “I see nuclear weapons as a real threat to the human race and we need an international consensus to reduce this threat.”

Currently, the US and Russia have about 14,000 nuclear weapons combined, many on hair-trigger alert and ready to be launched on minutes notice, even though a Pentagon report argued that a few hundred would suffice for rock-solid deterrence. Yet rather than trim their excess arsenals, the superpowers plan massive investments to replace their nuclear weapons by new destabilizing ones that are more lethal for a first strike attack.

“Unlike many of the world’s leaders I care deeply about the future of my grandchildren. Even the remote possibility of a nuclear war presents an unconscionable threat to their welfare. We must find a way to eliminate nuclear weapons,” says Sir Richard J. Roberts, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.

“Most governments are frustrated that a small group of countries with a small fraction of the world’s population insist on retaining the right to ruin life on Earth for everyone else with nuclear weapons, ignoring their disarmament promises in the non-proliferation treaty”, says physics professor Max Tegmark from MIT, who helped organize the letter. “In South Africa, the minority in control of the unethical Apartheid system didn’t give it up spontaneously on their own initiative, but because they were pressured into doing so by the majority. Similarly, the minority in control of unethical nuclear weapons won’t give them up spontaneously on their own initiative, but only if they’re pressured into doing so by the majority of the world’s nations and citizens.”

The idea behind the proposed ban is to provide such pressure by stigmatizing nuclear weapons.

Beatrice Fihn, who helped launch the ban movement as Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, explains that such stigmatization made the landmine and cluster munitions bans succeed and can succeed again: “The market for landmines is pretty much extinct—nobody wants to produce them anymore because countries have banned and stigmatized them. Just a few years ago, the United States—who never signed the landmines treaty—announced that it’s basically complying with the treaty. If the world comes together in support of a nuclear ban, then nuclear weapons countries will likely follow suit, even if it doesn’t happen right away.”

Susi Snyder from from the Dutch “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” project explains:

“If you prohibit the production, possession, and use of these weapons and the assistance with doing those things, we’re setting a stage to also prohibit the financing of the weapons. And that’s one way that I believe the ban treaty is going to have a direct and concrete impact on the ongoing upgrades of existing nuclear arsenals, which are largely being carried out by private contractors.”

“Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created”, the letter states, motivating a ban.

“The horror that happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki should never be repeated. Nuclear weapons should be banned,” says Columbia University professor Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.

Norwegian neuroscience professor May-Britt Moser, a 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, says, “In a world with increased aggression and decreasing diplomacy – the availability nuclear weapons is more dangerous than ever. Politicians are urged to ban nuclear weapons. The world today and future generations depend on that decision.”

The open letter: https://futureoflife.org/nuclear-open-letter/

Letter of Pope Francis on the UN Negotiations on a Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 29, 2017 at 9:59 am

To Her Excellency Elayne Whyte Gómez President of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit NuclearWeapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination

I extend cordial greetings to you, Madam President, and to all the representatives of the various nations and international organizations, and of civil society participating in this Conference. I wish to encourage you to work with determination in order to promote the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons.

On 25 September 2015, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, I emphasized what the Preamble and first Article of the United Nations Charter indicate as the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between nations. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are contradictory to the very spirit of the United Nations. We must therefore commit ourselves to a world without nuclear weapons, by fully implementing the Non-Proliferation Treaty, both in letter and spirit (cf. Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, 25 September 2015).

But why give ourselves this demanding and forward-looking goal in the present international context characterized by an unstable climate of conflict, which is both cause and indication of the difficulties encountered in advancing and strengthening the process of nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation?

If we take into consideration the principal threats to peace and security with their many dimensions in this multipolar world of the twenty-first century as, for example, terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cybersecurity, environmental problems, poverty, not a few doubts arise regarding the inadequacy of nuclear deterrence as an effective response to such challenges. These concerns are even greater when we consider the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space. Similar cause for concern arises when examining the waste of resources spent on nuclear issues for military purposes, which could instead be used for worthy priorities like the promotion of peace and integral human development, as well as the fight against poverty, and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

We need also to ask ourselves how sustainable is a stability based on fear, when it actually increases fear and undermines relationships of trust between peoples.

International peace and stability cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power. Peace must be built on justice, on integral human development, on respect for fundamental human rights, on the protection of creation, on the participation of all in public life, on trust between peoples, on the support of peaceful institutions, on access to education and health, on dialogue and solidarity. From this perspective, we need to go beyond nuclear deterrence: the international community is called upon to adopt forward-looking strategies to promote the goal of peace and stability and to avoid short-sighted approaches to the problems surrounding national and international security.

In this context, the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons becomes both a challenge and a moral and humanitarian imperative. A concrete approach should promote a reflection on an ethics of peace and multilateral and cooperative security that goes beyond the fear and isolationism that prevail in many debates today. Achieving a world without nuclear weapons involves a long-term process, based on the awareness that “everything is connected” within the perspective of an integral ecology (cf. Laudato Si’, 117, 138). The common destiny of mankind demands the pragmatic strengthening of dialogue and the building and consolidating of mechanisms of trust and cooperation, capable of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons.

Growing interdependence and globalization mean that any response to the threat of nuclear weapons should be collective and concerted, based on mutual trust. This trust can be built only through dialogue that is truly directed to the common good and not to the protection of veiled or particular interests; such dialogue, as far as possible, should include all: nuclear states, countries which do not possess nuclear weapons, the military and private sectors, religious communities, civil societies, and international organizations. And in this endeavour we must avoid those forms of mutual recrimination and polarization which hinder dialogue rather than encourage it. Humanity has the ability to work together in building up our common home; we have the freedom, intelligence and capacity to lead and direct technology, to place limits on our power, and to put all this at the service of another type of progress: one that is more human, social and integral (cf. ibid., 13, 78, 112; Message for the 22nd Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (COP22), 10 November 2016).

This Conference intends to negotiate a Treaty inspired by ethical and moral arguments. It is an exercise in hope and it is my wish that it may also constitute a decisive step along the road towards a world without nuclear weapons. Although this is a significantly complex and long-term goal, it is not beyond our reach.
Madam President, I sincerely wish that the efforts of this Conference may be fruitful and provide an effective contribution to advancing an ethic of peace and of multilateral and cooperative security, which humanity very much needs today.

Upon all those gathered at this important meeting, and upon the citizens of the countries you represent, I invoke the blessings of the Almighty.

From the Vatican, 23 March 2017

FRANCIS

UNITED STATES AND ALLIES PROTEST U.N. TALKS TO BAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 29, 2017 at 8:33 am

New York Times — March 28, 2017
by Somini Sengupta and Rick Gladston

UNITED NATIONS — Saying the time was not right to outlaw nuclear arms, the United States led a group of dozens of United Nations members on Monday that boycotted talks at the global organization for a treaty that would ban the weapons.

“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Ambassador Nikki R. Haley of the United States told reporters outside the General Assembly as the talks began. “But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

Ms. Haley and other ambassadors standing with her, including envoys from Albania, Britain, France and South Korea, declined to take questions.

The talks, supported by more than 120 countries, were first announced in October and are led by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden. Disarmament groups strongly support the effort.

The United States and most other nuclear powers, including Russia, oppose the talks. The Obama administration voted against convening them.

The talks come against the backdrop of increasing worries over the intentions of a reclusive North Korea, which has tested nuclear weapons and missiles that could conceivably carry them. Defying international sanctions, the North Koreans have threatened to strike the United States and its allies with what North Korea’s state news media has called the “nuclear sword of justice.”

Ms. Haley and Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of Britain emphasized that their countries had vastly reduced the size of their nuclear arsenals since the height of the Cold War.

Mr. Rycroft said his country was not participating in the talks “because we do not believe that those negotiations will lead to effective progress on global nuclear disarmament.”

Ms. Haley questioned whether countries favoring a weapons ban understood the nature of global threats. Referring to nations participating in the talks, she said, “You have to ask yourself, are they looking out for their people?”

She cited North Korea and Iran in articulating her opposition to the talks. But those countries have taken divergent positions. North Korea, like the United States and its allies, is sitting out the talks. Iran, which does not have nuclear weapons and has promised not to acquire them, is participating.

“Is it any surprise that Iran is in support of this?” Ms. Haley said.

Her counterparts from Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, did not join her protest group. But they are not participating in the talks.

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said in Moscow last week that his government did not support a global nuclear weapons ban, essentially agreeing with the American position.

“Efforts to coerce nuclear powers to abandon nuclear weapons have intensified significantly recently,” the Tass news agency quoted him as saying. “It is absolutely clear that the time has not yet come for that.”

Proponents of a nuclear weapons ban have acknowledged the challenges of reaching a treaty, but have been encouraged by efforts that led to landmark prohibitions on other weapons, including chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions.

If a sufficient number of countries were to ratify a nuclear weapons ban, supporters contend, it would create political and moral pressure on holdouts, including the big nuclear powers.

Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement that the opposition expressed by Ms. Haley and her allies “demonstrates how worried they are about the real impact of the nuclear ban treaty.”

Ms. Fihn, whose organization is a strong supporter of the negotiations, said a treaty would “make it clear that the world has moved beyond these morally unacceptable weapons of the past.”

Humanitarian aid groups not directly engaged in disarmament causes also endorsed the talks.

“Of course, adopting a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons will not make them immediately disappear,” Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement. “But it will reinforce the stigma against their use, support commitments to nuclear risk reduction and be a disincentive for proliferation.”

As the talks began inside the General Assembly hall, Toshiki Fujimori, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, made an emotional appeal to diplomats.

“I’m here at the U.N. asking for an abolition of nuclear weapons,” he said through an interpreter. “Nobody in any country deserves seeing the same hell again.”

More than 2,000 scientists signed an open letter endorsing the talks.

“We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought,” stated the letter, posted on the website of the Future of Life Institute, a charitable organization that promotes the peaceful use of technology.

Quoting President Ronald Reagan, the letter stated, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Israel’s Military-Industrial Complex

In Peace, Politics, War on March 29, 2017 at 2:19 am

By Tom Mayer, March 28, 2017

Few Americans understand the magnitude and importance of Israel’s military-industrial complex. Israel is a small country. Its population in 2016 was 8.6 million, 75% of whom were classified as Jews and 21% were classified as Arabs. Despite its diminutive size, Israel is a formidable military power with a massive (and politically essential) military-industrial complex. Even disregarding its nuclear capacity, Israel was ranked as the world’s 11th strongest military power in 2015. And for the last eight years the Global Military Index has rated Israel as the most militarized country on earth.

Israel has received well over $100 billion in military aid from the United States since 1949, not to mention privileged access to U.S. military technology, which is probably worth far more. In addition to such lavish military assistance (from Germany, France, and England as well as the USA), Israel devotes about 6% of GDP to its military establishment. The United States spends about 4.5%. The Israeli military consumes over 15% of the government’s annual budget.

Israel specializes in the production of high technology weapons, military software, and population control systems (also called homeland security methodologies). In 2013 Israel produced 18,000 military related commodities including missiles, guided bombs, anti-missile defense systems, satellites, satellite launchers, drones, smart munitions, battlefield armor, and naval engines. Israel is the world leader in training militarized police forces and population control specialists. Having been operationally tested in Israel’s numerous military encounters and long-standing efforts to control the Palestinian people, Israel’s military and security products have high credibility and strong appeal to elites with population control problems.

Israel exports 75% of the weapons it produces. It is currently the world’s the sixth largest weapons exporter. 28% of its weapons exports are missiles, drones, or missile defense systems. Israel has weapons marketing or security training protocols with over 130 countries. 20% of Israel’s military exports go to the United States; but China, India, Poland, South Korea, Australia, and Brazil are also important weapons customers.

Five companies manufacture over 95% of the arms produced in Israel: Elbit Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Military Industries, and Israel Weapon Industries. Elbit Systems has mixed private/government ownership while the other four companies are state owned. Israel’s military industries are closely integrated with those of the United States. Indeed, one knowledgeable observer claims that Israel’s military-industrial complex “constitutes a bonanza for the US defense industries, advancing US national security, employment, research & development and exports” (Yoram Ettinger, 2011).

Israel’s military-industrial complex plays a vital role in the country’s foreign relations. Israel routinely attempts to sell military goods and security services to any country irrespective of its human rights record or attitude towards Zionism. It hopes to make the purchasing country dependent upon Israeli military equipment, training capacities, and/or technical know-how. Once such a relationship is established, the now dependent country is less likely to criticize Israeli aggression or human rights violations. Such relations have apparently moderated criticisms of Israel by China, India, and Brazil among others.

The Israeli human rights activist-scholar Jeff Halper writes that: “Israel is by far the most conflict-prone state in modern history. It has fought six or seven interstate wars, three major Palestinian uprisings …, [and] has been involved in over 166 dyadic militarized interstate disputes….[C]ultural militarism has become part of the natural order in Israel.” For further information about the Israel’s military-industrial complex, see Halper’s important book War Against the People (Pluto Press, 2015).

Message from Beatrice Fihn, ICAN info@icanw.org

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 29, 2017 at 1:56 am

Yesterday, negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons under international law began in New York. The treaty is being negotiated based on the recognition that the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon use is morally unacceptable and that the weapons themselves represent a significant risk to human security.

The treaty will finally ban weapons designed to indiscriminately kill civilians, completing the prohibitions of weapons of mass destruction.

While the majority of the worlds governments gathered in the room, Trump’s UN envoy, Nikki Haley, held a protest together with the UK, France and a number of Eastern European allies outside the negotiations.

The very unusual protest by Ambassador Haley and others demonstrates how worried they are about the impact of the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This treaty will also affect countries that fail to participate, by setting international norms of behaviour and removing the political prestige associated with nuclear weapons.

Over 115 governments, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Pope and other faith-based leaders, over 3,000 scientists, and civil society agreed yesterday – this is the time to ban nuclear weapons.
There are many ways to follow the treaty negotiations:

Live stream from the proceedings in New York
ICAN’s blog
#nuclearban on Twitter
Daily video updates
This is a really exciting moment and negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would not have happened without the strong support from civil society around the world.

Over 3,000 Scientists Support UN Nuclear Ban Negotiations

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on March 29, 2017 at 12:31 am

New York Times, March 27, 2017

Delegates from most UN member states are gathering in New York to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban, where they will also receive a letter of support that has been signed by thousands of scientists from around over 80 countries – including 28 Nobel Laureates and a former US Secretary of Defense. “Scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought”, the letter explains.

The letter will be delivered at a ceremony at 1pm on Monday March 27 in the UN General Assembly Hall to Her Excellency Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez from Costa Rica, who will preside over the negotiations.

Despite all the attention to nuclear terrorism and nuclear rogue states, one of the greatest threats from nuclear weapons has always been mishaps and accidents among the established nuclear nations. With political tensions and instability increasing, this threat is growing to alarming levels: “The probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war,” according to former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, who signed the letter.

“Nuclear weapons represent one of the biggest threats to our civilization. With the unpredictability of the current world situation, it is more important than ever to get negotiations about a ban on nuclear weapons on track, and to make these negotiations a truly global effort,” says neuroscience professor Edvard Moser from Norway, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine.

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle from MIT, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Physics, agrees: “I see nuclear weapons as a real threat to the human race and we need an international consensus to reduce this threat.”

Currently, the US and Russia have about 14,000 nuclear weapons combined, many on hair-trigger alert and ready to be launched on minutes notice, even though a Pentagon report argued that a few hundred would suffice for rock-solid deterrence. Yet rather than trim their excess arsenals, the superpowers plan massive investments to replace their nuclear weapons by new destabilizing ones that are more lethal for a first strike attack.

“Unlike many of the world’s leaders I care deeply about the future of my grandchildren. Even the remote possibility of a nuclear war presents an unconscionable threat to their welfare. We must find a way to eliminate nuclear weapons,” says Sir Richard J. Roberts, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.

“Most governments are frustrated that a small group of countries with a small fraction of the world’s population insist on retaining the right to ruin life on Earth for everyone else with nuclear weapons, ignoring their disarmament promises in the non-proliferation treaty”, says physics professor Max Tegmark from MIT, who helped organize the letter. “In South Africa, the minority in control of the unethical Apartheid system didn’t give it up spontaneously on their own initiative, but because they were pressured into doing so by the majority. Similarly, the minority in control of unethical nuclear weapons won’t give them up spontaneously on their own initiative, but only if they’re pressured into doing so by the majority of the world’s nations and citizens.”

The idea behind the proposed ban is to provide such pressure by stigmatizing nuclear weapons.
Beatrice Fihn, who helped launch the ban movement as Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, explains that such stigmatization made the landmine and cluster munitions bans succeed and can succeed again: “The market for landmines is pretty much extinct—nobody wants to produce them anymore because countries have banned and stigmatized them. Just a few years ago, the United States—who never signed the landmines treaty—announced that it’s basically complying with the treaty. If the world comes together in support of a nuclear ban, then nuclear weapons countries will likely follow suit, even if it doesn’t happen right away.”

Susi Snyder from from the Dutch “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” project explains:
“If you prohibit the production, possession, and use of these weapons and the assistance with doing those things, we’re setting a stage to also prohibit the financing of the weapons. And that’s one way that I believe the ban treaty is going to have a direct and concrete impact on the ongoing upgrades of existing nuclear arsenals, which are largely being carried out by private contractors.”

“Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created”, the letter states, motivating a ban.

“The horror that happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki should never be repeated. Nuclear weapons should be banned,” says Columbia University professor Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.

Norwegian neuroscience professor May-Britt Moser, a 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, says, “In a world with increased aggression and decreasing diplomacy – the availability nuclear weapons is more dangerous than ever. Politicians are urged to ban nuclear weapons. The world today and future generations depend on that decision.”

Media inquiries:
• Ariel Conn, Director of Media at Future of Life Institute, ariel@futureoflife.org <mailto:ariel@futureoflife.org>, (415) 640-1780
• Max Tegmark, Professor of Physics at MIT, President of Future of Life Institute, tegmark@mit.edu <mailto:tegmark@mit.edu>,
• Contact information for all the letter signatories is available on request from Ariel Conn.

The open letter, under embargo: https://futureoflife.org/nuclear-open-letter/ <https://futureoflife.org/nuclear-open-letter/&gt;

An Open Letter from Scientists in Support of the UN Nuclear Weapons Negotiations
Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created. We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought. Individual explosions can obliterate cities, radioactive fallout can contaminate regions, and a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse may cause mayhem by frying electrical grids and electronics across a continent. The most horrible hazard is a nuclear-induced winter, in which the fires and smoke from as few as a thousand detonations might darken the atmosphere enough to trigger a global mini ice age with year-round winter-like conditions. This could cause a complete collapse of the global food system and apocalyptic unrest, potentially killing most people on Earth – even if the nuclear war involved only a small fraction of the roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons that today’s nine nuclear powers control. As Ronald Reagan said: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Unfortunately, such a war is more likely than one may hope, because it can start by mistake, miscalculation or terrorist provocation. There is a steady stream of accidents and false alarms that could trigger all-out war, and relying on never-ending luck is not a sustainable strategy. Many nuclear powers have larger nuclear arsenals than needed for deterrence, yet prioritize making them more lethal over reducing them and the risk that they get used.

But there is also cause for optimism. On March 27 2017, an unprecedented process begins at the United Nations: most of the world’s nations convene to negotiate a ban on nuclear arms, to stigmatize them like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world free of these weapons of mass destruction. We support this, and urge our national governments to do the same, because nuclear weapons threaten not merely those who have them, but all people on Earth.

To date, this letter has been signed by 2211 scientists (this does not imply endorsement by their organizations):