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Russian Officials Say U.S. Global Missile Defense Could Lead to Nuclear War in Europe

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 29, 2017 at 9:51 pm

By Tom O’Connor, Newsweek, 4/27/17

Top Russian officials have issued public warnings about what they see as risks associated with the U.S.’s extensive missile defense system in Europe. The officials, from Russia’s political and military elite, said Washington’s actions could increase the likelihood of nuclear conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told attendees of the Moscow Conference on International Security on Wednesday that the U.S.’s ballistic missile defense system, which includes a sophisticated network of land, air and sea assets, is “a serious obstacle on the way of consolidation of political stability.” Russia and the Western military alliance NATO, which hosts U.S. missile defense installations, have accused each other of aggressively expanding their respective interests in Europe, and both have undergone massive military buildups along Europe’s tense borders. Moscow claims the U.S.’s missile defense system could encourage Washington to pursue unilateral action through nuclear force.

“The anti-missile umbrella may increase the illusion of invulnerability and impunity and lead to temptation of taking unilateral steps in the resolution of global and regional problems, including the reduction of threshold of nuclear weapons use,” Lavrov said, according to the official TASS Russian News Agency.

The Missile Defense Agency conducts the first intercept flight test of a land-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense weapon system from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex in Kauai, Hawaii, December 10, 2015. Aegis installations on land and at sea have become a crucial part of the U.S.’ global missile defense system in Europe, something Russia has said undermines its national security. Leah Garton/Missile Defense Agency/Reuters

Later at the same conference, Russian Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir, first deputy chief of the General Staff’s Main Operational Department, said computer simulations showed the European leg of the U.S.’s global missile shield was aimed at Russia and China, presenting a serious threat to Moscow’s national security. He also said such sprawling weapons systems could be seen as a shield to allow the U.S. to launch an unexpected nuclear attack against Russia.

“The presence of U.S. missile defense bases in Europe, missile defense vessels in seas and oceans close to Russia creates a powerful covert strike component for conducting a sudden nuclear missile strike against the Russian Federation,” Poznikhir said, according to Russia’s state-run Sputnik News.
In response to Poznikhir’s speech, Frants Klintsevich, who is head of the defense and security committee in Moscow’s upper house of parliament, took to social media to expand on the lieutenant general’s claims. Klintsevich had previously said that the U.K. would “literally be wiped off the face of the Earth” if it attempted to conduct a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and he wrote Thursday that Poznikhir’s words were meant to be heard by the international community, the U.S. and Russian citizens, whom Klintsevich said “have nothing to fear” because “the situation is under control.”

“At this very moment, the most loyal guarantee for the preservation of peace is our ability in the most severe way to respond to possible aggression,” Klintsevich wrote in a Facebook post.

According the U.S.’s most recently completed Nuclear Posture Review, in 2010, “the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies and partners,” and such weapons are to be used only “in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, our allies and partners.” The U.S. has not adopted a “no-first-use” policy, meaning Washington would be willing to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack if the U.S. or its allies were perceived to be at risk of a nuclear attack. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced the beginning of the next Nuclear Posture Review under the administration of President Donald Trump, who has expressed support for an expanded nuclear force.

Russia, which has also indicated it would seek to increase its nuclear capabilities, also maintains a “launch-under-attack” policy, but extends this doctrine to severe threats by non-nuclear weapon attacks as well. According to the Military Doctrine of Russia, last updated in 2014, Russia reserves “the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”

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Trump’s steep learning curve

In Democracy, Peace, Politics, War on April 28, 2017 at 7:59 am

By Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor

APRIL 27, 2017 WASHINGTON—President Trump has learned plenty in his first 100 days in office. He has told us so.

Mr. Trump has learned that health-care reform and North Korea are complicated, that NATO and the Export-Import Bank are worth preserving after all, and that China, in fact, is not manipulating its currency. He’s also learned the enormous unilateral power American presidents enjoy as commander in chief – though he hasn’t fully tested the limits of that power, or experienced the consequences of doing so.

But the education of Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States, is about so much more than learning the vast array of issues that cross his desk in the Oval Office – and rethinking some positions along the way. It’s about discovering that running a business and being president of the United States are dramatically different enterprises. And that campaigning isn’t the same as governing, even as he does both simultaneously.

Still, if there’s one point about Trump that both supporters and critics agree on, it’s that he’s a listener. He’s not a reader or a details guy. “I’m an intuitive person,” he has said. As president, that intuition is informed by exposing himself to differing views, both among his famously clashing advisers, in his cable-news viewing, and in his dealings with Congress.

“I’ve had long discussions with the president in the Oval Office,” says Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, who, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is a central player in enacting Trump’s agenda. “He listens.”
Trump is clearly learning something, says Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

“The question is whether he’s learning enough things quickly enough,” says Mr. Schnur, who served as communications director for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Beyond the froth of headlines, deeper truths

The firing of Michael Flynn as national security adviser and his replacement with H.R. McMaster represents progress in the latter’s “more conventional and less disruptive approach to security issues,” Schnur says. “The influence of people like [economic adviser] Gary Cohn demonstrates the same type of realization, that you can change Washington in some ways, but not in every way all at once.”

Indeed, some Trump skeptics on the Republican side have expressed relief that, over time, the president has amassed a team that includes respected figures from the world of national security and finance, and has declined to name some of the campaign gadflies (think Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich) to formal positions in the administration.

For anti-Trump forces, the president’s loose, unorthodox style has made him hard to counter, especially amid the daily barrage of tweets and pivots. One day he’s ready to terminate NAFTA – the agreement that governs the $3.5 billion in daily trade among the US, Mexico, and Canada – and the next, he’s dialing back to a less-disruptive “renegotiation.”

But beneath the froth of daily news coverage, there are deeper truths that have dominated Trump’s first 100 days in office: Foremost is the grand political science experiment of having a political novice in the Oval Office, surrounded by an inner circle of advisers who are also new to governing. It has been a bungee jump for everyone – Congress, the political parties, world leaders, and the American people.

Also central is Trump’s decision to start campaigning for reelection essentially from Day One of his presidency. Trump filed for the 2020 election on Inauguration Day of 2017, a move he says was not a “formal announcement of candidacy,” but he has in fact been holding campaign events. His rally in Harrisburg, Pa., on Saturday night – counter-programming to the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner – is being organized by Donald J. Trump for President, Inc, not the White House.

All presidential actions have a political dimension, but Trump’s manifestation of that is unique.

“He is the first president in our history who did not believe that it was necessary to expand his base of support in order to succeed,” says Schnur. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’d rather be more popular than he is, but I suspect Trump believes he probably couldn’t unify the country even if he wanted to.”

Consider the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. Trump is the least popular president in modern history at this stage in office, at 42 percent job approval, and yet 96 percent of those who say they voted for him last November say they’d vote for him again today. The poll also indicates the possibility that Trump could win the popular vote – which he did not get last November – if a rerun of the 2016 election were held today. For those tired of the intense polarization gripping Washington, these results do not bode well.

Why it’s hard for CEOs to run democracies

Another unique dimension of the Trump presidency is his background in business. There’s a longstanding trope that a businessman could do better in governing the country than a career politician, and Trump, in theory, provides an opportunity to test that proposition.

The test has only begun, but Gautam Mukunda, a professor at Harvard Business School, offers some early caveats.

“No doubt there is some overlap in the skills required to be president and the skills it takes to be a really good CEO,” Mr. Mukunda says. “Large organizations, even businesses and government ones, do have some commonalities.”

But there’s a fundamental difference between a business and a government. “From the very simplest thing, most corporate CEOs have a power and control over their organization that’s a lot more akin to an absolute dictator than it is to the president of the United States,” he says.

The goal of a business is to make a profit, whereas the goals of government are much more contentious, he adds. “Should the United States government guarantee health insurance to all American citizens or not? That is a matter of great debate. The question of how we should do that is secondary to the question of if we should do that.”

Then there’s Trump himself – and his particular way of doing business. Trump is known for being litigious, and for constantly trying to get a better deal, even after a deal has been signed. When a deal falls apart, he can move on to another deal, with another set of people.

“His entire career he has played in a series of one-shot games,” says Mukunda. As president, “he’s still handling every interaction like they’re one-shot interactions. So he can get into a fight with the prime minister of Australia… but he can’t go elsewhere for a better deal. Australia’s not going away.”

Ever the performer

Author Gwenda Blair has interviewed and interacted with Trump many times in her work on a biography of the businessman and reality TV performer, long before he announced for president.

Today, nothing about Trump’s presidency surprises her.

“It really is the same MO that we saw in his career up until the campaign, then throughout the whole campaign,” says Ms. Blair. “He’s a performer: Always keep people distracted, keep changing the subject. Really, he has spent 40 years honing his ability to keep all the attention on him, and it still works.”

Blair calls him the framer-in-chief. “He keeps framing what success means,” she says. “He ran on the idea that he would have the most successful first 100 days ever.”

Every new president makes mistakes, and goes through a learning curve. Trump’s first 100 days have been tougher than the norm, however. Trump failed on his first pass at health-care reform, and executive orders targeting illegal immigrants are stuck in court. But in his press releases and public statements, he’s projecting an image of success.

“Undergirding everything, really, is the ongoing delegitimization of traditional news, of the primacy of facts, the importance of accuracy in replacing that with a kind of ever-shifting narrative that accepts contradictions, zig-zags, 180-degree pivots,” Blair says. “And on all of those things, there is no fixed point except him.”

Nuclear Double Standards: All Nuclear Weapon Tests Send the Same Message

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 28, 2017 at 1:00 am

ANDREW LICHTERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, April 26, 2017
The U.S. Air Force has announced a test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on April 26.

Although such tests are conducted routinely, the timing of this one may not coincidental; the U.S. military sees nuclear delivery system tests as “distinct messaging opportunities”. U.S. Air Force, Doctrine Annex 3-72, Nuclear Operations, May 2015. Regardless of the timing, it is clear that the message intended for North Korea (and the rest of the world) is that the United States has nuclear weapons, and is prepared to use them. In the past, U.S. officials have said so outright. Prior to a similar test in early 2016, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told reporters “That’s exactly why we do this… We and the Russians and the Chinese routinely do test shots to prove that the operational missiles that we have are reliable. And that is a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.” David Alexander, “U.S. test-fires ICBM amid tensions with Russia, North Korea,” Reuters, Feb 26, 2016.

It also is hard to see the difference between the intentions behind North Korea’s displays of its nuclear and missile capabilities and those of the United States—aside from the fact North Korea has far more to fear, given that the United States has military and nuclear forces that far exceed those of North Korea, and that are exercised frequently close to North Korea’s shores. Each of the 400 Minuteman III missiles currently in service carries a nuclear warhead 20 or more times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima in 1945. The U.S. also deployed nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 bombers on several occasions following North Korean nuclear or missile tests, even conducting flyovers in South Korea. see Tara Copp, “US sends 3 nuclear stealth bombers to Pacific,” Stars and Stripes, March 9, 2016; Choe Sang-Hunjan. “In Show of Alliance, American Forces Fly B-52 Bomber Over South Korea,” The New York Times, January 10, 2016.

Both China and North Korea have proposed that the United States and South Korea suspend their large-scale annual military exercises in exchange for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but the U.S. and South Korea have refused to discuss the offers. See Chris Buckley and Somini Senguptamarch, “U.S. and South Korea Rebuff China’s Proposal to Defuse Korea Tensions,” The New York Times, March 8, 2017; Choe Sang-Hunjan, “North Korea Offers U.S. Deal to Halt Nuclear Test,” The New York Times, January 10, 2015.

It is hard for the American public to get a clear understanding of the growing crisis in Northeast Asia without a balanced portrayal of the actions of all the parties, including the United States. U.S. military exercises and deployments in the region do get some press coverage but are seldom emphasized (in the absence of a snafu like the recent wrong-way aircraft carrier strike group). U.S. tests of its nuclear-armed missiles, part of a nuclear arsenal with enough firepower to reduce any country on earth to ashes, draw virtually no national media coverage—but the threat is well-understood by those who might be on the receiving end. The pursuit of nuclear weapons by North Korea’s rulers frequently is portrayed as an act of madness–but it is no more insane than the continued brandishing by the original nuclear-armed nations of arsenals still large enough to end civilization in short order.

The nuclear confrontation of the Cold War was intolerable, but at least the leaders of the nuclear-armed states came to understand that nuclear weapons stand in a class by themselves, and that war between nuclear-armed states easily could tip into catastrophe. Today’s political and military leadership in the United States too often seems to view its nuclear weapons as a tool of intimidation and domination, allowing their unmatched conventional forces to posture or launch attacks, even when that might threaten the interests of other nuclear-armed countries. Four nuclear-armed militaries are present on the Korean peninsula and on the land and waters around it. Both China and Russia share borders with North Korea. Any war in this densely populated area would be a disaster, and the consequences of even a regional nuclear war would be a horror beyond words.

There is no military solution to the Korea crisis. Another lesson learned during the Cold War was that even when the prospects for a resolution seem dim, negotiations between nuclear-armed adversaries have other positive results. They allow the military and political leadership of the adversaries to better understand each other’s intentions, and their fears. They build broader channels of communication between military and government bureaucracies that can be of tremendous value when tensions rise.

Continued threats and deployment of U.S. forces around North Korea could trigger a catastrophic war by miscalculation. Carrying out those threats via a unilateral attack by the United States would further fray the fabric of the post-World War II international legal order. If the government of the United States wants peace and a viable path to a nuclear-weapons-free North Korea, it should be ready to talk to North Korea’s government—immediately, directly, and without conditions.

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Andrew Lichterman is a senior research analyst at the Western States Legal Foundation, a nuclear disarmament advocacy organization based in Oakland, California

March for Science: Can science and political activism coexist?

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Politics on April 27, 2017 at 3:34 am

Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, APRIL 21, 2017

Jenny Tam spent much of her life avoiding politics. She grew up in a small town in Arkansas, as the child of Chinese immigrants who had seen the dangers of political backlash, and she always tried to stay nonpolitical.

All that changed for Dr. Tam, now an immunologist and biophysicist at Massachusetts General Hospital, as she watched the current administration dismiss facts and saw a lack of understanding of how rigorous peer-reviewed studies really are. Suddenly, she felt the need to march into the fray, helping to found the group FACTS (Fostering Advocacy and Collaboration Through Science).

Tam isn’t alone among scientists who feel compelled to step out of the lab or the field to stand up for science. On Saturday, which is also Earth Day, these newly minted activists and other science supporters plan to gather in Washington, D.C., and in more than 500 other cities for a March for Science.
The foray into activism and politics is a tough one for some scientists. And although the organizers have taken pains to note the march is nonpartisan, concern that the focus will become political has sparked some controversy and debate among scientists.

Many supporters of the march note that science is already political, and that ignoring its importance to policy is disingenuous. The march is needed, they say, due to the increased attacks on science, threats to slash funding for research, and lack of understanding of what scientists do.

But critics worry that despite all the declarations that the march is “non-partisan,” it will be viewed by many Americans as anti-Trump and anti-Republican, and that it will only increase the partisan divide and cement the impression in some people’s minds that scientists are driven by ideology rather than evidence.

“I worry there will be people there carrying signs that have incendiary messages, and it’s that one percent that will become the meme for the conservative blogosphere,” says Robert Young, a coastal geologist at Western Carolina University. He cringes imagining rural America’s reaction to, say, a sign saying “Make America smart again.”

Dr. Young has seen first-hand the ways politicians can try to delegitimize science when he helped author a report on sea-level rise that had data that developers didn’t want to hear and state legislators dismissed. And back in his 20s, he says, he might have joined Saturday’s march himself.

But Young says he’s also become more pragmatic with experience, and he worries that a march – one that he says will certainly be viewed as partisan by much of America – will only solidify barriers. “If you want to make a difference and you want to live within the political realities we live in right now, then calling these people out and embarrassing them is not going to help us win,” Young says.

Other scientists say they hear that argument and acknowledge there is a risk but suggest that there is a much greater risk to not doing anything.

“It’s absurd to think of science as being apolitical,” says Alan Townsend, an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “It doesn’t mean it should be partisan, but it’s embroiled in the world of politics as well, and we have to engage.” Certain groups may use the march to attack scientists, he acknowledges, but says there’s nothing new in that narrative. “And the upside potential is more meaningful and needed.”

The backing for the science march has been widespread, including behemoths like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society, as well as dozens of research groups, museums, small scientific organizations, and nonprofits.

A huge piece of the march is simply making both science and scientists more accessible and visible to the public. Most marches have planned education stations; in Washington, nearly two dozen “teach-ins” are being offered, on topics ranging from food solutions and creek critters to carbon innovation and the physics of superheroes.

“We’ll have booths set up by a variety of organizations to talk about the science they’re doing, so that the public begins to get a more expansive view of what science is,” says Scott Franklin, a physicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology and one of the organizers of the march in Rochester, N.Y. “The more visible scientists are in the community the more normalized we get.”

Some participants also say that, while the march may have been catalyzed in part by the Trump administration – with its proposed cuts for research funding, its loose use of “facts,” and the nomination of some climate-change critics to prominent roles – the antagonism toward science among some policymakers in particular, has been building for several decades, and has reached a point where scientists need to push back, whatever the risks.

Climate change is just one example. Once it became associated with Al Gore around the 2000 election, some Republicans who had previously proposed climate action solidified in opposition and started denying the reality of climate change, says John Holdren, a senior adviser to former President Obama on science and technology. Partisan opposition to Mr. Obama, who supported action on climate change, just intensified the divide.

Is there a risk that the march will further alienate people? Of course, says Dr. Holdren. “The very notion of marching will aggravate some people. But you know it is pretty well-established reality that nothing one does in the domain of political action pleases everybody…. My own view is that the potential benefits do outweigh the downsides.”

The March for Science grew out of the momentum of the Women’s March in January and has faced similar criticisms and internal turmoil about inclusion of diverse peoples and perspectives.

Public critics have also suggested that the inclusion of certain advocacy groups, which they say ignore science on issues like GMOs, could make the march problematic. Those critics note that antagonism toward science is not partisan – just as climate-change denial is associated with the right, some on the left are leading the charge to dismiss science around GMOs or vaccines.

“Science is not a buffet where people can pick and choose the parts that they like and disregard the rest,” wrote Alma Laney, a plant virologist and blogger, in a blog post about why he was not marching. “Climate change denial, young earth creationism, anti-vaccine and anti-genetic engineering arguments are not equal to the science on those topics. It’s incredibly sad to see a group that purports to be standing up for all science to willingly partner with groups that are antiscience or hold antiscience positions.”

Still, for all the criticism and disagreements, most observers have noted just how broad the support for the science march has been, including many people and groups who disagree politically, but feel deeply that a strong commitment to high-quality science and research is necessary.

Many supporters of the march see it as an opportunity to shed positive light on science. As Tam, the immunology researcher, says, the march “should be a celebration of the science our country has really excelled at.”

And, rather than marching for one concrete goal – increased NIH funding, say, or a broader acceptance of climate change – many of the organizers and participants express hope that the march could help demystify the scientific process for some Americans, and also encourage more scientists to be engaged in the public sphere, whether through serving on local town councils or committees, reaching out to lawmakers, or simply talking to people in their community about what they do.

Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at the University of California in Berkley who recently announced his Senate candidacy, will be speaking at the march in San Francisco because “it’s about standing up for a worldview and a way of approaching problems.”

“Too often we think of it as this kind of priesthood, with scientists who work in labs and produce science. But really, I think most people are basically scientists in the way they live,” and the way they apply the scientific method in their daily lives, he says. Eisen hopes the march will help connect scientists and the public and to express that science truly is for everyone.

Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, sees the march as something of an experiment.

“We are trying something new compared to the historical approach of writing sober op-editorial pieces, and giving talks to rotary clubs, and folks at universities talking to each other, the national academies of science, and engineering, and medicine, holding their meetings and issuing their press releases,” he says. “The more we get people talking about society’s interest in science and technology, the better. If the March advances that conversation and persuades more people to engage in that conversation in more different ways, then it will have been a success.”

• Eva Botkin-Kowacki contributed to his report.

Instead of threatening North Korea, Trump should try this instead

In Democracy, Human rights, Peace, Politics, War on April 24, 2017 at 9:50 pm

By John Delur, Washington Post, April 23, 2017
John Delury is an associate professor of Chinese studies at the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul.

President Trump’s missile strike on Syria won plaudits from commentators on the left and right, with some of the enthusiasm spilling over into the debate about a “military solution” when it comes to North Korea. The comparison, like much of the administration’s rhetoric about Korea, is dangerously misleading. There is no way to hit North Korea without being hit back harder. There is no military means to “preempt” its capabilities — nuclear and otherwise — with a “surgical” strike. Any use of force to degrade its weapons program would start a war, the costs of which would be staggering.

Maybe in the era of America First, we don’t care about death and destruction being visited on the 10 million people who live in Seoul, within North Korean artillery and short-range missile range. Do we care about some 140,000 U.S. citizens residing in South Korea — including soldiers and military families at bases here, plus more in nearby Japan? Or South Korea’s globally integrated $1.4 trillion economy, including the United States’ $145 billion two-way trade with the country? Do we care about North Korean missiles raining down on Incheon International Airport, one of Asia’s busiest airports, or Busan, the sixth-largest container port in the world? What happens to the global economy when a conflagration erupts on China’s doorstep and engulfs Japan?

Surely the American public and Congress, regardless of party, can agree that these costs are unbearable and unthinkable. Given the presence of many sober-minded strategists and policymakers in the administration, it seems reasonable to conclude the military taunts are a bluff. If so, they are a distraction from the real, pressing question: How much longer should they wait on economic pressure generated by Chinese sanctions, rather than pursue diplomatic options opened up by direct dialogue and engagement?
The Obama administration said it was open to dialogue, but put its money on sanctions and pressure as North Korea made the power transition from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un. North Korea, unfortunately, is not vulnerable to the pinch of the purse like normal trading nations such as Iran. North Koreans are already so cut off from the global economy and disconnected from international society that deepening isolation does little to change their calculus.

The one promising thing about Kim Jong Un is that he harbors ambitions to improve North Korea’s economy, and his domestic policies have already generated modest growth. But his first priority is regime survival and national security, and for that, he considers the nuclear deterrent is to be essential (a rational proposition, sadly). Eight years of sanctions and pressure — but for one spasm of diplomacy just prior to Kim Jong Il’s death — did little to disabuse Pyongyang of the sense that it needs nuclear weapons, or to prevent North Korea from improving its capabilities and expanding its arsenal.

The Trump administration proclaims that the Obama approach of “strategic patience” has ended. But if it really wants to start a new era, the way to do so is not by distracting the public with reckless threats of war, while waiting in vain for Chinese President Xi Jinping to bring Kim to his knees. Instead, the prudent move would be to open direct talks with Pyongyang that start by negotiating a freeze on the fissile-material production cycle, return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, and moratorium on testing nuclear devices and long-range ballistic missiles (including satellite launches). In return, the United States should at least entertain Pyongyang’s standing request for suspension of joint military exercises with South Korea. Kim may be willing to accept something less, such as an adjustment in scale. Or he may be open to a different kind of trade — initiating talks to convert the 1953 Armistice Agreement into a proper peace treaty to end the Korean War, for example. The only way to probe these options is to get to the table. With two months of large-scale exercises coming to a close, now is a good time to do so.

A freeze is just the initial move in what needs to be a long-term strategy that changes underlying dynamics and addresses what each side sees as the core of the problem. We cannot really know what Kim wants, and what he might give up to get it, until we initiate dialogue. But since he took power, there have been strong signals that his ambitions go beyond a nuclear deterrent, that his real goal is economic development. Rather than threaten war or deepen sanctions, a more productive path is to nudge Kim down the same road that the major countries in East Asia have all taken: a shift from power to wealth. If Kim wants to be North Korea’s developmental dictator, the United States’ best long-term strategy is to help him do so. We cannot rationally expect him to surrender his nuclear deterrent at the beginning of that process, but it is the only realistic path for getting him to do so eventually.

Now is the time to jump-start a diplomatic initiative that reopens channels, lowers tensions and caps North Korea’s capabilities where they are. Then, working closely with the new government in Seoul and others, the United States should support a long-term strategy that integrates North Korea into regional stability and prosperity. Because the nuclear program is the last budget item that Kim will cut, sanctions only deepen the misery of the North Korean population, and pressure fails to improve human rights abuses on the ground. The best way to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people is to give them a chance to succeed economically and help open up their country step by step.

By simply inflicting economic pain, threatening military strikes and keeping tensions high, the United States is playing into the worst tendencies of the North Korean system. Kim’s nuclear intentions will harden and North Korea’s capabilities will only grow. It’s time to reverse course.

Climate Change as Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2017 at 12:17 am

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives.

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.

Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%. It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen’s food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference. This is complicity in mass extermination.

Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. “That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” he told reporters. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.” In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen — or has ignored — equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don’t merit White House sympathy.

Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017? It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism. It’s a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.

Here’s the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like — one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?

Famine, Drought, and Climate Change

First, though, let’s consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen — interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.

In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent.” Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an “overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas” on that continent. With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising — precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.

It’s seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty. Such things happen with or without climate change. Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you’re in a new climate era.

It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn’t this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?

History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society — warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like — will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage. “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict,” points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program. “Climate is an added stress factor.” In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.

The Selective Impact of Climate Change

In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe — that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it’s certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don’t for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably. It won’t even be a complicated equation. As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society — the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge — will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.

As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America — home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.

Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight. In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades.

Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way. As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones. If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the “Okies” from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today’s climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or “informal settlements,” as they’re euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew. Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change. As the latest IPCC report noted, “Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects.”

The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. “The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events,” the IPCC indicated in 2014. “Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks.” It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).

Inaction Equals Annihilation

In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.

Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios — the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas — will become everyday reality.

In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible. If the world’s response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.

In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change — to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power — means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what — not to mince words — is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?

And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot — as many of us are — more is needed. Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Risk of ‘catastrophic’ nuclear accident as world relations worsen, UN warns

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on April 21, 2017 at 9:31 pm

By Will Worley, Independent. April 21,  2017

There will be “catastrophic” consequences when “luck runs out” on nuclear deterrence, the United Nations (UN) has warned in a major report which highlights the massive risk of an accidental or deliberate use of the world’s most deadly weapons.

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” said the report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups, it added.

“Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work,” it said. “The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.
“The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

It comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals.

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, it said .
North Korea has continued with its nuclear weapons development programme, despite heavy sanctions being imposed against it by various countries and international bodies.

While the secretive Communist state has conducted several tests with nuclear bombs, in order to launch a nuclear attack on its neighbours, it needs to be able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on to a missile.

There is no consensus on exactly where North Korea is in terms of miniaturising a nuclear device so that it can be delivered via a missile.

President Trump has said he will “deal with” the country and has not ruled out military action against it.

The report also cited a string of recent attacks and threats between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan raised the stakes in January, when it fired its first submarine-launched nuclear capable cruise missile.

In addition, the report expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.
Denuclearisation would require “visionary leadership”, the report said, but added this was “sadly rare” as many powerful states “increasingly turn inward”.

It added that new technology and spending on nuclear weapons had “enhanced” the risk of a detonation. However, it acknowledged the secrecy surrounding the programmes made it difficult to accurately assess their true scope.

Increased reliance technology has also introduced new problems, the report said. In the past, accidental nuclear detonations have been averted by a human decision. Replacing military officers with computers could therefore rule out a potential safety check on the weapons, and open the possibility of hacking a nuclear weapon.

The report also referenced the January 2017 decision of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science to move the publication’s Doomsday Clock two and a half minutes to midnight over nuclear fears – the most risky it had been since 1953.

The UN maintained risk was inherent to nuclear weapons and the only way to truly eliminate it was to get rid of the bombs.

The twin goals behind North Korea’s resolve on nuclear weapons

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 20, 2017 at 7:31 am

Michael Holtz, Christian Science Monitor

APRIL 19, 2017 BEIJING—The Trump administration has portrayed the US missile strike on a Syrian air field earlier this month as a sign its willingness to make tough decisions.

In other words, North Korea better watch out.

But to North Korean leaders, analysts say, the attack reaffirmed a different lesson: the importance of having a credible nuclear deterrent.

“The logic is pretty simple,” says Wenran Jiang, an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, in Canada. “The North Koreans see what happened in Syria and say, ‘If we give up nuclear weapons, that’s what will happen to us.’”

As a small, impoverished nation focused on its own survival, North Korea is deeply committed to holding on to its nuclear arms. To shut its program down would be to risk the regime’s annihilation, but to keep it going runs the risk of triggering a devastating war that could lead to millions of casualties.
But ultimately, nuclear weapons are also a means, not just an end: the government hopes a powerful-enough nuclear deterrent will provide the security it needs to pursue economic reforms without the threat of outside interference – a trajectory not so different from China’s.

So goes the strategic calculus at the center of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions – a paradox that leaves Washington with no good options as tensions continue to rise.

‘Storm clouds gathering’

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned of “storm clouds gathering,” and criticized the United States, South Korea, and North Korea for dangerous “tit for tat” engagement, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Observers say North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test any day. Meanwhile, a US carrier group is on its way to waters off the coast of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s expanded arsenal was on full display Saturday at an annual military parade in Pyongyang, commemorating the birthday of founder Kim Il-sung. It included intercontinental ballistic missiles that could one day be capable of reaching the US mainland, and solid-fuel missiles that could be fired from land and submarines.

On Sunday, North Korea launched a ballistic missile that exploded seconds after liftoff, a high-profile failure that occurred hours before US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea.

Still, the weekend’s displays of strength served as reminders of Washington’s long history of unsuccessful attempts at negotiations with Pyongyang that stretch back more than two decades. North Korea launched a long-range rocket and conducted two nuclear tests last year, including its most powerful to date.

North Korean resolve

Vice President Pence warned of an “overwhelming and effective American response” to any provocation from the North. But North Korea appears unwilling to back down. It has remained in a state of near-war since the fall of the Soviet Union, when the country lost its largest defender and became vulnerable to the US and its allies. Communist regimes around the world were crumbling, but North Korea dug itself in.

In the spirit of “juche,” Kim Il-sung’s philosophy of “self-reliance” that has become a kind of state-sanctioned ideology, the country established its military-first policy that continues to today. It maintained that footing even through widespread famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands. Pyongyang justifies huge investments in nuclear weapons by perpetuating a narrative of imminent threat from foreign forces.

But John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, says that establishing a nuclear deterrent is only part of supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s vision for his country.

Mr. Kim’s ultimate goal to ensure that North Koreans will never again have to “tighten their belts,” says Professor Delury, a promise he made as soon as he took power in 2012. Nuclear deterrence provides the young leader the security he needs to more fully focus on economic development.

Kim has already carried out a series of economic reforms, including an overhaul of the agriculture sector that has led to record-level harvests and the opening of new special economic zones. In a speech last year, Kim said future economic development would focus on the mechanization of agriculture, automation of factories, and increased coal production.

“I would not say the economy is booming, but it has seen steady growth under Kim,” says Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul who studied at a North Korean university. “He has no illusions about the command economy. He knows the only game in town is what China did 30 years ago through market reforms.”

The China Model

Few nations understand North Korea’s logic better than China, which followed a similar path in the second half of the 20th century. Delury says that China’s development of a nuclear weapon in the 1960s gave it a strong sense of external security, and helped spur the Chinese Communist Party to turn its attention to liberalizing the economy in the late 1970s.

With their shared history in mind, it comes as little surprise that China has been so reluctant to put more economic pressure on North Korea – and not only because it doesn’t want to push the regime to the point of collapse, a worst-case scenario for Beijing.

“The bottom line is the Chinese don’t think pressure is going to work,” Delury says. “They well understand that this is a stubborn, prideful, independent neighbor, but that twisting their arm makes the problem worse.”

The North Korean regime has effectively forced the world into an elaborate game of chicken to ensure its survival. The more pressure the country faces – whether economically or militarily – the more it’s pushed to develop new asymmetrical threats and accept even higher levels of risk to intimidate its rivals. Its goal is to make any potential war too costly to consider, which is why it’s so keen to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US.

Not even China, the North’s main political ally and its economic lifeline, is immune to its provocations. The latest snub occurred last week, when Pyongyang didn’t respond to a meeting request from China’s top nuclear envoy, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The diplomatic slight highlights ongoing questions about Beijing’s influence over the North Korean regime, as Trump pushes China to do more to rein in its erratic neighbor.

China has spoken out against the North’s weapons tests and has agreed to stiffer United Nations sanctions. In February, Beijing banned imports of North Korean coal, cutting off Pyongyang’s most important export.

But as North Korea’s dominant trade partner, China has also maintained robust economic ties with it. Data released last week showed that trade between the two countries grew 37.4 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2016.
For its part, China argues that negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington are the only way to resolve the simmering crisis and avoid a conflict on its border. Such talks could require the US to make significant concessions it has so far been unwilling to accept.

“The Chinese look at North Korea and think, ‘We’ve been there before,’” Professor Jiang says, referring to China’s own path over the last half-century. “At the end of the day, they may decide its behavior isn’t as out of hand as people in the West suggest.”

 

Nuclear war has become thinkable again – we need a reminder of what it means

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 18, 2017 at 11:09 pm

By Paul Mason, The Guardian, April 18, 2017

Last week, Donald Trump deployed his superweapon Moab, the “mother of all bombs” – 10 tonnes of high explosive detonated in mid-air in such a way as to kill, it is claimed, 94 Isis militants. The Russian media immediately reminded us that their own thermobaric bomb – the “father of all bombs” – was four times as powerful: “Kids, meet Daddy,” was how the Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today put it. But these are child’s play compared with nuclear weapons. The generation waking up to today’s Daily Mail strapline – “World holds its breath” – may need reminding what a nuclear weapon does.

The one dropped on Hiroshima measured 15 kilotons; it destroyed everything within 200 yards and burned everybody within 2km. The warhead carried by a Trident missile delivers a reported 455 kilotons of explosive power. Drop one on Bristol and the fireball is 1km wide; third-degree burns affect everybody from Portishead to Keynsham, and everything in a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash is contaminated with radiation. In this scenario, 169,000 people die immediately and 180,000 need emergency treatment. Given that there are only 101,000 beds in the entire English NHS, you can begin to imagine the apocalyptic scenes for those who survive. (You can model your own scenario here.)

But a Trident missile carries up to eight of these warheads, and military planners might drop them in a pattern around one target, creating a firestorm along the lines that conventional Allied bombing created in Hamburg and Tokyo during the second world war.

I don’t wish to alarm you, but right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable.

For Kim Jong-un, it’s thinkable; for Vladimir Putin, it’s so thinkable that every major Russian wargame ends with a “nuclear de-escalation” phase: that is, drop one and offer peace. On 22 December last year, Trump and Putin announced, almost simultaneously, that they were going to expand their nuclear arsenals and update the technology.

Right now, a US aircraft carrier strike force is steaming towards North Korea (the DPRK) to menace Kim’s rogue regime. We don’t know what secret diplomacy went on between Xi Jinping and Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but the US is sounding confident that China will rein the North Koreans in.

What we do know is that Trump has been obsessed since the 80s with nuclear weapons, that he refuses to take advice from military professionals and that he seems not to understand the core Nato concept of nukes as a political deterrent, as opposed to a military superweapon.

This sudden mania for speaking of nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, should be the No 1 item on the news, and the No 1 concern of democratic and peace-loving politicians.

The video fireworks on US cable news channels have progressed in the space of 10 days from cruise missile launches to bunker-busting airburst porn. One US news host referred to the former as “beautiful”.

I will always remember the Botoxed faces of the US news anchors when they arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was as if they had been woken up from a dream, and the best of them realised how they had been sleepwalking towards the disaster.

Katrina shows what happens when a disaster hits a fragile, poverty-stricken and socially fragmented city. In New Orleans, for a few days, civilisation fell apart. Policemen, suddenly called on to haul their overweight frames into self-sacrificing and arduous work, quit on the spot. The modern equivalent of lynchings happened. Central government and unified military command of the situation broke down. My experience there convinced me that, in the event of mass fatalities being inflicted on a developed world city, the real problem would be social chaos, not mass radiation sickness.

Trump is ramping up the military rhetoric for a horribly simple reason: two weeks ago, the isolationist wing of his team got outflanked by generals; they tried some war to see how it went down and it went down well.

We may get lucky. It may be that the Chinese leadership is prepared to put serious pressure on North Korea to prevent Kim’s regime staging some kind of provocation against the US navy. Or we may get unlucky: the DPRK has a nuclear weapon, even if the missiles needed to deliver it are unstable.
It has been human nature, given the scale of devastation a nuclear war would bring, to blank the possibility from our minds, to worry about small risks because the big one is incalculable. But from the 50s to the 00s, we had – in all nuclear powers – military/industrial complex politicians who understood the value of multilateralism. All around us high politics is becoming emotion driven, unilateral, crowd-pleasing and falling under the control of erratic family groups and mafias, rather than technocrats representing ruling elites.

For the warmongers, true multilateralism is a serious annoyance; that’s why so many of the world’s autocrats are busy forcing NGOs to register, cutting off foreign funds to them and decrying the presence of international observers or sabotaging their work.

If Theresa May wanted to send a useful message at Easter it could have been: in compliance with the non-proliferation treaties, we will never use our nuclear weapons first; we will stick to diplomatic and economic pressure to get the DPRK to comply; and we will use our own, independent diplomatic clout to strengthen disarmament and non-proliferation.

That is what a responsible nuclear-armed power would do. The UK’s silence as Trump toys with military escalation and nuclear rearmament is criminal.

Russia, West Moving Towards New Cold War, Gorbachev Warns

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm

https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-west-moving-toward-new-cold-war-gorbachev-warns/28431864.html
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, called on the West to “restore trust” with Russia and warned that the two old adversaries are moving toward a renewed state of Cold War.

“All the indications of a Cold War are there,” he said in an interview with the German Bild newspaper on April 14. “The language of politicians and the top-level military personnel is becoming increasingly militant. Military doctrines are formulated increasingly harshly The mass media pick up on all of this and add fuel to the fire. The relationship between the big powers continues to worsen.”

A new arms race between Russia and the West is already under way, Gorbachev said.

“It is not merely imminent. In some places, it is already in full swing. Troops are being moved into Europe, including heavy equipment such as tanks and armored cars. It was not so long ago that NATO troops and Russian troops were stationed quite far away from each other. They now stand nose-to-nose.”

Gorbachev said the new Cold War could turn into a hot one if both sides do nothing to prevent it. “Anything is possible” if the current deterioration of relations continues, he said.

Gorbachev cautioned the West against trying to force change in Russia through economic sanctions, saying the sanctions only galvanize public opinion against the West in Russia and bolster support for the Kremlin.

“Don’t have any false hope in this respect! We are a people willing to make whatever sacrifices we need to,” he said, noting that during World War II, Russian endured the deaths of nearly 30 million of their countrymen to win the war.

Instead, Gorbachev said Russia and the West need to find a way to restore trust, respect, and the willingness to working together. He said both sides can draw from a reservoir of good will that remains toward each other among ordinary citizens.

Russia and Germany, in particular “must re-establish contact, solidify, and develop our relationship, and find a way to trust each other again,” he said.

To repair the damage and renew understanding, the West “must take Russia seriously as a nation that deserves respect,” he said.

Instead of constantly criticizing Russia for not meeting Western standards of democracy, he said. the West should recognize that “Russia is on the path to democracy. It’s halfway between. There are approximately 30 emerging nations that are in transition, and we are one of them.”

Gorbachev traces the deterioration of relations to the West’s loss of respect for Russia and exploitation of its weakness after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

That led the West — and particularly the United States — to break promises that were made to Russia at the end of the Cold War that NATO forces would “not move one centimeter further East,” he said.