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Financing the U.S. Military Budget

In Human rights, Justice, Politics, War on December 24, 2017 at 7:22 am

Tom Mayer, Colorado Daily, December 22, 2017

United States military spending exceeds that of any other country in the world. It surpasses that of the next seven greatest military spenders combined. China is currently the second biggest military spender, but U.S. military outlays are about three times larger than those of China. In fact U.S. military spending is twice as great as the military spending of China and Russia combined. In 2017 U.S. military expenses amounted to 1.36 trillion dollars, or 44% of all federal spending. Total military spending currently runs at about 7% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, total military spending hovered around 14% of GDP. U.S. military spending in World War Two sometimes exceeded 40% of GDP. The War Resisters League estimates that U.S. military expenses in 2018 will be about 1.45 trillion dollars, constituting 48% of all federal outlays.

Income taxes pay for most U.S. military expenses. Although corporations are major beneficiaries of military spending, research shows that they do not shoulder a fair share of the resulting expenses. The new tax bill will further diminish corporate contributions to military spending. This bill is widely understood as a major giveaway to giant corporations. Among many other deficiencies, it lowers the corporate tax rate and adopts a “territorial” tax system. Under a territorial system, corporations are not be taxed for income they earn in other countries. Corporations have already avoided paying about $750 billion dollars in taxes by booking profits offshore through “creative” (i.e. dubious) accounting. The territorial tax system motivates corporations to move jobs to low taxation countries, and to book profits abroad through such creative accounting.

Our basic economic problem is not excessive corporate taxation, but insufficient demand due to gross income inequality. The arguments on behalf of the new tax bill are deeply flawed. Proponents claim that reducing corporate taxation will encourage investment and therefore create jobs. But abundant empirical evidence shows that reducing corporate taxation – other things being equal – increases shareholder income (and economic inequality) without stimulating investment.

Proponents also claim that U.S. corporate taxation is excessively high, supposedly discouraging investment. The legal (or statutory) corporate tax rate in the USA is 35%, which is indeed high relative to that in most other advanced capitalist countries. However, due to numerous loopholes and creative accounting, corporations actually pay between 13% and 21%, which is well within the standard range of corporate taxation.

Not all U.S. corporations benefit directly from military spending. One might hope that corporations outside the military industrial complex would oppose our bloated military budget and the dangerous militarism that results. However, most corporations are not hit with a really burdensome share of our huge military expenses. More importantly, corporate elites understand that military expenditures are a politically acceptable way of countering the persistent tendency towards stagnation within the U.S. monopoly capitalism.

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US could broaden its use of nuclear weapons, Trump administration signals

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 20, 2017 at 12:50 am

Julian Borger in Washington, The Guardian, Monday 18 December 2017
The Trump administration signaled that it could broaden the use of nuclear weapons as part of a new security strategy, unveiled by the president on Monday.

The wider role for nuclear weapons against “non-nuclear strategic attacks” was one of several ways in which Trump’s approach differed from his predecessor. The threat of climate change went unmentioned. The word “climate” was only used four times in the National Security Strategy (NSS), and three of those mentions referred to the business environment. Americans were instead urged to “embrace energy dominance”.

Trump drops climate change from US national security strategy
Read more
Announcing the NSS, Donald Trump depicted his election victory and his presidency as an unprecedented turning point in US history.

“America is coming back, and America is coming back strong,” the president said. “We are rebuilding our nation, our confidence, and our standing in the world…[W]e will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before.”

On the same day of the NSS launch however, the US found itself isolated on the UN security council, where the other 14 members, including Washington’s closest allies, voted to rescind Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The US envoy, Nikki Haley, called the vote an “insult” that “won’t be forgotten”.

Piling on the insults, the French foreign minister, Yves Le Drian, said on a visit to Washington that US isolation on several global issues “forces President Trump to have a position of retreat on most topics rather than making proposals”.

Under the slogan of “peace through strength”, Trump emphasised the military buildup he had ordered, involving what the president described (wrongly) as arecord in defence spending, $700bn for 2018.

The question is – are we creating more pathways to potential nuclear war?
Hans Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists
“We recognize that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unrivaled power is the most certain means of defence,” he said.

The NSS policy document criticises the downgrading of the role of nuclear weapons in the US security strategy by previous administrations since the Cold War, and suggested it had not prevented nuclear-armed adversaries expanding their arsenals and delivery systems.

“While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression,” the NSS said.

“Non-nuclear strategic attacks” represents a new category of threat that US nuclear weapons could be used to counter, and points towards likely changes in the Nuclear Posture Review expected in the next few weeks.

In September, the deputy assistant secretary of defence, Rob Soofer, included “cyber attacks against US infrastructure” in the category of non-nuclear strategic threats.

“This is a very strong hint. It matches a lot of rumours we have heard over the past few weeks,” said Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists. “It’s a taste of what will come in the Nuclear Posture Review. What is interesting is the broadening of the nuclear weapons mission against non-nuclear attacks. The question is – are we creating more pathways to potential nuclear war?”

Much of Trump’s speech launching the NSS was devoted to denigrating his predecessors, who he portrayed as having let their country down.

“They lost sight of America’s destiny. And they lost their belief in American greatness. As a result, our citizens lost something as well. The people lost confidence in their government and, eventually, even lost confidence in their future,” the president said.

With its language about national resurgence and competition with other states, George Lopez, emeritus peace studies professor at Notre Dame University, said the NSS “sounds a lot like the 1980’s revisited”.

“In casting a world of competition in which everything is focused on nation states, it doesn’t account for biological pandemics or climate change,” Lopez said.

He noted the dissonance between the White House and the Pentagon on climate change. The NSS directly contradicts the defence authorization act the president signed this week, securing defence spending which called climate change a “direct threat to the national security of the United States”.

FIGHTING HATE // TEACHING TOLERANCE // SEEKING JUSTICE

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Politics, Race on December 16, 2017 at 11:51 pm

DECEMBER 16, 2017
Good morning Leroy,

When it came time to cast her ballot in the presidential election last fall, Dechauna Jiles voted at the First Assembly of God in Dothan, Alabama. But when she returned to her polling place on Tuesday to vote in Alabama’s special election, poll workers told her she was “inactive.”

“That makes no sense,” said Jiles.

The African-American woman had always voted at the First Assembly of God.

Jiles told ThinkProgress’ Kira Lerner that it would be a “dishonor to her family” not to vote. Her parents, she said, grew up two blocks from the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. The church had been a rallying point for civil rights activists during the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, a pivotal moment in the movement. And it was the scene of one of the era’s most heinous acts of terror when Klansmen set off a powerful bomb on a Sunday morning – killing four little girls – in September of that year.

In fact, Doug Jones, the winner in Tuesday’s Alabama Senate election, successfully prosecuted two of the Klansmen nearly 40 years after the bombing.

But on Tuesday, workers told Jiles that she could only cast a “provisional” ballot, one that would not be counted unless she drove to another precinct to update her information. Six other voters, Jiles told Lerner, were told the same thing.

“It’s not that we’re not showing up to vote — we’re being suppressed,” said Jiles.

We were concerned going into the special election that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s decision to inactivate 340,000 voters a month before the August primary — and his recent threat about jailing crossover voters — would have a chilling effect on turnout.

Merrill said he was updating the voter rolls to reflect address changes.

But black voters in Alabama are right to be suspicious. The state has a long history of making it harder for them to cast their ballot. In an interview with the SPLC ahead of 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Dorothy Guilford, then 94, recounted taking a literacy test to become eligible and standing in long lines to pay her poll tax.

“Now that, I think, discouraged a lot of people, the long lines, because so many had to go back to work,” Guilford said.

The Voting Rights Act put an end to such overtly discriminatory measures, but the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 to gut key provisions of the Act opened the door to new forms of discrimination.

In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that Alabama — which requires a photo ID to vote — disproportionately hurt black voters in 2015 when it closed 31 driver’s license offices, including offices in eight of the 10 counties with the highest proportion of black residents.

“All you had to do was look at a map to see it,” wrote AL.com’s Kyle Whitmore.

Thanks to the federal probe, some of the offices have since reopened. But it wasn’t the last attack by an Alabama lawmaker on the right to vote.

Just before last year’s presidential election, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill criticized automatic voter registration as the “sorry and lazy way out,” claiming that “just because you turned 18 doesn’t give you the right to do anything.”

Merrill’s comments were not only ignorant — the 26th Amendment gives citizens who turn 18 precisely the right to vote — but part and parcel of a broader campaign to suppress minority voters.

We’ve seen it in President Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, in lawmakers’ purges of voter rolls, in lawsuits against poor counties for out-of-date voter rolls, and in gerrymandered districts.

We saw it in Alabama on Tuesday, when voters across the state reported misleading ballots, police intimidation at the polls, and text messages erroneously telling them that their polling locations had changed.

“It’s important for everybody to be able to vote and let their choice be known,” Dorothy Guilford told the SPLC shortly after the VRA was abolished.

Without its protections, systematic voter suppression – not voter fraud – is the real cause for concern.

As always, thank you for reading.

The Editors, Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama

The necessity of imagining an unimaginable war

In Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 14, 2017 at 10:05 am

Lisa Fuller, Waging Nonviolence, December 5, 2017
The prospect of nuclear war with North Korea has repeatedly been described as “unimaginable” – and in fact, most of us have literally failed to imagine it. As the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof points out, “We’re complacent — neither the public nor the financial markets appreciate how high the risk is of a war, and how devastating one could be.”

Admittedly, with biological, conventional and nuclear weapons expected to kill millions, the scenario is genuinely difficult to comprehend. We struggle to translate such high numbers into pictures of individual men, women and children suffering.

Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to be in denial. Top military and political experts warn that the risk of war is at an all-time high, the threat is imminent and the impact would be catastrophic. Even before North Korea’s latest missile test, former U.S. Army General Barry McCraffrey, Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick all estimated that the risk of war was 50 percent. General McCaffrey expects that war will breakout by summer 2018.

There is a significant risk that a war would escalate beyond a regional conflict. China has warned that it would intervene on behalf of North Korea in the case of a U.S. preemptive strike, and international security experts Nora Bensahel and David Barno argue that China may launch attacks on “U.S. bases in the region or possibly even the U.S. homeland, especially since radiation would inevitably blanket some of its territory.” China has been carrying out military drills near the Korean peninsula since July, and tested an ICBM capable of hitting the continental United States on November 6. Russia also recently publicly warned that it is preparing for war as well.

Even if the war was confined to the Korean peninsula, however, it has the “potential to cause mass starvation worldwide,” as a result of nuclear winter, according to nuclear experts Alan Robock and Owen Toon.

In other words, World War III is no longer just the stuff of sci-fi movies — it may be right around the corner.

With such high stakes, it is critical that we voluntarily imagine the “unimaginable,” as uncomfortable as it may be. Those who do imagine war are much more likely to take action to prevent it. Journalist and author Jonathan Schell advocated for this position in his 1982 book “The Fate of the Earth,” writing that “Only by descending into this hell in imagination now can we hope to escape descending into it in reality … the knowledge we thus gain cannot in itself protect us from nuclear annihilation, but without it we cannot begin to take measures that can actually protect us.”

It is no coincidence that members of Congress who are war veterans have been some of the most outspoken and active in raising the alarm over the crisis in North Korea.

Although President Reagan never personally experienced war, a movie depicting a nuclear attack on the United States was enough to activate his imagination and change his entire orientation to nuclear war. After seeing the “The Day After,” he wrote in his diary that the film “left me greatly depressed … We have to do all we can to have a deterrent and see there is never a nuclear war.” A few months later, he announced that “reducing the risk of war, and especially nuclear war, is priority number one.” His shift in perspective is often credited with being one of the most important factors in de-escalating the Cold War.

As our brains are hard-wired to protect us from thinking about large-scale suffering, we too may need to take proactive efforts to imagine a potential war. For example, we can look at pictures of Hiroshima and read the stories of atomic bomb survivors, transposing such scenarios to our own cities. We can use nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap to understand what would happen if a bomb was dropped on our own cities. We can ensure that we stay updated on the crisis and that we obtain information from reliable sources with expertise.

However, while imagining the prospect of war may be necessary, it is not sufficient: Americans must mobilize quickly and effectively to address the threat. If they are able to do so, there is good reason to believe they can prevent war.

First, there are viable options to resolve the Korean crisis — the Trump administration just hasn’t tried any of them yet. In 1994, the Clinton administration successfully negotiated a framework agreement that centered on the idea of a freeze-for-freeze: North Korea suspended its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. suspending some of its military exercises. The agreement held up until 2003 when the Bush administration — not North Korea — ended the agreement.

A new freeze-for-freeze (which North Korea has repeatedly indicated it would be open to), in combination with legislation preventing Trump from launching a pre-emptive strike, would be the best possible option to solve the current crisis. Essentially, if North Korea doesn’t feel threatened, it will probably stop threatening others.

Second, there is already an existing grassroots structure with the capabilities to organize an effective large-scale movement. Since Trump became president, “an astounding number of new grassroots groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height,” have formed according to grassroots leader L.A. Kauffman. Activists have already done the hard part — they have formed movements, mobilized large segments of the American population, and proven their efficacy, successfully organizing to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example.

Third, unlike with Obamacare, there is already bipartisan support for efforts to prevent war with North Korea. There are already over 60 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, to the “No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act” in the House. Although there are only three Democrats co-sponsoring the Senate bill, several Republican senators — including Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Dan Sullivan, and John Thune — have all publicly expressed concern about Trump’s approach to North Korea.

However, there hasn’t been any movement on the bill since it was introduced in October, nor on various other bills that would restrict Trump’s power to start a pre-emptive war. Public pressure is needed to ensure that Congress prioritizes such legislation.

Although no bills have been introduced as of yet to support a freeze-for-freeze, 61 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August highlighting the success of the aforementioned 1994 Agreed Framework, stating that there is an “urgent need to replicate these successes.” While the Trump administration is responsible for making international treaties, Congress could still force a freeze-for-freeze by passing legislation that prevents funds from being used for the most provocative military drills.

Fourth, there is a historical precedent for a large-scale nuclear freeze movement. During the Cold War, as activist and writer Duncan Meisel explained, over a third of Americans participated in “a series of city and state referendum campaigns calling for a Nuclear Freeze.” What’s more, “Reagan’s militaristic temperament” — according to Andrew Lanham of the Boston Review — actually aided the movement’s efforts to garner support across the political spectrum.

However, all of these advantages are meaningless if activists fail to focus sufficient attention on the North Korea crisis. With so many important issues at stake, activism can feel like triage these days: Efforts tend to be focused on whatever legislative calamity is most imminent. The problem with that approach is that activists’ focus becomes determined by Congress’ agenda rather than grassroots priorities.

If activists take a breath from firefighting long enough to imagine a potential war with North Korea, they may realize that they need to proactively organize to insist that Congress urgently focuses its attention on the North Korea crisis, and implements an effective legislative strategy to prevent war.

As the Bulletin of Scientists President Rachel Bronson says, “we have reversed the hands of the Doomsday Clock before. We can do it again.”

Smith Introduces Bill Establishing “No First Use” Policy for Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Politics, War on December 14, 2017 at 3:50 am

Nov 15, 2017 Press Release
Washington, D.C. – Today, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced H.R. 4415, a bill that would make it the policy of the United States not to use nuclear weapons first. Smith released the following statement about the bill:

“The United States should not use nuclear arms in a first strike. They are instruments of deterrence, and they should be treated as such. A declaratory policy of not using nuclear weapons first will increase strategic stability, particularly in a crisis, reducing the risk of miscalculation that could lead to an unintended all-out nuclear war. Paired with our reliable, survivable, assured nuclear deterrent, which is second to none, we retain nuclear forces that would inflict devastating retaliation against any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies.”

“We have prevented the use of nuclear weapons in war for 72 years. We must continue working to ensure they will not be employed by taking steps to increase strategic stability, stem the incentives for nuclear proliferation and reduce the likelihood that these weapons will be used irresponsibly in a conflict.”

Previous nuclear weapon plans are relevant today

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 13, 2017 at 12:35 am

By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan / Albuquerque Journal. Tuesday, December 12th, 2017
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, thousands of pages of the Pentagon’s secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, exposing the government’s lies and helping to end the war. President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, called Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America.”
Now at 86 years old, Ellsberg is revealing for the first time that the Pentagon Papers were not the first classified documents that he removed from his secure workplace. In his new book, “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner,” he details his early years at the Pentagon, and why he took thousands of pages of U.S. nuclear war plans describing the lunacy of the U.S. nuclear war policy over 55 years ago. What he discovered is frighteningly relevant today.

Last July 20 at the Pentagon, President Donald Trump reportedly shocked the military staff gathered to brief him on national security issues by suggesting he wanted to increase the nuclear arsenal tenfold. It was after that meeting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to have called Trump a “f-ing moron.” In August, NBC’s Joe Scarborough, citing an unnamed source, said Trump asked a foreign-policy adviser about using nuclear weapons. Scarborough said: “Three times (Trump) asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can’t we use them?” For over 70 years, the president has held the enormous power to launch nuclear weapons, but only one has used it: Harry Truman, ordering the dropping of two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Trump, who seems to relish saber rattling and antagonizing opponents like the supreme leader of nuclear-armed North Korea, Kim Jong Un, may be pushing us to the brink of nuclear war.

Describing President Dwight Eisenhower’s nuclear war plans, which Ellsberg was tasked with improving in the early months of the Kennedy administration, the whistleblower told us on the “Democracy Now!” news hour: “They were insane. They called for first-strike, all-out war … for hitting every city – actually, every town over 25,000 – in the USSR and every city in China. … The captive nations, the East Europe satellites in the Warsaw Pact, were to be hit in their air defenses, which were all near cities, their transport points, their communications of any kind. So they were to be annihilated as well.”

Ellsberg recalled how, in 1961, the Joint Chiefs of Staff matter-of-factly predicted casualties of over 600 million people globally, when the world population was only 3 billion. “Six hundred million, that was a hundred Holocausts. I thought, ‘This is the most evil plan that has ever existed. It’s insane.’ ”

Ellsberg was summoned to the Pentagon to help manage the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, considered the closest humanity has come to nuclear annihilation. His personal experience there informs his opinion on Trump’s antagonism toward North Korea. The nuclear arsenals of both countries, he says, are “being pointed by two people who are giving very good imitations of being crazy. That’s dangerous. I hope they’re pretending. … But to pretend to be crazy with nuclear weapons is not a safe game. It’s a game of chicken. Nuclear chicken.”

Despite widespread concern with Trump’s mental stability, he remains in control of the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal. He has promised to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea. U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, who oversees the entire nuclear arsenal, assured the audience at a public forum in November that “we’re not stupid,” that he would reject an illegal order from Trump to launch a nuclear attack.

Not satisfied to leave the check on Trump to the generals, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing Nov. 14 to consider changing the law to forbid the president, alone, from being able to launch a nuclear attack.

We are closer to nuclear war than we have been in many decades, which is why Daniel Ellsberg’s example as a whistleblower and his call for people in government to expose current doomsday plans are more important than ever.

 

The Necessity of Imagining an Unimaginable War

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 11, 2017 at 11:04 pm

By Lisa Fuller

https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/why-we-must-imagine-nuclear-war-north-korea/

The prospect of nuclear war with North Korea has repeatedly been described as “unimaginable” – and in fact, most of us have literally failed to imagine it. As the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof points out, “We’re complacent — neither the public nor the financial markets appreciate how high the risk is of a war, and how devastating one could be.”

Admittedly, with biological, conventional and nuclear weapons expected to kill millions, the scenario is genuinely difficult to comprehend. We struggle to translate such high numbers into pictures of individual men, women and children suffering.

Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to be in denial. Top military and political experts warn that the risk of war is at an all-time high, the threat is imminent and the impact would be catastrophic. Even before North Korea’s latest missile test, former U.S. Army General Barry McCraffrey, Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Executive Director Mark Fitzpatrick all estimated that the risk of war was 50 percent. General McCaffrey expects that war will breakout by summer 2018.

There is a significant risk that a war would escalate beyond a regional conflict. China has warned that it would intervene on behalf of North Korea in the case of a U.S. preemptive strike, and international security experts Nora Bensahel and David Barno argue that China may launch attacks on “U.S. bases in the region or possibly even the U.S. homeland, especially since radiation would inevitably blanket some of its territory.” China has been carrying out military drills near the Korean peninsula since July, and tested an ICBM capable of hitting the continental United States on November 6. Russia also recently publicly warned that it is preparing for war as well.

Even if the war was confined to the Korean peninsula, however, it has the “potential to cause mass starvation worldwide,” as a result of nuclear winter, according to nuclear experts Alan Robock and Owen Toon.

In other words, World War III is no longer just the stuff of sci-fi movies — it may be right around the corner.

With such high stakes, it is critical that we voluntarily imagine the “unimaginable,” as uncomfortable as it may be. Those who do imagine war are much more likely to take action to prevent it. Journalist and author Jonathan Schell advocated for this position in his 1982 book “The Fate of the Earth,” writing that “Only by descending into this hell in imagination now can we hope to escape descending into it in reality … the knowledge we thus gain cannot in itself protect us from nuclear annihilation, but without it we cannot begin to take measures that can actually protect us.”

It is no coincidence that members of Congress who are war veterans have been some of the most outspoken and active in raising the alarm over the crisis in North Korea.

Although President Reagan never personally experienced war, a movie depicting a nuclear attack on the United States was enough to activate his imagination and change his entire orientation to nuclear war. After seeing the “The Day After,” he wrote in his diary that the film “left me greatly depressed … We have to do all we can to have a deterrent and see there is never a nuclear war.” A few months later, he announced that “reducing the risk of war, and especially nuclear war, is priority number one.” His shift in perspective is often credited with being one of the most important factors in de-escalating the Cold War.

As our brains are hard-wired to protect us from thinking about large-scale suffering, we too may need to take proactive efforts to imagine a potential war. For example, we can look at pictures of Hiroshima and read the stories of atomic bomb survivors, transposing such scenarios to our own cities. We can use nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap to understand what would happen if a bomb was dropped on our own cities. We can ensure that we stay updated on the crisis and that we obtain information from reliable sources with expertise.

However, while imagining the prospect of war may be necessary, it is not sufficient: Americans must mobilize quickly and effectively to address the threat. If they are able to do so, there is good reason to believe they can prevent war.

First, there are viable options to resolve the Korean crisis — the Trump administration just hasn’t tried any of them yet. In 1994, the Clinton administration successfully negotiated a framework agreement that centered on the idea of a freeze-for-freeze: North Korea suspended its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. suspending some of its military exercises. The agreement held up until 2003 when the Bush administration — not North Korea — ended the agreement.

A new freeze-for-freeze (which North Korea has repeatedly indicated it would be open to), in combination with legislation preventing Trump from launching a pre-emptive strike, would be the best possible option to solve the current crisis. Essentially, if North Korea doesn’t feel threatened, it will probably stop threatening others.

Second, there is already an existing grassroots structure with the capabilities to organize an effective large-scale movement. Since Trump became president, “an astounding number of new grassroots groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height,” have formed according to grassroots leader L.A. Kauffman. Activists have already done the hard part — they have formed movements, mobilized large segments of the American population, and proven their efficacy, successfully organizing to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example.

Third, unlike with Obamacare, there is already bipartisan support for efforts to prevent war with North Korea. There are already over 60 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, to the “No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act” in the House. Although there are only three Democrats co-sponsoring the Senate bill, several Republican senators — including Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Dan Sullivan, and John Thune — have all publicly expressed concern about Trump’s approach to North Korea.

However, there hasn’t been any movement on the bill since it was introduced in October, nor on various other bills that would restrict Trump’s power to start a pre-emptive war. Public pressure is needed to ensure that Congress prioritizes such legislation.

Although no bills have been introduced as of yet to support a freeze-for-freeze, 61 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in August highlighting the success of the aforementioned 1994 Agreed Framework, stating that there is an “urgent need to replicate these successes.” While the Trump administration is responsible for making international treaties, Congress could still force a freeze-for-freeze by passing legislation that prevents funds from being used for the most provocative military drills.

Fourth, there is a historical precedent for a large-scale nuclear freeze movement. During the Cold War, as activist and writer Duncan Meisel explained, over a third of Americans participated in “a series of city and state referendum campaigns calling for a Nuclear Freeze.” What’s more, “Reagan’s militaristic temperament” — according to Andrew Lanham of the Boston Review — actually aided the movement’s efforts to garner support across the political spectrum.

However, all of these advantages are meaningless if activists fail to focus sufficient attention on the North Korea crisis. With so many important issues at stake, activism can feel like triage these days: Efforts tend to be focused on whatever legislative calamity is most imminent. The problem with that approach is that activists’ focus becomes determined by Congress’ agenda rather than grassroots priorities.

If activists take a breath from firefighting long enough to imagine a potential war with North Korea, they may realize that they need to proactively organize to insist that Congress urgently focuses its attention on the North Korea crisis, and implements an effective legislative strategy to prevent war.

As the Bulletin of Scientists President Rachel Bronson says, “we have reversed the hands of the Doomsday Clock before. We can do it again.”

Lisa Fuller spent the past eight years as a senior staff member and a civilian peacekeeper at Nonviolent Peaceforce, working in war zones such as Iraq, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka. She currently writes about civilian peacekeeping and conflict prevention. Follow her on Twitter: @gigipurple.

Nuclear annihilation ‘one tantrum away’, Nobel peace prize winner warns

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 11, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Ben Doherty, The Guardian, Sunday 10 December 2017

Australian-founded International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons urges support for UN treaty banning them.

The destruction of humankind is one “impulsive tantrum away”, the Australian-founded winner of the Nobel peace prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, warned overnight on Sunday as the United States and North Korea exchange threats over Pyongyang’s nuclear testing regime.

“Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?” the Ican head, Beatrice Fihn, said in Oslo after receiving the peace prize on behalf of the anti-nuclear group.

“The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away,” Fihn said. “[Nuclear weapons] are a madman’s gun held permanently to our temple.”

Aftershocks detected after North Korea nuclear test moved Earth’s crust

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated as Pyongyang has ramped up its missile and nuclear tests, and the accompanying political rhetoric has grown increasingly bombastic: North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un taunted Donald Trump as a “dotard”, while the US president dubbed his rival “Little Rocket Man” and a “sick puppy”.

Ican led the campaign for a global treaty banning nuclear weapons that resulted in a UN treaty being adopted in July this year, under which states committed to never “develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons”.

One hundred and twenty-three countries voted for the treaty at the UN general assembly in July. So far, 56 countries have signed up to it and three have ratified it. The ban treaty will come into force when 50 countries have signed and ratified it.

Ican was established in Melbourne in 2007. Its founding chair, Dr Tilman Ruff, associate professor at the Nossal institute for global health at the University of Melbourne, said in Oslo the Nobel was recognition for the millions of campaigners who had worked over decades for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

“That particularly includes the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the hibakusha – and victims of nuclear test explosions, including in Australia and the Pacific, whose painful personal testimonies have played such a crucial role.”

Australia has not supported nor signed the treaty.

But Ruff – who was also a member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War when that organisation won the peace prize in 1985 for its work highlighting the catastrophic health consequences of atomic war – urged Australia to follow the lead of New Zealand, Indonesia and other countries in the Asia-Pacific and sign and ratify the accord.

“Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat in any hands and the risks of nuclear war are as high now as they have ever been.

“Yet the current Australian government has done all it can to get in the way of efforts to end this existential threat to humanity.”

Australians won the Nobel peace prize! No thanks to the weasels

The Australian government has maintained a longstanding opposition to a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

As a key plank of its foreign policy, Australia has consistently maintained that, as long as nuclear weapons exist, it must rely on the protection of the extended deterrent effect of the US’s nuclear arsenal, the second largest in the world.

Australia was a key agitator in preliminary meetings in trying to get the resolution establishing treaty negotiations defeated.

But the push for a treaty won massive global support, with 123 nations voting in favour, 38 opposing and 16 abstaining.

Australia joined the nuclear weapons states Russia, the US, Israel, France and the UK to vote against the resolution. China abstained.

The treaty will not offer a practical path to effective disarmament or enhanced security, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman told the Guardian during negotiations.

“Australia regards the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of global non-proliferation and disarmament efforts.”

But the nuclear ban treaty has widespread community – and growing political – support.

A September poll by ReachTel found 73% of Australians support the ban on nuclear weapons and believe nuclear weapons pose a threat to global security.

Seventy-three parliamentarians – including 60 members of the Labor party, eight Greens, one Liberal and one National – have signed Ican’s global parliamentary pledge, which commits parliamentarians “to work for the signature and ratification of this landmark treaty by our respective countries”.

Have we got just three months to avert a US attack on North Korea?

“We consider the abolition of nuclear weapons to be a global public good of the highest order and an essential step to promote the security and well-being of all peoples,” the pledge says.

The nuclear ban treaty is supported by the majority of the nations on earth but it has no backing from the nine known nuclear states – the US, China, France, Britain, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – which include the veto-wielding permanent five members of the security council.

Critics argue that a treaty cannot succeed without the participation of the states that possess nuclear weapons.

But proponents say a nuclear weapons ban will create moral suasion – in the vein of the cluster weapons ban and landmine conventions – for nuclear weapons states to disarm and establish an international norm prohibiting the development, possession and use of nuclear weapons.

Non-nuclear states have expressed increasing frustration with the sclerotic movement towards disarmament.

With nuclear weapons states modernising and in some cases increasing their arsenals, instead of discarding them, more states are becoming disenchanted with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and lending their support for an outright ban.

US senator on North Korea: “Most Americans don’t realize how close we are to this war”

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 9, 2017 at 9:29 am

By Zack Beauchamp@zackbeauchampzack@vox.com Dec 7, 2017

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, is scared — scared that the Trump administration may be getting the US into a devastating war with North Korea without much of the public noticing or seeming to care.

“Most Americans,” she says, “don’t realize how close we are to this war.”

Duckworth, who lost both of her legs after her helicopter was shot down by insurgents, has closely followed both aggressive rhetoric from the White House and the way the US military has been approaching the Korean Peninsula. She believes the events of the past six months indicate that President Trump might be willing to actually launch a preventive strike on North Korea, despite the real chance that it could trigger a nuclear exchange.

This line of reasoning would be worrying if it were coming from an outside analyst or expert. But coming from a US senator and veteran, someone who knows war and has top-level security clearances, it’s truly disturbing — an indication that we need to be having a much bigger debate over Trump’s North Korea policy than we are.

What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Duckworth, edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp
How worried are you about the rhetoric coming from the White House about war with North Korea?

Tammy Duckworth
I’m extremely worried — not just based on what I’m hearing out of the White House but also what I’m hearing out of the defense community. We are far closer to actual conflict over North Korea than the American people realize.

In August, we had a meeting between Defense Secretary [James] Mattis and his counterparts in South Korea to discuss the use of US nuclear first strike. In the same time frame, we permanently moored a nuclear submarine in South Korea. Everything we’re doing shows a military that, in my personal opinion, has turned the corner from “we need to try to prevent this from happening” to a military that’s saying the president is likely to make this decision [to attack] and we need to be ready.

I don’t think they want a conflict. I don’t think they think we’re going to have one tomorrow. But with what the president and the White House has been saying, they are now preparing for one.

Zack Beauchamp
The fear here is that President Trump launches an intentional, preventive strike on North Korea, not some kind of miscalculation or accidental war. Right?

Tammy Duckworth
Right. But a preventive first strike from us will result in a massive response from the North Koreans. We know this because a high-ranking defector from North Korea testified in front of Congress last month; one of the things that would happen is a preemptive first strike from the United States or South Korea would result in an automatic massive response.

Our military has war-gamed this out. My concern is that our president is either ignoring this information or not getting this information, because he’s out there saying “the time for negotiations is over” and frankly seems eager, in my opinion, to launch a first strike.

Zack Beauchamp
That’s what I find baffling, even terrifying. It seems like he wants to, and that the aides who are supposed to be reining him in, most notably National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, aren’t actually doing it.

If anything, McMaster’s talk about irrationality indicates that he supports a first strike on North Korea. If they’re irrational, it means they can’t be allowed to have nukes.

Tammy Duckworth
I think that the president is playing to a segment of the population and, I think, relying on the fact that most Americans don’t realize how close we are to this war.

Look: I’m not someone who’s going to avoid war at all costs. That’s not me. But I want the American people to know what this will cost.

We went through this with Iraq. When Gen. [Eric] Shinseki, with absolute courage, said in testimony that it’s going to take 300,000 troops to invade Iraq, he was fired for it — because the Bush administration and Vice President Cheney were selling the lie that it would be over in two weeks and the Iraqi population would greet us with flowers and chocolates. I remember that.

And here we are again. We don’t have the troops in the region, on the ground, to do what would need to be done to fully contain [North Korea’s] nuclear capabilities. Just ramping up — prepositioning troops, stocks, and logistics in a place where we could do it — could prompt the North Koreans to do something.

 

Hyping U.S. Missile Defense Capabilities Could Have Grave Consequences

In Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 5, 2017 at 9:21 am

In response to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, which flew higher and farther than any of its previous launches, President Trump told Americans not to worry. “We will take care of it,” he said. “It is a situation that we will handle.”
The big question is how. Unfortunately, Trump’s assertion may rest on his unwarranted confidence in the U.S. missile defense system. During a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity about the threat posed by a potential North Korean nuclear strike, he declared that the United States has “missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time.”

The facts, however, tell a different story.

The reality is that the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has succeeded in destroying a mock enemy missile in only 56 percent of its tests since 1999. And, as I’ll explain, none of the tests approached the complexity of a real-world nuclear launch.

What’s more, ever since the George W. Bush administration, the GMD program has been exempt from routine Pentagon oversight and accountability procedures. The result? Fifteen years later, all available evidence indicates that it is still not ready for prime time, and may never be.

Of course, Trump is prone to exaggeration. In fact, he has averaged more than five lies per day since taking office. But it is critical to understand the potential ramifications of this particular Trumparian boast: It could lull Americans into a false sense of security and, even more alarming, embolden Trump to start a war. As veteran military reporter Fred Kaplan pointed out, if the president truly believes the U.S. missile defense system is infallible, “he might think that he could attack North Korea with impunity. After all, if the North Koreans retaliated by firing their nuclear missiles back at us or our allies, we could shoot them down.”

Such wishful thinking could clearly lead to a disastrous miscalculation. And what’s worse, Trump just may believe his preposterous claim because he’s not the only one making it.

If You Repeat a Lie Often Enough…

Missile defense advocates have a long history of hyperbole. A 2016 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists included an appendix with a selected list of some three dozen statements administration and military officials have made extolling the GMD system’s virtues. They are incredibly consistent, and given the facts, consistently incredible.

In March 2003 — before the GMD system was even deployed — then-Undersecretary of Defense Edward Aldridge assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that its “effectiveness is in the 90 percent success range” when asked if it would protect Americans from the nascent North Korean threat.

Seven years later, in December 2010, then-Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee that “the probability will be well over in the high 90s today of the GMD system being able to intercept” an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) targeting New York City.

Fast forward to April 2016, when Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. “The U.S. homeland,” he maintained, “is currently protected against potential ICBM attacks from states like North Korea and Iran if it was to develop an ICBM in the future.”

Wrong, wrong, and yet again, wrong. As Washington Post “Fact Checker” columnist Glenn Kessler wrote in mid-October, the claim that the GMD system has a success rate in the “high-90s” is based on “overenthusiastic” math. Although the system has succeeded only 56 percent of the time over the last two decades, the calculation is predicated on a hypothetical, never-been-tested launch of four GMD interceptors with a 60-percent success rate producing a 97-percent chance of destroying one incoming ICBM. If one interceptor missed because of a design flaw, however, the other three would likely fail as well. “The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50,” Kessler concluded, “and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessments.”

No surprise, defense contractors also wildly overstate the GMD system’s capabilities.

This September on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security division, stated unequivocally that the GMD system would “keep us safe” from a North Korean attack. The system is “doing exactly what is needed,” Caret said, but added that it will ultimately require even more rocket interceptors from her company, the prime GMD system contractor since 1996. There are currently 40 interceptors in underground silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, all made by Boeing.

Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy, whose company produces the “kill vehicle” that sits atop Boeing’s interceptor, was equally sanguine about the GMD system when he appeared on Squawk Box the following month. “I say relative to the North Korean threat, you shouldn’t be worried,” Kennedy said. “But you should ensure that you’ve talked to your congressman or congresswoman to make sure they support the defense budget to the point where it can continue to defend the United States and its allies.”

Given such glowing reviews, it’s no wonder President Trump asked Congress for $4 billion for the GMD system and other programs, such as the ship-based Aegis system, designed to intercept short- to intermediate-range missiles. In a November 6 letter to lawmakers, Trump wrote: “This request supports additional efforts to detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies, or partners.”

The House of Representatives apparently is even more enthused about the GMD system’s much-touted capabilities. It passed a $700-billion defense authorization bill on November 14 that includes $12.3 billion for the Missile Defense Agency — more than triple what Trump requested. Some of that money would cover the cost of as many as 28 additional GMD interceptors, but lawmakers asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to develop a plan to add 60, which would increase the overall number of interceptors to 104.

Unrealistic, Carefully Scripted Tests

If members of Congress bothered to take a closer look at the GMD system’s track record, they would hopefully realize that committing billions more is throwing good money after bad. Even the most recent test, which the Missile Defense Agency declared a success, would not inspire confidence.

That test, which took place on May 30, resulted in a GMD interceptor knocking a mock enemy warhead out of the sky. At a press conference afterward, then-Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring claimed it was “exactly the scenario we would expect to occur during an operational engagement.”

Not exactly. Yes, the Pentagon did upgrade its assessment of the GMD system in light of the May exercise, but — like previous tests — it was not held under real-world conditions.

In its 2016 annual report, the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office cautioned that the GMD system has only a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.” The “reliability and availability of the operational [interceptors],” it added, “are low.” After the May test, however, the office issued a memo stating that “GMD has demonstrated capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of intermediate-range or intercontinental missile threats with simple countermeasures.”

Despite this rosier appraisal, Laura Grego, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) physicist who has written extensively about the GMD system, is not convinced that the latest test represents a significant improvement. After analyzing an unclassified Missile Defense Agency video of the May 30 exercise, she concluded that it was clearly “scripted to succeed.”

As in previous tests, system operators knew approximately when and where the mock enemy missile would be launched, its expected trajectory, and what it would look like to sensors, she said. And, like the previous tests, the one in May pitted one GMD interceptor against a single missile that was slower than an ICBM that could reach the continental United States, without realistic decoys or other countermeasures that could foil U.S. defenses.

The key takeaway? The GMD system has destroyed its target in only four of 10 tests since it was fielded in 2004, even though all of the tests were held under improbably ideal conditions. If the tests had been more realistic, the GMD system likely would be zero for 10. Moreover, the system’s record has not improved over time. Indeed, it flunked three of the four tests preceding the one in May, and not because the Missile Defense Agency made the tests progressively more difficult.

According to the 2016 UCS report Grego co-authored, a primary reason for the GMD system’s reliability problems is not funding, but lack of oversight. In its rush to get the system up and running, the George W. Bush administration exempted the program from standard military procurement rules and testing protocols. That ill-advised decision has not only run up the system’s price tag, which to date amounts to more than $40 billion, it also has produced a system that is incapable of defending the United States from a limited nuclear attack.

“Regardless of what President Trump and other missile defense boosters want us to believe, the data show that we can’t count on the current system to protect us,” said Grego. “We need to reduce the risk of a crisis escalating out of control. Only diplomacy has a realistic chance of doing that.”

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.