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U.S. to Tell Russia It Is Leaving Landmark I.N.F. Treaty

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 21, 2018 at 11:06 pm
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
  • Oct. 19, 2018, New York Times
  • The Trump administration is preparing to tell Russian leaders next week that it is planning to exit the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, in part to enable the United States to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacifaccording to American officials and foreign diplomats.

President Trump has been moving toward scrapping the three-decade-old treaty, which grew out of President Ronald Reagan’s historic meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. While the treaty was seen as effective for years, Russia has been violating it at least since 2014 in an effort to menace other nations.

But the pact has also constrained the United States from deploying new weapons to respond to China’s efforts to cement a dominant position in the Western Pacific and to keep American naval forces at bay. Because China was not a signatory to the treaty, it has faced no limits on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles, which can travel thousands of miles.

The White House said that no official decision had been made to leave the treaty, known as I.N.F., which at the time of its signing was considered a critical step in defusing Cold War tensions. But in the coming weeks, Mr. Trump is expected to sign off on the decision, which would mark the first time he has scrapped an arms control treaty, the American officials said.

Now that the treaty is largely in tatters, the question is whether the decision to leave it will accelerate the increasingly Cold War-like behavior among the three superpowers: the United States, Russia and China.

As Russia has flown bombers over Europe and has conducted troop exercises on its borders with former Soviet states, the United States and its NATO allies have been rotating forces through countries under threat. Ukraine has become a low-level battleground, with ground skirmishes and a daily cyberconflict. China and the United States are jostling for position around reefs in the South China Sea that Beijing has turned into military bases, and they are both preparing for any possibility of war in space.

For the past four years, the United States has argued that Russia is in violation of the treaty because it has deployed prohibited tactical nuclear weapons to intimidate European nations and former Soviet states that have aligned with the West. But President Barack Obama chose not to leave the agreement because of objections from the Europeans — particularly Germany — and out of concern that it would rekindle an arms race.

Mr. Trump appears not to share such hesitation. His national security adviser, John R. Bolton, will warn the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, on a trip to Moscow early next week that the United States plans to leave the treaty, the American officials said.

Mr. Bolton declined to comment on his forthcoming trip. But a senior administration official issued a statement saying that “Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has publicly brought the subject up several times in recent weeks, saying that Russia’s violations were “untenable” and signaling that the administration was reviewing its options. The preparations to leave the treaty were described by foreign diplomats who have been briefed on the matter and by American officials with knowledge of the plans.

In a lengthy nuclear strategy document published early this year, the administration detailed the Russian violations and concluded that the country’s “decision to violate the I.N.F. treaty and other commitments all clearly indicate that Russia has rebuffed repeated U.S. efforts to reduce the salience, role and number of nuclear weapons.”

The Pentagon has already been developing nuclear weapons to match, and counter, what the Chinese have deployed. But that effort would take years, so, in the interim, the United States is preparing to modify existing weapons, including its non-nuclear Tomahawk missiles, and is likely to deploy them first in Asia, according to officials who have been briefed on the issue. Those may be based in Japan, or perhaps in Guam, where the United States maintains a large base and would face little political opposition.

The last time the United States withdrew from a major nuclear arms control treaty was in 2002, when President George W. Bush fulfilled a campaign promise and scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. While Mr. Trump withdrew from the Obama-era deal with Iran this year, that agreement was not a treaty, and it governed only Iran’s production of nuclear materials. Tehran has no nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush’s pullout from the ballistic missile treaty led to a buildup of antimissile defenses — still an irritant in relations with Russia. But it also led to a modest arms control agreement with Russia, reducing the overall number of weapons possessed by each country.

But such an agreement seems unlikely to emerge from the demise of the I.N.F. treaty. For cash-constrained Russia, tactical nuclear weapons, along with cyberweapons, are cheap offensive options. Just last week, Mr. Putin, in an annual speech, reported that Russia was preparing to deploy a new hypersonic missile, reinforcing the sense that the long hiatus in the nuclear arms race is over. Such missiles step around current arms control limits.

Mr. Trump himself has not publicly criticized the Russian arms buildup, in line with his generally deferential approach toward Mr. Putin. But he is surrounded in the administration by hawks on the nuclear issue, none more outspoken than Mr. Bolton, and the administration’s decision to brief allies this week on the issue was viewed by key NATO partners as a sign that the decision had been made, even if it had not been formally acknowledged.

“The collapse of the treaty would likely open up a missile race in Europe and elsewhere,” said Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington. “It would signal a new phase where countries would compete to deploy and counterdeploy weapons.”

Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said a withdrawal would roil Europe.

“Things are just now calming down,” he said. “This would be another hand grenade in the middle of NATO to split the allies.”

The 1987 treaty between Washington and Moscow bans all land-based missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, or 310 to 3,420 miles. Missiles that go that far are known as short- and intermediate-range. The treaty covers land-based missiles carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. It does not cover air-launched or sea-launched weapons.

The main impetus for the pact was Moscow’s deployments of the SS-20 — a mobile, concealable missile that could loft up to three nuclear warheads. When lifted into a vertical position atop its mobile launcher, the missile stood more than five stories high.

It terrified the Europeans, and the treaty emerged as a compromise proposal at the historic 1986 summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Mr. Gorbachev favored a ban on all ballistic missiles. Reagan demurred, intent on continuing work on the Strategic Defense Initiative, which he viewed as a shield against all attacks.

The weapons ban — signed in Washington in December 1987 by both men — resulted in the destruction of 2,692 missiles. Washington demolished 846, and Moscow 1,846.

The American side destroyed missiles it had sent to Western Europe in response to the SS-20, including Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles. The low-flying weapons hug the ground to avoid enemy radars and air defenses.

The Obama administration was the first to charge publicly that Moscow was violating the treaty. The offending weapon was identified as a land-based cruise missile, the SSC-8. Russia has consistently denied any violation.

“The I.N.F. treaty was rightly viewed as a remarkable achievement by President Reagan when it was ratified over 30 years ago,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who has urged exiting the treaty, and is sometimes named as a possible replacement for Mr. Mattis. “But today the Russians are openly cheating, and the Chinese are stockpiling missiles because they’re not bound by it at all.”

If the Trump administration leaves the treaty, it is likely to deploy a version of the Tomahawk cruise missile that is redesigned to be launched from land. Ships and submarines now carry Tomahawks armed with conventional warheads; experts say that eventually a nuclear warhead could be designed to fit the Tomahawk.


Putin: Russia would only use its nuclear arms in retaliation

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Poetry, Politics, War on October 19, 2018 at 1:24 am

President Vladimir Putin says Russia would only use its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack.

Putin said Thursday Russia’s military doctrine doesn’t envisage a preventative nuclear strike. He noted that Russia would only launch a nuclear strike if its early warning systems spot missiles heading toward its territory, adding that “the aggressor should know that retaliation is inevitable.”

Speaking at a policy forum, Putin said that “when we see a coming strike on the territory of Russia, we will retaliate.” He acknowledged it will mean a global catastrophe, but emphasized that “we can’t be those who initiated it.”

“We would be victims of aggression and would get to Heaven as martyrs,” while those who would launch the strike would “just die and not even have time to repent.”

How To Get Nuclear-Weapons Treaties Back on Track

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 19, 2018 at 12:02 am

The agreements that hold back a strategic arms race are in trouble. But there is a way forward.

Back in March, President Trump told reporters at the White House in March that he wanted to meet with Putin in large part “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control” and has characterized the costly nuclear weapons upgrade programs being pursued by each side as “a very, very bad policy.”

Three months have elapsed since the July summit between Trump and Putin in Helsinki – after which the U.S. president said, “Perhaps the most important issue we discussed at our meeting…was the reduction of nuclear weapons throughout the world.”

But since the summit, there has been no apparent progress. The long-running dispute over Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty remains. The two sides have not begun to discuss the future of the successful 2010 New START agreement, which limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. That treaty will expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it.

Without these treaties in place, the door will be opened to an unconstrained nuclear arms race. The already abysmal U.S.-Russian relationship will become even more complicated and dangerous.

Next week, National Security Advisor John Bolton will travel to Moscow to meet with his counterpart in the Kremlin, Nikolai Patrushev. It is past time for both sides to get serious about resolving the INF compliance crisis, to agree to discuss the extension of New START, and to resume regular talks on “strategic stability.”

INF Woes: U.S. and Russian officials both say they support the 1987 INF Treaty, which led to the elimination all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. But the treaty is now at risk because Russia has tested and deployed a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile: the 9M729. Moscow, for its part, alleges, far less credibly, that Washington is deploying missile defense systems in Europe that could be used to launch offensive missiles.

Contrary to what some observers may want to believe, the arms control community has been working hard to raise the alarm bell and put advance serious options to put out the INF fire. Since Russia’s INF violation became known in early 2014, the Arms Control Association has steadfastly reported on and published expert analyses on the problem in our monthly journal Arms Control Today. We have convened U.S. and European and Russian experts from inside and outside government on the INF issue, and met with U.S. lawmakers and staff to exchange views on the problem. We have confronted senior Russian officials in private consultations Washington and in Moscow and, along with a number of experts and former U.S. officials, we have put forward options for resolving the dispute.

We view as unacceptable Russia’s flagrant violation of the INF treaty (and of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and of other key agreements). As our Board Chairman wrote last year in the Washington Post, it requires a firm U.S. and allied response, including smart diplomacy and, if the violation persists, improvements to U.S. and NATO conventional military preparedness.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been no more successful than the Obama administration in bringing Russia back into compliance. Trump’s team has tried to “toughen” the U.S. response to Russia’s INF violation by seeking funding to develop a treaty-prohibited nuclear-capable missile for the United States. Not surprisingly, this has failed to change Russia’s position and has raised concerns among our European allies who see no military requirement for it and do not want such a weapon deployed in Europe.

Some in Congress have proposed that Washington go further and declare the INF Treaty null and void if Russia doesn’t immediately return to compliance – a tactic that would only play into Moscow’s propaganda line that the U.S. is somehow to blame for the downfall of the treaty.

With the INF compliance problem now moving into its fifth year, neither side seems to be ready to engage in the tough, solutions-oriented bilateral negotiations needed to resolve the dispute over the 9M729 missile. This is the moment when Trump and Putin must push to restart discussions that have stalled at the expert level.

Specifically, Washington and Moscow should agree to reciprocal site visits by technical experts to examine the missiles and the deployment sites in dispute. If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds the INF Treaty’s 500-km range limit, Russia should either modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession, including any that have been deployed.

For its part, the United States could offer to modify the missile-defense launchers that Moscow has complained about, allowing to Russia to clearly distinguish them from launchers that fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships, or agree to other transparency measures to allay Russian suspicions that the launchers contain offensive missiles.

Such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty.

The Future of New START: New START remains one of the few bright spots in an otherwise broken U.S.-Russian relationship. Ratified in 2011, the Treaty limits the number of deployed strategic warheads to a maximum of 1,550 on each side, a target each met earlier this year, and which is far below the tens of thousands we pointed at each other during the Cold War.

The Treaty imposes important bounds on strategic nuclear competition as long as it is in force. As allowed in Article XIV of the treaty, it can be extended by up to five years by agreement by the two Presidents, without requiring further action by the Congress or the Duma.

Before and after the Helsinki summit, Russian officials have reiterated their interest in talks designed to extend the treaty. But after his first post-Helsinki meeting with Patrushev, in Geneva on Aug. 23, Bolton said the administration remains in the “early stages” of an interagency review about whether to extend, replace, or jettison New START or to pursue a different type of approach.

Unfortunately, some elements in the Trump administration want to hold New START hostage until Russia acknowledges its INF violation—an extremely unlikely possibility. Sacrificing New START, given the transparency it provides, would only create a bigger nuclear headache and do nothing to bring Russia back into compliance with INF.

Key Senate Democrats have called for an extension of New START so long as Russia remains in compliance with it, and several leading Senate Republicans have also voiced their support for New START. U.S. military leaders continue to see value in New START; for example, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress last March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

If New START is not extended, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972. In its absence, each side could quickly increase the number of warheads deployed on their strategic delivery systems. Unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition—in both numbers and technology—could spark an arms race as dangerous as that of the 1950s and 1960s. That would add scores of billions in additional costs to an already unrealistic U.S. nuclear upgrade plan.

An extension of New START, on the other hand, would buy time for the two sides to discuss agreements on new strategic systems, including the ones under development by Russia, and provide a solid baseline for talks on further reductions of each side’s strategic and tactical nuclear stockpiles.

Despite Russia’s malign behavior in Ukraine, Syria, in cyberspace, and elsewhere, it would serve U.S. and European security interests to engage with the Kremlin in new ways that bring Moscow back in compliance with INF and preserve the New START agreement. Washington and Moscow may not get along, but they have a special responsibility to manage their nuclear rivalry in ways that reduce the risk of miscalculation and the size of their bloated nuclear stockpiles.

The Nuclear Trump Card

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on October 17, 2018 at 10:01 pm

The Donald has the best shot at nuclear disarmament of any president over the last 20 years.

There is no greater issue facing America today than that of war and peace. Marginal changes in the corporate tax rate, the precise number of visas provided to foreign workers, minor adjustments to the Social Security retirement age—all are peripheral when compared to the immense weight of foreign policy decisions. Using military force, deciding what’s in the national interest, and setting geopolitical strategy all have consequences that can affect whole nations, regions, even the world.

It is the responsibility of statesmen to be as judicious as possible when it comes to military force, to act realistically and practice restraint. This prevents unwarranted infrastructure destruction, unforeseen blowback, and criminal loss of life. This carries over into a duty to work towards mutually beneficial arms control agreements and non-proliferation treaties to rein in the most destructive weapons ever created by man.

Unfortunately, outside the post-retirement advocacy of former secretary of defense William Perry and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, very few public figures seem to realize the dangers of nuclear brinksmanship and the importance of disarmament. Currently, an exchange of 100 atomic bombs would kick up enough dust and debris to blot out part of the sun and starve one third of the earth’s population. Eight countries have the capability to carry out such a mass genocide. Further down the line, if 100 hydrogen weapons (H-bombs) were used, the planet would experience a nuclear winter and up to seven billion people would starve to death. Ellsberg terms this “omnicide”: the murder of everyone. Russia and the United States, as the only countries possessing enough H-bombs, are especially obligated to reduce their nuclear stockpiles and lessen the danger of nuclear war. The cost of not doing so could be the world itself.

The administration of Donald Trump has the potential to go further in the direction of disarmament than any administration in the past 20 years. “I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process,” Trump said in a 1990 Playboy interview. Years earlier, during the Cold War’s peak, he expressed interest in being put in charge of arms control negotiations with the Soviets. This can be read as Trump’s standard bravado and bluster. But his recent unprecedented breakthrough in denuclearization negotiations with North Korea seems to suggest on Trump’s part an interest in solving the nuclear crisis.

Previous 21st-century presidents were unable to make headway. George W. Bush’s 2002 repudiation of the ABM Treaty, one of the hallmarks of Cold War arms control, was short-sighted and reckless. Barack Obama’s New Start Treaty successfully put limits on active nuclear warheads, but these efforts were overshadowed by increasingly soured relations with Russia, which heightened the potential for conflict between two atomic powers. Russia expert Stephen F. Cohen called the mid-2010s the lowest point in Russian-American relations since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Politically, Trump is in a better position than either of his predecessors on nuclear issues. His presidency is not dominated by ideological neoconservatives who buck any tactical diplomacy, and as a Republican his hawkish right flank has been partly neutered. Some of President Obama’s better intentioned efforts, like the nuclear agreement with Iran, were hindered by domestic politics and hawkish Republicans, always adversarial to Democratic-led peace initiatives. Trump, as a Republican, is not encumbered by such political restraints, a la “only Nixon can go to China.”

Thus far, Trump has squandered his opportunity. Jumping feet-first into Obama’s trillion dollar nuclear modernization plan launched in 2016, Trump has not made nuclear discussions with Russia a first-tier, or even fourth tier, issue. And when he has commented on it, it’s with his typical pugnaciousness. This attitude contradicts his efforts with North Korea, and isn’t the first contradiction in “Trumpism.” Meanwhile, pulling out of the nuclear agreement with Iran has exacerbated diplomatic tensions, but from Trump’s point of view, he sees the abrogation as a step in the direction of his vaunted “better deal.” His offer of new negotiations without preconditions shows that his goal is resolution, albeit in a tactically poor way. The administration should crystallize a consistent outlook on nuclear de-escalation, even if it’s only out of selfish motivations.

The cynical phrase “domestic politics starts at the water’s edge” presumes that foreign policy, instead of having thoughtful and intelligent end goals, is simply an extension of short-term domestic policy needs. Yet this pessimism, if accepted, only adds credence to a Trump-led disarmament campaign with Russia. Since he first started calling to “get along with Russia,” Trump has been smeared as an unwitting foreign asset, a Russian stooge, and a traitor. This has resulted in a special counsel investigation that, a year and a half in, has yet to uncover any evidence of foreign collusion. Pushing back aggressively against this narrative, as Trump is wont to do, and reframing it as a peace effort is politically advantageous and puts Trump in his natural position: on the offensive.

Most Americans support the Korean peace initiative. In the 2000, 2008, and 2016 presidential elections, voters chose the less hawkish candidate. Peace is popular, especially when the consequences of a possible nuclear fallout are explained. Hypothetically, if Trump were to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington, D.C. to initiate negotiations on nuclear weapons, he would do so from a position of political strength.

Some analysts postulate that a world power needs no more than a couple hundred nuclear weapons to achieve a deterrence factor as envisioned by MAD (mutually-assured destruction). This makes the United States’ and Russia’s combined 13,500 warheads (active and decommissioned) more than a little overkill. It’s within both countries’ interest to reduce their stockpiles to make accidents less likely and lessen the chance of death on a scale not since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Since the United States and Russia possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, this one diplomatic overture could, over years, end the nuclear crisis on our planet. Donald Trump could make all the difference.

Hunter DeRensis is an editorial assistant at The American Conservative and a student at George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.

New U.S. Weapons Systems Are a Hackers’ Bonanza

In Justice, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on October 12, 2018 at 7:06 am
By David E. Sanger and William J. Broad

WASHINGTON — Authorized hackers were quickly able to seize control of weapons systems being acquired by the American military in a test of the Pentagon’s digital vulnerabilities, according to a new and blistering government review.

The report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that many of the weapons, or the systems that control them, could be neutralized within hours. In many cases, the military teams developing or testing the systems were oblivious to the hacking.

A public version of the study, published on Tuesday, deleted all names and descriptions of which systems were attacked so the report could be published without tipping off American adversaries about the vulnerabilities. Congress is receiving the classified version of the report, which specifies which among the $1.6 trillion in weapons systems that the Pentagon is acquiring from defense contractors were affected.

But even the declassified review painted a terrifying picture of weaknesses in a range of emerging weapons, from new generations of missiles and aircraft to prototypes of new delivery systems for nuclear weapons.

“In one case, the test team took control of the operators’ terminals,” the report said. “They could see, in real time, what the operators were seeing on their screens and could manipulate the system” — a technique reminiscent of what Russian hackers did to a Ukrainian power grid two years ago.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, described “red team” hackers who were pitted against cyberdefenders at the Pentagon. The tested weapons were among a total of 86 weapons systems under development; many were penetrated either through easy-to-crack passwords, or because they had few protections against “insiders” working on elements of the programs.

Sometimes the testing teams toyed with their Pentagon targets. One team “reported that they caused a pop-up message to appear on users’ terminals instructing them to insert two quarters to continue operating.”

The searing assessment comes after years of warnings about the vulnerabilities of the military systems — some of which the Government Accountability Office said were ignored — and just as President Trump gives American commanders more flexibility to deploy cyberweapons without obtaining presidential approval.

It also suggests that the United States is vulnerable to cyberattacks when it seeks to disable enemy systems

The New York Times reported last year that former President Barack Obama had ordered accelerated cyberattacks on North Korea’s missile systems starting in 2014 — around the time, the report said, that the Pentagon belatedly began waking up to the holes in its own systems.

In recent years, the Pentagon has begun to install “intrusion alarms” to warn weapons operators of signs of attacks. But the Government Accountability Office suggested that those alarms were about as effective as car alarms going off on the streets of New York: an event so common that everyone assumed it was a false alarm.

“Intrusion detection systems correctly identified test team activities,” the report said. But, it added, the system “was always ‘red’” and “warnings were so common that operators were desensitized to them.”

The congressional auditors called their findings the first time they have examined vulnerabilities of major weapon systems that the federal government is acquiring.

That issue has become more urgent over the past decades. Older weapons used by the Pentagon, some dating to before the Vietnam War, were minimally dependent on computers or networks, making them naturally resistant to hacking.

As the report made clear — and as admirals and generals have been discussing for years — the move to update systems introduces new vulnerabilities.

“Today’s weapon systems are heavily computerized, which opens more attack opportunities for adversaries,” the review said.

It also found that the “increasingly computerized and networked nature” of the systems was not the only problem; so was the Defense Department’s “past failure to prioritize weapon systems cybersecurity.”

Compounding the problem are the millions of lines of software that are buried in parts and subsystems, creating vulnerabilities that weapons designers and contractors often do not fully grasp.

“Weapon systems have a wide variety of interfaces, some of which are not obvious, that could be used as pathways for adversaries to access the systems,” the study concluded.

Similar warnings have been sounded since 2013, when the government’s Defense Science Board raised the potential that sophisticated adversaries, led by Russia and China, would use cyberweapons to neutralize weapons systems even before battle.

In the five years since, the Pentagon has been reluctant to discuss the subject beyond vague generalities, insisting that any public airing of the issue would only invite attacks.

Included in the Government Accountability Office’s survey of vulnerabilities were submarines, missiles, cargo rockets, radars, fighter jets, refueling tankers, aircraft carriers, destroyers, satellites, helicopters and electronic jammers.

In interviews, office officials said the acquisition programs under review included two of the three major classes of nuclear-weapons delivery systems: the Columbia-class submarine and the replacement for the nation’s aging Minuteman missiles, known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.


Not part of the $1.6 trillion total was the B-21 bomber, a new generation of stealth jet that could drop nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons themselves were not included in the report; they are mostly controlled by the Energy Department, which oversees their design and testing. But nuclear weapons have become a focus of increasing scrutiny, both inside and outside the defense establishment.

Last month, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a group that studies nuclear threats, published a detailed report about the risks that nuclear weapons systems could be subject to cyberattacks. It warned that such attacks “could have catastrophic consequences,” including the risk that weapons could be used in response to “false warnings or miscalculation.”

“The world’s most lethal weapons are vulnerable to stealthy attacks from stealthy enemies — attacks that could have catastrophic consequences,” former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, former Senator Sam Nunn and former Defense Minister Des Browne of Britain wrote in that report.

“Today, that fact remains the chilling reality,” wrote the three Cold War veterans. “Cyberthreats are expanding and evolving at a breathtaking rate, and governments are not keeping pace. It is essential that the U.S. government and all nuclear-armed states catch up with — indeed, get ahead of and stay ahead of — this threat.”


Why we need African leadership to end the threat of nuclear weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on October 2, 2018 at 11:56 pm

By Beatrice Fihn is Executive Director of ICAN, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.

There’s an adage I keep hearing when discussing foreign policy and security issues, that ‘good fences make good neighbours’. In other words, clear and strong boundaries are essential for nations to maintain peaceful relationships, and if you keep your own affairs in order you can prevent your neighbour’s troubles spilling over. This argument loses all meaning in the event of a nuclear war. Nuclear weapons do not respect national boundaries, no matter where they fall.

Nuclear weapons used anywhere would have disastrous consequences that would quickly ripple across the world and undoubtedly hit the people of the African continent, even if that conflict was localised thousands of miles away.

Just a limited nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, for example, would cause a nuclear winter lasting 2-3 years, devastate food production and lead to the starvation of billions of people. Sound far-fetched? There are 15,000 nuclear weapons around the world, that scenario would result from the use of just 100 of them.

It’s not hard to see how Africa could suffer tremendously from a crisis in which they had no involvement. Africa’s food supply is intertwined with Asia’s. Nigeria, the biggest African nation, is now the third largest importer of rice in the world with India being a key supplier.

For decades a handful of nuclear-armed states locked the rest of the world out of their negotiations about our shared future. That changed last year at the United Nations where a vast majority of states adopted the groundbreaking Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons

Put simply, the Treaty recognizes the grave humanitarian harm caused by these weapons and makes the possession of and threatening the use of nuclear weapons illegal. Once 50 nations ratify it, the ban on nuclear weapons will become international law. 69 have signed and 19 have ratified already.

But of those 19 states that have ratified, only one is from Africa. The Gambia became the first to deposit their official instruments of ratification this week. Many African states supported and voted for the Treaty at the UN, and 21 have signed, but they have not moved swiftly to ratify

Africa has been a leader on the nuclear weapons issue for decades. South Africa remains the only country to disarm after developing nuclear weapons. Most African states are part of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. If the 40 states who signed and ratified that Treaty hastened their pace to ratify the nuclear ban treaty it would quickly enter into legal force.

Doing so will give African leaders greater control over their countries’ futures and ultimately provide more security to their citizens. Africa may be free of nuclear weapons, but the continent is not free of their effects.

Rather than ending that threat, some African states are enabling nuclear weapons development in ways they may not even realize. Global banks are helping fund a new generation of nuclear weapons being built to keep the nuclear threat alive for decades to come. Banks like BNP Paribas operate across Africa, where the bank offers services in 11 countries. That bank alone provides USD$ 8.6 billion in financing to companies producing nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons puts power back in the hands of these nations. It would obligate them to cease support for nuclear weapons development, including financing, among other steps that will make their people and environment safer.

No country is immune to the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. No far-flung corner of the world with offer adequate refuge from a nuclear war, no nation can claim immunity or neutrality from a conflict that involves nuclear-armed states.

So it is incumbent on each nation to seize control of their own destiny before it is taken from them due to geopolitical events that they had no part in. Each nation can do just that by joining the growing community of nations that are part of the Treaty that bans these horrifying weapons that have no military utility. Each nation can refuse to be passive hostage to the whims of a few men with their finger on the button; only a late night tweet or insult away from plunging us all into a nightmare of their making.

By ratifying the Treaty, African nations can reclaim their own destiny and make history on the side of reason and humanity.

For This Year’s International Day of Peace, Korea Takes the Lead

In Peace, Politics, War on September 23, 2018 at 12:13 am

This rare, historic outbreak of peace should be celebrated and supported by all the peoples of the world, including and especially Americans and our government

With this week’s summit between Kim and the brilliant peace-seeking South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it’s clear the peace train continues to roll on the Korean Peninsula. (Photo: Reuters)

With this week’s summit between Kim and the brilliant peace-seeking South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it’s clear the peace train continues to roll on the Korean Peninsula. (Photo: Reuters)

Today is the International Day of Peace, an unfortunately lightly observed day, especially in the perpetually-at-war United States. However, Campaign Nonviolence, spurred by the group Pace e Bene, is helping coordinate various peace actions in the U.S. and worldwide.

There is precious little peace, or near-term hope for it, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and countless other countries within our military tentacles’ reach.As one surveys the state of peace and war in the world, especially those wars in which the U.S. or its allies are engaged, the situation looks bleak. There is precious little peace, or near-term hope for it, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and countless other countries within our military tentacles’ reach. And the Trump Administration seems keen to threaten Iran with military action, despite its verified adherence to the multilateral anti-nuclear deal the United States, not Iran, withdrew from.

At home, our misappropriation of tax dollars to fund by far the world’s largest war machine robs resources we need for housing, transportation, infrastructure repair, education and building a sustainable, green economy. And our toxic stew of pandemic gun violence, racism, de-industrialization and for-profit incarceration keep many of our communities mired in inequality and despair. The Global Peace Index, which assesses domestic and foreign indicators of the level of peace in 163 countries, ranks the United States a dismal 121st. It’s surprising it’s not lower.

Who would have thought, a year after President Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” threats of nuclear war were reciprocated by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, that Korea would be a bright spot in terms of world peace?

But with this week’s summit between Kim and the brilliant peace-seeking South Korean President Moon Jae-in, it’s clear the peace train continues to roll on the Korean Peninsula (figuratively that is, as recently the U.S.-dominated UN Command, a vestige of the Korean War, preposterously nixed a joint South-North Korea test run of a railroad line in North Korea).

Next week, Presidents Moon and Trump will meet at the UN for an update on the North-South talks. Informed speculation is there may be another Kim-Trump Summit, perhaps as soon as mid-October, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will likely visit North Korea again in the next few weeks.

However, it’s far from clear the U.S. is committed to peace on the Korean Peninsula. The president tweeted his support for the outcome of the second Korean Summit, which was good to see. But his current policies are stuck in Cold War era thinking. The Administration keeps demanding North Korea denuclearize (while we maintain and are in the process of upgrading the world’s most fearsome nuclear arsenal) before receiving relief from crushing sanctions, a non-starter that stiffs North Korea’s understandable desire for security assurances. It is also inhumane as North Korea is experiencing a tuberculosis outbreak which could spread in the region, and UNICEF warns 60,000 North Korean children are at risk of starvation.

The U.S. has recently increased, rather than eased, economic sanctions, and has made it harder for non-governmental organizations with experience in North Korea to obtain humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions in order to travel to the North to assist with food and health crises.The U.S. has recently increased, rather than eased, economic sanctions, and has made it harder for non-governmental organizations with experience in North Korea to obtain humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions in order to travel to the North to assist with food and health crises. In addition to the preposterous blocking of the railroad test, the U.S. opposed the new South-North Korea liaison office, which the Koreas opened last week anyway.

If the U.S. is serious about supporting peace on the Korean Peninsula, it should immediately reverse these harsh policies in order to help, or let others help, the North Korean people. The U.S. should also support increased family reunifications between the South and the North, as well as continue to work with North Korea on repatriating the remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War.

Next, Trump should agree to the proposal to sign a formal declaration of the end of the Korean War, to replace the supposedly temporary armistice signed in 1953. North Korea seems prepared to continue refraining from nuclear and missile tests, and to destroy or close some of its key nuclear and missile facilities, in return for the U.S. and South Korea freezing or drastically scaling down their twice annual, largest-on-the-planet war drills the North understandably fears. This “freeze for a freeze” has held since last winter’s Olympic Truce.

That freeze could be codified in negotiations for a formal peace treaty, which would be subject to U.S. Senate ratification, as could drawdowns in both North Korean and South Korean/U.S. conventional and nuclear forces. All of this can help convince North Korea it does not need nuclear weapons for its security, but it will come from this maximum engagement, not from the present maximum pressure policy.

Koreans want to make peace, reconcile and reunite a society and peninsula that have endured an artificial division since 1950. This rare, historic outbreak of peace should be celebrated and supported by all the peoples of the world, including and especially Americans and our government.

Kevin Martin serves as President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with 200,000 supporters nationwide. He also coordinates the Korea Peace Network, comprised of peace, social justice, human rights, veterans, faith and Korean-American groups and individuals.

The Forever War’s Cheerleaders Democrats, liberals, and progressives have become some of the biggest hawks in Washington. That needs to change.

In Democracy, Drones, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, War on September 20, 2018 at 7:54 am

By Jeremy Rubin, The Nation, 9-19-18

Coming home from the Forever War can be difficult. Not long after returning from Afghanistan as a Marine officer in early 2011, I found myself feeling betrayed by compatriots who worshiped the idea of my service while refusing to confront what that service entailed. There is a chasm of awareness that often exists between veterans and civilians, especially during an age in which an all-volunteer military prosecutes never-ending wars, and in which those Americans who end up experiencing combat prove statistically negligible.

It isn’t so much a chasm of awareness as a chasm of memory. The problem with veterans is we keep remembering our wars when we are supposed to join everyone else in forgetting them. Today I experience that gap most viscerally in politics, and liberal or progressive politics in particular, where celebrated commentators like Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell fail to cover America’s ongoing wars and the role some of their favorite guests have played in launching and expanding them.

I remember what it felt like to believe every word of the Bush-era officials and journalists after the September 11 attacks, and I remember what it felt like when I donned the US Marine uniform in response to those words. I remember what it felt like to step foot in Afghanistan, and I remember what it felt like when I started having doubts about why I was there. I remember what it felt like to realize how wrong I was about the strategic efficacy and moral necessity of the war, how wrong everyone I trusted was, and how wrong the war had always been. The war in Afghanistan, like most of America’s wars, had come to strike me as not only a profitable lie, but a ruinous one. I remember what it first felt like to be an immediate witness to needless destruction and death, and what it felt like to recognize I would live with that feeling for the rest of my life

The fact that those same Bush-era officials and pundits have now become heroes among partisan Democrats—the fact that the late John McCain, arguably America’s most enthusiastic warmonger, has now become something of a liberal patron saint—drives me toward despair. It is not as if my sense of hopelessness emerged from a vacuum. By the time I was discharged from the Marines in the late spring of 2011, President Obama had already caved to the militarists on Libya and the drone war, was beginning to double down on an unaccountable surveillance state and was waffling on the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. He would soon back Saudi Arabia’s war of aggression in Yemen, a war many now consider genocidal. On the other hand, Obama executed significant troop withdrawals in Iraq and (eventually) Afghanistan, and he served as a comparatively dovish voice on Iran, Syria, and Russia. He was no ally to the Palestinians, yet his relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu was icy. He also tended to keep his distance from the neoconservatives responsible for so much of the chaos in the Greater Middle East. At the very least, he didn’t go out of his way to revive their influence.

All this began to change during the 2016 Democratic primary, when the Clinton campaign made a conscious decision to align with the neocons in the lead-up to its bout with Trump. Clinton herself had always been a hawk, and she had frequently seen eye-to-eye with Bush’s war cabinet, but the threat of a Trump presidency during the general election, and the Russiagate mania that followed Trump’s victory, propelled Clinton and the Democrats to make the alliance official. During the race, the Clinton team courted Robert Kagan and others from the Weekly Standard crowd, who were likely drawn to Clinton’s willingness to ratchet up the air war against the Putin-backed Assad government in Syria, arm anti-Russia elements in Ukraine, tighten relations with Israel and the Gulf states, and maintain a belligerent posture toward Iran. After the race, high-level associates of both Clinton and Obama joined forces with the neocons to form an advocacy group, Alliance for Securing Democracy, whose tag line now reads, “Putin Knocked. We Answered.” The bond has only grown more pronounced as the months have progressed, leading one of the only prominent Iraq War supporters to have learned his lesson, Peter Beinart, to conclude that “on foreign and defense policy, the [Democratic Party] barely exists.”

It is one thing to welcome investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and to push for electoral and anti-corruption reforms that might help prevent such interference in the future. It is quite another to allow some of the world’s most fervent jingoists to assume the vanguard of the anti-Trump opposition, and to allow their politics to influence and define the language of the liberal and progressive left. We are living in an ominous moment when it is Democrats who are the most inclined to charge those who disagree with them on the Russia media narrative of treason, and when it is Democrats who are the most inclined to accept declarations or demands made by a defense establishment that apparently can do no wrong.

I would like to think this ideological shift would have stunned me regardless, but my personal journey has made it all the more shocking. There is something surreal about watching so many Democrats and liberal or progressive pundits adopt the ugliest rhetorical tics of the very post-9/11 chauvinism I once found myself immersed in, from seeing anyone or anything inconvenient to the presiding account as fifth-columnist to treating the utterances of spies and other military-industrial propagandists as gospel. Most of all, there is the ostensible disregard for the consequences of their newfound animus toward the national-security state’s latest bogeyman.

When Obama left office, the defense budget was already higher, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than any other time since World War II. As Beinart notes, it was higher than at the peak of the Vietnam War or the Reagan expansion. In the past two years, however, both parties have managed to swell its size even further, with the Russian and Chinese threats serving as convenient pretexts. These budget increases represent hundreds of billions that could have been devoted to more effective and humane efforts. But whether it is through taxpayer-funded military assistance or taxpayer-funded subsidies to arms dealers, these increases, combined with an ever-increasing slew of US-approved arms deals, will almost certainly lead to more suffering and risk around the world.

This includes escalating tensions around Russia’s periphery, in large part by arming and funding governments and groups in Ukraine, Poland, and elsewhere that have extensive ties with white nationalists and fascists. It includes continuing to arm and fund Saudi Arabia’s massacre in Yemen or Israel’s occupation of Palestine. It includes more torment in Syria’s civil war, a war that experts thought was drawing to a tragic but necessary close in 2016, just before anti-Russian sentiment was kicked into high gear. It includes the additional feeding of an unparalleled US-led global arms trade that will likely instigate violent outbursts in unexpected corners of the world. It includes a related arms race in surveillance and cyber-technology that will probably put added strain on an already fraying liberal-democratic fabric. Most frightening of all, it includes an anteing up of the nuclear arsenal.

What is needed now is a clear alternative to the present course. Liberals and progressives should be insisting on diplomacy and partnerships with Russia, akin to the Iran deal or Nixon’s trip to China. They should be educating the public on how the United States and its allies violated a 1990 promise to Russia not to expand NATO eastward. They should be speaking about how the US government, following the end of the Cold War, trumpeted triumphalism, helped impose shock therapy, cheered the privatization and selling off of key industries to disastrous effect, eviscerated the economy, threw their weight behind their favored candidate in Russia’s 1996 presidential election, and laid the groundwork for the rise of Putin and the oligarchs. They should be quoting the economist John Maynard Keynes on the hazards of punitive politics or the diplomat George Kennan on the dangers of NATO-related hubris. They should be fleshing out a grand bargain that involves a mutual exit from Syria, cessation of hostilities in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, mutual noninterference on Russia’s periphery, the halting of NATO expansion (if not its rollback), and investment in a green Marshall Plan linked to the rebuilding of regional economies—all conditioned on staged movement toward nuclear disarmament, the dialing down of the arms race, substantive democratic reform, and the reining in of the global plutocracy. This approach toward Russia, finally, should be embedded within a wider left-internationalist agenda of shared peace, prosperity, and environmental stewardship.

This would all make for an ambitious (some might say quixotic) reversal, and there is no denying the inevitable obstacles, from institutional inertia to the shortsightedness of great-power politics. But to conclude the status quo offers the safest bet is to surrender to what the sociologist C. Wright Mills once dubbed “crackpot realism.” It is to forget the endless war already consuming us, and it is that very forgetfulness that constitutes our gravest threat. The left must counter such amnesia with thoughtful and bold geopolitical imagination.

A Bold Foreign Policy Platform for the New Wave of Left Lawmakers Socialists and other progressives are running for office on strong domestic programs. Here’s how their foreign policy platform can be just as strong.

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on September 8, 2018 at 11:49 pm

ACROSS THE COUNTRY, A NEW COHORT OF PROGRESSIVES IS RUNNING FOR—AND WINNING—ELECTIONS. The stunning victory of democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic congressional primary in New York is perhaps the most well-known, but she is far from alone. Most of these candidates are young, more than usual are people of color, many are women, several are Muslims, at least one is a refugee, at least one is transgender—and all are unabashedly left. Most come to electoral politics after years of activism around issues like immigration, climate and racism. They come out of a wide range of social movements and support policy demands that reflect the principles of those movements: labor rights, immigrant and refugee rights, women’s and gender rights, equal access to housing and education, environmental justice, and opposition to police violence and racial profiling. Some, though certainly not all, identify not just with the policies of socialism but with the fundamental core values and indeed the name itself, usually in the form of democratic socialism.

Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman in Detroit, just won the Democratic primary for the legendary Congressman John Conyers’ seat. Four women, two of them members of Democratic Socialists of America and all four endorsed by DSA, beat their male incumbent opponents in Pennsylvania state house primaries. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud is running an insurgent campaign for Congress against a longstanding incumbent in western Massachusetts, keeping her focus on Medicare-for-All and civil rights. Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar, a former Somali refugee, won endorsement from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and is running for Keith Ellison’s former congressional seat as an “intersectional feminist.” And there are more.

Many highlight their movement experience in their campaigns; they are champions of immigrant rights, healthcare, student debt organizing and the fight for $15. Intersectionality has grown stronger, as the extremism of Trump’s right-wing racist assault creates significant new gains in linking separate movements focused on racism, women’s rights, immigrant rights, climate, poverty, labor rights and more.

But mostly, we’re not seeing progressive and socialist candidates clearly link domestic issues with efforts to challenge war, militarism and the war economy. There are a few exceptions: Congressional candidate and Hawaii State Rep. Kaniela Ing speaks powerfully about U.S. colonialism in Hawaii, and Virginia State Rep. Lee J. Carter has spoken strongly against U.S. bombing of Syria, linking current attacks with the legacy of U.S. military interventions. There may be more. But those are exceptions; most of the new left candidates focus on crucial issues of justice at home.

A progressive foreign policy must reject U.S. military and economic domination and instead be grounded in global cooperation, human rights, respect for international law and privileging diplomacy over war.

It’s not that progressive leaders don’t care about international issues, or that our movements are divided. Despite too many common assumptions, it is not political suicide for candidates or elected officials to stake out progressive anti-war, anti-militarism positions. Quite the contrary: Those positions actually have broad support within both our movements and public opinion. It’s just that it’s hard to figure out the strategies that work to connect internationally focused issues, anti-war efforts, or challenges to militarism, with the wide array of activists working on locally grounded issues. Some of those strategies seem like they should be easy—like talking about slashing the 53 cents of every discretionary federal dollar that now goes to the military as the easiest source to fund Medicare-for-all or free college education. It should be easy, but somehow it’s not: Too often, foreign policy feels remote from the urgency of domestic issues facing such crises. When our movements do figure out those strategies, candidates can easily follow suit.

Candidates coming out of our movements into elected office will need clear positions on foreign policy. Here are several core principles that should shape those positions.

A progressive foreign policy must reject U.S. military and economic domination and instead be grounded in global cooperation, human rights, respect for international law and privileging diplomacy over war. That does not mean isolationism, but instead a strategy of diplomatic engagement rather than—not as political cover for—destructive U.S. military interventions that have so often defined the U.S. role in the world.

Looking at the political pretexts for what the U.S. empire is doing around the world today, a principled foreign policy might start by recognizing that there is no military solution to terrorism and that the global war on terror must be ended.

More broadly, the militarization of foreign policy must be reversed and diplomacy must replace military action in every venue, with professional diplomats rather than the White House’s political appointees in charge. Aspiring and elected progressive and socialist office-holders should keep in mind the distinction between the successes and failures of Obama’s foreign policy. The victories were all diplomatic: moving towards normalization with Cuba, the Paris climate accord and especially the Iran nuclear deal. Obama’s greatest failures—in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen—all occurred because the administration chose military action over robust diplomacy.

Certainly, diplomacy has been a tool in the arsenal of empires, including the United States. But when we are talking about official policies governing relations between countries, diplomacy—meaning talking, negotiating and engaging across a table—is always, always better than engaging across a battlefield.

A principled foreign policy must recognize how the war economy has distorted our society at home—and commit to reverse it. The $717 billion of the military budget is desperately needed for jobs, healthcare and education here at home—and for a diplomatic surge and humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to people of countries devastated by U.S. wars and sanctions.

A principled foreign policy must acknowledge how U.S. actions—military, economic and climate-related—have been a driving force in displacing people around the world. We therefore have an enormous moral as well as legal obligation to take the lead in providing humanitarian support and refuge for those displaced—so immigration and refugee rights are central to foreign policy.

For too long the power of the U.S. empire has dominated international relations, led to the privileging of war over diplomacy on a global scale, and created a vast—and invasive—network of 800-plus military bases around the world.

Now, overall U.S. global domination is actually shrinking, and not only because of Trump’s actions. China’s economy is rapidly catching up, and its economic clout in Africa and elsewhere eclipses that of the United States. It’s a measure of the United States’ waning power that Europe, Russia and China are resisting U.S. efforts to impose new global sanctions on Iran. But the United States is still the world’s strongest military and economic power: Its military spending vastly surpasses that of the eight next strongest countries, it is sponsoring a dangerous anti-Iran alliance between Israel and the wealthy Gulf Arab states, it remains central to NATO decision-making, and powerful forces in Washington threaten new wars in North Korea and Iran. The United States remains dangerous.

Progressives in Congress have to navigate the tricky task of rejecting American exceptionalism. U.S global military and economic efforts are generally aimed at maintaining domination and control. Without that U.S. domination, the possibility arises of a new kind of internationalism: to prevent and solve crises that arise from current and potential wars, to promote nuclear disarmament, to come up with climate solutions and to protect refugees.

That effort is increasingly important because of the rapid rise of right-wing xenophobic authoritarians seeking and winning power. Trump is now leading and enabling an informal global grouping of such leaders, from Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Victor Orban in Hungary and others. Progressive elected officials in the United States can pose an important challenge to that authoritarian axis by building ties with their like-minded counterparts in parliaments and governments—possibilities include Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom and Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, among others. And progressive and leftist members of Congress will need to be able to work together with social movements to build public pressure for diplomatic initiatives not grounded in the interests of U.S. empire.

In addition to these broad principles, candidates and elected officials need critical analyses of current U.S. engagement around the world, as well as nuanced prescriptions for how to de-escalate militarily, and ramp up a new commitment to serious diplomacy.


RUSSIA: Relations with Russia will be a major challenge for the foreseeable future. With 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons in U.S. and Russian hands, and the two powers deploying military forces on opposite sides of active battlefronts in Syria, it is crucial that relations remain open—not least to derail potential escalations and ensure the ability to stand down from any accidental clash.

Progressives and leftists in Congress will need to promote a nuanced, careful approach to Russia policy. And they will face a daunting environment in which to do so. They will have to deal with loud cries from right-wing war-mongers, mainly Republicans, and from neo-con interventionists in both parties, demanding a one-sided anti-Russia policy focused on increased sanctions and potentially even military threats. But many moderate and liberal Democrats—and much of the media—are also joining the anti-Russia crusade. Some of those liberals and moderates have likely bought into the idea of American exceptionalism, accepting as legitimate or irrelevant the long history of U.S. election meddling around the world and viewing the Russian efforts as somehow reaching a whole different level of outrageousness. Others see the anti-Russia mobilization solely in the context of undermining Trump.

But at the same time, progressive Congress members should recognize that reports of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 and 2018 elections cannot be dismissed out of hand. They should continue to demand that more of the evidence be made public, and condemn the Russian meddling that has occurred, even while recognizing that the most serious threats to our elections come from voter suppression campaigns at home more than from Moscow. And they have to make clear that Trump’s opponents cannot be allowed to turn the president’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin into the basis for a new Cold War, simply to oppose Trump.

CHINA: The broad frame of a progressive approach should be to end Washington’s provocative military and economic moves and encourage deeper levels of diplomatic engagement. This means replacing military threats with diplomacy in response to Chinese moves in the South China Sea, as well as significant cuts in the ramped-up military ties with U.S. allies in the region, such as Vietnam. Progressive and socialist members of Congress and other elected officials will no doubt be aware that the rise of China’s economic dominance across Africa, and its increasing influence in parts of Latin America, could endanger the independence of countries in those parts of the Global South. But they will also need to recognize that any U.S. response to what looks like Chinese exploitation must be grounded in humility, acknowledging the long history of U.S. colonial and neocolonial domination throughout those same regions. Efforts to compete with Chinese economic assistance by increasing Washington’s own humanitarian and development aid should mean directing all funds through the UN, rather than through USAID or the Pentagon. That will make U.S. assistance far less likely to be perceived as—and to be—an entry point for exploitation.

NATO: A progressive position on NATO flies straight into the face of the partisan component of the anti-Trump resistance—the idea that if Trump is for it, we should be against it. For a host of bad reasons that have to do with personal enrichment and personal power, Trump sometimes takes positions that large parts of the U.S. and global anti-war and solidarity movements have long supported. One of those is NATO. During the Cold War, NATO was the European military face of U.S.-dominated Western anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, peace activists from around the world called for the dissolution of NATO as an anachronistic relic whose raison d’etre was now gone.

Instead, NATO used its 50th anniversary in 1999 to rebrand itself as defending a set of amorphous, ostensibly “Western” values such as democracy, rather than having any identifiable enemy—something like a military version of the EU, with the United States on board for clout. Unable to win UN Security Council support for war in Kosovo, the United States and its allies used NATO to provide so-called authorization for a major bombing campaign—in complete violation of international law—and began a rapid expansion of the NATO alliance right up to the borders of Russia. Anti-war forces across the world continued to rally around the call “No to NATO”—a call to dissolve the alliance altogether.

But when Trump, however falsely, claims to call for an end to the alliance, or shows disdain for NATO, anti-Trump politicians and media lead the way in embracing the military alliance as if it really did represent some version of human rights and international law. It doesn’t—and progressives in elected positions need to be willing to call out NATO as a militarized Cold War relic that shouldn’t be reconfigured to maintain U.S. domination in Europe or to mobilize against Russia or China or anyone else. It should be ended.

In fact, Trump’s claims to oppose NATO are belied by his actions. In his 2019 budget request he almost doubled the 2017 budget for the Pentagon’s “European Deterrence Initiative,” designed explicitly as a response to “threats from Russia.” There is a huge gap between Trump’s partisan base-pleasing condemnation of NATO and his administration’s actual support for strengthening the military alliance. That contradiction should make it easier for progressive candidates and officeholders to move to cut NATO funding and reduce its power—not because Trump is against NATO but because the military alliance serves as a dangerous provocation toward war.


What George W. Bush first called “the global war on terror” is still raging almost 17 years later, though with different forms of killing and different casualty counts. Today’s reliance on airstrikes, drone attacks and a few thousand special forces has replaced the hundreds of thousands of U.S. and allied ground troops. And today hardly any U.S. troops are being killed, while civilian casualties are skyrocketing across the Middle East and Afghanistan. Officials from the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have repeated the mantra that “there is no military solution” in Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq or against terrorism, but their actions have belied those words. Progressive elected officials need to consistently remind the public and their counterparts that it is not possible to bomb terrorism out of existence. Bombs don’t hit “terrorism”; they hit cities, houses, wedding parties. And on those rare occasions when they hit the people actually named on the White House’s unaccountable kill list, or “terrorist” list, the impact often creates more terrorists.

The overall progressive policy on this question means campaigning for diplomatic solutions and strategies instead of military ones. That also means joining the ongoing congressional efforts led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and others  to challenge the continued reliance on the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

In general, privileging diplomatic over war strategies starts with withdrawing troops and halting the arms sales that flood the region with deadly weapons. Those weapons too often end up in the hands of killers on all sides, from bands of unaccountable militants to brutally repressive governments, with civilians paying the price. Congress members should demand an end of massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other U.S. allies carrying out brutal wars across the Middle East, and they should call for an end to the practice of arming non-state proxies who kill even more people. They should call for a U.S. arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan and Israel (which presents a whole other set of arms-related challenges), while urging Russia to stop its arms sales to Syria, Iran and Pakistan. Given the power of the arms industries in the United States, arms embargoes are the most difficult—but perhaps the most important—part of ending the expanding Middle East wars.

Progressives in Congress should demand real support for UN-sponsored and other international peace initiatives, staffing whole new diplomatic approaches whose goal is political solutions rather than military victories—and taking funds out of military budgets to cover the costs. The goal should be to end these endless wars—not try to “win” them.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: The most important thing for candidates to know is that there has been a massive shift in public opinion in recent years. It is no longer political suicide to criticize Israel. Yes, AIPAC and the rest of the right-wing Jewish, pro-Israel lobbies remain influential and have a lot of money to throw around. (The Christian Zionist lobbies are powerful too, but there is less political difficulty for progressives to challenge them.) But there are massive shifts underway in U.S. Jewish public opinion on the conflict, and the lobbies cannot credibly claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole.

Outside the Jewish community, the shift is even more dramatic, and has become far more partisan: Uncritical support for Israel is now overwhelmingly a Republican position. Among Democrats, particularly young Democrats, support for Israel has fallen dramatically; among Republicans, support for Israel’s far-right government is sky-high. The shift is particularly noticeable among Democrats of color, where recognition of the parallels between Israeli oppression of Palestinians and the legacies of Jim Crow segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa is rising rapidly.

U.S. policy, unfortunately, has not kept up with that changing discourse. But modest gains are evident even there. When nearly 60 members of the House and Senate openly skipped Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech when he came to lobby Congress to vote against President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the sky didn’t fall. The snub to the Israeli prime minister was unprecedented, but no one lost their seat because of it. Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to protect Palestinian children from Israel’s vicious military juvenile detention system (the only one in the world) now has 29 co-sponsors, and the sky still isn’t falling. Members of Congress are responding more frequently to Israeli assaults on Gaza and the killing of protesters, often because of powerful movements among their constituents. When Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz acknowledged the divide: “While members of the Republican Party overwhelmingly expressed support for the move, Democrats were split between those who congratulated Trump for it and those who called it a dangerous and irresponsible action.”

That creates space for candidates and newly elected officials to respond to the growing portion of their constituencies that supports Palestinian rights. Over time, they must establish a rights-based policy. That means acknowledging that the quarter-century-long U.S.-orchestrated “peace process” based on the never-serious pursuit of a solution, has failed. Instead, left and progressive political leaders can advocate for a policy that turns over real control of diplomacy to the UN, ends support for Israeli apartheid and occupation, and instead supports a policy based on international law, human rights and equality for all, without privileging Jews or discriminating against non-Jews.

To progress from cautiously urging that Israel abide by international law, to issuing a full-scale call to end or at least reduce the $3.8 billion per year that Congress sends straight to the Israeli military, might take some time. In the meantime, progressive candidates must prioritize powerful statements condemning the massacre of unarmed protesters in Gaza and massive Israeli settlement expansion, demands for real accountability for Israeli violations of human rights and international law (including reducing U.S. support in response), and calls for an end to the longstanding U.S. protection that keeps Israel from being held accountable in the UN.

The right consistently accuses supporters of Palestinian rights of holding Israel to a double standard. Progressives in Congress should turn that claim around on them and insist that U.S. policy towards Israel—Washington’s closest ally in the region and the recipient of billions of dollars in military aid every year—hold Israel to exactly the same standards that we want the United States to apply to every other country: human rights, adherence to international law and equality for all.

Many supporters of the new crop of progressive candidates, and many activists in the movements they come out of, are supporters of the increasingly powerful, Palestinian-led BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, that aims to bring non-violent economic pressure to bear on Israel until it ends its violations of international law. This movement deserves credit for helping to mainstream key demands—to end the siege of Gaza and the killing of protesters, to support investigations of Israeli violations by the International Criminal Court, to oppose Israel’s new “nation-state’ law—that should all be on lawmakers’ immediate agenda.

AFGHANISTAN: More than 100,000 Afghans and 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in a U.S. war that has raged for almost 17 years. Not-Yet-President Trump called for withdrawal from Afghanistan, but within just a few months after taking office he agreed instead to send additional troops, even though earlier deployments of more than 100,000 U.S. troops (and thousands more coalition soldiers) could not win a military victory over the Taliban. Corruption in the U.S.-backed and -funded Afghan government remains sky-high, and in just the past three years, the Pentagon has lost track of how $3.1 billion of its Afghanistan funds were spent. About 15,000 US troops are still deployed, with no hope of a military victory for the United States.

Progressive members of Congress should demand a safe withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, acting on the long-held recognition that military force simply won’t work to bring about the political solution all sides claim to want.

Several pending bills also would reclaim the centrality of Congress’ role in authorizing war in general and in Afghanistan in particular—including ending the 2001 AUMF. Funding for humanitarian aid, refugee support, and in the future compensation and reparations for the massive destruction the U.S.-led war has wrought across the country, should all be on Congress’ agenda, understanding that such funding will almost certainly fail while U.S. troops are deployed.

IRAN: With U.S. and Iranian military forces facing each other in Syria, the potential for an unintentional escalation is sky-high. Even a truly accidental clash between a few Iranian and U.S. troops, or an Iranian anti-aircraft system mistakenly locking on to a U.S. warplane plane even if it didn’t fire, could have catastrophic consequences without immediate military-to-military and quick political echelon discussions to defuse the crisis. And with tensions very high, those ties are not routinely available. Relations became very dangerous when Trump withdrew the United States from the multi-lateral nuclear deal in May. (At that time, a strong majority of people in the United States favored the deal, and less than one in three wanted to pull out of it.)

The United States continues to escalate threats against Iran. It is sponsoring a growing regional anti-Iran alliance, with Israel and Saudi Arabia now publicly allied and pushing strongly for military action. And Trump has surrounded himself with war-mongers for his top advisers, including John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who have both supported regime change in Iran and urged military rather than diplomatic approaches to Iran.

Given all that, what progressive elected officials need to do is to keep fighting for diplomacy over war. That means challenging U.S. support for the anti-Iran alliance and opposing sanctions on Iran. It means developing direct ties with parliamentarians from the European and other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, with the aim of collective opposition to new sanctions, re-legitimizing the nuclear deal in Washington and reestablishing diplomacy as the basis for U.S. relations with Iran.

It should also mean developing a congressional response to the weakening of international anti-nuclear norms caused by the pull-out from the Iran deal. That means not just supporting the nonproliferation goals of the Iran nuclear deal, but moving further towards real disarmament and ultimately the abolition of nuclear weapons. Progressives in and outside of Congress should make clear that nuclear nonproliferation (meaning no one else gets to have nukes) can’t work in the long run without nuclear disarmament (meaning that the existing nuclear weapons states have to give them up). That could start with a demand for full U.S. compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for negotiations leading to “nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”

SYRIA: Progressive candidates and elected officials should support policies designed to end, not “win” the war. That means withdrawing troops, ceasing airstrikes and drone attacks, and calling for an arms embargo on all sides of the multiple proxy war. The civil war component of the multiple wars in Syria is winding down as the regime consolidates its control, but the sectarian, regional and global components of that war have not disappeared, so continuing a call for an arms embargo is still important. The first step is to permanently end the Pentagon’s and the CIA’s “arm and train” policies that have prolonged the war and empowered some of its most dangerous actors.

There will also need to be negotiations between the regional and global actors that have been waging their own wars in Syria, wars that have little to do with Syria itself, but with Syrians doing the bulk of the dying. That means support for the UN’s and other internationally-sponsored de-escalation efforts, and serious engagement with Russia towards a permanent ceasefire, as well as the arms embargo. U.S. policy should include absolute prohibitions on Washington’s regional allies—including Saudi Arabia and Turkey—sending U.S.-provided arms into Syria. And progressive supporters of diplomacy should also maintain pressure on the United States to back multi-lateral diplomatic processes organized by the UN and others—on humanitarian issues in Geneva, and political issues in Astana. Cutting the United States’ multi-billion dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Turkey and other U.S. allies involved in the Syrian wars would also lend legitimacy to U.S. efforts within those diplomatic processes to press Russia to stop providing arms to the Assad regime.

IRAQ: Congress has largely abrogated its responsibilities even as the 15-year war initiated by the United States continues. Progressive policymakers would do well to join the existing efforts to end—not replace, but cancel—the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, and reopen congressional debate, with the goal of ending funding for war in Iraq once and for all. When President Obama withdrew the last troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, stating that “war in Iraq ends this month,” many assumed that the authorization ended as well. But it was never officially repealed and had no expiration date, and three years later Obama claimed that the then-12-year-old authorization justified the war against ISIS in Iraq. While Trump has relied primarily on the 2001 AUMF, the Iraq-specific authorization of 2002 remains in place and should be withdrawn.

In the meantime, progressives in Congress should support many of the same policies for Iraq as for Syria: withdraw the troops and special forces, stop the assassination program that is the heart of Washington’s “counter-terrorism” campaign and cease sending arms. Congress should end funding to force the closure of the network of small “forward operating bases” and other U.S. military bases that may remain in U.S. hands in Iraq despite earlier agreements to turn them over to the Iraqi government. The U.S. must figure out new ways to provide financial compensation and support to the people whose country and society has been shredded by more than a dozen years of crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions bookended by two devastating wars (Desert Storm, starting in 1991, and the Iraq War, starting in 2003)—while somehow avoiding the further empowerment of corrupt and sectarian political and military leaders.

YEMEN AND SAUDI ARABIA: The ongoing Saudi-led war against Yemen reflects the most deadly front of Saudi Arabia’s competition with Iran for regional hegemony. The United States is providing indirect and direct support, including U.S. Air Force pilots providing in-air refueling so Saudi and UAE warplanes can bomb Yemen more efficiently, and Green Berets fighting alongside Saudi troops on the border, in what the New York Times called “a continuing escalation of America’s secret wars.”

The U.S.-backed Saudi war against Yemen has also created what the UN has declared the world’s most serious humanitarian crisis. Congress’ first action must be to immediately end all U.S. involvement in the war. Next, Congress must reject all approvals for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as long as they continue to bomb and blockade Yemen.

Ending these arms sales may be a serious challenge, given the power of the arms manufacturers’ lobby, Israel’s strong support of Saudi Arabia against Iran and the fact that Saudi Arabia remains the top U.S. arms customer. But recent efforts and relatively close votes in both the House and Senate, while not successful, indicate that challenging the longstanding process of providing the Saudis with whatever weapons they want may be closer to reality than anticipated. The House called the U.S. military involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen “unauthorized.” Reps. Ro Khanna, Marc Pocan and others have introduced numerous House bills in recent months aimed at reducing U.S. arms sales and involvement in the Saudi-led assault. In the Senate, a March resolution to end U.S. military involvement in the Yemen war failed by only 11 votes, a much narrower margin than anticipated. Progressive candidates and new members of Congress should support all those efforts, and move further with a call for ending the longstanding U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia, especially military sales and support for the Saudi-Israeli partnership against Iran.


NORTH KOREA: Progressive elected officials will need to support Trump’s diplomatic initiatives, challenging mainstream Democrats willing to abandon diplomacy because Trump supports it (however tactically or temporarily). Progressives will also need to condemn U.S. military provocations that undermine that same diplomacy, and build public and congressional support for the inter-Korean diplomatic moves already underway. That should include pushing for exemptions in the U.S.-imposed sanctions that would allow inter-Korean economic and other initiatives to go forward. Progressives in Congress can also play a major role in supporting people-to-people diplomacy with North Korea, and they can lead the way in replacing the current armistice with a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War.

AFRICA: Across the continent, there is an urgent need to reverse the militarization of foreign policy, including reducing the size, breadth of responsibilities and theater of operations of AFRICOM.  The wide-ranging but unauthorized and largely secretive special operations and other military actions across the continent violate not only international law, but U.S. domestic law as well.

LATIN AMERICA: In Latin America, there is an urgent need for a new anti-interventionist policy, not least to stop the current attempts to take advantage of serious domestic crises in Venezuela, Nicaragua and elsewhere. Progressives will need to challenge the U.S. economic and foreign policies that create refugees from Central America in particular (including the consequences of the U.S. wars of the 1980s), even while fighting to protect those migrants seeking safety in the United States as a result of those earlier policies. Regarding Mexico, Congress needs to fight for a U.S. position in trade negotiations that is not based on economic nationalism, but rather on making sure that Mexican workers and U.S. workers are both equally lifted up. Left policymakers will also have the chance to play a leading role in forging a new relationship with Mexico’s just-elected progressive President Lopez-Obrador.

All of the areas where U.S. wars are or were underway, as well as places where U.S. economic and climate policies have helped create crises threatening people’s lives, also become areas from which migrants are forced to flee their homes. U.S. policymakers must acknowledge that U.S. policies are direct causes of the refugee crises that exist in and around the war zones and climate crisis zones of the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere—and that the refugees seeking asylum in Europe, and the far fewer trying to come to the United States, are a consequence of those policies. So progressive candidates and policymakers should support massive expansion of funding for these victims of war, including humanitarian support in their home regions and acceptance of far greater numbers of refugees into the United States. They must directly challenge the xenophobic policies of the Trump administration that include the Muslim Ban, the separation of children from their families at the border and the vast reduction in refugees accepted into this country. In Congress, that might include introducing bills to cut funding for ICE or eliminate the institution altogether.

Finally, progressive candidates and elected officials will need to continue to craft policy proposals that recognize what happens when the U.S. wars come home. This requires more voices in Congress challenging the military budget because it’s used to kill people abroad andbecause the money is needed for jobs, health care and education at home. It means challenging Islamophobia rising across the United States because of how it threatens Muslims in the United States and because it is used to build support for wars against predominantly Muslim countries. It means exposing—on the floor of the House and beyond—the fact that the Muslim bans targeted primarily countries the United States was bombing, sanctioning or stationing soldiers in. And it means being clear that protecting refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants has to include ending the wars that create refugees in the first place.

Certainly, we shouldn’t expect every progressive or even every socialist running for national office to become an instant expert on every complicated piece of U.S. foreign policy. And for those running for state and local office, there may seem to be even less urgency. But we’ve seen how the Poor People’s Campaign, with its inclusion of militarism and the war economy as one of its four central targets (along with racism, poverty and environmental destruction), has demonstrated to all of our movements the importance of—and a model for—including an anti-war focus within multi-issue state and local mobilizations. The Movement for Black Lives has created one of the strongest internationalist and anti-war platforms we’ve seen in years—including calls for cutting the military budget, supporting Palestinian rights, stopping the Global War on Terror and the so-called War on Drugs, ending the militarized U.S. interventions across Africa, and linking U.S. military and economic policies with the rise in Haitian and other—predominantly Black—immigration.

Immigrant rights activists are linking movements for sanctuary (and against ICE) with opposition to the wars that create refugees. Campaigns are underway to reject the training of U.S. police by Israeli police and military forces. Battles are being waged to get local law enforcement agencies to refuse Pentagon offers of weapons and equipment left over from U.S. wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These campaigns all play out at the local and state level.

So especially for those running for Congress, but really for all candidates at every political level and venue in this country, there is a clear need for a strong, principled position on at least a few key foreign policy issues. And the key to making that happen still lies with our movements.

PHYLLIS BENNIS is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer (Interlink, 2015).

John McCain: Nuclear Disarmament, and What Might Have Been

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

world might have had far fewer nuclear weapons today.

John McCain wanted to ban the bomb. It is not the image one has of the late Arizona senator, but when he ran for president in 2008, he argued that “the United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament.”

It wasn’t just a throwaway line. McCain built it into a speech he gave to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that March. In between calls for robust U.S. global leadership and his defense of the Iraq War, he delivered this clarion call:

Forty years ago, the five declared nuclear powers came together in support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and pledged to end the arms race and move toward nuclear disarmament. The time has come to renew that commitment. We do not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal. The United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament consistent with our vital interests and the cause of peace.

A few months later, speaking in Denver, McCain laid out a detailed plan that called for working with Russia and China to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and canceling the development of so-called nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs then underway in the George W. Bush administration. Advised by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, McCain embraced Ronald Reagan’s vision of a nuclear-free world with specific proposals that still resonate today:

A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, “our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” That is my dream, too. It is a distant and difficult goal. And we must proceed toward it prudently and pragmatically, and with a focused concern for our security and the security of allies who depend on us. But the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals…

Our highest priority must be to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons will ever be used. Such weapons, while still important to deter an attack with weapons of mass destruction against us and our allies, represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man. We do, quite literally, possess the means to destroy all of mankind. We must seek to do all we can to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used…

Today we deploy thousands of nuclear warheads. It is my hope to move as rapidly as possible to a significantly smaller force…I would seriously consider Russia’s recent proposal to work together to globalize the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty…As president I will pledge to continue America’s current moratorium on testing, but also begin a dialogue with our allies, and with the U.S. Senate, to identify ways we can move forward to limit testing in a verifiable manner that does not undermine the security or viability of our nuclear deterrent. This would include taking another look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to see what can be done to overcome the shortcomings that prevented it from entering into force. I opposed that treaty in 1999, but said at the time I would keep an open mind about future developments.

I would only support the development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals. I would cancel all further work on the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon that does not make strategic or political sense.

McCain’s positions were so sweeping that they closely paralleled those advanced by his opponent, Barack Obama. There were plenty of areas of disagreement between the two, but nuclear policy was not really one of them. A debate that year between surrogates for the campaigns, Stephen Biegun for McCain and John Holum for Obama, was a fairly boring affair largely consisting of each side saying, “I agree.” Biegun (now President Donald Trump’s special envoy for North Korea) emphasized McCain’s long track record on nuclear reductions: “For his two decades in the United States Senate, he has been a strong supporter of treaty-based arms control.”


If McCain had become president, it is quite likely that he would have continued this support and implemented these shared policies. In fact, as a Republican, he likely would have been more successful than Obama in getting them enacted.

It is not that he was a better strategist than his Democratic opponent, but McCain would not have faced the fierce partisan opposition Obama encountered when he tried to enact the policies the two shared as candidates. McCain could have garnered Republican support in Congress for these policies, much as Ronald Reagan had done during his tenure. Conservatives would have trusted him; liberals would have applauded him. He very well could have guided us around a significant nuclear corner towards fewer arms, lower costs, and reduced risks.

But he never got the chance. Instead, much to his discredit, McCain himself became part of the opposition that blocked Obama’s efforts. Abandoning his principled positions, he voted against the modest 2010 New START agreement reducing U.S. and Russian strategic arms; as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he pushed billions of dollars into new nuclear weapons programs; he opposed verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program; and, in 2017, he called for a review of deploying nuclear weapons back to the Korean Peninsula.

Who was the real John McCain: 2008’s nuclear disarmer or 2018’s nuclear hawk? Likely both. As the Republican Party drifted away from Reagan’s vision, he drifted with it. He seemed to forget his own campaign-trail warning about “the folly of relying on policies that no longer keep us safe.” As defense budgets went up, he went from calls to slash nuclear arms to support for building more. As diplomacy faltered with Iran and North Korea, he went back to calls for regime change.

We will never know if, in time, he might have drifted back. But it was the 2008 McCain that offered the better hope, the better plan for reducing nuclear dangers rather than creating more.