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Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trump’s arms buildup

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 25, 2018 at 4:16 am

Control of the House will give them ‘the power of no — the ability to block programs, cut funding, withhold agreement.’

Democrats preparing to take over the House are aiming to roll back what they see as President Donald Trump’s overly aggressive nuclear strategy.

Their goals include eliminating money for Trump’s planned expansion of the U.S. atomic arsenal, including a new long-range ballistic missile and development of a smaller, battlefield nuclear bomb that critics say is more likely than a traditional nuke to be used in combat.

They also want to stymie the administration’s efforts to unravel arms control pacts with Russia. And they even aim to dilute Trump’s sole authority to order the use of nuclear arms, following the president’s threats to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea and other loose talk about doomsday weapons.

The incoming House majority will have lots of leverage, even with control of only one chamber in the Capitol, veterans of nuclear policy say. They point to precedents in which a Democratic-controlled House cut funding for Ronald Reagan’s MX nuclear missile and a Democratic-led Congress canceled the development of a new atomic warhead under George W. Bush.

“They can block funding for weapon systems,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. “The Democrats’ ascendancy will prove a much-needed check on the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy and approaches.”

Leading the charge is Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, who is set to become the first progressive in decades to run the House Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for setting defense policy through the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Smith has long criticized both President Barack Obama and Trump’s $1.2 trillion, 30-year plan to upgrade all three legs of the nuclear triad — land-based missiles, submarines and bombers — as both unaffordable and dangerous overkill.

He’s made it clear in recent days that revamping the nation’s nuclear strategy will be one of his top priorities come January, when he is widely expected to take the gavel of the largest committee in Congress.

“The rationale for the triad I don’t think exists anymore. The rationale for the numbers of nuclear weapons doesn’t exist anymore,” Smith told the Ploughshares Fund, a disarmament group, at a recent gathering of the Democratic Party’s nuclear policy establishment.

The day-long conference included leading lawmakers, former National Security Council aides, peace activists and an ex-secretary of defense, William Perry, who was once an architect of many of the nation’s nuclear weapons but is now a leading proponent for a major downsizing.

Arms control and disarmament groups see Smith’s emergence as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to craft a much more sensible approach to nuclear weapons and reduce the danger of a global conflict.

The mere appearance of a would-be Armed Services chairman at the recent gathering demonstrated how much circumstances have changed.

“I have never seen a chairman give nuclear policy such a high priority, have such personal expertise in the area, and be so committed to dramatic change,” said Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund.

Cirincione served as a staffer to then-Rep. Les Aspin, who chaired the panel during the fierce debates over nuclear weapons policies in the 1980s, which he sees as an instructive period for today.

“I know that a Democratic House can have a major impact on nuclear policy,” he said. “It is the Power of No — the ability to block programs, cut funding, withhold agreement to dangerous new policies. Democrats may not be able to enact new policies, but they can force compromises.”

High on the priority list is halting or delaying the development of a planned new nuclear bomb that would have less explosive power than a more traditional atomic bomb. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review called for the so-called “low-yield” weapon last year.

Advocates assert that the weapon, to be launched from a submarine, will provide military commanders with more options and better deter nations such as Russia, China, North Korea and Iran that are building up their own nuclear arsenals. Such a modest nuke would not destroy a city but would devastate a foreign army — and adversaries would have reason to fear that the U.S. might use it in a first strike.

But Smith, who will also influence the House Appropriations Committee’s recommendations for Pentagon funding, insists such a new weapon “brings us no advantage and it is dangerously escalating.”

“It just begins a new nuclear arms race with people just building nuclear weapons all across the board in a way that I think places us at greater danger,” he told Ploughshares Fund.

Democrats are expected to revive legislation proposed earlier this fall in both the House and Senate to try to roll back the program.

“There’s no such thing as a low-yield nuclear war,” says Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and one of the co-sponsors, who also gave his pitch at the Ploughshares Fund gathering this month. “Use of any nuclear weapon, regardless of its killing power, could be catastrophically destabilizing.

Leading Democrats also have their sights on a new intercontinental ballistic missile that is under development as the future land-based leg of the nuclear triad. The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent is set to replace current ICBMs that are deployed in underground silos in Western states such as Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

“The ICBM is where the debate will focus,” predicted Mieke Eoyang, vice president of national security at Third Way, a centrist think tank, and a former aide on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

One key argument will be cost, she added.

“People make the case for all three legs of the triad, but when you look at the budget situation the Pentagon is going to have to make some tough choices,” Eoyang said in an interview. “The modernization of the triad is a big- ticket item that comes over and above what current Defense Department needs are — at a time when budget pressures are coming the other way.”

Critics also argue that the ICBM has outlived its usefulness.

Perry, who served as Pentagon chief for President Bill Clinton, has argued that land-based ICBMs are the leg of the triad that is most prone to miscalculation and an accidental nuclear war. He says submarine- and aircraft-launched nuclear weapons would provide a sufficient deterrent on their own.

But not everyone thinks cutting one leg of the triad will be easy. They cite the political clout of defense contractors and their political supporters in both parties, including the so-called “ICBM Caucus” — especially in the Senate, which will remain under Republican control.

“They won’t be able to take on the triad,” warned former Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, who chaired the national security and foreign affairs panel of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

But Tierney and others said the House can pursue other areas for reshaping nuclear policy — and force the Senate to take up their proposals.

One way is to revive legislation adopting a “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons, declaring that a president could not order the use of nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress.

“We want to avoid the miscalculation of stumbling into a nuclear war,” Smith said. “And this is where I think the No First-Use Bill is incredibly important: to send that message that we do not view nuclear weapons as a tool in warfare.”

The unfolding strategy will also rely on inserting new reporting requirements in defense legislation as a delaying tactic on some nuclear efforts or to compel the administration to reconsider its opposition to some arms control treaties.

While the president negotiates treaties and the Senate is vested with the constitutional authority to ratify them, the House also has some power to force the administration’s hand.

Trump, citing Russian violations, has threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Reagan signed with the then-Soviet Union in 1987. He recently sent national security adviser John Bolton to Moscow to relay the message.

But critics say the landmark treaty, which banned land-based missiles with ranges between 50 and 5,500 kilometers, is still worth trying to salvage with the Russians. And Democrats can try to force the Trump administration to curtail plans for a new cruise missile that would match the Russians.

The Democrats can put the cruise missile “back on its heels,” Tierney said. “Sometimes they can delay, sometimes defeat.”

Democrats also worry that the Trump administration will opt to not renew the New START Treaty with Russia, which expires in early 2021. That pact, reached in 2010, mandates that each side can have no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons and requires regular inspections to ensure each side is complying.

Trump and his advisers “are opposed to multilateralism just based on principle,” Smith told the crowd of arms control advocates. “That is John Bolton’s approach, that he doesn’t want to negotiate with the rest of the world, almost regardless of what it is that we negotiate.”

But Kimball, who met recently with Smith, said Democrats have options on that front, too.

“If the Trump administration threatens to allow New START to expire in 2021, the Democrats are not under any obligation to fund the administration’s request for nuclear weapons,” Kimball said.

He pointed out that Obama secured bipartisan Senate support for ratifying the New START treaty in return for a pledge to increase spending on upgrading the nuclear arsenal and new missile defense systems. “That linkage works the other way, too,” Kimball said.

What is clear is that the nuclear arms control crowd sees Smith as the best hope for change in many years.

“I don’t think it is going to be easy, but we see a chance that we haven’t seen in a long time to have a different path forward on nuclear weapons,” said Stephen Miles, director of Win Without War, an antiwar group. “There isn’t enough money available for the wild plans we had before, let alone Trump’s new objectives.”

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Trump’s Defense Spending Is Out of Control, and Poised to Get Worse

In Cost, Environment, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on November 20, 2018 at 8:26 am

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

18 November 18

Using a time-honored trick, a bipartisan congressional panel argues we should boost the president’s record defense bill even more

 

bipartisan commission has determined that President Trump’s recent record defense bill is insufficiently massive to keep America safe, and we should spend more, while cutting “entitlements.”

The National Defense Strategy Commission concluded the Department of Defense was too focused on “efficiency” and needed to accept “greater cost and risk” to search for “leap-ahead technologies” to help the U.S. maintain superiority.

The panel added that Defense is “not where most of the money is.” It said Congress should be focused on “domestic entitlement programs” and “interest payments on the national debt” as sources of savings.

The report even contains a graph that shows defense spending crawling sadly along the floor of the spending X-axis as mighty mandatory “entitlements” soar to great heights.

This is the same Department of Defense with a serious existing accounting problem. In 2016, before Trump was elected, its Inspector General said he could not properly track $6.5 trillion in defense spending. A later academic study claimed the number was $21 trillion, looking at the years 1998-2015.

Trump originally asked for over $730 billion in defense spending for Fiscal Year 2019, and last spring a budget setting spending at $716 billion passed 85-10 in the Senate. This would have meant an $82 billion spending hike, an increase that by itself was larger than the entire defense budget of every country on earth, save China.

Trump later called for an across-the-board budget cut of 5 percent, leaving the amount of the defense budget in confusion. He still claims he wants $700 billion. Whatever the final amount turns out to be, it will be massive — about 10 times the size of Russia’s defense budget, and four times the size of China’s.

The National Defense Strategy Commission was created as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s section 942 in this bill, and it requires that the majority and minority committee chiefs for Armed Services in both the House and the Senate to each name three people to the panel.

Eric Edelman, who was the senior policy official in the Defense Department from 2005-2009, chairs the panel. The co-chair, appointed by Democrat Adam Smith of Washington, is Admiral Gary Roughead, who was named chief of Naval operations in 2007 and now sits on the board of Northrup Grumman.

Other members include Dr. Andrew Krepinevich, who heads a defense consulting firm called Solarium and once authored a Foreign Policy article called How To Win in Iraq that called for a “protracted commitment of U.S. resources” in the Middle East (this was a precursor to the “surge” concept). Former acting head of the CIA Michael Morell is one of the Democratic appointees.

To recap: While spending record sums on a defense bill, Congress allocated still more money to a panel of current and former defense specialists whose purpose seems to have been to write a report asking for more money.

We regularly hear that our weapons systems are old, outdated and placing troops in harm’s way. It’s an ancient political device and it usually works.

Ronald Reagan was a master at this. In 1983, Reagan was giving speeches about how our last new nuclear missile system, the Minuteman, had been designed in 1969. Meanwhile, the Soviets since then had built five new classes and “upgraded five times.”

This appeal to national consumerist shame — we can’t be seen in public driving something old! ­— is effective. On a policy level, such appeals are usually couched in terms of needing to make American “hard power” a more “credible” foreign policy tool.

Any sober assessment of the challenges faced by the United States since the collapse of the Soviet Union would have stressed human intelligence and data security at the expense of World War II-style arsenals designed to fight conventional wars. Aircraft carriers aren’t much help against terrorism or cyber-attacks.

But the companies that build ships and subs and fighter jets have huge lobbies in D.C., and the congressional pork system significantly revolves around defense allocations.

So instead of looking honestly at where we do and do not need to spend, the military mostly looks at existing weapons systems — even ones that work pretty well — and focuses on how long it’s been since we unveiled jazzy re-designs. That allows the endless cycle of patronage and political contributions to stay in place.

This is why we continue to spend on projects like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an infamous boondoggle that projects to cost over a trillion dollars over the life of the program. Even our president could see through it, once. Shortly after his election, Trump blasted the F-35 program as “out of control” and promised to save “billions” on it.

Then Trump met with Lockheed Martin chief executive Marilyn Hewson, and the president appeared to warm to the F-35. Among other things, he seems to believe “stealth” means the plane is literally invisible:

TRUMP: We buy billions and billions dollars worth of that beautiful F-35. It’s stealth, you cannot see it. Is that correct?

HEWSON: That’s correct, Mr. President.

Before long, Trump was speaking of the weapon in almost erotic, Conan The Barbarian-esque tones:

Now when our enemies hear the F-35’s engines, when they’re roaring overhead, their souls will tremble and they will know the day of reckoning has arrived.

Politicians inevitably fall in love with weapons and weapons-makers. They tend to have less interaction with the people we’re blowing up overseas, or with those who just want us to spend relatively more on schools and medicine. The Pentagon has a powerful lobby; the anti-Pentagon, not so much.

Along with jet fighters, the U.S. is spending a fortune trying to upgrade its aircraft carrier fleet. Trump is adding ships like the unfortunately named U.S.S. Gerald Ford.

According to the Project on Government Oversight, the Ford now projects to cost $12.9 billion, or about 25 percent above original estimates. Moreover, because it is replacing the proven technology of “steam catapults” with a new, glitchy “digital catapult,” it may take a while before the Ford class even matches the capability of the existing Nimitz carriers.

There have been arguments over the years that new developments in long-range anti-ship missiles would expose the carrier’s main weakness: it can be sunk rather quickly in modern warfare.

Which means we may find out just minutes into the next conventional war — if, God forbid, we ever have one — that we spent billions making obsolete forms of weaponry pillars of our defense strategy. But sure, free college tuition is a fairy tale.

Some other questions to consider: What has been the return on the trillions of dollars we’ve spent on wars around the globe since 9/11? Were those 480,000 deaths worth it? Why are we spending buckets of cash on questionable new weapons systems while leaving the VA system in disrepair?

Instead of any of these more sensible questions, which tend to come from academia or activist groups, the headlines in the larger press tend to focus on Reagan-esque themes of loss and decay.

The Hill’s headline about the report: “Defense strategy report warns of grave erosion in U.S. Military Superiority.” The Washington Post: “U.S. Military has eroded to ‘a dangerous degree,’ study for congress finds.’”

CNN was starker: “Experts warn U.S. at risk of losing war with China or Russia.”

The Pentagon doesn’t just spend money; it spends a lot of money asking for more money. And it has many friends in politics and the media to help them along. Its people may not be great at preparing for the next war, but, they know how to keep their budgets high, and they’re at it again.

The best way for our leaders to remember the dead on Armistice Day? Do everything they can to avoid a nuclear war

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 12, 2018 at 11:17 pm

We are facing a situation where millions could be killed in minutes. The death toll could be even greater than that of the two world wars put together

Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real 

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, one of the world’s most horrific conflicts. One of the best accounts of how this tragedy began, by the historian Christopher Clark, details how a group of well-meaning European leaders – “The Sleepwalkers” – led their nations into a war with 40 million military and civilian casualties. Today, we face similar risks of mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals, compounded by the potential for the use of nuclear weapons – where millions could be killed in minutes rather than over four years of protracted trench warfare. Do we have the tools to prevent an incident turning into unimaginable catastrophe?

For those gripped with complacency, consider this scenario. It is 2019. Russia is conducting a large military exercise in its territory bordering Nato. A Nato observer aircraft accidentally approaches Russian airspace, and is shot down by a Russian surface to air missile. Alarmed, Nato begins to mobilise reinforcements. There is concern on both sides over recent nuclear deployments in the wake of the collapse of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Suddenly, both Nato and Russia issue ultimatums – each noting their respective nuclear capabilities and willingness to use them if vital interests are threatened. Europe is edging towards a conventional conflict, and the risk of escalation to nuclear use is very real.

Each of the strands in this hypothetical scenario is visible in the wind today, exacerbated by new threats – such as cyber risks to early warning and command and control systems, which can emerge at any point in a crisis and trigger misunderstandings and unintended signals that could accelerate nations towards war. This is all happening against a backdrop of unease and uncertainty in much of the Euro-Atlantic region resulting from the Ukraine crisis, Syria, migration, Brexit, new technologies, and new and untested leaders now emerging in many Euro-Atlantic states.

What can be done to stop this drift towards madness?

When leaders from across Europe meet in Paris on 11 November to mark the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the First World War, those with nuclear weapons – presidents Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron and the prime minister Theresa May – should reinforce the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. This principle, articulated at the height of the Cold War by the presidents of the United States and Russia, was embraced then by all European countries. It would communicate that leaders today recognise their responsibility to work together to prevent nuclear catastrophe and provide a foundation for other practical steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use – including resolving the current problems with INF and extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) until 2026.

There remains the challenge of rebuilding trust between the United States, Nato and Russia so that it will again be possible to address major security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region. This was done throughout the Cold War and must again be done today. This process could begin with a direction by leaders to their respective governments to renew a mutually beneficial dialogue on crisis management, especially in the absence of trust.

Crisis management dialogue was an essential tool throughout the Cold War – used for managing the “day to day” of potentially dangerous military activities, not for sending political signals. Leaders should not deprive themselves of this essential tool today. Used properly, crisis management can be instrumental in avoiding a crisis ever reaching the point where military forces clash inadvertently or where the use of nuclear weapons needs to be signalled, let alone considered, by leaders with perhaps only minutes to make such a fateful choice.

In reviewing the run-up to past wars, there is one common denominator: those involved in the decision making have looked back and wondered how it could have happened, and happened so quickly? In Paris on Sunday, 100 years after the guns across Europe fell silent, leaders can begin taking important steps to ensure a new and devastating war will not happen today.

Des Browne is the UK’s former secretary of state for defence. The article was written with Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the United States; Igor S Ivanov, former Russian foreign minister; and Sam Nunn, former US senator

A Very Grim Forecast

In Climate change, Environment, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on November 10, 2018 at 8:12 am

Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report

by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Available at www.ipcc.ch

Though it was published at the beginning of October, Global Warming of 1.5°C, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a document with its origins in another era, one not so distant from ours but politically an age apart. To read it makes you weep not just for our future but for our present.

The report was prepared at the request of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of the Paris climate talks in December 2015. The agreement reached in Paris pledged the signatories to holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

The mention of 1.5 degrees Celsius was unexpected; that number had first surfaced six years earlier at the unsuccessful Copenhagen climate talks, when representatives of low-lying island and coastal nations began using the slogan “1.5 to Stay Alive,” arguing that the long-standing red line of a two-degree increase in temperature likely doomed them to disappear under rising seas. Other highly vulnerable nations made the same case about droughts and floods and storms, because it was becoming clear that scientists had been underestimating how broad and deadly the effects of climate change would be. (So far we’ve raised the global average temperature just one degree, which has already brought about changes now readily observable.)

The pledges made by nations at the Paris conference were not enough to meet even the two-degree target. If every nation fulfills those pledges, the global temperature will still rise by about 3.5 degrees Celsius, which everyone acknowledged goes far beyond any definition of safety. But the hope was that the focus and goodwill resulting from the Paris agreement would help get the transition to alternative energy sources underway, and that once nations began installing solar panels and wind turbines they’d find it easier and cheaper than they had expected. They could then make stronger pledges as the process continued. “Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an attitude,” said Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who deserves much of the credit for putting together the agreement. “Ideally,” said Philip A. Wallach, a Brookings Institution fellow, the Paris agreement would create “a virtuous cycle of ambitious commitments, honestly reported progress to match, and further commitments following on those successes.”

To some extent this is precisely what has happened. The engineers have continued to make remarkable advances, and the price of a kilowatt generated by the sun or wind has continued to plunge—so much so that these are now the cheapest sources of power across much of the globe. Battery storage technology has progressed too; the fact that the sun goes down at night is no longer the obstacle to solar power many once presumed. And so vast quantities of renewable technology have been deployed, most notably in China and India. Representatives of cities and states from around the world gathered in San Francisco in September for a miniature version of the Paris summit and made their own pledges: California, the planet’s fifth-largest economy, promised to be carbon-neutral by 2045. Electric cars are now being produced in significant numbers, and the Chinese have deployed a vast fleet of electric buses.

But those are bright spots against a very dark background. In retrospect, Paris in December 2015 may represent a high-water mark for the idea of an interconnected human civilization. Within nine weeks of the conference Donald Trump had won his first primary; within seven months the UK had voted for Brexit, both weakening and distracting the EU, which has been the most consistent global champion of climate action. Since then the US, the largest carbon emitter since the start of the Industrial Revolution, has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, and the president’s cabinet members are busy trying to revive the coal industry and eliminate effective oversight and regulation of the oil and gas business. The prime minister of Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, is now Scott Morrison, a man famous for bringing a chunk of anthracite into Parliament and passing it around so everyone could marvel at its greatness. Canada—though led by a progressive prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who was crucial in getting the 1.5-degree target included in the Paris agreement—has nationalized a pipeline in an effort to spur more production from its extremely polluting Alberta oil sands. Brazil seems set to elect a man who has promised not only to withdraw from the Paris agreement but to remove protections from the Amazon and open the rainforest to cattle ranchers. It is no wonder that the planet’s carbon emissions, which had seemed to plateau in mid-decade, are again on the rise: preliminary figures indicate that a new record will be set in 2018.

This is the backdrop against which the IPCC report arrives, written by ninety-one scientists from forty countries. It is a long and technical document—five hundred pages, drawing on six thousand studies—and as badly written as all the other IPCC grand summaries over the years, thanks in no small part to the required vetting of each sentence of the executive summary by representatives of the participating countries. (Saudi Arabia apparently tried to block some of the most important passages at the last moment during a review meeting, particularly, according to reports, the statement emphasizing “the need for sharp reductions in the use of fossil fuels.” The rest of the conclave threatened to record the objection in a footnote; “it was a game of chicken, and the Saudis blinked first,” one participant said.) For most readers, the thirty-page “Summary for Policymakers” will be sufficiently dense and informative.

The takeaway messages are simple enough: to keep warming under 1.5 degrees, global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 percent by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. We should do our best to meet this challenge, the report warns, because allowing the temperature to rise two degrees (much less than the 3.5 we’re currently on pace for) would cause far more damage than 1.5. At the lower number, for instance, we’d lose 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs. Half a degree higher and that loss rises to 99 percent. The burden of climate change falls first and heaviest on the poorest nations, who of course have done the least to cause the crisis. At two degrees, the report contends, there will be a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics. As one of its authors told The New York Times, “in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant. You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”

The report provides few truly new insights for those who have been paying attention to the issue. In fact, because the IPCC is such a slave to consensus, and because its slow process means that the most recent science is never included in its reports, this one almost certainly understates the extent of the problem. Its estimates of sea-level rise are on the low end—researchers are increasingly convinced that melting in Greenland and the Antarctic is proceeding much faster than expected—and it downplays fears, bolstered by recent research, that the system of currents bringing warm water to the North Atlantic has begun to break down.* As the chemist Mario Molina, who shared the Nobel Prize in 1995 for discovering the threat posed by chlorofluorocarbon gases to the ozone layer, put it, “the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system.”

All in all, though, the world continues to owe the IPCC a great debt: scientists have once again shown that they can agree on a broad and workable summary of our peril and deliver it in language that, while clunky, is clear enough that headline writers can make sense of it. (Those who try, anyway. An analysis of the fifty biggest US newspapers showed that only twenty-two of them bothered to put a story about the report on the homepages of their websites.)

The problem is that action never follows: the scientists do their job, but even the politicians not controlled by the fossil fuel industry tend to punt or to propose small-bore changes too slow and cautious to make much difference. By far the most important change between this and the last big IPCC report, in 2014, is simply that four years have passed, meaning that the curve we’d need to follow to cut our emissions sufficiently has grown considerably steeper. Instead of the relatively gentle trajectory that would have been required if we had paid attention in 1995, the first time the IPCC warned us that global warming was real and dangerous, we’re at the point where even an all-out effort would probably be too slow. As the new report concedes, there is “no documented historical precedent” for change at the speed that the science requires.

There’s one paramount reason we didn’t heed those earlier warnings, and that’s the power of the fossil fuel industry. Since the last IPCC report, a series of newspaper exposés has made it clear that the big oil companies knew all about climate change even before it became a public issue in the late 1980s, and that, instead of owning up to that knowledge, they sponsored an enormously expensive campaign to obfuscate the science. That campaign is increasingly untenable. In a world where floods, fires, and storms set new records almost weekly, the industry now concentrates on trying to slow the inevitable move to renewable energy and preserve its current business model as long as possible.

After the release of the IPCC report, for instance, Exxon pledged $1 million to work toward a carbon tax. That’s risible—Exxon made $280 billion in the last decade, and it has donated huge sums to elect a Congress that won’t pass a carbon tax anytime soon; oil companies are spending many millions of dollars to defeat a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State and to beat back bans on fracking in Colorado. Even if a carbon tax somehow made it past the GOP, the amount Exxon says it wants—$40 a ton—is tiny compared to what the IPCC’s analysts say would be required to make a real dent in the problem. And in return the proposed legislation would relieve the oil companies of all liability for the havoc they’ve caused. A bargain that might have made sense a generation ago no longer counts for much.

Given the grim science, it’s a fair question whether anything can be done to slow the planet’s rapid warming. (One Washington Post columnist went further, asking, “Why bother to bear children in a world wracked by climate change?”) The phrase used most since the report’s release was “political will,” usually invoked earnestly as the missing ingredient that must somehow be conjured up. Summoning sufficient political will to blunt the power of Exxon and Shell seems unlikely. As the energy analyst David Roberts predicted recently on Twitter, “the increasing severity of climate impacts will not serve as impetus to international cooperation, but the opposite. It will empower nationalists, isolationists, & reactionaries.” Anyone wondering what he’s talking about need merely look at the Western reaction to the wave of Syrian refugees fleeing a civil war sparked in part by the worst drought ever measured in that region.

The stakes are so high, though, that we must still try to do what we can to change those odds. And it’s not an entirely impossible task. Nature is a good organizer: the relentless floods and storms and fires have gotten Americans’ attention, and the percentage of voters who acknowledge that global warming is a threat is higher than ever before, and the support for solutions is remarkably nonpartisan: 93 percent of Democrats want more solar farms; so do 84 percent of Republicans. The next Democratic primary season might allow a real climate champion to emerge who would back what the rising progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called a “Green New Deal”; in turn a revitalized America could theoretically help lead the planet back to sanity. But for any of that to happen, we need a major shift in our thinking, strong enough to make the climate crisis a center of our political life rather than a peripheral question easily avoided. (There were no questions at all about climate change in the 2016 presidential debates.)

The past year has offered a few signs that such large-scale changes are coming. In October, the attorney general for New York State filed suit against ExxonMobil, claiming the company defrauded shareholders by downplaying the risks of climate change. In January New York City joined the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign, pledging to sell off the oil and gas shares in its huge pension portfolio; Mayor Bill de Blasio is working with London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to convince their colleagues around the world to do likewise. In July Ireland became the first nation to join the campaign, helping to take the total funds involved to over $6 trillion. This kind of pressure on investors needs to continue: as the IPCC report says, if the current flows of capital into fossil fuel projects were diverted to solar and wind power, we’d be closing in on the sums required to transform the world’s energy systems.

It’s natural following devastating reports like this one to turn to our political leaders for a response. But in an era when politics seems at least temporarily broken, and with a crisis that has a time limit, civil society may need to pressure the business community at least as heavily to divest their oil company shares, to stop underwriting and insuring new fossil fuel projects, and to dramatically increase the money available for clean energy. We’re running out of options, and we’re running out of decades. Over and over we’ve gotten scientific wake-up calls, and over and over we’ve hit the snooze button. If we keep doing that, climate change will no longer be a problem, because calling something a problem implies there’s still a solution.

—October 25, 2018

From UN Human Rights Committee

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 9, 2018 at 10:49 am

I received the following from John Burroughs of The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Polity:

 

The threat or use of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons, which are indiscriminate in effect and are of a nature to cause destruction of human life on a catastrophic scale is incompatible with respect for the right to life and may amount to a crime under international law. States parties must take all necessary measures to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including measures to prevent their acquisition by non-state actors, to refrain from developing, producing, testing, acquiring, stockpiling, selling, transferring and using them, to destroy existing stockpiles, and to take adequate measures of protection against accidental use, all in accordance with their international obligations. They must also respect their international obligations to pursue in good faith negotiations in order to achieve the aim of nuclear disarmament under strict and effective international control and to afford adequate reparation to victims whose right to life has been or is being adversely affected by the testing or use of weapons of mass destruction, in accordance with principles of international responsibility.

 

For more about the development of the paragraph and its significance, see this post by Daniel Rietiker:

https://safna.org/2018/11/07/threat-and-use-of-nuclear-weapons-contrary-to-right-to-life-says-un-human-rights-committee/

This Is Not Your Mother’s Cold War: It’s much more terrifying.

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 3, 2018 at 3:32 am

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

When it comes to relations between Donald Trump’s America, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and Xi Jinping’s China, observers everywhere are starting to talk about a return to an all-too-familiar past. “Now we have a new Cold War,” commented Russia expert Peter Felgenhauer in Moscow after President Trump recently announced plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Trump administration is “launching a new Cold War,” said historian Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal, following a series of anti-Chinese measures approved by the president in October. And many others are already chiming in.

Recent steps by leaders in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing may seem to lend credence to such a “new Cold War” narrative, but in this case history is no guide. Almost two decades into the 21st century, what we face is not some mildly updated replica of last century’s Cold War, but a new and potentially even more dangerous global predicament.

The original Cold War, which lasted from the late 1940s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, posed a colossal risk of thermonuclear annihilation. At least after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, however, it also proved a remarkably stable situation in which, despite local conflicts of many sorts, the United States and the Soviet Union both sought to avoid the kinds of direct confrontations that might have triggered a mutual catastrophe. In fact, after confronting the abyss in 1962, the leaders of both superpowers engaged in a complex series of negotiations leading to substantial reductions in their nuclear arsenals and agreements intended to reduce the risk of a future Armageddon

What others are now calling the New Cold War—but I prefer to think of as a new global tinderbox—bears only the most minimal resemblance to that earlier period. As before, the United States and its rivals are engaged in an accelerating arms race, focused on nuclear and “conventional” weaponry of ever-increasing range, precision, and lethality. All three countries, in characteristic Cold War fashion, are also lining up allies in what increasingly looks like a global power struggle.

But the similarities end there. Among the differences, the first couldn’t be more obvious: The United States now faces two determined adversaries, not one, and a far more complex global conflict map (with a corresponding increase in potential nuclear flashpoints). At the same time, the old boundaries between “peace” and “war” are rapidly disappearing as all three rivals engage in what could be thought of as combat by other means, including trade wars and cyberattacks that might set the stage for far greater violence to follow. To compound the danger, all three big powers are now engaging in provocative acts aimed at “demonstrating resolve” or intimidating rivals, including menacing US and Chinese naval maneuvers off Chinese-occupied islands in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, rather than pursue the sort of arms-control agreements that tempered Cold War hostilities, the United States and Russia appear intent on tearing up existing accords and launching a new nuclear arms race.

These factors could already be steering the world ever closer to a new Cuban missile crisis, when the world came within a hairsbreadth of nuclear incineration. This one, however, could start in the South China Sea or even in the Baltic region, where US and Russian planes and ships are similarly engaged in regular near-collisions.

Why are such dangers so rapidly ramping up? To answer this, it’s worth exploring the factors that distinguish this moment from the original Cold War era.

In the original Cold War, the bipolar struggle between Moscow and Washington—the last two superpowers left on planet Earth after centuries of imperial rivalry—seemed to determine everything that occurred on the world stage. This, of course, entailed great danger, but also enabled leaders on each side to adopt a common understanding of the need for nuclear restraint in the interest of mutual survival.

The bipolar world of the Cold War was followed by what many observers saw as a “unipolar moment,” in which the United States, the “last superpower,” dominated the world stage. During this period, which lasted from the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Washington largely set the global agenda and, when minor challengers arose—think Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—employed overwhelming military power to crush them. Those foreign engagements, however, consumed huge sums of money and tied down American forces in remarkably unsuccessful wars across a vast arc of the planet, while Moscow and Beijing—neither so wealthy nor so encumbered—were able to begin their own investment in military modernization and geopolitical outreach.

Today, the “unipolar moment” has vanished and we are in what can only be described as a tripolar world. All three rivals possess outsized military establishments with vast arrays of conventional and nuclear weapons. China and Russia have now joined the United States (even if on a more modest scale) in extending their influence beyond their borders diplomatically, economically, and militarily. More importantly, all three rivals are led by highly nationalistic leaders, each determined to advance his country’s interests.

A tripolar world, almost by definition, will be markedly different from either a bipolar or a unipolar one and conceivably far more discordant, with Donald Trump’s Washington potentially provoking crises with Moscow at one moment and Beijing the next, without apparent reason. In addition, a tripolar world is likely to encompass more potential flash points. During the whole Cold War era, there was one crucial line of confrontation between the two major powers: the boundary between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations in Europe. Any flare-up along that line could indeed have triggered a major commitment of force on both sides and, in all likelihood, the use of so-called tactical or theater atomic weapons, leading almost inevitably to full-scale thermonuclear combat. Thanks to such a risk, the leaders of those superpowers eventually agreed to various de-escalatory measures, including the about-to-be-cancelled INF Treaty of 1987 that banned the deployment of medium-range ground-launched missiles capable of triggering just such a spiral of ultimate destruction.

Today, that line of confrontation between Russia and NATO in Europe has been fully restored (and actually reinforced) along a perimeter considerably closer to Russian territory, thanks toNATO’s eastward expansion into the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Baltic republics in the era of unipolarity. Along this repositioned line, as during the Cold War years, hundreds of thousands of well-armed soldiers are now poised for full-scale hostilities on very short notice.

At the same time, a similar line of confrontation has been established in Asia, ranging from Russia’s far-eastern territories to the East and South China Seas and into the Indian Ocean. In May, the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, was renamed the Indo-Pacific Command, highlighting the expansion of this frontier of confrontation. At points along this line, too, US planes and ships are encountering Chinese or Russian ones on a regular basis, often coming within shooting range. The mere fact that three major nuclear powers are now constantly jostling for position and advantage over significant parts of the planet only increases the possibility of clashes that could trigger a catastrophic escalatory spiral.

The War Has Already Begun

During the Cold War, the United States and the USSR engaged in hostile activities vis-à-vis each other that fell short of armed combat, including propaganda and disinformation warfare, as well as extensive spying. Both also sought to expand their global reach by engaging in proxy wars—localized conflicts in what was then called the Third World aimed at bolstering or eliminating regimes loyal to one side or the other. Such conflicts would produce millions of casualties but never lead to direct combat between the militaries of the two superpowers (although each would commit its forces to key contests, the United States in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan),nor were they allowed to become the kindling for a nuclear clash between them. At the time, both countries made a sharp distinction between such operations and the outbreak of a global “hot war.”

In the 21st century, the distinction between “peace” and “war” is already blurring, as the powers in this tripolar contest engage in operations that fall short of armed combat but possess some of the characteristics of interstate conflict. When President Trump, for example, first announced tough import tariffs and other economic penalties against China, his stated intent was to overcome an unfair advantage that country, he claimed, had gained in trade relations. “For months, we have urged China to change these unfair practices, and give fair and reciprocal treatment to American companies,” he asserted in mid-September while announcing tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. It’s clear, however, that his escalating trade “war” is also meant to hobble the Chinese economy and so frustrate Beijing’s drive to achieve parity with the United States as a major world actor. The Trump administration seeks, as The New York Times’ Neil Irwin observed, to “isolate China and compel major changes to Chinese business and trade practices. The ultimate goal…is to reset the economic relationship between China and the rest of the world.”

In doing so, the president is said to be particularly keen on disrupting and crippling Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan, an ambitious scheme to achieve mastery in key technological sectors of the global economy, including artificial intelligence and robotics, something that would indeed bring China closer to thatgoal of parity, which Trump and his associates are determined to sabotage. In other words, for China, this is no mere competitive challenge but a potentially existential threat to its future status as a great power. As a result, expect counter-measures that are likely to further erode the borders between peace and war.

And if there is any place where such borders are particularly at risk of erosion, it’s in cyberspace, an increasingly significant arena for combat in the post-Cold War world. While an incredible source of wealth to companies that rely on the Internet for commerce and communications, cyberspace is also a largely unpatrolled jungle where bad actors can spread misinformation, steal secrets, or endanger critical economic and other operations. Its obvious penetrability has proven a bonanza for criminals and political provocateurs of every stripe, including aggressive groups sponsored by governments eager to engage in offensive operations that, while again falling short of armed combat, pose significant dangers to a targeted country. As Americans have discovered to our horror, Russian government agents exploited the Internet’s many vulnerabilities to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and are reportedly continuing to meddle in America’s electoral politics two years later. China, for its part, is believed to have exploited the Internet to steal American technological secrets, including data for the design and development of advanced weapons systems.

The United States, too, has engaged in offensive cyber operations, including the groundbreaking 2010 “Stuxnet” attack that temporarily crippled Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities. It reportedly also used such methods to try to impair North Korean missile launches. To what degree US cyberattacks have been directed against China or Russia is unknown, but under a new “National Cyber Strategy” unveiled by the Trump administration in August, such a strategy will become far more likely. Claiming that those countries have imperiled American national security through relentless cyberattacks, it authorizes secret retaliatory strikes.

The question is: Could trade war and cyberwar lead one day to regular armed conflict?

Muscle-Flexing in Perilous Times

Such dangers are compounded by another distinctive feature of the new global tinderbox: the unrestrained impulse of top officials of the three powers to advertise their global assertiveness through conspicuous displays of military power, including encroaching on the perimeters, defensive or otherwise, of their rivals. These can take various forms, including overly aggressive military “exercises” and the deployment of warships in contested waters.

Increasingly massive and menacing military exercises have become a distinctive feature of this new era. Such operations typically involve the mobilization of vast air, sea, and land forces for simulated combat maneuvers, often conducted adjacent to a rival’s territory.

This summer, for example, the alarm bells in NATO went off when Russia conducted Vostok 2018, its largest military exercise since World War II. Involving as many as 300,000 troops, 36,000 armored vehicles, and more than 1,000 planes, it was intended to prepare Russian forces for a possible confrontation with the United States and NATO, while signaling Moscow’s readiness to engage in just such an encounter. Not to be outdone, NATO recently completed its largest exercise since the Cold War’s end. Called Trident Venture, it fielded some 40,000 troops, 70 ships, 150 aircraft, and 10,000 ground combat vehicles in maneuvers also intended to simulate a major East-West clash in Europe.

Such periodic troop mobilizations can lead to dangerous and provocative moves on all sides, as ships and planes of the contending forces maneuver in contested areas like the Baltic and Black Seas. In one incident in 2016, Russian combat jets flew provocatively within a few hundred feet of a US destroyer while it was sailing in the Baltic Sea, nearly leading to a shooting incident. More recently, Russian aircraft reportedly came within five feet of an American surveillance plane flying over the Black Sea. No one has yet been wounded or killed in any of these encounters, but it’s only a matter of time before something goes terribly wrong.

The same is true of Chinese and American naval encounters in the South China Sea. China has converted some low-lying islets and atolls it claims in those waters into miniature military installations, complete with airstrips, radar, and missile batteries—steps that have been condemned by neighboring countries with similar claims to those islands. The United States, supposedly acting on behalf of its allies in the region, as well as to protect its “freedom of navigation” in the area, has sought to counter China’s provocative buildup with aggressive acts of its own. It has dispatched its warships to waters right off those fortified islands. The Chinese, in response, have sent vessels to harass the American ones and only recently one of them almost collided with a US destroyer. Vice President Pence, in an October 4th speech on China at the Hudson Institute, referred to that incident, saying, “We will not be intimidated, and we will not stand down.”

What comes next is anyone’s guess, since “not standing down” roughly translates into increasingly aggressive maneuvers.

On the Road to World War III?

Combine all of this—economic attacks, cyber attacks, and ever more aggressive muscle-flexing military operations—and you have a situation in which a modern version of the Cuban missile crisis between the United States and China or the United States and Russia or even involving all three could happen at any time. Add the apparent intent of the leaders of all three countries to abandon the remaining restraints on the acquisition of nuclear weapons in order to seek significant additions to their existing arsenals and you have the definition of an extremely dangerous situation. In February, for instance, President Trump gave the green light to what may prove to be a $1.6 trillion overhaul of the American nuclear arsenal initially contemplated in the Obama years, intended to “modernize” existing delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and long-range strategic bombers. Russia has embarked on a similar overhaul of its nuclear stockpile, while China, with a much smaller arsenal, is undertaking modernization projects of its own.

Equally worrisome, all three powers appear to be pursuing the development of theater nuclear weapons intended for use against conventional forces in the event of a major military conflagration. Russia, for example, has developed several short- and medium-range missiles capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional warheads, including the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile that, American officials claim, already violates the INF Treaty. The United States, which has long relied on aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons for use against massive conventional enemy threats, is now seeking additional attack options of its own. Under the administration’s Nuclear Policy Review of February 2018, the Pentagon will undertake the development of a “low-yield” nuclear warhead for its existing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and later procure a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile.

While developing such new weapons and enhancing the capability of older ones, the major powers are also tearing down the remaining arms control edifice. President Trump’s October 20th announcement that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 INF treaty to develop new missiles of its own represents a devastating step in that direction. “We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he told reporters in Nevada after a rally. “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out.”

How do the rest of us respond to such a distressing prospect in an increasingly imperiled world? How do we slow the pace of the race to World War III?

There is much that could, in fact, be done to resist a new nuclear arms confrontation. After all, it was massive public pressure in the 1980s that led the United States and USSR to sign the INF Treaty in the first place. But in order to do so, a new world war would have to be seen as a central danger of our time, potentially even more dangerous than the Cold War era, given the three nuclear-armed great powers now involved. Only by positioning that risk front and center and showing how many other trends are leading us, pell-mell, in such a direction, can the attention of a global public already distracted by so many other concerns and worries be refocused.

Is a nuclear World War III preventable? Yes, but only if preventing it becomes a central, common objective of our moment. And time is already running out.

Michael T. KlareTwitterMichael T. Klare, The Nation’s defense correspondent, is professor emeritus of peace and world-security studies at Hampshire College and senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association in Washington, DC.

Trump Is Pushing the United States Toward Nuclear Anarchy

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 2, 2018 at 1:37 am

The White House wants to leave the INF Treaty. New START could be next. The death of these agreements would fuel a new arms race.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Vladimir Korolev, the commander in chief of the Navy, examine a globe in St. Petersburg on July 30, 2017. (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Vladimir Korolev, the commander in chief of the Navy, examine a globe in St. Petersburg on July 30, 2017. (Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s tough talk about withdrawing the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has generated plenty of controversy, but not much clarity about what happens next. What’s certain is that the end of the treaty would make the United States and its allies (for whom Trump apparently cares little) less safe and would undermine the global basis for nuclear restraint and nonproliferation.

And it may get worse. America’s potential withdrawal from the INF Treaty—which bans the United States and Russia from having nuclear or conventional ground-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (300 to 3,400 miles)—suggests that the 2010 New START arms reduction treaty with Russia might be next.

The untimely death of these two agreements would add fuel to a new arms race and further undermine stability and predictability between Washington and Moscow.

The untimely death of these two agreements would add fuel to a new arms race and further undermine stability and predictability between Washington and Moscow.

The last time the United States and Russia had to navigate a world without bilateral nuclear constraints was before 1972; it was a world we were lucky to survive and one to which no sane person should want to return.Nuclear weapons and deterrence advocates like to claim that the invention of nuclear weapons is what has kept the peace among major powers since the end of World War II. However, it was the development of predictable, binding, legal agreements and enforced global norms of behavior across security, trade, and global issues—not nuclear arms—that helped the United States to become the most prosperous and secure country in history. The rules not only made the United States safer and richer but also helped usher in an unprecedented era of global prosperity. The preservation of that order is a vital national interest and is under attack by the Trump administration.

That Trump would seek to undermine the rules that have benefited U.S. prosperity and influence is bad enough. That he would try to disrupt the system that prevents nuclear anarchy is inexcusable.

Arms control agreements, imperfect as they are, have proven remarkably successful at countering destabilizing nuclear programs at a fraction of the cost of countervailing military programs. Such agreements should only be ended after careful consideration and if the outcome will improve U.S. security, and where there is at least a plan to restore whatever stability and security is lost by their termination. Trump’s move to kill the INF Treaty includes neither, and it is increasingly obvious that ending the agreement has little to do with Russia and much to do with both China and the anti-treaty zealots now in control at the White House. While there may be some merit to the idea of leaving the INF Treaty behind, the onus of justifying such a move and explaining how the United States would be better off in sum is now on those who are clamoring for its demise.

How did the situation get so bad?

The Obama administration in 2014 discovered and announced that Russia was violating the INF Treaty by developing and deploying a small number of banned missiles. Since then, the U.S. government has determined that there is no need for the military to develop its own counterpart missiles. Instead, the best reaction, and one that I helped to encourage during my time in the White House, was to develop a unified allied response that could bring Russia back into compliance with an agreement that had long served the interests of the United States, its East Asian allies, and NATO.

Pressing the arms control case was not easy. In our work, we were hampered by the highly sensitive nature of the intelligence proving Russia’s violation, and many of my colleagues were understandably consumed by addressing Russia’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014. Even with concerted effort, it proved difficult for us in the Obama administration to gain broad European support to pressure Russia over its INF Treaty violations. Yet throughout our efforts it was clear to me and to President Barack Obama’s national security team that if it was necessary for the United States to develop its own missile systems to counter Russia’s actions, it had the legal right to do so even while remaining compliant under the INF Treaty. Congress eventually pushed for such a program, for which research and development is underway, even as the United States remains in compliance with the agreement, which draws the line at flight-testing such systems.

After assuming office, Trump largely ignored the issue of the INF Treaty and nuclear stability, even passing on an early offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to extend the New START agreement, which caps both Russia and the United States at 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons and will expire on Feb. 5, 2021, unless extended by a term of up to five years. Since then, there has been no evidence that Trump or any senior member of his administration has engaged with Russia in any serious way to bring it back into compliance with the INF Treaty. While the Defense Department’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review does briefly mention the agreement, it includes no strategy to restore Russian compliance and instead uses Russia’s violations to justify considering a new generation of sea-launched, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

Despite the opportunity they themselves may have created, there has also been no serious or sustained attempt to leverage the threat of withdrawal to bring Russia back to the table. And since National Security Advisor John Bolton, an anti-arms control hard-liner, joined the administration in April, matters have only gotten worse. He has shown no interest in preserving the treaty or in investing in the hard work of coordinating with U.S. allies to build support for Washington’s position. It is not even clear a single meeting of the National Security Council has been convened to discuss the INF Treaty with the president.

Should the United States follow through on its threat to precipitously pull out of the INF Treaty, Russia will continue to build and deploy intermediate-range missiles, and its treaty violation will be essentially absolved. The demise of the treaty would render useless efforts to condemn Russia diplomatically or impose sanctions. It is not even clear the United States would retain a legal basis to levy sanctions over a treaty violation after killing the agreement. And instead of focusing global attention on Russia’s violation of the Cold War-era pact, it is the United States that will come across as the threat to nuclear stability and predictability.

Of course, both countries share responsibility for the current dangerous state of nuclear affairs, but Russia is the one that benefits when the United States is divided from its European allies and from the collapse of the rules-based order that Washington has championed for over 70 years. Unilateral withdrawal from the INF Treaty could not benefit Putin more if he had scripted it himself.

Are there good reasons to kill the treaty?

Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty and other arms control agreements are legitimate concerns. Washington rightly cares when Moscow deviates from an agreement and when it threatens the United States and its allies. But let’s not kid ourselves that this concern is the true force behind Trump’s planned decision to kill the agreement. He has rarely acted to counter Russian threats to the United States or its allies, whom he sees more as freeloaders than friends. More than by Russia’s action, however, the INF Treaty withdrawal appears to be predominantly motivated by a combination of anti-arms control voices and the military’s interest in developing new missiles to counter China’s missile capabilities.

The INF Treaty limits the United States and Russia, but not China, from possessing mid-range, ground-launched missiles. There have been some thoughtful discussions about whether the United States should address China’s large arsenal of intermediate-range missile forces if the INF Treaty ceased to exist—and if so, how. And there may be some merit to the idea of the United States gaining additional capabilities in Asia to counter China. It is much less clear, however, how systems prohibited by the treaty—should the United States develop and deploy them in the region—improve military strength or deterrence in Asia or elsewhere. The United States already has intermediate-range air- and ship-based missiles, as well as shorter-range systems that can target Chinese forces, to say nothing of its strategic nuclear weapons. It is also not clear that any American allies would agree to host new U.S. intermediate-range missiles, nuclear or conventional, on their territory. The United States could place such missiles in Guam, but because it can already fly bombers from Guam, it is hard to see how land-based missiles there provide a significant advantage over the status quo.

This debate, of course, is only beginning. The burden of proof, however, should be on those arguing that the benefits of deploying such missiles in Asia outweigh the consequences of ending safeguards in Europe. And in this discussion, a hard look at how deploying a short flight time missile within range of China might lead Beijing to vastly increase the size of or its reliance on its own nuclear and missile arsenals. It is possible that instead of deterring China, such a move would undermine the concept of strategic and crisis stability in East Asia and lead China to vastly increase its capabilities. In other words, just because the United States might be able to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia does not mean it should, or that it would be more secure if it did.

Can the New START treaty survive Trump?

Even if there were merit to the argument that the INF Treaty has outlived its usefulness, the looming question about New START is impossible to avoid. New START is the last binding constraint on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear systems. It requires highly intrusive and reliable on-site inspections inside the nuclear arsenals of both countries. The predictability and transparency this agreement provides are critical to maintaining stability—what is left of it—between the two nuclear superpowers.

Moreover, New START was the instrument through which the Pentagon gained broad support for the U.S. effort to modernize its aging nuclear forces. Its expiration without renewal would be the final blow to efforts to stave off a full-blown nuclear arms race between Washington and Moscow, undermine the United States’ ability to track Russian nuclear forces, cost billions of dollars in intelligence activities to replace, and undermine the basis for nuclear restraint globally. It would also blow up any semblance of bipartisan support for nuclear arms control systems and could result in a dramatic, and some would argue long overdue, downsizing of the U.S. nuclear modernization program, which is now slated to cost some $1.7 trillion over the next three decades.

And all signs point to New START dying at the hands of Trump and Bolton, who could withdraw in advance of the renewal date. Strike one: the fact that Obama negotiated it—an original sin in Trump’s eyes. Strike two: The agreement constrains U.S. nuclear capabilities, something that Trump does not understand and that chafes Bolton, who has objections to any agreement that limits U.S. freedom of action. Strike three: Trump believes he is a master negotiator and that by getting tough he can not only bring Russia to the table, but also get a better deal than Obama, Ronald Reagan, or any of his predecessors.

Despite the odds against it, there remains a glimmer of hope for New START. Unlike the Iran nuclear deal or the INF Treaty, New START has universal backing from the uniformed and civilian leaders in the Defense Department and in the intelligence community. Even in the run-up to the Iran deal, there were some in the Pentagon who wanted to challenge Tehran over both regional and missile activities. There is little, if any, such case being made against New START. The inspections and constraints it puts on Russia and the money it saves for the intelligence community made clear in 2010 that its adoption was in America’s national security interests. The same remains true today.

Two possible futures

Sadly, widespread support for New START will not be enough to convince Trump. Which means there are two possible paths ahead.

This first is one in which New START dies or is killed outright by Trump. The treaty gives either country the right to withdraw based on supreme national interests.

Withdrawal would produce a dangerous future in which the risk of miscalculation is high, and in which both the United States and Russia develop systems they believe are stabilizing but in fact increase the risk of nuclear use by the other. Any hint that Russia is accelerating its nuclear efforts will spur the United States to do the same. Does missile or bomber gap ring a bell?

The second future is one in which Trump gets to stroke his ego by negotiating a fig leaf of a new treaty, backed by the real inspections and predictability that form the heart of New START.

While Trump probably won’t agree to a New START extension as a favor to Putin, he might do it to help promote his own narrative. He thinks of himself as a negotiating master, and his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico shows that he will accept minor changes to an existing agreement just to be able to claim victory.

Thus, the best-case outcome would be for Trump and Putin to agree to a new short-term deal that lowers their arsenals to a new level—say, 1,250 offensive strategic nuclear weapons each—and combine it with an extension of the New START pact, which would provide the needed verification. To make it even more attractive, Russia should name the agreement the Treaty on the Reduction of Ultimate Military Programs (TRUMP). How could he resist?

This would be far from ideal. But such an outcome is far preferable to one in which the INF Treaty and New START cease to exist and both countries try to out arms race the other. While it should be clear that the premature demise of viable and valuable arms control agreements undermines U.S. security and global systems of stability, this may not be an argument that works on the Trump administration, where logic and facts rarely apply.

Despite the attempt by many to bury them, however, verifiable and binding arms control agreements are not vestiges of the Cold War, nor have they outgrown their value. The United States and its allies need them now more than ever—with Russia and if possible with China. In relying only on unconstrained American might and leaving a proven and valuable tool on the cutting room floor, the Trump White House has forgotten the lessons of history and is leading the country and the world into dangers we thought were abandoned forever.

Jon Wolfsthal is director of the Nuclear Crisis Group. He was President Barack Obama’s special assistant and senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation. @JBWolfsthal

‘Our Democracy Is Sick’: Progressive Groups Join Forces to Ensure Voting Rights and End Corporate Sabotage of Common Good

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race on November 1, 2018 at 12:34 am

Common Dreams, October 30, 2018

“Today our system is in crisis,” warns the new Declaration for American Democracy. “Together we must build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, voting rights are fully enforced, and everyone’s voice is heard.”

The Declaration for American Democracy

The Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of 100+ national groups committed to fundemental reforms in the U.S. political system, will officially launch its campaign the day after this year’s upcoming midterm elections. (Photo: declarationforamericandemocracy.org)

Increasingly alarmed by powerful corporate and wealthy interests that have pushed the U.S. political system toward “impending constitutional catastrophe,” nearly 100 national organizations on Tuesday announced that they are coming together for a campaign that aims to take back the country’s democratic institutions by fighting for “the structural changes necessary to rebalance power for people.”

“Our democracy is sick, and it’s not an accident.”
—Ezra Levin, Indivisible

“Today our system is in crisis,” warns the Declaration for American Democracy’s mission statement (pdf). “Together we must build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, voting rights are fully enforced, and everyone’s voice is heard.”

The coalition—which includes groups focused on the environment, reproductive rights, labor conditions, election security, criminal justice reform, and a host of other issues—vows to “work collectively to create and pass a series of fundamental reforms to rebalance our moneyed political system, empower everyday Americans, ensure equal justice for all, protect the public’s right to know, reduce barriers to participation in our elections, vigorously enforce voting laws, and fix our ethics laws.”

Their campaign officially begins on Nov. 7, the day after the upcoming midterm elections. Members include the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), CODEPINK, Common Cause, Credo Action, Demand Progress, Demos, Greenpeace, Indivisible, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, MoveOn.org, the NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, People’s Action, Planned Parenthood, Public Citizen, SEIU, Sierra Club, the Working Families Party, and dozens of other organizations.

“Our democracy is sick, and it’s not an accident. This is the result of a decades-long campaign to disenfranchise communities of color and reduce government’s responsiveness to the will of the people,” said Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible. “Opponents of democracy in America engage in acts of sabotage in order to entrench their own power and reward their donors. But that is about to change. America is ready for a bold vision for 21st century democracy.”

“The stakes for our civil and human rights are too high for inaction,” declared Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, another coalition member. “Voter suppression and intimidation, efforts to undermine a fair and accurate census, and corruption scandals are just a few reasons why we must advance an affirmative vision to build an America as good as its ideals.”

That vision includes protecting reproductive rights and access to healthcare, charged NARAL president Ilyse Hogue. “We deserve to live in a country where women, not out-of-touch politicians fueled by ideological and politically motivated interest groups, have the freedom to make the most personal decisions about if, when and how to grow their families,” she said. “It’s time that our democracy was fueled by elected officials willing to fight for our values, our futures and our votes.”

“We deserve a republic that truly serves the people rather than the private interests of public officials and wealthy political donors.”
—Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen

It also includes taking rapid actions to address the climate crisis and safeguard environmental protections. As Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune pointed out, “corporate polluters have been flooding our political system with big money for too long, spending unprecedented millions to try to keep people from voting while propping up politicians who push their dirty agenda rather than the things the American people care about most, like clean air and water, safe communities and family-sustaining jobs.”

As the anti-choice movement, the fossil fuel industry, and other corporate powers have poured money into political lobbying to bolster policies that endanger public health and undermine U.S. democracy, the Trump administration’s “catastrophic ethical failings have exposed the gaps in our system of ethics laws,” noted CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder.

“Only by winning foundational reforms to our politics, can we hope to move forward the substantive policies that are so important to the American people—from protecting our environment, to fighting for consumers and working families, to improving our health care and lowering prescription drug prices and more,” concluded Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “We deserve a republic that truly serves the people rather than the private interests of public officials and wealthy political donors.”