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Reach High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 4, 2017 at 2:37 am

Youth appeal to world leaders to participate constructively in the 2018 UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament

Participants of the Reaching High conference* in Prague, November 27-29, 2017 express our;

  1. Alarm at the risks of nuclear weapons use by accident, miscalculation or intent, especially in these times of increasing conflict;
  2. Concern at the catastrophic human, economic and environmental consequences the use of nuclear weapons would have, possibly ending civilization as we know it;
  3. Sorrow at the extensive impact already caused by the production and testing of nuclear weapons on human health and the environment, and the fact that such impact will last for generations;
  4. Agreement with the notion that ‘There are no right hands for wrong weapons’ and that nuclear weapons are wrong weapons as they could not be used without affecting civilians, the environment and future generations;
  5. Opposition to the $100 billion spent annually on nuclear weapons, when such funds are sorely needed for climate protection, to achieve the sustainable development goals, and for other social and economic need;
  6. Support for efforts to slash nuclear weapons spending directly through budget allocations and indirectly through ending investments of public funds and banks in nuclear weapons corporations;
  7. Affirmation that the goal of nuclear disarmament is a universal goal that transcends differences in politics, nationalities, religions, cultures and ages;
  8. Insistence that nuclear weapon states and their allies fulfill their obligation to nuclear disarmament by replacing nuclear deterrence with common security approaches, such as those outlined in the UN Charter of diplomacy, negotiation, mediation, adjudication and application of international law;
  9. Highlight the important role of civil society, including all ages from youth to seniors, in the promotion of nuclear disarmament and participation in international disarmament forums such as the 2018 UN High- Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament;

10. Encourage governments to work with civil society organisations to educate and engage public in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as agreed by governments in the final report of the United Nations Study on Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education.

And in particular we call on:

  1. All governments to participate at the highest level (Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister or Minister for Disarmament) in the 2018 UN High-Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament;
  2. Non-nuclear countries to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the 2018 UN High- Level Conference, if they have not already done so, in order to secure 100 signatories by the end of the conference;
  3. Nuclear reliant countries (nuclear armed countries and their allies) to adopt a declaration at the conference to never use nuclear weapons first, and to ensure that all nuclear weapons systems are taken off high-readiness to use, and to commit to negotiations on phased nuclear disarmament.

* The Reaching High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World conference, held at the Charles University in Prague, included university students, young academics, policy analysts and activists from Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United States. The conference was organised by the Abolition 2000 Youth Network. Co-sponsored by the Basel Peace Office, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), Prague Vision Institute for Sustainable Security, Centre for Security Policy at Charles University (SBP) and UNFOLD ZERO.

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The Duty to Disobey a Nuclear Launch Order

In Democracy, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 26, 2017 at 11:41 pm

By Marjorie Cohn

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42697-the-duty-to-disobey-a-nuclear-launch-order

On November 19, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command, declared he would refuse to follow an illegal presidential order to launch a nuclear attack. “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail,” the general explained at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia. “You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

Gen. Hyten is correct. For those in the military, there is a legal duty to obey a lawful order, but also a legal duty to disobey an unlawful order. An order to use nuclear weapons — except possibly in an extreme circumstance of self-defense when the survival of the nation is at stake — would be an unlawful order.

There is cause for concern that Donald Trump may order a nuclear strike on North Korea. Trump has indicated his willingness to use nuclear weapons. In early 2016, he asked a senior foreign policy adviser about nuclear weapons three times during a briefing and then queried, “If we have them why can’t we use them?” During a GOP presidential debate, Trump declared, “With nuclear, the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

As the heated rhetoric with North Korean president Kim Jong-un escalated, Trump tweeted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” by pursuing diplomacy with North Korea. Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea. During his visit to South Korea earlier this month, Trump distinguished his administration from prior ones, who refrained from using nuclear weapons against North Korea. “This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past,” he said. “Do not underestimate us. And do not try us.”

In April, “multiple senior intelligence officials” told NBC News that the administration was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike” if they thought North Korea was about to conduct a nuclear test. Preemptive strikes violate the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of military force except in self-defense or with permission from the UN Security Council.

A Duty to Obey Lawful and Disobey Unlawful Orders

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) requires that all military personnel obey lawful orders. Article 92 of the UCMJ provides, “A general order or regulation is lawful unless it is contrary to the Constitution, the laws of the United States….” Additionally, both the Nuremberg Principles and the Army Field Manual create a duty to disobey unlawful orders.

Article II of the Constitution states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” However, Article I specifies that only Congress has the power to declare war. Taken together, the articles convey that the president commands the armed forces once Congress authorizes war.

The president can only use military force in self-defense or to forestall an imminent attack. There must exist “a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,” under the well-established Caroline Case. A president has no lawful authority to order a first-strike nuclear attack.

In its advisory opinion, “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined in 1996 that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law.”

The ICJ continued, “However … the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” That means that while the use of nuclear weapons might be lawful when used in self-defense if the survival of the nation were at stake, a first-strike use would not be.

Article 509 of Field Manual 27-10, codifying a Nuremberg Principle, specifies that “following superior orders” is not a defense to the commission of war crimes, unless the accused “did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the act ordered was unlawful.”

“Every violation of the law of war is a war crime,” Section 499 of the Army Field Manual states. The law of war is largely contained in the Geneva Conventions.

Gen. Hyten, who said he had been trained in the law of war for many years, cited its four guiding principles: distinction, proportionality, necessity and unnecessary suffering.

The first is distinction. “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives,” Article 48 of the Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocol 1, says. Article 85 describes making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack as a grave breach, which is considered a war crime. Nuclear weapons do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Another guiding principle is proportionality. “Loss of life and damage to property incidental to attacks must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage expected to be gained,” according to the US Army Field Manual FM27-10: Law of Land Warfare. The damage a US nuclear weapon would inflict — the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — would vastly exceed the military object of destroying North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Military necessity is also a well-established law of war. It allows “those measures not forbidden by international law which are indispensable for securing the complete submission of the enemy,” according to the Lieber Code. It is never necessary to use a nuclear weapon, except in certain hypothetical cases of self-defense if the survival of the US were at stake.

Finally, there is the principle of unnecessary suffering. “It is prohibited to employ weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering,” according to Article 35.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. A nuclear attack on North Korea would kill and maim untold numbers of people.

If the president ordered a nuclear strike, Gen. Hyten said he would offer legal and strategic advice, but he would not violate the laws of war simply on the president’s say-so.

Who’s in the Nuclear Chain of Command?

Last month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) worried that Trump may be leading the United States “on the path to World War III.” On November 14, Corker convened the first congressional hearing on the president’s power to use nuclear weapons since 1976.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) said, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US national security interests.”

Ret. Gen. Robert Kehler, former commander of the US Strategic Command, testified at the hearing that the military can refuse to follow what it views as an illegal order, including an order to launch a nuclear strike. To be lawful, an order must come from a source with legal authority and must be legal under the law of armed conflict, Gen. Kehler added.

Duke University Professor Peter Feaver testified that the president does not simply press a button to launch nuclear weapons. He can only give an order to others, who would then cause “missiles to fly.”

However, although he cannot “press a button,” the president has considerable power to manipulate circumstances in ways that would allow him to launch those missiles. Brian McKeon, senior policy adviser in the Pentagon in the Obama administration, testified that if a commander balked at carrying out a launch order, the president could tell the secretary of defense to order the reluctant commander to launch the missiles. “And then, if the commander still resisted,” McKeon added, “you either get a new secretary of defense or get a new commander.” One way or another, McKeon said, the president would get his way.

Moreover, Bruce Blair, former nuclear missile launch officer and cofounder of the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, told the Associated Press that a president can send a nuclear attack order directly to the Pentagon war room. From there, Blair said, that order “would go to the men and women who would turn the launch keys.”

William Perry, secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, concurs. Perry told Politico that defense secretary James Mattis could not necessarily stop a nuclear launch order. “The order can go directly from the president to the Strategic Air Command,” Perry said. “So, in a five- or six- or seven-minute kind of decision, the secretary of defense probably never hears about it until it’s too late.”

Ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee Member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) advocated congressional reassertion of authority. He said they should not trust the generals or a set of protocols to act as a check on the president, or rely on individuals hired by the president to resist an illegal order.

“Donald Trump can launch nuclear war as easily as his Twitter account,” Cardin cautioned.

Reaffirm Congress’s Constitutional War Powers

On October 27, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) introduced H.R. 4140, the No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act. The bipartisan bill, which currently has more than 60 co-sponsors, would prohibit the use of any federal funds to launch a military strike against North Korea or to introduce the US Armed Forces into hostilities with North Korea before Congress either declares war on, or enacts an authorization for the use of military force in, North Korea.

Contact your Congress member and insist that he or she sign on to H.R. 4140 as a co-sponsor.

MARJORIE COHN

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace. She is co-author (with Kathleen Gilberd) of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. The second, updated edition of her book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues, was published in November. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn.

The Senate Questions the President’s Power to Launch Nukes

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 17, 2017 at 12:26 am

The Editorial Board, New York Times, November 15, 2017

President Trump and North Korea have prompted Congress to do something it hasn’t done in more than four decades: formally consider changes to the law that gives American presidents the sole authority to launch nuclear weapons.

In a governing system that relies on checks and balances, that may strike some people as odd. But the uncomfortable truth is that Mr. Trump, like all his post-World War II predecessors, is uniquely empowered to order a pre-emptive strike, on North Korea or anywhere else. We’re talking about the authority to unleash thousands of nuclear weapons within minutes. And with scant time to consult with experienced advisers.

As the first formal hearing on the issue in 41 years unfolded before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, bluntly outlined the stakes with a president who “is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.”

Republicans were not as harsh nor so Trump-centric. But Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who is the committee’s chairman, and recently expressed concern that Mr. Trump could lead the country to World War III, said it was important to examine the “realities of this system” by which the use of nuclear weapons is decided. He’s right.

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Mr. Trump has brought on himself this examination of his authority to order the launch of the world’s most deadly weapons. His erratic, taunting threats to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea and even destroy the country, his glib talk about nuclear weapons and his impulsiveness generally raise serious questions about his willingness to incite war.

He is engaged in a dangerous game of chicken with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, who has kept up his own steady stream of bombastic insults against Mr. Trump and threatened attacks on the United States with an arsenal that has gone from zero to at least 20 nuclear weapons, plus the missiles to deliver them, over the past 30 years.

 

The president’s sole control of nuclear launches stems from the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, passed when there was more concern about hawkish generals than elected civilian leaders. C. Robert Kehler, a retired Air Force general who once headed the Strategic Command that oversees the nuclear arsenal, said at the hearing on Tuesday that the military could refuse to follow what it considers a disproportionate and unnecessary order. He said he did not know what the president’s response would be in such a case. But Brian McKeon, a former Pentagon official, told the committee that the president could appoint a new general and defense secretary to carry out his orders — further evidence, not at all reassuring, of the president’s unilateral powers.

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Ted Lieu of California, both Democrats, have introduced legislation to bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress. A president would, of course, still have the power to retaliate if America was attacked, but their bill could help restrain a trigger-happy president. Another idea would be to stipulate that the vice president or the secretaries of state and defense, or all three, must concur in any decision to strike first with nuclear weapons.

Because such changes could affect the country’s ability to deter adversaries with the threat of a rapid nuclear attack, they must be carefully considered. The Republican-led Congress, which has shown few signs of pushing back against presidential powers, may end up taking no action. Mr. Corker says he does not see a legislative solution at the moment, though “over the course of the next several months one might develop.” What we do know is that there are hard questions to be addressed, especially now that the American people have been alerted to the scope and potential peril of Mr. Trump’s powers.

Authority to Order the Use of Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on November 9, 2017 at 11:00 pm

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) announced Wednesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would hold a hearing next week on “the executive’s authority to use nuclear weapons.”

“A number of members both on and off our committee have raised questions about the authorities of the legislative and executive branches with respect to war making, the use of nuclear weapons, and conducting foreign policy overall,” Corker said in a statement announcing the Nov. 14 hearing.

“This continues a series of hearings to examine these issues and will be the first time since 1976 that this committee or our House counterparts have looked specifically at the authority and process for using U.S. nuclear weapons,” he continued. “This discussion is long overdue, and we look forward to examining this critical issue.”

A debate over nuclear authority has reignited among lawmakers after President Trump warned in August that North Korea could face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continues to advance its nuclear program.
A number of rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans have come forward saying Congress must authorize the use of nuclear weapons and a declaration of war should Trump want to strike North Korea.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said “preemptive war” on the Korean Peninsula “would require the authorization of Congress.”

Both Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced bills this year that would bar Trump from launching a preemptive nuclear attack before Congress approves a declaration of war. Those bills have stalled in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also called on Congress to bar the president from using nuclear weapons unless the United States is attacked first.

Corker has emerged as a fierce critic of President Trump over the last month, saying Trump could put the U.S. “on the path to World War III.”

The meeting will take place on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.

How We Persuaded 122 Countries to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on October 30, 2017 at 9:55 pm

By Beatrice Fihn, Matthew Bolton and Elizabeth Minor
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 9:41 AM

On Oct. 6, the Geneva office of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received a call from the Norwegian Nobel Committee: We had won the 2017 Peace Prize for our “work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and our “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Since its founding in 2007, ICAN has sought to reenergize global advocacy for disarmament. We have jolted governments out of a post-Cold War complacency, which has allowed almost 15,000 nuclear weapons to remain a clear and present danger to the world.

While the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and oft-repeated rhetoric has committed nuclear-armed states to a world free of nuclear weapons, progress towards this goal had stalled.

Over the last decade, we have built a global civil society coalition that, in partnership with states, has changed the game, refocusing global policymakers on the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons, rather than abstract ideas of deterrence. The result was the negotiation of the legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
Prohibiting nuclear weapons

The TPNW’s Preamble declares nuclear weapons “abhorrent to the principles of humanity,” with catastrophic consequences for people and the environment. It is the first nuclear arms control agreement to frame nuclear weapons as threats to international humanitarian and human rights law. It acknowledges the “disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples.”

The Preamble is also far-reaching in its acknowledgement of the gendered dimensions of nuclear weapons. It calls attention to the “disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation,” as well as the crucial importance of women’s “equal, full and effective participation” in “nuclear disarmament” and “the promotion and attainment of sustainable peace and security….”

The centerpiece of the TPNW is a categorical ban on nuclear weapons (Article 1), which makes them illegal under the same type of international law covering other inhumane weapons like chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions.

The Treaty’s negotiators were mindful of the “unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims” and the “grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.” As a result, the TPNW is not only a ban on nuclear weapons. It also addresses the ongoing harms caused by nuclear weapons use and testing. Articles 6 and 7 obligate governments to aid victims, remediate contaminated environments and provide international cooperation and assistance to affected states.

On July 7, 122 governments voted to adopt the TPNW, which opened for signature on Sept. 20. While the nuclear-armed and -alliance states boycotted the negotiations, we are finding that it is already having a political impact because of its stigmatizing power.

Changing the Discourse

ICAN’s strategy was primarily a discursive one. We aimed to change the way that people talk, think and feel about nuclear weapons, changing their social meaning from symbols of status to outdated, dangerous machines that have repulsive effects.

Representatives of the nuclear-states often marginalize those calling disarmament by dismissing them as deluded. In her protest outside the room where states were negotiating the TPNW, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley chided them, saying “we have to be realistic.” However, ICAN campaigners called attention to the discrepancies between these claims to “realism” and the mystification that surrounded these nuclear weapons.

For example, we showed how the claim that nuclear deterrence has prevented war requires ignoring the poor record these weapons have at preventing conflict. We demonstrated the pervasive harm they have caused to to many people living in areas affected by use and testing, undercutting claims that nuclear weapons provide security.

Instead of turning to traditional mechanisms of nuclear arms control, we found a powerful discursive tool in international humanitarian and human rights law. What we sought was less an instrument of surveillance and sanction than a treaty that casts as pariahs those who continue to deploy, stockpile and defend the persistence of nuclear weapons. Building such stigma has been crucial for the process of working towards the elimination other unacceptable weapons.

Drawing out the tensions inherent in states’ presentation of themselves as responsible actors concerned with the protection of civilians, and their willingness to use the most destructive weapons ever invented on towns and cities, involved opening the conversation about nuclear weapons to voices that have been too often excluded.

Opening the Conversation

To change how nuclear weapons were discussed, we brought nuclear weapons into new arenas where humanitarianism, human rights and environmentalism are regular conversations, and to inject these discourses into traditional nuclear forums.

We demanded from states the meaningful participation of survivors, affected communities, medical professionals, faith leaders, humanitarian agencies, activists and academics in the nuclear conversation. We pointed out when forums and panels excluded women, people from the Global South and those who have experienced nuclear weapons’ effects.

This forced states to reckon with other forms of knowledge and expertise than nuclear-armed states have used to legitimate their arsenals. ICAN ensured that people affected by nuclear weapons use and testing were able to testify to the negotiating conference. In her statement to the conference, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow reminded delegates that “72 years have passed since my beloved hometown was utterly destroyed by one atomic bomb.” Thurlow said this experience convinced her “that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons.”

Sue Coleman, who grew up close to the site of British nuclear testing in South Australia, spoke of devastating humanitarian consequences for Aboriginal people, as well as the environmental impact on “animals and plants,” which cannot “speak for themselves and are ignored.”

In her closing comments following the adoption of the TPNW, the conference chair, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica paid tribute to ‘‘all of the victims who have shared their personal stories with us…and have been an ongoing inspiration for our work.” She thanked them “for not letting us rest.”

We disseminated detailed scientific data on the ongoing harm, record of accidents and history of close calls of nuclear weapons at the three international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna from 2013 to 2014. We made it difficult to claim this information was irrelevant to the international nuclear weapons debate. The majority of the world’s states concluded that the prohibition of nuclear weapons is the only morally permissible and legally coherent response to this evidence.

Gumshoe Advocacy

At the core of what we achieved was organizing people and presenting demands to those with the capacity to change law. We cold-called politicians. We pitched stories to journalists. We circulated petitions. We looked at which countries were next on the speakers list at the UN and told them about our talking points. We protested in the streets. There were breakfasts with friendly officials. Lunchtime ‘side event’ panels. Evening receptions. We argued with our opponents. We argued amongst ourselves.

Our approach to the problem of nuclear weapons was often dismissed – but we succeeded in our campaign for a prohibition on nuclear weapons, with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed states. Closing a legal loophole (by which nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited), and placing prohibitions (such as on assistance with nuclear weapons production, which would cover financing) and positive obligations on states, the treaty can have a normative and practical impact now.

We built strong partnerships between civil society and the states championing the treaty. We drew upon professional networks that had experience banning landmines and cluster munitions and pushing for the Arms Trade Treaty. We leaned on a tight-knit community of humanitarian disarmament advocates who had long-lasting friendships, strong connections to diplomats and well-practiced advocacy tactics.

Reclaiming Agency

ICAN’s success in advocacy for the TPNW shows that ordinary people have agency – we can address seemingly intractable problems in the midst of a deeply hostile political environment. Now that we can ban nuclear weapons, we listen with skepticism to those who use “that’ll never work” as an excuse for passivity. The world, as we learned, is what we make of it. We humans made nuclear weapons. We assigned meaning to them. We have the power to change that meaning. We believe a world free of nuclear weapons is possible. The nuclear weapons ban is a crucial step toward that goal.

Nobel winner says goal is to make nukes unacceptable

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on October 10, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Associated Press, OCTOBER 09, 2017 , UNITED NATIONS
The head of the anti-nuclear campaign that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize said Monday its goal is to make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the minds of people in every country — and have all nuclear-armed nations listen to their citizens and give up their arsenals.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons known as ICAN, told a news conference that for a long time nuclear weapons have been seen as “an issue of the past” that isn’t relevant.

But she said a potential nuclear arms race with nuclear nations modernizing their weapons and threats by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to use nuclear weapons “makes this an urgent issue again.”

“I think that this Nobel Peace Prize can really bring about a much bigger movement against nuclear weapons,” Fihn said. “This gives us an enormous opportunity to reach out to new audiences, and to mobilize people once again.”

ICAN, currently a coalition of 468 organizations in 101 countries, is expecting to expand.

Ray Acheson, an ICAN steering committee member from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, told reporters that since the Nobel prize announcement on Friday the campaign has received “a lot of new partnership requests.”

The Nobel committee cited Geneva-based ICAN for its work that led to the first-ever Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was agreed to by 122 countries at the United Nations in July. It opened for signature on Sept. 20 and already 53 countries have signed and three have ratified.

Fihn said ICAN’s “ambitious goal” is to get the 50 ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force before the end of 2018.

The United States, which boycotted negotiations along with other nuclear powers, reacted to ICAN’s award saying the treaty “will not make the world more peaceful, will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, and will not enhance any state’s security.”

Fihn said the U.S. reaction was “quite expected,” but it shows the treaty is having “an impact on them.”

She stressed, however, that the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t going to make Trump give up nuclear weapons.

“But I don’t think that’s really what we’re doing here,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is to make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the minds of the people, and that’s where civil society has the power. That’s really what is changing things. And in the end, governments have to do what their people say.”

As for North Korea, Fihn said, North Korea won’t disarm as long as it thinks nuclear weapons are acceptable, legitimate and justified.

The nuclear weapon states and those countries under their nuclear umbrella currently maintain they are necessary for security, she said.

“I think that is what this treaty is about — stop allowing them to justify having weapons of mass destruction that are only meant to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians,” Fihn said.

She said it’s been during previous times of big crises that “the most progress” has been made toward nuclear disarmament.

Five years after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the Treaty of Tlatelolco was signed prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and later the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, she said. And during heightened Cold War tensions talks in Reykjavik, Iceland between then U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 resulted in the treaty to eliminate intermediate and shorter-range nuclear and conventional missiles the following year.

Fihn said these crises, and the current escalating U.S.-North Korean tensions, “also bring about public mobilization.”

“I think that that’s where this peace prize is extremely timely, and very urgently needed attention on this issue,” she said.

 

Trump Enters Quagmire

In Democracy, Peace, Politics, War on October 6, 2017 at 8:48 am

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese

https://zcomm.org/zmagazine/trump-enters-quagmire/

 

A quagmire is defined as a complex or unpleasant position that is difficult to escape. President Trump’s recently announced war plans in Afghanistan maintain that quagmire. They come at a time when U.S. Empire is failing and its leadership in the world is weakening. The U.S. will learn what other empires have learned, “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.” During the presidential campaign, some became convinced that Trump would not be an interventionist president. His tweets about Afghanistan were one of the reasons. In January 2013, he tweeted, “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! Rebuild the USA.” Now, we see a president who carries on the interventionist tradition of U.S. Empire.

While Afghanistan has been a never-ending active war since 9-11, making the 16-year war the longest in U.S. history, the truth is the United States became directly involved with Afghanistan some 38 years ago, on July 3, 1979. As William Rivers Pitts writes, “On that day, at the behest of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter signed the first directive in an operation meant to destabilize the Soviet-controlled government of Afghanistan.” In fact, when the U.S. dropped the MOAB bomb, Trump was bombing tunnels built with the assistance of the CIA in the 1980s for the mujaheddin and Bin Laden.

Trump’s Afghan policy is inaccurately described as a new approach but has only one element that is new—secrecy, as Trump will not tell us how many soldiers he will send to this war. His so-called new strategy is really a continuation of the permanent war quagmire in Afghanistan, which may be an intentional never-ending war for the empire’s geopolitical goals. Ralph Nader reviewed 16 years of headlines about Afghanistan, and called it a “cruel boomeranging quagmire of human violence and misery…with no end in sight.”

Another Afghan Review Leads To Same Conclusion: More War

During his campaign for president, Trump called for the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan. Early in his administration, President Trump announced a review of the Afghanistan war. When he announced the escalation of the war, Trump noted this was his instinct. Unfortunately, the president did not trust his previous instincts and missed an opportunity to end the war.

We have seen how President Trump refuses to admit mistakes, so it is highly unlikely he will change course from this mistaken path. His rationale is so many U.S. soldiers have given their lives that we must stay until the United States wins. This is the quandary—the U.S. must continue the war until we win because soldiers have died but continuing the war means more will die and the U.S. must stay committed to war because more have died.

After we read President Trump’s Afghanistan war speech, we went back and re-read President Obama’s Afghanistan war speech given in March 2009. It is remarkable how similar the two speeches are. When Russian president Putin was interviewed by filmmaker Oliver Stone—as well as when he was interviewed by Megyn Kelly—he made a point proven by U.S. policy in Afghanistan: “Presidents come and go, and even the parties in power change, but the main political direction does not change.”

Both presidents conducted a lengthy review early in their administration and both talked with generals and diplomats who convinced them to escalate rather than end the war. Both presidents put forward what they claimed was a new strategy but, in reality, was just doing the same thing over again: more troops, building up Afghanistan’s military by working closely with them, using economic and diplomatic power and putting pressure on Pakistan not to be a safe haven for the Taliban and those fighting against the United States.

To ensure a quagmire, both presidents said that decisions would not be based on a timeline but on conditions on the ground. Both promised victory, without clearly defining what it would mean; both raised fears of the Taliban and other anti-U.S.militants using Afghanistan to attack the United States again. Trump had the advantage of knowing that President Obama’s approach had failed despite repeated bombings in Pakistan and working with Afghan troops, but that didn’t alter his course.

According to Mike Ludwig, since President Obama approved a troop surge in 2009, the war in Afghanistan has claimed at least 26,512 civilian lives and injured nearly 48,931 more. In July, the United Nations reported that at least 5,243 civilians have been killed or injured in 2017, including higher numbers of woman and children than in previous years. Trump seems less concerned than previous presidents with killings of civilians.

Trump noted that the Afghanistan-Pakistan region was now the densest part of the world when it comes to anti-U.S. militants, saying there were 20 terrorist groups in the area. President Obama added tens of thousands of troops to the Afghanistan war, dropped massive numbers of bombs and the result was more terrorism. The U.S. was killing terrorists but the impact was creating more anti-American militants. Trump failed to connect these dots and understand that more U.S. attacks create more hatred against the United States.

After Obama failed to “win” the war by adding tens of thousands of troops, with more than 100,000 fighting in Afghanistan at its peak, Trump should have asked his generals how adding thousands more (reports are between 4,000 and 8,000 soldiers) would change failure to success. Wasn’t there anyone in the room who would tell Trump there is nothing new in the Trump strategy that Obama and Bush had not already tried.

The policy of working more closely with the Afghan military in order to build them up ended in disaster in the Obama era. The New Yorker wrote in 2012: “We can’t win the war in Afghanistan, so what do we do? We’ll train the Afghans to do it for us, then claim victory and head for the exits.” But, the U.S. discovered that it could not train the Afghans in the “American way of war.” In 2012, the Obama administration ended the program of fighting alongside Afghan soldiers to train them because those soldiers were killing U.S. soldiers. How many U.S. soldiers will die because Trump was ignorant of this lesson?

Trump also took the wrong lesson from the Iraq war and occupation. He inaccurately described the so-called withdrawal from Iraq as hasty. He points to the rise of ISIS as created by the vacuum in Iraq when the U.S. reduced its numbers of troops. Trump said the U.S. “cannot repeat in Afghanistan the mistake our leaders made in Iraq.”

In fact, ISIS rose up because the killing of hundreds of thousands—some reports say more than a million—of Iraqis, displacement of more than a million more, the destruction of a functioning government as well as war crimes like the Abu Gharib torture scandal made it easy to recruit fighters. Furthermore, the training and supply of weapons to Sunnis during the Awakening created armed soldiers looking for their next job.

It was war and occupation that created ISIS. The seeds had been planted, fertilized and were rapidly growing before the U.S. reduced its military footprint. Trump is repeating the mistake of more militarism, and in the end ISIS or some other form of anti-U.S. militancy will thrive.

The U.S. does not want to face an important reality—the government of the United States is hated in the region for very good reasons. Bush lied to us about 9-11 when he claimed they hate us for our freedoms. No, they hate the U.S. because U.S. militarism kills hundreds of thousands of people in the region, destroys functioning governments and creates chaos.

Victory Means Something Different to an Empire

In trying to understand why the U.S. is fighting a war—a war that has been unwinnable for 16 years—it helps to look at a map and consider the resources of an area.

Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former adviser, predicts the U.S. will be in Afghanistan for the next 50 years. Indeed, that may be the “victory” the empire seeks. Afghanistan is of geopolitical importance. It is a place where the U.S. can impact China’s “One Belt One Road” to Europe, where China can take the place of Russia and the United States in providing wealthy Europeans with key commodities like oil and gas. Just as the United States has stayed in Germany, Italy, other European states and Japan after WW II, and in Korea after the Korean war, the empire sees a need to be in Afghanistan to be well positioned for the future of the empire. Terrorism is not the issue, economic competition with China, which is quickly becoming the leading global economic power, is the real issue.

And competition with Russia and China is at the top of the list of the bi-partisan war party in Washington. Pepe Escobar points out that, “Russia-China strategic partnership wants an Afghan solution hatched by Afghans and supervised by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (of which Afghanistan is an observer and future full member). So from the point of view of neocon/neoliberalcon elements of the War Party in Washington, Afghanistan only makes sense as a forward base to harass/stall/thwart China’s Belt and Road Initiative.”

Afghanistan is next to China, India and Pakistan, three nuclear powers that could pose military risks to the United States. Having multiple bases in Afghanistan, to allegedly fight terrorists, will provide the forward deployment needed to combat each of those nations if military action is needed.

Afghanistan also borders on Iran, which could be a near-future war zone for the United States. Positioning the U.S. military along the Afghanistan-Iran border creates a strategic advantage with Iran as well as with the Persian Gulf where approximately 18.2 million barrels of oil per day transit through the Strait of Hormuz in tankers.

Afghanistan’s land also contains $3 trillion in rare earth minerals needed for computers and modern technology including rich deposits of gold, silver, platinum, iron ore and copper. The U.S. has spent $700 billion in fighting a failed war and President Trump and empire strategists are looking to make sure U.S. corporations get access to those minerals. Since the U.S. Geological Survey discovered these minerals a decade ago, some see Afghanistan as the future “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a raw material used in phone and electric car batteries. U.S. officials have told Reuters that Trump argued at a White House meeting with advisers in July that the United States should demand a share of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth.

Jeffrey St. Clair reminds us not to forget the lucrative opium trade. Afghanistan is the largest source for heroin in the world. He writes: “Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, opium production has swelled, now accounting for more than one-third of the wrecked Afghan economy. In the last two years alone, opium poppy yields have doubled, a narcotic blowback now hitting the streets of American cities from Amarillo to Pensacola. With every drone strike in the Helmond Province, a thousand more poppies bloom.” The firing of Steve Bannon just before the meeting that decided Afghanistan’s future was not coincidence as he was the opponent of escalation. Glenn Greenwald writes in the Intercept that this permanent power structure has been working since his election to take control of foreign policy. He also points to the appointment of Marine General John Kelly as chief of staff and how National Security Adviser, General McMaster, has successfully fired several national security officials aligned with Steve Bannon and the nationalistic, purportedly non-interventionist foreign policy. The deep state of the permanent national security complex has taken over and the Afghan war decision demonstrates this reality.

With these geopolitical realities, staying in Afghanistan may be the victory the Pentagon seeks—winning just by being there. The Intercept reported that the Taliban offered to negotiate peace, but peace on the terms of the Taliban may not be what the U.S. is seeking.

Call for an End to War for Empire

It would be a terrible error for people to blame Trump for the Afghanistan war, which began with intervention by Jimmy Carter, became a hot war after 9-11 under George Bush, escalated under Obama and now continues the same polices under Trump. The bi-partisan war hawks in Congress have supported these policies for nearly 40 years. Afghanistan is evidence of the never-ending policy of full spectrum dominance sought by the U.S. empire

Throughout recent decades the United States has failed to show what Kathy Kelly called the courage we need for peace and continues the cowardice of war. In fact, many ask why are we still at war in Afghanistan: Osama bin Laden is dead, other alleged 9-11 attack attackers are caught or killed. This shows that calling Afghanistan the longest running Fake War in U.S. history—is right—fake because it was never about terrorism but about business. If terrorism were the issue, Saudi Arabia would be the prime U.S. enemy, but Saudi Arabia is also about business.

We share the conclusion of human rights activist and Green vice presidential candidate in 2016 Ajamu Baraka who wrote for the Black Alliance for Peace that: “In an obscene testament to U.S. vanity and the psychopathological commitment to global white supremacy, billions have already been wasted, almost three thousand U.S. lives lost and over 100,000 dead. It is time to admit defeat in Afghanistan and bring the war to an end. Justice and common sense demand that the bloodletting stop.”

 

Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese are political activists and participants in the Popular Resistance organization and co-directors of Our Economy.

Bernie’s foreign policy looking better everyday

In Democracy, Environment, Peace, Politics, War on October 6, 2017 at 3:52 am

By Dave Anderson

October 5, 2017, Boulder Weekly

 

Filmmaker Michael Moore says Trump “will take us to war.” He’s afraid
that centrist liberals and the mainstream media will support him like
they did when Bush invaded Iraq. “Liberals and Democrats,” he regrets,
“often are afraid of being accused of being wimps or weak,
weak-willed, not strong, not pro-America. And so they’re so eager to
just hop on, so nobody questions their patriotism.”

If Moore is right, we are in trouble because there isn’t much of a
peace movement anymore. The military industrial complex is stronger
than ever. We are involved in several wars right now. The sprawling
U.S. empire has more than 800 military bases in over 70 nations. U.S.
Special Operations are being deployed in more than a hundred
countries. The military is America’s most trusted public institution
today.

Paradoxically, anti-war feelings are also quite strong and the
American people are receptive to a diplomatic and demilitarized
foreign policy. When Obama negotiated the Iran nuclear deal and
started to establish normal relations with Cuba, he was popular.

The military has become much more clever about framing its story and
filtering information. Bombings in America’s many wars are secret.
Wars are funded by credit card. Americans don’t like soldiers to be
killed so drones and private mercenaries are used.

Daniel May argues in The Nation that the peace movement has a great
deal of difficulty organizing people when there isn’t a big noticeable
intervention like the Iraq War to oppose:

“A D.C.-based network loosely gathered under the ‘peace and security’
label advances a diplomacy-first approach. The anti-war base organizes
against intervention. Talented organizers and very smart thinkers lead
a variety of crucial institutions, but the constituency usually
emerges as a political power only in opposition to large-scale
interventions. There were and remain important exceptions to this
trend: the anti-nuke movement and opposition to military involvement
in Central America in the 1980s, and organizing against the Israeli
occupation today. But over the past several decades, popular
opposition to militarism has generally been confined to those moments
that look like what we expect war to look like.”

May wants a peace movement that emphasizes the economic, social and
political costs to Americans of the gigantic military machine. He
says, “we need a movement that can speak to the anger that so many
Americans feel toward the corporate powers that dominate our politics.
Such a movement would expose how militarism is not immune to that
influence but is particularly beholden to it.”

May says that younger activists in the new growing movements such as
the Movement for Black Lives, for immigrant rights and against
Islamophobia see their struggles as intertwined with a fight against
militarism and empire.

What kind of a foreign policy should progressives advocate? Sen.Bernie
Sanders recently offered his views in a speech at Westminster College
in Fulton, Missouri.

“In my view, the United States must seek partnerships not just between
governments, but between peoples,” he said. “A sensible and effective
foreign policy recognizes that our safety and welfare is bound up with
the safety and welfare of others around the world.”

Sanders said, “Foreign policy must take into account the outrageous
income and wealth inequality that exists globally and in our own
country. … There is no moral or economic justification for the six
wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom
half of the world’s population — 3.7 billion people. There is no
justification for the incredible power and dominance that Wall Street,
giant multi-national corporations and international financial
institutions have over the affairs of sovereign countries throughout
the world.”

Sanders denounced America’s war on terror, calling it a “disaster for
the American people and for American leadership.”

“In addition to draining our resources and distorting our vision, the
war on terror has caused us to undermine our own moral standards
regarding torture, indefinite detention and the use of force around
the world,” Sanders said, “using drone strikes and other airstrikes
that often result in high civilian casualties.”

Sanders said he disagreed with those in Washington “who continue to
argue that ‘benevolent global hegemony’ should be the goal of our
foreign policy, that the U.S., by virtue of its extraordinary military
power, should stand astride the world and reshape it to its liking. I
would argue that the events of the past two decades — particularly the
disastrous Iraq War and the instability and destruction it has brought
to the region — have utterly discredited that vision.

“The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world,” he
said. “Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the
international community and shirk our responsibilities under the
banner of ‘America First.’ Our goal should be global engagement based
on partnership, rather than dominance.”

However, he warned that “Far too often, American intervention and the
use of American military power has produced unintended consequences
which have caused incalculable harm.” He cited the CIA coups in Iran
(1953) and Chile (1973) against democratically elected governments,
which led to enormous suffering. He asked, “What would Iran look like
today if their democratic government had not been overthrown? What
impact did that American-led coup have on the entire region? What
consequences are we still living with today?”

He proposed American intervention in the global South similar to the
Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II. He praised the
Iran nuclear deal and said the U.S. should work with the U.N.

Bernie’s ideas are so sensible that they might catch on. After all, he
played a big role in shifting our domestic politics to the left.
Perhaps he can do that with foreign policy as well.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s New Bill is a Necessary Next Step in Addressing the Climate Change Crisis

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on September 27, 2017 at 12:35 am

MARK SCHLOSBERG, Sep 25 2017

The OFF Act takes aggressive action on climate and energy legislation.

This is an opinion piece by Mark Schlosberg, Organizing Co-Director, Food & Water Watch

Almost three weeks ago, as the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey still inundated Texas and Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, EPA chief Scott Pruitt commented that it was “insensitive” to talk about the relationship between climate change and the storms. But just two weeks later, as Hurricane Maria forges a path of destruction across Puerto Rico and beyond, as we continue to see the impacts from massive floods in Asia and Africa, and as wildfires in our own Western states burn nearly year-round, the real insensitivity is not talking about climate change. It is more critical than ever that we talk about it and do something to address it, before increased climate chaos dooms us all. Thankfully, a solution exists.

Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act), the strongest, most aggressive climate change legislation we’ve got. But it’s up to us to build the pressure to help make the OFF Act a reality. And we must.

Representative Gabbard’s OFF Act responds to the urgency of our climate crisis with a clear roadmap of where we need to go to rapidly move off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent clean, renewable energy on a timeline that will give us a fighting chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate catastrophe. The bill requires a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, but also compels immediate reductions in a major way, requiring 80 percent renewable in the next ten years. It transitions the auto industry to zero-emissions by 2035, halts new fossil fuel projects, bans the profit-driven export of oil and gas overseas, ends foolish subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, promotes environmental justice, and provides a just transition for displaced oil and gas workers.

Introduced just a few weeks ago, the OFF Act already has the support of more than 350 organizations, including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and the American Sustainable Business Council. This early support represents the vanguard of a growing consensus that we must act immediately and decisively.

Now we need our elected representatives to understand our demand for action and feel the urgency behind it.

This week, members of Congress are at home in their districts. Now is the time for them to hear from us with meeting requests, letter deliveries, phone calls, letters in local papers, calls to radio stations and more. The message is simple and clear: The future of our planet is at stake. We must move off dangerous, destructive fossil fuels now. Rep. Gabbard’s OFF Act is the best way to do it.

We know that with the current conservative makeup of Congress, the OFF Act won’t pass tomorrow. But just as we’ve seen with the significant recent progress made in the single-payer health care movement, building strong support for the OFF Act now will put us in a position to make this critical legislation the law sooner rather than later.

We need to act now. Let’s get to work.

@
Eric Weltman
Senior Organizer
Food & Water Watch
347-778-2743
eweltman@fwwatch.org
147 Prince Street, 4th Fl., No. 7
Brooklyn, NY 11201
http://www.FoodandWaterWatch.org

Threats of Total Destruction Are Unlawful and Extremely Dangerous; Direct Diplomacy between the United States and North Korea Is Essential to Avert Disaster

In Democracy, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on September 23, 2017 at 9:45 am

Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and Western States Legal Foundation
September 22, 2017

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
– President Donald Trump, speech at United Nations, September 19, 2017

President Trump’s threat of total destruction of North Korea is utterly unacceptable. Also unacceptable are similarly threatening statements made in pieces carried by North Korea’s state-owned news agency. Instead of making apocalyptic threats, the two governments should agree on a non-aggression pact as a step toward finally concluding a peace treaty formally ending the 1950s Korean War and permanently denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. and North Korean threats are wrong as a matter of morality and common sense. They are also completely contrary to bedrock requirements of international law – law which is part of the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution. Both countries, by engaging in a cycle of threats and military posturing, violate prohibitions on the threat of force to resolve disputes and on threats to use force outside the bounds of the law of armed conflict. Trump’s threats carry more weight because the armed forces of the United States, capped by its immense nuclear arsenal, could accomplish the destruction of North Korea in short order.

Threats of total destruction negate the fundamental principle that the right to choose methods and means of warfare is not unlimited:
Under the law of armed conflict, military operations must be necessary for and proportionate to the achievement of legitimate military objectives, and must not be indiscriminate or cause unnecessary suffering. Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits threatening an adversary that there will be no survivors or conducting hostilities on that basis. The Nuremberg Tribunal found the Nazi concept of “total war” to be unlawful because it runs contrary to all the rules of warfare and the moral principles underlying them, creating a climate in which “rules, regulations, assurances, and treaties all alike are of no moment” and “everything is made subordinate to the overmastering dictates of war.”
Conducting a war with the intention of destroying an entire country would contravene the Genocide Convention, which prohibits killing “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group ….”
Limits on the conduct of warfare apply to both aggressor and defender states. Thus Trump’s statement that total destruction would be inflicted in defense of the United States and its allies is no justification. Moreover, the U.S. doctrine permitting preventive war, carried out in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, means that Trump’s reference to “defense” does not necessarily rule out U.S. military action in the absence of a North Korean attack or imminent attack.
North Korea has explicitly threatened use of nuclear weapons. While the United States likely would not use nuclear weapons first in the Korean setting, it remains true that Trump’s references to “fire and fury” and “total destruction” raise the specter of U.S. employment of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the law of armed conflict, above all the requirement of discrimination, as the recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons recognizes. Threats of use of nuclear weapons are likewise unlawful. The illegal character of the threat or use of nuclear weapons is especially egregious where the express intent is to “totally destroy” an adversary, a purpose that from the outset rules out limiting use of force to the proportionate and necessary.
U.S. and North Korean threats of war are also unlawful because military action of any kind is not justified. The UN Charter prohibits the threat or use of force except in self-defense against an armed attack or subject to UN Security Council authorization:
Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the use of force as a matter of self-defense only in response to an armed attack. No armed attack by either side has occurred or is imminent.
The Security Council is addressing the matter and has not authorized use of force. Its most recent resolution imposing further sanctions on North Korea was adopted pursuant to UN Charter Article 41, which provides for measures not involving the use of force. There is no indication whatever in that and preceding resolutions of an authorization of use of force. Moreover, the resolution emphasizes the need for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with North Korea. That approach is mandated by the UN Charter, whose Article 2(3) requires all members to “settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”
It is urgent that diplomatic overtures replace threats. In the nuclear age, the first principle of diplomacy should be that adversaries talk to each other to the maximum possible extent, and in moments of crisis directly and unconditionally. We learned during the Cold War that even when the prospects for any tangible progress seem dim, negotiations between nuclear-armed adversaries have other positive results. They allow the military and political leaderships of the adversaries to better understand each other’s intentions, and their fears. They build broader channels of communication between military and government bureaucracies that can be of tremendous value when tensions rise.

Accordingly, the United States should declare itself ready and willing to engage in direct talks with North Korea, and a commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for such talks. To facilitate negotiations, the United States and South Korea should immediately cease large-scale military exercises in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate by freezing its nuclear-related testing activities. The immediate aim of negotiations should be a non-aggression pact, as a step toward a comprehensive peace treaty bringing permanent closure to the Korean War and providing for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula. Success in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula will be much more likely if the United States, Russia, China and other nuclear-armed states also engage, as they are obligated to do, in negotiations for a world free of nuclear weapons.