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Denuke solution for NK should be multilateral: Nobel Peace awardees

In Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 23, 2018 at 11:23 pm

May 23, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump may be eager to cut a groundbreaking and historic denuclearization deal in the Singapore meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to ensure “a very special moment for world peace” that can earn him a Nobel Peace Prize, but laureates of the peace award strongly advise a multilateral denuclearization scheme instead of a bilateral framework to ensure that both Pyongyang and Washington do not walk away from the deal out of whims as they had in the past.

“This (U.S.-North Korea summitry) should be the start, not the end of a process of disarmament and building peace. This process should involve South Korea centrally, other countries of northeast Asia – China, Russia, Japan – and the United Nations,” said Tilman Ruff, Co-President of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

“Multilateral and open approach is key to success,” said Akira Kawasaki, International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2017. Both spoke to the Maeil Business Newspaper in separate exclusive email interviews.

With differences in the means of the dismantlement process casting doubt on the outcome of the Singapore meeting, the prize-winning anti-nuclear activists both advised the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as the best solution to keep North Korea in the path for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.

“TNPW will be an effective legally-binding instrument to ensure a credible denuclearization for the Korean Peninsula” as it will “obligate North Korea to dismantle all nuclear arsenals and related facilities and programs under international verification, while obligating South Korea not to deploy or develop nuclear weapons as well as not to assist or encourage the U.S. to use nuclear weapon against North Korea,” said Kawasaki.

Ruff agreed, as the treaty is a “pathway for all states to join, including those which currently possess nuclear weapons, possessed them in the past, have them stationed on their territory, or like South Korea assist in military preparations for their possible use.”

“Any agreed verification body needs to be empowered to gather all the information it needs for its work in a timely way, needs to be adequately resourced, and clear processes are needed to address and resolve any disputes. Ways to deal with any breaches of binding commitments by any of the parties involved should be laid out,” Ruff said, pointing to both Pyongyang and Washington which had bolted from bilateral and multilateral talks in the past.

The seemingly rapid developments and high hopes for the first-ever sit-down between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea were dashed when North Korea suddenly turned hostile, breaking off military talks with South Korea amid complaints about hostile vibe from the United States.

Trump, sitting across South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Oval House on Tuesday as the latter tried to keep the back-to-back summits on track, said, “There is a very substantial chance that it won’t work out.”

The mood turned negative after hawks in Washington floated the idea of a “Libyan model” where Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and assassinated after he gave up nuclear weapons in a deal with the U.S. in 2003.

“For a successful summit, both the U.S. and North Korea will need to listen, respect each other, and focus not only on their respective political needs, but on the key opportunity to build security for the Korean people and the world,” Ruff said.

“We should warn the leaders, including Kim and Trump, that nuclear weapons are threats to all humanity and that a nuclear war will never be won and thus must not be fought,” Kawasaki said. “Nuclear weapons are not tools of international game. It is taking all humanity as hostage.”

The two also stressed the importance of ending the Korean War and replacing the armistice agreed in 1953 with a comprehensive peace agreement. “The two leaders should be able to agree to the general principle, pending concrete roadmaps yet to be developed,” Kawasaki added.
By Kim Hyo-hye and Kim Hyo-jin

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Ban Treaty on Track to Enter into Force

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

By Lydia Wood on Apr 30, 2018

Last week, I had the privilege of attending, on behalf of NuclearBan.US, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) campaigners’ meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting brought together over 130 ICAN campaigners from around the world to discuss campaign progress and strategy for making the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty successful.

Since 122 nations adopted the treaty at the United Nations on July 7, 2017, 58 countries have already signed and 7 countries have ratified the treaty. Once 50 countries have ratified the treaty it will enter into legal force, becoming binding under international law. Many countries across the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia are working through their governmental process of officially ratifying the treaty. This exciting progress means we are on track to have the treaty enter into force sometime over the next two years!

I met energized and creative campaigners from Kenya, Costa Rica, Nepal, The United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and The United States among many other countries who are bridging generational, national, religious, gender, and ethnic differences to build a thriving coalition against nuclear weapons. They talked about their efforts to lobby governments, politicians, faith organizations, and people and institutions at the grassroots level to take a stand against nuclear weapons.

The biggest challenge moving forward is getting the nine nuclear weapons countries and their NATO allies to support the treaty and eliminate their weapons. ICAN’s approach is to focus on consistent and clear messaging highlighting the humanitarian and existential risk that nuclear weapons pose to humanity. It’s a risk that we all share regardless of our national, political, or ethnic affiliations.

Here in the United States, it is a challenge to get people to think more internationally, but that is specifically what is needed for the Nuclear Ban Treaty to be successful. Grassroots mobilizing will be vital for turning the tides from nuclear posturing towards nuclear disarmament and nuclear abolition. By working in our communities to educate others on nuclear risk, and by personally and collectively divesting from, and boycotting, the 26 companies making nuclear weapons we can help chip away at their legitimacy.

Cities, institutions, businesses, schools, faith organizations, and individuals across the US and abroad have already started committing themselves to divesting and boycotting from nuclear weapons, and many more are in the process of doing so. The treaty compliance campaign that is the centerpiece of NuclearBan.US is one way individuals and communities large and small can take on the nuclear threat and contribute to the success of the Nuclear Ban Treaty. It’s also offers a scalable strategy that other nuclear weapon and NATO countries can adopt to mobilize their citizenry. Furthermore, by mobilizing public support for the treaty we also signal to the international community that there is grassroots support for the Nuclear Ban in the US, further encouraging other countries to ratify the treaty.

After attending the ICAN campaigners’ meeting I am more convinced than ever that this movement will be successful. As we saw with the historic agreement that made vital progress towards ending the Korean War and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, diplomacy is good foreign policy. We need not wait for morality and rationality to creep into our political systems. As ICAN’s success to date reminds us, change starts within ourselves and our communities. It is possible to alter the course of history.

What is socialism?

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race on March 27, 2018 at 10:12 am

By Tom Mayer, Peace Train Column for Friday March 23, 2018

Many people understand that socialism is a possible alternative to capitalism in the modern world, but few know what socialism really means. The nature of an economic system depends upon which social class controls the means of production. Power over the means of production enables the controlling class to govern the entire economic system.

Three basic economic systems (each with many variations) are possible in a modern technologically advanced society: capitalism, state collectivism, and socialism. Under capitalism the owners of productive property (i.e. capitalists) control the means of production. Capitalism is the economic system that currently exists in most parts of the world. Under state collectivism the government bureaucracy controls the means of production. State collectivism was the economic system of Communist countries like the Soviet Union and is often mistaken for socialism. Under socialism working people collectively control the means of production. Although some societies have adopted a few socialist institutions (e.g. economic planning, free health care, cooperative banks) there has never been a full-fledged socialist society in the modern world.

Socialism has five principal goals. (1) Sustainability: the economic system must be organized to sustain human life on our planet for the indefinite future. (2) Equality: the economic system must move towards complete economic equality. All forms of work are equally valued. Complete equality is the long term goal, but limited inequality based upon differential contributions to the economy exists initially. (3) Comprehensive Democracy: all major economic and political decisions are made through genuine democratic processes. (4) Personal Security: all fundamental personal needs are guaranteed by society. This guarantee includes food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, child care, elder care, etc. The levels at which personal needs are guaranteed increase as the socialist economic system matures. (5) Solidarity: a spirit of mutual support, cooperation, and friendship is created among all people. Socialist solidarity contrasts with the egoism and competitiveness fostered by capitalism.

What social institutions can achieve these five socialist goals? Socialists have different views on this subject, particularly on the issue of whether socialism should use markets. Here are some of the institutions proposed by socialists: (a) a democratic state that invites maximum participation and frequent circulation of political officials; (b) democratic and self-governing councils of workers and consumers; (c) jobs balanced for difficulty and desirability by workers councils (hazardous and unpleasant work being divided among all competent adults); (d) compensation according to effort as determined by fellow workers; (e) democratic and participatory economic planning in which workers councils have a major part; (f) use of computers and extensive feedback to reach a feasible and sustainable economic plan.

Building socialism in the context of a capitalist society involves a three prong strategy: (i) consciousness raising – developing socialist consciousness within the capitalist public; (ii) institution building – creating socialist institutions based upon cooperation, equality, and rational planning within capitalist society (e.g. workers cooperatives, strong labor unions, environmental regulation); (iii) political organizing – establishing an effective political party committed to socialism that contests for power within the capitalist political system.

U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Racing: Still Crazy After All These Years

In Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on March 20, 2018 at 1:00 am

By Andrew Lichterman and John Burroughs, truthdig, March 26, 2018
President Vladimir Putin’s major address on March 1 to Russia’s Federal Assembly was candid about the economic and social challenges facing Russians. What attracted attention in the United States, however, was a detailed description, complete with video animations, of an array of new nuclear weapons delivery systems, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and an underwater drone.

A month earlier, on Feb. 2, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review. The review’s assessment of prospects for U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control is grim. It proposes two new capabilities, both aimed at Russia, a low-yield warhead deployed on submarine-launched missiles, and a sea-based, nuclear-armed cruise missile. It also endorses existing plans to sustain and upgrade existing nuclear forces and infrastructure to the tune of well over a trillion dollars over the next three decades.

While not as sensational as the weapons described by Putin, the Pentagon’s proposals manifest a commitment to an increasing and long-term reliance on nuclear arms. The review also lowers the threshold for use of nuclear weapons, emphasizing the role of such weapons in responding to “non-nuclear strategic attacks,” notably cyberattacks. The recommendation for increased nuclear weapons spending comes at a time when Congress has approved a budget deal providing for military spending of $700 billion in 2018 and $716 billion in 2019, figures well above those in play just last year.

For most Americans, the emergence of a renewed nuclear arms race with Russia comes as a surprise. Since the end of the Cold War, public discussion about nuclear weapons in the U.S. has been dominated by purported threats of nuclear weapons in the hands of nonstate actors or regional adversaries. In 2010, President Barack Obama proclaimed: “Today, the threat of global nuclear war has passed, but the danger of nuclear proliferation endures. …” As recently as 2013, the Defense Department declared the most pressing nuclear dangers to be proliferation and “nuclear terrorism.”

The crisis precipitated by the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s government and Russia’s annexation of Crimea was, for the U.S. public, the first intimation that great-power nuclear arsenals still pose catastrophic dangers. For the first time since the Cold War, Russian and American nuclear-armed forces were conducting exercises and patrols in the same region, while each backed opposing factions in a civil war. As the Ukraine confrontation settled into a tense stalemate, it disappeared from the front pages along with the dangers posed by the immense nuclear arsenals still deployed by the U.S. and Russia. Donald Trump’s ascendance, featuring disturbingly misinformed campaign comments and then his profoundly alarming confrontation with North Korea, brought nuclear weapons back into mainstream public discussion—but U.S. and Russian nuclear forces still remained in the background, out of focus.

Origins of the Current Confrontation

Despite appearances, plans for new Russian nuclear weapon systems are not a response to the Nuclear Posture Review or to Trump’s casual rhetoric about U.S. nuclear might. The causes of the resurgent confrontation between the two countries that possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons extend back decades, to decisions made in the early 1990s. The disintegration of the Soviet Union also marked the end of the Cold War—a titanic, half-century confrontation for which no formal settlement ever was negotiated, only a series of piecemeal arms control measures and political agreements. The spirit and in some cases the letter of this partial Cold War settlement was ignored by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Instead of engaging Russia as a partner in a new, potentially more cooperative order, they instead took every opportunity to exploit the political and economic weakness of the post-Soviet states. Despite assurances from Western governments that NATO would not be expanded to the East, the military alliance now includes not only many of Russia’s former Warsaw Pact allies but also the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Even today, NATO membership for Georgia remains on the table, and an effort at some point to include Ukraine is not out of the question.

NATO’s expansion eastward proceeded in tandem with the economic subordination of former Warsaw Pact countries. It was driven as well by the interests of Western arms makers seeking new markets for their wares, and new rationales for endless high-tech weapons development in a post-Cold War world. For them, the confrontational aspect of NATO expansion was and continues to be an opportunity, not a risk.

Confident that Russia no longer presented a significant military challenge, both Republican and Democratic administrations squandered the crucial post-Cold War opportunity to eliminate the existential threat to humanity posed by huge nuclear arsenals. Beginning in the mid-1990s, when Russian economic and military power was at its nadir, the United States embarked on a long-term effort to modernize its nuclear weapons, as well as the laboratories and factories that sustain them. U.S. military spending began to climb out of its brief post-Cold War trough at the same time, with the U.S. developing and deploying an array of powerful, accurate conventional armaments and stealthy delivery systems. Many of these were battle-tested in the wars that the U.S. has been conducting continuously since 1991. These conventional systems, which could destroy some targets previously only vulnerable to nuclear weapons, were seen as a strategic threat by both China and Russia.

Meanwhile, the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program was applying incremental upgrades to warheads and delivery systems. Perhaps most important of these was an upgrade of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads beginning in 2009 that increased their capability to destroy hardened targets like missile silos and command centers. Long-time observers of U.S. nuclear weapons programs characterized the changes as “revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the U.S. ballistic missile arsenal.” They concluded: “This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing U.S. ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.”

Despite its unparalleled conventional military dominance in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the U.S. government failed to seize the opportunity to pursue elimination of nuclear weapons or at least the reduction of arsenals to very low levels. Informal agreements in the early 1990s took entire categories of tactical nuclear weapons out of service, but still left large numbers of operational nuclear weapons deployed. Although negotiations continued throughout the 1990s, no new bilateral arms control treaty entered into force. Subsequently, the Russia-U.S. nuclear arms agreements completed during the Bush and Obama administrations did little to change the fundamental character of either country’s nuclear arsenal, leaving in place forces still capable of ending human civilization in short order.

In an early sign of an emerging U.S. rejection of multilateral approaches to arms control, in 1999 the Senate refused to approve ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). In 2000, Russia ratified the treaty. Since then it has periodically stressed that U.S. ratification is essential to advancing nuclear disarmament and global security. A commitment to complete negotiation of the CTBT had been central to a 1995 decision to extend indefinitely the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The current Nuclear Posture Review says that the U.S. will not ratify the CTBT, and does not rule out resumption of nuclear explosive testing.

U.S. Withdrawal From the ABM Treaty

In late 2001, the Bush administration announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which since 1971 had placed stringent limits on U.S. and Russian missile defenses. Just a year and a half earlier, the U.S. under the Clinton administration, Russia, and other participating states had agreed to a commitment in an NPT review outcome document to “preserving and strengthening the [ABM Treaty] as a cornerstone of strategic stability and as a basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons.”

In his 2018 annual presidential address, Putin characterized the ABM Treaty in similar fashion, stating that Russia saw it as “the cornerstone of the international security system.” Together with U.S.-Russia agreements limiting nuclear arms, said Putin, “the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defense systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.” As Putin said, and as former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov elaborated, Russia made strenuous attempts to dissuade the U.S. from ending the ABM Treaty, and subsequently sought to make new arrangements limiting missile defenses, all to no avail.

Putin portrayed the continuing development and ever wider deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems in the wake of the U.S. termination of the ABM Treaty as a growing threat: “However, in light of the plans to build a global anti-ballistic missile system, which are still being carried out today, all agreements signed within the framework of New START are now gradually being devaluated, because while the number of carriers and weapons is being reduced, one of the parties, namely, the U.S., is permitting constant, uncontrolled growth of the number of anti-ballistic missiles, improving their quality, and creating new missile launching areas. If we do not do something, eventually this will result in the complete devaluation of Russia’s nuclear potential.”

U.S. officials over the years have maintained that U.S. missile defenses pose no threat to Russia’s nuclear forces due to their large number of deliverable warheads. But the Russians have some reason for concern. Together with U.S. nuclear warhead upgrades that put Russia’s missile silos and command centers at risk, unlimited development of ballistic missile defense systems, despite the technical challenges, in the long run perhaps could threaten Russia’s primarily land-based nuclear forces. Even moderately effective missile defenses that could significantly limit a depleted second strike would complicate an already dangerous strategic calculus, perhaps raising incentives on both sides to strike first and harder in a crisis.

U.S. development and deployment of missile defenses already have had deleterious effects on nuclear arms control. Following the conclusion in 2010 of negotiations on New START, which yielded modest reductions in deployed long-range, “strategic” nuclear weapons, Russia refused engagement on the ambitious follow-on program of bilateral nuclear arms reductions—to include non-strategic nuclear arms and, for the first time, verified dismantlement of warheads—proposed by the Obama administration. As Russian representatives repeatedly explained, concerns motivating its position included U.S. missile defense programs and development of U.S. conventional long-range strike capabilities. The Russian position was deplorable, but it was also predictable.

Russia’s Plans for New Nuclear Weapons Systems

It is against this background that Putin announced the development of Russia’s new nuclear weapons delivery systems. All of the new systems were framed as means to evade existing missile defenses, which are designed primarily to target ballistic missiles that follow a high-arcing, non-maneuvering flight path. These include a new, very long-range, multiple warhead missile that could take unconventional flight paths; a hypersonic, maneuvering air-launched cruise missile; and a gliding, maneuverable hypersonic delivery vehicle with a non-ballistic flight path. Similar hypersonic technologies, it should be noted, are being researched or are under development by both the U.S. and China.

Two more exotic systems that caught the attention of both specialists and the general media are nuclear-powered cruise missiles that are claimed to have unlimited range and nuclear-powered “unmanned underwater vehicles.” Putin characterized the unmanned submersible vehicles as suitable for attacking a range of targets, including “coastal fortifications and infrastructure,” and stated that the “the tests that were conducted enabled us to begin developing a new type of strategic weapon that would carry massive nuclear ordnance.” Although similar concepts had been explored by the U.S. and the Soviet Union (and in the case of a nuclear-armed torpedo designed to destroy shore installations, even briefly deployed by the Soviet Union), they struck many observers as outlandish.

Detonating a “massive nuclear ordnance” at harbor level would devastate any harbor city, and would mobilize immense amounts of radioactive debris into the atmosphere. A nuclear-powered cruise missile likely would leave a trail of radioactive contamination in its wake, and would be dangerous even to flight test (what happens, for example, at the end of the test?). Some speculated that they might be “Potemkin village” weapons, propaganda creations intended to underscore the Russian leadership’s displeasure with U.S. policies or ersatz chips to be bargained away in some future round of arms control negotiations.

Aside from arguable marginal scenarios, the use of nuclear arms of any type would violate international humanitarian law. That law requires the use of violence in war to be necessary, proportionate, and discriminate, with effects on both civilian populations and the natural environment part of the assessment. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review asserts in passing that “the conduct of nuclear operations would adhere” to those requirements. On the contrary, above all, nuclear weapons cannot be used in compliance with the requirement of discrimination, because their massive and uncontrollable effects—blast, heat, short- and long-term radiation, and, in urban areas, firestorms—make it impossible to distinguish between military targets and civilian populations and infrastructure.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was negotiated in 2017 by 122 states, not including, however, any nuclear-armed states. Its preamble “considers” that use of nuclear weapons would violate international humanitarian law and “reaffirms” that such use “would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience”—factors with legal as well as moral value.

As the treaty’s reference to “principles of humanity” suggests, in many circumstances, certainly in attacks on cities, use of nuclear weapons goes so far beyond the boundaries of warfare that it likely would constitute not only violations of international humanitarian law but also crimes against humanity as most recently defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Use of a submersible drone carrying “massive nuclear ordnance” and of the radiation-trailing nuclear-powered cruise missile are examples—not the only ones—of this extreme deviation from the normal conduct of warfare. They likely would only be used in general nuclear war, and in this sense are true “doomsday” weapons. Even designing them is an implicit acknowledgement that once nuclear weapons are used, even in “limited” fashion, escalation may be difficult or impossible to control.

Erosion of International Law

There is another extremely important component of international law that Putin’s speech and the Nuclear Posture Review blatantly disregard. That is the obligation under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” According to a unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice in its 1996 Advisory Opinion, “Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons,” the obligation requires states “to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects.” The obligation was reinforced by an NPT review conference “unequivocal undertaking … to accomplish the total elimination” of nuclear arsenals. It was to be implemented in part through fulfillment of another review conference commitment, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in order to minimize the risk of their use and to facilitate disarmament.

The Russian and U.S. plans for new nuclear weapons systems—and the lack of negotiations about them—plainly violate the obligation regarding “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date,” as well as the commitment to reduce the role of nuclear weapons. The U.S. expansion of the circumstances in which nuclear weapons might be used additionally violates that commitment.

Moreover, the clear intent of both Russia and the U.S. to maintain large, diversified nuclear forces for decades to come betrays a lack of good faith in relation to the obligation to negotiate the elimination of nuclear arsenals. In the case of the United States, the Nuclear Posture Review fails to identify any concrete steps to pursue on nuclear arms control and disarmament. As to the U.S.-Russian relationship, emphasis is placed upon a claimed Russian violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. The review does not even endorse extension of New START for five years when it expires in 2021, a step which Russia has supported. Additionally, in his speech Putin said: “Let us sit down at the negotiating table and devise together a new and relevant system of international security and sustainable development for human civilization.” Rhetoric perhaps, but why not test it?

Whether or not Russia’s program to develop nuclear-powered cruise missiles and underwater drones delivering massive nuclear warheads are “real,” even the fact that one of the world’s two leading nuclear-armed states is willing to threaten to build them is a worrisome development. It is a definitive marker that what opportunity there was in the post-Cold War period to eliminate humankind’s self-created mechanism of annihilation on a civilization scale was missed. We are in a new, far more dangerous age, and must discover anew the urgency of nuclear disarmament, and again take the first tentative steps that might lead us there.

Both Russia’s program and the Nuclear Posture Review display a kind of contempt for treaty obligations and for international law generally, underscoring an observation by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 opinion that today seems prophetic: “In the long run, international law, and with it the stability of the international order which it is intended to govern, are bound to suffer from the continuing difference of views with regard to the legal status of weapons as deadly as nuclear weapons.”

Twenty-two years later, the corrosive effect on international law and the stability of the international order of nuclear weapons and differing views regarding who is entitled to have them is evident. Nuclear weapons and the threat of their proliferation has been used as a stalking horse for the geopolitical agendas of the world’s most powerful states. It has sparked an unlawful war based on questionable intelligence. In the confrontation between the United States and North Korea, it has brought us again to the brink of war between nuclear-armed countries.

As the court concluded: “It is consequently important to put an end to this state of affairs: the long-promised complete nuclear disarmament appears to be the most appropriate means of achieving that result.”

The interests of the world’s populations and their governments are as far apart as they have been in a long time. This reflects the growing disparities in wealth and power between those who rule and the rest of us, and the erosion of what democracy had been achieved. Extreme nationalist elements are ascendant worldwide, their common characteristic being a politics that redirects the emotions evoked by those developments—fear, resentment, and a pervasive sense of loss—against vulnerable minorities at home and enemies abroad. Authoritarian nationalists are in power in Russia and in several ex-Warsaw Pact NATO states, and also hold the presidency and constitute a substantial, perhaps dominant, portion of the majority party in the Congress of the United States.

The revanchist intentions of Russia’s government and ruling oligarchs have been exaggerated in the U.S. press due to the peculiar entanglement of U.S.-Russia relations with domestic partisan politics in this moment. This does not mean, however, that no such aims exist. Neither the elites nor the general populations of Eastern Europe see renewed Russian dominance as an attractive option, and authoritarian nationalist governments in front-line NATO states have their own reasons for whipping up fear of a resurgent Russia. Beyond Europe, there are other regions where encounters between U.S. and Russian policies and deployed forces could go awry, from Syria to the border most forget Russia shares with North Korea. With a U.S. government that appears adrift at the top but that still possesses a formidable and well-organized military, this is a combustible mix, with ample opportunities for each side to misjudge the intentions, and the fears, of the other.

The Nuclear Dilemma

The Korea crisis, and the recent hopeful signs regarding its resolution, should be taken as both an urgent warning and as an opportunity to rethink the meaning of nuclear weapons. We will never know how close to disaster we have come in recent months, and still may come. As that danger grew, discussion of the immeasurable horrors of a full-scale warfare between two large modern militaries in densely populated Northeast Asia—even if nuclear weapons were not used—grew more concrete. A full-scale war between Russia and the United States would dwarf our worst imaginings about war between the U.S. and its regional allies and North Korea.

In thinking about the deeper nature of our nuclear dilemma, it is significant that South Korea has taken the lead in seeking—and, as it looks now, achieving—a diplomatic breakthrough with its North Korean counterparts that could end the immediate crisis, and that might lead eventually to a more lasting peace on the peninsula. As was the case for Europeans during the Cold War, South Koreans found themselves trapped between nuclear-armed adversaries, one an ally. And as was the case of NATO countries hosting U.S. nuclear missiles, they faced the possibility that a nuclear war could be fought on their soil without their own government’s consent. This raises a question seldom asked by inhabitants of nuclear-armed countries: Whose nuclear weapons are they, really? Whose interests do they protect?

This question then leads naturally to others. As E.P. Thompson, a founder of European Nuclear Disarmament, asked in 1981 in “A Letter to America,” “Is nuclear war preferable to being overcome by the enemy? Are the deaths of fifteen or twenty million and the utter destruction of the country preferable to an occupation which might offer the possibility, after some years, of resurgence and recuperation?” and finally, “Are we ourselves prepared to endorse the use of such weapons against the innocent, the children and the aged, of an ‘enemy’?” The people of every nuclear-armed country should be asking these questions today.

There are other lessons we should have learned by now. No system or country is immune to corruption, or collapse. No country can guarantee that a class of leaders will not rise to power who are shortsighted and self-serving, and who place their own welfare above that of their people, or of humanity itself. No system or “way of life” is so perfect that its preservation merits risking humanity’s future, and thinking it to be so is a form of madness. Recent events may have sharpened our focus on these realities, but they have been true all along. Nuclear weapons are unsafe in any hands.

The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on March 19, 2018 at 11:13 am

by PAUL STREET
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/16/the-obama-presidency-gets-some-early-high-historiography/

Julian Zelizer, ed., The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, March 13, 2018).

The Old Over the New

Professional historians are a conservative crew (with a nice number of great exceptions) for the most part – in a “liberal” and Democratic Party kind of way. Part of this has to with their mental wiring. As the leading psychologists and “time perception” theorists Phillip Zimbrano and Rosemary Sword have written, “people who focus primarily on the past value the old over the new; the familiar over the novel, and the cautionary, conservative approach over the daring, more liberal or riskier one.”

No wonder, perhaps, that received the ringing endorsement of 227 U.S. historians, including (remarkably enough) a number who identified as leftists, who signed practically hero-worshipping “Historians for Obama” letter in the spring of 2008. The previous year, the New Yorker’s Larissa MacFarquhar penned a memorable portrait of Obama titled “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with the candidate: “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good” (emphasis added).

MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?

Left Warnings

The MacFarquhar piece was just one of numerous and widely available indications well before the 2008 election that an Obama presidency would never stray far, if at all, from the policy and political preferences of those atop the nation’s reigning corporate, financial, and imperial power structures – or from the nation’s attachment to objectively racist and white-supremacist social and institutional structures and practices. MacFarquhar’s findings were already very well understood by a number of writers and activists on the Left (the present writer included), who began warning pro-left-progressives and liberals about Obama’s basically wealth- and power-friendly, right-wing essence as early as June of 2003. The Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. caught the pseudo-progressive bourgeois-neoliberal essence of Obama as early as January of 1996, right after Obama first won election to the Illinois legislature:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.”

A decade later, progressive journalist Ken Silverstein wrote a retrospectively predictive report titled “Obama, Inc.” for Harpers’ Magazine. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Silverstein observed, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

That was precisely the centrist, Big Business-, Empire,- and white-friendly Barack Obama that I observed and occasionally even had to deal with as an anti-poverty and civil rights policy researcher and advocate in Chicago and Illinois during the late 1990s and early 21st century. By the time Obama emerged as a strong candidate to become what I fully expected to be the United States’ first technically Black president in 2007 and 2008, I, myself a onetime and future historian, had already gone through many of state (1996-2005) and U.S. (2005-2009) senator Obama’s speeches, talks, votes, campaign finance records, policy actions, and writings (key primary sources telling us what to expect from a President Obama) to produce a considerable number of critical essays and a book – bearing the over-neutral title Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics – warning liberals and progressives of just how painfully little they should expect from an Obama White House.

Obama’s past and coming service to Big Business was only one of the things I hopelessly asked intellectuals and activists to reflect upon. I also detailed and predicted (in a chapter titled “How ‘Antiwar’? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) both Obama’s past and coming military imperialism and (in a chapter titled “How ‘Black’ is Obama? Color, Class, Generation and the Perverse Racial Politics of the Post-Civil Rights Era”) Obama’s ironic past and coming service to institutional racism, including racist mass incarceration.

Among my forewarnings was the prediction that a president Obama’s abject fealty to the nation’s reigning financial institutions and corporations and the military-industrial complex would combine with his skin color and party affiliation to spark an ugly white-nationalist and reactionary, capitalist-manipulated fake- populist upsurge that would fill the angry popular vacuum left by his cooptation of left, more genuinely populist progressive forces even while he governed in accord to the needs and values of the wealthy Few – the top 1 percent that Democratic contender John Edwards had railed against in Iowa and New Hampshire.

A Blunt Lesson About Power

With no small help from the Great Recession that broke out on the eve of the 2008 elections, my warnings were born out by Obama’s continuation and expansion of the extravagant federal bailouts of the financial parasites who recklessly caused the economic crisis and the rise of the Tea Party and the vicious, proto-fascistic white-nationalist Trump phenomenon. Obama’s “dollar value” would become abundantly clear in early 2009, when he told a frightened group of Wall Street executives that “I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.” For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, the Pulitzer Prize-winner author Ron Suskind wrote, there was “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

It was a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S.

No such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. populace what William Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans:

“watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney.

As Obama later explained to some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a month after trouncing Romney’s bid to unseat him: “When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

A year and a half before this tender ruling class moment, the American people watched Obama offer the Republicans bigger cuts in Social Security and Medicare than they asked for as part of his “Grand Bargain” offered during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis. It was at that point that hundreds of thousands of mostly younger Americans had received enough of Obama’s “blunt lesson about power” to join the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which sought progressive change through direct action and social movement-building rather than corporate-captive electoral politics.

We will never know how far Occupy might have gone since it was shut down by a federally coordinated campaign of repression that joined the Obama administration and hundreds of mostly Democratic city governments in the infiltration, surveillance, smearing, takedown and eviction of the short lived movement – this even as the Democrats stole some of Occupy’s rhetoric for use against Romney and the Republicans in 2012.

Then came Obama’s insistent but failed championing of the highly unpopular arch-global-corporatist and authoritarian Trans Pacific Partnership – so widely hated that even the uber-neoliberal Wall Street candidate Hillary Clinton had to pretend to be against it in 2016.

Along the way, Obama would continue his nasty bourgeois habit of lecturing poor Black people on their personal and cultural responsibility for their privation. He told young Black Americans to respect “law and order” as a newly exposed epidemic of racist police murders sparked mass civil rights protests and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Obama undertook no significant or major programs specifically targeting Black needs and racism, eliciting criticism even from petit-bourgeois centrist Obama fans like Ta-Nehesi Coates.

The great U.S.-American imperial military-machine stayed “set on kill” (Allan Nairn) under Obama, with disastrous consequences in Libya and across much of Africa (where Obama dramatically increased the Pentagon’s presence) and the Middle East. Obama’s dramatically expanded and personally directed drone war helped spread jihad across a much broader stretch of geography than had George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

A Professional Class Obama-JFK Love Letter

I was not the only Left writer to have raised alarms about Obama long before this dismal, dollar-drenched denouement. Warnings came from numerous other portsiders, including John Pilger, Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford, Pam Martens, Alexander Cockburn, Noam Chomsky, Doug Henwood, Arun Gupta, Juan Santos, and many others.

The “Historians for Obama” knew better than Left writers and activists working with real-time primary sources and experiences. The Obamanist historians’ April 2008 love letter was embarrassing. It dripped with ardor for Obama – a former Harvard Law Review Editor and “constitutional lawyer” (adjunct law professor, actually) – as an embodiment of academic and professional class “meritocracy.” It praised Obama for possessing an “acute awareness of the inequalities of race and class” and the means “to speak beyond them.” It childishly proclaimed that, as president, Obama would, “begin the process of healing what ails our society and ensuring that the U.S. plays a beneficial role in the world.” It was revealingly loaded with creepy historical lust for both Obama and his great historical likeness (the historians approvingly sensed) – the corporate-imperialist and reckless, Third World-attacking Cold Warrior John F. Kennedy:

“But it is his qualities of mind and temperament that really separate Obama from the rest of the pack. He is a gifted writer and orator who speaks forcefully but without animus. Not since John F. Kennedy has a Democrat candidate for president showed the same combination of charisma and thoughtfulness – or provided Americans with a symbolic opportunity to break with a tradition of bigotry older than the nation itself. Like Kennedy, he also inspires young people who see him as a great exception in a political world that seems mired in cynicism and corruption.”

“Tell it,” I wrote to one signatory at the time. “to the descendants of the victims of Kennedy’s military escalation in Vietnam, his terror attacks on Cuba, and the right-wing dictators he supported in Latin America.”

“The Most Impressive Resume Imaginable”

How interesting, now to read a new collection of essays written by elite U.S. historians under the editorship of Princeton historian Julius Zelizer: The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment (Princeton University Press. 2018). All but 3 of the volume’s 17 contributors are established historians at elite United States universities (the only exceptions are a Princeton sociologist, a University of Virginia law professor, and a Princeton-minted post-doctoral fellow). Five of the contributors are employed by Princeton University, the volume’s publisher.

The essayists range from slightly left-of-center to liberal centrist, consistent with the narrow but standard partisan and ideological profile of the liberal arts and social sciences professoriate. The volume’s editor, Princeton historian Julian Zelizer, reports that nearly all the contributors were in “a state of shock” when Trump triumphed over Hillary Clinton, who Zelizer revealingly calls (reflecting the meritocratic ideology of the professional class) “someone with one of the most impressive resume’s imaginable” – a curious description of a terrible and monstrous candidate who professor Reed quite rightly described in the summer of 2016 as a “lying neoliberal warmonger.” I would be somewhat surprised to learn that any of the contributors is not a registered Democrat.

Seven Thumbs Up and Three Neutral

Despite their shared political and upper-echelon academic ground, however, the top-drawer professors are not without differences on how to assess Obama’s presidential record and legacy. Seven of the essayists write about the Obama presidency with liberal and even in some cases leftish approval:

+ Princeton sociologist Paul Starr thinks that Obama can be shown to have “made significant progress in mitigating and reducing inequality” when tax policy, health care policy, and government transfer payments for the poor are factored in – an achievement for which Starr thinks Obama has not received proper “political credit.”

+ University of California at Davis historian Eric Rauchway says that Obama deserves admiration for “avert[ing] an economic crisis of comparable severity to the Great Depression.”

+ Princeton historian Meg Jacobs gives Obama lukewarm but nonetheless undeserved approval for “bold[ly]” using direct executive actions to “fight against global warming.”

+ Imperialist University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri foolishly hails Barack the Drone King and Libya-Wrecker Obama for advancing “a liberal internationalist agenda that resisted the use of military force.” Tell it to the people of Bola Bulk, professor Suri!

+ University of Cambridge historian Gary Gerstle lauds Obama for overcoming a “hostile political environment” to “superintend…an economic recovery much more robust than what Europe achieved.” Gerstle also hails Obama for bringing “a half-century campaign for national health insurance to successful conclusion” and (above all) for advancing “a vision of civic nationalism [that] inspired millions of young nonwhites to believe that they could find opportunity and liberty, and democracy, in America.” Gerstle reasonably and positively contrasts Obama’s multicultural and cross-racial “civic nationalism” with the GOP and Trump’s horrifying “racial nationalism,” rooted in the longstanding “belief that American is a land meant for whites, or Europeans, and their descendants.”

+ Georgetown historian and Dissent editor Michael Kazin offers ironic praise to president Obama for sparking a resurgence of “the Left” – with the curious exception of the antiwar movement – by failing to deliver on candidate Obama’s progressive-sounding campaign rhetoric and imagery. (The key developments Kazin mentions are the rise of the Occupy Movement, the emergence of Black Lives Matter, and the 2015-16 Bernie Sanders campaign.) At the same time, Kazin dismisses those who would “ignore, or quickly disparage, reforms that Obama and a Democratic Congress managed to enact during the first two years of his administration” – the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank “regulation of high finance.”

+ Rutgers historian Timothy Stewart-Winter acclaims Obama as “The Gay Rights President” for “major civil rights accomplishments on military service and marriage equality.”

Three of the essays are neutral on the Obama record:

+ Zelizer’s opening two contributions, which split the blame between Obama’s poor political strategy and a hostile political environment fueled by Republican intransigence in explaining Obama’s failure to turn policy victories into political gains for the Democratic Party. The title of Zelizer’s second essay tells much of the story: “Tea-Partied: President Obama’s Encounter with the Conservative-Industrial Complex.”

+ University of Virginia history and law professor Risa Goluboff and University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger note commonsensically that the U.S. Supreme Court under Obama was not “Obama’s court.” They are relieved that the high court did not undertake a deep conservative transformation during Obama’s presidency. They rightly note that the Republican U.S. Senate’s “refusal to consider [Merrick] Garland [Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee] was unprecedented and a significant breach of constitutional norms.”

Seven Thumbs Down

The seven remaining contributors are more critical of Obama’s presidential record:

+ University of Pennsylvania history professor Jonathan Zimmerman properly criticizes Obama’s “Race to the Top” schools program for advancing the same neoliberal and teacher-bashing standardized test-based education agenda promoted by George W. Bush and embodied in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

+ University of California at Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted rightly assails Obama’s “surprising” program of “targeted kills of suspected terrorists” – just “one of several hardline Bush administration counterterrorism polices that Obama chose to continue.” Olmsted notes that Obama insidiously acted “to normalize his predecessor’s [criminal and terrorist ‘counterterrorism’] practices and make them legal…Under Obama’s leadership,” Olmsted reminds us, “American liberals embraced exactly the sort of national security policies that they had condemned in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.”

+ Princeton historian Jacob Dlamini criticizes Obama for violating African sovereignty and African wishes by joining England and France in recklessly pursuing regime change in Libya. Dlamini also notes that Obama deepened and expanded the United States’ lethal military presence in Africa while doing nothing to fulfill hopes that the president (famously the son of a Kenyan national) would develop a special and positive relationship with Africa.

+ New York University historian Thomas Sugrue notes that Obama’s “too cautious” urban policy left metropolitan America’s core inequalities and related harsh race-class segregation untouched thanks largely to the president’s excessive attachment to “market-based solutions.” Sugrue finds this unsurprising since Obama “was a product of the bipartisan neoliberalism of the 1990s, too enamored of market-based solutions and public-private partnerships to fight for a more vigorous public sector.” (Thank you, Thomas Sugrue).

+ University of Michigan historian Matthew Lassiter traces the “resilience of the [Nixon-Reagan] war on drugs” under Obama. Lassiter finds that Obama’s drug policies “reflec[ed] the bipartisan [and failed] consensus that the criminal justice system should ultimately regulate the illicit drug market and the parallel refusal to acknowledge that prohibition itself creates the context for violence and crime, whether by traffickers or law enforcement, both domestically and internationally.”

+ University of Texas historian Peniel Joseph concludes that “Obama’s election, with its lofty and inspiring rhetoric about hope and change, represents an opportunity found and frustratingly lost for advocates of criminal justice reform” – for people who hoped that the first Black president would undertake substantive steps to roll back racist mass incarceration and felony-marking. Joseph blames Obama’s “dream big but go slow” approach, which “contradict[ed] his audacious and successful presidential campaign.” Joseph thinks Obama’s weak performance on the “the new Jim Crow” (racist mass incarceration and criminal branding) was consistent with Obama’s famous March 2008 race speech in Philadelphia, where the future president alarmingly found “moral equivalency in black anger over slavery and white supremacy with white resentment against affirmative action and perceptions of black entitlement.”

+ Southern Methodist University U.S. History Fellow Sarah Coleman finds that Barack “Deporter-in-Chief” Obama “ended his two terms with few successes and a mixed legacy in immigration and refugee policy.”

Assessing the Assessment

The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment will not find very many readers outside “higher education.” It’s a smooth little vitae-booster unlikely to gather much attention beyond a small circle of incestuous and self-referential “experts.” A riveting page-turner it is not.

Zelizer really should have included a short contribution from a labor historian – Georgetown’s Joseph McCartin, for example – on the experience of American workers and unions under Obama. This conspicuous omission reflects, perhaps, he disfavor in which serious class analysis has fallen in the history profession. So does the absence of serious attention to the ruling-class composition (not to mention conduct) of Obama’s administration – a topic that was analyzed in brilliant historical and social science fashion in a remarkable book by the Dutch political scientists Bastiaan Van Apeldoorn and Nana de Graaff: American Grand Strategy and Corporate Elite Networks: The Open Door since the End of the Cold War (Routledge, 2015).

(Class isn’t sexy in higher education anymore. It gets dismissed far too quickly there these days.)

Neither the editor Zelizer nor any of his contributors show the slightest awareness that many writers on the Left (this reviewer included) predicted both the (not) “surprisingly” conservative” trajectory of the Obama presidency quite early on and the results of that presidency (including divergent insurgencies both left and right).

Goluboff and Schragger are wrong to see Obama in 2008 as a “Harvard-trained lawyer [who] thought social change [was] more likely to come from the grassroots.’’ Obama shed that belief before he went to Harvard. That abandonment was part of why he left community organizing and applied to the top law school in the first place. The primary sources are very clear on that.

Gerstle is wrong to see Obama’s Affordable Care Act as a successful culmination of “a half-century campaign for national health insurance.” The real U.S. national health insurance dream has always been for a single-payer system, Medicare for All, without corporate profiteering. Obama failed even to include a partial public option in his reform measure.

Olmsted would be less surprised by Obama’s murderous “counterterrorism” if she had closely read candidate Obama’s foreign policy writings and speeches – key primary sources that were absurdly ignored by Obama’s bamboozled progressive and antiwar fans in 2007 and 2008. We should think of Obama’s targeted assassination record as just plain terrorist, not counterterrorist, consistent with Noam Chomsky’s 2015 description of Obama’s drone program as “the most extreme global terrorist campaign the world has yet seen.”

Kazin is on flimsy ground to see a resurgent Left without an antiwar movement under Obama. No Left worth its salt can emerge without coming into conscious confrontation with the U.S. global military empire, a great source of inequality, authoritarianism, and oppression at home and abroad.

At the same time, Kazin owes an apology to the left business and political commentator Doug Henwood for not citing or perhaps even knowing about the silver lining Henwood attached to his warnings on Obama’s coming presidency in March of 2008. My June 2008 Obama book neared its conclusion with a brilliant quotation from Henwood on the ironic left potential of a neoliberal Obama presidency. Mass disillusionment with Obama’s ideologically foreordained failure to deliver on his lofty, expectation-raising promises of “a better world – more peaceful, egalitarian, and humane,” might help drive ordinary Americans to the left, Henwood wrote (“Would You Like Change with That?” Left Business Observer, no. 117, March 2008). It’s one thing to observe a phenomenon after it occurred; it’s another and more difficult thing to predict that phenomenon in advance.

Finally, Zelizer fails to understand that Obama’s Left-predicted (I again say) presidential neoliberalism is no small part of why the president got so effectively “Tea Partied.” If Obama had seized the moment provided by the Great Recession, the Iraq fiasco, and the Democratic Party takeover of Congress to pursue the progressive and even social-democratic agenda favored by most Americans, thing might well have proceeded in a different, more leftward and democratic direction.

The onetime and short-lived Obama backer Dr. Cornel West reflected years ago on how Obama “posed as a progressive and turned out to be a counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a national security presidency…a brown-faced Clinton: another opportunist.” Nobody in Zelizer’s collection seems to possess the elementary honesty to speak so plainly and honestly about what all-too predictably happened, with advance assistance from at least 227 American academic historians, under the Obama presidency, whose “blunt lesson about [ruling-class] power” is no small part of why Trump “shockingly” sits in the White House.

Credit is due, though, to Starr, for some instructive reflections on how inequality is mis-measured, to Gerstle for highly relevant reflections on the longstanding and living tension between “civic” and “racial” nationalism, and to the seven historians who had the courage to point out highly unpleasant facts about the presidency of Obama, whose legacy is being undeservedly enhanced by the almost unfathomable awfulness of Orange Satan – the Tangerine Caligula who fills the White House with a stench smelled around the world.

Ed Markey’s career-long fight against nuclear weapons

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on February 21, 2018 at 1:38 am

By Joshua Miller, BOSTON GLOBE, FEBRUARY 17, 2018
Radioactive isotopes were making their way into the country’s milk supply, and Edward J. Markey, the son of a milkman, was sounding the alarm.

He delivered his appeal to the biggest audience he could find: students, parents, and staff gathered for the Malden Catholic High School science fair.

The year was 1962. Markey was 15.

Twenty years later, he was a congressman calling for a freeze of nuclear weapons before almost a million protesters in Central Park. “This is just the beginning,” he pledged.

Now, more than three decades after that, Markey is still warning of our shared nuclear peril — only this time from his perch in the US Senate.

No elected official on the national scene has been banging the drum about the nuclear menace as loudly and for as long as the 71-year-old Malden Democrat.

And with President Trump’s nuclear saber rattling and fervent embrace of a new arms race, Markey’s decades-long efforts have again gained relevance.

“I work on this issue because I think it is the most important issue that faces the planet,” he said in an interview in his Boston office. “We are slipping very quickly into an era where nuclear weapons are becoming more contemplatable, more likely to be used.”

Trump has embraced a muscular nuclear posture, saying in 2016 after the election, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

One month later, Markey introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. At a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing that included discussion of the bill, he warned that “Donald Trump can launch nuclear codes just as easily as he can use his Twitter account.”

In January, the president called for plowing money into nuclear weapon modernization to make the arsenal “so strong and powerful” it would deter any acts of aggression.

Markey expressed dismay at the push, saying it would increase the risk of nuclear war.

And the Trump administration’s nuclear posture review released this month contemplates using nuclear weapons in response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.”

Markey responded by saying, in part: “The Cold War is over.”

‘I work on this issue because I think it is the most important issue that faces the planet.’
Through his 41-year career in Washington as a congressman and a senator, Markey has seen the nation’s fear of thermonuclear annihilation, and attention to efforts to limit the menace, ebb and flow.

All the while, he’s made the case that the proliferation of nuclear power is directly tied to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In the 1970s, Markey toured the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Plymouth and the still-being-built reactor in Seabrook, N.H., with concern. In 1979, he fought a public but unsuccessful battle for a half-year ban on the construction of new nuclear reactors.

During the Reagan era, when the president was leading the largest peacetime military buildup in history, Markey stayed in the limelight. In his Central Park appearance, he pushed for the United States and Soviet Union to freeze the buildup of nuclear weapons. His photo graced the front page of New York Times the day after the House of Representatives passed a temporary test ban of most atomic weapons, premised on the Soviets doing the same. He published a book on his broader anti-proliferation efforts entitled “Nuclear Peril.”

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, he pressed for greater oversight of power plants — including those in Massachusetts and New Hampshire — by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He expressed worry about the development of “mini nukes” in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

And, even as he’s passed laws on everything from telecommunications to the environment to the opioid crisis, fighting nuclear catastrophe has remained his lodestar.

“Markey is one of the real congressional stalwarts on this,“ said David S. Meyer, a University of California, Irvine professor, who had lunch with the then-congressman about the effort to freeze the development of nuclear weapons in 1982, and has been following his career ever since. “I can’t think of somebody who has been doing it longer and more consistently than he has.”

In the Globe interview, Markey underscored his long-held belief that no country can win a nuclear war, because such a fight will have no victor.

He pointed to an errant inbound ballistic missile alert blasted to people’s phones in Hawaii last month as evidence. After the message went out, there was much panic, but the vast majority of people did not have anywhere to go.

“There is no place to run in the event of a nuclear war,” he said. “That’s my message. You cannot fight. You cannot survive a ‘winnable’ nuclear war. That is insanity. That’s part of the old nuclear war-fighting paradigm that we worked very hard to end when military strategists used to talk about the tens of millions of deaths that we could survive, as long as we inflicted far greater damage upon the Soviet Union.”

Markey paused for a moment, his arms crossed across his chest.

“That’s why I work on these issues, because there are people out there who still think in those terms. And, unless we’re very careful right now, we’re getting closer to that day —”

He left the thought unfinished.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.

US Nuclear Posture Review gives strong arguments for a prohibition of all nuclear weapons

In Climate change, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 14, 2018 at 11:01 am

FEBRUARY 13, 2018

by Gunnar Westberg, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
This is how I would summarize the new US Nuclear Posture Review, issued last week by the Trump administration:

We can fight and win a nuclear exchange
We are prepared to use nuclear weapons against a conventional attack, e.g. a cyberattack
We may consider using nuclear weapons against a nuclear-weapons-free country
We care not to mention our obligations under NPT Art VI
We have never heard of the climate effects of nuclear war

In Jan. 2017 President Donald Trump ordered a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The report is now available. It is 75 pages long. Most the material repeats earlier NPRs. I will here concentrate on the new aspects.

“Escalate to de-escalate”

Russian military writers have discussed the possibility of using “small” nuclear weapons if the country is attacked by an adversary with considerable conventional superiority. These “small”—Hiroshima-sized?—nukes would serve as a warning: we are prepared to defend ourselves with nuclear weapons. Such a discussion is to be expected considering the inferiority of Russia in conventional weapons. President Putin has hinted at such possibilities. However, no change in deployment, activation, upgrading, or maintenance of the “tactical” nuclear weapons in storage has been done, as far as we know, and no evidence is given in the NPR.

A major problem is that there are frequent allegations in the NPR about the strategy of Russia, the main enemy, with no references—you do not know if the NPR relies on explicit statements by Russian military leaders or just refers to discussions in Russian publications, or other unnamed sources. The use of small nukes to “escalate to deescalate” now seems to be a US, instead of a Russian, proposal. This is an unnecessary and irresponsible development. The superior US conventional arsenal should make the use of “small” nukes unnecessary, and it is, in any case, very dangerous.

“Small nukes” for submarines are also considered, both a missile and a cruise missile. This is a dangerous development as the target country will not know that a “small” weapon is coming, and massive retaliation may seem to be the choice. You have no time to evaluate, you cannot wait for the impact.

Development of such a bomb—the B61-12—has already been under way for several years. This is going to be a bomb with a dial, which can be set anywhere from 50 kt to less than 1 kt. The weapon is going to be targetable, probably earth-penetrating, suitable for attack on protected command centers, intended for use in Europe. B61-12 is a new weapon, and thus, like the submarine-based new nukes, breaks the US pledge not to develop any new nuclear weapons.

It is interesting that apart from the new B61-12, no production plans for these new warheads are mentioned. We can hope that the development of these weapons will not start for several years, preferably never.

Use against conventional targets

There are several statements in the NPR that nuclear weapons can be actively used, as deterrent against or retaliation for a non-nuclear attack. Thus, serious damage to US civilian infrastructure could be a reason for nuclear retaliation. This is possibly the most irresponsible and irrational part of the new policy. The USA would then use nuclear weapons against a country which—supposedly—has launched a cyber-attack. Such a policy should be unthinkable. That it is illegal is obvious.

The enormous superiority of the USA in conventional warfare against any possible adversary should make the use of nuclear weapons unwarranted, both against non-nuclear-weapon states or against nuclear-weapon states who have not used their nukes against the USA. Why else have this superiority?

There is a fairly large amount of loose talk about new strategies, new weapons, new principles in the NPR. Much talk, less workshop. Let us hope that Russia and China agree with this interpretation and do not start an arms race. Loose talk from the Pentagon, just as from President Putin, is dangerous. One day your enemy may take you at your word.

Nowhere in the NPR is the vast conventional military superiority of the USA and NATO over Russia mentioned. Nowhere is there a report that the Russian military spending at present is only about one eighth of that of the US, and has been rapidly decreasing for two years.

Nowhere in this document are climate effects of nuclear war considered! President Reagan had said that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The victor in a large nuclear war is committing suicide, starving to death with the rest of humanity.

This document is dangerous, irresponsible, and naïve.

It pretends that we should prepare for a “nuclear exchange,” a small scale nuclear war that could be contained;
It treats nuclear weapons and nuclear war as just weapons and war, not as means of genocide and omnicide and the possible extermination of humankind.
This document and this policy are the responsibility of the administration of Donald Trump, but are the product of the military-industrial system of the USA. This thinking was there before Trump and will remain after him.

This NPR shows that the prohibition of all nuclear weapons is even more important than we knew a few months ago. The nuclear threshold is getting lower, the risk of a large nuclear war is increasing.

Immanuel Kunt’s Vision Of Life Beyond Guns And God

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Peace, Politics, War on February 7, 2018 at 2:47 am

(A tribute to a great idea; ‘The Coalition Against US Foreign Military Bases’@ University of Baltimore)

Immanuel Kunt…living in Ballarat, a provincial Australian city with a population of 100,000 plus…felt inspired when readingabout the activities of a new organisation of concerned world-wide citizens called The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases.From the hidden cryptographic depths of his mind, a valued item of stored wisdom crystallised; its’ got to be what Immanuel what’s-his-name believed, he thought… “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world”.

Immanuel was an experienced organizer of public events. The Ballarat Begonia Festival, which attracts more than 60,0000 spectators annually, owed much to his organisational skills. This three- day event—held on the Victorian (State) Labour Day long weekend in Ballarat had something for everyone. Flowers, celebrity gardener’s displaying their skills, markets, entertainment, kids’ activities and a community parade.

The more Immanuel thought about the issues ‘The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases’ were fulminating against, the more he became convinced that he could do something in his own right that could support their cause. They believed, as he did, that “The United States cannot be a moral or ethical country until it faces up to the realities of the U.S. Empire and the destruction it causes around the world. The U.S. undermines governments…including democratic ones…kills millions of people, causes mass migrations of people fleeing their homes, communities and countries and produces vast environmental damage.”

Immanuel Kunt believed that nature was a spectrum of ideas, projecting forms amidst light and colour phenomena that required a certain balanced conditionality to achieve health wellbeing and sustain order. Begonias had been his path to enlightenment. He had come to associate the skills of the more talented gardeners he encountered, withthose who possessed an understanding of the subject-object nexusthat was normally associatedwith people of a scientific bent of mind. When he walked among the begonias in the Ballarat Conservatory, he perceived the role of science as one which could function asanauxiliaryforce, benevolently reaching out to assist all living things captive to nature’s survival of the fittest gambit, soa more equitable outcome could be achieved.

Only the day before…Immanuel Kunt, after reading what The Coalition Against Military Bases had to say about America’s exceptional hi-tech military creep across the globe, encountered a very different example of exceptionalism in a delicatessen in Ballarat. While standing in a queue waiting for a take-away roastchicken, he fell into conversation with the elderly man next to him: “They do a great chicken here, and most Sundays I buy one to take to Buninyong to have lunch with my sister”, he said to Immanuel. As Buninyong was 11km from Ballarat, Immanuel replied, “You’re managing to stay mobile then, and obviously doing something right?”. “I’m 93 and the doctors can’t find anything wrong with me…I’ve lead a free and natural life, avoiding the guns and god call-to-arms” he said,befo readding somewhat wryly, “a civilized life confronts one’s instinctive urge to resort to force”.

Immanuel left the deli wondering if it was the philosopher Immanuel-what’s-his name who wrote“Science is organised knowledge, wisdom is organised life, and health is a randomly allocated affair in the hands of impersonal forces”. Stopping to reflect a moment, he wondered if time had played tricks upon his ability to retain information? The choice of the word ‘confront’,used by the old man, awakened something in him. Over the following week, his thoughts kept going back to the deli and his chance encounter with the 93-year old.

While observing the multifarious splendours of the begonias assembled for the upcoming Labour Day holiday weekend, Immanuel suddenly became profoundly aware that people were prone to be led astray by false doctrines. A call-to-arms, he mused, is a call to defend or make ready for confrontation and is understood as a call-to-arms to defend against a take-over. Instead it seems to act more as the fiery torch that keeps the impressionable…who only cheer for the ‘good’ guys…ready for the call-to-arms.The more Immanuel thought about the old man’s parting words, “a civilised life confronts one’s instinctive urge to resort to force”, the more his mind went back to The Coalition Against U.S. Military Bases and their questioning of the merits of a hyped-up military,recklessly investing the nation’s treasure in perpetual warfare.

Immanuel wondered how long it would take for the American public to free itself from the tendentious voices of the ruling elites…the military juggernaut…who sold them the proposition that their form of exceptionality confers righteousness upon their quest to straddle the globe with military bases, bythe hundreds…800 maybe…where they then could resortto force, strangling anything and everything that resisted the American way of doing business…business validated by god and gun.

Early in the morning of the day the Begonia Festival was to commence, Immanuel was standing some distance apart from the entrance to the Conservatory admiring the flower arrangements when, to his utter amazement, he saw an old man in jogging apparel slowly move into view and recognized the figure to be that of the old man he had encountered in the deli. The force of his ‘good-morning’ greeting was loud enough to get the jogger’s attention, whereupon he immediately veered towards Immanuel. Stopping in front of Immanuel, he peered at the identity tag connecting the bearer to the events taking place within the Conservatory and exclaimed, “Ah! … so, you’re ‘that’ Kunt!

Over the course of the next half-hour, Immanuel learnt the old man’s name and the name of his older sister who lived in Buninyong. It transpired that Errol Flynn and his 95-year-old sister Peg were committed activists concerned about the corruption of language …especially the propagandistic tactics used to conceal the poisoning effect militarism has had on the health of entire communities.

They were part of a group known as the ‘Buninyong Salon’ who met Sundays to discuss the devious reasons behind the U.S. Empire’s reasons for having bases in Australia. By the end of the half-hour encounter with Errol…much of it covering the tawdry reasons the U.S. gave for being in Australia or elsewhere…Immanuel found himself in receipt of an invitation to attend the group’s bring-your-own style of Sunday luncheon, held from noon onwards every week at Buninyong Salon. Watching the figure of Errol fade from view and disappear behind distant foliage, he was astounded by the magnitude of recent chance encounters that seemed to sign-post a path toward something that requiredhis attention.

Immanuel brought a home baked pizza and a vibrant begonia plant on his very first visit to Buninyong Salon. To his great surprise, the seventeen people who had come together, were all above 90 years of age.A second surprise was to follow when he discovered that none of the people there behaved like ‘old people’ in the least. They were the most lucid, alert, frisky and fun-loving people he had ever encountered. Realising that he had been conditioned to believe that old people belonged in retirement homes once they lost interest in worldly affairs, he took note of the fact that this latest chance encounter had opened a door for him, one enabling his entry into their brave new world. When he was introduced to Peg, he was challenged by her appetite for knowledge when she said without preamble, “interesting name you’ve got there Kunt…how’s it spelt?”

Immanuel was intrigued to discover that even in provincial Australia,in spite of the cant coming from the American propaganda machine and its’ supplicant media, the establishment view of things was now being questioned more openly.It was high time for a greater awareness of the danger of nuclear warheads to percolate through the collective consciousness, he reflected.The propaganda that projected the notion that the U.S. was motivatedby good intentions, and was there to protect smaller states seeking freedom, was now perceived to be fallacious. The very myths that had launched America as the guardian of freedom,were now regarded by millions of people throughout the world as nothing more than hollow jingoism…the policies of the U.S. empire didn’t float allboats…instead, the world witnessed a gung-ho US sheriff repeatedly blow them out of the water.

The military narrative that promotes the U.S. empire as just,is finally beginning to evaporate.As a result, America’s abhorrent foreign policy is being subjected to evergreater critical attention across the globe. Under the weight of evidence showing the frequency of U.S.military powerusing its’ might torepeatedly inflict misery on so many parts of the world… especially in the Middle East…more peoplehave discovered that truth tends to prevail over propaganda in the longer term.

As America’s reputation and stature in the world now rests at the bottom ofa cesspoolof its’ own making, the fundamentals of democracy are once more being revisited. Reprising thethreat of the ‘other’ no longer works. The parasites that now occupy the so-called democratic system have American voices, and they know how to lie. But now, a new era may be approaching, where civilized means may prevail over the urge to use primal methodologies…sane thinking may finally beready to call an evil bluff.

Immanuel was intrigued to be in a situation where the collective wisdom of 17 people, whose primary interest was eliminating U.S. Bases from Australian soil, confirmed what Immanuel what-was-his-name had said, “reason is the source of morality”.

Errol and Peg Flynn had inherited Buninyong Castle…now a heritage site…upon the passing of their parents. Neither could agree on how many rooms were in the castle, or the number of acres it stood upon.During the afternoon,Immanuel was left flabbergasted when he discovered that Buninyong Salon had a plan that would host an expected 300 guests.Some were arriving from as far afield as Hong Kong, California, Singapore and New Zealand. But flabbergast soon gave way to admiration when he realised that the Buninyong Salon was where the denizens of WWW awareness came to stand up and be counted. The festival would have its’ day in the sun and go by the name of ‘Confront’.

All throughout the Begonia Festival weekend, Immanuel Kunt’s mind remained apart from the flow of events at ground level. He dreamed of extending invitations to everybody across the world interested in curtailing the ravishes of U.S. Imperialism. That’s when he got the idea forBegonias Against Imperialism. He was convinced that if he could give Begonia Day the status of Poppy Day in Australia, the symbol of the begonia would, in time, come to represent the people’s concern for the future, as does the Poppy represent people’s concern for remembering the past. It would require people to focus on the dangers of nuclear war and the attendant weapons of mass destruction that throw so dark a shadow over everyone.

Addressing his friends at the Buninyong Salon the following Sunday, Immanuel pitched the following ideas to them;

“The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCray. After reading the poem, Moina Michael, a professor at The University of Georgia wrote the poem, “We Shall Keep the Fate”, and swore to wear a red poppy on the anniversary. The custom spread to Europe and the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth within three years.”

Continuing his speech, he went on to say; “We need to use these actions as a template for our own purposes so that, with the right means,we can proceed to storm the barricades of apathy by marshalling support for all the groups militating against U.S. military bases throughout the world.We wish Ballaratto be the first region to celebrate the begonia as the emblem of resistance to nuclear-madness. Our hope is that our beloved flower will acquire, over time, an emblematic status equal to that of the red poppy. Our first project will involve producing some thousands of badges bearing the word ‘CONFRONT’ under an image of our beloved flower”.

Immanuel received the reaction to his pitch with a mixture of gratitude and astonishment. The consensus was that three years was a reasonable time in which to make the idea work, and the group also advanced the belief that time was on their side. Adeline Armani, a member of the ‘salon’ knew of someone capable of writing a poem dealing with the dangers of nuclear missiles…tarrying with the devil…were her words for describing the potency of The Pentagon and its’ ability to take us all to the edge of the precipice, and beyond. Joel Harris believed that Australians were now past the point where they would uncritically enter alliances that mightopen Pandora’s Box. Referring to the American base in Darwin he vouched “Aussies are no longer the gullible servants of empires they once believed to be true blue commodities”.

So, time passed,and the ‘oldies’ remained firmly on the perch to observe Immanuel Kunts’ efforts now steadily bearingfruit. From many quarters of the globe, hundreds, then thousands of enquiries arrived in Buninyong,attesting to the need for solidarity in the face of a military culture perceived be extremely toxic. Immanuel Kunt, given over to musing, believed that if all the people from around the world who empathised with the ‘Confront’ cause came to Ballarat, their number would exceed those attending the Begonia Festival by a magnitude of 00000’s.

Something has to be done and something has to start somewhere, he mused!

Denis A. Conroy, Freelance writer, Australia

Trump Nuke Plan Resets the Doomsday Clock

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on February 2, 2018 at 12:46 am

Stunning new strategy calls for more tactical weapons and nuclear retaliation against cyber threats.
By SCOTT RITTER • February 1, 2018, The American Conservative

In 1947, a group of scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project—America’s crash wartime effort to manufacture an atom bomb during the Second World War—unveiled what it called the “Doomsday Clock” to graphically convey their concern over the danger posed by nuclear weapons to the survival of humanity.

In the intervening years, this organization, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has seen its iconic timepiece fluctuate from its starting position—seven minutes to midnight (when the world will end)—to a low of two minutes (in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union were racing ahead with the testing and deployment of massive thermonuclear weapons) and a high of 17 minutes (in 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union).

Recently, the Bulletin reset the clock, returning it to the two-minute mark. The threat posed to the world by nuclear weapons, the group believes, is now as great as it has ever been.

The most current time change is derived from an analysis of the state of global nuclear affairs, with an emphasis on the nuclear weapons policy and posture of the United States, the crisis with North Korea, and growing tensions between Washington and Moscow (including efforts by Russia to use technology to interfere in democratic elections around the world). While the Bulletin labels itself non-partisan, its message has historically been embraced by the progressive wing of American politics. The decision by the Bulletin to factor in the threats posed by technology and climate change has only strengthened this perception, especially among American conservatives. However, an examination of the issues underpinning its decision to adjust the Doomsday Clock show that, in this case, the warning issued by the Bulletin is sound and worthy of consideration.

The Bulletin’s reset of the Doomsday Clock comes in advance of the publication by the Trump administration of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the first such document since the Obama administration published its NPR in April 2010. (A draft of the 2018 NPR has been published by the Huffington Post.) The report gives voice to a strategic vision of the Trump administration when it comes to nuclear policy and posture that had been hinted at over the course of the past year. Some aspects of the NPR should come as no surprise—for instance, the $1.2 trillion modernization of the nuclear TRIAD, the manned strategic bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that serve as the heart of America’s nuclear deterrent. An aging deterrent is no deterrent at all if it is not able to function as intended.

Other aspects of the 2018 NPR, however, are disconcerting, and more than justify what would seem to be the prescient resetting of the Doomsday Clock. On the surface, the principles of deterrence outlined in the 2018 NPR are modeled on past policy pronouncements by previous administrations: “[T]o acquire and maintain the full range of capabilities to ensure that nuclear or non-nuclear aggression against the United States, allies and partners will fail to achieve its objectives and carry with it the credible risk of intolerable consequences for the adversary.” However, whereas the 2010 NPR sought to de-emphasize the role of nuclear weapons in deterring a non-nuclear attack (citing improvements in American conventional and anti-missile capabilities) and pointedly embraced Article IV of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which places the onus on states to eventually rid themselves of nuclear weapons, the 2018 NPR makes no mention of Article IV. Instead, it eschews traditional nuclear disarmament pathways in favor of a more aggressive posture that seeks to make nuclear weapons more accessible to American policymakers when formulating deterrence.

This, as they say, is pretty huge.

The Obama administration had continued the Bush-era policy of “open ocean” targeting of ICBMs and SLBMs, ensuring that any accidental launch of a missile would deliver its nuclear payload to the middle of the ocean, thereby reducing the chances of miscalculation of intent. The 2018 NPR, however, allows for “open ocean” targeting for ICBMs only—SLBMs will be exempted. This exemption is part of an overall trend that reverses the Obama-era policy of de-emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in American military planning and operations. “The United States,” the 2018 NPR declares, “will apply a tailored approach to effectively deter across a spectrum of adversaries, threats and contexts.” This “tailored approach” is reflective of the NPR’s contention that, when it comes to nuclear deterrence, there is no “one size fits all” policy. Rather, the United States will now employ an “expanding range of limited and graduated options” that threaten “intolerable damage” in order to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. Moreover, the NPR states that “combatant commands and service components will be organized and resourced for this mission, and will plan, train to integrate U.S. and non-nuclear forces and operate in the face of adversary nuclear threats and attacks”—in short, the U.S. military will be actively preparing for nuclear war.

The 2018 NPR has a vision of nuclear conflict that goes far beyond the traditional imagery of mass missile launches. While ICBMs and manned bombers will be maintained on a day-to-day alert, the tip of the nuclear spear is now what the NPR calls “supplemental” nuclear forces—dual-use aircraft such as the F-35 fighter armed with B-61 gravity bombs capable of delivering a low-yield nuclear payload, a new generation of nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles tipped with a new generation of low-yield nuclear warheads. The danger inherent with the integration of these kinds of tactical nuclear weapons into an overall strategy of deterrence is that it fundamentally lowers the threshold for their use. A recent study done by MIT provides a comparison between an attack on five North Korean nuclear infrastructure targets using ten 450-kiloton warheads delivered by American ICBMs, and an attack against the same target set using 20 .3 kiloton B-61 bombs. The ICBM attack destroys all targets and kills 2 to 3 million North Koreans; the B-61 strike does the same, while limiting casualties to a few hundred deaths at each target. According to press reports, American B-2 bombers are flying practice bombing missions against North Korea, using B-61 bombs as their payload.

Most Americans are familiar, at least in passing, with the possibility of scenarios involving nuclear weapons use against North Korea. Even though the 2018 NPR downplays the possibility, the same holds true with scenarios involving Russia and China. The nuclear deterrence policy laid out in the 2018 NPR, however, uses a much broader brush. Noting that the United States has never adopted a “no first use” policy, the 2018 NPR states that “it remains the policy of the United States to retain some ambiguity regarding the precise circumstances that might lead to a U.S. nuclear response.” In this regard, the NPR states that America could employ nuclear weapons under “extreme circumstances that could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.” Moreover, the NPR walked back from previous assurances made by the United States not to use nuclear weapons against signatory nations of the NPR who were in good standing with the provisions of that treaty, promulgating declaratory policy that states that “given the potential of significant non-nuclear strategic attacks, the United States reserves the right to make adjustments in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.”

The issue of “non-nuclear strategic attack technologies” as a potential precursor for nuclear war is a new factor that previously did not exist in American policy. The United States has long held that chemical and biological weapons represent a strategic threat for which America’s nuclear deterrence capability serves as a viable counter. But the threat from cyber attacks is different. If for no other reason than the potential for miscalculation and error in terms of attribution and intent, the nexus of cyber and nuclear weapons should be disconcerting for everyone. According to the parameters outlined in the 2018 NPR, a nuclear strike could be considered in cases where a nation, like Iran, that has been subjected to a cyberattack initially perpetrated by the United States or its allies, decides to repurpose the malware and counterattack.

Even more disturbing is the notion that a cyber intrusion such as the one perpetrated against the Democratic National Committee and attributed to Russia could serve as a trigger for nuclear war. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The DNC event has been characterized by influential American politicians, such as the Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, as “an act of war.” Moreover, former vice president Joe Biden hinted that, in the aftermath of the DNC breach, the United States was launching a retaliatory cyberattack of its own, targeting Russia. The possibility of a tit-for-tat exchange of cyberattacks that escalates into a nuclear conflict would previously have been dismissed out of hand; today, thanks to the 2018 NPR, it has entered the realm of the possible.

The 2018 NPR speaks of an “expanding range of limited and graduated responses” available to American commanders as if this is a new concept. The fact is, American nuclear planners have always sought to provide the decision makers with as broad a range of options as possible when it came to the employment of nuclear weapons. The difference today is that the United States is actively considering the use of nuclear weapons in a first-strike capacity involving non-nuclear threats. It is this posture that represents the game changer—any potential nuclear-armed adversary must now factor in the probability, during times of crisis, of an American nuclear first strike. The logical response is for these potential adversaries to be prepared to launch a preemptive first strike of their own against the United States.

General Lee Butler, the last Cold War-era commander of Strategic Command, which is responsible for America’s nuclear forces, has said that, when faced with the threat of imminent simulated nuclear attack, the national command authority always opted for Massive Attack Option-4—a full-scale nuclear counterattack, which would condemn more than 200 million people to death. Butler, like many of his Cold War-era colleagues and counterparts who lived under the constant reality of nuclear brinksmanship, has become a proponent of the “Global Zero” movement, seeking the worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons. The 2018 NPR, while applauding that goal, has noted that before any movement toward that objective can occur, a “fundamental transformation of the world political order needs to occur.”

The Obama administration had tried to take steps toward such a transformation, an effort that was reflected in the 2010 NPR. The 2018 NPR has propelled the United States in the opposite direction, embracing a nuclear posture that lowers the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons while ignoring altogether the framework of disarmament, founded in the bedrock commitment made by all nuclear powers under Article IV of the NPT. Only the United States can provide the leadership to achieve the “fundamental transformation of the world political order” necessary to affect nuclear abolition. The Bulletin of American Scientists has set the nuclear Doomsday Clock to two minutes until midnight; the fundamental question facing America today is whether its leaders can affect the needed transformation before time runs out.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. He is the author of Deal of the Century: How Iran Blocked the West’s Road to War (Clarity Press, 2017).

We’re as close to Doomsday today as we were during the Cold War

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on January 26, 2018 at 3:01 am

By Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner, Washington Post, January 25, 2018
Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors, is director of the Origins Project and foundation professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department at Arizona State University. Robert Rosner, chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, is a distinguished service professor in the Departments of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago.

Days after Donald Trump took the oath of office, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reset the Doomsday Clock to 2½ minutes to midnight, in part because of destabilizing comments and threats from America’s new commander in chief. One year later, we are moving the clock forward again by 30 seconds, due to the failure of President Trump and other world leaders to deal with looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.

The Science and Security Board for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists assesses that the world is not only more dangerous now than it was a year ago; it is as threatening as it has been since World War II. In fact, the Doomsday Clock is as close to midnight today as it was in 1953, when Cold War fears perhaps reached their highest levels.

After Hawaii’s false alarm of a nuclear attack from North Korea, were you left wondering what you should do when a nuclear bomb is dropped? You’re not alone. (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)
To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger — and its immediacy. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appeared to make remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks for itself, other countries in the region and the United States.

The failure in 2017 to secure a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear development was unsurprising to observers of the downward spiral of nuclear rhetoric between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But North Korea’s developing nuclear program will reverberate not just in the Asia-Pacific, as neighboring countries review their security options, but more widely, as all countries consider the costs and benefits of the international framework of nonproliferation treaties and agreements.

Global nuclear risks were compounded by U.S.-Russia relations that now feature more conflict than cooperation. The United States and Russia remained at odds, continuing military exercises along the borders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, undermining the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, upgrading their nuclear arsenals and eschewing arms control negotiations.

Tensions over the South China Sea have increased. Pakistan and India have continued to build ever-larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. And in the Middle East, uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the landmark Iranian nuclear deal adds to a bleak overall picture. A related danger is the rise of cyberthreats targeting national infrastructure, including power grids, water supplies and military systems.

On the climate-change front, the danger may seem less immediate than risk of nuclear annihilation, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now. Global carbon dioxide emissions have not yet shown the beginnings of the sustained decline toward zero that must occur if we are to avoid ever-greater warming. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse-gas emissions to manage even the climate risk accepted in the Paris accord. So far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.

The Trump administration’s decision essentially to turn a blind eye to climate change transpired against a backdrop of a worsening climate, including exceedingly powerful hurricanes in the Caribbean and other parts of North America and extreme heat waves in Australia, South America, Asia, Europe and California. The Arctic ice cap achieved its smallest-ever winter maximum in 2017. And last week, data from 2017 demonstrated a continued trend of exceptional global warmth.

We believe that the perilous world security situation described here would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight. But there also is a real threat posed by a fundamental breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions or discern between sincere U.S. pronouncements and mere rhetoric.

U.S. allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been force to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from an administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals and suffering from turnover in senior leadership. Led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, the administration has failed to develop, coordinate and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy. This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management and global stability.

We hope this resetting of the clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant: an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now. It is time to rewind the Doomsday Clock.