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Risk of ‘catastrophic’ nuclear accident as world relations worsen, UN warns

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on April 21, 2017 at 9:31 pm

By Will Worley, Independent. April 21,  2017

There will be “catastrophic” consequences when “luck runs out” on nuclear deterrence, the United Nations (UN) has warned in a major report which highlights the massive risk of an accidental or deliberate use of the world’s most deadly weapons.

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” said the report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research.

The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups, it added.

“Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work,” it said. “The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.
“The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

It comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals.

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, it said .
North Korea has continued with its nuclear weapons development programme, despite heavy sanctions being imposed against it by various countries and international bodies.

While the secretive Communist state has conducted several tests with nuclear bombs, in order to launch a nuclear attack on its neighbours, it needs to be able to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on to a missile.

There is no consensus on exactly where North Korea is in terms of miniaturising a nuclear device so that it can be delivered via a missile.

President Trump has said he will “deal with” the country and has not ruled out military action against it.

The report also cited a string of recent attacks and threats between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan raised the stakes in January, when it fired its first submarine-launched nuclear capable cruise missile.

In addition, the report expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.
Denuclearisation would require “visionary leadership”, the report said, but added this was “sadly rare” as many powerful states “increasingly turn inward”.

It added that new technology and spending on nuclear weapons had “enhanced” the risk of a detonation. However, it acknowledged the secrecy surrounding the programmes made it difficult to accurately assess their true scope.

Increased reliance technology has also introduced new problems, the report said. In the past, accidental nuclear detonations have been averted by a human decision. Replacing military officers with computers could therefore rule out a potential safety check on the weapons, and open the possibility of hacking a nuclear weapon.

The report also referenced the January 2017 decision of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science to move the publication’s Doomsday Clock two and a half minutes to midnight over nuclear fears – the most risky it had been since 1953.

The UN maintained risk was inherent to nuclear weapons and the only way to truly eliminate it was to get rid of the bombs.

The twin goals behind North Korea’s resolve on nuclear weapons

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 20, 2017 at 7:31 am

Michael Holtz, Christian Science Monitor

APRIL 19, 2017 BEIJING—The Trump administration has portrayed the US missile strike on a Syrian air field earlier this month as a sign its willingness to make tough decisions.

In other words, North Korea better watch out.

But to North Korean leaders, analysts say, the attack reaffirmed a different lesson: the importance of having a credible nuclear deterrent.

“The logic is pretty simple,” says Wenran Jiang, an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, in Canada. “The North Koreans see what happened in Syria and say, ‘If we give up nuclear weapons, that’s what will happen to us.’”

As a small, impoverished nation focused on its own survival, North Korea is deeply committed to holding on to its nuclear arms. To shut its program down would be to risk the regime’s annihilation, but to keep it going runs the risk of triggering a devastating war that could lead to millions of casualties.
But ultimately, nuclear weapons are also a means, not just an end: the government hopes a powerful-enough nuclear deterrent will provide the security it needs to pursue economic reforms without the threat of outside interference – a trajectory not so different from China’s.

So goes the strategic calculus at the center of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions – a paradox that leaves Washington with no good options as tensions continue to rise.

‘Storm clouds gathering’

Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned of “storm clouds gathering,” and criticized the United States, South Korea, and North Korea for dangerous “tit for tat” engagement, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Observers say North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test any day. Meanwhile, a US carrier group is on its way to waters off the coast of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s expanded arsenal was on full display Saturday at an annual military parade in Pyongyang, commemorating the birthday of founder Kim Il-sung. It included intercontinental ballistic missiles that could one day be capable of reaching the US mainland, and solid-fuel missiles that could be fired from land and submarines.

On Sunday, North Korea launched a ballistic missile that exploded seconds after liftoff, a high-profile failure that occurred hours before US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea.

Still, the weekend’s displays of strength served as reminders of Washington’s long history of unsuccessful attempts at negotiations with Pyongyang that stretch back more than two decades. North Korea launched a long-range rocket and conducted two nuclear tests last year, including its most powerful to date.

North Korean resolve

Vice President Pence warned of an “overwhelming and effective American response” to any provocation from the North. But North Korea appears unwilling to back down. It has remained in a state of near-war since the fall of the Soviet Union, when the country lost its largest defender and became vulnerable to the US and its allies. Communist regimes around the world were crumbling, but North Korea dug itself in.

In the spirit of “juche,” Kim Il-sung’s philosophy of “self-reliance” that has become a kind of state-sanctioned ideology, the country established its military-first policy that continues to today. It maintained that footing even through widespread famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands. Pyongyang justifies huge investments in nuclear weapons by perpetuating a narrative of imminent threat from foreign forces.

But John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, says that establishing a nuclear deterrent is only part of supreme leader Kim Jong-un’s vision for his country.

Mr. Kim’s ultimate goal to ensure that North Koreans will never again have to “tighten their belts,” says Professor Delury, a promise he made as soon as he took power in 2012. Nuclear deterrence provides the young leader the security he needs to more fully focus on economic development.

Kim has already carried out a series of economic reforms, including an overhaul of the agriculture sector that has led to record-level harvests and the opening of new special economic zones. In a speech last year, Kim said future economic development would focus on the mechanization of agriculture, automation of factories, and increased coal production.

“I would not say the economy is booming, but it has seen steady growth under Kim,” says Andrei Lankov, a history professor at Kookmin University in Seoul who studied at a North Korean university. “He has no illusions about the command economy. He knows the only game in town is what China did 30 years ago through market reforms.”

The China Model

Few nations understand North Korea’s logic better than China, which followed a similar path in the second half of the 20th century. Delury says that China’s development of a nuclear weapon in the 1960s gave it a strong sense of external security, and helped spur the Chinese Communist Party to turn its attention to liberalizing the economy in the late 1970s.

With their shared history in mind, it comes as little surprise that China has been so reluctant to put more economic pressure on North Korea – and not only because it doesn’t want to push the regime to the point of collapse, a worst-case scenario for Beijing.

“The bottom line is the Chinese don’t think pressure is going to work,” Delury says. “They well understand that this is a stubborn, prideful, independent neighbor, but that twisting their arm makes the problem worse.”

The North Korean regime has effectively forced the world into an elaborate game of chicken to ensure its survival. The more pressure the country faces – whether economically or militarily – the more it’s pushed to develop new asymmetrical threats and accept even higher levels of risk to intimidate its rivals. Its goal is to make any potential war too costly to consider, which is why it’s so keen to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the continental US.

Not even China, the North’s main political ally and its economic lifeline, is immune to its provocations. The latest snub occurred last week, when Pyongyang didn’t respond to a meeting request from China’s top nuclear envoy, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The diplomatic slight highlights ongoing questions about Beijing’s influence over the North Korean regime, as Trump pushes China to do more to rein in its erratic neighbor.

China has spoken out against the North’s weapons tests and has agreed to stiffer United Nations sanctions. In February, Beijing banned imports of North Korean coal, cutting off Pyongyang’s most important export.

But as North Korea’s dominant trade partner, China has also maintained robust economic ties with it. Data released last week showed that trade between the two countries grew 37.4 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2016.
For its part, China argues that negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington are the only way to resolve the simmering crisis and avoid a conflict on its border. Such talks could require the US to make significant concessions it has so far been unwilling to accept.

“The Chinese look at North Korea and think, ‘We’ve been there before,’” Professor Jiang says, referring to China’s own path over the last half-century. “At the end of the day, they may decide its behavior isn’t as out of hand as people in the West suggest.”

 

Nuclear war has become thinkable again – we need a reminder of what it means

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 18, 2017 at 11:09 pm

By Paul Mason, The Guardian, April 18, 2017

Last week, Donald Trump deployed his superweapon Moab, the “mother of all bombs” – 10 tonnes of high explosive detonated in mid-air in such a way as to kill, it is claimed, 94 Isis militants. The Russian media immediately reminded us that their own thermobaric bomb – the “father of all bombs” – was four times as powerful: “Kids, meet Daddy,” was how the Kremlin mouthpiece Russia Today put it. But these are child’s play compared with nuclear weapons. The generation waking up to today’s Daily Mail strapline – “World holds its breath” – may need reminding what a nuclear weapon does.

The one dropped on Hiroshima measured 15 kilotons; it destroyed everything within 200 yards and burned everybody within 2km. The warhead carried by a Trident missile delivers a reported 455 kilotons of explosive power. Drop one on Bristol and the fireball is 1km wide; third-degree burns affect everybody from Portishead to Keynsham, and everything in a line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash is contaminated with radiation. In this scenario, 169,000 people die immediately and 180,000 need emergency treatment. Given that there are only 101,000 beds in the entire English NHS, you can begin to imagine the apocalyptic scenes for those who survive. (You can model your own scenario here.)

But a Trident missile carries up to eight of these warheads, and military planners might drop them in a pattern around one target, creating a firestorm along the lines that conventional Allied bombing created in Hamburg and Tokyo during the second world war.

I don’t wish to alarm you, but right now the majority of the world’s nuclear warheads are in the hands of men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable.

For Kim Jong-un, it’s thinkable; for Vladimir Putin, it’s so thinkable that every major Russian wargame ends with a “nuclear de-escalation” phase: that is, drop one and offer peace. On 22 December last year, Trump and Putin announced, almost simultaneously, that they were going to expand their nuclear arsenals and update the technology.

Right now, a US aircraft carrier strike force is steaming towards North Korea (the DPRK) to menace Kim’s rogue regime. We don’t know what secret diplomacy went on between Xi Jinping and Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but the US is sounding confident that China will rein the North Koreans in.

What we do know is that Trump has been obsessed since the 80s with nuclear weapons, that he refuses to take advice from military professionals and that he seems not to understand the core Nato concept of nukes as a political deterrent, as opposed to a military superweapon.

This sudden mania for speaking of nuclear warfare, among men with untrammeled power, should be the No 1 item on the news, and the No 1 concern of democratic and peace-loving politicians.

The video fireworks on US cable news channels have progressed in the space of 10 days from cruise missile launches to bunker-busting airburst porn. One US news host referred to the former as “beautiful”.

I will always remember the Botoxed faces of the US news anchors when they arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was as if they had been woken up from a dream, and the best of them realised how they had been sleepwalking towards the disaster.

Katrina shows what happens when a disaster hits a fragile, poverty-stricken and socially fragmented city. In New Orleans, for a few days, civilisation fell apart. Policemen, suddenly called on to haul their overweight frames into self-sacrificing and arduous work, quit on the spot. The modern equivalent of lynchings happened. Central government and unified military command of the situation broke down. My experience there convinced me that, in the event of mass fatalities being inflicted on a developed world city, the real problem would be social chaos, not mass radiation sickness.

Trump is ramping up the military rhetoric for a horribly simple reason: two weeks ago, the isolationist wing of his team got outflanked by generals; they tried some war to see how it went down and it went down well.

We may get lucky. It may be that the Chinese leadership is prepared to put serious pressure on North Korea to prevent Kim’s regime staging some kind of provocation against the US navy. Or we may get unlucky: the DPRK has a nuclear weapon, even if the missiles needed to deliver it are unstable.
It has been human nature, given the scale of devastation a nuclear war would bring, to blank the possibility from our minds, to worry about small risks because the big one is incalculable. But from the 50s to the 00s, we had – in all nuclear powers – military/industrial complex politicians who understood the value of multilateralism. All around us high politics is becoming emotion driven, unilateral, crowd-pleasing and falling under the control of erratic family groups and mafias, rather than technocrats representing ruling elites.

For the warmongers, true multilateralism is a serious annoyance; that’s why so many of the world’s autocrats are busy forcing NGOs to register, cutting off foreign funds to them and decrying the presence of international observers or sabotaging their work.

If Theresa May wanted to send a useful message at Easter it could have been: in compliance with the non-proliferation treaties, we will never use our nuclear weapons first; we will stick to diplomatic and economic pressure to get the DPRK to comply; and we will use our own, independent diplomatic clout to strengthen disarmament and non-proliferation.

That is what a responsible nuclear-armed power would do. The UK’s silence as Trump toys with military escalation and nuclear rearmament is criminal.

Russia, West Moving Towards New Cold War, Gorbachev Warns

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm

https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-west-moving-toward-new-cold-war-gorbachev-warns/28431864.html
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, called on the West to “restore trust” with Russia and warned that the two old adversaries are moving toward a renewed state of Cold War.

“All the indications of a Cold War are there,” he said in an interview with the German Bild newspaper on April 14. “The language of politicians and the top-level military personnel is becoming increasingly militant. Military doctrines are formulated increasingly harshly The mass media pick up on all of this and add fuel to the fire. The relationship between the big powers continues to worsen.”

A new arms race between Russia and the West is already under way, Gorbachev said.

“It is not merely imminent. In some places, it is already in full swing. Troops are being moved into Europe, including heavy equipment such as tanks and armored cars. It was not so long ago that NATO troops and Russian troops were stationed quite far away from each other. They now stand nose-to-nose.”

Gorbachev said the new Cold War could turn into a hot one if both sides do nothing to prevent it. “Anything is possible” if the current deterioration of relations continues, he said.

Gorbachev cautioned the West against trying to force change in Russia through economic sanctions, saying the sanctions only galvanize public opinion against the West in Russia and bolster support for the Kremlin.

“Don’t have any false hope in this respect! We are a people willing to make whatever sacrifices we need to,” he said, noting that during World War II, Russian endured the deaths of nearly 30 million of their countrymen to win the war.

Instead, Gorbachev said Russia and the West need to find a way to restore trust, respect, and the willingness to working together. He said both sides can draw from a reservoir of good will that remains toward each other among ordinary citizens.

Russia and Germany, in particular “must re-establish contact, solidify, and develop our relationship, and find a way to trust each other again,” he said.

To repair the damage and renew understanding, the West “must take Russia seriously as a nation that deserves respect,” he said.

Instead of constantly criticizing Russia for not meeting Western standards of democracy, he said. the West should recognize that “Russia is on the path to democracy. It’s halfway between. There are approximately 30 emerging nations that are in transition, and we are one of them.”

Gorbachev traces the deterioration of relations to the West’s loss of respect for Russia and exploitation of its weakness after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

That led the West — and particularly the United States — to break promises that were made to Russia at the end of the Cold War that NATO forces would “not move one centimeter further East,” he said.

THE U.S.-RUSSIA NUCLEAR ARMS RACE IS OVER, AND RUSSIA HAS WON

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2017 at 9:53 pm

By Scott Ritter, Newsweek, 4-12-17

This article first appeared on The Washington Spectator.

In October 26, 2016, amid the hubbub of a rancorous American presidential election that dominated the headlines, an event took place in Russia that escaped the attention of those not otherwise involved in monitoring the esoteric world of strategic weapons research and development.

This event, a test of a ballistic missile carrying a payload known as “Object 4202,” fundamentally changed the landscape of arms control, built as it is on the dual pillars of nuclear deterrence and missile defense.

“Object 4202” was a new kind of weapon, a hypersonic warhead capable of speeds 15 times the speed of sound, and capable of evading any anti-missile system the United States has today, or may develop and deploy for decades to come. While the October 26 test used an older RS-26 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as the launch vehicle, “Object 4202” will ultimately be carried on a newer ICBM, the RS-28.

The RS-28 is itself a wonder of modern technology, capable of flying in excess of five times the speed of sound, altering its trajectory to confuse anti-missile radars, and delivering 15 independently targetable nuclear warheads (each one 10 times as powerful as the bombs the United States dropped on Japan at the end of World War II) or three “Object 4202” hypersonic warheads, which destroy their targets through kinetic energy (i.e., through impact).

A nuclear warhead-armed RS-28 would take about 30 minutes to reach the United States from a silo in central Russia; its warheads would be capable of destroying an area about the size of Texas.

Armed with the “Object 4202” hypersonic warheads, each of which is capable of destroying an American missile silo, the time would be cut down to 12 minutes or less. The RS-28 ICBM, scheduled to become operational in 2018, assures Russia the ability to annihilate the United States in retaliation for any American first strike, while providing Russia a silo-killing first-strike capability of its own.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has relied on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation as the foundation of its nuclear deterrence strategy, grounded in the notion of “mutually assured destruction,” where any nuclear strike by one side would result in a devastating response by the other, thereby reducing the chance of nuclear war.

The glue that held this theory of mutual nuclear suicide together was the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, where the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to limitations on the deployment of anti-missile defenses. An effective ABM capability gave a nation the theoretical ability to “win” a nuclear war by launching a debilitating first strike, and then destroying in-flight any missiles that survived. Limiting ABM defenses curtailed an arms race by reducing the impetus to develop new weapons capable of breaching an opponent’s defenses.

The ABM treaty provided a foundation of strategic stability, built on the precepts of “mutually assured destruction,” that enabled both the United States and the Soviet Union to enter into meaningful arms reduction agreements, including the ground-breaking Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991. (Ironically, it was President Ronald Reagan’s insistence in 1986 on continuing the research on the “Star Wars” anti-missile system that precluded the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.)

This trend toward nuclear disarmament continued in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with President Bill Clinton signing a new START 2 treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993. START 2 eliminated the deployment of multiple warheads on ICBMs, further stabilizing the strategic balance between the two nations.

The START 2 treaty never entered into force. In 2002, George W. Bush’s administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty, citing the need to develop defenses against missile launches from so-called “rogue states,” like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In doing so Bush unhinged the foundation upon which U.S.-Russian strategic arms control was built.

A new arms reduction treaty, signed in 2003, stripped away on-site, inspection-based verification, and did nothing to limit the deployment of ICBMs armed with multiple warheads. While the “New START Treaty,” signed by the Obama administration in 2010, brought back limited on-site inspections, there was no prohibition against ICBMs with multiple warheads.

Moreover, the Obama administration continued to develop and deploy anti-missile defenses, both in the United States and in Europe, resurrecting in Russia Cold War-era concerns that the Americans would leverage this new ABM capability to subject Russia to nuclear blackmail, threatening a nuclear strike for which Russia would have no response. The RS-28 missile system, inclusive of “Object 4202,” can trace its origin to American deployment of ABMs.

These concerns were on display on December 22, 2016, when President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech that made the recent Russian developments public. “We need to strengthen the military potential of [Russia’s] strategic nuclear forces,” Putin said, “especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.”

This speech would have more than likely been buried by the American media save for one person—President-elect Donald Trump, who on the same day as Putin’s speech tweeted a reply: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The president-in-waiting then doubled down on this line of thinking, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program the following morning, “Let it be an arms race! We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The Russian response was surprisingly muted. Russia, Putin said the following day, was not seeking a new arms race, but only to improve its capabilities in the face of American deployments of anti-missile defenses. Russia was now strong enough to repulse any aggressor, Putin said.

“As for Donald Trump, there is nothing new about it; during his election campaign he said the U.S. needs to bolster its nuclear capabilities and its armed forces in general,” the Russian president noted.

During the campaign, candidate Trump had been infamously unfamiliar with the basics of American nuclear strategy. At a primary debate, after the moderator underscored the age of America’s nuclear arsenal (“The B-52s [a nuclear-capable bomber] are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out”), Trump was asked, “What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” The best the future president could come up with was, “I think…I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

There is no doubt that Trump received a more detailed briefing on America’s nuclear capability upon being elected. The aging American nuclear arsenal, he would have learned, is a critical national security issue. A new stealth bomber is in development, as is a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. And the Obama administration had initiated a process for producing and deploying a new ground-launched ICBM that would cost the American public $1 trillion over the course of the next decade.

This perceived weakness, combined with Putin’s public pronouncement of Russian strength, apparently was enough to set the president-elect off on his tweeting and morning talk show rant.

A few days shy of his inauguration, Trump seemed to have a change of heart. In a wide-ranging interview with British journalists, Trump noted that, “They have sanctions on Russia—let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia.” What deal was Trump suggesting? “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit.”

(The Times of London speculated that the first foreign policy trip President Trump would embark on would be a nuclear disarmament summit with President Putin; a Trump spokesperson rejected this as “false news.”)

While President Putin, in a January 28 phone call with President Trump, was warm to the idea of nuclear disarmament talks with a Trump administration, the Russians overall were dismissive of a deal that traded disarmament for the lifting of sanctions.

An offer to engage in nuclear arms control talks, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov noted, would be furthered by first reviewing the issue of U.S. sanctions against Russia. But there could not be any direct linkage between the two.

The Russian foreign minister also noted that the agenda for any such negotiations should include hypersonic weapons, U.S. missile defenses, space weapons and nuclear testing—in short, a broad range of interconnected issues that the new Trump administration appears ill-equipped to handle at this juncture.

Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, has been silent on U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament. And James Mattis, the new secretary of defense and the one Trump Cabinet official who has opined publicly about disarmament issues, appears supportive of fielding a new land-based ICBM, thereby closing the door on the possibility of trading those weapons in exchange for similarly deep cuts by Russia. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis noted that these missiles would be “a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary,” noting that “any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make sure they take each one out.”

James Mattis would do well to speak to the men and women who operate America’s land-based ICBM force today. The Cold War is over, and these missiles no longer stand on the frontline of American defense. If the best reasoning for the continued deployment of land-based ICBMs is that they serve as a sump for a potential enemy attack, then there is no real justification for their existence, now or in the future.

President Trump reportedly told President Putin, during their January 28 conversation, that the current arms control treaty, up for renegotiation in 2018, was one-sided in favor of the Russians. With all due respect to Trump, his American-centric view of the Obama-era arms agreement is moot; the U.S.-Russian arms race is over, and Russia has won.

The RS-28 missile will be operational next year; the new American land-based ICBM won’t be operational for another decade. Russia is on the verge of deploying a hypersonic, missile silo-killing weapon that undermines the secretary of defense’s thin justification for a new land-based ICBM.

Every missile system Russia deploys, or will deploy, is capable of defeating America’s missile defense systems, including what is currently deployed and what is envisioned for the future. And Russia is on the verge of completing the deployment of its own anti-missile shield, one that will seal off its air space to bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, negating in totality America’s nuclear triad.

There is a deal to be made with Russia, and it doesn’t involve trading the lifting of sanctions for nuclear arms cuts. President Trump would do well to accept Sergei Lavrov’s proposed disarmament agenda, and expand it to include a new ABM treaty and a new disarmament treaty that not only reduces the numbers of weapons on both sides, but also would include the elimination of multiple warheads on all missiles, land-based and submarine launched.
Effective arms control negotiations must include an appreciation of history, a realistic assessment of the present and the ability to project into the future. At this juncture, the Trump administration has not demonstrated the level of competence needed to successfully conclude such a complex negotiation.

The first step, however, is to embrace disarmament as a positive goal. While President Trump has shown a limited understanding of the nuclear triad, his recognition that nuclear weapons should be “way down and reduced very substantially” is a step in the right direction.

Former Marine intelligence officer Scott Ritter served on the staff of General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War and as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998.

US strike sends message to Syria: what it didn’t say

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2017 at 8:20 am

Christian Science Monitor, APRIL 7, 2017 BEIRUT AND ISTANBUL

By Nicholas Blanford and Scott Peterson

The US has launched its first punitive military strikes against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria since the civil war there began six years ago, a powerful message that Washington will no longer tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population.

President Trump’s administration indicated that the strikes, which saw 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at Syria’s Shayrat airbase near Homs, were linked only to the chemical weapons attack Tuesday that killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, in Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib Province.

And while they may have chastened Mr. Assad, analysts say, they do not appear to signal a broader change of US policy on Syria that would pose a longer-term threat to his hold on power.

“This [missile attack] clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters late Thursday. “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”

Those comments might offer some reassurance to Assad that the air strikes were more a slap on the wrist than the beginning of a knockout blow. And with the war in Syria slowly turning in his favor – and with his two key allies, Russia and Iran, continuing to stand by him – Assad looks likely to stay in power, a reality that Syria’s neighbors and the international community reluctantly have had to accept.

“We should not invest the limited American military attack with any strategic connotations so far,” says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics (LSE). “It’s an attack divorced from any strategic political vision. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration has any concrete ideas to find a political solution. I’m very skeptical.”

Mr. Gerges warns, however, that military action on its own, absent a strategy, is inherently hard to contain, and could lead to an unintended deepening of US military involvement if Russia and Iran redouble their support for Assad even as Syrian rebels try to use the US strikes as leverage.

“This administration is enamored with hard power,” says Gerges, author of the book, “ISIS: A History.” But “without soft power – without diplomacy, and a political strategy – military actions might be counter-productive.”

Julien Barnes-Dacey, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, warns that the strikes’ ability to trigger an escalation derives from the region’s very different perceptions of US military power, including fears in Syria and Iran that the ultimate objective could become regime change.

“Obviously, Trump has framed this through a narrow proliferation lens, and the attacks were very limited. But I don’t think anyone else on the ground or internationally is going to see them through that same narrow lens,” says Mr. Barnes-Dacey, speaking from Brussels.

“For [Syria’s] opposition and its backers, there’s long been a sense that once you get US skin in the game, an escalatory cycle will quickly take over.”

Cost of Assad’s rule

Whether or not the retaliatory strikes have any impact on Assad’s hold on power, his survival after six years of war has come at an increasing cost. Assad took office in 2000 on the death of his father, Hafez, and hopes were initially invested in him as a reformer who would modernize the ossified police state he inherited.

Seventeen years later, Assad has achieved an international pariah status unseen since the days of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. His country has been devastated, the economy ruined, an estimated more than 400,000 people are dead, and the conflict has created the largest refugee crisis Europe has witnessed since World War II.

His regime controls only about 35 percent of Syria, with the rest carved up between various Arab and Kurdish militias and the extremist Islamic State group (ISIS). He stands accused of employing chemical nerve agents against his own population and executing tens of thousands of people in regime prisons. Even if the war subsides and thoughts turn to rebuilding, it is difficult to see which countries or what global institutions would be willing to bankroll a multi-billion dollar reconstruction process with Assad still enthroned in the presidential palace.

“Maybe Bashar will stay for some time now, but eventually, sooner or later [he will go], nothing stays the same in this region,” Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said recently, speaking to a group of foreign reporters. Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, was assassinated in 2005, with Assad’s Syria widely believed to have been involved.

“It would be foolish to think that this regime is still in control in Syria,” Hariri adds. “The people who are in control in Syria are the Russians and the Iranians.”

Russia holds its fire

Moscow, meanwhile, has reacted angrily to the air strikes, calling them an “aggression against a sovereign nation” and announcing an end to the de-confliction mechanism set up between Washington and Moscow to prevent accidental clashes between US and Russian aircraft over Syria, where both nations fly ostensibly on “anti-terror” missions against ISIS.

The Pentagon alerted Russia before it launched the cruise missile attack, as well as NATO allies Turkey and Britain, and the Russian forces do not appear to have activated their S-300 and S-400 air defense systems, which could have intercepted some of the cruise missiles.

“There was an effort to minimize risk to third party nationals at the airport – I think you can read Russians from that. We took great pains to try to avoid that,” Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, told reporters.

The Pentagon’s target, meanwhile, an operational air base, is seen as having a negligible impact on Assad’s ability to continue waging war. Initial accounts of the attack suggest that aircraft and hangars were destroyed and the runway rendered inoperable.

Assad’s real military weakness, however, is not a lack of aircraft but insufficient ground forces to battle rebel groups, which is why his regime has had to rely on allies such as Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Shiite paramilitary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia’s contribution to the Assad war effort has been mainly air support, and Moscow could deploy more aircraft to Syria if needed to plug any shortfall caused by US bombing.

On Thursday, Assad was quoted as repeating his determination to claw back the entire country, telling a Croatian newspaper that there was no “option except victory.”

“If we do not win this war, it means that Syria will be deleted from the map,” he told Vecernji List newspaper. “We have no choice in facing this war, and that’s why we are confident, we are persistent, and we are determined.”

Why chemical weapons?

Assad’s critical manpower shortage may be a reason the regime allegedly opted for chemical weapons in Idlib, analysts say.

“Assad doesn’t have anywhere close to the men to retake his territory, that’s why he’s using chemical weapons,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This [US strike] is a clear message he will not be able to gas his way over the two-thirds of Syrian territory outside his control.”

Some analysts suspect that despite the posturing from the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin believed Assad deserved some kind of punishment for the gratuitous use of chemical weapons against civilians – as well as his lack of cooperation in a Russian-led effort to negotiate a peace deal between the regime and the opposition.

“I suspect that the Russians are furious with their ne’er-do-well client,” says Frederic Hof, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a former State Department point man on Syria under President Barack Obama. “Why in the world would you use chemicals when everything is going your way?”
It remains to be seen whether the missile strike against the air base is a one-off response to the use of nerve agents or whether the Trump administration will repeat such operations anytime Syrian government forces inflict mass civilian casualties, whether with chemical weapons or conventional means.

Military action “would not likely reverse the tide of the conflict against Assad,” says Mr. Hof. “But it could be significant enough to teach Assad that mass civilian casualty events will no longer be cost-free. This would be important, because as long as civilians are on the bullseye, there can be no meaningful or productive peace negotiations.”

Cruise Missile Hypocrisy

In Peace, Politics, War on April 10, 2017 at 3:13 am

By: Senator Chris Murphy

Thursday night, President Trump ordered missile strikes on an airfield controlled by the Syrian regime near the location of the recent horrific chemical weapons attack. Trump argued that the strike was necessary to respond to the attack that he believed to have been launched from that airfield.

As a theoretical matter, a targeted military strike in response to a major violation of non-conventional weapons norms is justifiable. Why have rules against chemical weapons use if no one is going to pay a price for violating the rules? International norms should be upheld by the international community–not the United States acting alone–but it’s hard to argue against Trump’s action last night when viewed in isolation as a response to Assad’s barbaric attack.

The problem is military strikes never happen in isolation–the before and after are arguably even more important than the strike itself. The actions Trump took leading up to Assad’s chemical weapons attack, as well as the all-important and totally unanswered question of what comes next, highlight the administration’s immoral and hypocritical approach to violence in the region.

The question Syria experts have been asking themselves this week is this: Why did Assad return to chemical weapons use, risking the ire of the global community, when he is, by all accounts, in a stronger position in Syria than at any time since 2013? The answer likely lies in the green light that the Trump administration gave Assad just a few days before the chemical weapons attack was launched. As my colleague Marco Rubio noted this week, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that U.S. policy was now to allow Assad’s future to “be decided by the Syrian people” (a regular Russian talking point on Syria policy) he seemed to telegraph that Assad was free to act without repercussions from the United States. Rubio’s point is hard to argue – once Assad realized U.S. policy was no longer tied to his removal, there was nothing to hold him back.

Second, the check on Syria’s use of chemical weapons since 2013 had largely been Russia. The threat of U.S. military action in Syria in 2013 prompted the Russians to step in and help remove chemical weapons stocks from Syria. Obviously, they didn’t finish the job. But why? The answer here could lie in the newfound impunity with which Russia now operates globally. Since Trump was inaugurated, Russia has violated a long-standing missile treaty, accelerated the pace of military activity in Ukraine, dramatically ramped up its influence in the Balkans, and effectively taken control of the political process in Syria. Russia has acted this way since January because it no longer fears any reprisals from the United States. Their inability to finish the disposal of chemical weapons, or their unwillingness to veto the chemical attack, can be explained by the perceived permission slip they have been granted by the Trump Administration.

But the fundamental problem with the missile strikes arises when viewing it within the context of Trump’s other policies in the Middle East. First and most obvious is the policy of trapping Syrian families inside this dystopian war zone by refusing to help war victims relocate outside the country. Trump claimed to have ordered the missile strike because he was so personally moved by the images of the children killed by the attacks. Does our President not realize that these are the same children he’s twice tried to ban from entering our country? Or that last year alone, 650 children were killed in Syria, none by chemical weapons? What about the 2.3 million children who have had to flee their homes, living in refugee camps or on the streets of Damascus or Beirut or Amman? The new U.S. policy to ban all Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States, alongside Trump’s proposal to cut by 40% the funds that help settle refugees in other countries, will condemn far more children to death than were killed by chemical weapons this week.

Further, how can the region, or the world, reconcile the president’s newly discovered compassion for the victims of this war crime, when the administration has been so blind to prior conduct in Syria and similar transgressions in other parts of the region? Secretary Tillerson couldn’t commit to calling Assad’s barrel bombing of civilians a war crime, but he pivoted his rhetoric on a dime this week upon the chemical weapons attack. Yes, chemical weapons use poses a unique threat to global stability, but so does the intentional targeting of civilians by a domestic military. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been deliberately killed by Assad with conventional weapons – doesn’t our moral condemnation of that behavior melt when we decide that we are in fact willing to use military power against Assad, but only in response to the killing of 50 out of 450,000? To a Syrian parent, a child killed by a barrel bomb hurts no less than a child killed by sarin gas. I have long argued against the use of the military in Syria, but the only thing worse than a large scale deployment of U.S. forces in Syria may be the teasing of tiny amounts of military power that actually provides no change in the battle dynamics.

And what comes next? Is this the start of a dangerous military escalation, where the Russians feel compelled to ramp up their support for their ally in response to U.S. intervention? We already have more than 500 U.S. troops on the ground in Syria–is the next step the creation of safe zones, as Sean Spicer suggested? That would require even more U.S. military assets, increasing the risk of direct conflict with Russia, ISIS, and Assad. How does any of this end, or get us closer to a political agreement that will actually help the people of Syria? President Trump seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy, but rather to have launched a military strike based on a sudden, emotional decision.

It is hard to argue against taking a limited, targeted action against a solitary airfield as a consequence for a grotesque use of chemical weapons. But in the context of Trump’s broader foreign policy mistakes, the strike is hard to justify, and harder to defend. Furthermore, it is not clear whether Thursday’s missile strikes on a single airfield will have any lasting deterrent effect. A more comprehensive response would include sharply increasing pressure on the Russian government, whose support has enabled Assad to continue his reign of terror; ramping up humanitarian support and refugee aid so that any Syrian family who wants to flee the violence can; empowering the State Department to help find a political solution instead of outsourcing reconciliation to the Russians and the Turks; and keeping U.S. troops out of the fight to take Raqqa, which risks bogging us down inside a long term civil war for the future of Syria. Air strikes to enforce arms treaties can make sense. But when it comes to the potential quagmire of Syria, these strikes must exist as part of a broader, coherent policy – a policy that simply does not exist today.

Thank you very much for reading.

Every best wish,

Chris Murphy
U.S. Senator, Connecticut

Democratic Socialists of America Condemns the U.S. Bombing of Syria

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Race, War on April 9, 2017 at 9:49 pm

Posted by Dsa 🌹 on 04.08.17
A Statement of the National Political Committee of Democratic
Socialists of America

April 8, 2017

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has consistently opposed U.S.
military intervention in the civil war in Syria and condemns the
Tomahawk cruise missile attack by the Trump administration. DSA has
also supported from spring 2011 onwards the massive and democratic
Syrian uprising against the brutal Assad regime, a regime that has
shown no hesitation to use massive force, including chemical weapons,
to suppress its people.

The Trump administration has committed an act of war that both
violates domestic law (having not been authorized by Congress) and
international law (having not been authorized by the United Nations).
Foreign power intervention, however, whether by Russia, the United
States, Iran or the Gulf States, has only served to militarize the
conflict and severely weaken the democratic forces within Syria. As
illustrated by the futile U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, United
States imperialist and unilateral military power cannot liberate the
Syrian people. U.S. air power cannot surgically take out those
individuals who develop and deploy chemical weapons; what it has done
and will do is kill scores of innocent civilians.

Therefore, we urge our members and friends to protest the Trump
administration’s military action and to lobby Congress to halt any
further U.S. military intervention. We urge our members and friends to
protest all bombings of Syrians and the war waged by the Assad regime
through foreign forces against the people of Syria. The U.S. coalition
and Russia have been actively bombing Syria for years, as documented
by https://t.co/tBPcySVVn4, in effect both siding with the regime,
allegedly to fight ISIS (while the context of massive pro-regime
violence is the fertile soil on which ISIS has grown). The Trump
Tomahawk cruise missile strike continues a long-standing U.S. policy
of bombing Syria, which is why Secretary of State Tillerson can state
that these attacks are in accord with ongoing U.S. policy.

In opposing all foreign military intervention in Syria we act to end
the mass slaughter of civilians and to honor the memory of those
civilians who fought for freedom, a fight that might have been won if
not for the militarization of the conflict by the Assad regime and by
U.S. and other foreign powers. As abhorrent as the use of chemical
weapons may be, DSA opposes all forms of mass violence against
civilians, including the U.S. bombing of mosques.

The United States should join the international community in
condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and press for a
return of United Nations inspectors to monitor the regime’s chemical
weapons capacity. The United States must also immediately reverse its
policy opposing the intake of Syrian refugees and grant refugee status
to at least one hundred thousand Syrian asylum seekers (of all faiths)
and challenge the European Union nations to take in proportionate
numbers. It is the ultimate hypocrisy to bomb a country while refusing
to give shelter to refugees from a carnage to which many foreign
powers, including the United States, have contributed.

Furthermore, the United States should join the international community
in providing massive humanitarian aid to the millions of Syrian
refugees in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere. The United States and all
other countries should engage in the necessary diplomacy to press
Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to cease their military aid to the Assad
dictatorship, as well as end United States and Gulf State funding of
internal Syrian combatants. The Syrian people alone can liberate
themselves; the task cannot be accomplished by external powers.

NO TO ASSAD’S BRUTALITY NO TO ISIS NO TO U.S. AND RUSSIAN BOMBING AND MILITARY FORCES IN SYRIA FOR A REVIVAL OF THE ARAB SPRING

In Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, War on April 9, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Statement of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy
April 8, 2017
http://www.cpdweb.org/letters/Syria-bombing.shtml

We are horrified by the relentless, cruel attacks of the Assad regime, aided by Moscow and Tehran, on the Syrian people. For sheer brutality the butchers in Damascus have few equals in the world today. But we also wholeheartedly condemn U.S. bombing and military forces in Syria, which will kill innocent people and contribute nothing towards a just solution to the Syrian conflict, while at the same time serving to deepen the reactionary U.S. military presence in the Middle East and reinforce Assad’s rhetorical claim that he is defending the Syrian people against Western imperialism, hollow though that claim may be.

Assad claims to be the only force standing between “stability” and the victory of ISIS, but this ignores the fact that authoritarian, repressive regimes like those in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Syria are highly effective recruiting agents for ISIS and similar jihadis. The other major recruiters for religious extremists and terrorists in the Middle East are the United States and its allies, with their bloody history of intervention and, in the case of the U.S., virtually carte blanche support for Israel. And while President Trump’s missile attack on the Syrian Shayrat airbase may have been limited, such bombing has its own logic, dangerously putting U.S. imperial prestige on the line and thus potentially triggering escalating attacks and counterattacks.

We are witnessing a set of deadly symbioses in Syria: Assad and ISIS use one another as justification for their own savageries, while the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Russia and Iran on the other, point to the very real crimes of one another to excuse interventions which in no way protect or defend the Syrian people, but rather serve their imperial (or in the case of Iran, sub-imperial) interests in the region.

The war in Syria cannot be understood apart from the broader political landscape in the Middle East. The popular revolutionary uprisings of the Arab Spring, from Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain to Syria, Libya and Yemen, offered a glimpse of a democratic and just future for the peoples of the region. For now, they have been thwarted, and in most cases, apparently crushed by a combination of domestic reactionary forces and the support of their foreign patrons.

However, the resistance in Syria has proven amazingly resilient: as recently as March of last year courageous street protests under the slogan “The Revolution Continues” erupted in Syrian cities during the brief cessation of hostilities. As reported in The New Statesman, “When fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra tried to storm one of these demonstrations in the town of Maarat al-Numan, the protesters drowned them out by chanting, ‘One! One! One! The Syrian people are one!’ This is a maxim from the incipient, secular phases of the uprising, in which Syrians struggled to stem the tide of rising sectarian and ethnic tension injected by the jihadists’ engagement in the conflict.” (1)

It is truly a time of colossal, obscene double standards.

We see Donald Trump, along with most of the mainstream media and leading Republican and Democratic Party politicians, hypocritically deploring the massacre of innocent men, women and babies in Syria — while they remain coldly indifferent to the massacres and loss of human life at the hands of the U.S. and the forces it supports in Mosul and Yemen. And meanwhile desperate refugees from Syria’s carnage are cruelly turned away from U.S. borders.

We also see Donald Trump welcoming Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, while brazenly dismissing any human rights concerns and continuing Obama’s policy of generous military aid, despite Sisi’s horrific record of murdering and imprisoning thousands of his opponents. It is safe to predict, moreover, that if and when the Islamic State gains more and more supporters in Egypt in response to Sisi’s dictatorial rule, we will hear a chorus of apologists saying that unsavory as he may be, Sisi as a secularist leader is better than the barbaric jihadis, has significant popular support, and therefore has to be supported.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian government and its news agency RT deplore the heartrending destruction of neighborhoods and deaths of civilians in Mosul and Yemen and decry the callousness of the U.S. military — while justifying Assad’s attacks on the people of Aleppo and across Syria. In fact, Russian military involvement, including aerial support for attacks on civilian and military opponents of the regime, has actually played a significant, likely critical, role in keeping Assad’s regime in power.

We completely reject these grotesque alternatives. We urgently hope for a revival of the movements and the spirit of the Arab Spring, which offer the only possibility of breaking out of the death spiral of Middle Eastern politics. Many will dismiss this perspective as impractical, but what is truly impractical is the idea that the great powers, each with its own imperial agenda, will bring justice or democracy. If, against enormous odds, democratic forces are able to wrest an agreement that protects them from continuing slaughter by Assad and ISIS and leaves them in a position to struggle and fight again another day, then their decision to accept such a limited agreement should be respected. But even such an agreement will only be won as a result of pressure from the Syrian people, not through the initiative of outside powers who, despite their differences and rivalries, share a deep hostility to a resurgence of autonomous popular forces in Syria or anywhere else.

Democratic popular forces may be weak today, but our only principled and practical course is to declare our solidarity with their struggles, try to strengthen them, and oppose all those who attempt to subvert and destroy them.

(1) The 2016 demonstration in Maarat al-Numan is described in this New Statesman article
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/03/amid-fragile-ceasefire-syria-s-original-protesters-are-rediscovering-their-voice.

Protests in other Syrian cities are described in these articles:

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/03/syria-ceasefire-aleppo-peaceful-protests.html

https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2016/03/25/new-demonstrations-throughout-free-syria

Thoughts about what the Syrian airstrike might mean for our work

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 7, 2017 at 10:14 pm

The following was written April 6, 2017, by my colleague and good friend Ralph Hutchison of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — also very active with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
There was little warning. That is the nature of a surprise attack. Still, the reality that our country had carried out an act of war against another country was shocking. Knowing that our historic nuclear-armed nemesis is on the other side, on the ground in that country quickly turned my shock into a heavy dread.

There are many reasons for Russia to stand aside in response to the US attack on a Syrian airbase after Donald Trump was affected by scenes of children who had been murdered by chemical weapons.
There are also reasons for Russia to express concerns about a US President deciding to become the global enforcer of UN conventions without waiting for a greenlight from the security council or anyone else—what seems swift and decisive to President Trump could seem abrupt and impetuous to someone else.
And there could be reasons for Russia to take it personally—if Russian personnel were on the ground at the airbase and were killed in the attack, for instance.
The US President will receive accolades or condemnations from members of Congress and others who agree or disagree with his action. He declared his order to strike the airbase was based on the US’s “vital national security interest” in preventing the spread of chemical weapons. Pundits did not blink an eye; we have grown accustomed to defending any action we deign to take by invoking our vital national interest. In this case, no US citizens or military personnel were harmed by Assad’s horrific attack; no US corporate or government properties were at risk. If the US at this moment now holds UN conventions sacred, one can only hope we apply that same solemn obeisance to the Land Mines Convention and, when it enters into force, the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons.

But the hard looming question of this night is this: What if Russia decides to test the mettle of Donald Trump and the divided United States by countering with firepower in a limited strike? What if Russian personnel were killed in the attack, and Vladimir Putin’s pride requires a concomitant response?
That What If has numbed me this night. That What If is unspeakable on Talk-TV tonight.
How quickly could this spiral out of control—two deeply offended egos, puffing themselves up for the honor of their country, acting decisively, precipitously, provocatively to face down the enemy—
Could one or the other, feeling tested, decide to put any questions to rest by reaching for the nuclear codes?

We pray that would never happen, of course. We pray for our lives, and the lives of future generations. We pray whether or not we believe in God or a god or goddess.
But we cannot pray that it could never happen, and therein lies our deepest problem and the unmasking of the fundamental, fatal flaw in the concept of nuclear deterrence. It could happen.
And the fact that all we can do about it at this moment is pray should motivate every woman, man and child in the country to take up the cause of nuclear disarmament. We don’t all have to be on the same page, we don’t all have to agree on the nuts and bolts or the schedule.
We also don’t all have to sit back and say it can’t be done, because it can. Hundreds of millions of people around the world believe it can. One hundred twenty-three nations that convened last week at the United Nations to discuss a treaty to ban nuclear weapons believe that it can. History says that it can—several countries that once possessed nuclear weapons no longer have stockpiles or manufacturing capabilities. Other countries that could produce their own nuclear weapons have chosen not to.
Only three things are lacking, and they are connected.
One is political will translated into political power—the people, when asked directly, express by large majorities the desire to live in a world free of nuclear weapons.
The second thing lacking is courage to embrace a power greater than our fears.
And the third thing is the liberation of our governing officials in the House and Senate from the golden chains of the nuclear weapons institutions—the corporations and weapons communities and federal agencies that drain the national coffers to build weapons of mass destruction.

Tonight, as we wait to see how Russia might respond and what will happen as this chess game plays out with pieces bathed in blood, we must confront the terrible truth of the times we live in: decisions made by these few men could end us all in one afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon, or the one after that, before we can even reach our children to hug them to our chests.
If that is not acceptable to you, find a group working for the abolition of nuclear weapons—not talking about it, but working for it—and throw yourself behind them. If you belong to such a group already, double down. If you can’t find a group, start one. Nothing is more important.