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US senator on North Korea: “Most Americans don’t realize how close we are to this war”

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 9, 2017 at 9:29 am

By Zack Beauchamp@zackbeauchampzack@vox.com Dec 7, 2017

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, is scared — scared that the Trump administration may be getting the US into a devastating war with North Korea without much of the public noticing or seeming to care.

“Most Americans,” she says, “don’t realize how close we are to this war.”

Duckworth, who lost both of her legs after her helicopter was shot down by insurgents, has closely followed both aggressive rhetoric from the White House and the way the US military has been approaching the Korean Peninsula. She believes the events of the past six months indicate that President Trump might be willing to actually launch a preventive strike on North Korea, despite the real chance that it could trigger a nuclear exchange.

This line of reasoning would be worrying if it were coming from an outside analyst or expert. But coming from a US senator and veteran, someone who knows war and has top-level security clearances, it’s truly disturbing — an indication that we need to be having a much bigger debate over Trump’s North Korea policy than we are.

What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Duckworth, edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp
How worried are you about the rhetoric coming from the White House about war with North Korea?

Tammy Duckworth
I’m extremely worried — not just based on what I’m hearing out of the White House but also what I’m hearing out of the defense community. We are far closer to actual conflict over North Korea than the American people realize.

In August, we had a meeting between Defense Secretary [James] Mattis and his counterparts in South Korea to discuss the use of US nuclear first strike. In the same time frame, we permanently moored a nuclear submarine in South Korea. Everything we’re doing shows a military that, in my personal opinion, has turned the corner from “we need to try to prevent this from happening” to a military that’s saying the president is likely to make this decision [to attack] and we need to be ready.

I don’t think they want a conflict. I don’t think they think we’re going to have one tomorrow. But with what the president and the White House has been saying, they are now preparing for one.

Zack Beauchamp
The fear here is that President Trump launches an intentional, preventive strike on North Korea, not some kind of miscalculation or accidental war. Right?

Tammy Duckworth
Right. But a preventive first strike from us will result in a massive response from the North Koreans. We know this because a high-ranking defector from North Korea testified in front of Congress last month; one of the things that would happen is a preemptive first strike from the United States or South Korea would result in an automatic massive response.

Our military has war-gamed this out. My concern is that our president is either ignoring this information or not getting this information, because he’s out there saying “the time for negotiations is over” and frankly seems eager, in my opinion, to launch a first strike.

Zack Beauchamp
That’s what I find baffling, even terrifying. It seems like he wants to, and that the aides who are supposed to be reining him in, most notably National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, aren’t actually doing it.

If anything, McMaster’s talk about irrationality indicates that he supports a first strike on North Korea. If they’re irrational, it means they can’t be allowed to have nukes.

Tammy Duckworth
I think that the president is playing to a segment of the population and, I think, relying on the fact that most Americans don’t realize how close we are to this war.

Look: I’m not someone who’s going to avoid war at all costs. That’s not me. But I want the American people to know what this will cost.

We went through this with Iraq. When Gen. [Eric] Shinseki, with absolute courage, said in testimony that it’s going to take 300,000 troops to invade Iraq, he was fired for it — because the Bush administration and Vice President Cheney were selling the lie that it would be over in two weeks and the Iraqi population would greet us with flowers and chocolates. I remember that.

And here we are again. We don’t have the troops in the region, on the ground, to do what would need to be done to fully contain [North Korea’s] nuclear capabilities. Just ramping up — prepositioning troops, stocks, and logistics in a place where we could do it — could prompt the North Koreans to do something.

 

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Hyping U.S. Missile Defense Capabilities Could Have Grave Consequences

In Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 5, 2017 at 9:21 am

In response to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, which flew higher and farther than any of its previous launches, President Trump told Americans not to worry. “We will take care of it,” he said. “It is a situation that we will handle.”
The big question is how. Unfortunately, Trump’s assertion may rest on his unwarranted confidence in the U.S. missile defense system. During a recent interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity about the threat posed by a potential North Korean nuclear strike, he declared that the United States has “missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time.”

The facts, however, tell a different story.

The reality is that the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system has succeeded in destroying a mock enemy missile in only 56 percent of its tests since 1999. And, as I’ll explain, none of the tests approached the complexity of a real-world nuclear launch.

What’s more, ever since the George W. Bush administration, the GMD program has been exempt from routine Pentagon oversight and accountability procedures. The result? Fifteen years later, all available evidence indicates that it is still not ready for prime time, and may never be.

Of course, Trump is prone to exaggeration. In fact, he has averaged more than five lies per day since taking office. But it is critical to understand the potential ramifications of this particular Trumparian boast: It could lull Americans into a false sense of security and, even more alarming, embolden Trump to start a war. As veteran military reporter Fred Kaplan pointed out, if the president truly believes the U.S. missile defense system is infallible, “he might think that he could attack North Korea with impunity. After all, if the North Koreans retaliated by firing their nuclear missiles back at us or our allies, we could shoot them down.”

Such wishful thinking could clearly lead to a disastrous miscalculation. And what’s worse, Trump just may believe his preposterous claim because he’s not the only one making it.

If You Repeat a Lie Often Enough…

Missile defense advocates have a long history of hyperbole. A 2016 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists included an appendix with a selected list of some three dozen statements administration and military officials have made extolling the GMD system’s virtues. They are incredibly consistent, and given the facts, consistently incredible.

In March 2003 — before the GMD system was even deployed — then-Undersecretary of Defense Edward Aldridge assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that its “effectiveness is in the 90 percent success range” when asked if it would protect Americans from the nascent North Korean threat.

Seven years later, in December 2010, then-Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly told the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee that “the probability will be well over in the high 90s today of the GMD system being able to intercept” an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) targeting New York City.

Fast forward to April 2016, when Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. “The U.S. homeland,” he maintained, “is currently protected against potential ICBM attacks from states like North Korea and Iran if it was to develop an ICBM in the future.”

Wrong, wrong, and yet again, wrong. As Washington Post “Fact Checker” columnist Glenn Kessler wrote in mid-October, the claim that the GMD system has a success rate in the “high-90s” is based on “overenthusiastic” math. Although the system has succeeded only 56 percent of the time over the last two decades, the calculation is predicated on a hypothetical, never-been-tested launch of four GMD interceptors with a 60-percent success rate producing a 97-percent chance of destroying one incoming ICBM. If one interceptor missed because of a design flaw, however, the other three would likely fail as well. “The odds of success under the most ideal conditions are no better than 50-50,” Kessler concluded, “and likely worse, as documented in detailed government assessments.”

No surprise, defense contractors also wildly overstate the GMD system’s capabilities.

This September on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing’s Defense, Space & Security division, stated unequivocally that the GMD system would “keep us safe” from a North Korean attack. The system is “doing exactly what is needed,” Caret said, but added that it will ultimately require even more rocket interceptors from her company, the prime GMD system contractor since 1996. There are currently 40 interceptors in underground silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, all made by Boeing.

Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy, whose company produces the “kill vehicle” that sits atop Boeing’s interceptor, was equally sanguine about the GMD system when he appeared on Squawk Box the following month. “I say relative to the North Korean threat, you shouldn’t be worried,” Kennedy said. “But you should ensure that you’ve talked to your congressman or congresswoman to make sure they support the defense budget to the point where it can continue to defend the United States and its allies.”

Given such glowing reviews, it’s no wonder President Trump asked Congress for $4 billion for the GMD system and other programs, such as the ship-based Aegis system, designed to intercept short- to intermediate-range missiles. In a November 6 letter to lawmakers, Trump wrote: “This request supports additional efforts to detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean use of ballistic missiles against the United States, its deployed forces, allies, or partners.”

The House of Representatives apparently is even more enthused about the GMD system’s much-touted capabilities. It passed a $700-billion defense authorization bill on November 14 that includes $12.3 billion for the Missile Defense Agency — more than triple what Trump requested. Some of that money would cover the cost of as many as 28 additional GMD interceptors, but lawmakers asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to develop a plan to add 60, which would increase the overall number of interceptors to 104.

Unrealistic, Carefully Scripted Tests

If members of Congress bothered to take a closer look at the GMD system’s track record, they would hopefully realize that committing billions more is throwing good money after bad. Even the most recent test, which the Missile Defense Agency declared a success, would not inspire confidence.

That test, which took place on May 30, resulted in a GMD interceptor knocking a mock enemy warhead out of the sky. At a press conference afterward, then-Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. James Syring claimed it was “exactly the scenario we would expect to occur during an operational engagement.”

Not exactly. Yes, the Pentagon did upgrade its assessment of the GMD system in light of the May exercise, but — like previous tests — it was not held under real-world conditions.

In its 2016 annual report, the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office cautioned that the GMD system has only a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.” The “reliability and availability of the operational [interceptors],” it added, “are low.” After the May test, however, the office issued a memo stating that “GMD has demonstrated capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number of intermediate-range or intercontinental missile threats with simple countermeasures.”

Despite this rosier appraisal, Laura Grego, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) physicist who has written extensively about the GMD system, is not convinced that the latest test represents a significant improvement. After analyzing an unclassified Missile Defense Agency video of the May 30 exercise, she concluded that it was clearly “scripted to succeed.”

As in previous tests, system operators knew approximately when and where the mock enemy missile would be launched, its expected trajectory, and what it would look like to sensors, she said. And, like the previous tests, the one in May pitted one GMD interceptor against a single missile that was slower than an ICBM that could reach the continental United States, without realistic decoys or other countermeasures that could foil U.S. defenses.

The key takeaway? The GMD system has destroyed its target in only four of 10 tests since it was fielded in 2004, even though all of the tests were held under improbably ideal conditions. If the tests had been more realistic, the GMD system likely would be zero for 10. Moreover, the system’s record has not improved over time. Indeed, it flunked three of the four tests preceding the one in May, and not because the Missile Defense Agency made the tests progressively more difficult.

According to the 2016 UCS report Grego co-authored, a primary reason for the GMD system’s reliability problems is not funding, but lack of oversight. In its rush to get the system up and running, the George W. Bush administration exempted the program from standard military procurement rules and testing protocols. That ill-advised decision has not only run up the system’s price tag, which to date amounts to more than $40 billion, it also has produced a system that is incapable of defending the United States from a limited nuclear attack.

“Regardless of what President Trump and other missile defense boosters want us to believe, the data show that we can’t count on the current system to protect us,” said Grego. “We need to reduce the risk of a crisis escalating out of control. Only diplomacy has a realistic chance of doing that.”

Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Nuclear disarmament now a ‘moral imperative’ as Pope Francis rejects deterrence

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 4, 2017 at 11:18 pm

In a landmark statement on nuclear arms on Nov. 10, Pope Francis has categorically condemned not only “the threat of their use” but also “their very possession.”

Nuclear weapons, he told participants at a Vatican symposium on “integral disarmament,” exist “in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.”

His audience included representatives from the United States and Russia. He told them that “international relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation and the parading of stockpiles of arms.”
World leaders are meeting at the Vatican to discuss nuclear weapons. Here’s why.
Kevin Clarke

He said that “weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity.”

He is the first pope ever to condemn the possession of nuclear weapons since they were initially developed at the end of World War II and then used twice by the United States at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, causing the deaths of 210,000 people.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego told America, “Pope Francis was clear that because of the significant risks of even an anticipated or accidental war, and of the gargantuan and devastating effects of nuclear war, and of provoking other nations to perhaps use them, the possession itself of these weapons is now condemned, regardless of the intention.”

“International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation and the parading of stockpiles of arms.”
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He called the pope’s statement “new and, of course…very significant.” “It is going beyond the questions raised before about the ethic of nuclear deterrence not being warranted in the present day,” Bishop McElroy said. “It’s really going beyond that to the possession itself being morally wrong.”

The bishop said that “the moral imperative” for Catholics and indeed the whole world is a move “progressively and dramatically toward getting rid of nuclear arms.”

Ambassador Douglas Roche, who served as Canada’s ambassador on disarmament to the United Nations (1984-89) and was elected chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Committee in 1988, told America: “I consider Pope Francis’ categorical condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons to be of a historic nature, a breakthrough. It’s the strongest statement that a pope has made in opposition to the very holding of nuclear weapons, as distinct from their very use.”

Ambassador Roche noted that the United States is currently leading a fight against a recent U.N. treaty supporting the global abolition of nuclear weapons, a position which just took a “big hit” because of the pope’s condemnation.

“Now along comes Pope Francis who gives his moral authority to [nuclear abolition], too,” he said. “This removes the last band the United States had in justifying nuclear weapons, which was John Paul II’s statement in 1982 in which the church gave a limited acceptance for deterrence as long as it would not become permanent.”

He believes the pope’s statement “was a courageous step because he knows that he’s got a lot of bishops that are going to be extremely uneasy about this,” and “the governments [who possess nuclear arms] will not like it at all and especially the United States, where there is a very significant Catholic population.”

“The Holy See has said this before, but putting the words in the mouth of the pope gives it a whole new standing,” said Drew Christiansen, S.J., of Georgetown University, who delivered a talk at the symposium. “This is a very dramatic break from the popular mind; the church has dropped the other shoe and said it is wrong to possess nuclear weapons.”

The Holy See, for its part, is fully aware that there is no movement among those who possess nuclear arms toward negotiating their elimination. On the contrary, they are making significant new investments in their modernization.

Pope Francis’ condemnation of nuclear weapons represents a significant departure from the stance taken by his predecessors. St. John Paul II had accepted the ethic of deterrence with the understanding that the nations who possessed nuclear arms intended to move forward from deterrence to disarmament as outlined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (Article VI) signed in 1968.

Pope Francis’ condemnation of nuclear weapons represents a significant departure from the stance taken by his predecessors.
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Bishop McElroy told the conference on Nov. 11 that Pope Benedict had recognized the great risk nuclear weapons posed to humanity and called for an effective demilitarization. But that has not happened.

Bishop McElroy said, “In 2008, Pope Benedict, surveying the nuclear landscape in the world, lamented that an ethic of complacency and even a toleration of limited nuclear expansion had become inextricably intertwined with the ethic of deterrence.” Pope Benedict, he said, observing that possession of nuclear weapons “was increasingly becoming a sign of great power status,” saw them as “a temptation for newly emerging powers to defend their interests and their peoples, and a spur to modernization.”

Pope Francis’ condemnation of the possession of nuclear weapons came in his keynote address to the 350 participants at this Vatican symposium on “perspectives for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament,” organized by the Dicastery for the Promoting Integral Human Development.

The pope began his address by underlining the importance of their discussion at this moment in history when “a climate of instability and conflict” is growing and the prospects of a world without nuclear arms seems “increasingly remote.” He said that “the arms race continues unabated and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations.”

As a result, Francis said, “the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and health care projects, and the development of human rights are relegated to second place.”

His condemnation came from a realization of “the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices” and “the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind.”

Faced with this situation, Francis said, “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.”

The two-day symposium (Nov. 10 to 11), whose sponsors included the German and Japanese bishops’ conferences, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Georgetown University and the University of Notre Dame, brought together 11 Nobel Peace laureates and experts in the field of nuclear arms from civil society, states and international organizations as well as influential academics.

Beatrice Fihn, the Swedish-born executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, told America that the pope “is giving moral leadership” on nuclear disarmament.

She hailed the fact that under his leadership the Holy See “ratified the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons so quickly.” This was a reference to the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear arms, which was approved at a U.N. conference on July 7. Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the secretary for Relations with States, signed the treaty on behalf of the Holy See and the Vatican City State on Sept. 20 in what Ms. Fihn described as “a strong signal to the world.”

Ms. Fihn told America: “I am not a religious person, and I am usually not very impressed with celebrities, but I was very taken with Pope Francis, and when he came into the room I was very moved by his presence. He was very warm when I greeted him, and I asked him to ask people to pray for the abolition of nuclear weapons on Dec. 10, international human rights day, when we receive the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Ms. Fihn was “delighted” to have been invited to this conference, which, she said, “is a sign that Pope Francis and the Vatican are taking this seriously, and that it’s one of their priority issues now.” She emphasized that the movement to abolish nuclear weapons “is going to need the support of religious communities if we are going to be able to take this forward.” She believes there is “an opportunity” to do so now because of “the tensions between the United States and North Korea and the growing fear of a confrontation.”

Today nine states possess nuclear arms: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The United States and Russia together have 14,000 out of the 15,000 nuclear weapons known to exist in the world, 2,000 of which “are still on high alert,” according to Mohamed El Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and one of the main speakers at the symposium.

Mr. El Baradei described the argument that nuclear weapons have kept the peace as “bogus.”

“A peace that hangs on a doctrine of mutually assured destruction,” he said, “is underpinned by human fallibility and, in addition, is irrelevant to extremists. It is a peace that is unsustainable and highly perilous.”

Nuclear weapons, he warned, “are the most urgent threat facing humanity today, and the risk of their use is higher than at any time in the recent past.”

According to Mr. El Baradei, “The entire landscape is frightening and shameful. It shows no genuine commitment whatsoever to nuclear disarmament.”

He said, “A U.S. or Russian president has a mere seven to eight minutes to respond to a ‘reported’ nuclear attack, with the odds of miscalculation increasing exponentially as a result of cyber-manipulation.”
World leaders are meeting at the Vatican to discuss nuclear weapons. Here’s why.
Kevin Clarke

Alexei Georgevich Arbatov, who has spent most of his life working on these issues and now heads the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Russia, agreed with Mr. El Baradei. “The nuclear arms control regime of the last 50 years is disintegrating,” he said.

Several other speakers, including Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for leading the successful campaign to get an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, emphasized the need for all-out global mobilization to get more and more states to sign and ratify the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Everyone recognizes that it is a steep, uphill struggle, but there is confidence that it can be done.

A number of participants called for Pope Francis to write an encyclical on this subject, as a companion to “Laudato Si’.” But others, like Northern Ireland Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, told America they would like the issue to be part of an encyclical on “non-violence.” Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the Vatican’s integral human development office, said he has heard these calls but believes his dicastery must first work on a revision of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church on the question of nuclear arms.

As this important and energizing symposium drew to a close, Wada Masako, a “Hibakusha”—the Japanese name for the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—gave a deeply moving testimony. She recalled that she was 22 months old when Nagasaki, the city where she lived, was devastated. She went on to narrate in graphic detail what her mother had told her about “the hellish scenes” she witnessed then. When she concluded her testimony with a passionate appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons, she was given a standing ovation.

Pope decries ‘irrational’ attitude towards nuclear weapons

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 4, 2017 at 11:02 pm

Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Saturday urged world leaders to turn back from the brink of possible human annihilation, suggesting that some of them had an “irrational” attitude towards nuclear weapons.

Pope Francis gestures during a news conference on board of the plane during his flight back from a trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, December 2, 2017. REUTERS/Vincenzo Pinto/Pool
The pope made his comments to reporters aboard the plane taking him back to Rome from a trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, which was dominated by the crisis of Rohingya refugees affecting both countries.

In a speech last month, the pope suggested that he was ready to officially harden the decades-old Church teaching that possessing nuclear weapons as a deterrence was morally acceptable as long as the ultimate goal was their elimination.

In that speech on Nov. 10, Francis said even the mere possession of nuclear weapons should now be condemned because there appeared to be little or no intention by world leaders to reduce their numbers.

Aboard the plane, he was asked what had prompted him to consider changing the official Church position and specifically, what he felt about the war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“What has changed is the irrationality (of the attitude toward nuclear weapons),” Francis said.

”Today we are at the limit,“ he said. It can be debated but it is my opinion, my conviction, that we have reached the limit of the (moral) licitness of having and using nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Why? Because today, with such a sophisticated nuclear arsenal, we risk the destruction of humanity or at least a great part of humanity,” he said.

The pope has in the past suggested that a third nation should try to negotiate a deal between the United States and North Korea and had urged both sides to cool down the rhetoric and stop trading insults.

”We are at the limit, and because we are at the limit, I ask myself this question … Today, is it licit to keep nuclear arsenals as they are, or today, in order to save creation, to save humanity, is it not necessary to turn back?

South Korea said on Friday that North Korea’s latest missile test puts Washington within range, but Pyongyang still needs to prove it has mastered critical missile technology, such as re-entry, terminal stage guidance and warhead activation.

The test prompted a warning from the United States that North Korea’s leadership would be “utterly destroyed” if war were to break out, a statement that drew sharp criticism from Russia.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Richard Balmforth
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Reach High for a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World

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

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

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

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

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

And in particular we call on:

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

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

Statement by a Harvard Physician about Treatment of Those Receiving the Nobel Prize for the Nuclear Ban Treaty

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 3, 2017 at 8:22 am

While this is unfortunate but not surprising, this is actually very mild compared to the reaction of the U.S. and some allies, and much of the Western media, at the time of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize to IPPNW.

We actually have made enormous progress since then.

Among other things from 1985:

1. US Senate

The US Senate approved a resolution condemning the awarding of the Prize to IPPNW, and the official Congressional Record still contains that resolution, which was something along the lines of “…Whereas IPPNW Co-President Dr. Yevgueni Chazov is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, whereas he therefore shares responsibility for…[then a long list, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, human rights abuses, etc. etc.], the U.S. Senate condemns the award and requests that the Nobel Committee rescind…”

We (IPPNW) chose to ignore that, since protesting would just draw more attention to it.

2. German Foreign Minister

The German Foreign Minister asked the Nobel Committee to rescind the award, and my memory is that then Chair of the Nobel Committee Egil Aarvik, when asked by the media about this, replied something along the lines of “We stand by our decision. The last time such a high-ranking German official asked us to rescind an award was when Adolf Hitler asked us…and we didn’t change our mind that time, either.”

3. Official Nobel Press Conference in Oslo

Almost all that the Western media wanted to talk about was Andrei Sakharov, 1975 Nobel Peace laureate, and why Dr. Chazov was not insisting that he be released from internal exile. It was a very heated press conference, in a very warm room, and at one point a few feet away from me a Soviet correspondent, Lev Novikov, collapsed to the floor. Western media around me called out things along the lines of “Ignore him, he’s faking, he’s just trying to interrupt the press conference, we need our questions answered!!” Dr. Lown and Dr. Chazov, both cardiologists, rushed from the dias to join Drs. Jim Muller and Marcia Goldberg, who had found that he was in cardiac arrest, and while others around kept calling out that he was faking, the IPPNW doctors performed prolonged CPR during the extensive time it took emergency medical personnel to arrive to take him by ambulance to the hospital, where fortunately he survived and largely recovered. (See UPI story here, including report that the US and German Ambassadors would be boycotting the Nobel Ceremony the next day.)

4. Other Western Media coverage

Two Wall Street Journal editorials condemning the award were titled “Nobel Peace Fraud” and “Embarrassment in Oslo”. An editorial condemning the award in the Detroit Free Press (USA) called us “Heirs to Joseph Mengele”, because one of our senior Soviet colleagues, Dr. Marat Vartanyan, was one of the most senior psychiatrists in the Soviet Union, and since we were working with him in IPPNW we were therefore guilty of promoting Soviet psychiatric abuses of dissidents.

5. Years Earlier: Albert Schweitzer (1952 Nobel Peace laureate)

When Dr. Albert Schweitzer spoke out against nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s, condemning equally US and Soviet nuclear test explosions, the US government stole his mail and did all it could to destroy his reputation — this was the exact time that stories started appearing in the media about “Schweitzer the racist” and “Schweitzer the colonialist”, which still circulate on the internet.

Lesson/Conclusion:

The most important lesson for us from this history – apart from the fact that these attacks from nuclear weapons states and their allies are inevitable, and are really just evidence that they take our work very seriously – is that when President Kennedy signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the White House then bragged about Dr. Schweitzer’s support. President Kennedy wrote a letter to Dr. Schweitzer in which he wrote “You are one of the transcendent moral influences of our century.”

I think Beatrice Fihn’s comments are exactly right. We should stay focused on our mission. We have both scientific facts behind us and the moral high ground, and just need to keep successfully recruiting support from the people of the world, from growing numbers of nation states, and one day even from all of today’s nuclear weapons states.

–Lachlan

Lachlan Forrow, MD

Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Past Board Chair and CEO
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW
1985 Nobel Peace Prize laureate organization and Founding Partner Organization of ICAN, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Socialism, Capitalism and Health Care

In Cost, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on November 28, 2017 at 8:22 am

James Petras

Introduction

The US political and economic elites have always bragged that capitalism is far superior to socialism in terms of providing people’s personal welfare. They claim that citizens live longer, healthier and happier lives under capitalism.

The debate between the supporters of the US Affordable Care Act or ‘Obamacare’ and its most vehement opponents under President Trump is not part of any larger system debate since both ‘sides’ base their vision and plans for medical care on private, for-profit corporate insurance schemes. This source of funding would ‘harness market forces’ to deliver quality medical care…in a marketplace of ‘free competition’, in which every American, even the most fragile, cancer-ridden patient, would be an engaged stakeholder, weighing a huge menu of free choices…

The real comparison of how these economic systems provide basic health care should be based on showing which provides the best population outcomes, personal satisfaction and community security across national boundaries. National health systems top the chaotic private system in these parameters.

On the other hand, the US tops all European countries in terms of the percentage of workers and family members who avoid necessary trips to the doctor because they fear financial ruin from the inflated costs of their private health care. In other words, majorities of people, dependent on private for-profit insurance schemes to provide health care, cannot afford to visit a medical facility, doctor or clinic even to treat a significant illness. The type of economic system funding health services determines the likelihood of a patient actually going to seek and receive important medical care that will preserve life, one’s ability to work and enjoy some level of satisfaction.

This essay will include a brief discussion of the social and political conditions, which gave rise to the socialized, and clearly more effective, health care system. And we will touch on the consequences the two health systems in terms of people’s life expectancy and quality of life.

Comparing Costs of Medical Visitation by Economic System

The US is the only developed country relying on a private, for-profit insurance system to fund and deliver medical care for its working age population. In contrast, all countries in the European Union have some form of publicly funded and delivered health plans for its workers.

One of the key quality measures of a health care system is a patient’s access to timely competent medical care.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OCECD) recently conducted a systematic comparison of seven countries, with different levels of GDP, and the percentage of people in each country who are able to afford medical consultations for necessary medical care.

The European countries all have established national public health programs with clear goals and measures in terms of outcomes. The US is the only nation to rely on privately administered and funded health care systems for its working age population.

The Results

Over one-fifth (22%) of the US working age population believe they cannot afford to consult a doctor or medical clinic – in the event of an illness or accident. In contrast, less than eight percent of European workers view themselves as unable to afford necessary medical care. For the largest EU nations, less than 5% of the working population avoids care because of a perceived inability to pay for essential services. US workers are five times more likely to voluntarily forego health care, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

If we compare the US with its ‘free market’ private insurance run system with any EU nation, we find consistent results: Access to competent, essential medical services in the US is far worse!

In Germany and France, the EU’s most developed nations, working age citizens and their family members have three to ten times better access to health care than the US. 8% of workers in France and 2% in Germany postpone necessary visits to the doctor because of a perceived inability to pay. Among middle developed EU nations, 4% in the UK and 4.5% in Italy cite financial reasons for skipping essential medical care – compared to 22% of working age Americans.

Even in the least developed EU nations, Spain and Portugal, with the highest unemployment rates and lowest per capita income, workers have greater access to health care. Only 2.5% of workers in Spain and 7.5% in Portugal view costs as a reason to avoid visiting their doctor.

High Tech Billionaires Speak of ‘Values’ while Maximizing Profits

‘Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits’, the multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg opined this month, after his company, Facebook posted its first ever $10 billion quarterly earnings result. (FT 11/16/17 P 8)

Zuckerberg and entourage had apparently ventured into Middle America discovering to their shock that American communities were in the midst of a narcotic addiction crisis, which had caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and disrupted the lives of millions of addicts’ family members. The natives of Middle America were more concerned about access to effective addiction treatment than their access toFacebook! Zuckerberg, with his legions of highly educated foreign workers on the West Coast, conveniently missed the chance to identify the source of the American addiction crisis: The over-prescription of opioid pain medications by tens of thousands of private US medical practitioners, pushed by the giant US pharmaceutical industry in a 2 decades-long medical genocide that the nations of Europe had so ‘miraculously’ avoided because of their centralized, regulated, socialized health systems.

While the US may have the least available and least affordable health care for working people, it can certainly boast about producing the highest number of super-rich in the world. Five of the world’s largest companies are US-owned with a combined market capitalization of $3.3 trillion for the top US tech giants. Europe’s largest tech company, SAP, is sixty notches below.

The US giant mega-billion dollar tech companies and CEO’s are also mega-billion dollar tax-evaders who stash their fortunes overseas and avoid the inconvenience of having to contribute to any national health programs for workers – whether in the US or elsewhere. The monopoly tech corporations’ wealth and power are one important reason why over a fifth of working age Americans cannot afford necessary medical care. As one acute observer noted, ‘The new high tech elite tend to cloak their self interest by talking about values which has the collateral benefit of avoiding talk about wealth.’(FT 11/17/17 P9)

The scarcity of European multi-billion dollar tech CEOs, like the American Zuckerberg and Gates, is linked to the domestic tax systems that provide public financing and management of effective medical service serving hundreds of millions of European workers.

In other words, the US, with its far more extreme concentration of wealth and social inequality, continues to have the greatest level of health care inequality among industrialized nations.

Europe is not without inequalities, monopolies and underfunded health programs but it delivers far better and more accessible care to its citizens than the private capitalist health system promoted in the US.

Historical Roots of the Superior European Health Care System

The power of monopoly capital is one of the key factors resulting in the deteriorating quality of health care for the US working population. Another factor is the lack of consistent working class struggle in the US compared to Europe. After the Second World War, there were huge waves of working class strikes across France, Italy and the UK. Various communist parties in continental Europe played a leading role within the trade unions demanding for publicly funded, national health care. In the UK, Socialists and the Labor Governments were pushed by their trade union members to craft a national health system to meet the needs of workers and their families. While Germany had a basic national health system dating from the time of Bismarck in the late 19th century, the socialist economy and public services developing in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after the Second World War provided an alternative for West German workers who then successfully pushed for the implementation of an advanced welfare state, including a socialized medical care system, within the thoroughly capitalist German Federation.

In the 1970’s Spain and Portugal shed their fascist past and post-war dictatorships. The militant trade unions and leftist parties ascended to power on promises to implement social-welfare programs, which, even with their economic limitations, included highly effective national health programs. Life expectancies rose dramatically.

The US has neither welfare nor national medical programs for its working population. Despite a brief interlude of American workers’ strikes shortly after WWII, leftist militants, communists and socialists were purged and corrupt business-linked trade union leaders took over. Rather than struggle for an effective national system of publicly funded medical care, the trade unions, linked to the Democratic Party, pushed their membership to struggle for ‘nickel and dime’ wage increases – accepting a system of the most expensive, and unaccountable private health care in the world.

The capitalist US has been the only country to deprive its working age citizens and their family members of an effective national health system. After over 60 years, the results are damning. Providing essential medical care for American workers, through the various forms of private, for-profit insurance schemes, has resulted in an uncontrolled health care cost inflation making manufacturing in the US far more expensive than its European, Japanese or Canadian competitors.

From 2001 up to 2018, under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the US taxpayers have spent $5.6 trillion dollars on privately delivered, for-profit medical care with unimpressive results in terms of population health and life expectancy. On a per-capita basis, this is twice the amount spent on citizens of the EU who have consistently enjoyed rising life expectancy and improving health parameters. Despite this enormous investment of money in a chaotic, ineffective private system, the US Treasury has steadfastly maintained it could not finance a National Health Program for the population.

Present and Future Consequence of a Capitalist ‘Health System’

Today millions of US wage earners can expect to suffer shorter and less healthy lives than their counterparts in other industrialized countries in Europe and Japan. The opioid addiction epidemic among US workers, caused entirely by uncontrolled prescription of highly addictive narcotics by private practitioners and pushed by the profit-hungry US pharmaceutical industry, has led to over 600,000 deaths by overdose and millions of lives shortened by the brutal realities of addiction and degradation. This legally prescribed epidemic is unique to the United States where an estimated 15% of construction workers need treatment for addiction, millions have dropped out of the labor market due to addiction and the medical plans of numerous US building trade unions are facing bankruptcy because of the cost of addition-treatment for its members. The anti-addiction drug, Suboxone, is the most expensive and heavily prescribed medication for some union health plans. The reasons for this atrocity are clear: Injured American workers were being prescribed long courses of cheap, but highly addictive opioids to address their pain during cursory visits to ‘medical clinics’, rather than providing them with the more expensive but appropriate post-trauma care involving physical therapy and rest. The bosses and supervisors, who just wanted ‘warm bodies’ back on the job, were oblivious to the impending disaster.

Mega billion dollar private drug companies manufactured and promoted highly addictive prescription narcotics and paid ‘lobbyists’ to persuade US politicians and regulators to ‘look the other way’ as the addiction epidemic unfolded. Corporate hospitals and for-profit physicians, nurses, dentists and others participated in a historic catastrophe of medical irresponsibility that ended up addicting millions of American workers and their family members and killing hundreds of thousands. A huge proportion of prescription narcotic addicts are white workers in poorly protected manual jobs (construction, factories, farms, mines etc.). They lack access to effective, responsible medical care. In new millennium America, their jobs would not provide for ‘time off’ or physical therapy following injury and they unwittingly resorted to the ‘miracle’ of prescription opioids to get back to work. In many cases, their private medical insurance plans blatantly refused to pay for more expensive non-addictive alternatives and would insist the workers receive the cheap opioids instead. The rare worker, who demanded to take time off to seek effective medical and physical therapy for an injury, would be fired. US capitalists could easily ignore the growing shortage of healthy American construction and other workers by importing cheap, skilled labor from abroad and sanctimoniously blame American workers for their disabilities.

Conclusion

Workers in even the poorest European Union countries have greater access to better, more effective medical care then their US counterparts. They continue to enjoy rising life expectancies and longer lives without disability. Their injuries are treated appropriately with rest and physical therapy. Injured European or Japanese workers are never prescribed ridiculously long courses of highly addictive narcotics given to Americans. Certainly any increase in overdose deaths from prescribed opioids in the European Union or Japan would have generated rapid public health investigations and corrective action – a marked contrast to the two decades of callous indifference within the US medical community that bordered on Social Darwinism considering the working class identity of most victims. In Europe and Japan, long-term narcotic therapy is reserved for terminal cancer patients suffering from intractable pain. It would never have been offered to rural or working class teenagers for sports injuries – a common practice in the US!

The European public medical care systems are the product of class struggle and socially conscious mass movements and political parties that produced welfare states where improving population health was a central goal of its social compact. In contrast, the private-for-profit health system in the US is the shining example of the triumph of capitalism – the consolidation and further enrichment of capitalist control and the subordination of labor in each of its phase – from low to high tech business. In this ultimate triumph of capitalism, the old class struggle slogans were revised – becoming – Long live the bosses! Early death to the workers!

Private health care and the drive for higher profits provided enormous benefits for the pharmaceutical industry, making billionaires out of the owners and CEOs. This spawned the ‘ultra-philanthropic’ billionaire Sackler family whose Purdue Pharmaceuticals peddled the deadlyOxycontin to tens of millions of Americans. For profit-hospitals, private medical practices and rapacious insurance companies all reaped the bounty of mismanaging a bloated, unaccountable system that has provided the American worker with an early death by overdose or a shortened life of despair and disability.

Private capitalist employers and insurance companies continue to benefit from the epidemic of pre-mature deaths of their former employees: Pension costs and health care liabilities are slashed because of the decreasing life expectancy – Wall Street is jubilant. There will be fewer communities to educate and protect and this will lower taxes. Cheap imported replacement workers (educated or trained on their own societies’ dime) can conveniently be deported or replaced.

It is undeniable: increasing life expectancy and a decent life free of disability has disappeared for the American worker. With poor health and inadequate care, maternal and infant mortality are on the rise especially in rural and de-industrialized areas.

By every health and living standard indicator, the history of successful class struggle led to the implementation of effective national welfare and health programs. Their societies have reaped benefits for their citizens that were clearly superior to corrupt boss-worker class collaboration under private capitalism in the US.

The Duty to Disobey a Nuclear Launch Order

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

By Marjorie Cohn

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Duty to Obey Lawful and Disobey Unlawful Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s in the Nuclear Chain of Command?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reaffirm Congress’s Constitutional War Powers

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

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

MARJORIE COHN

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

The Senate Questions the President’s Power to Launch Nukes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thousands of scientists issue bleak ‘second notice’ to humanity

In Climate change, Environment, Politics, Public Health on November 15, 2017 at 9:38 am

By Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, Speaking of Science, November 13, 2017

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

The government’s National Climate Assessment released on Nov. 3 cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.“The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the letter says.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

To this end, Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at providing a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet.

“Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting.

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

The government’s National Climate Assessment released on Nov. 3 cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.“The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the letter says.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

To this end, Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at providing a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet.

“Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”