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Julian Assange and the Defense of Democracy

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Politics on December 19, 2018 at 7:11 am

By Tom Mayer

Effective democracy requires well informed citizens.  One of the greatest threats to effective democracy in modern capitalist societies is government secrecy.  This prevents citizens from knowing about and attempting to control the actions of their own government.  Mainstream media, owned by giant corporations and often in cahoots with the state, regularly fail to penetrate the secrecy shrouding crucial government actions.

No organization has done more to make critical political information available to the public than WikiLeaks.  Founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, an Australian computer programmer, WikiLeaks has published more than twelve million documents that governments around the world tried to keep secret.  WikiLeaks became famous in 2010 when it published several hundred thousand documents provided by Chelsea Manning.   This information revealed (among other things) cruel and illegal activities by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as associated diplomatic cover-ups.

Julian Assange, who functioned as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks until September 2018, has won numerous awards for investigative journalism.  In 2009 he won the Amnesty International UK Media Award, and in 2010 he was honored by retired CIA officers with the Sam Adams Award.   In 2011 Assange received the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize, and in 2015 he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.  The eminent critical journalist John Pilger writes:

“No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account. It is as if a one-way moral screen has been pushed back to expose the imperialism of liberal democracies: the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of “unworthy” lives: from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.”  [http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-urgency-of-bringing-julian-assange-home]

After WikiLeaks published the Chelsea Manning documents, the U.S. government mounted an intensive campaign to smear Julian Assange and thereby discredit WikiLeaks.  The U.S. campaign attacked Assange in three different ways: (1) he engages in political espionage, (2) he is an agent of the Russian government, and (3) he is a rapist.  All three of these charges have been decisively refuted.

WikiLeaks does not steal documents or engage in illegal hacking.  It merely publishes information provided by others.  If this constitutes espionage, then the New York Times and Washington Post are also guilty.  WikiLeaks has circulated numerous documents that make the Russian government look bad.  Strange behavior for an agent of the Russian government.  And here is what Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff, leaders of Women Against Rape, say about the rape charges against Assange:

“The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.”

The governments of Sweden and the UK, strongly prodded by Washington, soon joined the assault upon Julian Assange.  If convicted in either of these countries, Assange would be deported to the United States, where he faced a possible death sentence for espionage.  Fortunately, the progressive government of Ecuador granted Assange political asylum in August 2012.  Since that time he has been confined to Ecuador’s embassy in London.

But Washington has exerted unrelenting pressure on Ecuador to abrogate Assange’s asylum and expel him from the London embassy.  In March 2018 a more conservative government took power in Ecuador.  The new government has steadily eroded the normal rights of political asylum.  Harsh restrictions have been placed upon Assange.   He cannot have visitors, receive phone calls, or get electronic communications of any kind.  His health is deteriorating, but he is prevented from getting necessary medical treatment.

Julian Assange has rendered yeoman service to effective democracy.  He should be liberated from his increasingly oppressive internment in the Ecuadorian embassy and allowed to continue his invaluable journalistic activity.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press and genuine democracy (as opposed to our current plutocratic oligarchy) should favor freedom for Julian Assange.

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Military | Pollution M.I.C. Green New Deal Advocates Shouldn’t Overlook Militarism

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 17, 2018 at 11:48 pm

In the spirit of a new year and a new Congress, 2019 may well be our best and last opportunity to steer our ship of state away from the twin planetary perils of environmental chaos and militarism, charting a course toward an earth-affirming 21st century.

The environmental crisis was laid bare by the sobering December report of the UN Climate panel: If the world fails to mobilize within the next 12 years on the level of a moon shot, and gear up to change our energy usage from toxic fossil, nuclear and industrial biomass fuels to the already known solutions for employing solar, wind, hydro, geothermal energy and efficiency, we will destroy all life on earth as we know it. The existential question is whether our elected officials, with the reins of power, are going to sit by helplessly as our planet experiences more devastating fires, floods, droughts, and rising seas or will they seize this moment and take monumental action as we did when the United States abolished slavery, gave women the vote, ended the great depression, and eliminated legal segregation.

Some members of Congress are already showing their historic mettle by supporting a Green New Deal. This would not only start to reverse the damage we have inflicted on our collective home, but it would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs that cannot be shipped overseas to low-wage countries.

Even those congresspeople who want to seriously address the climate crisis, however, fail to grapple with the simultaneous crisis of militarism. The war on terror unleashed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack has led to almost two decades of unchecked militarism. We are spending more money on our military than at any time in history. Endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere are still raging, costing us trillions of dollars and creating humanitarian disasters. Old treaties to control nuclear arms are unraveling at the same time that conflicts with the major powers of Russia and China are heating up.

Where is the call for the New Peace Deal that would free up hundreds of billions from the overblown military budget to invest in green infrastructure? Where is the call to close a majority of our nation’s 800-plus military bases overseas, bases that are relics of World War II and are basically useless for military purposes? Where is the call for seriously addressing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons?

With the crumbling phenomenon of outdated nuclear arms control treaties, it is unconscionable not to support the recently negotiated UN treaty, signed by 122 nations, to prohibit and ban nuclear weapons just as the world has done for chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. Congress should not be authorizing the expenditures of $1 trillion for new nuclear weapons, bowing to corporate paymasters who seek a larger arms race with Russia and other nuclear-armed countries to the detriment of our own people and the rest of the world. Instead, Congress should take the lead in supporting this treaty and promoting it among the other nuclear weapons states.

Environmentalists need to contest the Pentagon’s staggering global footprint. The U.S. military is the world’s largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels and the largest source of greenhouse gases, contributing about 5 percent of global warming emissions. Almost 900 of the EPA’s 1,300 Superfund sites are abandoned military bases, weapons-production facilities or weapons-testing sites. The former Hanford nuclear weapons facility in Washington state alone will cost over $100 billion to clean up. The U.S. military has also spread toxic chemical contaminants in and around bases worldwide, sickening millions.

If climate change is not addressed rapidly by a Green New Deal, global militarism will ramp up in response to increases in climate refugees and civil destabilization, which will feed climate change and seal a vicious cycle fed by the twin evils of militarism and climate disruption. That’s why a New Peace Deal and a Green New Deal should go hand in hand. We cannot afford to waste our time, resources and intellectual capital on weapons and war when climate change is barreling down on all of humankind. If the nuclear weapons don’t destroy us, then the pressing urgency of catastrophic climate will.

Moving from an economic system that relies on fossil fuels and violence would enable us to make a just transition to a clean, green, life-supporting energy economy. This would be the quickest and most positive way to deal a death knell to the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about so many years ago.

Top photo | Spent shell casings from firing practice litter the desert on the grounds of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 4, 2008. Reed Saxon | AP

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of CODEPINK and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. Her new book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic.

Alice Slater, author, and nuclear disarmament advocate is a member of the Coordinating Committee of World BEYOND War and UN NGO Representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

A World of Multiple Detonators of Global Wars

In Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 14, 2018 at 12:37 am
By James Petras

We face a world of multiple wars some leading to direct global power conflagrations and others that begin as regional conflicts but quickly spread to big power confrontations.  We will proceed to identify ‘great power’ confrontations and then proceed to discuss the stages of ‘proxy’ wars with world war consequences.

 
Three Strategic Targets

In our times the US is the principal power in search of world domination through force and violence.  Washington has targeted top level targets, namely China, Russia,and Iran; secondary objectives include Afghanistan, North and Central Africa, Caucuses and Latin America.

China is the prime enemy of the US for several economic, political and military reasons:  China is the second largest economy in the world; its technology has challenged US supremacy; it has built global economic networks reaching across three continents.  China has replaced the US in overseas markets, investments and infrastructures.  China has built an alternative socio-economic model which links state banks and planning to private sector priorities.  On all these counts the US has fallen behind and its future prospects are declining.

In response the US has resorted to a closed protectionist economy at home and an aggressive military led imperial economy abroad.  President Trump has declared a tariff war on China; and multiple , separatist and propaganda war; and an aerial and maritime war of encirclement.  The first line of attack is exorbitant tariffs on China’s exports to the US and its vassals.  Secondly, is the expansion of overseas bases in Asia.  Thirdly, is the promotion of separatist clients in Hong Kong, Tibet and  among the Uighurs. Fourthly, is the use of sanctions to bludgeon EU and Asian allies into joining the economic war against China.  China has responded by increasing its military security, expanding its economic networks and raising economic tariffs on US exports.

The US economic war has moved to a higher level by arresting and seizing a top executive of China’s foremost technological company, Huawei.  The White House has moved up the ladder of aggression from sanctions to provocation, it is one step from military retaliation.  The nuclear fuse has been lit.

Russia faces similar threats to its domestic economy and its overseas allies, especially China and Iran .Moreover the US has broken its compliance with the intermediate  nuclear missiles. agreement.  Iran faces oil sanctions, military encirclement and attacks on proxy allies namely Yemen, Syria and the Gulf region Washington relies on Saudi Arabia, Israel and their paramilitary groups to apply military and economic pressure to undermine Iran’s economy and impose a ‘regime change’.

Each of the three strategic targets of the US are central to its drive for global dominance; dominating China would lead to the takeover  of Asia, weakening Russia isolates Europe ; the overthrow of Iran  enhances US  power over the  oil market and the Islamic world.  As the US escalates its aggression and provocations we face the threat of a global nuclear war or, at the best, a world economic breakdown.

Wars by Proxy

The US has targeted a second tier of enemies, in Latin America, Asia and Africa.  In Latin America the US has waged economic warfare against Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.  More recently it has applied political and economic pressure on Bolivia.  Washington has relied on its vassal allies, including Brazil, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Paraguay and domestic right-wing elites.

As in numerous other cases, Washington relies on  military coups and corrupt legislators and judges to rule against incumbent progressive regimes Against President Morales, Washington relies on US foundation funded NGO’s; dissident indigenous leaders and retired military officials.  The US relies on local armed proxies to further US imperial goals in order to give the appearance of a ‘civil war’ rather than gross US intervention.  In fact, once the so-called ‘dissidents’ or ‘rebels’ establish a beachhead  they ‘invite’ US military advisers, secure military aid and serve as propaganda weapons against Russia, China and Iran – ‘first tier’ adversaries.

In recent years US proxy conflicts have been a weapon of choice in the Kosovo separatist war against Serbia; the Ukraine coup of 2014 and war against Eastern Ukraine; the Kurd take over of Northern Iraq and Syria; the US backed separatist Uighurs attack in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

The US has established 32 military bases in Africa, to coordinate activities with local warlords and plutocrats.  Their proxy wars are described as local conflicts between ‘legitimate’ regimes and Islamic terrorists, tribalists and tyrants.

The objectives of proxy wars are threefold.  They serve as ‘feeders’ into larger territorial wars encircling China, Russia and Iran.   Secondly, proxy wars are ‘testing grounds’ to measure the vulnerability and responsive capacity of the targeted strategic adversary, i.e. Russia, China and Iran.  Thirdly, the proxy wars are ‘low cost’ and ‘low risk’ attacks on strategic enemies.  The lead up to a major confrontation by stealth.   Equally important ‘proxy wars’ serve as propaganda tools, accusing  strategic adversaries as ‘expansionist authoritarian’ enemies of ‘western values’.

Conclusion


            US empire builders engage in multiple types of aggression directed at imposing a uni-polar world.  At the center are trade wars against China; regional military conflicts with Russia and economic sanctions against Iran.  These large scale, long-term strategic weapons are complemented by proxy wars, involving regional vassal states which are designed to erode the economic bases of allies of anti-imperialist powers.  Hence, the US attacks  on China  via tariff wars aims to sabotage its global “Belt and Road’ infrastructure projects linking China with 82 counties.  Likewise, the US attempts to isolate Russian via a proxy war in Syria as it did with Iraq, Libya and the Ukraine.
            Isolating strategic anti-imperial power via regional wars, sets the stage for the ‘final assault’ – regime change by coup or nuclear war.   However, the US drive for world domination has so far failed to isolate or weaken its strategic adversaries.   China moves forward with its global infrastructure program;and the trade war has had little impact in isolating Beijing from its principal markets.  Moreover, the US policy has increased China’s role as a leading advocate of ‘open trade’ against President Trump’s protectionism.

Likewise, the tactics of encircling and sanctioning Russia has deepened ties between Moscow and Beijing.  The US has increased its nominal ‘proxies’ in Latin America and Africa but they all depend on trade and investments from China. This is especially true of agro-mineral exports to China.

Notwithstanding the limits of US power and its failure to topple regimes, Washington has taken moves to compensate for its failures by escalating the threats of a global war.  It kidnaps Chinese economic leaders; it moves war ships off China’s coast; it allies with neo-fascist elites in the Ukraine.  It threatens to bomb Iran.  In other words the US political leaders have embarked on adventurous policies always on the verge of igniting one, two, many nuclear fuses.   It is easy to imagine how a failed trade war can lead to a nuclear war; a regional conflict can entail a greater war.

Can we prevent World War 3?  I believe it can happen.  The US economy is built on fragile foundations; its elites are deeply divided.  Its main allies in France and the UK are in deep crises.  The war mongers and war makers lack popular support.  There are reasons to hope!

Beatrice Fihn Is Banning Nuclear Weapons, With or Without Us

In Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on December 6, 2018 at 12:02 am

It was a rare dark note for the Swedish anti-nuclear activist, who has built her career—and her organization’s Nobel Peace Prize—on a unified front in the face of fear.

“People are beginning to wake up to the reality that we’re still living under the threat of these weapons every single day,” she said. “They are starting to experience the terror of the Cold War. And it’s our job to give them hope.”

But Fihn, along with the rest of the world, had indeed woken up to a new threat. Watching the sunrise in Santa Barbara, California, where she was being honored by an anti-nuclear organization, Fihn took in the news that President Donald Trump had ordered the United States to pull out of its longtime arms control treaty with Russia, a move that experts warned could escalate an arms race of a kind not seen since the 1970s. “We are facing dangerous times,” she wrote on Twitter that morning.

In her speech that evening, Fihn alluded to the news. “It would be all too easy to name Donald Trump as a rogue,” she said. “The truth is that a system that one impulsive person or unpredictable person can uproot is not an appropriate security system in the first place.”

But convincing Trump to give up America’s nuclear stockpile is not a part of ICAN’s plan. With 69 signatures on the treaty, and 31 more needed for ratification (the last step before it enters into force), Fihn is fighting to change laws and norms, not hearts and minds. She will save the skeptics, whether they believe her or not.

At the benefit in Santa Barbara, a chairman of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the group hosting Fihn, pointed her out to me amid a flurry of cocktail dresses and suits. This, of course, was unnecessary—and not just because I’d spent a week watching her press appearances on a loop. Beatrice Fihn is easy to pick out of a crowd. She embodies the American public’s favorite Swedish stereotypes: tall, blonde, and perpetually poised, speaking with a musical lilt not heard in these parts since “Dancing Queen” topped the charts.

Despite the nuclear-armed states that refuse to sign on, ICAN has had some resounding successes lately, and Fihn’s stop in Santa Barbara was part of a congratulatory tour in one of the friendliest states in the union to her campaign. Before her speech, she chatted with California Assemblymember Monique Limón, who drafted statewide legislation in support of the nuclear ban, over gold-flecked chocolate mousse (“It’s not always so glamorous,” Fihn warns. “It’s activist work.”) In Los Angeles, she met with supporters of the city’s local disarmament resolution, the next phase of ICAN’s campaign: If organizers can’t convince a national government, they’ll take their fight local.

Beatrice Fihn addresses the U.N. open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament in May of 2016.

(Photo: Tim Wright/International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)

Though Fihn has always been a firm proponent of disarmament, her ascent to becoming the movement’s public face was somewhat unlikely. When Fihn first went to work at the U.N. as an intern, she was surprised to learn she’d be focusing solely on nuclear weapons—but only because she assumed most governments had already given them up. “It sounded like an old-fashioned, outdated issue,” she says, recalling her start in the early aughts. “The idea that some people from some countries have the right to end the world if they want—that’s crazy. And we’ve just accepted it.”

At the U.N., Fihn met activists who would later collaborate with ICAN and its partners. She learned diplomacy and activist work from a group of all-female organizers and drew inspiration from a women-led campaign to ban land mines in the 1990s. Rick Wayman, an early adopter in the ban treaty campaign, says Fihn has always offered a “hopeful message.” But at the time, her own friends doubted her. Even now, when she gets into a taxi, she has the familiar exchange: What do you do? “I work for a campaign to prohibit nuclear weapons.” Ah, not gonna happen.

She has spent 12 years working on this, she says, compiling rational arguments and scientific evidence, yet less informed strangers will still pick a fight. But, she adds, “I prefer to argue with politicians than people on the street.”

Since joining ICAN and becoming its executive director in 2013, that’s exactly what she’s done. In 2017, the group lobbied delegates at the U.N. in New York for three months, alongside experts from more than 100 partner organizations. By September, negotiations were complete. With support of nearly two-thirds of members, the U.N. adopted the first-ever international treaty banning nuclear weapons. Though the ban has yet to go into force, two of the world’s biggest pension funds added nuclear weapons to their exclusion list. But you can’t fit all of that in on one taxi ride.

Almost as long as there have been nuclear weapons, there have been dissenters. ICAN was born out of another disarmament organization, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for its non-proliferation work. In his memoir Perestroika, former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev credited the coalition of activist-scientists with a role in ending the Cold War. “It is impossible to ignore what these people are saying,” he wrote.

Decades later, these treaties persist, but the old optimism is gone. “Almost 20 years after warnings were published … about the dangers of ‘accidental nuclear war,’ nearly 2,000 weapons remain on ‘launch-on-warning’ hair-trigger alert,” wrote the group’s founders in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year. Public opinion proved just as stubborn: One study found that, although fewer Americans approve of nuclear weapons now than in 1945, 60 percent still support the bombs’ use in a situation akin to World War II (in the study’s example, killing two million Iranians to save a few thousand U.S. soldiers).

In 2007, the physicians launched ICAN, which would take up the same fight and, 10 years later, win the same award. But its efforts have not been met with praise from polarizing heads of state. This is fine with the campaign. “I always measure how effective we’re being by how mad the nuclear-armed states get—and they’re furious about this treaty,” says Wayman, deputy director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, an ICAN partner, who helped lobby for the ban at the U.N. (After the treaty passed, the U.S., the United Kingdom, and France swore never to “sign, ratify or ever become party to it,” citing security concerns.)

Often the issue can seem technical and unapproachable. Historically, political scientists have defended America’s nuclear capability as an important deterrent strategy; more recently, others have countered that deterrence doesn’t work, citing instead the power of an international norm against the use of these weapons. Fihn prefers to bypass this talk entirely. Instead, she sees nuclear weapons as a human-rights issue, and a feminist one at that. When she talks about norms, it’s to advocate for changing them. ICAN brings together activists, researchers, and concerned citizens to push governments to ban the weapons, even without enforcement, in order to stigmatize them. “I think we’re going to see disarmament of nuclear weapons when people no longer associate these weapons with prestige and power—when they are symbols of shame,” Fihn says.

Fihn would like the conversation around nuclear weapons to be about survivors: women, children, and indigenous people. After all, she says, they are the ones who suffer the costs, not hawks talking strategic stability in the situation room. When the atomic bombs razed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of people, long-term effects such as cancer impacted women at higher rates; those who survived the blast were more likely to miscarry or give birth to stillborn babies and children with birth defects. For this, they were often shunned by their own people. In the Marshall Islands, the U.S. government conducted nuclear tests 1,000 times more powerful than those in Japan, subjecting hundreds of indigenous people to burns, cancers, and birth defects—all without so much as a warning.

It’s true that governments have long hidden the nuclear threat from view. In 2013, new documents revealed that the U.S. and U.K. brought the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war in a 1983 “war games” exercise called Able Archer, all without public knowledge. Other documents, recently obtained by the New York Times, contain ominous warnings from the Central Intelligence Agency to then-President Harry Truman.

By putting survivors at the forefront of the campaign, ICAN is attempting to subvert this practice—starting with the Nobel Peace Prize celebration. Setsuko Thurlow, an 85-year-old Hiroshima survivor, accepted the award alongside Fihn. ICAN said the city shut down a highway for them, and outside, supporters marched in the torch-lit snow. Congratulations poured in from family and friends, the pope, and celebrities (Fihn was especially excited about a shoutout from model and Twitter personality Chrissy Teigen.)

As with survivors, the ban also highlights the voices of women—which is “unusual for a weapons of mass destruction disarmament treaty,” wrote Bonnie Jenkins, coordinator for threat reduction programs with the U.S. Department of State, in a 2017 Brookings Institute brief. Part of banning nuclear weapons is changing the culture—and that culture is toxic beyond its literal radioactivity, Fihn argues. She says men created this problem, sacrificing the safety of millions to compare bomb sizes, and there still aren’t enough women in government to fix it: “You have an issue that’s an existential threat to the entire world, but only half the population is being involved in the decision-making.”

For Fihn, this fight is personal. She was the only woman in her class of largely white Nobel laureates. She brings her daughter’s pen, adorned with a smiling Elsa from Frozen, to panels and posts photos with officials in between family portraits. She’s been to known to compare nuclear weapons to the patriarchy (the weapons themselves are phallic, after all) and condemns their use as both racist and sexist. When she employed that argument at one North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, “The old white dudes of the U.S. Department of Defense and the German defense ministry looked pretty puzzled,” she wrote on Instagram.

But Fihn saves her most scathing critiques for the leaders of nuclear-armed states. In one speech, she likened Trump and Kim Jong-un to her three- and six-year-olds. During her official Nobel Peace Prize interview, she was questioned about a tweet from two days prior that read, “Donald Trump is a moron.” (She admits that the timing wasn’t great, but stands by the sentiment.) She’s especially vocal about Trump’s stance on weapons negotiation, which he’s often condemned as a sign of weakness—another reason the campaign cannot rely on U.S. participation.

Wayman, with the NAPF, told me that ICAN’s strategy to move forward with the ban was, at first, “a slap in the face” and an “ego check” for some supporters in America. They knew the U.S. government would never agree. And yet here ICAN was, banning nuclear weapons without it.

I asked Fihn if she ever felt discouraged. After all, in the time between our conversations, North Korea wavered on its promise to disarm. “Sometimes I have moments like, I should work for something a little less political,” she says.

In these moments, she draws inspiration from movements whose victories seem inevitable to us now: the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and other human rights campaigns. These organizers didn’t wait for governments to acquiesce. They mustered support. They forced culture shifts. “When it feels tough some days, I like to think: This is what it is to fight for these issues. And one day we’ll win,” she says. “And then we’ll forget all about it, and move on to the next one.”

Democrats going nuclear to rein in Trump’s arms buildup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One key argument will be cost, she added.

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

Critics also argue that the ICBM has outlived its usefulness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

18 November 18

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEWSON: That’s correct, Mr. President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can be done to stop this drift towards madness?

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Grim Forecast

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

Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—October 25, 2018

From UN Human Rights Committee

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The War Has Already Begun

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muscle-Flexing in Perilous Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Road to World War III?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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