October 31st, 2016 by Greg Mello
(This is a guest editorial by Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will (and the Los Alamos Study Group). It first appeared in the 2016 First Committee Monitor No. 5
31 October 2016
On 24 January 1946, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution, which set out to “deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy.” It established a commission with the task, among others, to make proposals “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.” Nearly 71 years later, the General Assembly has taken an enormous step towards this goal.
The adoption of resolution L.41, establishing a conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, represents a meaningful advancement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. It also represents a revolt of the vast majority of states against the violence, intimidation, and injustice perpetuated by those supporting these weapons of mass destruction.
Revolt, wrote philosopher Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, is “one of the only coherent philosophical positions…. It challenges the world anew every second.” Camus explored the theme of revolt across many books and novels, finding that struggle not only “gives value to life” but also that it is an obligation, even in the face of adversity, power, and overwhelming odds.
“Will this process be the most efficient way to achieve the goal of full nuclear disarmament?” asked Sweden after the vote on L.41. “The fact is that we do not know today. But given the stakes involved, we believe we have an obligation to try, mindful of the challenges involved.”
The act of prohibiting nuclear weapons is an act of nonviolent, positive, courageous revolt.
Those that oppose it are not giving up their weapons of terror without a fight. Even on the day of the vote on L.41, France, Russia, and the United States issued warnings against its adoption. Russia warned of the “fatal, destructive repercussions” of adopting the resolution, describing the initiative to prohibit nuclear weapons as “hasty” and at risk of “plunging the world into chaos and dangerous unpredictability.”
We have heard such remarks from most of the nuclear-armed states, and some of their allies, for the last two years.
At the core of this rhetoric is a belief that certain states have the right to possess nuclear weapons. Russia and the United Kingdom have both flatly stated during this First Committee that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) confers legitimacy on their possession of nuclear weapons. We can see how this belief has dictated the course of history. It has meant that for nearly half a century, five countries have refused to comply with their legal obligation to disarm. It has meant that four other countries have tried to assert their own claim to power through violence by acquiring nuclear weapons and shunning the NPT. It has meant a proliferation of programmes and mechanisms to prevent others from acquiring nuclear weapons whilst billions of dollars have gone to upgrade and extend the lives of the ones already existing.
By insisting on their “right” to inflict massive nuclear violence, the nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-supporting allies have created a division amongst the United Nations membership. They have forced the hand of the majority of states, which have gone along for decades in good faith with the agendas set by the nuclear-armed. This majority is now ready to take actions that align with its commitment to peace, justice, and security for all.
For this, they are being attacked and ridiculed and threatened by most of the states that wield nuclear weapons. They are being presented as interfering with matters that they do not understand or have no stake in. They are being told that they are the problem, not nuclear weapons or those that possess them. They are treated as if they are undermining international law and agreed commitments, when in reality the opposite is true.
In a joint statement last week, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States argued that banning nuclear weapons will render consensus at the next NPT Review Conference “impossible”. There is nothing, however, inherent in the process to prohibit nuclear weapons that would make this so. None of the states supporting L.41 and the negotiation of a ban treaty have blocked the adoption of NPT outcome documents. None have tried to prevent other states from supporting resolutions or initiatives on other nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation measures, at this meeting or at any other.
It is up to the states possessing nuclear weapons or believing in them for security to engage constructively in the upcoming processes, including negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons and the next NPT review cycle. These countries are being encouraged to do so for reasons of humanitarian protection, human rights, the environment, development, and justice.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution welcoming L.41 and inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.
Amnesty International celebrated the adoption of L.41 and called on states not supporting the resolution to “take a stand for human rights by participating fully in the coming negotiations.”
17 Nobel laureates supported the adoption of L.41, urging states the ensure that negotiations are “brought to a timely and successful conclusion so that we can proceed rapidly toward the final elimination of this existential threat to humanity.”
Greenpeace International also supported the resolution, describing it as a “major breakthrough for nuclear disarmament” and outlining the importance and effectiveness of establishing a norm against nuclear weapons.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the prohibition of nuclear weapons as “an indispensible building block in reaching the universal goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” explaining that “unambiguous prohibition is both the foundation of disarmament and a disincentive for proliferation.”
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, noting that the treaty will stigmatise nuclear weapons and compel states to take urgent action on disarmament.
We have a big task ahead of us. The first bold step, establishing negotiations, has been taken. The struggle will continue next year—but it is a struggle that states, civil society, and the world are ready for.
July 18th, 2016 by Greg Mello
Guest post by Valentina Bellafante, Los Alamos Study Group Disarmament Fellow
On June 21, Albuquerque hosted the second annual symposium of the Strategic Deterrent Coalition, a “non-profit, non-partisan, community-based organization of concerned citizens with the mission of educating and informing the public and decision makers on the importance of a valid Nuclear Triad and strategic weapons”. The SDC’s mission of “educating the public” was absent in this exclusive event, given its unaffordable entrance fee of 250$.
Thus, the supposedly “public” symposium was mostly attended by active nuclear military (they received free admission), representatives of contractors working on the US arsenal, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) staff and government spokespeople.
The room was filled with extreme elite militarism; it looked like those secret Masonic meetings one only sees in movies.
The main message delivered at the event was clear, the United States needs all the enhancements that modernization will bring: new bombers, ICMBs, warheads and missiles. According to the speakers, only this complete and comprehensive asset will allow the US to maintain a “reliable and credible nuclear deterrent” to defend the country from increasing threats coming from hostile states. This modernization is outlined in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2010 (October 2009) and later in the Section 1251 Report Update to the NDAA of FY2010 (November 2010). No debate, not much space for questions.
Though the Cold War was before my time, I wonder if military propaganda meetings of the fifties were similar to this one.
The Cold War allowed the US to develop its international position quite comfortably. During World War II, the country suffered only a moderate number of casualties (compared to other states), its land untouched by bombings and its economy swollen with war production. The US managed an undisturbed rise as a superpower, and did so rather easily, in a world recently torn by two devastating conflicts. The reconstruction of Russia as an enemy allowed huge expenditures on defense programmes and fostered the development of a thriving military class that still survives today.
These smug men depicted an unstable world, in which the good guys (the United States) are surrounded by wicked, aggressive enemies ready to strike. And now they advocate for a strong, up-to-date, arsenal to deter such attacks.
But the international landscape changed since the Cold War. Many nuclear countries decided to pursue a reduced atomic arsenal to ensure a “minimum deterrent.” Russia and the US have negotiated nuclear cuts (with the Start II and Moscow treaties) while global threats have made way for local threats.
And the United States actually did change its strategic posture, becoming more hawkish with each step. Despite Obama’s stated intent to reduce the American nuclear arsenal, both militaries and his own governmental officials buried every possibility of following this objective. The nuclear hawks’ and the militarists’ power in the Administration became stronger as neo-cons came to power in this century, allowing them to exert a great and growing influence on US policies. These individuals fostered the modernization of the nuclear arsenal, justifying it with other countries’ progress in the field and their alleged aggressiveness toward the US.
It’s pretty clear, however, that the most aggressive country at the moment is the US. Even if Russia and China were to develop new missiles or warheads, we shouldn’t forget, for instance, the repeated provocation of Russia by NATO in Europe, the last of which was the development of a missile defense system in Romania, with another to follow in Poland.
And how has Evil Putin answered? Until now, he hasn’t. He delivered a concerned speech to top Russian military and political decision-makers, acknowledging technological developments of Americans as if to say, “we should be careful”. This shows that Russians have developed another kind of response to enemies’ provocations, different from the mere reaction-in-kind they used to carry out during the Cold War.
It is only in US propaganda that Russia seems the more Cold-War-rationale-led country of the two.
The SDC Symposium speakers argued that the modernization of the arsenal will protect the country against North Korean, Chinese or Russian attacks. Let’s quickly analyze all the options. In the first case, Kim Jong-un may be mad, but he isn’t stupid. He knows he can’t win a nuclear war against the US (as if a nuclear war could ever be won), so it’s quite unlikely he will start one. His repeated nuclear and missile tests seem more a way of increasing his internal consensus by trying to convince the population that his leadership will make their country one of the world’s great powers, as well as an attempt to gain influence over other international actors.
China announced a no first use policy in the mid-60s and doesn’t seem inclined to change it. Rather, China is focusing on local and domestic issues, aiming to acquire/maintain a regional hegemony. Russia has been involved in a series of (more and less serious) skirmishes with NATO in Europe, but still doesn’t seem willing to react heavily to American provocations in Europe.
What do we have on the other side? The US continues expanding NATO closer and closer to Russian borders (in May 2016, final accession talks were concluded to allow Montenegro to become a NATO observer; by the Spring 2017 its accession programme should be completed). Ever on the nuclear move, the US is reorganizing its military deployment according to the “pivot to Asia” and is speeding the development of new, more usable nuclear weapons (like the B61-12) to be deployed not only in the United States but in Europe, too.
This risks creating the very same destabilizing atmosphere the US claims it wants to counter.
The military establishment and its rationale are now stronger than ever, scaring many Americans who are weary of this extreme nuclear militarism. The population is, however, actively involved in only a few initiatives to counter this trend. Their silence is taken as a tacit consensus on the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. All those concerned Americans should not be passive but should protest and prevent nuclear military and government hawks from shaping their ideas.
Although the US population was not heard from or taken into account at this conference, its position is very important. The lack of strong and visible opposition seems to mean that nobody notices the thorough militarization of American society; nobody understands how the modernization programme is nothing but a way to have the most powerful and aggressive weapons to frighten adversaries. Nobody appears to care that a trillion dollars will be spent on weapons that will be built to (hopefully) never be used. Nobody seems to notice that the most tireless advocates for the modernization are the same ones that will benefit the most from it, at the expense of health care, development projects and social welfare.
The nuclear establishment wants average Americans to think that US needs a strong deterrent to protect against aggressive Russia, evil North Korea and mean China. Steadfastly refusing to reconsider this path, though, US has made itself the boogeyman of the international landscape. All its citizens reacting to perceived dangers (which the government wants them to perceive), while ignoring real and immediate risks. The ultimate effect is triggering an arms race. When the most aggressive country develops extremely deadly and usable nuclear weapons, what other choice is left to the rest of the world?
This huge modernization process increases by magnitude how much America can threaten other nations, forcing them to build up their defenses in answer.
Some of the things the speakers said were more impressive, however.
Speaking of the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), the brand new air-launched, supersonic, extremely-precise missile that the modernization should lead to, Cecil Haney (STRATCOM Commander) stated that the new missile will help to make the US a “geographic sanctuary”. This concept is (and has always been) very attractive to worried Americans and simultaneously it’s an old refrain often used to guarantee appropriations for those projects from which militaries could gain/earn more. The “sanctuary” myth has obsessed the US for a long time. One might recall the Strategic Defense Initiative project under Reagan.
But is there, seriously, anybody who really thinks that this is feasible? Developing offensive capabilities is far easier than building comprehensive defenses. By now it should be clear that this rhetoric is merely a way to protect governmental/military jobs. But this isn’t clear to everybody. Some Americans, the ones still relying on nukes to guarantee their own security, really hope that someday they will have a huge invisible dome protecting their homes and loved ones. These people are the target of the “military populism”, which leverages on panic, anxiety and collective ignorance, spreading like a virus among the population.
At lunch we were entertained by the nostalgic tale of Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, grandson of Paul Tibbets, the man that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This young man, moving toward to the podium in his perfect uniform, began by speaking of how his grandfather’s action brought the war to an end. He proudly explained that the United States won the war thanks to the atomic bombs, that their use saved many lives. Words don’t convey how disgusting these words sounded.
Seeing one man smiling while enthusiastically speaking of the horrible death of thousands was sickening. I wondered if he ever saw the pictures of what his brave grandfather did to hapless human beings. What if he had seen the shadows left by vaporized men, if he had seen the burnt bodies, if he had witnessed the greatest tragedy of human history. Not content with his grandfather’s story, Tibbets added a bit of sexism and patriarchy, showing a video on Air Force wives’ sacrifices, underlining that marrying an airman is like marrying the Air Force and its mission. In barely ten minutes he managed to insult and disrespect the victims of the most brutal war-crime ever and all the Earth’s women. This was not, however, the worst part. Can you imagine a hall full of people laughing at jokes while hearing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I couldn’t have, before attending this symposium.
Thanks to SDC, though, we were relieved to know that the United States isn’t the only country with “bizarre” nuclear ideas. Some “interesting” statements were delivered also by international guests, in particular, by representatives of the UK and South Korea.
John Macdonald, Head of Nuclear Policy of the UK Ministry of Defense, devoted his speech to underlining how important cooperation with the US is to the UK. He welcomed the renewed commitment to cooperation between the two, sealed in 2014 by re-signing the 1958 Mutual Defense Agreement. He went on to assert that the UK is a “responsible nuclear weapons state.”
One wonders how any state with nuclear weapons can consider itself responsible? If we can’t even, unfortunately, guarantee the security of our airports, train stations or streets, how can we sleep easily knowing that nuclear weapons are around? Do we really believe they are so carefully stored that stealing one is impossible? No one can guarantee 100% security of nuclear weapons. Any possession of weapons of mass destruction makes their theft and eventual use possible, with catastrophic consequences. This is why even the mere possession of these weapons must be regarded as irresponsible.
Macdonald went further, reaffirming that both countries want to head towards a world without nuclear weapons but only “when security conditions will allow.” This is not what any nation committed to when signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)! Nuclear Weapons States vowed to negotiate in good faith (the academic world has spoken enough on this vague formulation) to pursue disarmament, full stop. Not “disarmament when we think the security environment will be comfortable enough.” The lack of a deadline for disarmament in the NPT allows this kind of speculation. The Treaty’s deficiencies have, over the years, led to increasing proliferation and a stagnant disarmament process.
The speech by Dr. Kwang-Chan Ahn, Former Deputy Minister from the South Korean Ministry of Defense, was more disturbing than rational.
Ahn said that South Koreans are losing trust in the US nuclear umbrella and that something more should be done to allow them to live a serene life. He anxiously called for an upgrade of US protection against the North Korean threat, proposing the re-deployment of American tactical nukes on ROK territory. Moreover, he suggested that the United States could pre-emptively strike DPRK if convinced of an imminent attack against South Korea. He also developed a chart with pros and cons of such a plan. Briefly, this man was suggesting starting a nuclear war because he was afraid of a nuclear war. Smart. And shocking proposal. The worst part is that it didn’t come from a common (or typical) man with no experience nor interest in strategy or international relations, but from a former deputy Minister.
The pro-disarmament position was entrusted to Joe Cirincione, from the Ploughshares Fund. He was very clear: nuclear weapons are “immoral, unnecessary and unaffordable.” He said that this idea is quickly spreading, not only among world population but also among governments and nongovernmental entities which recently met in Geneva at the OEWG to foster multilateral negotiation for nuclear disarmament. Even if his speech was full of fine words, it seemed too diplomatic and out of touch with the event.
Being a disarmament activist, sitting in a pro-nuclear forum (strange, huh) gives one an opportunity for rebuttal and it seemed that he omitted what he really thinks.
Two different points of view were expressed during the “View on Modernization” panel: Peter Huessy, of the Air Force Association Mitchell Institute, spoke out for the modernization programme, claiming that alternatives to modernization and opposition to the nuclear arsenal “almost universally promote grave instability at very little savings” (only in the military are billions ‘very little’ ! Blech). Barry Bleachman, co-founder of The Stimson Center, was the only one to call for a reduction of the developments envisaged under this programme, considering them too ambitious.
Then, we were shown a video: “Sleepwalking into Nuclear Nightmares”, produced by the Center for Assurance, Deterrence, Escalation and Non-Proliferation Science & Education (CADENSE). It was supposed to convince us (especially the young cadets in the audience) how hostile the environment where US moves is and how much the country needs a modern atomic arsenal. It featured a sleeping little girl dreaming of scary Russians, North Koreans and Chinese preparing for war while the US “allows its nuclear forces to atrophy.” It outlined the great danger which Saudi Arabia, homeland of 15 out of 19 9/11 terrorists, which has purchased some missiles from China “for so-called deterrent purposes” represents. Hasn’t Saudi Arabia been a friend of the US? And why, if they purchase missiles they do it for “SO-CALLED” deterrent purposes and if the US does so, it’s SURELY for deterrence purposes? This wouldn’t make sense to any non-partisan listener. At the end of the clip, the little girl wakes and mushroom clouds shine in her eyes. Using a little girl for nuclear propaganda, is pretty tacky.
The event closed with the remarks of Frank Klotz, DOE Undersecretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator, NNSA. After exalting DOE and NNSA work in ensuring a “safe, secure and effective” strategic deterrent for the US, he coolly and briefly illustrated NNSA Life Extension Programmes (LEPs) and the plans to modernize the facilities and the infrastructures of the national security laboratories and production plants.
This forum taught me that the US is continuing on a dangerous path of extreme militarism, something one would think was buried with Cold War remains. American paranoia and the rhetoric of deterrence are pretexts to allow the development of a stronger, more aggressive nuclear power. The US, already first among world superpowers, is becoming a hyperpower. All under the guise of “modernization”!
Is it possible to turn the tide? Much depends on Americans: they can choose to impose upon the government to revert to being the bastion of freedom they have always claimed to be, or just give up and accept the reckless, hazardous and uncertain future recent Administrations have arranged for them.