Tag Archives: deterrence

The Nuclear Challenge 70 Years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki (7): Nuclear Civil Disobedience

4 Sep

 

In the years after World War II there was a widespread belief that rational minds would prevail, and that nuclear weapons would not be further developed, and their possession as well as their threat or use prohibited. The onset of the Cold War, the Soviet acquisition of the bomb, and the Eisenhower threat to use nuclear weapons if necessary to end the Korean War basically extinguished any real prospect of nuclear disarmament. Of course, the diplomacy of peace advocacy and of nuclear nonproliferation made it expedient to continue to affirm nuclear disarmament as a goal of foreign policy. And indeed up through the 1960s both Washington and Moscow tabled disarmament proposals with some fanfare, yet clearly lacked the political will to confront what had already become the powerful nuclear establishment that was a principal component of the military-industrial-complex that was so memorably depicted in Eisenhower’s still relevant Farewell Address.

 

It is against this background that it became increasingly clear that nuclear weapons would remain part of the geopolitical scene so long as their role was left to governments and normal statecraft. Before long all five permanent members of the UN Security Council opted for possession of nuclear weapons, which as a result seemed to connect great power status on a global level with entry into the nuclear club. Its expansion beyond this circle of World War II victors was more problematic as the further spread of the weaponry collided with the geopolitical priority of nonproliferation and with the oligopolistic mentality that was shared by the nuclear weapons states, and belied the central claim of the West that nuclear weapons were needed and effective in a deterrent posture, keeping the peace by discouraging attacks and provocative international initiatives. The strategic rationale for nuclear weaponry relied upon by the United States and Europe stressed the need to offset Soviet superiority in conventional weaponry and territorial access from their base in the Asian landmass.

 

Ever since the 1980s peace activists, especially those with deep religious convictions, have mounted civil society campaigns centered on the immorality of threatening or using nuclear weapons, and even on possessing and contemplating possible use. Those activists with the deepest convictions have repeatedly resorted to nonviolence civil disobedience, sometimes in provocative forms (spilling their own blood at nuclear facilities, damaging warheads, blocking trains carrying missiles), to communicate the depth of their opposition, and their own willingness to accept prison sentences to get their message better heard. I was deeply moved and influenced by the purity of several of the leading personalities who followed this line of thought and action, and participated in a supportive role by being an expert witness in several high profile legal cases. Among those I came to know through this contact, and particularly admired, were the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, Elizabeth McAlister, and James Douglass. They were and remain for me among the most charismatic and inspirational figures in my life experience, not only for their anti-nuclear clarity (accompanied by strong earlier stands against the Vietnam War and wider commitments of service to the poor), but for the ways they connected such strong spiritual identities with their daily life styles and citizen engagements that harmoniously fused religious values with deeply felt and reflected upon moral/political understanding of how to live in the world.

 

I was particularly drawn to the work and outlook of the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Protest founded by James and Shelley Douglass in Bangor, Washington and reaching out to many in the greater Seattle area with their uncompromising and sustained opposition to nuclearism, with a focus on so-called first-strike weapons. There worldview combined their embrace of pre-Constantine Christianity, the early pacifist Christian communities that were persecuted and yet adhered to their beliefs and practices, and Gandhi whose life, work, and thought established the radical transformative potentiality of militant nonviolence. I was impressed during my years of contact with the people of Ground Zero by their deep belief that the point of confrontation is always conversion to truth and right action, and not passing judgment as to evil. By virtue of such efforts they managed to generate widespread sympathy with their work, eventually persuading the formerly apolitical Archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, to join them in nonviolent civil disobedience and gaining the respect and even the support of some local prosecutors.

 

An important element in their dedicated lives was the strong belief in living up to the Nuremberg ethos, including respect for the UN Charter and for international law generally. It was my role to show that their beliefs in what I called ‘the Nuremberg obligation’ created a civic, if not a legal, duty to oppose within reasonable bounds policies and behavior by a government if it directly violated international law, and the more so, if the context involved warmaking. I also gave my opinion that it was reasonable for individuals to believe that all activities associated with nuclear weapons involved or were leading to the commission of the most severe of war crimes, and that these persons being prosecuted did so believe.

 

From a somewhat more secular point of view, Daniel Ellsberg, followed in these footsteps, taking a journey that has led him from the pinnacles of state power in Washington as a top level strategic advisor to his brave and precedent-setting decision to release the Pentagon Papers that divulged the secrets wrongly withheld from the American public, a shocking documentary record of the policies and conduct of the U.S. Government in relation to the Vietnam War.

I have known Ellsberg since we were both students at Harvard in the 1950s, and were originally at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Dan was a starstudent of Cold War strategy within the reigning realist paradigm and I was an obscure and alienated critic, but we managed to keep some contact in subsequent years, and I was one of those who Dan entrusted with the cache of top secret documents that constituted the Pentagon Papers, and was later called to testify before the Boston Grand Jury (convened to investigate the criminality of the release) and later as an expert in the criminal trial that the government started and lost with respect to Ellsberg and the NY Times.

 

Ellsberg also has worked while at the Pentagon on nuclear war plans, the secret of secrets, irresponsibly sharable over the years with such reckless military adventurers as Curtis LeMay and Dick Cheney, and their less extremist colleagues. It is a wonder that with this kind of incubated knowledge of the most deadly reality the human species has ever confronted, that species endangering catastrophes have not yet darkened the horizon.

 

Ellsberg’s perseverance with respect to nuclear weaponry has become iconic. Besides, lucidly lecturing throughout the world he has committed civil disobedience about 100 times, engaged in long vigils and fasts devoted to dramatizing the failures of the UN and U.S. Government to achieve nuclear disarmament. Most recently, at an event on August 7th observing the 70th anniversary of the nuclear attacks, Ellsberg joined with 50 other protesters in a ‘die-in,’ outside of Lawrence Livermore Labs where nuclear warheads have for decades being continuously developed to attain ever higher levels of annihilating perfection. It is worth observing that the Livermore Labs are located in Livermore, California, which is in the Bay Area, and that the large budget for work on weapons, often more than $1 billion is federally funded by Department of Energy, and the operation is carried on as a partnership between the University of California and several large corporations, an alliance suggestive of the bondings between the government, universities, and the private sector. Ellsberg’s words at Livermore deserve contemplating and heeding as best we can however we are situated:

 

“The killing at Hiroshima was mass murder.… In the target plans that I worked on, and ones I worked on in Russia, the smoke will go into the stratosphere as it did in Hiroshima by higher firestorm. But simultaneously, thousands of cities, with pillars of smoke, will join around the globe blotting out the sunlight sufficiently to kill harvests around the world, and condemn nearly the entire population of the world to death. It’s the Doomsday Machine, The End. We’ve known that, not at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but for the last twenty-five years, and yet these threats go on; the threats go on. They are threats of ending nearly all life. It’s never a good day to die, but it is a good day to get arrested.”

 

It is a somber message, but an informed recognition of where we are as a nation, and what this portends for species vulnerability, but also what it means culturally when national security is unethically conflated with a latent threat to commit a massive genocide, even omnicide.

 

70 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki it is lamentable that more than ever it is the voices in the wilderness that speak most clearly to those who are the global managers of security for the peoples of the world. We can be thankful for those who have put their bodies on the line in this unbroken tradition of anti-nuclear civil obedience. An aspect of the problem has followed from the fact that the media puts almost all of its weight on the side of the nuclear militarists, and refuses to give attention or space to those who for decades selflessly seek to awaken us from this lengthy, hazardous, and immoral ‘nuclear sleep.’

 

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Iran’s Nuclear Program: Diplomacy, War, and (In)Security in the Nuclear Age

17 Mar

 

Perhaps, Netanyahu deserves some words of appreciation, at least from the Israeli hard right, for the temporary erasure of the Palestinian ordeal from national, regional, and global policy agendas. Many are distracted by the Republican recriminations directed at Obama’s diplomatic initiative to close a deal that exchanges a loosening of sanctions imposed on Iran for an agreement by Tehran to accept intrusive inspections of their nuclear program and strict limits on the amount of enriched uranium of weapons grade that can be produced or retained.

 

We can only wonder about the stability and future prospects of the United States if 47 Republican senators can irresponsibly further jeopardize the peace of the Middle East and the world by writing an outrageous Open Letter to the leadership of Iran. In this reckless political maneuver the government of Iran is provocatively reminded that whatever agreement may be reached by the two governments will in all likelihood be disowned if a Republican is elected president in 2016, or short of that, by nullifying actions taken by a Republican-controlled Congress. Mr. Netanyahu must be smiling whenever he looks at a mirror, astonished by his own ability to get the better of reason and self-interest in America, by his pyrotechnic display of ill-informed belligerence in his March 2nd address to Congress. Surely, political theater of sorts, but unlike a performance artist, Netanyahu is a political player whose past antics have brought death and destruction and now mindlessly and bombastically risk far worse in the future.

 

What interests and disturbs me even more than the fallout from Netanyahu’s partisan speech, are several unexamined presuppositions that falsely and misleadingly frame the wider debate on Iran policy. Even the most respected news sites in the West, including such influential outlets as the NY Times or The Economist, frame the discourse by taking three propositions for granted in ways that severely bias our understanding:

                        –that punitive sanctions on Iran remain an appropriate way to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and enjoyed the backing of the United Nations;

                        –that Iran must not only renounce the intention to acquire nuclear weapons, but their renunciation must be frequently monitored and verified, while nothing at all is done about Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons;

                        –that there is nothing intrinsically wrong about Irael’s threats to attack Iran if it believes that this would strengthen its security either in relation to a possible nuclear attack or in relation to Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

 

 

 

 

SANCTIONS

 

Sanctions are a form of coercion expressly imposed in this case to exert pressure on Iran to negotiate an agreement that would provide reassurance that it was not seeking to acquire nuclear weaponry. Supposedly, Iran’s behavior made such a reinforcement of the nonproliferation treaty regime a reasonable precaution. Such measures had never been adopted or even proposed in relation to either Germany and Japan, the two main defeated countries in World War II, who have long possessed the technical and material means to acquire nuclear weapons in a matter of months. Iran has repeatedly given assurances that its nuclear program is peacefully aimed at producing energy and for medical applications, not weapons, and has accepted a willingness to have its nuclear program more regulated than is the case for any other country in the world.

 

It should be appreciated that Iran has not been guilty of waging an aggressive war for over 275 year. Not only has it refrained in recent years from launching attacks across its borders, although it has itself been severely victimized by major interventions and aggressions. Most spectacularly, the CIA-facilitated coup in 1953 that restored the Shah to power and overthrew a democratically elected government imposed a dictatorial regime on the country for over 25 years. And in 1980 Iraq invaded Iran with strong encouragement of the United States. Additionally, Iran has been subject over the years to a variety of Western covert operations designed to destabilize its government and disrupt its nuclear program.

 

Despite their UN backing, the case for sanctions seems to be an unfortunate instance of double standards, accentuated by the averted gaze of the international community over the years with respect to Israel’s process of acquisition, possession, and development of nuclear weaponry. This is especially irresponsible, given Israel’s behavior that has repeatedly exhibited a defiant attitude toward international law and world public opinion. I would conclude that Iran the imposition of harsh sanctions on Iran is discriminatory, more likely to intensify that resolve conflict. The proper use of international sanctions is to avert war or implement international law, and not as here to serve as a geopolitical instrument of hard power that seeks to sustain a hierarchical nuclear status quo in the region and beyond.

 

NUCLEAR WEAPONS OPTION

 

Iran is expected not only to forego the option to acquire nuclear weapons, but to agree to a framework of intrusive inspection if it wants to be treated as a ‘normal’ state after it proves itself worthy. As indicated, this approach seems discriminatory and hypocritical in the extreme. It would be more to the point to acknowledge the relative reasonableness of Iran’s quest for a deterrent capability given the extent to which its security and sovereignty have threatened and encroached upon by the United States and Israel.

It is relevant to note that the Obama presidency, although opting for a diplomatic resolution of the dispute about its nuclear program, nevertheless repeatedly refuses to remove the military option from the negotiating table. Israel does little to hide its efforts to build support for a coercive approach that threatens a preemptive military strike. Such an unlawful imprudent approach is justified by Israel’s belief that Iran poses an emerging existential threat to its survival if it should acquire weapons of mass destruction. Israel bases this assessment on past statements by Iranian leaders that Israel should not or will not exist, but such inflammatory rhetoric has never been tied to any statement of intention to wage war against Israel. To assert an existential threat as a pretext for war is irresponsible and dangerous.

 

From Iran’s perspective acquiring a nuclear weapons capability would seem a reasonable response to its security situation. If deterrence is deemed a security necessity for the United States and Israel, given their military dominance in conventional weaponry, it should be even more so for Iran that is truly faced with a genuine, credible, and dangerous existential threat. Few countries would become safer and more secure if in possession of nuclear weapons but Iran is one state that likely would be. Again what is at stake most fundamentally is the challenge to the nuclear oligopoly that has been maintained since the early stages of the Cold War when the Soviet Union broke the American nuclear monopoly. More immediately threatened if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons at some future point is Israel’s regional nuclear weapons monopoly that serves both as a deterrent to others and helps clear political space for Israel’s expansionist moves in the region. I would not argue that Iran should acquire nuclear weapons, but rather that it has the strongest case among sovereign states to do so, and it is a surreal twist of realities to act as if Iran is the outlier or rogue state rather than the nuclear weapons states that refuse to honor their obligation set forth in Article VI of the NPT to seek nuclear disarmament in good faith at a time. The most urgent threat to the future in this period arises from the increasing risk that nuclear weapons will be used at some point to resolve an international conflict, and thus it should be a global policy imperative to demand efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament rather than use geopolitical leverage to sustain the existing hierarchy of states with respect to nuclear weaponry.

 

MILITARY THREATS

 

Israel’s military threats directed at Iran clearly violate the international law prohibition contained in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter that prohibit “threats or uses” of force except for self-defense against a prior armed attack or with an authorization by the Security Council. Despite this threat to international peace in an already turbulent Middle East, there is a widespread international acceptance of Israel’s behavior, and in fact, the most persuasive argument in favor of the sanctions regime is that it allays the concerns of the Israeli government and thus reduces the prospect of a unilateral military strike on Iran.

 

Conclusion

 

Overall, this opportunistic treatment of Iran’s nuclear program is less indicative of a commitment to nonproliferation than it is a shortsighted expression of geopolitical priorities. If peace and stability were the true motivations of the international community, then we would at least expect to hear strident calls for a nuclear free Middle East tied to a regional security framework. Until such a call is made, there is a cynical game being played with the complicity of the mainstream media. To expose this game we need to realize how greatly the three presuppositions discussed above misshape perceptions and discourse.