Tag Archives: North Korea

End of Nuclearism or the End of the World: Utopian Dreams, Dystopian Nightmares

9 Aug

 

We are living amid contradictions whether we like it or not, driving expectations about the future toward opposite extremes. Increasingly plausible are fears that the ‘sixth extinction’ will encompass the human species, or at least, throw human society back to a technology of sticks and stones, with a habitat limited to caves and forests. This dark vision is countered by gene editing designer promises of virtual immortality and super-wise beings programming super-intelligent machines, enabling a life of leisure, luxury, and security for all. Whether the reality of such a scientistic future would be also dark is a matter of conjecture, but from a survival perspective, it offers an optimistic scenario.

 

On political levels, a similar set of polar scenarios are gaining ground in the moral imagination, producing national leaders who seem comfortable embracing an apocalyptic telos without a second thought. The peoples of the world, entrapped in a predatory phase of global capitalism, are using their democratic prerogative to shut down dissent, rationality, and science. On one side, 122 governments pledge a legal commitment to the prohibition of nuclear weapons as an unprecedented prelude to the abolition of the weaponry; on the other side, all nine nuclear weapons states, and their closest allies, oppose the prohibition and opt for modernizing their nuclear weapons arsenals even devising strategic plans for their possible use, prompting an urgent search for counter measures.

 

John Pilger issues a solemn reminder that Nevile Shute’s On the Beach depicting a post-nuclear human future that is now more resonant than when it was published in 1957. Leaders that could bluff their way to shared catastrophe bellow forth in Washington and Pyongyang, each deluded by the belief that military options even with nuclear weapons are the only geopolitical security blanket worth relying upon, projecting a reckless obliviousness to the risk of losing their balance while engaging in inflammatory rhetorical posturing alarmingly close to the nuclear precipice.

 

As Pilger also points out, the liberal opposition to this right wing populism in the West is also dangerously disposed toward warmongering. Donald Trump is being pilloried by a bipartisan anti-Russian hysteria that imposes harsh sanctions, seemingly intent on driving Putin’s Kremlin into a corner from which there is no retreat except by way of confrontation, and possibly war.

 

We read of record heat waves, extreme weather events, extended droughts, and wild fires as common as clouds in the sky without blinking. The newspapers report that climate scientists are ready to push the panic button in reaction to the latest studies of grim global warning trends, while the Trump factor renews coal mining and treats denial a political virtue.

 

While these alarming realities dim the light of hope for many of us, the American stock market, a barometer of capitalist expectations by the shrewdest investors, achieves record heights. At the same time famine warnings have been officially endorsed for a series of long suffering populations: Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, northern Nigeria, Gaza. The entire Middle East is being turned into a war and conflict zone, with an anti-Iran warmongering coalition pressuring Iran to choose between nuclear deterrence and sectarian warfare inflamed by militarist Israeli/U.S. grand strategy that appears to be motivated by a regional vision of geopolitical pacification.

 

How best to endure in the face of such fatalistic dualisms? That may be the question of our time, dodged for the sake of sanity by almost all of us, at least most of the time. Business as usual, while living with therapeutic forms of cultural blindness, the opioids of those fortunate enough to live for now in gated communities, whether on the scale of private dwellings or walled off countries.

 

Recently a lively young woman told me that many of her friends had decided not to have children because they are so fearful of the storm clouds of the future, and refuse to wait around for liberating rainbows. At the other extreme, today’s International Edition of the New York Times contains a front page ad of enticement encouraging attendance at an International Luxury Conference to be held in Brussels, November 13-14, on the demeaning theme of “What’s Next: Luxury in a Turbulent World.” My somewhat impatient response—‘whatever turns out to be next, it will not be and should not be luxury!’ More likely, those grown accustomed to luxury will shift their residences to those underground homes built by Silicon Valley billionaires on vast tracts of lands in the New Zealand countryside as the ultimate hedge against an imminent global catastrophe. It could be that the NYT conference will devote its attention to this form of post-apocalyptic luxury living! Yet that assumes a quite unlikely focus on how the world of luxury is adapting to the unpleasant realities of the Sixth Extinction. 

Advertisements

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES: North Korea and Beyond

15 Jun

 

[Prefatory Note: This jointly authored essay was initially published in The Hill on May 30, 2017 under the title, “Averting the Ticking Time Bomb of Nukes in North Korea.” We did not choose such a title that is doubly misleading: our contention is not that North Korea is the core of the problem, but rather the retention of nuclear weapons by all of the states pose both crises in the context of counter-proliferation geopolitics and with respect to the possession, deployment, and development of the weaponry itself; a second objection is with the title given the piece by editors at The Hill. While acknowledging the practice of media outlets to decide on titles without seeking prior approval from authors, this title is particularly objectionable to me. The term ‘nukes’ gives an almost friendly shorthand to these most horrific of weapons, and strikes a tone that trivializes what should be regarded at all times with solemnity.]

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERCOMING NUCLEAR CRISES

 

Richard Falk* & David Krieger**

 

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States. The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiraling out of control should not be minimized.

 

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed: What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis? What should be done to prevent further crises in the future? What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

 

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach. Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

 

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy? American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

 

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Restorative diplomacy adopts a win/win approach that seeks to find mutual benefits for both sides, restructuring the relationship so as to provide security for the weaker side and stability for the stronger side. The challenge to the political imagination is to find the concrete formula for translating this abstract goal into viable policy options.

 

The basic shift is a mental recognition that in the context of the Korean Peninsula any military encounter, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, is a recipe for catastrophe. It is not a win or lose situation. It is lose/lose in terms of human suffering, devastation, and likely political outcome. If nuclear weapons are used by either or both sides, millions of casualties could occur and the wider consequences an unprecedented disaster.

 

While there have been suggestions from the Trump administration that the time for talk with North Korea is over, actually the opposite is true. A solution to the present Korean crisis would involve an immediate return to the negotiating table with positive inducements made by the U.S. in exchange for North Korea halting its development of nuclear weapons and missile testing. Such incentives could include, first and foremost, bilateral and regional security guarantees to the North Korean government, ensuring that the country would not be attacked and its sovereignty respected. This could be coupled with confidence-building measures. The U.S. and South Korea should halt their joint annual military exercises in the vicinity of North Korea, as well as forego provocative weapons deployments. In addition, the U.S. and possibly Japan could offer North Korea additional benefits: food, medicine, and clean energy technology. China could play a positive role by hosting the negotiations, including possibly inviting the new leader of South Korea to participate.

 

Beyond resolving the current crisis is the deeper challenge to prevent recurrent crises that pit nuclear weapons states against one another. There is no way to achieve this result so long as some countries retain, develop, and deploy nuclear weapons, and other countries are prohibited from acquiring such weaponry even if their security is under threat. Iraq and Libya arguably suffered from the consequences of not having nuclear weapons to deter attacks against them.

 

The only way out of this trap is to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation regime has failed. The treaty provisions calling for nuclear as well as general and complete disarmament negotiations have been neglected for nearly a half century. Outside the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States has acted as an enforcer of a nuclear nonproliferation regime. Such a role motivated the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003 with its disastrous impacts on the country and the entire Middle East. It also underlies the current crisis pitting Washington’s demands against Pyongyang’s provocations. Hard power approaches to such dangerous developments have a dismal record, and pose unacceptable risks of regional and global havoc.

 

To prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons epitomizes prudence in the Nuclear Age. It is the only way to prevent a crisis between nuclear-armed opponents turning into a nuclear catastrophe. Such behavior would constitute an act of sanity for humanity and its future given the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons, the periodic crises that erupt among nuclear-armed countries, and the growing odds of nuclear weapons being used at some point. Yet for smaller, weaker nuclear weapons states to go along with this approach, the United Nations Charter and international law must be respected to the point that regime-changing geopolitical interventions by dominant states are convincingly rejected as a reasonable policy option.

 

Any use of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic.. Depending upon the extent of the nuclear exchange, cities, countries, civilization, and even all complex life, including the human species, would be at risk. Experts anticipate that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons were used against cities would likely cause a nuclear famine taking two billion lives globally. An all-out nuclear war could be an extinction event for complex life, including humanity.

 

Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea). Nine leaders could initiate nuclear war by mistake, miscalculation or malice. The future rests precariously in the hands of this small number of individuals. Such an unprecedented concentration of power and authority undermines democracy, as well as being extremely reckless.and irresponsible.

 

It is essential to maintain our focus on the challenges posed by the development of North Korean nuclear capabilities. At the same time, while struggling to defuse this crisis hanging over the Korean Peninsula, we should not lose sight of its connection with the questionable wider structure of reliance on nuclear weapons by the other eight nuclear-armed countries. Until this structure of nuclearism is itself overcome, crises will almost certainly continue to occur in the future. It is foolhardy to suppose that nuclear catastrophes can be indefinitely averted without addressing these deeper challenges that have existed ever since the original atomic attack on Hiroshima.

 

Richard Falk

 

*Senior Vice President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and Albert G. Milbank Professor

of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

 

**David Krieger

President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

 

 

Asking Foolish Questions About Serious Issues

7 Mar

 

 

When the Clinton campaign started complaining about Russia interfering in US elections by hacking into the DNC I was struck by their excesses of outrage and the virtual absence of any acknowledgement that the United States has been interfering in dozens of foreign elections for decades with no apparent second thoughts. CNN and other media brings one national security expert after another to mount various cases against Putin and the Kremlin, and to insist that Russia is up to similar mischief in relation to the upcoming French elections. And never do they dare discuss whether such interference is a rule of the game, similar to espionage, or whether what was alleged to have been done by the Russians might lead the US political leaders and its intelligence agencies to reconsider its own reliance on such tactics to help sway foreign elections.

 

Is this selective perception merely one more instance of American exceptionalism? We can hack away, but our elections and sovereign space are hallowed ground, which if encroached upon, should be resisted by all possible means. It is one thing to argue that democracy and political freedom are jeopardized by such interference as is being attributed to Moscow, and if their behavior influenced the outcome, it makes Russia responsible for a disaster not only in the United States but in the world. The disaster is named Trump. Assuming this Russian engagement by way of what they evidently call ‘active measures’ occurred is, first of all, an empirical matter of gathering evidence and reaching persuasive conclusions. Assuming the allegations are to some extent validated, it hardly matters whether by what means the interference was accomplished, whether done by cyber technology, electronic eavesdropping, dirty tricks, secret financial contributions, or otherwise.

 

What is diversionary and misleading is to foster the impression that the Russians breached solemn rules of international law by disrupting American democracy and doing their best to get Trump elected or weaken the Clinton presidency should she have been elected. The integrity of American democratic procedures may have been seriously compromised, and this is deeply regrettable and should be remedied to the extent possible, but whatever happened should not be greeted with shock and consternation as if some inviolate international red line had been provocatively crossed.

 

There are three appropriate questions to pose: (1) what can we do to increase cyber defenses to prevent future intrusions, and restore domestic confidence that elections in the United States reflect the unimpeded will of the citizenry and are not the result of machinations by outsiders? (2) do we possess the means to ascertain the impact of such intrusions on the outcome of the 2016 national elections, and if such investigation points beyond a reasonable doubt to the conclusion that without the intrusion Clinton would have won, should that void the result, and impose on Congress the duty to arrange for a new emergency electoral procedure for selecting a president free from taint (especially if the Trump campaign aided and abetted the Russian intrusion)? (3) are there ways to bolster norms against interventions in the internal affairs of sovereign states that offer protection against such interference? Note that giving convincing answers to these questions is not a simple matter, and requires serious reflection and debate.

 

To illustrate the moral and political complexity we can consider the core dilemma that is present for a government with a dog in the fight. Suppose the Kremlin had reason to believe that a Clinton presidency would lead to a new cold war, would it not have been reasonable, and even responsible, for Russians leaders to support Trump, and if the situation were reversed, shouldn’t the US do all it can do to avoid the election of a belligerent Russian leader? Wouldn’t millions of people have been thankful if Western interference in the German elections of 1933 were of sufficient magnitude to avoid the triumph of the National Socialist Party?

 

 

There are good and bad precedents arising from past international behavior, especially if established by important states by repeated action, that then empower others to act in a similar manner. Without governmental institutions to oversee political behavior, the development of international law proceeds by way of international practice. Thus when the United States claims the right to interfere and even engage in regime-changing interventions, we greatly weaken any objections when others do the same sort of thing. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The logic of reciprocity contributes to a normative process that reflects international practice as much as it does international lawmaking treaties.

 

Some equally serious and worrisome parallel issues are raised by recent disclosures of serious cyber attacks by the US Government on the North Korean nuclear program. The American media and government officialdom treat the conduct of cyber warfare against North Korea’s nuclear program as something to be judged exclusively by its success or failure, not whether its right or wrong, prudent or reckless. We interfered with the North Korean nuclear program without seeking authorization from the UN, and certainly without any willingness to tolerate reciprocal behavior by others that disrupted any of our nuclear activities.

 

It can be plausibly argued that North Korea and its wily leader, Kim Jong-un, are dangerous, reprehensible, and irresponsible, and that it is intolerable for such a government to possess nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. That such a circumstance creates a ‘right of exception,’ suspending international law and considerations of reciprocity, would seem a far more responsible way to proceed, preserving a sense that the US is normally respectful of and accountable to international law, but North Korea poses such a dire threat to humanity as to make all means of interference acceptable. But apparently so intoxicated by geopolitical hubris the thought never occurs to either our leaders or the compliant mainstream media that puts out its own version of ‘fake news’ night after night. It is instructive to realize how bipartisan is this disregard of the relevance of international law to a sustainable world order. These new disclosures relating to North Korea assert that Trump ‘inherited’ an ongoing cyber war program from Obama, who had in earlier years been unabashedly complicit with Israel’s cyber efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

 

Does it serve the interests of the United States to set the rules of the game in international relations with respect to nuclear policy, making little pretense of being bound by the standards imposed on other sovereign states, especially those non-nuclear states accused of taking steps to acquire the weaponry? The tigers control the mice, and the idea of a rule of law that treats equals equally is completely foreign to the American mindset in the 21st century when it comes to the role of hard power, security policy, and grand strategy in international life, but interestingly, but much less so in the context of trade and investment. This distinction is worth pondering.

 

In other words when it comes to security policy and grand strategy, there are two basic rules of contemporary geopolitics that contravene the golden rule of ethical behavior:

 

         Rule #1: Do not allow others to do unto you what you frequently do to others (the Russian hacking discourse);

 

         Rule #2: Do unto other what you would never accept others doing unto you (cyber attacks on Iran and North Korea).

 

It is arguable that this normative assymetry is the only way that world order can be sustained given the absence of world government, or even a strong enough UN to enact and implement common behavioral standards in these domains traditionally reserved for sovereign discretion. A golden rule governing the way states are expected to act toward one another with respect to war/peace issues is certainly currently situated in global dream space. If this is so or so believed, let us at least lift the fog of self-righteous rhetoric, plan to defend our political space as well as we can, and rethink the unintended consequences of interfering in foreign elections and engaging in regime-changing interventions.

 

At least, let us not deceive ourselves into believing that we are responsible custodians of peace and decency in the world. Do we really have grounds for believing that Donald Trump is less dangerous to the world than Kim Jong-un or the Supreme Guide of Iran? Even if their outlook on political engagement overlaps and their swagger is similar, the US is far more powerful, has alone used nuclear weapons against civilian targets and overthrown numerous foreign governments, including those elected in fair and free elections, and has its own house in a condition of disorder, although despite all this admittedly humanly far more desirable than the order experienced within totalitarian North Korea.

 

Is it not time for the peoples of the world to rise up and put some restraints on the strong as well as the weak? The UN veto power confers on the most powerful states a constitutional free ride when it comes to compliance with international law and the UN Charter. In effect, the UN back in 1945 institutionalized a topsy-turvy structure that curbs the weak, while granting impunity to the predatory behavior of the strong.

 

If we grant that this is the way things are and are likely to remain, can’t we at least look in the mirror, and no longer pretend to be that innocent damsel that can only be protected by slaying the dragons roaming the jungles of the world. Trump had his singular moment of truth when he responded on February 4th to Bill O’Reilly’s assertion that Putin was “a killer”: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country is so innocent.” And unlike Trump’s frequent journeys into dark thickets of falsehood that are dismissed by the injunction “let Trump be Trump,” when the man speaks truly for once, his words were scorched, and erased even from the influential media blackboards of the alt right.

AN OPEN LETTER ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

21 Jan

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE:

POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THE NUCLEAR AGE

By Richard Falk, David Krieger and Robert Laney

[Prefatory Note: What follows below is An Open Letter to the American People: Political Responsibility in the Nuclear Age. It was jointly written by myself in collaboration with David Krieger and Robert Laney. The three of us have been long connected with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. For further information on the work of the foundation see <www.wagingpeace.org>. The NAPF focuses its effort on the menace posed by nuclear weaponry and the urgency of seeking nuclear disarmament. The nuclear agreement with Iran and the North Korean nuclear test explosion are reminders of the gravity of the unmet challenge, and should serve as warnings against the persistence of complacency, which seems to be the prevailing political mood judging from the policy debates that have taken place during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. This complacency is encouraged by the media that seems to have forgotten about nuclear dangers since the end of the Cold War, except for those issues arising from the real and feared proliferation of the weaponry to countries hostile to the United States and the West (Iran, North Korea). Our letter proceeds on the assumption that the core of the problem is associated with the possession, development, and deployment of the weaponry, that is, with the nine nuclear weapons states. The essence of a solution is to eliminate existing nuclear weapons arsenals through a phased, verified process of nuclear disarmament as legally mandated by Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty (1968, 1970).

We would be grateful if you could help us reach the widest possible audience through reposting and dissemination via social media networks.]

 

Dear fellow citizens:

By their purported test of a hydrogen bomb early in 2016, North Korea reminded the world that nuclear dangers are not an abstraction, but a continuing menace that the governments and peoples of the world ignore at their peril. Even if the test were not of a hydrogen bomb but of a smaller atomic weapon, as many experts suggest, we are still reminded that we live in the Nuclear Age, an age in which accident, miscalculation, insanity or intention could lead to devastating nuclear catastrophe.

What is most notable about the Nuclear Age is that we humans, by our scientific and technological ingenuity, have created the means of our own demise. The world currently is confronted by many threats to human wellbeing, and even civilizational survival, but we focus here on the particular grave dangers posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear war.

Even a relatively small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, with each country using 50 Hiroshima-size nuclear weapons on the other side’s cities, could result in a nuclear famine killing some two billion of the most vulnerable people on the planet. A nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia could destroy civilization in a single afternoon and send temperatures on Earth plummeting into a new ice age. Such a war could destroy most complex life on the planet. Despite the gravity of such threats, they are being ignored, which is morally reprehensible and politically irresponsible.

 

We in the United States are in the midst of hotly contested campaigns to determine the candidates of both major political parties in the 2016 presidential faceoff, and yet none of the frontrunners for the nominations have even voiced concern about the nuclear war dangers we face. This is an appalling oversight. It reflects the underlying situation of denial and complacency that disconnects the American people as a whole from the risks of use of nuclear weapons in the years ahead. This menacing disconnect is reinforced by the media, which has failed to challenge the candidates on their approach to this apocalyptic weaponry during the debates and has ignored the issue in their television and print coverage, even to the extent of excluding voices that express concern from their opinion pages. We regard it as a matter of urgency to put these issues back on the radar screen of public awareness.

 

We are appalled that none of the candidates running for the highest office in the land has yet put forward any plans or strategy to end current threats of nuclear annihilation, none has challenged the planned expenditure of $1 trillion to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and none has made a point of the U.S. being in breach of its nuclear disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the presidential debates it has been a non-issue, which scandalizes the candidates for not raising the issue in their many public speeches and the media for not challenging them for failing to do so. As a society, we are out of touch with the most frightening, yet after decades still dangerously mishandled, challenge to the future of humanity.

 

There are nine countries that currently possess nuclear weapons. Five of these nuclear-armed countries are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (U.S., Russia, UK, France and China), and are obligated by that treaty to negotiate in good faith for a cessation of the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. The other four nuclear-armed countries (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) are subject to the same obligations under customary international law. None of the nine nuclear-armed countries has engaged in such negotiations, a reality that should be met with anger and frustration, and not, as is now the case, with indifference. It is not only the United States that is responsible for the current state of denial and indifference. Throughout the world there is a false confidence that, because the Cold War is over and no nuclear weapons have been used since 1945, the nuclear dangers that once frightened and concerned people can now be ignored.

 

Rather than fulfill their obligations for negotiated nuclear disarmament, the nine nuclear-armed countries all rely upon nuclear deterrence and are engaged in modernization programs that will keep their nuclear arsenals active through the 21st century and perhaps beyond. Unfortunately, nuclear deterrence does not actually provide security to countries with nuclear arsenals. Rather, it is a hypothesis about human behavior, which is unlikely to hold up over time. Nuclear deterrence has come close to failing on numerous occasions and would clearly be totally ineffective, or worse, against a terrorist group in possession of one or more nuclear weapons, which has no fear of retaliation and may actually welcome it. Further, as the world is now embarking on a renewed nuclear arms race, disturbingly reminiscent of the Cold War, rising risks of confrontations and crises between major states possessing nuclear weapons increase the possibility of use.

 

As citizens of a nuclear-armed country, we are also targets of nuclear weapons. John F. Kennedy saw clearly that “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.” What President Kennedy vividly expressed more than 50 years ago remains true today, and even more so as the weapons proliferate and as political extremist groups come closer to acquiring these terrible weapons.

 

Those with power and control over nuclear weapons could turn this planet, unique in all the universe in supporting life, into the charred remains of a Global Hiroshima. Should any political leader or government hold so much power? Should we be content to allow such power to rest in any hands at all?
It is time to end the nuclear weapons era. We are living on borrowed time. The U.S., as the world’s most powerful country, must play a leadership role in convening negotiations. For the U.S. to be effective in leading to achieve Nuclear Zero, U.S. citizens must awaken to the need to act and must press our government to act and encourage others elsewhere, especially in the other eight nuclear-armed countries, to press their governments to act as well. It is not enough to be apathetic, conformist, ignorant or in denial. We all must take action if we want to save humanity and other forms of life from nuclear catastrophe. In this spirit, we are at a stage where we need a robust global solidarity movement that is dedicated to raising awareness of the growing nuclear menace, and the urgent need to act nationally, regionally and globally to reverse the strong militarist currents that are pushing the world ever closer to the nuclear precipice.

 

Nuclear weapons are the most immediate threat to humanity, but they are not the only technology that could play and is playing havoc with the future of life. The scale of our technological impact on the environment (primarily fossil fuel extraction and use) is also resulting in global warming and climate chaos, with predicted rises in ocean levels and many other threats – ocean acidification, extreme weather, climate refugees and strife from drought – that will cause massive death and displacement of human and animal populations.

 

In addition to the technological threats to the human future, many people on the planet now suffer from hunger, disease, lack of shelter and lack of education. Every person on the planet has a right to adequate nutrition, health care, housing and education. It is deeply unjust to allow the rich to grow richer while the vast majority of humanity sinks into deeper poverty. It is immoral to spend our resources on modernizing weapons of mass annihilation while large numbers of people continue to suffer from the ravages of poverty.

 

Doing all we can to move the world to Nuclear Zero, while remaining responsive to other pressing dangers, is our best chance to ensure a benevolent future for our species and its natural surroundings. We can start by changing apathy to empathy, conformity to critical thinking, ignorance to wisdom, denial to recognition, and thought to action in responding to the threats posed by nuclear weapons and the technologies associated with global warming, as well as to the need to address present human suffering arising from war and poverty.

 

The richer countries are challenged by migrant flows of desperate people that number in the millions and by the realization that as many as a billion people on the planet are chronically hungry and another two billion are malnourished, resulting in widespread growth stunting among children and other maladies. While ridding the world of nuclear weaponry is our primary goal, we are mindful that the institution of war is responsible for chaos and massive casualties, and that we must also challenge the militarist mentality if we are ever to enjoy enduring peace and security on our planet.

 

The fate of our species is now being tested as never before. The question before us is whether humankind has the foresight and discipline necessary to forego some superfluous desires, mainly curtailing propensities for material luxuries and for domination of our fellow beings, thereby enabling all of us and succeeding generations to live lives worth living. Whether our species will rise to this challenge is uncertain, with current evidence not reassuring.

 

The time is short and what is at risk is civilization and every small and great thing that each of us loves and treasures on our planet.

 

 

 

 

 

Syria: Obama’s Surprising (and Confusing) Latest Moves

1 Sep

 

 

            President Obama’s August 31st remarks from the White House Rose Garden will long be remembered for their strangeness, but the final interpretation of their significance will have to await months if not years. There are three dimensions, at least, that are worth pondering: (1) seeking Congressional authorization for a punitive military attack against Syria in support of the treaty prohibition on recourse to chemical weapons in an armed conflict; (2) reconciling any endorsement of an attack by Congress with United States obligations under international law and with respect to the United Nations and its Charter; (3) assessing the degree to which American war making prerogatives continue to operate within an unacceptable domain of American exceptionalism.

 

            In framing the issues at stake Obama set forth the fundamental policy choices in a rather incoherent manner:

 

            –first of all, he asserted that on the basis of evidence available to the United States Government, that the Assad regime was without doubt responsible for the massive chemical weapons attack of August 21st directed at the Ghouta residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, and causing over 1,000 civilian deaths, including several hundred children. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, clearly articulated the grounds for skepticism about this American construction of the Ghouta atrocity. He put forward a strongly worded request that the allegations be confirmed by the release of convincing evidence. This is a reasonable demand. Many around the world have questioned why Assad would launch such a provocative attack to coincide with the arrival of UN inspectors, and when the battlefield balance was tipping in favor of the Damascus regime. All along such important figures in the Obama administration, especially John Kerry and Joe Biden, have arrogantly dismissed the relevance of any information provided by the UN inspection team. In light of the gigantic deception relating to Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) arsenal, which was more politely described long after the event as an ‘intelligence failure,’  it would have been appropriate for Washington to admit that it has a credibility problem in winning governmental and popular support for an attack on Syria. Its refusal to acknowledge such an issue merely deepens suspicions.

 

            –secondly, Obama informed listeners that “..after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” He added that he made this decision “as Commander-in-Chief on what I am convinced are our national security interests.” This conclusion was explained to rest on the importance of punishing such a crime against humanity and deterring future recourse to chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction by Syria, as well as sending a message to Iran and North Korea about America’s readiness to use force to uphold such norms of international law.

 

            –thirdly, there was no effort in Obama’s remarks to show why, absent a UN mandate, the United States in coalition with a few other countries, had the legal authority to attack a sovereign state in a circumstance other than self-defense.

 

            –fourthly, although the decision against involvement by the British Parliament was noted, there was no consideration as to whether such an outcome should bear on American policy. Nor was the German or Italian

unwillingness to join in the attack noted, nor that of the Arab League. But the French support was duly appreciated, including a dig at the United Kingdom, by reminding his listeners around the world that it was France that was America’s “oldest ally.” (It is worth noting that the roles of these two European friends were directly reversed in the context of the Iraq War; then, it was the French more conservative led government that opposed participation, while now a socialist leader in Paris supports an attack against Syria).

 

            –fifthly, and in the most dramatic passage in the speech, Obama announces that because the United States is a proud democracy he has made “a second decision: I will seek the authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress” by calling for a debate and vote. No mention is made of a time frame, nor how he would react in the event

that authorization was not forthcoming. Such an eventuality would set up a potential tension between his duties to uphold national security and an obligation of deference to a decision by Congress on the vital matter of authority to wage war. Obama touched all the bases by saying, “Yet, while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.” In effect, there is no constitutional legal requirement to obtain Congressional authorization, but doing so will create a more effective response. But what if authorization is withheld? Or Congress is split with approval by the Senate, and disapproval by the House?

 

            –sixthly, there is an implicit endorsement of American exceptionalism. After saying that the case for an attack will be made internationally, as well as domestically, Obama reaffirms a national prerogative of illegal unilateralism. He uses this phrase: “But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus.” That is no matter that others disagree, the United States alone has the duty to act as it sees fit. It is correctly presumed that such discretion is not vested in other sovereign states. Otherwise the world would be in flames. In effect, Syria, Iran, North Korea are bound by international law, as interpreted by the United States, while the United States and its closest allies are guided by assessments of their national security interests.

It is this double standard that is at the core of American exceptionalism, and also underpins the debate as to whether it is more instructive to view the United States as ‘global leader’ or ‘imperial power,’ or possibly some blend;

 

–there is something rather sinister about announcing an intention to strike a vulnerable country with which the United States is not at war, coupled with the announcement that the needed military capabilities are in place, but will not be used until convenient;  in effect, a lethal strike against Syria can take place at any point from now on until a time weeks or months from now, depending only on the workings of the internal American political process and the disposition of its Commander-in-Chief. If this is deemed to be in the interest of the Syrian people, I would like to know how.

 

*****************************************************************

 

Even if the controversy as to the facts is ignored, and the problems associated with double standards as to the relevance of international law to the use of force, there are some other reasons for concern about the approach adopted by President Obama:

 

–it denies constitutional status to the request for Congressional authorization, making it a discretionary presidential judgment call that is not necessitated by the Constitution, but is an expression of Obama’s belief in democratic procedures. To not rest this request on the Constitution itself is a missed opportunity, and thus amounts to yet another reassertion of excessive authority by the Executive Branch of government;

 

–it makes no effort to assess what would be of benefit to the people of Syria, and rather makes the case for a narrow strike as a combination of punishing (without intending to displace) the Assad regime and abstract American national security interests in its self-appointed role as preventing the use and spread of WMD;

 

–it fails to advocate in a serious manner a diplomatic approach to ending the violence of the conflict by calling for a second Geneva conference with the full participation of Iran that would deal with regional peace and security issues, as well as the war in Syria;

 

–it undermines the authority of the UN and international law by vesting in the U.S. Government the final word on when it is appropriate to use international force in non-defensive modes and fails to make war a matter of ‘last resort’;

 

–it draws an overly sharp a distinction between this incident involving chemical weapons and other massacres that have occurred during the course of two years of strife in Syria; regardless of the weaponry deployed both forms of violence are crimes against humanity that deserve a serious and effective response, if available.

 

*******************************************************************

 

It is as yet possible that Congress will rescue Obama from having to respect a red line he ill-advisedly proclaimed a year ago. It would be ironic if this one time the anti-Obama Republicans saved him from the worse foreign policy excess of his presidency!

 

It is possible that Obama will be pushed by pro-interventionists to override a Congressional failure to give  authorization. It is also possible that Congress will authorize, and public opinion strongly oppose. And we are left to wonder whether Congress can constitutionally authorize a use of force that violates international treaty law. Of course, we would be unlikely to find out given the passivity of the U.S. Supreme Court when it comes to challenges directed at legally dubious foreign policy and national security matters.

 

All of the above suggests that the revitalization of American republicanism requires, as a matter of urgency, a constitutional convention with an explicit mandate to restore the separation of powers and checks and balances in relations to war/peace issues. The U.S. Government has longed strayed from this vital pillar of republican democracy.

 

Nothing would do more to restore confidence in the United States as a global leader! Such a momentous event will not happen without massive grassroots pressure; it will never be decreed from on high.

 

A final word of blurred appreciation: CNN talking heads are very fond of referring to Obama as epitomizing ‘the reluctant warrior.’ And reluctant he is, but also warrior he has been, and continues to be, casting a rather dark shadow over the Nobel Peace Prize decision process. The reluctance is articulated over and over again in his words and sometimes reflected in his policies, and certainly seems sincere. And such reluctance may be credited, at least subconsciously, with this welcome move to broaden the domestic authorization process with respect to this non-defensive use of international force. Obama would deserve less ambiguous praise if he had recognized the role of Congress prior to the decision of the British Parliament. And prior the many demands from Congress for a greater role gathering political momentum.

 ##

A Modest Proposal: Is It Time for the Community of Non-Nuclear States to Revolt?

7 Oct


             There are 189 countries that are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that entered into force in 1970. Only India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have remained outside the treaty regime so as to be free to acquire the weapons. The nuclear weapons states have done an incredibly successful job, especially the United States, in getting a free ride, continuously modernizing their arsenals while keeping the weapons out of most unwanted hands.

 

            But the NPT was negotiated as a world order bargain. The non-nuclear countries would forego their weapons option in exchange for receiving the full benefits of nuclear energy and a pledge by the nuclear weapons states to seek nuclear disarmament in good faith. After 40 years it seems time to question both the benefits of nuclear energy (especially so after Fukushima) and even more the good faith of the members of the nuclear weapons club. Back in 1996 the World Court unanimously concluded that the nuclear weapons states needed to fulfill their treaty obligation to seek nuclear disarmament as a matter of urgency, and yet nothing resembling disarmament negotiations has taken place. It seems time to declare that the good faith obligation of Article VI of the treaty has been violated, and that this is a material breach that allows all states to disavow any obligation.

 

            Two mind games have kept the non-nuclear majority of states in line so far: first, convincing the public that the greatest danger to the world comes from the countries that do not have the weapons rather than from those that do; secondly, confusing the public into believing that arms control measures are steps toward nuclear disarmament rather than being managerial steps periodically taken by the nuclear weapons states to cut the costs and risks associated with their weapons arsenals and programs and to fool the world into thinking they are living up to their obligation to phase out these infernal weapons of mass destruction.

 

            There are other problems too. Israel has been allowed to acquire nuclear weapons by stealth without suffering any adverse consequences, while Iraq was invaded and occupied supposedly to dismantle their nuclear weapons program that turned out to be non-existent and Iran is under threat of military attack because its nuclear energy program has a built in weapons potential. Such double standards and geopolitical discrimination severely erode the legitimacy of the NPT approach.

 

            Barack Obama earned much favorable publicity, and probably was given the Nobel Peace Prize, because in 2009 he made an inspirational speech in Prague announcing his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Although the speech was hedged with qualifications, including the mind-numbing reassurance to nuclearists not to worry, nothing would happen in Obama’s lifetime, it still gave rise to hopes that finally there would be a genuine attempt to rid the world of this nuclear curse. But it was not to be.

As with so many issues during the Obama presidency, the early gestures of promise were quietly abandoned in arenas of performance.

 

            Has not the time come for the too patient 184+ non-nuclear weapons states to stand together with the peoples of the world to challenge the world nuclear weapons oligopoly? One way would be to declare the treaty null and void due to non-compliance by the nuclear weapons states. Such a move would be fully in accord with international treaty law.

 

            Another way, perhaps more brash, but also maybe more likely to have a political impact, would be for as many non-nuclear states as possible to take a collective stand by way of an ultamatum: if the nuclear weapons states do not engage in credible nuclear disarmament negotiations designed to eliminate the weapons within two years, the treaty will be denounced.