Tag Archives: Nuclear weapon

Envisioning and Demanding a World Without Nuclear Weapons

26 Feb

Book Review

ZERO: THE CASE FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS ABOLITION by David Krieger (published in 2013 by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation); $14.95

 

 

            I have known David Krieger for the past twenty-five years, and he has never wavered, even for a day, from his lifelong journey dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war. If I were given to categorization, I would label such an extraordinary engagement with a  cause as an instance of ‘benign fanaticism.’ Unfortunately, from the perspective of the human future, it is a condition rarely encountered, posing the puzzle as to why Krieger should be so intensely inclined, given his seemingly untraumatized background. He traces his own obsession back to his mother’s principled refusal to install a nuclear bomb shelter in the backyard of their Los Angeles home when he was 12 years old. He comments in the Preface to ZERO that even at the time he “hadn’t expected” her to take such a stand, which he experienced as “a powerful lesson in compassion,” being especially moved by her unwillingness “to buy into saving herself at the expense of humanity.” (xiv). Nine years later after Krieger graduated from college his mother was again an instrumental force, giving him as a graduation present a trip to Japan to witness first-hand “what two nuclear weapons had done to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” (xiv) The rest is, as they say, ‘history.’ Or as Krieger puts it in characteristic understatement, “[t]hose visits changed my life.” (xiv)

 

            On a psychological level, I remain perplexed by two opposite observations: we still lack the key that unlocks the mystery of Krieger’s unwavering dedication and why so few others have been similarly touched over the years. What ZERO does better than any of Krieger’s earlier books on nuclear weapons, and indeed more comprehensively and lucidly than anyone else anywhere, is to provide the reader with the reasons for thinking, feeling, and acting with comparable passion until the goal of abolishing the totality of nuclear weaponry is finally reached. Krieger himself extensively explores and laments the absence of widespread anti-nuclear dedication and tries to explain it by calling attention to a series of factors: ignorance, complacency, deference to authority, sense of powerlessness, fear, economic advantage, conformity, marginalization, technological optimism, tyranny of experts. (90-92) The argument of the book, concisely developed in a series of short essays is reinforced by some canonical documents in the struggle over the decades to rid the world of nuclear weaponry, including Obama’s Prague Speech of 2009, the Einstein/Russell Manifesto of 1955, and Joseph Rotblat’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech of 1995.

 

            Krieger’s approach as an author is multi-layered, and includes analytic critiques of conventional strategic wisdom that finds a security role for nuclear weapons, a worked out conception of how a negotiated international treaty could safely by stages move the world toward the zero goal of abolition, poems that seek to recapture the various existential horrors of nuclear war, essays of appreciation for the courage, commitment, and insight of the hibakusha (Japanese survivors of the 1945 atomic attacks), and a concerted inquiry into what needs to happen to make nuclear disarmament a viable political project rather than nothing more than a fervent hope. For a short book of 166 pages this is a lot of ground to cover, but Krieger manages to do it with clarity, a calm demeanor, and an impressive understanding and knowledge of all aspects of this complex question of how best to deal with nuclear weapons given the realities of the early 21st century.

 

            Krieger is not afraid to take on critics, even those who tell him that his quest is ‘silly’ because the nuclear genie, a favorite metaphor of liberal apologists for the status quo, is out of the bottle, and cannot be put back. Krieger acknowledges that the knowledge is now in the public domain, and cannot be eliminated, but makes a measured and informed case for an assessment that the nuclear disarmament process poses far fewer risks than does retaining the weaponry, and that retaining the weaponry exposes humanity to what he believes to be the near certainty that nuclear weapons will be used in the future with likely apocalyptic results. For Krieger the stakes are ultimate: human survival and the rights of future generations. In other words, given his strongly held opinion that the weaponry will be used at some point in the future with disastrous results, there is for him no ethically, politically, and even biologically acceptable alternative to getting rid totally of nuclear weapons. Krieger argues both from a worldview that regards nuclear weapons as intrinsically wrong because of the kind of suffering and devastation that they cause and consequentially because of their threat to civilization and even species survival.

 

            Ever since I have known David Krieger he has been deeply influenced by Albert Einstein’s most forceful assertion: “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” Krieger even gifts his readers with an imagined dialogue between Einstein and the most celebrated interrogator of all time, Socrates. In their exchange, Socrates is convinced by Einstein that the necessary adjustments “won’t come from our leaders.”(85) Socrates gets the point in a manner that unsurprisingly resonates with Krieger: “Then the people must be awakened, and they must demand an end to war, and a world free of nuclear weapons.” (85) There is a certain ambiguity in this statement when placed in the larger context of Krieger’s thought and work: is it necessary to end war as a social institution in order to get rid of nuclear weapons? In one way, most of Krieger’s efforts seem to separate nuclear weapons from the wider context of war making, but from time to time, there is a fusion of these two agendas.

 

            Krieger realizes that changing our modes of thinking is a necessary step toward zero but it is not sufficient. He also believes that we can not achieve a world without nuclear weapons unless we act “collectively and globally” (97) to create a sustainable future. In the end, there is some ground for hope: “We have the potential to assert a constructive power for change that is greater than the destructive power of the weapons themselves.”  In effect, Krieger is telling us that what we can imagine we can achieve, but not without an unprecedented popular mobilization of peace minded people throughout the entire planet. Above all, Krieger wants to avoid a counsel of despair: “We must choose hope and find a way to fight for the dream of peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons. Achieving these goals is the great challenge of our time, on their success rests the realization of all other goals and for a more and decent world.” (105). Certainly Krieger has founded and brilliantly administered the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation over the course of more than 25 years maintaining faith of its growing band of followers with this uplifting vision. Such single mindedness is probably essential to motivate people of good will to support the endeavor, and to keep his own compass fixed over time, even in the face of many discouragements, on the destination he has identified as the one sanctuary capable of ensuring a desirable future for humanity. Although sharing all of Krieger’s assessments, values, and visions, I am both less hopeful and not as focused, being committed to other indispensable policy imperatives (addressing the global challenge of climate change) and to more proximate ends that involve current injustices (seeking realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; seeking a UN Emergency Peace Force to intervene to protect vulnerable people facing humanitarian or natural catastrophes), but I would not for a minute encourage Krieger to dilute his anti-nuclear posture. This country and the world needs his message and dedication, and at some point, there may emerge a conjuncture of forces that is unexpectedly receptive to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and even entertains the prospect of ending the war system as the foundation of national and global security. I can only pray that it will not emerge in the aftermath of some intended or accidental use of nuclear weapons, which seems sadly to be the only alarm bell that is loud enough to have an awakening effect for the sleeping mass of humanity.

 

            From my vantage point such an anti-nuclear moment is not yet visible on the horizon of possibilities. After all, the Kissinger, Shultz, Nunn, and Perry call a few years ago for abolition, emanating from these high priests of political realism, despite being widely noticed at the time, had no lasting impact on the pro-nuclear consensus that guides the policymaking elites of the nine nuclear weapons states, and most of all the American establishment. And then Barack Obama’s 2009 call in Prague for a world without nuclear weapons, although qualified and conditional, was essentially abandoned even in the recent articulation of the president’s goals for his second term. Presumably, Obama’s advisory entourage pushed him to concentrate his energy on attainable goals such as immigration and tax reform, protecting entitlements, and retreating from the several fiscal cliffs, and not waste his limited political capital on the unattainable such as nuclear disarmament and a just peace between Israel and Palestine. Short-term political calculations within the Beltway almost always trump long-term visionary goals, “and so it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut taught us to say in our helplessness in the face of the unyielding cruelty of human experience.

 

            In the end, after this adventure of response to the life and work of a dear friend, admired collaborator, and inspirational worker for peace and justice, I can only commend David Krieger’s ZERO to everyone with the slightest interest in what kind of future we are bestowing upon our children and grandchildren. The book can be obtained via the following two links: it is preferred that ZERO is ordered through the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation at its online Peace Store: http://www.wagingpeace.org/menu/store/#books

It can also be obtained by Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Zero-Nuclear-Weapons-AbolitionVolume/dp/1478342846/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1361902143&sr=8-2&keywords=zero+krieger

   

 

 

Advertisements

Kenneth Waltz is not Crazy, but he is Dangerous: Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East

6 Jul


  

            It seems surprising that the ultra-establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, would go to the extreme of publishing a lead article by the noted political scientist, Kenneth Waltz, with the title “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” in its current issue. It is more the reasoning of the article than the eye-catching title that flies in the face of the anti-proliferation ethos that has been the consensus lynchpin of nuclear weapons states, and especially the United States. At the same time, Waltz takes pain to avoid disavowing his mainstream political identity. He echoes without pausing to reflect upon the evidence undergirding the rather wobbly escalating assumption that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons at this time. Waltz does acknowledge that Iran might be only trying to have a ‘breakout’ capability of the sort long possessed by Japan and several other countries, that is, the technological capacity if facing a national emergency to assemble a few bombs in a matter of months. Nowhere does Waltz allude to the recently publicized agreement among the 14 American intelligence agencies that there is no evidence that Iran has decided to resume its military program that had been reportedly abandoned in 2003. In other ways, as well, Waltz signals his general support for the American approach to Israeli security other than in relation to nuclear weapons, and so, it should be clear, Waltz is not a political dissenter, a policy radical, nor even a critic of Israel’s role in the region.

 

Waltz’s Three Options

 

            Waltz insists that aside from the breakout option, there are two other plausible scenarios worth considering: sanctions and coercive diplomacy to induce Iran “to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” which he deems unlikely to overcome a genuine appetite for the bomb, or Iran defies the pressures and acquires nuclear weapons, which he regards as the most desirable of the three options. It seems reasonable to wonder ‘why.’ In essence, Waltz is arguing that experience and logic demonstrate that the relations among states become more stable, less war-prone, when a balance is maintained, and that there is no reason to think that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons it would not behave in accordance with the deterrence regime that has discouraged all uses of nuclear weapons ever since 1945, and especially during the Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. In this regard, Waltz is expressing what I regard to be a wildly exaggerated faith in the rationality and prudence of leaders who make decisions on matters of war and peace.

 

            He does make a contextual argument that I mostly agree with, namely, that Israel alone possessing a regional nuclear monopoly is more dangerous and undesirable than Iran becoming a second nuclear weapons state in the region. In effect, a regional nuclear monopolist is worse than a regional system of balance that incorporates deterrence logic. For Israel to be deterred would contribute to peace and security in the region, and this seems likely to reduce somewhat, although at a level of risk far short of zero, the prospect of any use of nuclear weapons and other forms of aggression in the Middle East. But to say that A (Iran gets the bomb) is better than B (breakout capability but no bomb) and C (sanctions and coercive diplomacy induce Iran to forego bomb) is to forget about D, which is far better than A, B, and C in relation to sustainable stability, but also because it represents an implicit acknowledgement that the very idea of basing security upon the threat to annihilate hundreds of thousand, if not more, innocent persons is a moral abomination that has already implicated the nuclear weapons states in a security policy, which if ever tested by threat and use, would be genocidal, if not omnicidal, and certainly criminal. This anti-nuclear posture was substantially endorsed by a majority of judges in a groundbreaking Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on 8 July 1996, although these strong findings as to international law were, not surprisingly, cast aside and ignored by the nuclear weapons states, most defiantly by the United States.

 

The Case for Option D

 

            What then is Option D? Option D would involve the negotiation and implementation of a nuclear weapons free zone throughout the Middle East (MENFZ), reinforced by non-aggression commitments, normalization of economic and political relations, and ideally accompanied by genuine progress toward a just and sustainable Palestine/Israel peace accord. Significantly, Waltz does not even pause to consider it as in all likelihood he regards such an approach as completely inconsistent with the hard power realities of global diplomacy, making it foolish and irrelevant to take the possibility of a MENFZ seriously. Needless to say, D is also not in the Netanyahu playbook, and quite likely no future Israeli leader will be prepared to give up the nuclear weapons arsenal that Israel has been consistently acquiring and developing over the last four decades. And it seems fair to conjecture that anyone who proposes a MENFZ would be at odds with the realist camp in international relations, and such a piece would almost certainly be rejected by the editors of Foreign Affairs, among the most ardent guardians of the realist status quo.

 

            Waltz’s preference for A, favoring an Iranian bomb, is an extension of his long-standing belief that proliferation as actually desirable based on a view of global security that depends on sustaining power balances. In my judgment this carries confidence in the logic of deterrence (that is, the rationality of not using the bomb because of a fear of nuclear retaliation) to absurd degrees that go well beyond even the extreme rationality relied upon by the most influential war thinkers during the Cold War era. In this sense, Waltz is correct to equate the Middle East with the rest of the world, and not engage in the widespread practice of ethno-religious profiling: that is, Israel’s bomb is okay because it is a rational and ‘Western,’ while Iran’s bomb would be a world order disaster as it is irrational and governed by Islamic zealots that have declared their implacable hostility to Israel. If such distinctions are to be made, which is doubtful, it should be appreciated that Israel is the antagonist that has been threatening war and pushing for coercive diplomacy, while it is Iran that has so far peacefully tolerated a variety of severe provocations, acts of war, such as the assassination of several of its nuclear scientists, the infecting of its enrichment centrifuges with the Stuxnet virus, and verified violent covert acts designed to destabilize the Tehran regime. Had such incidents been reversed, it is more than 100% likely that Israel would have immediately gone to war against Iran, quite likely setting the entire region on fire.

 

Objections to Option A

 

            My basic objection to the Waltz position is a disagreement with two of his guiding assumptions: first, with respect to the region, that other countries would not follow Iran across the nuclear threshold, an assessment he bases largely on their failure to acquire nuclear weapons in response to Israel’s acquisition of the capability. Surely Saudi Arabia and Turkey would not, for reasons of international status and perceived security, want to be non-nuclear states in a neighborhood in which both Israel and Iran had the bomb. Such an expansion of the regional nuclear club would become more prone to accident, miscalculation, and the sort of social and political pathology that makes nuclear weaponry generally unfit for human use in a conflict, whatever the region or occasion. In this respect, the more governments possess the bomb, the more likely it becomes that one of those horrible scenarios about a nuclear war will become history.

 

            And secondly, Waltz does not single out nuclear weapons for condemnation on either ethical or prudential grounds. In fact, he seems to hold the view that we can be thankful for the bomb as otherwise the Cold War would likely have resulted in a catastrophic World War III. In my view to have sought the bomb and then used it against the helpless Japanese at the end of World War II was certainly one of the worst instances of Promethean excess in human history, angering not only the gods but exhibiting a scary species death wish. Leaders have acknowledged this moral truth from time to time, most recently by Barack Obama in his 2009 Prague speech calling for a world without nuclear weapons, but politicians, including Obama, seem unable and unwilling to take the heat that following through would certainly entail. In the end, anti-nuclearism for leaders seems mainly an exercise in rhetoric, apparently persuasive in Norway where the Nobel Prize committee annually ponders the credentials of candidates, but without any behavioral consequences relating to the weaponry itself.  To be sure nuclear policies are challenged from time to time by a surge of anti-nuclear populism. In this regard, to favor the acquisition of the bomb by any government or political organization is to embrace the nuclearist fallacy relating to security and the absurd hubris of presupposing an impeccable rationality over long stretches of time, which has never been the case in human affairs.

 

            The secrecy surrounding policy bearing on nuclear weapons, especially the occasions of their possible use, also injects an absolutist virus into the vital organs of a democratic body politic. There is no participation by the people or even their representatives in relation to this most ultimate of political decisions, vesting in a single person, and perhaps including his most intimate advisors, a demonic capability to unleash such a catastrophic capability. We now know that even beyond the devastation and radiation, the smoke released by the use of as few as 50 nuclear bombs would generate so much smoke as to block sunlight from the earth for as long as a decade, dooming much of the agriculture throughout the world, a dynamic that has been called ‘a nuclear famine.’ As disturbing as such a possibility should be to those responsible for the security of society, there is little evidence that such a realization of the secondary effects of nuclear explosions is even present in political consciousness. And certainly the citizenry is largely ignorant of such a dark eventuality bound up with the retention of nuclear weapons.

 

            It is for these reasons that I would call Kenneth Waltz dangerous, not crazy. Indeed, it is his extreme kind of instrumental rationality that is dominant in many influential venues, and helps explain the development, possession, and apparent readiness to use nuclear weapons under certain conditions despite the risks and the immorality of the undertaking. If human society is ever to be again relatively safe, secure, and morally coherent, a first step is to renounce nuclear weapons unconditionally and proceed with urgency by way of an agreed, phased, monitored, and verified international agreement to ensure their elimination from the face of the earth. It is not only that deterrence depends on perfect rationality over time and across space, it is also that the doctrine and practices of deterrence amounts to a continuing crime against humanity of unprecedented magnitude and clarity!    

 

  

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.