Inter Press Service » Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 06 May 2015 16:53:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The U.N. at 70: Impressive Successes and Monumental Failures Fri, 01 May 2015 13:38:19 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, May 1 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, protect human rights, maintain international peace and security, and uphold international law. Its 70-year history is marked with many successes, but also disappointments. We need to look at both sides so that we can make the U.N. more effective in the future.

The U.N. has an impressive record of resolving many international conflicts. U.N. peacekeepers have, since 1945, undertaken over 60 field missions and negotiated 172 peaceful settlements that ended regional conflicts. Right now, peacekeepers are in 20 hot spots around the world trying to save lives and avert wars.The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

The U.N. also fought for the liberation of countries that have been under colonial rule for over 450 years. Eighty nations and more than 750 million people have since been freed from colonialism.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowered the U.N. to act as custodian for the protection of human rights, discrimination against women, children’s rights, torture, missing persons and arbitrary detention that was occurring in many countries.

Moreover, the U.N. and its specialised agencies are engaged in enhancing all aspects of human life, including education, health, poverty reduction, the rights of women and children, and climate change.

As a result, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 12 times to the U.N., its specialised agencies, programmes and staff. This included an award in 1988 to the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces, and in 2001 to the U.N. and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

The U.N. defined, codified and expanded the realm of international law, governing the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. More than 560 multilateral treaties on human rights, refugees, disarmament, trade, oceans, outer space, etc. encompassing all aspects of international affairs were negotiated by the U.N.

The U.N. has made progress with its eight Millennium Development Goals, which will be followed by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to enhance social, environmental and economic progress by 2030. But it could not stop the United States from abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, and repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The U.N. is not without shortcomings. In 1970, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 190 nations, all five superpowers owned nuclear weapons. Later, despite the NPT and Partial Test Ban Treaty, several countries – North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India – developed nuclear weapons. This revealed the U.N.’s inability to enforce regulations on offending nations.

Along similar lines, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice has resolved major international disputes, but the U.N.’s veto powers have limited its effectiveness at critical times.

The International Criminal Court, established in 2002, has prosecuted several war criminals – but it has been criticised for prosecuting only African leaders while Western powers too have committed war crimes.

Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general  from 1953-1961, said that the “U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” The U.N. has solved many violent conflicts, prevented wars, and saved millions of lives but it also faced disappointments.

In Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission (1991–95) ended violence and established a democratic government, but well after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge (1975-79) had executed over 2.5 million people.

In Rwanda, over 800,000 were massacred in 100 days. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the “safe zone” of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys. In Darfur, an estimated 300,000 Sudanese civilians were killed. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people.

A recent report by “Body Count” revealed that “in addition to one million deaths in Iraq, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan as a result of US foreign policy”.

Last year, Israel attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. shelters in Gaza killing 2,200 Palestinians. Condemning that action, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.” The U.N. Security Council (SC) has failed as the United States vetoes any action against Israel.

The Arab Spring in the Middle East caused thousands of deaths and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Libya is devastated with over 40,000 deaths, and the civil war in Syria has killed over 220,000 people. These wars have displaced over 50 million people. Now, ISIS has infiltrated these countries causing gruesome killings, human rights abuses, and war crimes, at an unprecedented rate.

These catastrophic events might have been prevented if the Member States of the U.N. had the ability to resolutely act in a timely manner. But the U.N. is not a world government, and it does not have a standing army of peace-keepers ready for deployment. And, it is the Member States that make decisions at the U.N.

These setbacks clearly reflect the shortcomings of the U.N. Security Council, and its veto powers that allow some members’ own interests to be placed ahead of the need to end a raging conflict.

Navi Pillay, addressing the Security Council, said that “short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security.”

During the last 70 years, geopolitics have changed drastically that call for reform of the U.N. – to meet global needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Member States accuse the Security Council of being arrogant, secretive and undemocratic but the veto powers resist change. Meanwhile, violations of the U.N. Charter by powerful countries continue to erode the effectiveness of the United Nations.

However, as mandated by its Charter, the U.N. has prevented another World War. The U.N. has made impressive and unprecedented progress in all aspects of human development, bringing great benefits to millions of people around the world.

Our convoluted world needs the U.N. The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

As President Obama has said, the U.N. is imperfect, but it is also indispensable.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: Comprehensive Ban on Nuclear Testing, a ‘Stepping Stone’ to a Nuke-Free World Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:28:36 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

Gamma spectroscopy can detect traces of radioactivity from nuclear tests from the air. Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

With the four-week-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) underway at the United Nations, hopes and frustrations are running equally high, as a binding political agreement on the biggest threat to humanity hangs in the balance.

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Caption: Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: CTBTO Official Photostream

Behind the headlines that focus primarily on power struggles between the five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – scores of organisations refusing to be bogged down in geopolitical squabbles are going about the Herculean task of creating a safer world.

One of these bodies is the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), founded in 1996 alongside the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the aim of independently monitoring compliance.

With 183 signatories and 164 ratifications, the treaty represents a milestone in international efforts to ban nuclear testing.

In order to be legally binding, however, the treaty needs the support of the 44 so-called ‘Annex 2 States’, eight of which have so far refused to ratify the agreement: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.

This holdout has severely crippled efforts to move towards even the most basic goal of the nuclear abolition process.

Still, the CTBTO has made tremendous strides in the past 20 years to set the stage for full ratification.

Its massive global network of seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide detecting stations makes it nearly impossible for governments to violate the terms of the treaty, and the rich data generated from its many facilities is contributing to a range of scientific endeavors worldwide.

In an interview with IPS, CTBTO Executive Secretary Dr. Lassina Zerbo spoke about the organisation’s hopes for the review conference, and shared some insights on the primary hurdles standing in the way of a nuclear-free world.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: What role will the CTBTO play in the conference?

"Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by [a] handful of countries [...]." -- Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)
A: Our hope is that the next four weeks result in a positive outcome with regards to disarmament and non-proliferation, and we think the CTBT plays an important role there. The treaty was one of the key elements that led to indefinite extension of the NPT itself, and is the one thing that seems to be bringing all the state parties together. It’s a low-hanging fruit and we need to catch it, make it serve as a stepping-stone for whatever we want to achieve in this review conference.

For instance, we need to find a compromise between those who are of the view that we should move first on non-proliferation, and between those who say we should move equally, if not faster, on disarmament.

We also need to address the concerns of those who ask why nuclear weapons states are allowed to develop more modern weapons, while other states are prevented from developing even the basic technologies that could serve as nuclear weapons.

The CTBT represents something that all states can agree to; it serves as the basis for consensus on other, more difficult issues, and this is the message I am bringing to the conference.

Q: What have been some of the biggest achievement of the CTBTO? What are some of your most pressing concerns for the future?

A: The CTBTO bans all nuclear test explosions underwater, underground and in the air. We’ve built a network of nearly 300 stations for detecting nuclear tests, including tracking radioactive emissions.

Our international monitoring system has stopped horizontal proliferation (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons), as well as vertical proliferation (more advanced weapons systems).

That’s why some [states] are hesitant to consider ratification of the CTBT: because they are of the view that they still need testing to be able to maintain or modernise their stockpiles.

Any development of nuclear weapons happening today is based on testing that was done 20-25 years ago. No country, except for North Korea, has performed a single test in the 21st century.

Q: How do you deal with outliers like North Korea?

A: We haven’t had official contact with North Korea. I can only base my analysis on what world leaders are telling me. [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has attempted to engage North Korea in discussions about the CTBT and asked if they would consider a moratorium on testing. Yesterday I met Yerzhan Ashikbayev, deputy foreign minister for Kazakhstan, which has bilateral relations with North Korea, and they have urgently called on North Korea to consider signature of the CTBT.

Those are the countries that can help us, those who have bilateral relations.

Having said this, if I’m invited to North Korea for a meeting that could serve as a basis for engaging in discussions, to help them understand more about the CTBT and the organizational framework and infrastructure that we’ve built: why not? I would be ready to do it.

We are also engaging states like Israel, who could take leadership in regions like the Middle East by signing onto the CTBT. I was just in Israel, where I asked the questions: Do you want to test? I don’t think so. Do you need it? I don’t think so. So why don’t you take leadership to open that framework that we need for confidence building in the region that could lead to more ratification and more consideration of a nuclear weapons-free zone or a WMD-free zone.

Israel now says that CTBT ratification is not an “if” but a “when” – I hope the “when” is not too far away.

Q: Despite scores of marches, thousands of petitions and millions of signatures calling for disarmament and abolition, the major nuclear weapons states are holding out. This can be extremely disheartening for those at the forefront of the movement. What would be your message to global civil society?

A: I would say, keep putting pressure on your political leaders. We need leadership to move on these issues. Right now 90 percent of the world is saying “no” to nuclear testing, yet we are held hostage by the handful of countries [that have not ratified the treaty].

Only civil society can play a role in telling governments, “You’ve got to move because the majority of the world is saying ‘no’ to what you still have, and what you are still holding onto.” The CTBT is a key element for that goal we want to achieve, hopefully in our lifetime: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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As Nuke Talks Begin, U.N. Chief Warns of Dangerous Return to Cold War Mentalities Mon, 27 Apr 2015 23:31:56 +0000 Thalif Deen A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A view of the General Assembly Hall as Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (shown on screens) addresses the opening of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The Review Conference is taking place at U.N. headquarters from Apr. 27 to May 22, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen

Against the backdrop of a new Cold War between the United States and Russia, two of the world’s major nuclear powers, the United Nations is once again playing host to a four-week-long international review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A primary focus of this year’s conference, which is held every five years, is a proposal for a long outstanding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference.” -- Jackie Cabasso

“Eliminating nuclear weapons is a top priority for the United Nations,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told delegates Monday.

“No other weapon has the potential to inflict such wanton destruction on our world,” said Ban, who has been a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament.

He described the NPT as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime and an essential basis for realising a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute and former chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told IPS: “If we rely solely on the NPT to fulfil nuclear disarmament, we’ll have a lifelong wait, with the ever-present risk of nuclear detonations and catastrophe.

“That’s because the five nuclear-armed states treat the NPT as giving them permission to modernise their arsenals in perpetuity, while other nuclear-armed governments act as if the NPT has nothing to do with them,” she added.

A next-step nuclear ban treaty is being pursued by ICAN’s 400 partner organisations and a growing number of governments in order to fill the legal gap between prohibition and elimination.

Whatever the NPT Review Conference manages to achieve in 2015, said Dr. Johnson, “a universally applicable nuclear ban treaty is clearly on the agenda as the best way forward to accelerate regional and international nuclear disarmament, reinforce the non-proliferation regime and put pressure on all the nuclear-armed governments.”

Expressing disappointment over the current status on nuclear disarmament, the secretary-general pointed out that between 1990 and 2010, the international community took bold steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world.

There were massive reductions in deployed arsenals, he said, and States closed weapons facilities and made impressive moves towards more transparent nuclear doctrines.

“I am deeply concerned that over the last five years this process seems to have stalled. It is especially troubling that recent developments indicate that the trend towards nuclear zero is reversing. Instead of progress towards new arms reduction agreements, we have allegations about destabilising violations of existing agreements,” he declared.

Instead of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in force or a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, he said “we see expensive modernisation programmes that will entrench nuclear weapons for decades to come.”

Over the weekend, Peace and Planet Mobilization, a coalition of hundreds of anti-nuclear activists and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), delivered more than eight million petition signatures at the end of a peace march to the United Nations.

The president of the Conference, Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, and the United Nations have received several petitions from civil society organisations (CSOs) calling for the successful conclusion of the current session and negotiations for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

But the proposal is expected to encounter strong opposition from the world’s five major nuclear powers: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

According to the coalition, the weekend began with an international conference in New York attended by nearly 700 peace activists; an International Interfaith Religious convocation attended by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Shinto religious leaders; and a rally with over 7,500 peace, justice and environmental activists – including peace walkers from California, Tennessee and New England at Union Square North.

“Recognising the deep flaws in the NPT, we see the importance of a strong civil society presence at the 2015 Review Conference, with a clarion call for negotiations to begin immediately on the elimination of nuclear weapons,” said Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation.

“We also recognised that a multitude of planetary problems stem from the same causes. So, we brought together a broad coalition of peace, environmental, and economic justice advocates to build political will towards our common goals”, she said.

Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee said people from New York to Okinawa, Mexico to Bethlehem “picked up on our ‘Global Peace Wave,’ with actions in 24 countries to build pressure on their governments to press for the beginning of ‘good faith’ negotiations for the elimination of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

The Washington-based Arms Control Association said rather than the dozens of nuclear-armed states that were forecast before the NPT entered into force in 1970, only four additional countries (India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, all of which have not signed the NPT) have nuclear weapons today, and the taboo against the use of nuclear weapons has grown stronger.

The 2015 NPT Review Conference provides an important opportunity for the treaty’s members to adopt a balanced, forward-looking action plan: improve nuclear safeguards, guard against treaty withdrawal, accelerate progress on disarmament, and address regional nuclear proliferation challenges, the Association said.

However, the 2015 conference will likely reveal tensions regarding the implementation of some of the 65 key commitments in the action plan agreed to at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, it warned.

“There is widespread frustration with the slow pace of achieving the nuclear disarmament goals of Article VI of the NPT and the lack of agreement among NPT parties on how best to advance nuclear disarmament.”

Though the United States and Russia are implementing the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) accord, they have not started talks on further nuclear reductions.

“Russia’s annexation of Ukraine will likely be criticized by some states as a violation of security commitments made in 1994 when Kiev joined the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state,” the Association said.

At the same time, most nuclear-weapon states–inside and outside the NPT–are modernising their nuclear arsenals.

This is leading some non-nuclear-weapon states to call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban even without the participation of the nuclear-weapon states; while others are pushing for a renewed dedication to key disarmament commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the Association argued.

Ban said the next few weeks “will be challenging as you seek to advance our shared ambition to remove the dangers posed by nuclear weapons”.

This is a historic imperative of our time, he said. “I call on you to act with urgency to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to you by the peoples of the world who seek a more secure future for all,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Challenging the Nuclear Powers’ Extremism Wed, 22 Apr 2015 21:26:48 +0000 Joseph Gerson United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on May 3, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the 2010 High-level Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on May 3, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Dr. Joseph Gerson
NEW YORK, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

On the eve of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference five years ago, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that governments alone will not rid the world of the specter of nuclear annihilation.

Addressing an assembly of movement and civil society activists, he expressed heartfelt sympathy and appreciation for our efforts, urging us to remain steadfast in our outreach, education, organising and in pressing our demands.Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”

As if to prove the secretary-general’s critique of governments correct, anyone who has been paying attention knows that this year’s Review Conference is in trouble before it starts. It could fail, jeopardising the future of the treaty and – more importantly – human survival.

In the tradition of diplomatic understatement, U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Angela Kane has explained that this is “not the best of times for disarmament.”

Apparently not understanding the meaning and purpose of treaties, and with remarkable disregard for the vast majority of the world’s nations which have long been demanding that the nuclear powers fulfill their NPT Article VI obligation to engage in good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, lead U.S. Non-Proliferation negotiator Adam Scheinman warned that “countries not pursue extreme agendas or place unrealistic demands on the treaty.”

Practicing the double standard of holding one set of parties accountable to a contract while others flaunt its terms is its own kind of extremism. C. Wright Mills called it “crackpot realism.”

Joseph Rotblat, the realist Nobel Laureate and single senior Manhattan Project scientist to quit the nuclear bomb project for moral reasons, put it well years ago while speaking in Hiroshima. He explained that the human species faces a stark choice.

We can either completely eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons, or we will face their global proliferation and the omnicidal nuclear wars that will follow. Why? Because no nation will long tolerate what it perceived to be an unequal balance of power, in this case nuclear terror.

Blinded by the arrogance of power, Schienmen and his Nuclear Nine comrades are apparently oblivious to the mounting anger and loss of trust by the world’s governments in the face of the nuclear powers’ disregard for their Article VI obligations, traditional humanitarian law, and the dangers to human survival that follow.

As a U.S. American, I had something of an Alice in Wonderland “through the looking glass” experience observing the U.N. High Level Conference on Disarmament debate in 2013.

After the opening formalities, Iranian President Rouhani spoke on behalf of both his country and the Non-Aligned Movement, stressing three points: Iran does not intend to become a nuclear weapons state.

The P-5 Nuclear Powers have flaunted their refusal to fulfill their Article VI NPT obligation to commence good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. And, the United States had refused to fulfill its 2010 NPT Review Conference commitment to co-convene a conference on a Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone.

What was remarkable was not Rouhani’s speech. It was the succession of one head of state, foreign minister and ambassador after another who rose to associate his or her government with the statement made by President Rouhani on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The U.S. response? A feeble and arrogant “trust us”, followed by the announcement that under Chinese leadership the P-5 had almost completed work on a glossary of terms.

Similar dynamics followed at the International Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear Weapons in Mexico and Austria, which were attended by the vast majority of the world’s nations.

The tiny New START Treaty reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, which leaves them still holding more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals – more than enough to inflict Nuclear Winter many times over – won’t pacify the world’s nations.

Nor will the recent U.S.-Iran deal which the U.S. Congress has placed in jeopardy. On the eve of the 2015 Review Conference the inability of other nations to trust commitments made by the United States are one more reason the Review Conference and the NPT itself could fail.

Add to this the new era of military confrontations, resumption of nuclear (and other) arms races, and continuing nuclear threats from the simulated U.S. nuclear attack on North Korea to the U.S. and Russian nuclear “exercises” over Ukraine.

What are other nations to think when the U.S. is on track to spend a trillion dollars for new nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and every other nuclear power is following suit?

Clearly Ban Ki-moon was right.

And as anti-slavery abolitionist Fredrick Douglas observed more than a century ago, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle. It never has, and it never will.”

This is why nuclear abolitionists, peace, justice and environmental advocates – including 1,000 Japanese activists carrying five million abolition petition signatures in their suitcases – are returning to New York from across the United States and around the world for the Peace & Planet mobilisation on the eve of this year’s NPT review conference.

We’re anything but starry eyed.

Recognising that change will only come from below, our international conference at The Cooper Union and our rally, march and festival in the streets will press our central demand: Respect for international law.

The Review Conference must mandate the beginning of good faith negotiations for the abolition of the world’s nuclear weapons. And, being the realists that we are, we will be building the more powerful and issue-integrated (abolition, peace, economic and social justice and climate change) people’s movement needed for the longer-term and urgent struggle ahead.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Spiritual Leaders Urge Action On Nuclear Disarmament Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:55:58 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Religious leaders addressed the United Nations in New York last week, pleading on moral grounds for global nuclear disarmament.

Leaders representing a number of faiths spoke at the ‘Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass’ event, presented by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, outlining religious and moral arguments for nuclear disarmament.

Outlining the objections of successive Popes, Archbishop Bernadito Auza, Permanent Representative Observer Mission of the Holy See, called nuclear arms “the terrible weapons modern science has given us.”

“Since the emergence of the nuclear age the Holy See see has not ceased to raise the moral argument against the possession and use of nuclear weapons,” Auza said.

“Because of the incalculable and indiscriminate consequences of such weapons, their use is clearly against international humanitarian law.”

Auza said the nuclear disarmament movement “is currently in crisis,” and called for nations to renew their push for a nuclear-free future.

“The institutions doing this [pushing for disarmament] have been blocked for years,” he said.

“The pre-eminent nuclear countries have not only not disarmed, they are modernising their arsenals.”

The United Nations will host a Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in New York from Apr. 27-May 22. Several speakers alluded to the upcoming talks during their presentation, urging world leaders to work for stronger action and reform during the conference.

Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, disputed arguments that management of nuclear weapons could lead to a secure future. He stated disarmament, not management, was the only acceptable solution.

“The situation… is in fact abnormal, immeasurably dangerous, certainly not sane, and morally unacceptable,” he said.

“The possession and threat to use nuclear weapons in the pursuit of security represents unprecedented folly of the highest order and an expression of the law of power in its most raw form.”

Bishop Oscar Cantu, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, outlined his own moral arguments against nuclear weaponry on the grounds of discrimination, proportionality and probability of success.

“The moral problem of nuclear weapons is, the incredible devastation they wreak cannot discriminate between combatants and non-combatants,” Cantu said.

“Death and destruction caused by force cannot be out of proportion of protecting human lives and rights.”

Cantu said the prospects of success in any nuclear conflict would be unclear.

“What would success look like? It’s impossible to imagine,” he said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

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U.N. Warns of Growing Divide Between Nuclear Haves and Have-Nots Mon, 13 Apr 2015 11:45:33 +0000 Thalif Deen Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the 2013 session of the Conference on Disarmament. Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addresses the 2013 session of the Conference on Disarmament. Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen

As she prepared to leave office after more than three years, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane painted a dismal picture of a conflicted world: it is “not the best of times for disarmament.”

The warning comes against the backdrop of a new Cold War on the nuclear horizon and spreading military conflicts in the politically–volatile Middle East, including in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen."The return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage." -- Jayantha Dhanapala

“The prospects for further nuclear arms reductions are dim and we may even be witnessing a roll-back of the hard-won disarmament gains of the last 25 years,” she told the Disarmament Commission last week.

In one of her final speeches before the world body, the outgoing U.N. under-secretary-general said, “I have never seen a wider divide between nuclear-haves and nuclear have-nots over the scale and pace of nuclear disarmament.”

Kane’s warning is a realistic assessment of the current impasse – even as bilateral nuclear arms reductions between the United States and Russia have virtually ground to a standstill, according to anti-nuclear activists.

There are signs even of reversal of gains already made, for example, with respect to the longstanding U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

No multilateral negotiations on reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals are in sight, and all arsenals are being modernised over the next decades.

And contrary to the promise made by the 2010 NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, a proposed international conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East never got off the ground.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy (LNCP), told IPS: “As the world heads into the NPT Review Conference, Apr. 27-May 22, is nuclear disarmament therefore doomed or at least indefinitely suspended?”

Not necessarily, he said.

The tensions – with nuclear dimensions – arising out of the Ukraine crisis may yet spark some sober rethinking of current trends, said Burroughs, who is also director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

After all, he pointed out, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis served to stimulate subsequent agreements, among them the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco establishing the Latin American nuclear weapons free zone, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the 1972 US-Russian strategic arms limitation agreement and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said the “Thirteen Steps” agreed upon at the 2000 NPT Review Conference and the 64-point Action Programme, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal and the conceptual breakthrough on recognising the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, augured well for the strengthened review process.

“And yet the report cards meticulously maintained by civil society on actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage,” he added.

Unless the upcoming NPT Review Conference reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT, Dhanapala warned.

A stocktaking exercise is relevant, he added.

In 1995, he said, “We had five nuclear weapon states and one outside the NPT. Today, we have nine nuclear weapon armed states – four of them outside the NPT.

“In 1970, when the NPT entered into force, we had a total of 38,153 nuclear warheads. Today, over four decades later, we have 16,300 – just 21,853 less – with over 4,000 on deployed status and the promise by the two main nuclear weapon states to reduce their deployed arsenals by 30 percent to 1550 each within seven years of the new START entering into force.”

Another NPT nuclear weapon state, the UK is on the verge of renewing its Trident nuclear weapon programme, he pointed out.

Turning to the issue of conventional weapons, Kane said: “We are flooded daily with images of the brutal and internecine regional conflicts bedevilling the globe – conflicts fuelled by unregulated and illegal arms flows.”

It is estimated that more than 740,000 men, women, and children die each year as a result of armed violence.

“However, in the midst of these dark clouds, I have seen some genuine bright spots during my tenure as high representative,” Kane said.

The bitter conflict in Syria will not, in the words of the secretary-general, be brought to a close without an inclusive and Syrian-led political process, but Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, facilitated by the Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons agreed upon between the Russian Federation and the United States of America, has been one positive outcome from this bloody conflict, she added.

“We have seen the complete removal of all declared chemicals from Syria and the commencement of a process to destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities.”

Emerging from the so-called ‘disarmament malaise’, the humanitarian approach to nuclear disarmament, supported by a clear majority of states – as illustrated by the 155 states that supported New Zealand’s statement in the First Committee – has continued to gather momentum, Kane told delegates.

“This is not a distraction from the so-called ‘realist’ politics of nuclear disarmament. Rather, it is an approach that seeks to underscore the devastating human impact of nuclear weapons and ground them in international humanitarian law,” she said.

“This movement is supported by almost 80 percent of U.N. member states. The numbers cannot be ignored.”

One of the international community’s major achievements in the last year has been to bring the Arms Trade Treaty into force only a year and a half after it was negotiated.

This truly historic treaty will play a critical role in ensuring that all actors involved in the arms trade must be held accountable and must be expected to comply with internationally agreed standards, Kane said.

This is possible, she pointed out, by ensuring that their arms exports are not going to be used to violate arms embargoes or to fuel conflict and by exercising better control over arms and ammunition imports in order to prevent diversion or re-transfers to unauthorised users.

“To my mind, these achievements all highlight the possibility of achieving breakthroughs in disarmament and non-proliferation even in the most trying of international climates,” Kane declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Moment of Truth for the Nobel Peace Prize Fri, 10 Apr 2015 05:22:23 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson

In this column, Norwegian lawyer Fredrik S. Heffermehl* and Swedish civil servant Tomas Magnusson* argue that in recent years the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize have not reflected the hope of the award’s founder – Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) – that the world be freed of weapons, warriors and war, or promoted the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl and Tomas Magnusson
OSLO, Apr 10 2015 (IPS)

The Nobel Peace Prize is about to bow out to critics. As of Jan. 1, the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects the winners has a new secretary, Olav Njølstad, who announced that “changes loom” in a recent interview.

However, Njølstad added, the changes “will not be dramatic”, making it unlikely that they will satisfy the full makeover demanded by The Nobel Peace Prize Watch, a newly-formed advocacy group wishing to reverse and undo international militarism.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In a letter sent in February to the Nobel Prize awarders, the group pointed to the purpose Alfred Nobel actually had in mind and presented a selection of candidates among the 276 nominated for the 2015 prize who are actually qualified to win. The Nobel Prize awarders have promised to respond to the letter, which, along with the valid candidates, is posted on the group´s website.

The group has chosen to ignore the wishes of the Nobel Committee that has a policy of strict secrecy around candidates and the selection process. By publishing, for the first time, the full nominations of the 25 “valid candidates”, the group has made it possible for everyone to see what types of peace work Nobel actually intended the prize to promote and its “imperative urgency” in the current period.

For over one hundred years, the secrecy rule has shielded the awarders from being held responsible for its neglect of the true Nobel “champions of peace” and they have been able to get away with assertions that the winners Nobel had in mind no longer exist.

According to the group this is untrue. It says that the committee ignores the simple, indisputable – and never disputed – evidence showing that when he designated his prize to the “champions of peace”, Nobel “meant the movement and the persons who work for a demilitarised world, for law to replace power in international politics, and for all nations to commit to cooperating on the elimination of all weapons instead of competing for military superiority.”

Tomas Magnusson

Tomas Magnusson

To make the prize comply with its actual purpose will require a dramatic change of the award policy. The Nobel Peace Prize Watch therefore doubts that the impending changes, described as “undramatic”, will be sufficient to satisfy the legislation on wills and foundations and the decisions of two public agencies in Sweden tasked with overseeing that foundations spend their funds in accordance with the law.

Even if the nominations are secret, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch was able to identify 24 names properly nominated for the 2015 prize. The list of valid candidates for 2015 is dominated by Americans and by people involved is nuclear disarmament, with nominees like Japanese hibakusha (nuclear survivors) Samiteru Taniguchi and Setsuko Thurlow; U.S. lawyer Peter Weiss and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), David Krieger and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

Further candidates are David Swanson, the U.S. activist for full disarmament; whistleblowers Kathryn Bolkovac, Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, all from the United States; veteran organisers of a law-based world order, such as lawyers Benjamin Ferencz and Richard Falk, also from the United States; and the Womens´ International League for Peace and Freedom, formed during the First World War.

It seems as if Norwegian politicians, imbued in Western militarism and loyalty to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), are unable to understand Nobel´s idea of peace: to liberate the nations of the world from weapons, warriors and war. The idea to be supported by his will was that all nations must cooperate on disarmament.

Laureates like U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 and the European Union in 2012 both believe in military means and clearly are not the type of winners to whom Nobel dedicated his award.

If the world succeeded in realising the Nobel peace plan, this would release enormous funds to cater to human needs. It would cost only a tiny fraction of the world´s military expenditure to secure everyone access to food, clean water, housing, education, health care. It would become possible to secure decent circumstances for all people, all over the globe, poor and rich, East and West, North and South – and make them more secure in the bargain.

To a realist it must be obvious that a world filled with weapons and warriors, even nuclear weapons, is inherently an unsafe world.

In the letter requesting changes, The Nobel Peace Prize Watch refers to basic rules of law regarding wills and foundations and furthermore invokes decisions passed by two Swedish public agencies during the last few years.

The authorities expect the purpose of the Nobel testament to be respected and also that the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm will keep its Norwegian sub-committee for the peace prize under strict and effective supervision and also refrain from paying the prize amount to a winner outside the purpose Nobel actually had in mind.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, elected by the Parliament of Norway, now has until Apr. 17 to decide whether it will serve the great mandate that Nobel entrusted to it, to illuminate and promote the vision of preventing future war by what Nobel in his will called “creating the brotherhood of nations”.

Governments and citizens all over the world should unite in demanding that Norwegian parliamentarians respect Nobel and help liberate us all from the very dangerous common enemy called militarism. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* Fredrik S. Heffermehl is a Norwegian lawyer, former Vice President of the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and author of Peace is Possible and The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted. Tomas Magnusson is a Swedish civil servant in immigration and integration issues, and former president of the International Peace Bureau (IPB). The two are founding members of the Lay Down Your Arms Association and organisers of The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

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Opinion: Shared Action for a Nuclear Weapon Free World Thu, 09 Apr 2015 23:23:38 +0000 Daisaku Ikeda

Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder, and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement (

By Daisaku Ikeda
TOKYO, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

From the end of April, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will be held in New York. In this year that marks the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I add my voice to those urging substantial commitments and real progress toward the realisation of a world without nuclear weapons.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

In recent years, there has been an important shift in the debate surrounding nuclear weapons. This can be seen in the fact that, in October of last year, more than 80 percent of the member states of the United Nations lent their support to a joint statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, in this way expressing their shared desire that nuclear weapons never be used – under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons held in Vienna, Austria, in December, marked the first time that nuclear-weapon states – the United States and the United Kingdom – participated, acknowledging the existence of a complex debate on this question.

In order to break out of the current deadlock, I believe we need to refocus on the fundamental inhumanity of nuclear weapons in the full breadth of their impacts. Taking this as our point of departure, we must formulate measures to ensure that no country or people ever suffer the kind of irreparable damage that nuclear weapons would wreak.

Here, I would like to propose two specific initiatives. One is to develop a new NPT-centred institutional framework – a commission dedicated to nuclear disarmament:“We must formulate measures to ensure that no country or people ever suffer the kind of irreparable damage that nuclear weapons would wreak”

I urge the heads of government of as many states as possible to attend the NPT Review Conference this year, and that they participate in a forum where the findings of the international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons are shared.

Then, in light of the fact that all parties to the NPT unanimously expressed their concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons at the 2010 Review Conference, I hope that each head of government or national delegation will take the opportunity of this year’s conference to introduce their respective plans of action to prevent such consequences.

Finally, building upon the “unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament,” reaffirmed at the 2000 Review Conference, I propose that an “NPT disarmament commission” be established as a subsidiary organ to the NPT to ensure the prompt and concrete fulfilment of this commitment.

The second initiative I would like to propose concerns the creation of a platform for negotiations for a legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons:

Creation of such a platform should be based on a careful evaluation of the outcome of this year’s NPT Review Conference, and it could draw on the 2013 General Assembly resolution calling for a United Nations high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament to be convened no later than 2018. This conference could be held in 2016 to begin the process of drafting a new treaty.

I strongly hope that Japan will work with other countries and with civil society to accelerate the process of eliminating nuclear weapons from our world.

In August of this year, the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues will be held in Hiroshima; the World Nuclear Victims’ Forum will take place in November, also in Hiroshima; and the annual Pugwash conference will be held in Nagasaki in November.

Planning is also under way for a World Youth Summit for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons to be held in Hiroshima at the end of August as a joint initiative by the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and other groups. I hope that the summit will adopt a youth declaration pledging to bring the era of nuclear weapons to an end, and that it will help foster a greater solidarity among the world’s youth in support of a treaty to prohibit these weapons.

At the Vienna Conference in December, the government of Austria issued a pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in order to realise the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

In the same spirit, together with the representatives of other faith-based organisations, the SGI last year organised interfaith panels in Washington D.C. and Vienna which issued Joint Statements expressing the participants’ pledge to work together for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The future is determined by the depth and intensity of the pledge made by people living in the present moment. The key to bringing the history of nuclear weapons to a close lies in ensuring that all actors – states, international organisations and civil society – take shared action, working with like-minded partners while holding fast to a deep commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Obama Prepares for Showdown with Congress Over Iran Deal Fri, 03 Apr 2015 20:45:58 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

Two days after the deadline for reaching a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme had passed, negotiators looked like they would be going home empty handed. But a surprisingly detailed framework was announced Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as in Washington, and in the same breath, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the battle he faces on Capitol Hill.

“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” said Obama on the White House lawn after announcing the “historic understanding with Iran,” which, “if fully implemented will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“If Congress kills this deal [...] then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy." -- U.S. President Barack Obama
“If Congress kills this deal – not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative – then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy,” he said. “International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.”

Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany) have until Jun. 30 to produce a comprehensive final accord on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. That gives Congress just under three months to embrace a “constructive oversight role”, as the president said he hoped it would.

“Congress has played a couple of roles in these negotiations,” Laicie Heeley, policy director at the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told IPS. “I think some folks would like to think they are playing a bad cop role, but I’m not sure how effective they’ve been…it’s a dangerous game to play.”

If negotiators had gone home empty handed, hawkish measures, like the Kirk-Menendez sponsored Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, which proposes additional sanctions and the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities – a non-starter for the Iranians – would have had a better chance of acquiring enough votes for a veto-proof majority.

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

But now that a final deal is on the horizon, Republicans will have a much harder time convincing enough Democrats to sign on to potentially deal-damaging bills.

Excerpts from Comprehensive Action Plan

According to the document ‘Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program’:

• Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these [for] enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.

• Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.

• Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.

• All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.

• Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.


• The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

• Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.


• Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

• U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.

• The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
With the Kirk-Menendez bill out of the way, the most immediate threat Obama faces now comes from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 proposed by the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker.

The Corker bill gives the final say to a Republican-majority Congress – which has consistently criticised the president’s handling of the negotiations – granting it 60 days to vote on any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran immediately after it’s reached. During that period, the president would not be able to lift or suspend any Iran sanctions.

Corker said Thursday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would take up the bill on Apr. 14, when lawmakers return from a spring recess.

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable,” he said in a statement.

But administration officials reminded reporters yesterday that the president would oppose any bill that it considered harmful to the prospects of a final deal.

“The president has made clear he would veto new sanctions legislation during the negotiation, and he made clear he would veto the existing Corker legislation during negotiations,” said a senior administration official yesterday during a press call.

“What would not be constructive is legislative action that essentially undercuts our ability to get the deal done,” said the official.

The idea that Congress should have a say on any deal became especially popular after a preliminary accord was reached in Geneva two years ago, clearing the path for a host of congressional measures particularly from the right. But now that a final deal is in the works, hawks will have a harder time acquiring essential support from Democrats.

“Before yesterday Senator Corker was fairly certain he could get a veto-proof majority, but now that there’s a good deal on the table he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting votes from enough Democrats,” said Heeley, who closely monitors Capitol Hill.

Statements from key democrats yesterday retained what has become customary skepticism, but some are already hinting that they are gearing up to support the administration’s position.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on his colleagues to “take a deep breath, examine the details and give this critically important process time to play out.”

“We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Obama has his work cut out for him, however, in the next two weeks as pro- and anti-deal groups press Congress to take up their positions.

“[W]e have concerns that the new framework announced today by the P5+1 could result in a final agreement that will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a leading Israel lobby group, in a statement.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a well-known hawkish think tank in D.C, also reiterated its stance against any deal that allows Iran to maintain its nuclear infrastructure.

“The parameters of the nuclear deal that have emerged look like we are headed toward a seriously flawed one,” wrote FDD’s Mark Dubowitz and Annie Fixler in an article on the Quartz website entitled ‘Obama’s Nuclear Deal With Iran Puts the World’s Safety at Risk’.

The Israeli prime minister, who received numerous standing ovations when he addressed Congress on Iran in March – even after the White House made its opposition to his visit crystal clear – meanwhile called the framework deal “a grave danger” that would “threaten the very survival” of Israel.

Both Israel, and to a lesser degree Saudi Arabia, have made their opposition to the negotiations with Iran clear, and are expected to voice their concerns loudly over the next few months.

But the Obama administration’s efforts can’t be solely devoted to convincing allies or fighting a home front battle—it must also nail down the details of the final deal, which is far from guaranteed at this point.

“A lot of thorny issues will have to be resolved in the next three months, chief among them the exact roadmap for lifting the sanctions, language that goes into the U.N. Security Council resolution, measures for resolving the PMD [possible military dimensions] issues, and the mechanism for determining violations,” Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst, told IPS.

“Negotiations will not get easier in the next three months; in fact, they will get harder as the parties struggle to resolve the remaining thorny issues and defend the agreement,” said Vaez, who was in Lausanne when the agreement was announced.

“Success is not guaranteed, but this breakthrough has further increased the cost of breakdown,” he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetoric Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen

As a new cold war between the United States and Russia picks up steam, the nuclear threat is in danger of escalating – perhaps far beyond political rhetoric.

Dr. Randy Rydell, a former senior political affairs officer with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) told IPS he pities the general public.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.” -- The Economist
“They’re being fed two competing narratives about nukes,” Dr. Rydell said, in a realistic assessment of the current state of play.

“Oracle 1 says everybody’s rushing to acquire them or to perfect them.”

Oracle 2 forecasts a big advance for nuclear disarmament, as the bandwagon for humanitarian disarmament continues to gain momentum, said Rydell, a former senior counsellor and report director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

“The irony is that if Oracle 2 is wrong, Oracle 1 will likely win this debate – and we’ll all lose,” he grimly predicted about the nuclear scenario.

In a recent cover story, the London Economist is unequivocally pessimistic: “A quarter of a century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing threat of nuclear conflict.”

Twenty-five years after the Soviet collapse, it said, the world is entering a new nuclear age.

“Nuclear strategy has become a cockpit of rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear weapons powers (the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia), whose own dealings are infected by suspicion and rivalry.”

Shannon Kile, senior researcher and head of the Nuclear Weapons Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS he agrees with the recent piece in The Economist that the world may be entering a “new nuclear age”.

“However, I would not narrowly define this in terms of new spending on nuclear weapons by states possessing them. Rather, I think it must be defined more broadly in terms of the emergence of a multi-polar nuclear world that has replaced the bipolar order of the cold war,” he added.

Kile also pointed out that nuclear weapons have become core elements in the defence and national security policies of countries in East Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, where they complicate calculations of regional stability and deterrence in unpredictable ways.

This in turn raises risks that regional rivalries could lead to nuclear proliferation and even confrontation that did not exist when the nuclear club was smaller.

Meanwhile, the signs are ominous: the negotiations to prevent Iran going nuclear are still deadlocked.

Saudi Arabia has signed a new nuclear cooperation agreement, presumably for “peaceful purposes”, with South Korea; and North Korea has begun to flex its nuclear muscle.

Last week Hyun Hak Bong, North Korea’s ambassador to the UK, was quoted by Sky News as saying his country would use its nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack by the U.S.

“It is not the United States that has a monopoly on nuclear weapons strikes,” Hyun said.

“If the United States strike us, we should strike back. We are ready for conventional war with conventional war; we are ready for nuclear war with nuclear war. We do not want war but we are not afraid of war,” Hyun said.

The Economist also pointed out that every nuclear power is spending “lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal.”

Russia’s defence budget has increased by over 50 percent since 2007, a third of it earmarked for nuclear weapons: twice the share of France.

China is investing in submarines and mobile missile batteries while the United States is seeking Congressional approval for 350 billion dollars for the modernization of its nuclear arsenal.

Kile told IPS a subsidiary aspect of the “new nuclear age” is more technical in nature and has to do with the steady erosion of the operational boundary between nuclear and conventional forces.

Specifically, he said, the development of new types of advanced long-range, precision guided missile systems, combined with the increasing capabilities of satellite-based reconnaissance and surveillance systems, means that conventional weapons are now being given roles and missions that were previously assigned to nuclear weapons.

“This trend has been especially strong in the United States but we also see it in [the] South Asian context, where India is adopting conventional strike systems to target Pakistani nuclear forces as part of its emerging limited war doctrine.”

Kile also said many observers have pointed out that this technology trend is driving doctrinal changes that could lead to increased instability in times of crisis and raise the risk of the use of nuclear weapons.

“What these developments suggest to me is that while the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world has significantly decreased since the end of the cold war (with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989), the spectrum of risks and perils arising from nuclear weapons has actually expanded.”

Given that nuclear weapons remain uniquely dangerous because they are uniquely destructive, “I don’t think anyone will dispute that we must redouble our collective efforts aimed at reaching a world in which nuclear arsenals are marginalised and can be eventually prohibited,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: A Legally-Binding Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons Fri, 06 Mar 2015 17:10:29 +0000 Ray Acheson The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Ray Acheson
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Five years after the adoption of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Action Plan in 2010, compliance with commitments related to nuclear disarmament lags far behind those related to non-proliferation or the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Yet during the same five years, new evidence and international discussions have emphasised the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks of such use, either by design or accident.It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Thus the NPT’s full implementation, particularly regarding nuclear disarmament, is as urgent as ever. One of the most effective measures for nuclear disarmament would be the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument prohibiting and establishing a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Not everyone sees it that way.

In fact, ahead of the 2015 Review Conference (scheduled to take place in New York April 27-May 22), the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies have argued that any such negotiations would “undermine” the NPT and that the Action Plan is a long-term roadmap that should be “rolled over” for at least another review cycle.

This is an extremely retrogressive approach to what should be an opportunity for meaningful action. Negotiating an instrument to fulfill article VI of the NPT would hardly undermine the Treaty.

On the contrary, it would finally bring the nuclear-armed states into compliance with the legal obligations.

Those countries that possess or rely on nuclear weapons often highlight the importance of the NPT for preventing proliferation and enhancing security.

Yet these same countries, more than any other states parties, do the most to undermine the Treaty by preventing, avoiding, or delaying concrete actions necessary for disarmament.

It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Their failure to implement their commitments presents dim prospects for the future of the NPT. The apparent expectation that this non-compliance can continue in perpetuity, allowing not only for continued possession but also modernisation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, is misguided.

The 2015 Review Conference will provide an opportunity for other governments to confront and challenge this behaviour and to demand concerted and immediate action. This is the end of a review cycle; it is time for conclusions to be drawn.

States parties will have to not only undertake a serious assessment of the last five years but will have to determine what actions are necessary to ensure continued survival of the NPT and to achieve all of its goals and objectives, including those on stopping the nuclear arms race, ceasing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, preventing the use of nuclear weapons, and eliminating existing arsenals.

The recent renewed investigation of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is a good place to look for guidance. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

Since then, especially at the series of conferences hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, these consequences have increasingly become a focal point for discussion and proposed action.

Governments are also increasingly raising the issue of humanitarian impacts in traditional forums, with 155 states signing a joint statement at the 2014 session of the UN General Assembly highlighting the unacceptable harm caused by nuclear weapons and calling for action to ensure they are never used again, under any circumstances.

The humanitarian initiative has provided the basis for a new momentum on nuclear disarmament. It has involved new types of actors, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a new generation of civil society campaigners.

The discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be fully supported by all states parties to the NPT.

The humanitarian initiative has also resulted in the Austrian Pledge, which commits its government (and any countries that wish to associate themselves with the Pledge) to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

As of February 2015, 40 states have endorsed the Pledge. These states are committed to change. They believe that existing international law is inadequate for achieving nuclear disarmament and that a process of change that involves stigmatising, prohibiting, and eliminating nuclear weapons is necessary.

This process requires a legally-binding international instrument that clearly prohibits nuclear weapons based on their unacceptable consequences. Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons on the same footing as the other weapons of mass destruction, which are subject to prohibition through specific treaties.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons would build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments, including the NPT, but it would also close loopholes in the current legal regime that enable states to engage in nuclear weapon activities or to otherwise claim perceived benefit from the continued existence of nuclear weapons while purporting to promote their elimination.

NPT states parties need to ask themselves how long we can wait for disarmament. Several initiatives since the 2010 Review Conference have advanced the ongoing international discussion about nuclear weapons.

States and other actors must now be willing to act to achieve disarmament, by developing a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and establish a framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. This year, the year of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a good place to start.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Two Koreas: Between Economic Success and Nuclear Threat Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:49:06 +0000 Ahn Mi Young The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ahn Mi Young
SEOUL, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

The two Koreas are an odd match – both are talking about possible dialogue but both have different ideas of the conditions, and that difference comes from the 62-year-old division following the 1950-53 Korean War.

During this time, North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide (compared with Russia’s 8,000 and the 7,300 in the United States) according to the Ploughshares Fund’s report on world nuclear stockpiles – and South Korea has become the world’s major economic success story.

In a national broadcast on Jan. 16, South Korean president Park Geun Hye presented her vision for reunification by using the Korean word ‘daebak‘ (meaning ‘great success’ or ‘jackpot’). “If the two Koreas are united, the reunited Korea will be a daebak not only for Korea but also for the whole world,” she said.North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide – and South Korea has become the world's major economic success story

Since she became leader of the South Korea’s conservative ruling party in 2013, Park has been referring to a new world that would come from a unified Korea. Her argument has been that if the two Koreas are reunited, the world could be politically less dangerous – free from the North Korea’s nuclear threat – and a united Korea could be economically more prosperous by combining the South’s economic and cultural power and the North’s natural resources and discipline.

Denuclearisation has been set as a key condition for daebak to come about. At a Feb. 9 forum with high-ranking South Korean officials, President Park said that “North Korea should show sincerity in denuclearisation efforts if it is to successfully lead its on-going economic projects. No matter how good are the programmes we may have in order to help North Korea, we cannot do so as long as North Korea does not give up its nuclear programme.”

However, observers have said North Korea has no reason to give up its nuclear weapons as long as it depends on its nuclear capability as a bargaining chip for political survival.  “Nuclear capabilities are the North’s only military leverage to maintain its regime as it confronts the South’s economic power,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

In fact, there are few signs of changes. North Korea has conducted a series of rocket launches, as well as three nuclear tests – all in defiance of the U.S. sanctions that are partially drying up channels for North Korea’s weapons trade.

Amid recent escalating tension between Washington and Pyeongyang over additional sanctions, activities at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor in North Korea which produces nuclear bomb fuel are being closely watched to monitor whether the North may restart the reactor.

In the meantime, South Korea has been denying the official supply of food and fertilisers to North Korea under the South Korean conservative regimes that started in 2008.

During the liberal regime of 2004-2007, South Korea was the biggest donor of food and fertilisers to North Korea.

Then there appeared to be a glimmer of hope when North Korea’s enigmatic young leader Kim Jong Un presented a rare gesture of reconciliation towards South Korea in his 2015 New Year’s speech broadcast on Korean Central Television on Jan. 1.

“North and South should no longer waste time and efforts in (trying to resolve) meaningless disputes and insignificant problems,” he said. “Instead, we both should write a new history of both Koreas … There should be dialogue between two Koreas so that we can re-bridge the bond that was cut off and bring about breakthrough changes.”

In his speech, the North Korean leader even went as far as suggesting a ‘highest-level meeting’ with the South Korean president. “If the South is in a position to improve inter-Korean relations through dialogue, we can resume high-level contacts. Also, depending on some circumstances and atmospheres, there is no reason we cannot have the highest-level meeting (with the South).”

In South Korea, hopes for possible inter-Korean talks have been subdued. “What North Korea wants from dialogue with the South is not to talk about nuclear or human rights, but to have the South resume economic aid,” said Lee Yun Gol, director of the state-run North Korea Strategic Information Centre (NKSIS).

The government in Seoul remains cautious about Pyongyang’s peace initiatives. “We are seeing little hope for any rosy future in inter-Korean relationships in the near future, although we are working on how to prepare for the vision of ‘daebak‘,” said Ryu Gil Jae, South Korean reunification minister, in a Feb. 4 press conference.

North Korean observers have said that economic difficulties have been pushing the North Korean government to relax its tight state control over farm private ownership. North Korean farmers can now sell some of their products in markets nationwide, in a gradual shift towards privatised markets.

Further, according to Chinese diplomatic academic publication ‘Segye Jisik’ (세계 지식), quoted by the South Korean news agency Yonhap News, the North Korean economy has improved since its new leader took office in 2012. From a 1.08 million ton deficit in stocks to feed the 20 million North Koreans in 2011, the deficit now stands at 340,000 tons.

According to observers, this report, if true, could send the signal that if North Korea is economically better off, it may be politically willing to reduce its dependence on the nuclear card in any bargaining process with South Korea.

U.S. sanctions have been used in the attempt to force North Korea to denuclearise, thus restricting North Korea’s trade, and the U.S. government levied new sanctions against North Korea on Jan. 2 this year in response to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI accused North Korea of the attack in apparent retaliation for the film, The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But, while sanctions may work in troubling ordinary North Koreans concerned with meeting basic food needs, they have little impact on the North Korean government. “North Korea’s trade with China has become more prosperous and most of North Korea’s deals with foreign partners are behind-the-scene deals,” said Hong Hyun Ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Research Institute.

And, in response to the threat that it may be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the basis of U.N. findings on human rights, Kim Jong Un reiterated: “Our thought and regime will never be shaken.”

South Korea may now stand as the only hope for North Korea, as the United States and the United Nations gather to turn tough against the country over the human rights issue, and South Korea may find itself faced with a ‘two-track’ diplomacy between the hard-liner United States and its sympathy for the North Korean people.

In past decades, North Korea has usually played out a game with the United States and South Korea. “In recent year, the United States has been using ‘stick diplomacy’ against the North Korea, while South Korea may want to shift to ‘carrot diplomacy’,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

“The Seoul government knows that the pace of getting closer to the North should be constrained by U.N. or U.S. moves,” Moon added.

Edited by Phil Harris    


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Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Power Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

As the Iranian nuclear talks hurtle towards a Mar. 24 deadline, there is renewed debate among activists about the blatant Western double standards underlying the politically-heated issue, and more importantly, the resurrection of a longstanding proposal for a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the Israeli obsession to prevent neighbours – first and foremost Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt – from going nuclear, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS, “This is primarily the work of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built his political career on fanning the flames of fear, and saying that Israel has to stand pat, with a strong leader [him] to withstand the challenges.”"If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons - except for Israel." -- Bob Rigg

And this is the primary motivation for his upcoming and very controversial partisan speech before the U.S. Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, which has aroused a tremendous amount of opposition in Israel, in the American Jewish community and in the U.S. in general, he pointed out.

Iran, which has consistently denied any plans to acquire nuclear weapons, will continue its final round of talks involving Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (collectively known as P-5, plus one).

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the United States and Israel, both armed with nuclear weapons, a rhetorical question tinged with sarcasm: “Have you managed to bring about security for yourselves with your atomic bombs?”

The New York Times quoted the Washington-based Arms Control Association as saying Israel is believed to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

The Israelis, as a longstanding policy, have neither confirmed nor denied the nuclear arsenal. But both the United States and Israel have been dragging their feet over the proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told IPS the U.S. government conveniently ignores its own successive National Intelligence Estimates, which represent the consensus views of all 13 or so U.S. intelligence agencies, that there has been no evidence, in the period since 2004, of any Iranian intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

“If Israel is the only nuclear possessor in the Middle East, this combined with the U.S nuclear and conventional capability, gives the U.S. and Israel an enormously powerful strategic lever in the region,” Rigg said.

He said this is even more realistic, especially now that Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) have been destroyed. They were the only real threat to Israel in the region.

“This dimension of the destruction of Syria’s CW has gone strangely unnoticed. Syria had Russian-made missiles that could have targeted population centres right throughout Israel,” said Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament.

A question being asked by military analysts is: why is Israel, armed with both nuclear weapons and also some of the most sophisticated conventional arms from the United States, fearful of any neighbour with WMDs?

Will a possibly nuclear-armed Iran, or for that matter Saudi Arabia or Egypt, risk using nuclear weapons against Israel since it would also exterminate the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories? ask nuclear activists.

Schenker told IPS: “I believe that if Iran were to opt for nuclear weapons, the primary motivation would be to defend the regime, not to attack Israel. Still, it is preferable that they not gain nuclear weapons.”

Of course, he said, the fundamental solution to this danger would be the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

That will require a two-track parallel process: One track moving towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the other track moving towards the creation of a regional regime of peace and security, with the aid of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), within which a WMD Free Zone would be a major component, said Schenker, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

As for the international conference on a nuclear and WMD free zone before the next NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, scheduled to begin at the end of April in New York, he said, the proposal is still alive.

In mid-March, the Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East initiative will convene a conference in Berlin, whose theme is “Fulfilling the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference in View of the 2015 NPT Review Conference”.

It will include a session on the topic featuring Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the conference, together with governmental representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

There will also be an Iranian participant at the conference, said Schenker.

Rigg told IPS Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted nuclear weapons from the outset. Israel was approved by the new United Nations, which then had only 55 or so members. Most of the developing world was still recovering from World War II and many new states had yet to emerge.

He said the United States and the Western powers played the key role in setting up the U.N.

“They wanted an Israel, even though Israeli terrorists murdered Count Folke Berdadotte of Sweden, the U.N. representative who was suspected of being favourable to the Palestinians,” Rigg said.

The Palestinians were consulted, and said no, but were ignored, he said. Only two Arab states were then U.N. members. They were also ignored. Most of today’s Muslim states either did not exist or were also ignored.

“When the U.N. approved Israel, Arab states attacked, but were beaten off. They did not want an Israel to be transplanted into their midst. They still don’t. Nothing has changed. ”

Given the unrelenting hostility of the Arab states to the Western creation of Israel, he said, Israel developed nuclear weapons to give itself a greater sense of security.

“If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons – except for Israel,” he added.

Not even Israel argues that Iran has nuclear weapons now.

“A NW free zone in the Middle East is simply a joke. If Israel joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it would have to declare and destroy its nuclear arsenal.”

The U.S. finds excuses to avoid prodding Israel into joining the NPT. The U.S. is effectively for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but successive U.S. presidents have refused to publicly say that Israel has nuclear weapons, he added.

Because of all this, a NWF zone in the ME is not a real possibility, even if U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are at each other’s throats, said Rigg.

Schenker said Netanyahu’s comments come at a time when the 22-member League of Arab States, backed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, since 2002, presented Israel an Arab Peace Initiative (API).

The API offers peace and normal relations in exchange for the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem.

This doesn’t mean that the danger of nuclear proliferation isn’t a problem in the Middle East, said Schenker.

“As long as Israel has retained a monopoly on nuclear weapons, and promised to use them only as a last resort, everyone seemed to live with the situation. ”

The challenge of a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme would break that status quo, and create the danger of a regional nuclear arms race, he noted. Unfortunately, the global community is very occupied with the challenge of other crises right now, such as Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“So it is to be hoped the necessary political attention will also be focused on the challenges connected to the upcoming NPT Review conference, and the need to make progress on the Middle Eastern WMD Free Zone track as well,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Marshall Islands Nuclear Proliferation Case Thrown Out of U.S. Court Thu, 12 Feb 2015 20:58:38 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

A lawsuit by the Marshall Islands accusing the United States of failing to begin negotiations for nuclear disarmament has been thrown out of an American court.

The Marshall Islands is currently pursuing actions against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom in the International Court of Justice, for failing to negotiate nuclear disarmament as required in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.” -- David Krieger

Action against the U.S. had been filed in a federal court in California, as the United States does not recognise the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonating daily for 12 years.

Despite documented health effects still plaguing Marshallese islanders, U.S. Federal Court judge Jeffrey White dismissed the motion on Feb. 3, saying the harm caused by the U.S. flouting the NPT was “speculative.”

White also said the Marshall Islands lacked standing to bring the case, and that the court’s ruling was bound by the “political question doctrine” – that is, White ruled the question was a political one, not a legal one, and he therefore could not rule for the Marshalls.

Krieger, whose Nuclear Age Peace Foundation supports Marshall Islands in its legal cases, called the decision “absurd.”

“I think it was an error in his decision. There were very good grounds to say the Marshall Islands had standing, and this shouldn’t have been considered a political question,” he told IPS.

“The Marshall Islands know very well what it means to have nuclear bombs dropped on a country. They’ve suffered greatly, it’s definitely not speculative.”

The foundation of the multiple cases brought by the Marshall Islands was that the U.S., and other nuclear powers, had not negotiated in good faith to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. White ruled it was “speculative” that the failure of the U.S. to negotiate nuclear non-proliferation was harmful.

Krieger said the Marshalls would appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. He said the decision set a troubling precedent regarding U.S. adherence to international agreements.

“The U.S. does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and in this case, the judge is saying another country does not have standing [in an American court]. In essence, it means any country that enters into a treaty with the U.S. should think twice,” he said.

“Another country will be subject to the same decision of the court. Where does that leave a country who believes the U.S. is not acting in accordance with a treaty?

“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.”

Krieger said that the judge’s comments about the “speculative” nature of the case meant essentially that a nuclear accident or war would have to break out before such a case for damages could be heard.

“It’s saying a state must wait until some kind of nuclear event, before damages won’t be speculative,” he said. “It’s absurd that the claim that the U.S. has not fulfilled its obligations to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race, is called ‘speculative’ by the judge.”

Marshall Islands had intended to pursue all nine nuclear powers – the U.S., China, Russia, Pakistan, India, the U.K., France, North Korea and Israel – in the ICJ on their failure to negotiate for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Marshall Islands is still pursuing cases in the ICJ against Pakistan, India and the U.K., but John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, said the other cases had stalled as those nations did not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

“The other six states, the Marshall Islands invited and urged them to come before the court voluntarily, which is a perfectly normal procedure, but none of them have done so,” Burroughs told IPS.

Burroughs, also a member of the international team in the ICJ, said China had explicitly said it would not appear before the court.

“Any of those countries could still agree to accept the court’s jurisdiction,” he said.

He said preliminary briefs had been filed in the India and Pakistan cases, with responses due by mid-2015. A brief will be served on the U.K. case in March.

Burroughs said he doubted the decision in U.S. federal court would impact the cases in The Hague.

“I don’t see the decision having any effect at all,” he said.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Touts 2015 as Milestone Year for World Body Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:25:26 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the high level dinner, “Making 2015 a Historic Year”, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, in a sustained political hype, is touting 2015 as a likely breakthrough year for several key issues on its agenda – primarily development financing, climate change, sustainable development, disaster risk-reduction and nuclear non-proliferation.

At the same time, the world body is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year while also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the historic Beijing Conference on Women which strengthened gender empowerment worldwide."Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century." -- James Paul

In a report titled ‘The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet’ released last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 2015 is “the time for global action.”

The upcoming events include the Third World Conference on Disaster-Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan in March; the five-year review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty in April-May in New York; and the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis Ababa in July.

Speaking to reporters last week, the secretary-general singled out three priorities “I have been repeating all the time.”

“We have to do the utmost efforts to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (ending 2015). Then the Member States are working very hard to shape the post-2015 development agenda by September.”

The United Nations will host a special summit of world leaders, Sep. 25 to 27, and “we expect that most of the world leaders will be here and discuss and adopt and declare as their vision to the world, aiming by 2030, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.

And in December this year, he said, “we must have a universal, meaningful climate change agreement” in talks scheduled to take place in Paris.

At each of these “milestones,” he pointed out, “we will continue to be ambitious to end poverty, reduce inequality and exploit the opportunities that accompany the climate challenge.”

As for the 70th anniversary, he said, it will be “an important moment for serious reflection on our achievements and setbacks”.

But Jim Paul, who monitored the United Nations for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS he was sceptical of the political hype surrounding the upcoming conferences.

“The United Nations has been trumpeting the global meetings of 2015 as watershed events, but real world expectations are lagging behind the rhetoric of the secretary-general and his team,” he said.

Paul said there are several issues to bear in mind: while the U.N.’s summits address some of the world’s most pressing issues, powerful member states like the United States usually seek to weaken the events and prevent strong outcomes.

This trend was already visible in the 1990s, the golden decade of U.N. summits, when Washington began to insist that summits were too “expensive” and reached too far, said Paul, a onetime lecturer and assistant professor of political science at Empire State College in the State University of New York system.

“That policy reached its most extreme form in the run-up to the summit of 2005, when the U.S. insisted on a massive, last-minute re-working of the agreed text, but it can be found in many other cases before and since,” he said.

Paul pointed out that powerful states, the U.S. first and foremost, do not like to be limited by U.N.-based decisions.

Second, there is the problem of the lack of binding outcomes to these global events.

He said grand aspirations are often expressed in the outcome documents, and the word “binding” is sometimes used, but all participants know that the outcome will remain aspirational – not tough, compelling policy to be adhered to.

This gives rise to cynicism among the diplomats and especially among the public, urged by governments to blame “the U.N.” for its supposedly feckless behaviour (whilst they themselves are often at fault), he declared.

At a press conference last month, the president of the 193-member General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, said 70 years after the founding of the United Nations “we have a truly historic opportunity to agree on an inspiring agenda that can energize the international community, governments everywhere and the citizens of the world.”

“We must be ready to seize this challenge,” he added.

Speaking on the specifics of SDGs, Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Penang-based Third World Network, told IPS while the incorporation of the SDGs is an important part of the post-2015 development agenda, “We need to put the economic agenda as a priority for the Development Summit.”

She said financial instabilities “continue to loom before us, while increasingly anti-people and anti-development trade rules are being pushed by major developed countries in bilateral and plurilateral trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

“The notoriety of transnational investors suing national governments for hundreds of millions of dollars under bilateral investment agreements has triggered protests in many countries, with some developing country governments reviewing and even terminating those grossly unfair treaties. “

She said the Addis Ababa conference is crucial for addressing several fundamental financial and economic issues – without structural reforms that respect national policy space and ensure stability, sustainable development will remain elusive.

Paul told IPS there are various alternative policy venues, such as the World Bank, the G-8, the G-20, the IMF, and so on.

The United Nations must confront the challenge of great powers who take decisions in venues they prefer and according to their own priorities and timetables.

Washington is certainly not the only U.N. member state to act this way, but as the biggest and richest, it has the strongest inclination to act according to its own perceived interests and not in a broadly consultative process, he said.

“Finally, we should remember the difficult policy context of 2015 – the deep crisis of climate change that requires decisions that go very far and necessarily upset the comfortable assumptions of the existing global order,” Paul noted.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 85 percent is so radical a goal that no one even wants to think about it, much less create policy around it, said Paul.

And creating a fair, stable and just global economic order under the Sustainable Development Goals appears also nearly impossible in a global economy that is stumbling seriously and creating ever-greater inequality. Will the world’s oligarchs concede power and revenues? he asked.

Does all this mean that the U.N.’s aspirational summit meetings in 2015 are useless or downright negative? Not necessarily.

“To know that we cannot expect a miracle is perhaps a valuable adjustment of our unreasonable expectations and a way to think more realistically about what can and cannot be accomplished,” Paul said.

“Above all, it is a reminder that the world’s states are acting, as usual, irresponsibly. And that we need a world that functions far better if we are to survive the threats and challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes International Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Three Minutes Away from Doomsday Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:29:53 +0000 Leila Lemghalef Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

By Leila Lemghalef

Unchecked climate change and the nuclear arms race have propelled the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to midnight, from its 2012 placement of five minutes to midnight.

The decision was announced in Washington DC by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the body behind the calculations and creation of the 1947 Clock of Doom.“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation." -- Alyn Ware

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations were described by BAS as having “reached their iciest point in decades”.

Today’s polemic takes into account the immutable laws of science in relation to the “climate catastrophe” as well as the activities of modernisation of massive nuclear arsenals, which come with inadvertent risks.

“The question gets much more complicated than someone with their finger on the button,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of BAS.

Another major problem is the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, said BAS.

Climate change and nuclear tensions were placed on equal footing in this year’s warning.

“And while fossil-fuel burning technologies may seem like a less kind of abrupt way to ruin the world, they’re doing it in slow motion,” said Benedict.

Citizen’s potential

“Negotiators on the international treaty of climate change or any international treaty are working within the fairly narrow latitude afforded them by their governments. And the governments themselves are working within the latitudes afforded them by their constituencies,” said BAS member of the Science and Security Board Sivan Kartha, senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Real cooperation on the international front, he said, “will rely on there being a demand for that, a mandate for that, from constituencies within countries,” also noting “today’s extremely daunting political opposition to climate action”.

President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff described a series of global existential challenges that could accelerate the arrival of doomsday, including the stability of the climate, the acidity of the oceans, and biodiversity, as well as widespread goals of strategic stability and the pursuit of dominance.

“Remember we are extinguishing species at up to one thousand times faster than what would be the normal evolutionary base rate,” he told IPS. “The backdrop of these challenges arising from science, technology, and social organisation is the immature relationship between states in their pursuit of security through the application of the threat or use of force. The most dangerous tool of the pursuit of security through force are the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“…On the other hand, a growing consensus within informed members of global governance and civil society is rapidly coming to understand that no nation can be secure in an insecure world. And the business community has rapidly integrated in such a fashion that they have demonstrated the capacity of cooperation, if driven by recognised self-interests,” he said.

“I am reminded that in the 17th Century, the world moved from the predominance of the city-state into the modern world of the nation state. Such a phenomena required national identity. National identity occurred largely because of national grammar and language, which rested on the technological innovations of the printing press.

“Today, the technology that will allow us to have global cultural grammar and identity is being provided by the Internet. And thus, the tools, to move from the dis-functionality of posing national interest against the global common good has the potential to be overcome.”

In light of his analysis, the clock’s minute hand can be influenced for the better or for the worse, and 2015 will present opportunities for progress to be made.

The simple truth

Alyn Ware is a member of the World Future Council and the coordinator of Global Wave 2015, an initiative on “Global Action to Wave Goodbye to Nukes”.

Ware spoke to IPS ahead of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars that’s wasted on nuclear weapons is needed in order to shift our economy from a carbon-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy,” he told IPS, also explaining that “the competition and the confrontation and conflicts that are perpetuated by nuclear weapons prevent the type of cooperation that’s required for addressing climate change.

“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation. Threatening to annihilate cities, innocent people, future generations, is not consistent with humanity,” Ware told IPS.

“And then there’s also a simple truth with climate change,” he added. “The simple truth is we have to move from a carbon-based economy to one that’s focused more on renewable energies.”

He also acknowledged the nuances surrounding the implementation of these simple truths.

“At the moment, we don’t have sufficient political commitment to either of them,” he said, addressing vested interests preventing that kind of action, including corporations making nuclear weapons or selling oil, coal or gas.

“What we’re looking at is empowering people,” he said.

For that reason, he thinks the Doomsday Clock is very good. “Because it’s simple, it’s really understandable, and it gives the idea that, hey, we can all be involved in this.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Sabotaging U.S.-Cuba Détente in the Kennedy Era Tue, 06 Jan 2015 08:58:51 +0000 Robert F. Kennedy Jr

This is the third of three articles written by Robert F. Kennedy – son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy – which address relations between the United States and Cuba during the 60-year period of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The first article – “We Have So Much to Learn From Cuba” – was run on December 30, 2014, and the second – “JFK’s Secret Negotiations with Fidel” – was run on January 5.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr
WHITE PLAINS, New York, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

I grew up in Hickory Hill, my family’s home in Virginia which was often filled with veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. 

My father Robert F. Kennedy, who admired the courage of these veterans and felt overwhelming guilt for having put the Cubans in harm’s way during the ill-planned invasion,  took personal responsibility for finding each of them jobs and homes, organising integration of many of them into the U.S. Armed Forces.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Robert F Kennedy Jr

But as the process of détente unfolded, suspicion and anger were so widespread that even those Cubans who loved my father and were always present at my home when I was a boy, stopped visiting Hickory Hill.

To the CIA, détente was perfidious sedition.  Adlai Stevenson [at the time U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] had warned President John F. Kennedy that “unfortunately the CIA is still in charge of Cuba.”  The agency, he said, would never allow normalisation of relations.

JFK was involved in secret negotiations with Fidel Castro designed to outflank Foggy Bottom [Washington] and the agents at Langley [CIA], but the CIA knew of JFK’s back-channel contacts with Castro and endeavoured to sabotage the peace efforts with cloak and dagger mischief.

In April 1963, CIA officials secretly sprinkled deadly poison in a wetsuit intended as a gift for Castro from JFK’s emissaries James Donovan and John Nolan, hoping to murder Castro, blame JFK for the murder, and thoroughly discredit him and his peace efforts.

The agency also delivered a poison pen to hit man Rolendo Cubelo in Paris, with instructions that he use it to murder Fidel. William Attwood [a former journalist and U.S. diplomat attached to the United Nations asked by JFK to open up secret negotiations with Castro] later said that the CIA’s attitude was: “To hell with the President it was pledged to serve.”“There is no doubt in my mind. If there had been no assassination, we probably would have moved into negotiations leading to a normalisation of relations with Cuba” – William Attwood, U.S. diplomat asked by John F. Kennedy to open secret negotiations with Castro, speaking of JFK’s assassination

Many exile leaders openly expressed their disgust with the White House “treachery”, accusing JFK of engaging in “co-existence” with Fidel Castro.  Some Cubans remained loyal to my father, but a small number of hard, bitter homicidal Castro haters now directed their fury toward JFK and there is credible evidence that these men and their CIA handlers may have been involved in plots to assassinate him.

On April 18, 1963, Don Jose Miro Cardona, Chair of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, resigned in a fusillade of furious denouncements aimed at JFK and my father, saying that “the struggle for Cuba is in the process of being sabotaged by the U.S. government.”

Cardona promised: “There is only one route left to follow and we will follow it:  violence.”

Hundreds of Cuban exiles in Miami neighbourhoods expressed their discontent with the White House by hanging black crepe from their homes.  In November 1963, Cuban exiles passed around a pamphlet extolling JFK’s assassination. “Only one development,” the broadside declared, would lead to Castro’s demise and the return to their beloved country – “If an inspired act of God should place in the White House within weeks in the hands of a Texan known to be a friend of all Latin America.”

Santo Trafficante, the Mafia boss and Havana casino czar who had worked closely with the CIA in various anti-Castro assassination plots, told his Cuban associates that JFK was to be hit.

On the day JFK was shot, Castro was meeting with French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of the socialist newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur and one of JFK’s secret channels to Castro, at his summer presidential palace in Varadero Beach.  At 1.00 p.m. they received a phone call with news that Jack had been shot.  “Voila, there is the end to your mission of peace,” Castro told Daniel.

After JFK’s death, Castro persistently pushed Lisa Howard [ABC newswoman who served as an informal emissary between JFK and Fidel], Adlai Stevenson and William Attwood and others to ask Kennedy’s successor Lyndon Johnson to resume the dialogue.  Johnson ignored the requests and Castro eventually gave up.

Immediately following JFK’s assassination, many clues appeared – later discredited – suggesting that Castro may have orchestrated President Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson and others in his administration were aware of these whispers and apparently accepted their implication. Johnson decided not to pursue rapprochement with Castro after being told by his intelligence apparatus, including Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) boss J. Edgar Hoover, that Lee Harvey Oswald may have been an agent of the Cuban government.  This despite Oswald’s well-established anti-Castro bona fides.

After JFK’s death, my father continued to press Lyndon Johnson’s State Department to analyse “whether it is possible for the United States to live with Castro.”

“The present travel restrictions are inconsistent with traditional American liberties,” my father, then-U.S. Attorney General, argued in a behind-the-scenes debate over the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba.

In December 1963, the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute four members of the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba who had led a group of 59 college-age Americans on a trip to Havana. My father opposed those prosecutions, as well as the travel ban itself.

In a December 12, 1963 confidential memorandum to then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, he wrote that he favoured “withdraw[ing] the existing regulation prohibiting trips by U.S. citizens to Cuba.”

My father argued that restricting Americans’ right to travel went against the freedoms that he had sworn to protect as Attorney General. Lifting the ban, he argued, would be “more consistent with our views as a free society and would contrast with such things as the Berlin Wall and Communist controls on such travel.”

Secretary of State Dean Rusk thereafter excluded my father from foreign affairs discussions.  He was still Johnston’s Attorney General but the roaming portfolio that had previously empowered him to steer U.S. foreign policy during the Kennedy administration years was now revoked.

The CIA would continue its efforts to try to assassinate Castro during the first two years of the LBJ administration.  Johnson never knew it.  Castro provided Senator George McGovern with evidence of at least ten assassination plots during this period.

In 1978, Castro told visiting Congressmen, “I can tell you that in the period in which Kennedy’s assassination took place, Kennedy was changing his policy toward Cuba.  To a certain extent we were honoured in having such a rival.  He was an outstanding man.”

William Attwood later said: “There is no doubt in my mind. If there had been no assassination, we probably would have moved into negotiations leading to a normalisation of relations with Cuba.”

When I first met Castro in 1999, he acknowledged the recklessness of his brash gambit of inviting Soviet nuclear arms into Cuba.  “It was a mistake to risk such grave dangers for the world.”  At the time, I was lobbying the Cuban leader against Havana’s plans to open a Chernobyl-style nuclear plant in Juragua.

During another meeting with the Cuban leader in August 2014, Fidel expressed his admiration for John Kennedy’s leadership and observed that a nuclear exchange at the time of the Cuban missile crisis could have obliterated all of civilisation.

Today, five decades later and two decades after the Soviets left Cuba, we are finally ending a misguided policy that at times has done little to further America’s international leadership or its foreign policy interests. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

*             Robert F. Kennedy Jr serves as Senior Attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Earlier in his career, he served as Assistant Attorney General in New York City.

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OPINION: JFK’s Secret Negotiations with Fidel Mon, 05 Jan 2015 07:49:29 +0000 Robert F. Kennedy Jr

This is the second of three articles written by Robert F. Kennedy – son of late U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy – which address relations between the United States and Cuba during the 60-year period of the U.S. embargo against the island nation. The first article – “We Have So Much to Learn From Cuba” – was run on December 30, 2014, and the third – “Sabotaging U.S.-Cuba Détente in the Kennedy Era” – will run on January 6.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr
WHITE PLAINS, New York, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

On the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, one of his emissaries was secretly meeting with Fidel Castro at Varadero Beach in Cuba to discuss terms for ending the U.S. embargo against the island and beginning the process of détente between the two countries.

That was more than 50 years ago and now, finally, President Barack Obama is resuming the process of turning JFK’s dream into reality by re-establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Those clandestine discussions at Castro’s summer presidential palace in Varadero Beach had been proceeding for several months, having evolved along with the improved relations with the Soviet Union following the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

During that crisis, JFK and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, both at odds with their own military hardliners, had developed a mutual respect, even warmth, towards each other.  A secret bargain between them had paved the way for removing the Soviet missiles from Cuba – and U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey – with each side saving face.

Fidel, on the other hand, was furious at the Russians for ordering the withdrawal of the missiles without consulting him.  After the missile crisis, Khrushchev invited an embittered Fidel to Russia to smooth over the Cuban leader’s anger at the unilateral withdrawal of Soviet missiles.

Castro and Khrushchev spent six weeks together, with the Russian leader badgering Fidel to seek détente and pursue peace with President Kennedy.  Khrushchev’s son Sergei would later write that “my father and Fidel developed a teacher-student relationship.”  Khrushchev wanted to convince Castro that JFK was trustworthy.

Castro himself recalled how “for hours [Khrushchev] read many messages to me, messages from President Kennedy, messages sometimes delivered through Robert Kennedy [JFK’s brother]…”.  Castro returned to Cuba determined to seek a path toward rapprochement.“I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North America (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favour!), who will be willing to brave unpopularity, fight the corporations, tell the truth and, most important, let the various nations act as they see fit. Kennedy could still be this man” – Fidel Castro in an interview with French journalist Jean Daniel, one of JFK’s secret channels to Castro

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was spying on all parties.  In a top secret January 5, 1963 memo to his fellow agents, Richard Helms (later to become Director of the CIA in 1966) warned that “at the request of Khrushchev, Castro was returning to Cuba with the intention of adopting with Fidel a conciliatory policy toward the Kennedy administration for the time being.”

JFK was open to such advances.  In the autumn of 1962, he and his brother Robert had dispatched James Donovan, a New York attorney, and John Dolan, a friend and advisor to my father Robert Kennedy, to negotiate the release of Castro’s 1500 Cuban prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Donovan and Nolan developed an amiable friendship with Castro.  They travelled the country together.  Fidel gave them a tour of the Bay of Pigs battlefield and then took them as his guests to so many baseball games that, Nolan told me, he vowed to never watch the sport again.

After he released the last 1200 prisoners on Christmas Day 1962, Castro asked Donovan how to go about normalising relations with the United States.  Donovan replied: “The way porcupines make love, very carefully.”

My father Robert and JFK were intensely curious about Castro and demanded detailed, highly personal, descriptions of the Cuban leader from both Donovan and Nolan.

The U.S. press had variously caricatured Fidel as drunken, filthy, mercurial, violent and undisciplined. However, Nolan told them: “Our impression would not square with the commonly accepted image. Castro was never irritable, never drunk, never dirty.”  He and Donovan described the Cuban leader as worldly, witty, curious, well informed, impeccably groomed, and an engaging conversationalist.

From their extensive travel with Castro and having witnessed the spontaneous ovations when he entered baseball stadiums with his small but professional security team, they confirmed the CIA’s internal reports of Castro’s overwhelming popularity with the Cuban people.

JFK was intuitively sympathetic towards the Cuban revolution.  His special assistant and biographer Arthur Schlesinger wrote that “President Kennedy had a natural sympathy for Latin American underdogs and understood the source of the widespread resentment against the United States.”

He said that “the long history of abuse and exploitation had turned Fidel against the United States and toward the Soviets at a time when he might have turned toward the West.  JFK’s objection was to Cuba’s role as a Soviet patsy and platform for expanding the Soviet sphere of influence and fomenting revolution and Soviet expansion throughout Latin America.”

Castro had his own nationalistic reasons to bridle at Soviet dependency, particularly after the missile crisis.  He made his desire for rapprochement clear during private talks with ABC newswoman Lisa Howard, who served as another informal emissary between JFK and Fidel.

Howard reported back to the White House that, “in our conversations [Fidel] made it quite clear that he was ready to discuss the Soviet personnel and military hardware on Cuban soil, compensation for expropriated American lands and investments, the question of Cuba as a base for communist subversion throughout the hemisphere.

Once the Cuban prisoners were free, JFK began seriously looking at rebooting relations with Castro.  That impulse took him sailing into perilous waters.  The very mention of détente with Fidel was political dynamite as the 1964 U.S. presidential elections approached.

Barry Goldwater [the Republican Party’s nominee for president in the 1964 election], Richard Nixon [Vice-President under Eisenhower and JFK’s rival for the presidency in 1960] and Nelson Rockefeller [Goldwater’s competitor for nomination as Republican presidential candidate] all regarded Cuba as the Republican Party’s greatest asset.

Certain murderous and violent Cuban exiles and their CIA handlers saw talk of co-existence as hell bound treachery.

In September 1963, JFK secretly asked William Attwood, a former journalist and U.S. diplomat attached to the United Nations, to open secret negotiations with Castro.

Atwood had known Castro since 1959 when he covered the Cuban Revolution for Look magazine before Castro turned against the United States.

Later that month, my father told Attwood to find a secure location to conduct a secret parlay with Fidel.

In October, Castro began arranging for Atwood to fly surreptitiously to a remote airstrip in Cuba to begin negotiations on détente.  On November 18, 1963, four days before JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Castro listened to his aide, Rene Vallejo, talk by phone with Attwood and agreed to an agenda for the meeting.

That same day, JFK prepared the path for rapprochement with a clear public message.  Speaking to the Inter American Press Association in the heart of Cuba’s exile community in Miami, he declared that U.S. policy was not to “dictate to any nation how to organise its economic life.  Every nation is free to shape its own economic institution in accordance with its own national needs and will.”

A month earlier, JFK had opened another secret channel to Castro through French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of the socialist newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur.  On his way to interview Fidel in Cuba on October 24, 1963, Daniel visited the White House where JFK talked to him about U.S.-Cuba relations.

In a message meant for Castro’s ears, JFK criticised Castro sharply for precipitating the missile crisis.  He then changed tone, expressing the same empathy toward Cuba that he had evinced for the Russian people in his June 10, 1963 American University speech announcing the nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviets.

Kennedy launched into a recitation of the long history of U.S. relations with the corrupt and tyrannical regime of Fulgencio Batista. JFK told Daniel that he had supported that Castro’s Sierra Maestra Manifesto at the outset of the Cuban revolution.

Between November 19 and 22, 1963, Castro conducted his own series of interviews with Daniel.  Castro carefully and meticulously debriefed the Frenchman about every nuance of his meeting with JFK, particularly JFK’s strong endorsement of the Cuban Revolution.

Then Castro sat in thoughtful silence, composing a careful reply that he knew JFK was awaiting.  Finally he spoke carefully, measuring every word.  “I believe Kennedy is sincere,” he began.  “I also believe that today the expression of this sincerity could have political significance.”

He followed with a detailed critique of the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations which had attacked his Cuban Revolution “long before there was the pretext and alibi of Communism.”

But, he continued, “I feel that [Kennedy] inherited a difficult situation; I don’t think a President of the United States is every really free, and I believe Kennedy is at present feeling the impact of this lack of freedom.  I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled, especially, for example, on Cuban reaction at the time of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion.”

He told Daniel: “I cannot help hoping that a leader will come to the fore in North America (why not Kennedy, there are things in his favour!), who will be willing to brave unpopularity, fight the corporations, tell the truth and, most important, let the various nations act as they see fit.  Kennedy could still be this man.”

Castro continued: “He still has the possibility of becoming, in the eyes of history, the greatest President of the United States, the leader who may at last understand that there can be coexistence between capitalists and socialists, even in the Americas.  He would then be an even greater President than Lincoln.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

*             Robert F. Kennedy Jr serves as Senior Attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. Earlier in his career, he served as Assistant Attorney General in New York City.

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Searching for Evidence of a Nuclear Test Mon, 22 Dec 2014 21:25:13 +0000 CTBTO CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during IFE14. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during IFE14. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

VIENNA, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

The most sophisticated on-site inspection exercise conducted to date by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) formally concluded this month.

The Integrated Field Exercise IFE14 in Jordan from Nov. 3 to Dec. 9 involved four years of preparation, 150 tonnes of specialised equipment and over 200 international experts.“IFE08 was only a test drive around the block – now we’ve been on the Autobahn.” -- IFE14 Exercise Manager Gordon MacLeod

According to CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, “Through this exercise, we have shown the world that it is absolutely hopeless to try to hide a nuclear explosion from us. We have now mastered all components of the verification regime, and brought our on-site inspection capabilities to the same high level as the other two components, the 90 percent complete network of monitoring stations and the International Data Centre.”

During the five-week long simulation exercise, the inspection team searched an area of nearly 1,000 square kilometres using 15 of the 17 techniques permissible under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Some of these state-of-the-art techniques were used for the first time in an on-site inspection context, including equipment to detect traces of relevant radioactive noble gases on and beneath the ground as well as from the air. Other techniques scanned the ground in frequencies invisible to the human eye.

Key pieces of equipment were provided by CTBTO member states as voluntary and in-kind contributions.

Throughout the inspection, the team narrowed down the regions of interest to one limited area where relevant features including traces of relevant radionuclides were successfully found.

Inspection team leader Gregor Malich said, “We started off with the 1,000 square kilometres specified in the inspection request, using all available information provided. We also used satellite imagery and archive information for planning the initial inspection activities.

“Once in the field, the team conducted overflights, put out a seismic network and undertook wide area ground-based visual observation as well as radiation measurements. This helped us narrow down the areas of interest to more than 20 polygons which we then inspected in more detail.

“In the end, we detected radionuclides relevant for the on-site inspection and indicative of a nuclear explosion. At this location, the team also applied geophysical methods to find signatures (tell-tale signs) consistent with a recent underground nuclear explosion.”

The exercise also tested the CTBTO’s elaborate logistics system, which features specially developed airfreight-compatible containers that allow for field equipment, sensors or generators to be used straight from the containers. Thanks to a strict safety and security regime, not a single health or security incident occurred throughout the exercise.

IFE14 Exercise Manager Gordon MacLeod explained the need to test the on-site inspection regime in a comprehensive way: “Think of a car: all of the parts can be designed and built separately (engine, wheels, brakes, gearbox etc.) but if they are not put together and tested in an integrated manner, there is no guarantee that the car will function correctly and safely.

“For an On-Site Inspection, an additional layer of complexity derives from the human interaction and interpretations of the Treaty, Protocol, and Operations Manual as well as the perceptions, interpretations and actions of the individual inspectors.”

Praise for the host country

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo thanked host country Jordan for its outstanding hospitality and support.

He said: “Jordan was chosen by CTBTO member states for its generosity in supporting the exercise and because of the special geological features of the Dead Sea region. By hosting IFE14, Jordan is reconfirming its role as an anchor of peace and stability in the region.

“I am inspired by the fact that His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan has generously placed the exercise under his royal patronage and grateful for the outstanding cooperation and hospitality from all branches of the Jordanian government.”

Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “a threat of nightmarish proportions for regional and global security” and stressed Jordan’s active support for the CTBT and its organisation by hosting IFE14.

“It fills me with pride that the other 182 CTBTO member states chose Jordan to host IFE14 in a competitive process. The Dead Sea provided the perfect topography and geology for a realistic and challenging on-site inspection simulation.”

Over the coming year, the CTBTO and its member states will analyse the lessons learnt from IFE14 and identify possible gaps.

In a preliminary assessment, the head of the evaluation team, John Walker said: “It is very clear that on its own terms, the exercise has been successful, and has also clearly shown improvements on IFE08 [the previous Integrated Field Exercise held in Kazakhstan in 2008] as well as the three build up exercises that we’ve run over the two preceding years before we ran this one.”

MacLeod added: “IFE08 was only a test drive around the block – now we’ve been on the Autobahn.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The CTBTO can be found on the web, Facebook and Twitter.

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