Inter Press Service » Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 30 Mar 2015 08:34:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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.

Randy Riddel, 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,” he 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 Riddel, 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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Faiths United Against Nuclear Weapons Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:05:05 +0000 Julia Rainer By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

“Never was there a greater need than now for all the religions to combine, to pull their wisdom and to give the benefit of that combined, huge repository of wisdom to international law and to the world.”

The words are those of Christopher Weeramantry, former judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and its vice-president from 1997 to 2000, who was addressing a session on faiths united against nuclear weapons at the civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7 in the Austrian capital.

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Weeramantry strongly criticised the argument of those who claim that nuclear weapons have saved the world from another world war in the last 50 years.

He pointed to the ever-present danger represented by these weapons and said that on many occasions it had been luck that had prevented catastrophic nuclear accidents or the breaking out of a devastating nuclear war.

Noting that nuclear weapons “offend every single principle of religion,” Weeramantry was joined on the panel by a number of different religious leaders, including Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and peace activist, as well as Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA.

Although there often seems to be a gap between the positions of different faith communities concerning different issues, all panellists were very clear in pushing the moral imperative and declaring the similar values that are inherent to all religions.“The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it” – Mahatma Gandhi

According to Mustafa Ceric, it “is not the question of whether you believe, it is the question of whether we are going to wait and see the destruction of our planet.”

Ceric also stressed that the goals and values of humanity are defined by common moral and ethical standards and that the role of religious communities today is greater than ever. Faced with fear and mistrust in society, he said, they also have the responsibility to care for peace and security in the world.

Akemi Bailey-Haynie continued with an emotional statement from first-hand experience – her own mother was a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.

“When nuclear weapons are considered a deterrent or viable option in warfare, it seems from a mind-set that fundamentally denies that all people possess infinite potential. No one has the right to take away a precious life of another human being.”

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

For Bailey-Haynie, nuclear weapons serve no purpose other than mass destruction. They have devastating effects on human beings and the environment, and the possibility of nuclear accidents or potential terrorism cannot be ruled out, she said, adding that dialogue between people of different or opposing opinions is the beginning to achieve change regarding this issue.

“As a second generation survivor, I deeply feel the sorrow, as well as the outrage, born of not being able to yet live in a time when the most inhumane of weapons, nuclear weapons, have been banned,“ she concluded.

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Anglican Bishop, sent a video message to participants to express his deep solidarity and support for ICAN’s civil society forum initiative.

He argued that the best way to honour the victims of the incidents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to negotiate a total ban on nuclear weapons to ensure that nothing comparable could ever happen again.

Two of the session’s speakers, Ela Gandhi and Mustafa Ceric, also attended the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

There, Ela Gandhi delivered a speech in the spirit of her grandfather who, she said, would have joined the movement to abolish nuclear weapons if still alive.

As Gandhi had dedicated his life to teaching humanity that there is a non-violent way of dealing with conflict, he even condemned nuclear weapons himself in 1946 when he said: “The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it.”

Pointing out that the mere existence of nuclear weapons leads to similar armament of rival countries, Ela Gandhi warned that these nuclear arsenals could destroy a chance for future generations to survive and have a prosperous life.

The Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was the scene of intense and often emotional discussions among official representatives from over 160 countries, victims and civil society participants. Notably, both the United States and the United Kingdom were officially represented for the first time at a conference where their nuclear arsenals were subject to debate and criticism.

Religion played an important role at the conference, where many lobbying groups had religious backgrounds, and the opening ceremony was addressed by Pope Francis.

“I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity, planted deep in the human heart, will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home,” aid Pope Francis, expressing his hope that “a world without nuclear weapons is truly possibly.”

In a statement on behalf of faith communities to the final session, Kimiaki Kawai, Program Director for Peace Affairs at Soka Gakkai International (SGI), said: “The elimination of nuclear weapons is not only a moral imperative; it is the ultimate measure of our worth as a species, as human beings.”

He said that “acceptance of the continued existence of nuclear weapons stifles our capacity to think more broadly and more compassionately about who we are as human beings, and what our potential is. Humanity must find alternative ways of dealing with conflict.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nuclear States Face Barrage of Criticism in Vienna Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:19:17 +0000 Jamshed Baruah Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

By Jamshed Baruah
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Sarcastic laughter erupted when a civil society representative expressed his “admiration for the delegate of the United States, who with one insensitive, ill-timed, inappropriate and diplomatically inept intervention” had “managed to dispel the considerable goodwill the U.S. had garnered by its decision to participate” in Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

The speaker was Richard Lennane, who prefers to call himself the “chief inflammatory officer” of Wildfire, a Geneva-based disarmament initiative. He was making a statement at the final session of the Dec. 8-9 conference in the Austrian capital – the third after the Oslo (Norway) gathering in 2013 and Nayarit (Mexico) earlier this year.“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting.” -- Akira Kawasaki of Peaceboat

Unlike the previous conferences, the United States and Britain – two of the five members of the nuclear club, along with France, Russia and China – participated in the Vienna conference.

But Washington’s diplomatic jargon was far-removed from the highly emotional impact of statements by survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of nuclear testing in Australia, Kazakhstan, and the Marshall Islands. They gave powerful testimonies of the horrific effects of nuclear weapons. Their evidence complemented other presentations offering data and research.

Ambassador Adam Scheinman, special representative of the U.S. president for non-proliferation, assured that “underpinning all of our efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use”.

This claim not only left a large number of participants unimpressed but also failed to give reason for hope that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference next year would bear fruit.

All the more so, because as the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out in a joint statement, “nearly five years after the successful 2010 NPT review conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan – particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps – has been very disappointing.

“Since the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2011,” the statement added, “Russia and the United States have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles, which far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements.”

2015 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the consequences of which are still being felt by hibakusha (survivors) and their families, as Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima Peace Ambassador and survivor of the atomic bombing explosion on Aug. 6, 1945, illustrated in an impassioned statement.

“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting,” said Akira Kawasaki, from the Japanese NGO Peaceboat.

“The only solution is to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons and we need to start now,” Kawasaki added.

U.S. ambassador Scheinman sought to reassure in a statement prepared for the general debate: “The United States fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapons use and gives the highest priority to avoiding their use. The United States stands with all those here who seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

“The United States has been and will continue to work to create the conditions for such a world with the aid of the various tools, treaties and agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime.”

Irrespective of the veracity of the U.S. claim, Scheinman’s dry and rather formulaic remarks stood in stark contrast to passionate pleas made by representatives of 44 out of 158 participating states, that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error remains real.

States that expressed support for a ban treaty at the Vienna Conference include: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Holy See, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Echoing worldwide sentiments, Pope Francis called in a message to the conference for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all”.

In a message delivered by Angela Kane, High Representative of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna initiatives had “brought humanitarian considerations to the forefront of nuclear disarmament. It has energized civil society and governments alike. It has compelled us to keep in mind the horrific consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons.”

Questioning the rationale behind nuclear weapons, Ban – who is known to be committed to nuclear disarmament – said that keeping the horrific consequences of nukes in mind was essential in confronting those who view nuclear weapons as a rational response to growing international tensions or as a symbol of national prestige.

In his widely noted message, he criticised “the senselessness of pouring funds into modernizing the means for our mutual destruction while we are failing to meet the challenges posed by poverty, climate change, extremism and the destabilizing accumulation of conventional arms.”

In “the 70th year of the nuclear age”, Ban said “possession of nuclear weapons does not prevent international disputes from occurring, but it makes conflicts more dangerous”.

Besides, he added, maintaining forces on alert does not provide safety, but it increases the likelihood of accidents. Upholding doctrines of nuclear deterrence does not counter proliferation, but it makes the weapons more desirable.

Growing ranks of nuclear armed-states do not ensure global stability, but instead undermine it – a view with which also faith organisations gathered in Vienna agreed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Urged to Ban Nuke Strikes Against Cities Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:02:28 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin

Civil society groups are urging the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring nuclear strikes on cities to be a clear-cut violation of international humanitarian law.

At the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, supporters of the proposed resolution argued that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is undeniable that the explosion of a nuclear weapon on a populated area would engender destruction beyond acceptable human limits.“The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the 'incremental steps' towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes?" -- Jonathan Granoff

“There are over 6,000 cities already members of our campaign called Cities Are Not Targets! declaring it illegal to target cities with nuclear weapons,” said Aaron Tovish, campaign director for Mayors for Peace.

“This initiative to have the bodies of the United Nations explicitly outlaw such conduct is of great value,” he said.

Proponents argue that just raising the issue would bring a dose of reality into the debate about the threat of nuclear weapons, and that a GA resolution calling on the Security Council to affirm the illegality of using nuclear weapons on populated areas under international humanitarian law (IHL) could be a real, practical step to advance nuclear disarmament.

Jonathan Granoff, head of the Global Security Institute, said that other uses also violate international law but there should be no question that destroying a city is illegal.

Granoff told IPS, “Pending obtaining a legal ban, a convention, or a framework of instruments leading to nuclear disarmament, which is required by the promises made by the nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice, this step would make us all a bit safer and downgrade the political status of these horrible devices.”

Is a resolution necessary?

In recent years, it has become apparent that failure to fulfill promised progress on nuclear disarmament has been caused by deeply entrenched security policies that do not seem likely to change.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have raised hopes of further nuclear disarmament, yet this has flown in the face of a reality in which nuclear weapons states continue to either modernise or expand their arsenals, or do both.

Nuclear states agree that the warheads are bad (often recognising a legal responsibility to disarm), yet critics note that in an act of impressive cognitive dissonance, these states simultaneously advance that they are good because they are necessary for deterrence purposes and strategic stability, the disturbance of which could be bad.

Thus, while they exist, so these states say, it is good to rely on them.

China, Russia, the UK, U.S. and France have agreed they have a legal responsibility to disarm, based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.

India has called for negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on a universal, nondiscriminatory, treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and Pakistan has said it would join such a process. Israel has said nothing.

In 2000, 13 steps were agreed upon to move towards disarmament – and then in 2010, 64 additional commitments were made by 188 states.

Yet despite the non-realisation of these incremental moves towards disarmament, the nuclear weapons states maintain that any other attempt to delegitimise, ban, and eliminate the warheads is a distraction.

Proponents of the resolution like Granoff see it as a step forward towards extrication from the situation.

Granoff told IPS, “The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the ‘incremental steps’ towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes? Will it provide impetus to get a ban on testing, fissile materials, and more cuts of arsenals?”

Criticism of the proposal

The proposal is likely to face robust criticism from nuclear weapons states and those under the “umbrella of deterrence” (those states allied to a nuclear power that claim to be protected by affiliation).

Speaking to IPS, former deputy judge advocate general, U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap Jr. expressed reservations about the advancement of such a resolution.

Dunlap remains unconvinced on the question of whether there is an authoritative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons in IHL, saying, “It sounds as if Mr. Granoff assumes that IHL applicable to the use of conventional weapons would automatically apply to the use of nuclear weapons. This is incorrect.

“In fact, even some of the countries which are parties (as the U.S. and some other nuclear powers are not) to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (which contains targeting rules) made an express reservation to it to the effect that it did not govern the use of nuclear weapons.”

Alyn Ware of the World Future Council disputes the claim that IHL does not apply to nuclear weapons. “The International Court of Justice affirmed in 1996 that the laws of warfare, and in particular international humanitarian law, apply to nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Weapon States accepted this, and reaffirmed in the final document of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010 “the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”’

Ware argues that IHL renders any use of nuclear weapons illegal. “A nuclear weapon has a much larger blast impact than conventional weapons. The blast impact can’t be contained to a specific military target. If a nuclear detonation is far away from populated areas, some might argue that such use could be consistent with IHL, even though there would still be widespread impact from radioactive fallout… but you can’t even make this argument when a nuclear weapon is targeted on a military asset in or near a populated area.”

Ware supports the proposal, but adds that there are other complementary initiatives to strengthen the taboo against nuclear weapons-use that are also gaining traction, such as an affirmation of the practice of non-use (advanced by President Obama) and a global agreement prohibiting use.

IPS spoke to former Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Office of Ms. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, Randy Rydell, who said, “The nuclear powers will almost certainly try to deal with this humanitarian campaign by diverting it onto the track of “arms control” — namely, we need to improve the safety and security of nukes and “keep them out of the wrong hands”.

Both arguments divert attention from the risks inherent in such weapons, in anybody’s “hands”.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Civil Society Support for Marshall Islands Against Nuclear Weapons Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:41:34 +0000 Julia Rainer Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Ahead of the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, activists from all over the world came together in the Austrian capital to participate in a civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7.

One pressing issue discussed was the Marshall Islands’ lawsuit against the United States and eight other nuclear-weapon nations that was filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April 2014, denouncing the over 60 nuclear tests that were conducted on the small island state’s territory between 1946 and 1958.“The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up. It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival” – David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF)

The location was chosen not only because it was an isolated part of the world but also because at the time it was also a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands governed by the United States. Self-government was achieved in 1979, and full sovereignty in 1986.

The people of the Marshall Islands were neither informed nor asked for their consent and for a long period did not realise the harm that the testing would bring to the local communities.

The consequences were severe, ranging from displacement of people to islands that were strongly radiated and cannot be resettled for thousands of years, besides birth abnormalities and cancer. The states responsible denied the harm of the practice and refuse to provide for adequate amount of health care.

Castle Bravo was the code name given to the first United States‘ test of a nuclear bomb in 1954 and was 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Addressing the ICAN forum, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum explained that his country had decided to approach the ICJ to take a stand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

De Brum said that the Marshall Islands was not seeking compensation, because the United States had already provided millions of dollars to the islands, but wants to hold states accountable for their actions in violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and international customary law.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, commits nuclear-weapon states to nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear power. The nine countries currently holding nuclear arsenals are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Although a certain degree of disarmament has been taken place since the end of the Cold War, these nine nations together still possess some 17,000 nuclear weapons and globally spend 100 billion dollars a year on nuclear forces.

The Marshall Islands case, which has received worldwide attention and support from many different organisations, is often referred to as “David vs. Goliath”. One eminent supporter is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), whose president, David Krieger, said: “The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up.”

“It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons,” he continued, “and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival. The people of the Marshall Islands deserve our support and appreciation for taking this fight into the U.S. Federal Court and to the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world.”

Another strong supporter of the case is Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist organisation that advocates for peace, culture and education and has a network of 12 million people all over the world. The youth movement of SGI even launched a “Nuclear Zero” petition and obtained five million signatures throughout Japan in its demand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The campaign was encouraged by the upcoming 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015 as well as the holding of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Addressing the ICAN, de Brum urged participants to support the cause of the Marshall Islands. “For a long time,” he said, “the Marshallese people did not have a voice strong enough or loud enough for the world to hear what happened to them and they desperately don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

He went on to say that when the opportunity arose to file a lawsuit in order to stop “the madness of nuclear weapons”, the Marshall Islands decided to take that step, declaring in its lawsuit: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”.

De Brum recognised that many had discouraged his country from taking that step because it would look ridiculous or did not make sense for a nation of 70.000 people to take on the most powerful nations in the world on such a highly debated issue.

However, he said, “there is not a single citizen on the Marshall Islands that has not had an encounter with one or another effect of the testing period … because we have experienced directly the effects of nuclear weapons we felt that we had the mandate to do what we have done.”

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons is the third in a series of such conferences – the first was held in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 and the second in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Hiroshima, Nagasaki Cast Shadow Over Nuclear Conference in Vienna Fri, 05 Dec 2014 20:28:05 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was at Harvard University early this week to pick up the ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ award, his thoughts transcended the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Austrian capital of Vienna which will be the venue of a key international conference on nuclear weapons next week.

But this time around, the focus will be on the “humanitarian impact” of the deadly use of any one of the over 16,300 nuclear weapons that still exist nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War."We may not hear much about next April's NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that's what it's about." -- Dr. Joseph Gerson

“A single detonation of a modern nuclear weapon would cause destruction and human suffering on a scale far exceeding the devastation seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” warns Austria, the host country for the conference.

The 70th anniversary of those destructive U.S. bombings in Japan will be commemorated in Hiroshima next year.

In his acceptance speech, the secretary-general told the Harvard audience the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons is attracting growing attention – as he singled out the Vienna conference due to take place Dec. 8-9.

The last two conferences on the same theme took place in Oslo, Norway in March 2013, and in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014.

Ban said people are also asking why the world’s nuclear powers are spending vast sums to modernise arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“Where are their disarmament plans? They do not exist,” he lamented.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States alone plans to spend about 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years just to modernise its nuclear arsenal.

And the total estimated cost for modernisation of weapons over the next 30 years is a staggering one trillion dollars.

Asked about the possible outcome of the Vienna conference, Dr. M.V. Ramana, associate research scholar, Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, told IPS, “My hope is that people will come out of the Vienna conference with a continued resolve to eliminate these weapons, not in the distant future as the nuclear weapons states keep promising, but in the near future.”

Referring to the secretary-general’s speech, he said: “It is refreshing to hear a high official speak with such candour. I would like to especially underline what he said: ‘Ultimately, there are no right hands for wrong weapons and add that all nuclear weapons are wrong weapons.'”

His statement that the nuclear weapon states do not have disarmament plans is also sadly spot on, said Dr. Ramana, author of ‘Bombing Bombay? Effects of Nuclear Weapons and a Case Study of a Hypothetical Explosion’.

Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS, “We expect that the outcome of the Vienna conference will reflect the demand from the overwhelming majority of states that we must take concerted action now in response to the evidence about the risks and impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation.”

The logical conclusion of the evidence-based gatherings in Oslo and Nayarit – and now Vienna – is to launch a diplomatic process to prohibit nuclear weapons, she added.

“A treaty banning nuclear weapons would advance nuclear disarmament through its normative force and practical effects,” she said.

The Vienna conference may not launch such a process but it can help set the stage by presenting irrefutable evidence about the dangers of nuclear weapons, challenging the idea that nuclear weapons have any value for defence or deterrence, and providing space for governments, international organisations, and civil society to examine the legal landscape and suggest ways forward, said Acheson.

Dr. Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Programme at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), told IPS, “We may not hear much about next April’s NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that’s what it’s about.”

With the success of the Review Conference in doubt – given the P-5’s resistance to fulfilling their Article VI obligation to begin good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and the failure of the United States to co-convene the promised 2012 Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone (Weapons of Mass Destruction) conference – the Austrian government’s goal is to build positive momentum going into the Review Conference, he added.

The P5 comprises the United States, UK, France, China and Russia, the world’s five major nuclear powers, who are also the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Dr. Gerson said recognising that nuclear weapons abolition cannot be negotiated without the active participation of the nuclear powers, Austrian Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, placed a high premium on winning their participation, especially the U.S. and Britain, who now have bragging rights over Russia, China and France.

“The price paid was Austria’s commitment to limit the conference to educational discourse,” he said.

Dr. Gerson said those who demand action steps will be violating their invitations and will have little impact on the chair’s summary, which will lack the bite of Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo’s summary at Nayarit conference.

“And it will be interesting to see if and how – after their boycotts of the Oslo and Nayarit Conferences – the presence of the Anglo-American nuclear powers leads some to bite their tongues,” he added.

Dr. Gerson also predicted the Vienna conference may reinforce commitments of some to work for abolition, but the men and women of power and most of humanity have known the essentials since the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Most will speak diplomatically, but the hypocrisy of bemoaning the human consequences of nuclear weapons while Washington spends one trillion dollars to modernise its nuclear arsenal and to replace its delivery systems, Britain moves toward Trident replacement, and Russia relies increasingly on its nuclear arsenal in face of NATO’s expansion, will hang heavy over the conference,” he declared.

The government of Austria says nine states (the P5 plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) are believed to possess nuclear weapons, “but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future.”

Dr. Ramana told IPS delegates to next week’s meeting will certainly be aware that next year will be the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the bombings “that first made us realise the utterly horrendous nature of the humanitarian consequences of the use of even one or two nuclear weapons”.

“What we do need to remember is that 2015 will also be the seventieth anniversary of the anti-nuclear peace movement,” he reminded.

“Just as nuclear weapons haven’t gone away, the movement challenging these weapons of mass destruction hasn’t gone away,” he added.

Dr. Gerson said governments will position themselves, rehearsing their arguments in the run up to the NPT Review. Meanwhile, out of earshot, serious side discussions will take place to frame and influence next April’s diplomacy.

“Civil society will speak truth to power. We’ll also be drawing on our contacts to build popular force behind our demands that April’s NPT Review mandate the commencement of Article VI’s good faith negotiations to eliminate the world’s omnicidal nuclear arsenals.”

One certain outcome, he said: the Human Consequences process will have been kept alive, to be revisited following April’s NPT Review Conference.

Acheson told IPS that Ban’s remarks at Harvard highlight “why we can no longer afford to wait for leadership from the nuclear-armed states”.

She said their plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals, extending the lives of these weapons of mass destruction into the indefinite future, demonstrate they are not willing to comply with their legal obligation to disarm. “We can’t afford to keep waiting for leadership from nuclear-armed states.”

Acheson said a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons can and should be negotiated by those states ready to do so, even if the states with nuclear weapons are not ready to participate.

“The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks has already been cited as the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal of launching a new diplomatic process,” Acheson declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Nuclear Weapons as Bargaining Chips in Global Politics Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:23:12 +0000 Thalif Deen Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen

Has the world reached a stage where nuclear weapons may be used as bargaining chips in international politics?

So it seems, judging by the North Korean threat last week to conduct another nuclear test – if and when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution aimed at referring the hermit kingdom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights abuses.

“If North Korea begins a game of nuclear blackmailing,” one anti-nuclear activist predicted, “will Russia not be far behind in what appears to be a new Cold War era?”

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, author of the U.N.-published book ‘Unfinished Business’ on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations, told IPS the larger danger – exemplified also by some of the rhetoric about nuclear weapons bandied around the crisis in Ukraine – is that nuclear weapons are not useful deterrents but are increasingly seen as bargaining chips, with heightened risks that they may be used to “prove” some weak leader’s “point”, with catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

She pointed out North Korea’s recent threat to conduct another nuclear test – its fourth – is unlikely to deter U.N. states from adopting a resolution to charge the regime of Kim Jong-un with crimes against humanity.

“North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling appears to draw from Cold War deterrence theories, but a nuclear test is not a nuclear weapon,” she added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told the Security Council last May North Korea is the only country in the world that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century.

Since 2006, it has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February 2013 – all of them in defiance of the international community and the United Nations.

The resolution on North Korea, which is expected to come up before the U.N.’s highest policy making body in early December, has already been adopted by the U.N. committee dealing with humanitarian issues, known as the Third Committee.

The vote was 111 in favour to 19 against, with 55 abstentions in the 193-member committee. The vote in the General Assembly is only a formality.

Alyn Ware, a member of the World Future Council, told IPS: “Nuclear weapons should not be used as threats or as bargaining chips.”

Their use, after all, would involve massive violations of the right to life and other human rights.

However, he noted, this applies also to the other nuclear-armed states in the region (China, Russia and the United States) and states under extended nuclear deterrence doctrines (South Korea and Japan).

“The nuclear option should be taken off the table by establishing a North East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone,” he said.

And the states leading the human rights charges against North Korea should make it crystal clear that such charges are not an attempt to overthrow the North Korean government, he added.

The tensions between countries in the region, and the fact that the Korean War of the 1950s has never officially ended (only an armistice is in place), makes this a very sensitive issue, said Ware. If the General Assembly adopts the resolution, as expected, it is up to the 15-member Security Council to initiate ICC action on North Korea.

But both Russia and China are most likely to veto any attempts to drag North Korea to The Hague.

In an editorial Sunday, the New York Times said North Korea’s human rights abuses warrant action by the Security Council.

“Given what is in the public record, it is impossible to see how any country can defend Mr Kim and his lieutenants or block their referral to the International Criminal Court,” the paper said.

“As confidence in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) continues to erode, has the time come to ban all nuclear weapons?” asked Dr Johnson.

She said “a comprehensive nuclear ban treaty would dramatically reduce nuclear dangers and provide much stronger international tools than we have today for curbing the acquisition, deployment and spread of nuclear weapons.”

The status some nations attach to nuclear weapons would soon be a thing of the past, nuclear sabre-rattling would become pointless, and anyone threatening to use these weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would automatically face charges under the International Criminal Court, said Dr. Johnson, who is executive director and co-founder of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

“This might not stop nuclear blackmail overnight, but it would make it much harder for North Korea and any others to imagine they could gain benefits by issuing nuclear threats.”

As North Korea withdrew from the NPT over 10 years ago, and has already conducted three nuclear tests, it is unlikely that a threatened fourth test would be an effective deterrent, said Dr Johnson.

The U.N. resolution has been triggered by a report from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea which recommended that leaders of that country be prosecuted by the ICC for grave human rights violations.

The commission was headed by Michael Kirby, a High Court Judge from Australia.

In a statement before the Third Committee last week, the North Korean delegate said the report of the Commission “was based on fabricated testimonies by a handful of defectors who had fled the country after committing crimes.

“The report was a compilation of groundless political allegations and had no credibility as an official U.N. document,” he added.

Ware told IPS, “I have a lot of respect for my colleague Michael Kirby from Australia, who led a year-long U.N. inquiry into human rights abuses which concluded that North Korean security chiefs, and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself, should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

“I find the response of the North Korean authorities to try to discredit his report due to his sexual orientation to be reprehensible,” he added. “Nor do I find credible the North Korean counter-claims that their human rights violations are non-existent, while the real human rights violator is the U.S. government.”

Ware said there are indeed human rights violations in the United States, but they pale in comparison to those in North Korea.

There is a body of U.S. civil rights law and legal institutions that provide protections for U.S. citizens even if it is not fully perfect nor implemented entirely fairly, he pointed out.

But there is a lack of such protection of civil rights in North Korea, with the result that the North Korean administration inflicts incredibly egregious violations of human rights with total impunity, according to Kirby’s report.

“I do not believe that the threat of a nuclear test by North Korea should deter the United Nations from addressing these human rights violations, including the possibility of referral to the International Criminal Court,” Ware declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Pro-Israel Hawks Take Wing over Extension of Iran Nuclear Talks Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:08:39 +0000 Jim Lobe E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at He can be contacted at

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: A Plea for Banning Nuke Tests and Nuclear Weapons Sun, 23 Nov 2014 22:19:43 +0000 Lassina Zerbo Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lassina Zerbo

December 1938 was a decisive month in human history: In Germany, the scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered that when bombarded with neutrons, the atomic nucleus of uranium would split.

The discovery of nuclear fission laid the basis of nuclear technology with all its manifestations – in the short term, the most destructive weapon ever devised and used a few years later in the Second World War.A nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure – every nuclear test, every warhead represents a school, a hospital or a major road unbuilt.

But God is fair, He unleashed a force of good at the same time: Back in 1938, nearly the same day that Otto Hahn publicised his discovery, a very special boy was born on the other side of the planet in Sri Lanka. His name: Jayantha Dhanapala. In the town of Pallekelle, which later became home to one of our monitoring stations – but to that later.

Jayantha Dhanapala’s life story is linked closely to that of nuclear arms control, and in particular to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, in short CTBT, that my organisation is tasked with implementing.

Throughout his soaring career, as a diplomat and in the U.N., Jayantha has worked with persistence and eloquence to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.

A critical part of this bargain was the promise that the CTBT, which was still being fiercely negotiated at the time in Geneva, would be finalised no later than 1996, prompting the adoption of the Treaty by the General Assembly on Sep. 10, 1996. So in a way, Jayantha actually fathered the CTBT.

Shortly later, from 1998 to 2003, he served as United Nations under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs. This was a crucial time for nuclear disarmament, particularly for the CTBT as the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan flouted the still young treaty.

Jayantha is active in probably all of the world’s most important advisory boards and international bodies. Notably, he is the president of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and a member of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). For these reasons and more, I invited him to join the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM), which I launched in 2013 to ensure an innovative and focused approach to advancing the CTBT’s entry into force.

Although we have not yet reached this goal, the treaty has played an important role in making our planet safer. Although technically labelled a “provisional” secretariat, there is nothing provisional about our work. To paraphrase Hans Blix, another member of the GEM, it is a treaty that has not legally entered into force, with an organisation that is more accomplished in verification than everything else we have seen.

This is in part due to the global network of stations we are building to detect signs of nuclear tests anywhere on the globe. Nearly 90 percent of this system of over 300 stations is complete, including the one in Jayantha’s home town of Pallakelle.

The system, which was recently hailed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “one of the great accomplishments of the modern world,” has the proven capability to detect nuclear tests at a fraction of the yield of the first nuclear weapon test in the desert near Alamogordo in July 1945.

The international community forcefully condemns any violations of this norm today, as has been the case with each of North Korea’s tests – the only ones to be conducted in this millennium.

Consistent progress has also been made in the area of on-site inspections. This is the CTBT’s ultimate verification measure and involved a team of highly specialised experts searching the ground using a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies. In fact, I am just coming from Jordan where I visited our second full-fledged on-site inspection simulation, the Integrated Field Exercise 2014, which is currently being conducted on the banks of the Dead Sea in Jordan.

Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world. One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme.

In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure – every nuclear test, every warhead represents a school, a hospital or a major road unbuilt.

In Pakistan, for example, where the anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests is officially celebrated each May, we increasingly observe voices questioning the value of a nuclear weapons programme when parts of the country lack basic necessities such as clean water and electricity.

Developing countries also have much to lose from a nuclear conflict, even one far from their borders. A recent study has shown that even a limited nuclear exchange would “disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the lives of more than two billion people would be in jeopardy”. This would result in unprecedented famine and starvation far beyond the directly affected areas, especially in the developing world.

It is encouraging to see that Jayantha is actively promoting the CTBT, especially in his home region of in South Asia, where India is one of the countries that have yet to sign the CTBT. To me, Jayantha formulated the most eloquent rebuttal ever to India’s criticism of the CTBT:

“Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely.”

In conclusion, the world we live in today would be less safe and less civilised were it not for Jayantha Dhanapala. I would like to thank the Inter Press Service and Ramesh Jaura for organising the International Achievement Award and to Soka Gakkai International for supporting it.

*Excerpts from a speech made at an event marking the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations on Nov. 17.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Humanitarian Impact of Nukes Calls For Concerted Action Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:01:51 +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, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As we approach the 70th anniversary next year of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are growing calls to place the humanitarian consequences of their use at the heart of deliberations about nuclear weapons.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

The Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons presented to the U.N. General Assembly in October was supported by 155 governments, more than 80 percent of all member states.

The view powerfully expressed in the Joint Statement, that it is “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” expresses the deepening consensus of humankind.

The Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons will be held in Vienna on Dec. 8-9. This conference and its deliberations should provide further impetus to efforts to end the era of nuclear weapons, an era in which these apocalyptic weapons have been seen as the linchpin of national security for a number of states.

This can only happen when the goal of a nuclear-free world is taken up as the shared global enterprise of humanity with the full engagement of civil society.

Within the agenda of the Vienna Conference, there are two items in particular that require us to adopt the perspective of a shared global enterprise.Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target.

The first is the examination of risk drivers for the inadvertent or unpredicted use of nuclear weapons due to human error, technical fault or cyber security.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, people were transfixed in horror as the world teetered on the edge of full-scale nuclear war. It took the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union 13 days of desperate effort to defuse the crisis.

Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target. Escape or evacuation would be impossible, and the targeted city and its inhabitants would be devastated.

Further, if such an inadvertent use of a nuclear weapon were met with retaliation of even the most limited form, the impact on the global climate and ecology would result in a “nuclear famine” that could affect as many as two billion people.

The use of a single nuclear weapon can obliterate and render meaningless generations of patient effort by human beings to create lives of happiness, to create societies rich with culture. It is in this unspeakable outrage, rather than in the numerical calculation of the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, that their inhuman nature is most starkly demonstrated.

The second agenda item that will bring into sharp focus the uniquely horrific nature of nuclear weapons—the aspect that makes them fundamentally different from other weapons—is the impact of nuclear weapons testing.

The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the only people to have directly experienced the horrendous effects of nuclear weapons. As the shared use of the term “hibakusha” indicates, large numbers of people continue to suffer from the consequences of the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons tests that have been carried out to date.

Further, communities near nuclear weapons development facilities in the nuclear-weapon states have experienced severe radiation contamination, and there are ongoing concerns about the health impacts on those who have worked in or lived near these facilities.

As these examples demonstrate, the decision to maintain nuclear weapons—even if they are not actually used—presents severe threats to people’s lives and dignity.

Annual global expenditures on nuclear weapons are said to total more than 100 billion dollars. If this enormous sum were to be directed not only at improving the lives of the citizens of the nuclear states, but at supporting countries where people continue to struggle against poverty and inadequate healthcare services, the benefit to humankind would be immeasurable.

To continue allocating vast sums of money for the maintenance of a state’s nuclear posture runs clearly counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, which calls for the maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources—a call echoed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Further, we must face squarely the inhumanity of perpetuating a distorted global order in which people whose lives could easily be improved are forced to continue living in dangerous and degrading conditions.

By taking up these two crucial themes, the Vienna Conference will place in sharp relief the underlying essence of the threat humankind imposes on itself by maintaining current nuclear postures—through the continuation of this “nuclear age.” At the same time, it will be an important opportunity to interrogate security arrangements that rely on nuclear weapons—and to do so from the perspective of the world’s citizens, each of whom is compelled to live in the shadow of this threat.

In 1957, in the midst of an accelerating nuclear arms race, second Soka Gakkai president and my personal mentor Josei Toda (1900–58) denounced nuclear weapons as a threat to people’s fundamental right to existence. He declared their use inadmissible—under any circumstance, without any exception.

The SGI’s efforts, in collaboration with various NGO partners, find their deepest roots in this declaration. By empowering people to understand and face the realities of nuclear weapons, we have sought to build a solidarity of global citizens dedicated to eliminating needless suffering from the face of the Earth.

The impassioned wish of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and of all the world’s hibakusha—is that no one else will have to suffer what they have endured. This determination finds resonant voice throughout civil society in support for the Joint Statement adopted by 155 of the world’s governments.

Even with governments whose understanding of their security needs prevents open support for the Joint Statement, there are real concerns about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

I trust the Vienna Conference will serve to create an enlarged sphere of shared concern. This should then lead to the kind of shared action that will break the current stalemate surrounding nuclear weapons in the months leading up to the 70th anniversary of the world’s only uses of nuclear weapons in war.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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