"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What is the difference between Israel and Iran???


I would hazard a guess that if one polled the people of the United States about what to do about the dreaded Iranian nuke threat, thanks in large part to the corporate media hype, a large percentage of people would recommend sanctions and direct military action and God knows what else. I have not heard one peep in the corporate press questioning the legitimacy of any of the claims made by the U.S. government, even the highly questionable hoopla over the planned enrichment facility near Qom, which the Iranian government announced to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a few days ago, or Monday's missile tests.

Tomorrow in Geneva, Switzerland, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States), hold talks with Iranian officials, led by Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. The P5+1 members will be wagging their fingers and, as they have for many years, chastise Iran for enriching uranium, something the nuclear nations have been doing since the dawn of the nuclear age.

Yes Virginia, uranium, if enriched well (and I mean really well) beyond the level required to produce electricity, can be used to make bombs. The jury is out on this one so far in terms of Iran. What is relevant, however, is why we are so focused on Iran as a potential proliferator of nuclear weapons when we have turned a blind eye to Israel's nuclear program for decades.

As with everything else with Israel, the U.S. continues to avoid the topic of its decades old nuclear program that has produced anywhere from 100 to 200 nuclear weapons that it continues to pretend it does not have. In the big picture of disarmament and nonproliferation we cannot isolate and focus on one politically expedient country (Iran) while ignoring (or should I say catering to) others that have flaunted the idea of nonproliferation (like Israel, India and Pakistan) and hope to acheive success.

Above all, until the longstanding members of the nuclear club demonstrate sincere efforts to cut back their arsenals as they work towards disarmament, they have no moral standing to call on other nations to abstain. The myth of deterrence is so strong that it continues to seduce otherwise sane people to lust after nuclear weapons. Even the vice president of Brazil said (in a recent interview) that "nuclear weapons would be a boon to the security of Brazil," and spoke of how they could be "used as an instrument of deterrence."

History makes dealing with Iran problematic, particularly in terms of U.S. engagement. The United States' significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran's popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Massadegh, and the subsequent rule by Shah Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi didn't help, and U.S. military aid to Saddam Hussein during Iraq's war with Iran was icing on the cake of bad foreign relations. It is easy to see how a sovereign nation such as Iran may be reluctant to want to listen to the U.S. on any level.

One final matter of critical importance is Israel's itchy trigger finger. They are ready to attack anything remotely resembling an Iranian nuclear facility, and such an action would not only be imprudent, but destabilizing to the Middle East. This is not the time for the United States to maintain its usual "hands off" stance with Israel. Allowing any military action by Israel would be tantamount to Israel acting as a U.S. proxy; not a good idea!!!

Commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, in the last paragraph of her September 28 commentary in The Independent, "Don't Israel's Weapons Count?", quoted Israeli human rights activist Gideon Spiro: "Rein in Israel, compel it to accept a regime of nuclear disarmament and oblige it to open all nuclear, biological and chemical facilities and missile sites to international inspection." Alibhai-Brown then summed things up: "The US has leverage because it maintains and funds Israel. If Obama shies away from this, there can be no moral justification to go for Iran or North Korea or any other rogue state. And the leader whose election and dreams gave hope to millions thereby hastens the end of the world."

Let's hope that President Obama takes the moral high ground.



Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nuclear Abolition is Alive and Well


We have been hearing a great deal in the news lately about nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The world's elected leaders are starting to make what appear to be sincere efforts, and should they succeed, future generations could live without the nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads; it has hung over our heads for 64 years.

For all the hoopla about President Obama and other leaders engaged in the efforts, it has been the faithful few (outside of the traditional body politic) who have resisted nuclear weapons and worked tirelessly for decades to abolish them who should be applauded. Without the efforts of individuals and peace organizations - the writing, the speaking, the marches, the resistance, the plowshares actions - the pot would not have been kept simmering, and the topic of nuclear weapons (and their abolition) may have never come into the public sphere as they have recently.

I just read the October 2009 newsletter from Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, and it is full of wonderful stories of people actively engaged in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons. And as stories often do, these stories give us insights into the hearts and minds of the people, regular people like you and me, engaged in this long struggle. These everyday people breathe life into a movement that is so important to the very survival of life on Earth.

Ground Zero has been resisting Trident and working to abolish nuclear weapons for over 30 years, and some of its early members have stayed with it to this very day. These are the people who have been with the movement for the long haul, keeping the embers burning, always ready to share them with those who wish to light their own lamps and engage in the nonviolent struggle for a peaceful world, and above all a world without nuclear weapons.

As the headline in the October GZ Newsletter says (and I paraphrase), Nuclear abolition is, indeed, alive in organizations like Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action thanks to the efforts of these faithful abolitionists who have never given up on humanity's ability to eradicate nuclear weapons. I hope you enjoy the stories and find hope for the future in these pages, and are strengthened in your journey.



Monday, September 21, 2009

Missile Defense is So Offensive


Well, well, well... The fallout (just had to use that one) over missile defense has gone global. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates got in his two cents in a New York Times editorial in response to criticism of the new U.S. plans: A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe. Gates' opening line speaks volumes, and not just about missile defense in Europe, but missile defense in general. "The future of missile defense in Europe is secure." Although missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic are history, in reality missile defense in Europe has only been deferred until a later date (as explicitly stated by Gates). So what's new? Nothing really.

One way to look at U.S. missile defense is from the perspective of Pentagon contractors. Boeing loses out (for now) as ground-based interceptors in Europe shift to ship-based interceptors (a huge boon for Raytheon). Boeing also lost out (for now) as the airborne laser (think of a 747 jet modified with a huge chemical laser to shoot down missiles) program that the Obama adminstration recently cancelled. Of course, you can imagine that Boeing is working on other uses for the airborne laser; they won't be letting this baby go any time soon.

In the big picture, these losses and gains are just another day in the life of "defense" contractors, part of an endless game, one that has no end but in which the score keeps changing in favor of one team and then another. There seems to be a "gentlemens" agreement in which all the teams know that they will ultimately get their share, so they don't play hardball to often. They all know how much (profit) is at stake, and how much they all need each other in this intricate web of defense projects.

Of course, there will always be members of the U.S. Congress protecting (missile) defense jobs in their home states just as with the F-22 Raptor or C-17 Globemaster. In the case of the C-17, with "more than 650 suppliers and 30,000 jobs in 43 states", Congressional support is pretty much guaranteed. Then again, the Secretary of Defense can simply throw out a few key phrases about what kind of missiles Iran may be capable of producing, along with his concerns over "outdated" intelligence assessments, and the future of missile defense is good as gold (a little fear works wonders).

Projects like the Airborne Laser are like sacred cows (excuse the analogy); once the government starts pumping money into the research and development phase of a program this massive it is pretty hard to put on the brakes, particularly once it's "airborne". Long before President Obama announced the cancellation of this project, Boeing had been "developing additional missions" [read "guaranteeing the survivability of this program through mission diversification"]. Essentially, Boeing will look for anything and everything to shoot at to ensure that this baby flies.

And that is the way of defense contracting in today's competitive market. They are just applying some old fashioned thinking - If at first you don't succeed, try, try again (and in every imaginable way). And try, they will. So, don't cry for Boeing for the loss of a few missiles in Europe. It will all come out in the wash, and their stockholders will be very, very happy down the road.

However, one has to wonder if the U.S. put a fraction of the money spent on missile defense into positive engagement with Iran - diplomacy, people to people exchanges and trade - might we get a better return on our investment, including a peace dividend? And might we be just a bit safer than in a world bristling with missiles, since missiles (defensive or not) seem to beget more missiles?



Friday, September 18, 2009

Watching the Doomsday Clock...


Do you know what time it is??? No, not the time of day, but the proximity of humanity to catastrophic destruction, that time being the midnight hour. The Doomsday Clock was created by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to convey the urgency of the nuclear dangers faced by humanity. First set at 7 minutes to midnight in 1947, the minute hand has been moved back and forth over six decades, and is now set at 5 minutes to midnight.

The clock has been set as close as 2 minutes to midnight when the U.S. and then Soviet Union tested the first thermonuclear bombs, and as distant as 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 as the Cold War officially ended and even the scientists at The Bulletin were led to believe that the U.S. and Russia were moving well away from the brink. Read the full Doomsday Clock timeline here.

It was announced this week that President Obama has decided not to pursue his predecessor's foolhardy plan to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Aside from the technical problems with the unproven plan, it was extraordinarily destabilizing to any negotiations with the Russians on disarmament and nonproliferation.

Of course, the President's announcement does not mean that missile defense is history. There are already many other elements of the missile defense network in development and in place (on land, at sea and in the air), and the U.S. may still consider siting future systems in Turkey, Israel or the Balkans; the implications of such decisions on future disarmament efforts could be problematic. It might benefit President Obama to study the history of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey, for example, particularly during the Kennedy/Khrushchev years.

For all the hand wringing over Iran and its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, the U.S. would do well to step back and take a more objective look at the situation before spending billions more dollars on missile defense. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists released a special Web Edition yesterday - European Missile Defense Reversed - that takes a hard look at the topic.

Whether the next movement of the Doomsday Clock will move us closer to or farther from the nuclear abyss will depend greatly on the decisions made by world leaders. Based on the U.S. experience, in which we have already seen a frenzy of development of missile defense systems, it will take a huge effort by the people to overcome the inertia of the deeply entrenched military-industrial complex. Missile defense is $$$$$$$ (Can you say BIG BUSINESS?) down the drain; not what I would call a secure, long-term investment; more like a wildly speculative hedge fund. Detente and diplomacy represent money in the bank like an old-fashioned savings account.

As for me, I'll take the old-fashioned savings account any day, building peaceful relations through a gradual process of give and take (and a lot less take than the U.S. has previously demonstrated). The President's announcement on European missile defense should not make us neglect this issue! We need to keep a close eye on this one, and much like a shell game it will require a very, very keen eye.



Read Obama Scraps European Missile Defense Initiative, Global Security Newswire, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009

Check out the newest articles on European missile defense at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

If you want to do some heavy reading/research, read what some have called a "devastating report" by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (March 2009), DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS: Production and Fielding of Missile Defense Components Continue with Less Testing and Validation Than Planned.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Resisting Trident - Risking Arrest


Resisting nuclear weapons is a tricky business. Actions have consequences, and in the case of nonviolent resistance to Trident, which has been the focus of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action for over 30 years, the action of crossing the blue line painted across the roadway entering Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor can range from a relatively benign ban and bar letter to a Federal trial before a magistrate judge that might result in prison time and a monetary fine.

Many people have risked arrest for more than thirty years, blocking the railroad tracks and highways entering the Trident base, physically (and morally) resisting the genocidal (or perhaps I should call them omnicidal) weapons with which the U.S. government threatens the world (Bangor is home to roughly one fourth of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile). Each person goes through a discernment process before choosing to risk arrest, considering the possible consequences; participants do not take that commitment lightly.

There have been numerous trials over the years, and this October there will be another. One of GZ's younger members, Nicole Scott, twice crossed the blue line during vigils and nonviolent actions at the Trident submarine base in 2008. She will face trial in U.S. District Court on October 7th. You can read the details as well as Nicole's personal statement in the news release below.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood on October 7th, drop by to show your support for Nicole.
Members of Ground Zero will also be leafleting in front of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tacoma, Washington during the lunch hour to focus attention on Keep Space for Peace Week and Trident. Click here for directions, and parking and transit information for the Tacoma Union Station Courthouse.



Photo Note: Nicole Scott being escorted off the submarine base after her arrest on May 10, 2008. Photos by Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.


Federal Trial for Civil Resistance at Trident Submarine Base

A Federal hearing will be held for nuclear weapons resister Nicole Scott on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 1:30 PM in courtroom G, Hon. James P. Donohue (Magistrate Judge) in United States District Court, Western District of Washington at Tacoma.

Ms. Scott is charged with Title 18 USC Section 1382, “which prohibits any person from entering any military installation for any purpose prohibited by law. In addition, this section precludes individuals who have been removed from bases and instructed not to reenter from reentering without permission.”

The defendant was most recently arrested May 10th, 2008 at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor during a Mother’s Day peace vigil when, along with 5 others, she entered the roadway on Federal property and knelt down, blocking the highway entrance.

Ms. Scott was previously arrested during a January 19, 2008 peace vigil in which she and 5 other resisters entered the roadway on Federal property singing “We Shall Overcome” while 5 others blocked the highway entrance to the Trident submarine base while holding a banner with a statement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which stated, "When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."

When asked why she participated in nonviolent resistance against Trident, Ms. Scott said that, "The advance of nuclear technology and militarism has not come without the reach of communities standing up for their own well-being, in ways that can be sustained for generations to come. I support the cause of nuclear abolition in solidarity with people across the globe who are taking power back into their communities resisting all stages of nuclear production, working towards harmonious relationships with the earth."

Ms. Scott is a member of Ground
Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, Poulsbo, Washington. For over thirty years Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action has engaged in education, training in nonviolence, community-building, resistance against Trident and action toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Note: Please check Judge Donohue’s calendar at
http://www.wawd.uscourts.gov/calendars/MagistrateJudgeJamesP.DonohueCalendar.htm since the docket may be subject to change.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Nuclear 18 Wheelers; Yee Haw!!!


Photos of 18 wheelers don't usually get me all excited, but last week Friends of the Earth announced that it has used the Freedom of Information Act to force the U.S. Department of Energy to release color photos of the special trucks that transport nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons components and “special nuclear material” such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium. Well doggone it - I've seen the photos, and those are some of the nicest big rigs I've seen on the road in a loooong time. We're talkin long haul truckin folks; check out that bulletproof sleeper cab. And they are coming soon to a military installation near you (and definitely near me).

Photo "courtesy" of the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA). Thanks to Friends of the Earth for getting us such nice photos of those nuclear big rigs.

About 20 miles as the gull flies from Seattle, Washington is Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, home port of some really BIG Trident nuclear submarines, and storage depot for much of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile; the 2,364 weapons reportedly assigned to Bangor are warheads for the Trident and cruise missiles carried by the submarines based there (according to The Seattle Times in 2006).

The government used to bring nuclear weapons to Bangor on the infamous White Trains, which were greeted by many nuclear resisters during the 1980s, and finally gave up on this mode of transport. Now with trucks moving nuclear materials, it's much harder to know where they are. It was much easier in the good old days when you had trains (they might as well have had a bulls eye painted on them) that were limited to a set of tracks where people could watch them along the way and pass word ahead.
Well, for all you nuke spotters out there, we at least have some photos of the "Safeguards Transporters" courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). They are mighty pretty looking rigs, and I'm sure they are built for the job. One sure fire way to spot one is to look for the really clean rig (that doesn't say "My Other Woman" on the door - I once knew a truck driver with that written on his truck) that doesn't have the pedal to the metal doing 70 (or more) mph. According to the government's guidelines, the convoys are supposed to keep it below 65 mph, which is pretty rare on our stretch of Interstate. Time is money for truckers!

3 safeguards transporters and their escorts leaving the Charleston (SC) Naval Weapons Station with plutonium fuel (MOX) that had been shipped over from France. Photo by T. Clements, 2005.

I know that some folks are already getting worried that those pesky terrorists lurking at every truck stop and highway rest area are salivating at these newly released photos. Well, these "safeguards transporters" are pretty generic on the outside, and there were a couple of previous photos posted on the internet of earlier generation safeguards transporters (google "safeguards transporters"). So there is nothing all that new here, and with all the passive and active features to hamper any would-be thieves coupled with some pretty heavily armed escorts, I'm sure there isn't much to worry about. What we should be worried about is the U.S. government coming up with nifty new ways to extend the life of weapons that we should be looking to retire in the not-so-distant future.

With the Stockpile Stewardship and Life Extension Programs on track once again (maybe yes, maybe no) refurbishing W76 warheads (they finally remembered how to make them), residents of Washington State might be seeing these warhead delivery vehicles, aka safeguards transporters, making their way to Bangor with refurbished W76 warheads some time soon. Watch for them (accompanied by some pretty gnarly security convoys) coming up from the Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas on an interstate near you.



P.S. - Check out the "Quick Poll" at the Huffington Post: Do the release of nuclear bomb truck photos make you feel safer?

Read the fact sheet from the Office of Secure Transportation, NNSA.

Read Navy Never Received Refurbished W-76 Warhead, Global Security Newswire, Friday, May 29, 2009.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence


In 2010 the nations will come together at the United Nations to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), ratified by the United States in 1968. To sum up this noble, yet vastly imperfect document, countries with no nuclear weapons promised not to build them, while the existing nuclear weapons states made a promise to disarm "at an early date."

President Lyndon Johnson looking on as Secretary of State Dean Rusk prepares to sign the NPT, 1 July 1968. (Photo: Courtesy of Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library)

Neither the United States, nor the other members of the nuclear club made any serious commitments to their promise, and we have seen the results. Without a serious demonstration of the U.S. commitment to achieving significant disarmament progress by 2010, the NPT could collapse, opening the doors to uncontrolled global proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It will be up to the citizenry of all nations to hold our leaders accountable to disarmament and nonproliferation in the spirit (not the letter) of the NPT. As the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons on another, the U.S. has a special, moral obligation to lead (by example) the way to a nuclear weapons-free world. More on this in blog posts to come.

We, as abolitionists, need to consider nuclear weapons from a number of perspectives, including the legal perspective. Francis A. Boyle, a lawyer, professor and expert in international law and human rights, recently wrote an essay on The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence that focuses on the criminality of the threat of using nuclear weapons and the human right to anti-nuclear civil resistance. I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about nuclear abolition.

"Anti-nuclear civil resistance is the right of every citizen of this planet for the nuclear threat, attacking as it does every core concept of human rights, calls for urgent and universal action for its prevention." These words were spoken (on February 3, 2009) by another legal scholar, Judge Christopher Weeramantry, former vice-president of the International Court of Justice, and winner of The Right Livelihood Award in 2007.

We must understand our rights before we can defend them.



Read Francis Boyle's article, The Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence, at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Website. Boyle also wrote a book by the same title, Criminality of Nuclear Deterrence: Could America's War on Terrorism Go Nuclear?, published in 2002.

Read Judge Weeramantry's presentation, The Trident and International Law: Scotland's Obligations, given at the Conference on Trident and International Law: Scotland's Obligations organized in Edinburgh by the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and Trident Ploughshares on February 3, 2009