Ukraine crisis: The impact on nuclear proliferation

o13-iconSteven Pifer writes: Russia’s military occupation of Ukrainian territory on the Crimean peninsula constitutes a blatant violation of the commitments that Moscow undertook in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances for Ukraine. The United States and United Kingdom, the other two signatories, now have an obligation to support Ukraine and penalize Russia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine found itself holding the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, including some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads that had been designed to attack the United States. Working in a trilateral dialogue with Ukrainian and Russian negotiators, American diplomats helped to broker a deal —the January 1994 Trilateral Statement — under which Ukraine agreed to transfer all of the strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for elimination and to dismantle all of the strategic delivery systems on its territory.

Kiev did this on the condition that it receive security guarantees or assurances. The Budapest Memorandum, signed on December 5, 1994, by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom (the latter three being the depositary states of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that is, the states that receive the accession documents of other countries that join the treaty) laid out a set of assurances for Ukraine. These included commitments to respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and existing borders; to refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence; and to refrain from economic coercion against Ukraine. [Continue reading...]

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A literary scholar’s fight against American complacency 
about nuclear arms

f13-iconElaine Scarry is professor of aesthetics and general theory of value at Harvard University. Nathan Schneider reviews her new 640-page book, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom: The seed of the book lies in Scarry’s first and best-known work, The Body in Pain, a literary, philosophical, and political analysis that since its publication, in 1985, has been a favorite source for those seeking the prohibition of torture.

“I realized that nuclear war much more closely approximates the model of torture than the model of war because there’s zero consent from the many millions of people affected by it,” Scarry recalls, nearly repeating a sentence that appears in the 1985 text. She began working on Thermonuclear Monarchy in earnest the year after The Body in Pain came out — 28 years ago, with the Cold War still well under way.

The monarchy in her title denotes the assertion that “out-of-ratio” weapons such as nuclear warheads, like the perversions of torture, are inherently undemocratic. It is the nature of nuclear weapons to place the lives of billions of people in the hands of the minutely few individuals with access to the launch codes. Regarding U.S. presidents since 1945, she writes, “Louis XIV was powerless compared to each of these men”; future generations, as she put it in The Body in Pain, “may look back upon our present situation the way we now look back upon the slaves building the pyramids of Egypt.” The new book, published by W.W. Norton, implores its readers to undo this condition, to “reacquire our powers of self-government and dismantle the nuclear arsenal simultaneously.”

Those who have been following Scarry’s work the past few decades will find much that is familiar, even redundant. Several of Thermonuclear Monarchy’s arguments appeared in a 1991 University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, while other parts mirror her polemics against George W. Bush-era policies of torture and surveillance. A version of a chunk of it has already come out as a much shorter book with the same publisher. The fastidiousness of her research also resulted in a several-years-long detour more than a decade ago, expressed in a series of New York Review of Books articles, when she proposed electromagnetic interference from military vessels as a possible explanation for the crashes of several civilian airliners, including TWA Flight 800. Though investigators ultimately dismissed it, her theory prompted a federal study and was cited in a NASA report.

Scarry’s assault on the reigning complacency about nuclear weapons rests on her belief in the capacity of an interpretation to reconfigure the world.

To an unusual degree for an English professor, Scarry has gotten into the habit of seeking to have an impact beyond the realm of pure discourse. While [anti-nuclear protester] John Dear keeps his decade-long vigil and Megan Rice lives out the consequences of her [Oak Ridge] break-in, Scarry’s assault on the reigning complacency about nuclear weapons rests on her belief in the capacity of an interpretation to reconfigure the world. [Continue reading...]

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Nuclear deal heightens tension between Iran president and Guards

a13-iconReuters reports: The article on Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency appeared routine: the minister of roads and urban development said the ministry does not have a contract with construction firm Khatam al Anbia to complete a major highway heading north from Tehran.

Two things made it stand out: Khatam al Anbia is one of the biggest companies controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and company head Ebadollah Abdullahi had said just three days earlier that it did have the contract.

The December report was one of a series of signs that President Hassan Rouhani, who came into office last August, is using the political momentum from a thaw with the West over its nuclear program to roll back the Guard’s economic influence.

Existing government contracts with the Guards have been challenged by ministers and some, like the highway contract, that were left in limbo when Rouhani succeeded the more hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been rebuffed.

Senior commanders in the Guards, established 35 years ago this week to defend the clerical religious system that replaced the Western-backed Shah, have criticized the nuclear talks but been more muted over the curbs on their economic interests.

Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said in December that Ahmadinejad’s government had insisted the Guards get involved in the economy.

“But we have told Mr. Rouhani that if he feels the private sector can fulfill these projects, the Guards are ready to pull aside and even cancel its contracts,” he said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

In the same speech, Jafari lashed out at the nuclear negotiations, saying Iran had lost much and gained little and took aim more directly at Rouhani. “The most important arena of threat against the Islamic revolution — and the Guards have a duty to protect the gains of the revolution — is in the political arena. And the Guards can’t remain silent in the face of that,” Fars quoted him as saying. [Continue reading...]

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American troops with nuclear weapons strapped to their backs

f13-iconAdam Rawnsley and David Brown write: As Capt. Tom Davis stands at the tailgate of the military cargo plane, the night air sweeps through the hold. His eyes search the black terrain 1,200 feet below. He grips the canvas of his reserve parachute and takes a deep breath.

Davis and the men who make up his Special Forces A-team are among the most highly trained soldiers in the U.S. Army. It’s 1972, and Davis isn’t far removed from a tour in Vietnam, where he operated along the Cambodian border. His communications sergeant served in Command and Control North, which was responsible for some of the most daring operations in the heart of North Vietnamese territory. But none of the men has ever been on a mission like this before.

Their plan: drop into Eastern Europe, make their way undetected through forested mountains, and destroy a heavy-water plant used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Leading up to the operation, during four days of preparation, Army regional experts briefed them on routes of infiltration and anticipated enemy patrols. The team pored over aerial photographs and an elaborate mock-up of the target — a large, slightly U-shaped building. It’s situated in a wide, open area with a roving guard, but at least the team won’t have to sneak inside.

Hanging awkwardly from the parachute harness of Davis’s intelligence sergeant is a 58-pound nuclear bomb. With a weapon this powerful, they can just lay it against a wall, crank the timers, and let fission do its work.

Davis had planned to follow in the footsteps of his family’s prominent jurists — his father was a lawyer; his grandfather a federal court judge — until a notice from the draft board arrived during his first year of law school. Rather than be drafted, Davis signed up for officer candidate school and volunteered for Special Forces, graduating from the demanding “Q course” as a second lieutenant. From there, it was on to Vietnamese language school and off to the war in Southeast Asia, where he served as a civil affairs/psychological operations officer.

As a first lieutenant, Davis got his own A-team. His team sergeant suggested they volunteer for training with what the Army called Special Atomic Demolition Munitions — tactical nukes designed to be used on the battlefield in a war with the Soviets. “What the hell. Why not?” he responded. Their company commander forwarded their names and the team was accepted for training.

As the plane approaches the drop zone, the jump commands come quickly, shouted over the frigid, deafening wind. “Check static lines!” The men sound off for equipment check from the back of the chalk forward. “Stand by!” The light turns green, and each man is tapped out: “Go!” the soldiers, each carrying something on the order of 70 pounds of gear in addition to 30 pounds of parachute rigging, don’t so much jump from the plane as waddle off the back of it and fall to the ground at about 20 feet per second.

At half-second intervals, their silhouettes emerge from the rear of the plane, their deflated parachutes streaming behind like comets’ tails. Canopies catch air and expand, and the team speeds downward, fast enough to avoid being spotted (or shot at) but just slow enough not to be killed when the men collide with the ground. Once the team has landed and released and cached their parachutes, they skulk to a predetermined rally point hidden in trees and shadows, where they unseal the special jump container and assess its contents for damage, making sure their payload is intact and not leaking radiation. Then they slip the bomb into a rucksack, bury the container, and set out through the mountains, moving only at night so as not to be seen.

It takes them about two days to make their way to the target. On D-day, they set the device at the plant — and run.

Capt. Davis’s “mission” was, of course, an exercise. In reality, he and his men parachuted not into Eastern Europe, but near the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. The heavy-water plant was actually a shuttered paper mill in the nearby town of Lincoln, and the bomb was a training dummy.

The mission wasn’t real, but the job was. [Continue reading...]

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Almost everything in Dr. Strangelove was true

AnalysisEric Schlosser writes: This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear weapons, “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Released on January 29, 1964, the film caused a good deal of controversy. Its plot suggested that a mentally deranged American general could order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without consulting the President. One reviewer described the film as “dangerous … an evil thing about an evil thing.” Another compared it to Soviet propaganda. Although “Strangelove” was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film “impossible on a dozen counts.” A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: “Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.” (See a compendium of clips from the film.) When “Fail-Safe” — a Hollywood thriller with a similar plot, directed by Sidney Lumet — opened, later that year, it was criticized in much the same way. “The incidents in ‘Fail-Safe’ are deliberate lies!” General Curtis LeMay, the Air Force chief of staff, said. “Nothing like that could happen.” The first casualty of every war is the truth — and the Cold War was no exception to that dictum. Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The command and control of nuclear weapons has long been plagued by an “always/never” dilemma. The administrative and technological systems that are necessary to insure that nuclear weapons are always available for use in wartime may be quite different from those necessary to guarantee that such weapons can never be used, without proper authorization, in peacetime. During the nineteen-fifties and sixties, the “always” in American war planning was given far greater precedence than the “never.” Through two terms in office, beginning in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower struggled with this dilemma. He wanted to retain Presidential control of nuclear weapons while defending America and its allies from attack. But, in a crisis, those two goals might prove contradictory, raising all sorts of difficult questions. What if Soviet bombers were en route to the United States but the President somehow couldn’t be reached? What if Soviet tanks were rolling into West Germany but a communications breakdown prevented NATO officers from contacting the White House? What if the President were killed during a surprise attack on Washington, D.C., along with the rest of the nation’s civilian leadership? Who would order a nuclear retaliation then?

With great reluctance, Eisenhower agreed to let American officers use their nuclear weapons, in an emergency, if there were no time or no means to contact the President. Air Force pilots were allowed to fire their nuclear anti-aircraft rockets to shoot down Soviet bombers heading toward the United States. And about half a dozen high-level American commanders were allowed to use far more powerful nuclear weapons, without contacting the White House first, when their forces were under attack and “the urgency of time and circumstances clearly does not permit a specific decision by the President, or other person empowered to act in his stead.” Eisenhower worried that providing that sort of authorization in advance could make it possible for someone to do “something foolish down the chain of command” and start an all-out nuclear war. [Continue reading...]

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The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal

Julian Borger reports: Deep beneath desert sands, an embattled Middle Eastern state has built a covert nuclear bomb, using technology and materials provided by friendly powers or stolen by a clandestine network of agents. It is the stuff of pulp thrillers and the sort of narrative often used to characterise the worst fears about the Iranian nuclear programme. In reality, though, neither US nor British intelligence believe Tehran has decided to build a bomb, and Iran’s atomic projects are under constant international monitoring.

The exotic tale of the bomb hidden in the desert is a true story, though. It’s just one that applies to another country. In an extraordinary feat of subterfuge, Israel managed to assemble an entire underground nuclear arsenal – now estimated at 80 warheads, on a par with India and Pakistan – and even tested a bomb nearly half a century ago, with a minimum of international outcry or even much public awareness of what it was doing.

Despite the fact that the Israel’s nuclear programme has been an open secret since a disgruntled technician, Mordechai Vanunu, blew the whistle on it in 1986, the official Israeli position is still never to confirm or deny its existence.

When the former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, broke the taboo last month, declaring Israeli possession of both nuclear and chemical weapons and describing the official non-disclosure policy as “outdated and childish” a rightwing group formally called for a police investigation for treason.

Meanwhile, western governments have played along with the policy of “opacity” by avoiding all mention of the issue. In 2009, when a veteran Washington reporter, Helen Thomas, asked Barack Obama in the first month of his presidency if he knew of any country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, he dodged the trapdoor by saying only that he did not wish to “speculate”. [Continue reading...]

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Nuclear weapons and the illusion of ‘safe hands’

At the beginning of 2004, Graham Allison wrote:

The Bush administration has yet to develop a coherent strategy for combating the threat of nuclear terror. Although it has made progress on some fronts, Washington has failed to take scores of specific actions that would measurably reduce the risk to the country. Unless it changes course — and fast — a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States will be more likely than not in the decade ahead.

A decade later hardly anyone seems to be pushing that particular panic button and yet the world still bristles with an estimated 17,300 nuclear weapons.

Apart from the fewer than 10 weapons North Korea is estimated to possess, the rest of the world’s nuclear arsenal is supposedly protected by ‘safe hands.’ How safe those might be in Pakistan is highly debatable and likewise there is little reason to have complete confidence in nuclear security in India, Russia, or Israel. But most Americans are probably confident that the nuclear arsenal in this country is the most carefully protected in the world, and maybe it is — on paper.

But it turns out — and this should come as no surprise — that the real nuclear peril here and everywhere else derives not from the designs of madmen, but rather from human frailty. Or to put it in words every American understands: because shit happens.

We already know that in 1961 two hydrogen bombs with a combined power of more than 500 Hiroshimas were accidentally dropped over North Carolina. Subsequently, a “secret investigation concluded that in the case of one of the devices only a single low-voltage switch stood between the US and catastrophe.”

The New York Times now reports that 34 of the U.S. Air Force officers who are directly in control of launching nuclear weapons have been suspended because they were found to be cheating on “proficiency tests that assess their knowledge of how to operate the warheads.”

This comes just weeks after an Air Force general was fired because of his drunken antics.

The officer, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Carey, was removed as commander of the 20th Air Force, which maintains and operates intercontinental ballistic missiles, after being accused of drinking heavily, insulting his guests, consorting with someone identified as the “cigar shop lady,” and slurring his speech while weaving in Red Square, “pouting and stumbling.”

Last May the Air Force disclosed that it removed 17 officers assigned to stand watch over nuclear-tipped Minuteman missiles after finding safety violations, potential violations in protecting codes and attitude problems.

And last November, The Associated Press reported that Air Force officers with nuclear launch authority had twice been caught napping with the blast door open. That is a violation of security regulations meant to prevent a terrorist or intruder from entering the underground command post and compromising secret launch codes.

When these are the vulnerabilities of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, there’s little reason to assume that these weapons are being guarded any more carefully elsewhere.

Posit a threat as external and no effort or expense will be spared to erect every imaginable barrier whose claimed effect will be to enhance everyone’s safety.

But when a much larger threat comes from within and comes from the simple fact that people make mistakes — that no system is absolutely unbreakable — and the only rational solution is one that hardly any politician has the guts to advocate: global nuclear disarmament.

It isn’t a question of whether this can be accomplished; it’s simply a question of whether this will happen before or after a catastrophic nuclear accident.

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Surveillance network built to spot secret nuclear tests yields surprise scientific boon

The Washington Post reports: It records sounds that no human ear can hear, like the low roar of a meteor slicing through the upper atmosphere, or the hum an iceberg makes when smacked by an ocean wave.

It has picked up threats invisible to the human eye, such as the haze of radioactive particles that circled the planet after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011.

The engineers who designed the world’s first truly planetary surveillance network two decades ago envisioned it as a way to detect illegal nuclear weapons tests. Today, the nearly completed International Monitoring System is proving adept at tasks its inventors never imagined. The system’s scores of listening stations continuously eavesdrop on Earth itself, offering clues about man-made and natural disasters as well as a window into some of nature’s most mysterious processes.

The Obama administration hopes the network’s capabilities will persuade a reluctant Senate to approve a nuclear test-ban treaty that stalled in Congress more than a decade ago. Meanwhile, without the treaty and wholly without fanfare, new stations come on line almost every month.

“We can pick up whale sounds, and ice sheets cracking,” said Thomas Muetzelburg, a spokesman for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the Vienna-based group that operates the network. More importantly, he said, “we can reliably detect nuclear tests.”

The monitoring system is a latticework of sensors — including radiation detectors and machines that measure seismic activity or low-frequency sound waves — spread out across 89 countries as well as the oceans and polar regions. Like a giant stethoscope, it listens for irregularities in Earth’s natural rhythms, collecting and transmitting terabytes of data to a small office in the Austrian capital.

The network was designed to help enforce the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, which outlawed explosive testing of nuclear weapons. But while the treaty has never entered into force — the United States and seven other countries have declined to ratify it, in part because of concerns over verification — the monitoring network has steadily grown over the years, from a handful of stations in 2003 to more than 270.

The network has emerged as one of the most compelling arguments for the treaty, advocates say. Arms-control officials in the Obama administration have cited the network’s advances in arguing for a new push for Senate ratification of the nuclear test ban, despite opposition from prominent Republicans who argue that the pact undermines U.S. interests.

“There has been a growing realization, especially after Fukushima, that the International Monitoring System has improved to an impressive level,” Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance, said in an interview. “It became clear that the time is right to go out and talk about these accomplishments and what the treaty can do for U.S. national security.” [Continue reading...]

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U.S. nuclear weapon plans to cost $355 billion over a decade

Reuters reports: The Obama administration’s plans for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including modernization of bombs, delivery systems and laboratories, will cost the country about $355 billion over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office said on Friday.

That is nearly $150 billion more than administration’s $208.5 billion estimate in a report to Congress last year, an analyst at an arms control group said, and since the modernization effort is just beginning, costs are expected to greatly increase after 2023.

The budget office said President Barack Obama had requested $23.1 billion for U.S. nuclear forces in the 2014 fiscal year, including $18 billion to maintain the weapons and supporting laboratories as well as the submarines, bombers and missiles to deliver the weapons.

The Washington Post reports: An Air Force general in charge of nuclear weapons repeatedly drank too much and behaved like a boor last summer during an official trip to Moscow, where he insulted his Russian hosts and hung out with two suspicious women he met at a hotel bar, according to an investigative report released Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was commander of the Air Force’s arsenal of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, “acted in a manner that exceeded the limits of accepted standards of good conduct” during a four-day visit to Moscow in July, according to an investigation conducted by the Air Force inspector general.

Carey’s behavior stunned his aides and other colleagues traveling with him for a nuclear security exercise and meetings with Russian officials. They said he started drinking during a stopover in Zurich and kept it up during three days in Moscow, causing a string of gaffes and embarrassments that led Air Force officials to relieve him of his command.

Carey was fired in October from his job as commander of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining and operating the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. At the time, Air Force leaders said he was under investigation for “personal misbehavior” but divulged few details because the case was pending.

The Air Force released the partly redacted 44-page investigative report Thursday in response to requests filed by reporters under the Freedom of Information Act. [Continue reading...]

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For nearly two decades the nuclear launch code at all Minuteman silos in the United States was 00000000

Karl Smallwood writes: Today I found out that during the height of the Cold War, the US military put such an emphasis on a rapid response to an attack on American soil, that to minimize any foreseeable delay in launching a nuclear missile, for nearly two decades they intentionally set the launch codes at every silo in the US to 8 zeroes.

We guess the first thing we need to address is how this even came to be in the first place. Well, in 1962 JFK signed the National Security Action Memorandum 160, which was supposed to ensure that every nuclear weapon the US had be fitted with a Permissive Action Link (PAL), basically a small device that ensured that the missile could only be launched with the right code and with the right authority.

There was particularly a concern that the nuclear missiles the United States had stationed in other countries, some of which with somewhat unstable leadership, could potentially be seized by those governments and launched. With the PAL system, this became much less of a problem.

Beyond foreign seizure, there was also simply the problem that many U.S. commanders had the ability to launch nukes under their control at any time. Just one commanding officer who wasn’t quite right in the head and World War III begins. As U.S. General Horace M. Wade stated about General Thomas Power:

I used to worry about General Power. I used to worry that General Power was not stable. I used to worry about the fact that he had control over so many weapons and weapon systems and could, under certain conditions, launch the force. Back in the days before we had real positive control [i.e., PAL locks], SAC had the power to do a lot of things, and it was in his hands, and he knew it.

To give you an idea of how secure the PAL system was at this time, bypassing one was once described as being “about as complex as performing a tonsillectomy while entering the patient from the wrong end.” This system was supposed to be essentially hot-wire proof, making sure only people with the correct codes could activate the nuclear weapons and launch the missiles.

However, though the devices were supposed to be fitted on every nuclear missile after JFK issued his memorandum, the military continually dragged its heels on the matter. In fact, it was noted that a full 20 years after JFK had order PALs be fitted to every nuclear device, half of the missiles in Europe were still protected by simple mechanical locks. Most that did have the new system in place weren’t even activated until 1977.

Those in the U.S. that had been fitted with the devices, such as ones in the Minuteman Silos, were installed under the close scrutiny of Robert McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of Defence. However, The Strategic Air Command greatly resented McNamara’s presence and almost as soon as he left, the code to launch the missile’s, all 50 of them, was set to 00000000. [Continue reading...]

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Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal

The New York Times reports: The foreign policy chief of the European Union and Iranian officials announced a landmark accord Sunday morning that would temporarily freeze Tehran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping accord.

After marathon talks that finally ended early Sunday morning, the United States and five other world powers reached an agreement with Iran to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program, and some elements would even be rolled back. It was the first time in nearly a decade, American officials said, that steps were taken to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program and roll some elements of it back.

The freeze would last six months, with the aim of giving international negotiators time to pursue the far more challenging task of drafting a comprehensive accord that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could be used only for peaceful purposes.

“We have reached agreement,” Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s chief foreign policy official, posted on Twitter on Sunday morning.

According to the accord, Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent. To make good on that pledge, Iran would dismantle the links between networks of centrifuges.

All of Iran’s stockpile of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent, a short hop to weapons-grade fuel, would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes.

No new centrifuges, neither old models nor newer more efficient ones, could be installed. Centrifuges that have been installed but which are not currently operating — Iran has more than 8,000 such centrifuges — could not be started up. No new enrichment facilities could be established. [Continue reading...]

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Toxic mix of frustration and aggravation among U.S. officers controlling nuclear weapons

The Associated Press reports: Trouble inside the Air Force’s nuclear missile force runs deeper and wider than officials have let on.

An unpublished study for the Air Force, obtained by The Associated Press, cites “burnout” among launch officers with their fingers on the triggers of 450 weapons of mass destruction. Also, evidence of broader behavioral issues across the intercontinental ballistic missile force, including sexual assaults and domestic violence.

The study, provided to the AP in draft form, says that court-martial rates in the nuclear missile force in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. Administrative punishments, such as written reprimands for rules violations and other misbehavior, also were higher in those years.

These indicators add a new dimension to an emerging picture of malaise and worse inside the ICBM force, an arm of the Air Force with a proud heritage but an uncertain future.

Concerned about heightened levels of misconduct, the Air Force directed RAND Corp., the federally funded research house, to conduct a three-month study of work conditions and attitudes among the men and women inside the ICBM force. It found a toxic mix of frustration and aggravation, heightened by a sense of being unappreciated, overworked, micromanaged and at constant risk of failure.

Remote and rarely seen, the ICBM force gets little public attention. The AP, however, this year has documented a string of missteps that call into question the management of a force that demands strict obedience to procedures. [Continue reading...]

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Friedman on the Israel lobby’s effort to block a deal with Iran

Thomas Friedman writes: Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.

That said, I don’t mind Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia going ballistic — in stereo — over this proposed deal. It gives Kerry more leverage. Kerry can tell the Iranians: “Look, our friends are craaaaaazzzy. And one of them has a big air force. You better sign quick.”

No, I don’t begrudge Israel and the Arabs their skepticism, but we still should not let them stop a deal. If you’re not skeptical about Iran, you’re not paying attention. Iran has lied and cheated its way to the precipice of building a bomb, and without tough economic sanctions — sanctions that President Obama engineered but which Netanyahu and the Arab states played a key role in driving — Iran would not be at the negotiating table.

It’s good to see Friedman again acknowledging the influence of the Israel lobby and not surprising that like so many others he repeats the trope that sanctions forced Iran to negotiate, but as Hossein Mousavian points out, the actual effect of sanctions has been the opposite of their intended effect:

Contrary to the claims of some US lawmakers and Israeli officials, sanctions only caused a dramatic rise in nuclear capability, as Tehran sought to show it would not respond to pressure. Before, Iran was enriching uranium to below 5 per cent at one site with 3,000 centrifuges and possessed a minute stockpile of enriched uranium. Today, it is enriching to 20 per cent at two sites with 19,000 centrifuges. It has a stockpile of 8,000kg of enriched uranium and more sophisticated centrifuges.

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Even Israel would benefit from a nuclear weapons-free Middle East

Scott McConnell writes: Faced with a contest between an arms-control intellectual—soberly pointing that a deal reducing Iran’s enrichment capacity and placing its remaining centrifuges under international inspection will do far more to ensure that Iran doesn’t build a nuclear weapon than continued sanctions and no deal at all—and a Nentayahuite screaming about Hitler and Munich and making racist comments about Iranians, the most attentive and educated slice of the population will favor diplomacy. But I suspect that more flamboyant arguments register more deeply with more of the American population. Obama risks having diplomats left high and dry without the backing of mass public opinion.

In fact, more emotive arguments to defend an Iran deal are available and shouldn’t be left in the closet. Take the obvious one. It is political malpractice that the administration’s allies, including those in Congress, fail to question the role Israel’s nuclear arsenal has played in the development of the current crisis. What role do Israel’s nukes play in pushing other Middle East states to take massive risks to develop their own nuclear technology? M.J. Rosenberg recently reminded readers of John F. Kennedy’s long and ultimately futile effort to monitor Israel’s nuclear program, constructed with blatant deception and dishonesty by French engineers at Dimona. Kennedy and the diplomats of the era pointed out again and again that by introducing nukes into the region, Israel risked setting off a cascade of nuclear proliferation. JFK was, of course, correct. If you speak to average Americans, there is an implicit assumption that the golden rule is a fair guide to thought and action, and there is something rather odd about Israel, stuffed to to gills with nuclear rockets and submarines, insisting that no one else can ever have them. But no one on Capitol Hill raises this point. What do they fear would happen to them?

(It’s a rhetorical question; I know they would face AIPAC-generated opposition. But I’m not sure AIPAC would know what to do if 40 members of Congress suggested exploring a nuclear free Mideast).

Farah Stockman writes: When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demands that Iran’s plutonium reactor at Arak be completely dismantled because it has “no peaceful purpose,” he is speaking from experience. Israel had built a similar plant, and engaged in similar deception, at Dimona.

That’s what spooks Israeli policymakers: Iran’s nuclear playbook feels all too familiar.

“When Israel looks at Iran, they see Iran as if Iran is like Israel 50 years ago,” said Avner Cohen, professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and author of “Israel and the Bomb” and “The Worst Kept Secret.”

If you look at things that way, the Iranian bomb feels downright inevitable.

But Iran isn’t Israel, Cohen points out. There are plenty of reasons the Iranian program could turn out differently.

Israel had a much deeper reason to seek the bomb. Surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on its destruction, Israel felt that nuclear weapons were the key to the Jewish state’s very survival. Iran faces no such existential threat.

And, unlike Israel, Iran signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran is therefore subject to far stricter inspections than Israel ever allowed at Dimona. If Iran does decide to try to start producing weapons-grade fuel, the world is likely to discover it in time to stop it.

And while Johnson’s administration pressed Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, he looked the other way when Israel refused. Drawing attention to Israel’s refusal would have doomed the treaty. Arab countries would have jumped ship. At the end of the day, Americans could live with an Israeli bomb, as long as Israelis didn’t advertise it by testing it. Iran can’t expect the same deal.

“I think Iranians know the world is not going to allow them” to have a nuclear weapon, Cohen said.

Instead, he said, Iran appears to be trying to keep its nuclear options open, inching as close to the ingredients for a bomb as the Nonproliferation Treaty allows, while refraining from actually building one. [Continue reading...]

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Iran slows nuclear advances in possible goodwill gesture

Barbara Slavin reports: Although Iran and the international community failed to achieve a breakthrough in Geneva last week, Iran has slowed its nuclear program in what could be a goodwill gesture intended to show that it will abide by a nuclear agreement.

According to the latest quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has added only four rudimentary centrifuges to its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz since August, for a total of 15,240 — of which about 10,000 are operating. In the previous reporting period of May to August, Iran put more than 1,800 new centrifuges into Natanz.

The Iranians continued to enrich uranium and now have a stockpile of more than 7,000 kilograms of uranium enriched to 5% U-235. But its stockpile of 20% uranium — perilously close to weapons grade — remains largely in a form difficult to further enrich, according to the IAEA. Iran added only 10 kilograms to its stockpile of greatest concern, for a total of 196 kilograms – still below the Israeli “red line” of 240 kilograms sufficient, if further processed, to make a nuclear weapon.

The report comes at an extremely sensitive time, with negotiations due to resume in Geneva next week between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) on an agreement that would pause much of the Iranian program and roll back some of it in return for moderate sanctions relief. The Barack Obama administration is trying to convince the US Senate not to approve more sanctions while the negotiations continue; this IAEA report could help its case. [Continue reading...]

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Why France is to blame for blocking the Iran nuclear agreement

Christopher Dickey writes: Those who follow closely the machinations of the Quai d’Orsay (as the French foreign ministry is called) see French perversity as just one part of the picture, along with some fundamental shifts in the government’s attitudes toward the Middle East.

“Of course if you are a French politician, there is always some benefit when you pee on the shoes of the Americans,” says journalist Gilles Delafon, author of Reign of Contempt, an up-close look at French diplomacy under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-2012. “There is also the fact that President Hollande is going to visit Israel this month.”

Indeed. The reasons French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave for dashing the high hopes for a deal with Iran in Geneva echoed in substance the bitter attacks on the negotiating process leveled earlier in the week by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Hollande certainly will get a warmer reception by the Likud and its allies as a result.

Syria has been a complicating factor. It’s now well known that the Israelis and Saudis were appalled when President Obama first threatened to bomb the military installations of the Assad regime to punish it for using chemical weapons, then reversed course, pleaded for the approval of Congress and accepted a Russian-brokered diplomatic deal to eliminate Assad’s poison-gas arsenal.

But it was French President Hollande who really got left out on a limb. When no other country agreed to back Obama’s attack plan, Hollande committed himself not only to give political support, but also to participate in the operation. According to the French press, some French warplanes were already on their way to the skies over Syria when Hollande got word the attack had been called off.

Hollande has the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern French history, and that little humiliation at Obama’s hands did him no good at all.

But there is also a deeper current of hostility to Obama’s penchant for peacemaking. [Continue reading...]

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