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Historian Ward Wilson pokes holes in the mythology of nuclear weapons.

By Russ Wellen

Five MythsLong awaited by many of us in the arms control and disarmament communities, historian Ward Wilson’s book, Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in January. He doesn’t fail to deliver. What at first seems like a short book soon becomes a distillate of years of the author’s thinking, to which the expansive footnotes and lengthy bibliography also attest.

Wilson is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. For years unaffiliated, though, with either academy or a foundation, his writing style can be characterized as plain speaking and congenial, accessible to the general public as well as policymakers, strategists, and historians. Read the rest of this entry »

The West may not use nuclear weapons on Iran, but attacking its nuclear enrichment facilities will have a similar effect.

By Russ Wellen

As you can tell by the title, this 61-page paper, The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble, is not Tehran-friendly. The report, released in September, is the product of Khosrow B. Semnani, an Iranian-American industrialist and philanthropist with, according to his bio, “extensive experience in the industrial management of nuclear waste and chemicals.” I’m in the midst of reading it in its entirety.

In the meantime, an excerpt from the executive summary (also available to those non-executives just as time-pressed as executives!) provides a good indication of exactly where Omid for Iran, Semnani’s organization, which released the report along with the Hinckley Institute of Politics and the University of Utah, is coming from.

The best long-term strategy would be a democratic, transparent, and accountable government in Iran. In such a scenario, political leaders would quickly understand that their people want jobs, dignity, opportunity, and political freedoms, not the false promise of nuclear weapons bought at a heavy, even existential, cost. A military strike would not only kill thousands of civilians and expose tens and possibly hundreds of thousands to highly toxic chemicals, it would also have a devastating effect on those who dream of democracy in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei has proven that he cares little for the Iranian people. It is up to us in the international community, including the Iranian-American diaspora to demonstrate that we do. Read the rest of this entry »

The West insists on nuclear nonproliferation, but refuses to reciprocate with meaningful disarmament. 

By Russ Wellen

When dueling narratives clash and the subject is nuclear weapons, the sparks that fly could make flashing sabers seem dim in comparison. According to conventional thinking in the West, Iran is not abiding by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restraining itself from all nuclear weapons activities. Thus it should be denied its right to enrich uranium. But, in the view of much of the rest of the world, the West is making little more than cosmetic efforts to roll back its nuclear arsenals. Therefore, it has no business denying Iran nuclear energy — not to mention nuclear weapons (but that’s another story).

In other words, the side that committed to disarming thinks that the side that promised not to proliferate is. And the side that promised not to proliferate thinks that the side that committed to disarming is not. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

The definition of legalism is “strict adherence, or the principle of strict adherence, to law or prescription, especially to the letter rather than the spirit.” In an article for the November/December issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists titled “International humanitarian law and nuclear weapons: Irreconcilable differences” (behind a pay wall), Dean and Jonathan Granoff of the Global Security Institute reveal the extent to which the United States uses this tactic to justify the possession and potential use of nuclear weapons.

By way of introduction, from the article’s abstract:

In 1996, the International Court of Justice issued an opinion that the use of nuclear weapons is “scarcely reconcilable” with international humanitarian law and concluded that nations have an obligation to pursue good-faith negotiations leading to disarmament. The 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference reaffirmed the need for all states to comply with international humanitarian law, which governs the use of nuclear as well as conventional weapons. When the rules of war are applied to nuclear weapons, it becomes clear that these weapons cannot comply with international law. The effects of nuclear weapons are inherently uncontrollable and do not meet international criteria for discrimination between military and civilian targets, for proportionality, and for necessity.

The International Court ruling’s weak spot: it “left open the possibility that the use of a nuclear weapon could be legal under extraordinary circumstances.” Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

What can pro-life advocates have to do with nuclear-weapons advocates. Read this comment by “The Tiny Twig” to a post on nuclear weapons at evangelical site A Deeper Story: Tales of Christ and Culture.

I think that this is another “pro-life” issue that Christians need to get behind if we’re going to be the lead voices in the anti-abortion world. It’s two-faced double speak if we don’t.

She’s responding to a dialogue between site administrator Nish and Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, founder of Two Futures Project, a groundbreaking evangelical disarmament group. The Tiny Twigg’s idea is basically the “seamless garment” or “consistent life ethic” that former Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin made famous in a speech that linked abortion and nuclear war. (Not that he was the first to do so.) Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

As regular readers know, we’ve been tracking the progress of the design and construction of a new nuclear facility (the CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. As we posted yesterday … Nuclear Pit Boondoggle at Los Alamos Temporarily Scuttled due to a combination of the economic climate and the efforts of the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG), which has been educating the public, lobbying Washington, and filing two suits to halt the CMRR-NF on environmental grounds.

But sociologist Darwin BondGraham, who is on the LASG Board of Directors, is in no mood to gloat about the victory. In an elegiac article for Counterpunch titled Starving the Real Beast, he writes

The war machine has begun to eat itself for the sake of preserving hyper-inequalities resulting directly from the less progressive tax code instituted a decade prior, and the multitude of shelters capital now hides behind. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

The primary U.S. thermonuclear weapon is designated B61. When we hear the modifier thermonuclear, aka H-bomb, we think end of the world.  But this bomb, delivered by bombers and fighters, as opposed to missiles, can function as either an intermediate “strategic” — blow up a specific part of the world — or “tactical” — just the battlefield — nuclear weapon.

The B61 is what’s known as a variable-yield bomb. First, it’s not one weapon per se, but a category of weapons based on one design. Second, some of the B61s come equipped with a dial. Bet you didn’t know that the destructive force of a nuclear bomb could be adjusted like an appliance. Read the rest of this entry »

In a critical op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor titled A ‘New START’ to an arms race between the US and Russia? Yousaf Butt of the Federation of American Scientists outlines just how missile defense, among other things, mucked up the New START arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia. Butt writes that

… the domestic bargains struck to ensure the passage of this modest treaty in the US were much more significant – and, ultimately, destabilizing – than its meager benefits. Huge funding increases for America’s nuclear-weapons complex and “modernization” programs as well as the green-lighting of the flawed missile-defense system were offered as concessions to reluctant hawks to get their agreement to sign on the dotted line. Obama entered office not favoring the ill-tested missile defense system but changed his mind because he needed additional votes to pass New START. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

As everyone knows, the United States initiated its nuclear-weapons program in response to Nazi Germany’s. Though getting off to a strong start, just like the U.S. Manhattan Project, it may have become dispersed over too many departments. As well, nuclear physicists were skimmed off by the Wehrmacht’s draft; others were Jews who fled Germany.

In The Diminishing Justice and Utility of Nuclear Deterrence, his contribution to Thinking About Strategy, A Tribute to Sir Michael Quinlan, George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace addresses Adolf Hitler’s position as a driving force in the development of nuclear weapons. (Michael Quinlan served in the British government and was an academic and writer who believed in both nuclear weapons as well as just war and eventual disarmament.) Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

“In crisis lies opportunity” is more than just a cliché (and we’re not just talking about Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.)  For instance, what could be a better time than the recess-depression in which we’re mired to rethink the whole concept of a growth economy, which has become unsustainable in the face of climate change and dwindling resources? At the very least, it’s a chance to trim our defense budget. In fact, it might not be foremost in the minds of most Americans, or even of much consolation, but cuts to our nuclear-weapons program constitute a silver lining to our economic crisis.

If you’ll recall, earlier this year, the New START treaty was held hostage by Senate Republicans under the direction of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). By way of ransoming it, the Obama administration forked over a proposal to spend $88 billion during the next decade on nuclear-weapon modernization. (As if to show the futility of that approach, while it was ultimately passed, Kyl still didn’t vote in favor of New START.) That figure represents a 20 percent increase above funding levels proposed during the Bush administration. Read the rest of this entry »

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