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Yousaf Butt lays waste to the magnetic-ring-sign-of-Iran-nuclear-expansion theory.

By Russ Wellen

On February 13 Joby Warrick reported for the Washington Post that “Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability.” More:

Purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 of the ring-shaped magnets — which are banned from export to Iran under U.N. resolutions — from China about a year ago, those familiar with the effort said. It is unclear whether the attempt succeeded. Read the rest of this entry »


Does it mean protecting nuclear plants or using nuclear weapons for national security?

By Russ Wellen

From the long-prevailing Japanese perspective, it’s foolhardy for the state to consider developing nuclear weapons. Twice victimized by their use, Japan is uniquely positioned to know how engaging in nuclear war inevitably results in attacks like the ones it experienced in World War II. It’s also able to empathize with the prospect of another state struck by nuclear weapons and envision the negative karma (or gou in Japanese) their use generates. 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

In the Hindu on May 8, we catch Hillary Clinton putting too fine a distinction on the Israel-Iran rivalry.

Drawing a distinction between Iran, which has violated provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and Israel, which hasn’t signed it, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said here on Monday that the latter has “made numerous overtures to try to have a peaceful resolution” to the situation in the Middle-East.

Of course, logic dictates that an overriding distinction be drawn between a state with an unacknowledged nuclear-weapons program that never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and one with not only no nukes, but no development program and that has signed the NPT, with no evidence of substantive violations. Secretary of State Clinton, however, attempts to suggest that Israel’s other virtues more than compensate for an illegal nuclear arms program (not that we believe, according to international law, that any nuclear program is exactly legal). First, she claims that Israel “‘has made numerous overtures to try to have a peaceful resolution’ to the situation in the Middle-East.”

It’s unclear about what Ms. Clinton is speaking: Iran or the Palestinian people? Conflating the two is shoddy thinking, especially for a top official. In any event, are Israel’s overtures more numerous — or genuine — than Iran’s or Palestine’s? We’ll leave it to Middle-East experts to divvy them up. But that’s not Ms. Clinton’s only defense for favoring Israel over Iran on the issue of nuclear weapons. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

One can’t help but suspect that a key reason the public and even many policymakers believe that Iran is close to developing nuclear weapons is the sheer length of time that the words “Iran” and “nuclear” have been uttered in the same sentence by the media. Way back in 1957 Iran signed an agreement to participate President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini temporarily halted Iran’s nuclear efforts, both peaceful and weapons.

In the late eighties and early nineties, AQ Khan, lord of Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program as well as the nuclear black market, shared know-how and components with Iran. Then, in late 2002, it was learned that Iran had built a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak. It appears, though, that in 2003 all but vestigial research toward an Iranian nuclear-weapons program ended. 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

“Iran regards utilizing nuclear weapons as forbidden in Islam,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once said. On another occasion, he declared: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

In 2008 a poll revealed that, while 81% of Iranians favored nuclear energy, 58% agreed with the Supreme Leader’s statement, while only 23% supported a nuclear-weapons program. In fact 63% expressed approval that Iran was still party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Presumably, those polled responded truthfully. But, in light of the International Atomic Energy Agency report presenting more evidence that Iran is acquiring the know-how and technology to build nuclear weapons, who — left or right — really believes the Supreme Leader’s avowals? Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

As those who read Focal Points regularly know, a facility intended to provide technical support for the production of the plutonium pits for nuclear warheads is under construction at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The pit — which, one ventures to guess, makes the warhead the fruit of our nuclear-weapons program — is where the chain reaction occurs. To Focal Points’ surprise, the New York Times addressed the facility in an editorial on October 29 titled The Bloated Nuclear Budget, which began:

Twenty years after the end of the cold war, the United States still has about 2,500 nuclear weapons deployed and 2,600 more as backup. The Obama administration, in an attempt to mollify Congressional Republicans, has also committed to modernizing an already hugely expensive complex of nuclear labs and production facilities. Altogether, these and other nuclear-related programs could cost $600 billion or more over the next decade. The country does not need to maintain this large an arsenal. … especially when Congress is considering deep cuts in vital domestic programs. … President Obama [should speed up] already negotiated reductions in deployed weapons and committing to further cuts, unilaterally if necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

By Russ Wellen

You’re no doubt familiar with the notion that nuclear weapon states will be loath to give up their nuclear weapons — and those that seek them their aspirations — since Moammar Gaddafi forfeited his nuclear-weapons program. Choosing to go deterrent-free, he ended up regime-free as well.

At the Atlantic, Mira Rapp-Hooper and Kenneth N. Waltz weighed in on this.

No doubt understanding that his regime and his own survival are under constant threat, Kim [Jong-il] has been quite unwilling to disarm. The last two decades have provided him with numerous cautionary tales of dictatorships defeated — the Iraqi army was trounce-ed in 1991, NATO triumphed over Milosevic in 1999, and the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. And just this March, as NATO operations in Libya began, a North Korean spokesperson announced the lesson that Kim’s regime had learned: “It has been shown to the corners of the earth that Libya’s giving up its nuclear arms. … was used as an invasion tactic to disarm the country.” … The Dear Leader has probably learned through careful observation that the only true security guarantee for a fragile autocracy … may be a nuclear arsenal.  Read the rest of this entry »

Burma Dual Use TechnologyBy Russ Wellen

The United States is selective about which states engaging in nuclear proliferation that it condemns. It’s as if they’re subject to an unwritten sanity or rationality index. Naturally, no U.S. allies that have developed nuclear weapons since the nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty came into force, such as Israel or India, score low on that index, however imaginary. Pakistan’s rating, however, as it fails to pursue Islamic militants and with concerns arising about the security of its nuclear weapons program, is falling at a steady rate. Of course, North Korea, Iran, and Syria occupy the bottom of the index. Read the rest of this entry »