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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear nonproliferation’

We Support Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Atom PeaceOn Thursday, April 2, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that negotiators had reached an agreement on key elements of a detailed and comprehensive framework to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

From the outset, we have supported the idea of the United States negotiating with Iran, after decades of estrangement and suspicion, and seeking both to peacefully reduce that nation’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon and to lift the sanctions on that nation. We are impressed by what we have heard in President Obama’s explanation of this historic agreement (or blueprint of an agreement), as well as in the remarks of Secretary of State John Kerry and Javad Zarif. Even though they are making many substantial concessions, the Iranians appear to be pleased with the framework announced yesterday.

Among the key provisions:

  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout timeline—the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon—is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund spoke to Rachel Maddow last night and hailed the agreement as an excellent and comprehensive agreement.

As far as we can see, the United States is not having to give up anything (except an unwillingness to negotiate), and in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Iran is agreeing to a comprehensive system of safeguards, international inspections, monitoring, dismantling of centrifuges, reductions of plutonium stockpiles, etc.

This agreement has been worked out not only between the U.S. and Iran but with the active participation of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. All nations’ foreign ministers have expressed approval of the basic framework announced on Thursday, April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a statement:  “This is well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago and a good basis for what I believe could be a very good deal.”

Click here for a New York Times timeline of Iran’s nuclear program.

Give Peace—and Negotiations—a Chance

We just pray that the negotiators will be able to complete their work without obstruction by opponents. Illustrious members of Congress, and Republican presidential hopefuls, now would be a good time to not do something stupid. If you have no alternative plan, then don’t stand in the way. Let’s remember that the world is better off because President Ronald Reagan was willing to meet face-to-face with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss reductions in nuclear arms—there was substantial opposition to the Reykjavík summit at the time (1986)—just as critics opposed peace talks between Israel and Egypt, and President Nixon’s traveling to China, etc.

We should also note that President Obama and Secretary Kerry, with diplomatic assistance from Russia, succeeded in persuading Bashar al-Assad to agree to the destruction of all of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. Obama—who has been a vocal proponent of nuclear nonproliferation since his first days in the U.S. Senate—also signed the New Start Treaty of 2010 with Russian president Dmitri A. Medvedev, with help in the Senate from then-senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

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Further Reading

Hiroshima, 65 Years On: “Countdown to Zero” (LNW, 8/6/10)

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten (LNW, 8/9/10)

Disarmament Experts Clarify Film’s Position on Nuclear Power (LNW, 8/13/10)

Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program (New York Times)

On Iran, Obama Gets His Breakthrough,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 4-2-15

Kerry, the Negotiator,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 3-17-15

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“So Let Us Persevere . . .”

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

On the anniversary of the assassination of a peace-seeking, war hero president—and at a time when the arms-reduction efforts of another peace-seeking president are being opposed for only political, not strategic, reasons by a few obstinate Republicans in Congress—we thought it fitting to present passages from President John F. Kennedy’s famous commencement address at American University in Washington on June 10, 1963. In this speech President Kennedy outlined a vision of peaceful coexistence of nations and announced “a series of concrete actions and effective agreements” the U.S. was initiating to make peace a little more likely. Kennedy’s reasons in 1963 apply to President Obama’s efforts today. Following the excerpts, please also see some key quotations from a fine book by James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, now in paperback.

“No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament—and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude—as individuals and as a Nation—for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward—by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.

. . . Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable—that mankind is doomed—that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.

We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade—therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again. . . .

Let us focus . . . on a more practical, more attainable peace—based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions—on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace—no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process—a way of solving problems.

. . . So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it. . . .

. . . both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race. Agreements to this end are in the interests of the Soviet Union as well as ours—and even the most hostile nations can be relied upon to accept and keep those treaty obligations, and only those treaty obligations, which are in their own interest.

So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

From JFK and the Unspeakable by James W. Douglass

We can know the essential truth of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. That truth can set us free. . . .

On our behalf, at the height of the Cold War [in the Cuban missile crisis, October 1962], John F. Kennedy risked committing the greatest crime in history, starting a nuclear war.

Before we knew it, he turned toward peace with the enemy who almost committed that crime with him.

For turning to peace with his enemy (and ours), Kennedy was murdered by a power we cannot easily describe. Its unspeakable reality can be traced, suggested, recognized, and pondered. That is one purpose of this book. The other is to describe Kennedy’s turning. . . .

John Kennedy’s story is our story, although a titanic effort has been made to keep it from us. That story, like the struggle it embodies, is as current today as it was in 1963. The theology of redemptive violence still reigns. The Cold War has been followed by its twin, the War on Terror. We are engaged in another apocalyptic struggle against an enemy seen as absolute evil. Terrorism has replaced Communism as the enemy. We are told we can be safe only through the threat of escalating violence. Once again, anything goes in a fight against evil: preemptive attacks, torture, undermining governments, assassinations, whatever it takes to gain the end of victory over an enemy portrayed as irredeemably evil. Yet the redemptive means John Kennedy turned to, in a similar struggle, was dialogue with the enemy. When the enemy is seen as human, everything changes.

—from the Preface

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Disarmament Experts Clarify Film’s Position on Nuclear Power

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Last week we reviewed the excellent new documentary Countdown to Zero, released in late July, just in time for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries (Aug. 6 and 9). While we praised Countdown and hope everyone will see it, we had some questions about the film’s stand on the safety or acceptability of nuclear power (see below). We contacted the production company and some of the experts who appear in the film, and two experts, Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund and Dr. Bruce Blair, president of the World Security Institute and founder of Global Zero, replied in generous detail. We wanted to share their thoughts, and to express here our gratitude for their taking the time to clarify some important concerns about how nuclear power and nonproliferation can coexist.

Some of this gets a little technical—but it’s a technical matter, after all—so you can skim the excerpts if you like. The main point is that the experts took the questions seriously and took time to answer, and their replies show they’ve been thinking quite extensively about these issues.

We wrote last week:

Countdown to Zero is excellent but not perfect. We had questions about some important practical issues that were raised but not dealt with. The film advocates bringing all world nuclear stockpiles down to zero. (Agreed.) But the film also explains that nuclear power plants produce fissile material (as in the case of Iran). So, does the film also advocate elimination of nuclear power? How is the danger posed by production of fissile materials through ordinary operation of nuclear power plants to be managed? Unless we missed something, the film said nothing about what should be done about nuclear power plants. Presumably terrorists or their would-be suppliers could also get their hands on fissile material—or is that somehow not possible? There is still the question of what to do about Iran, or what threat may be posed by Iran or other possibly hostile or unstable nations possessing nuclear power plants, or the fissile material produced by them. Would France, for example, have to shut down its nuclear power plants, the source of most of its electricity?

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Nagasaki, Not Forgotten

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Today, Aug. 9, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic (plutonium) bombing of Nagasaki. (Hiroshima was bombed first, with a uranium bomb, on Aug. 6, 1945.) Some 60,000 to 80,000 civilians died, most of them instantly; others, like Sumiteru Taniguchi, pictured below, suffered lingering deaths from radiation burns. Among the casualties may have been American soldiers in a prisoner of war camp (possibly known by the military). Questions of why the U.S. used the atomic bombs when Japan was near defeat—or whether Japan was in fact the primary target; maybe the main audience was the USSR—have been analyzed by better informed and more rigorous intellects and are not likely to be settled here today.

Why did the U.S. have to use the bomb twice? Did we have to use it at all?

The legend, or conventional wisdom, is that if President Harry Truman (below) had not pulled the trigger, American forces would have had to launch a bloody, costly land invasion of Japan. This is possible, though no major U.S. military offensive was slated to begin before November 1, 1945, and the Soviets, our allies against Nazi Germany, had promised to help with a ground war. What was the hurry?

In hindsight, it is difficult to imagine the bomb not being used, after a $2 billion investment and six years’ work, even if Japan were not already seriously weakened and soon to collapse. When President Truman was first briefed about the existence of the atom project on April 24, 1945 (two weeks after FDR died), his first response was to sit down; he had received the generals standing up. He ordered a search for other options, with one committee composed of soldiers and civilians, and the other of scientists. Both panels met twice, on May 31 and June 1, and reached the same conclusion. A committee of scientists including J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi told Truman that they could devise “no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” Meanwhile, Truman’s generals were pressing him to let them move forward with plans for a massive land invasion of the Japanese home islands.

One consideration was that the Soviet Union had promised at the Tehran conference in late 1943 and again at Yalta in February 1945 to join the fight against Japan within three months after the European war ended (May 8). Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall had pushed hard for Soviet help against Japan, knowing that the combined pressure of U.S. and Soviet forces would likely compel the Japanese to surrender. (Even among those who knew about the ultra-top-secret Manhattan Project, it was uncertain whether the new weapon would work until it was tested in mid July 1945.) Until the bomb was proven, the only way to crush the Japanese army was to fight it, and General Marshall preferred to let the Russians do a lot of the heavy lifting. There were reservations, however, about Soviet involvement: American officials did not want to have to share defeated Japan with the USSR the way the Allies were already sharing postwar Germany, divvied up into four military occupation zones: American, Soviet, British, and French.

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Hiroshima, 65 Years On: “Countdown to Zero”

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Today, August 6, is the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. Nagasaki was nuked on Aug. 9. The bombs killed some 90,000 to 160,000 in Hiroshima and some 60,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki, with half the deaths occurring in the first day, even the first millisecond, of the blast. Over the following months and years, thousands died from burns and radiation sickness.

Read Japanese novelist Kenzaburo Oe’s compelling op-ed in today’s New York Times, “Hiroshima and the Art of Outrage.” A friend of Oe’s mother was an eyewitness to the blast; she only survived because she was protected behind a large brick wall:

Moments before the atomic bomb was dropped, my mother’s friend happened to seek shelter from the bright summer sunlight in the shadow of a sturdy brick wall, and she watched from there as two children who had been playing out in the open were vaporized in the blink of an eye.

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Last night we went to see Countdown to Zero, a powerful new documentary written and directed by Lucy Walker and produced by the folks who brought us An Inconvenient Truth. Despite the film’s serious subject, it’s not a downer: it’s actually positive, affirmative, and you walk out feeling more hopeful. (You may have read about Countdown to Zero a few weeks ago in our tribute to Greenpeace co-founder and anti–nuke-testing activist Jim Bohlen.) Click here for a photo gallery of the film.

Enlivened by the commentary of such experts and officials as Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert McNamara, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph Cirincione, and others, including a U.S. army officer who literally worked down in a nuclear silo with his finger on the button, the film gives a concise overview of the history of the atomic bomb and the reasons why it’s outlived its usefulness and should be eliminated from all arsenals.

The narrative shows how the bomb was developed in ultra top secret Manhattan Project in the early 1940s (even Vice President Harry Truman didn’t know about it until he became president upon the death of FDR in April 1945), and following the detonations over Japan, the bomb prompted misgivings and remorse, evoked most eloquently by nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who recalled the Trinity test in New Mexico (pictured above) in July 1945, just weeks before Hiroshima:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

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