Monday, April 20, 2015

American Exceptionalism: Part II

The United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms -- from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships -- entered into force on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014. It had been signed by 130 countries (including the U.S.) and ratified by 60, ten more than it needed to become effective. The United States was not, however, among the countries that ratified the ATT.

The treaty establishes standards for the global trade in conventional weapons, with the goal of preventing such weapons from being sold to those who would use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Congressional Republicans were strongly opposed to the global treaty. You might even say they were up in arms about it. In fact, 50 senators sent President Obama a letter expressing their opposition to the ATT, including every Republican except one, plus five Democrats worried about backlash from the NRA.

Some have called for the Obama Administration to "unsign" the treaty; something George W. Bush did in 2002 when he renounced U.S. obligations as a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). It was just as well that he did so, given the recently released Senate Report on the Bush Administration's execrable program of torture and extraordinary rendition during the Iraq War. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet in the dock at the ICC at The Hague might cast an unfavorable light on America's human rights record.

But I digress. This little essay is about how Congressional Republicans, concerned more about currying favor with arms dealers, legal and illegal, and the broader Military Industrial Complex, along with their NRA quislings, have, with malice aforethought, killed any attempt to reign in the international arms trade. Their intransigence has doomed untold millions of people from Syria to Nigeria and beyond to death and destruction. On the other hand, it has made millionaires and billionaires of people like

Overseas weapons sales by the United States comprise more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. America is without peer when it comes to supplying the world, especially developing countries, with the means to murder, maim, and mutilate. And in this, we are speaking only of reported arms sales. Illegal trafficking of firearms -- the weapons that end up in the bloody hands of Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qa'ida, and the ever popular Islamic State -- very probably rivals that of the legal trade. The bottom line is the bottom line, i.e., we are dealing with a hugely profitable business.
Republicans have always been known as the party of big business. And the arms trade is just that. Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing are far and away the top three arms-producing companies in the world. In fact, the United States has a larger share of the worldwide arms market than the rest of the world combined and double the market share of all of the Western Europe OECD combined. Indeed, in this respect, America is exceptional.

Republicans argue that America’s arms trade is part and parcel of the implementation of its foreign policy, and should not be subject to the whims of a U.N. secretariat consisting of a ‘bunch of foreigners.’ In this regard, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service has said,
"Whereas the principal motivation for arms sales by key foreign suppliers in earlier years might have been to support a foreign policy objective, today that motivation may be based as much, if not more, on economic considerations as those of foreign or national security policy."
Still, Republicans have other reasons besides money and money to rail against the treaty. Listen to their ‘speechifying’ on the Senate floor and you’ll hear them lament a further intrusion into the inalienable rights of “patriotic Americans” -- the Arms Trade Treaty violates our Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.” Top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox said the treaty represents, "blatant attacks on the constitutional rights and liberties of every law-abiding American." The thing is, that’s just not true. No international treaty overrides our Constitution. Period. So the Second Amendment argument is bogus and that brings us back to the real argument, MONEY. Republicans value money. Life? Not so much.
ISIS Mass Execution. Where do they get their weapons?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

American Exceptionalism: Part I

U.S. nuclear testing at the Pacific Proving Grounds in 1946. “Baker,” a 21 kiloton fission device, was detonated underwater on July 25. It created a huge condensation cloud and spread much more radioactive water onto the test ships than was expected, with many of the surviving ships becoming too "hot" to be decontaminated. They eventually had to be sunk.
On October 13, 1999, the GOP-controlled Senate emphatically rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), 51 to 48, with only four Republicans joining 44 Democrats in supporting the treaty. This was a devastating blow to a pact that had been at the center of global efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

Senate Republicans said it would be impossible to ensure that other nations were abiding by the treaty, and they argued that the pact would make it difficult for the United States to ensure the viability of its own nuclear stockpile. Republicans rejected Democratic complaints that they were sending a dangerous message to other nations interested in joining the nuclear club (like say, Iran). Mostly Republicans wanted to deal then President Bill Clinton a comeuppance for being reelected in 1996, and surviving their impeachment attempt in 1998 -- the gall of the man!

Clinton signed the treaty in 1996. Since then, 164 countries have ratified the CTBT. The United States is not one of them. As an “Annex 2” state (a state with nuclear capability that participated in treaty negotiations), the U.S., along with other Annex 2 states, must ratify the treaty before it can enter into force.

As of 2015, eight Annex 2 states have not ratified the treaty: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty, and India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed nor ratified it. India says it won’t sign the treaty until Pakistan signs it and you know what Pakistan says. North Korea says [explicative deleted].

The nonpartisan Arms Control Association states that, according to the September 2014 New START declaration, the United States has 1,642 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 794 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the United States' non-deployed strategic arsenal is approximately 2,800 warheads and the U.S. tactical nuclear arsenal numbers 500 warheads. In total, the U.S. has about 4,800 nuclear warheads, including tactical, strategic, and non-deployed weapons. Additional warheads are retired and await dismantlement.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the United States will spend at least $179 billion over the nine fiscal years of 2010-2018 on its nuclear arsenal, averaging $20 billion per year, with costs increasing from $16 billion to $25 billion per year over that timeframe.

The United States is the first and, to date, only nation in history to employ nuclear weapons in war.
Nagasaki, August 1945
In Part II of this series on American Exceptionalism, I will document another American exception, our refusal to ratify the global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

America's Role in Advancing Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

It may seem insensitive, even undiplomatic to remind those following today's debate over the Iran nuclear deal that United States provided nuclear assistance to Iran from 1957 to 1979, when the two states were presumptive allies. In 1967, under the so-called "Atoms for Peace" program, the U.S. supplied Tehran a 5 megawatt-thermal (MWth) pool-type light water research reactor. Along with the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), the U.S. provided 5.58kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel, as well as hot cells, ostensibly for the production of medical isotopes.

Although U.S. assistance to Tehran was strictly for "peaceful purposes," after America and Iran had its unfortunate 'falling out' in 1979, the technology, equipment, and expertise provided ended up advancing Iran's nuclear weapons program. But not immediately. Many of Iran's nuclear-trained scientists/engineers fled the country in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and this loss, compounded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's opposition to nuclear technology, resulted in the near disintegration of Iran's nuclear program post-1979.

I wrote about America's chequered past as an ally of Iran in an earlier post, in which I described the CIA's meddling in internal Iranian political affairs, and how that, and America's stubborn support of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, led to distrust of and then hate for America by the Monarchy's opposition. The student-led storming of the American embassy and the taking of American hostage in November of 1979 cemented the wall of enmity and distrust between the two countries that lasts to this day.

Iran’s decades long nuclear weapons development efforts are the backdrop for my novel, The Lion and the Sun, which I wrote about in another blog post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The IAEA "Additional Protocol" and its Relevance in the Iran Nuclear Deal

Vienna International Center, Headquarters of the IAEA
I served as what's called a "cost-free expert" at the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1990 to 1992. This was Department of State sponsored assistance to the IAEA designed to help the Agency strengthen Safeguards. When my tour of duty with the IAEA was complete, I continued to work for the Agency on various projects, including one called, "Program 93+2." This project ultimately led to the development of what the IAEA now calls the "Additional Protocol," a Safeguards inspection and monitoring instrument that will come to play a key role in the Iran nuclear deal.

The following summary about the Additional Protocol is from a February 2014 article by Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began an effort in 1993 to better constrain NPT member-states' ability to illicitly pursue nuclear weapons after secret nuclear weapons programs in Iraq and North Korea exposed weaknesses in existing agency safeguards. That effort eventually produced a voluntary Additional Protocol, designed to strengthen and expand existing IAEA safeguards for verifying that non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) only use nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes. The IAEA is responsible for validating that NPT states-parties are complying with the treaty, which bars all states except China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States from acquiring nuclear weapons. India, Israel, and Pakistan have not joined the NPT and possess nuclear weapons.

Iraq, an NPT state-party, successfully circumvented IAEA safeguards by exploiting the agency's system of confining its inspection and monitoring activities to facilities or materials explicitly declared by each state in its safeguards agreement with the agency. To close the "undeclared facilities" loophole, the IAEA initiated a safeguards improvement plan known as "Program 93+2." The plan's name reflected the fact that it was drafted in 1993 with the intention of being implemented in two years.

Putting "Program 93+2" into effect, however, took more time than expected, and the program has subsequently been implemented in two parts. The IAEA, within its existing authority, initiated the first part in January 1996. This first step added new monitoring measures, such as environmental sampling, no-notice inspections at key measurement points within declared facilities, and remote monitoring and analysis. The second part of "Program 93+2" required a formal expansion of the agency's legal mandate in the form of an additional protocol to be adopted by each NPT member to supplement its existing IAEA safeguards agreement. The IAEA adopted a Model Additional Protocol on May 15, 1997.

The Additional Protocol

The essence of the Additional Protocol is to reshape the IAEA's safeguards regime from a quantitative system focused on accounting for known quantities of materials and monitoring declared activities to a qualitative system aimed at gathering a comprehensive picture of a state's nuclear and nuclear-related activities, including all nuclear-related imports and exports. The Additional Protocol also substantially expands the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in a state's nuclear declarations. NPT states-parties are not required to adopt an additional protocol, although the IAEA is urging all to do so.

The model protocol outlined four key changes that must be incorporated into each NPT state-party's additional protocol.

First, the amount and type of information that states will have to provide to the IAEA is greatly expanded. In addition to the current requirement for data about nuclear fuel and fuel-cycle activities, states will now have to provide an "expanded declaration" on a broad array of nuclear-related activities, such as "nuclear fuel cycle-related research and development activities—not involving nuclear materials" and "the location, operational status and the estimated annual production" of uranium mines and thorium concentration plants. (Thorium can be processed to produce fissile material, the key ingredient for nuclear weapons.) All trade in items on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) trigger list will have to be reported to the IAEA as well. The NSG is a group of 45 nuclear supplier countries that seeks to voluntarily prevent the use of peaceful nuclear technology for military purposes by restricting nuclear and nuclear-related exports.

Second, the number and types of facilities that the IAEA will be able to inspect and monitor is substantially increased beyond the previous level. In order to resolve questions about or inconsistencies in the information a state has provided on its nuclear activities, the new inspection regime provides the IAEA with "complementary," or pre-approved, access to "any location specified by the Agency," as well as all of the facilities specified in the "expanded declaration." By negotiating an additional protocol, states will, in effect, guarantee the IAEA access on short notice to all of their declared and, if necessary, undeclared facilities in order "to assure the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities."

Third, the agency's ability to conduct short notice inspections is augmented by streamlining the visa process for inspectors, who are guaranteed to receive within one month's notice "appropriate multiple entry/exit" visas that are valid for at least a year.

Fourth, the Additional Protocol provides for the IAEA's right to use environmental sampling during inspections at both declared and undeclared sites. It further permits the use of environmental sampling over a wide area rather than being confined to specific facilities.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Threatened Planet, A Threatened Way of Life, A Threatened People

“We should never forget that the greenest parts of the Amazon are Indian reserves. The Indians are the guardians of the rainforest.” Sebastião Salgado
The Yanomami of the Amazon Basin in Brazil (Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas)
In the mid-1970s, with Brazil’s military regime eager to develop the Amazon Basin, a northern section of the trans-Amazonian highway reached into Yanomami territory, introducing influenza, measles and malaria and resulting in thousands of deaths.

Maturacá, in contrast, was engulfed in a gold rush in the late 1980s which attracted over 35,000 freelance gold-diggers to traditional Yanomami lands, not only bringing new diseases but also using violence against Indians and poisoning their rivers with the mercury they used to separate gold from mud. Once more, uncounted thousands of Indians died.

Today, a new bill pending before Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies would proclaim a “public interest” in allowing Indian reserves to be used for farming, mining, oil and gas pipelines, hydroelectric dams, human settlements and military operations. The bill, already approved by the Senate.

Excerpted from an article in the Washington Post produced by Brian Gross and Shelly Tan. 

Facts about the Threats to Rainforests, Indigenous People and Species

  • Rainforests are threatened by unsustainable agricultural, ranching, mining and logging practices.
  • Before 1500 A.D., there were approximately 6 million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon. But as the forests disappeared, so too did the people. In the early 1900s, there were less than 250,000 indigenous people living in the Amazon.
  • Originally, 6 million square miles of tropical rainforest existed worldwide. But as a result of deforestation, only 2.4 million square miles remain.
  • At the current rate of tropical forest loss, 5–10 percent of tropical rainforest species will be lost per decade.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide depend on forests for their livelihoods.
  • Fifty-seven percent of the world's forests, including most tropical forests, are located in developing countries.
  • Between 2000 and 2012, 2.3 million square kilometers of forests around the world were cut down. That's roughly the size of all of the states in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.
(from the Nature Conservancy)

Humans Create Another Pile of Shit

“The two standard routes, the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Ridge, are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps” (Mark Jenkins, National Geographic, 2013)
So, well within my lifetime, a pristine mountaintop, at over 29,000 ft (8,848 meters) above sea level, towering over most of humankind's cacophonous cabbage patch, has been turned into just another pile of our shit.

Is there still a place on Earth we humans haven't despoiled?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Blueberry Blues

Washington is 4th among states in total U.S. blueberry production. But Mexico’s blueberry industry, already the world’s 3rd largest exporter, is “surging north." Anti-immigrant policies and water shortages due to prolonged droughts are encouraging growers, like Driscoll’s, to move south of the border.

Blueberries aren’t the only Washington ‘crop’ moving to more favorable climes. CO2-produced ocean acidification caused oysters to start dying by the billions along the Northwest coast in 2005, and the industry has been struggling ever since. Some oyster hatcheries have already moved to Hawaii. Washington’s shellfish industry is hurting.

The snowpack at many locations in the Cascades is as low as people at USDA have seen for this time of year. That spells trouble for Washington growers in the summer when farms, fish, and people are all competing for an increasingly scarce water resource.

There are real impacts from a warming planet and they affect real people. Studies have shown unequivocally that we can reduce CO2 emissions and boost the economy (e.g., see REMI, June 9, 2014). Get on board! Support Gov. Inslee’s Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, and other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.