Friday, April 24, 2015

American Exceptionalism: Part III

In Parts I & II of this series on international aspects of American exceptionalism, I dealt with America's failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and its failure to ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty. As it happens, America is even more exceptional than that.

As it happens, America feels about United Nations treaties the way the National Rifle Association feels about measures to control gun violence -- they're an "infringement." Like the NRA, America believes it has a god-given right to do whatever the hell it feels like, because, damn it... the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the Free Market, the Bible, sovereignty, enhanced interrogation (shh!).

But surely America would have no problem ratifying a treaty protecting the rights of children. Oh yeah?!

Although Presidents Clinton and Obama have supported ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), its ratification has been opposed by Senate Republicans. They say it would usurp American sovereignty. For example, the treaty prohibits, "cruel and degrading punishment of children." Opponents say that overrides a parent’s decision on how to raise their children -- 'spare the rod, spoil the child,' sort of thing. That may seem a stretch, but remember until 2005, America permitted people under the age of 18, that is, 'children,' to be sentenced to death. The CRC was perhaps a bridge too far for such a country.

America is not alone in its failure to ratify the treaty, however. South Sudan, a nation that gained its independence only four years ago, hasn't yet ratified it. They are about to. That will ensure America is exceptional in every sense of the word.

What about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)? That has to be a treaty America can get behind, right, especially since it's based on our own Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law by the first George Bush, and supported overwhelmingly by Republicans. But here's the thing, this is a very different Republican Party. Today's freedom loving, faith-based, anti-government (except where government controls women's reproductive rights), anti-science, and, clearly, anti-United Nations GOP is an animal of a different stripe.

Republicans in today’s strange witches brew of a political party see the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” in the CRPD (Article 25) and jump to the conclusion that the UN is covertly promoting an unfettered global right to abortion. What this portion of the treaty actually says is that persons with disabilities should be provided with, "the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care and programmes as provided to other persons, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programmes."

Ironically, this provision probably stemmed from the practice in many countries of involuntarily sterilizing persons considered deformed, demented, developmentally disabled, or in some manner, undesirable (e.g., homosexuals, like Alan Turing). To our shame, America was the first country to concertedly undertake compulsory sterilization programs. The targets of the program were ostensibly the intellectually disabled or mentally ill, but in many states the deaf, blind, and physically deformed were also targeted. Many women were sent to institutions on the pretext of being “feeble-minded,” because they were promiscuous or became pregnant while unmarried. African-American and Native American women were frequent unknowing targets of the program, while being hospitalized for other reasons.

Given their ignorance of this historical artifact of America's record on "sexual and reproductive health," perhaps a quick history lesson would change Republican minds on ratifying the treaty -- you think? Me neither. Because Republicans seem to object to UN treaties on principle. Here's a brief list on other treaties they oppose:

Mine Ban Treaty
Convention on the Law of the Sea
Convention on Cluster Munitions

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance


Given America's record on "enhanced interrogation," and "extraordinary rendition," it's easy to see why we wouldn't ratify those treaties. But the others? I suppose Republicans feel they'd be an intrusion on our right to plant mines wherever we see fit, use the sea for whatever purposes we deem necessary, maintain full employment for the manufacturers of cluster munitions, and pay women lower wages than men for the same work. Who knows what today's batshit crazy, "end of times" Republicans are thinking? Whatever it is, I'm sure it's exceptional.
Rapturous Michele Bachmann former member of the House of Representatives and U.S. Presidential Candidate



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Climate Migrants

The stories of the drowning deaths of what may be as many as 950 migrants in the Mediterranean is both tragic and frightening. Tragic in the magnitude and heartrending nature of the human suffering in this escalating calamity. Frightening in its portent of things to come.

At least 3,200 perished on the journey between Libya and Italy in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration, making it the deadliest migrant route in the world. These poor, exploited people are fleeing brutal terrorists, civil wars, human rights abuses, and manifold deprivations. Our hearts go out to them. But not our hands.

It is estimated that 170,000 illegal migrants reached European Union Mediterranean shores in 2014. Most from sub-Saharan Africa. The last thing European leaders want is to offer them asylum or even temporary safe haven. The potential economic and societal consequences of taking on hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken people from a vastly different cultural with minimal labor skills is daunting. It is understandable, if not laudatory, that the EU and Italy have invested millions of Euros in detention and deportation efforts, while maintaining pressure on countries like Libya to block the passage of migrants and asylum seekers hoping to make it to Europe.

In its study, National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces (National Academy of Sciences, 2011), the Naval Studies Board estimated that, “ Two hundred million people could be newly mobilized as climate migrants due to climate change effects.” The Navy study tells us that many of these unfortunates will come from the selfsame sub-Saharan Africa because of its climate vulnerability. Many more will come from island nations and low-lying regions like Bangladesh, due to sea level rise. U.S. coastal areas will also be affected. The Navy plans to be ready to provide what promises to be a herculean humanitarian effort, but also to quell, “instability as well as unrest and regional conflict,” due to climate forced migrations.

But this won’t happen in our lifetime, right? Not if you’re my age (77). But my children could well be around, and certainly my grandchildren will live to experience this catastrophic scenario, because the Navy is projecting all this will occur by 2050. If we allow this to happen, it will make the on-going human migration calamity pale by comparison.


How can we stop it? We can’t do it by denying climate change or refusing to talk about it -- that’s clear. Unfortunately, it’s not clear our ‘leaders’ locally or in Washington have the political will to address the problem. It’s up to us -- you and me -- to create that political will by exercising our personal power through informed activism. Yes, it takes effort, but believe me, the Internet makes it a lot easier today than during my early days. Look, preventing the kind of tragedy we’re seeing today, but on a massively larger scale has to be worth the effort, doesn’t it?

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.