Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

Radical Idea for Defusing North Korea Crisis: Ban Nuclear Weapons

The Women’s Acapella Group “Willow” sings for peace at the Commemoration of the 72th Anniversary of the US Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Here’s a radical idea for dealing with North Korea: ban all nuclear weapons.

This notion has taken on new urgency in just a matter of days, Indeed, seemingly oblivious to the calendar and history marking the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which obliterated 200,000 civilians, Trump, presiding over an opioid conference during his vacation at his Bedminster NJ golf club, raised the stakes on saber-rattling:

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.  They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.  He has been very threatening beyond a normal state.  And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Never seen before?

What Trump was reacting to was Kim Jong-un’s threat to launch “thousands-fold” revenge against the United States, after the United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile programs.

“We are ready to retaliate with far bigger actions to make the U.S. pay a price for its crime against our country and people,” the official Korean Central News Agency stated, promising that North Korea would take a “stern action of justice.”

Trump’s “fire and fury” (evoking George W. Bush’s “shock and awe” threat to Saddam Hussein before launching the preemptive invasion of Iraq) response prompted Kim Jong-un to threaten to obliterate Guam.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, seeming on his own track, told Americans not to worry. I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.”

That is despite Senator Lindsay Graham telling Americans not to worry because a war would be fought “over there” and others in Trump’s Administration going beyond Bush’s “preemptive war” doctrine to a “preventive war” doctrine.

The situation heated just a couple of days after the annual Hiroshima commemoration, organized by SANE Peace Action based in Great Neck, a 60-year old organization, and Long Island Peace Alternatives, formed 32 years ago, which for many years now has taken place at the Universalist Unitarian Church at Shelter Rock, Long Island, never fails to inspire a range of emotions – horror, regret, guilt, anger, activism, and hope. Hope that after 72 years, the world will come to its senses as to this existential threat.

This year’s gathering, on August 2, started off surprisingly upbeat: 122 United Nations members  had just adopted a treaty calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. But the hopefulness of that was shattered by the next sentence: Not one of the nine countries that actually possess nuclear weapons — United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel — supports it, in fact boycotted the deliberations. It’s as if the wimps and wusses of the world signed a petition to stop bullies from bullying

And while during the eight years of President Obama’s administration, the US was making strong headway to reducing nuclear threats (that is the heart of the Ukraine issue, where the collapse of the “Soviet Union resulted in an enormous cache of “loose nukes” which is why the United States and west promised to protect Ukraine against incursion), he was already being thwarted by Senate Republicans who actually balked at signing the 2010 New Start Treaty with Russia, indeed some are rattling sabers to undo the treaty which requires Russia and the United States to reduce their deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500 from 2,200 each by next year (New York Times, A Threat to Nuclear Arms Control, July 29, 2017).

Instead, the Republican Congress is considering whether the US should develop a new ground-launched cruise missile and withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banning missiles with a range of up to about 3,000 miles.

President Obama, the first sitting American President to visit Hiroshima, Japan, the site of the world’s only use of an atomic weapon, here with Japan Prime Minister Abe in 2016, struck just the right tone in a speech thoughtfully, and carefully constructed to inspire reconciliation, rather than apologize for a decision made in a different time and context. And he made it about the future, the task and the challenge ahead in face of mankind’s scientific and technological know-how to destroy all humanity. The man who won a Nobel Prize for Peace in 2009, who struggled to extract the US from two wars, who worked to secure loose nukes and negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran was nonetheless stymied in his goal to reduce the nuclear menace. (White House Pool photo)

What success Obama had to reduce the threat of a nuclear holocaust – most dramatically, the historic Iran Nuclear Agreement – and on so many other things, Obama was under-appreciated and his efforts kind of matter-of-factly taken for granted, even dismissed, and Trump has vowed to pull out, just as he has said the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Trump’s entire focus – his federal budget, his foreign policy, domestic policy – is actually to dismantle the mechanisms of diplomacy and global cooperation (The State Department announced it is removing “promoting Democracy” from its mission statement, has already dismissed human rights as a priority in favor of deals making, is shutting down the Global Engagement Center aimed at countering propaganda which would destabilize democracy, and is generally cutting the State Department’s budget by one-third, and Trump is really, really unhappy with the campaign in Afghanistan because China is capitalizing on its mineral wealth and US companies are not), in favor of militancy, including seeking $1 TRILLION to spend on a new generation of nuclear weapons which will only reignite a nuclear arms race, on top of over $600 billion in new military spending (how interesting that Republicans believe there is no benefit to “throw money” at education or health care, but perfectly okay to throw money that isn’t even requested at the already bloated defense budget). The Trump Doctrine boils down to “To the victor belongs the spoils.”

Seemi Ahmed, of the Islamic Center of Long Island, at the “Hiroshima Remembrance”: “It pains me to see racism, bigotry, hatred, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism tearing people apart not just in our country but the whole world. We must get rid of nuclear weapons, stop illegal wars, illegal occupation and sincerely work for peaceful coexistence by promoting dialogue among communities, ending poverty and racism and holding governments responsible.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

While diplomacy is hard, complicated, nuanced and requires mental acuity, sending soldiers into war is easy.

Trump loves shiny new things and pumping up the military, focusing on militancy which is under his total control as the nominal Commander-in-Chief, is what his narcissism needs. And increasingly, as we see him throwing out red-meat “policy” to shore up his base, it is very likely that he will ultimately fall back to the Bush/Cheney/Rove tactic to secure his power and his presidency: war, preceded by a Pearl-Harbor rallying incident, 9/11. North Korea mounting a nuclear strike against Seattle, that would do the trick.

Which brings us to North Korea. No one with any brain or conscience believes that there is any military solution that would not be catastrophic. Trying to strong-arm Kim Jong-un into giving up his nuclear weapons is fantastical, especially when Kim believes (with good reason) that the only reason his country hasn’t been invaded and his regime toppled is because of his nuclear power.

Even with the Trump Administration’s “success” at getting the United Nations Security Council to vote unanimously (that means China and Russia which are bolstering North Korea) to impose new sanctions on North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is like a robot mouthing a policy that demands North Korea stop its weapons testing before the US will agree to any talks.

What does that mean, exactly? Stop for a week, a month, a year? What would qualify?

Talks are key – after all, what would the alternative be? Sanctions tend not to work with despots with total control over life and death of their subjects.

But what would the talks be about? More threats? What would be the incentive?

And what is patently clear is that any demand that begins and ends with “give up nuclear weapons program” will be a nonstarter. Kim Jong-un has seen what has happened to other tyrants who do not command such weapons or who give up their weapons, like Libya’s Omar Qaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. And he sees how despite Iran giving up its nuclear weapons program in order to have economic sanctions lifted, the Trump Administration is working to re-impose economic sanctions, despite the administration’s report acknowledging that Iran has been in compliance with the agreement. What lesson should Kim Jong-on draw?

Instead of laying the groundwork for a diplomatic solution (the State Department has barely any personnel: no Ambassador to South Korea, no under-Secretary for Asian Affairs), Trump seems to want to provoke ever more aggressive actions which would then justify a military response which he thinks will rally mindless adherence and give an excuse to permanently silence any opposition.

Trump fawns over Vladimir Putin and other dictators at the “Commander in Chief” military policy forum during the 2016 presidential campaign and shows complete ignorance of nuclear weapons. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Trump is a guy who flippantly said during the 2016 presidential campaign he might use nuclear weapons and questioned why we would make them if we wouldn’t use them, who suggested that other countries like Saudi Arabia and South Korea and Japan get their own nuclear weapons because they should fund their own defense without the United States incurring the expense, who had no clue what the “nuclear triad” was and apparently, no idea whatsoever of the terrifying consequence of using nuclear bombs. (See” 9 terrifying things Donald Trump has publicly said about nuclear weapons).

(The question I would have is whether the American military establishment would refuse to obey Trump’s order.)

So here’s a radical idea: moving toward eliminating nuclear weapons altogether is the solution. If the nine nations that have nuclear weapons agree to dispose of them, that could be the solution.

Otherwise, we are likely headed toward a nuclear confrontation in which there will be no winners, only losers.

At the end of the evening, there was a call to action: Call or visit your Congressmembers to urge them to support The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and call on the President to take nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert and to pursue nuclear disarmament.

“It pains me to see racism, bigotry, hatred, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism tearing people apart not just in our country but the whole world,” said Seemi Ahmed, of the Islamic Center of Long Island, at the “Hiroshima Remembrance”:. We must get rid of nuclear weapons, stop illegal wars, illegal occupation and sincerely work for peaceful coexistence by promoting dialogue among communities, ending poverty and racism and holding governments responsible.”

The concept behind the nuclear arsenals is the fear of mutually assured destruction will cause any rational leader to pull back from using them. But as Ira Helfand of Leeds MA wrote the New York Times, “Yet we know of more than a dozen instances when nuclear-armed countries began the process of launching their nuclear weapons, usually in the mistaken belief that their adversaries had already done so — more than a dozen times when deterrence failed. And we are told that North Korea must not obtain a nuclear capability because it cannot reliably be deterred. It is time to abandon this failed policy and to pursue the real security of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

In fact, one instance of how close the world came to nuclear holocaust was documented in an amazing, frightening and inspiring film, “The Man Who Saved the World,” about Stanislov Petrov, a Soviet soldier commanding a nuclear bunker who single-handedly averted a nuclear world war in September 1983 by refusing to launch missiles when all his radar and computer systems showed an attack underway by the United States. Petrov defied his orders and protocol and refused to launch knowing that even if the US strike was real and would kill 100 million Russians in an instant, the strike he would order would kill 100 million Americans in the next instant and a billion more people around the planet subsequently.

Indeed, the threats to the continued habitability of the planet and its 7 billion resident souls are not just from a lunatic renegade like Kim Jong-un.

Margaret Melkonian, LI Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, at the Commemoration of the 72nd Anniversary of the US Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “It is ironic and so disheartening with the outcome of 122 countries signing on and moving forward to making progress toward eliminating nuclear weapons, the statement by the US, UK and France: ‘The time isn’t right.’ But we say the time is right, the time is now.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

At the end of the evening, Margaret Melkonian, LI Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives. issued a call to action: urge your Congressmembers to support The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and call on the President to take nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert and to pursue nuclear disarmament.

“It is ironic and so disheartening with the outcome of 122 countries signing on and moving forward to making progress toward eliminating nuclear weapons, was the statement by the US, UK and France: ’While we share your vision of getting rid of nuclear weapons, the time isn’t right. This treaty not the best tactic – we will never sign this treaty, never eliminate nuclear weapons.’ But we say the time is right, the time is now,” she said.

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Obama in Hiroshima: ‘The start of our own moral awakening’

 

President Obama with President Abe of Japan at the Peace Memorial, Hiroshima (White House pool)
President Obama with President Abe of Japan at the Peace Memorial, Hiroshima (White House pool)

President Obama, the first sitting American President to visit Hiroshima, japan, the site of the world’s only use of an atomic weapon, struck just the right tone in a speech thoughtfully, and carefully constructed to inspire reconciliation, rather than apologize for a decision made in a different time and context. And he made it about the future, the task and the challenge ahead in face of mankind’s scientific and technological know-how to destroy all humanity. The man who won a Nobel Prize for Peace in 2009, who struggled to extract the US from two wars, who worked to secure loose nukes and negotiated a nuclear agreement with Iran has nonetheless been stymied in his goal to reduce the nuclear menace. Here is the text of his remarks, highlighted, strangely idealistic and realistic at the same time:

 

Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Hiroshima, Japan

 

5:45 P.M. JST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.  A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?  We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past.  We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner.  Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.

It is not the fact of war that sets Hiroshima apart. Artifacts tell us that violent conflict appeared with the very first man.  Our early ancestors, having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood, used these tools not just for hunting, but against their own kind.  On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold; compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal.  Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated.  And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.

The World War that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations.  Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art.  Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth.  And yet, the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes; an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.  In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die — men, women, children no different than us, shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death.

There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war — memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism; graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity.  Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction; how the very spark that marks us as a species — our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our tool-making, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.

How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth.  How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.  Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.  Nations arise, telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats, but those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds; to cure disease and understand the cosmos.  But those same discoveries can be turned into ever-more efficient killing machines.

The wars of the modern age teach this truth.  Hiroshima teaches this truth.  Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us.  The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution, as well.

That is why we come to this place.  We stand here, in the middle of this city, and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell.  We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see.  We listen to a silent cry.  We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war, and the wars that came before, and the wars that would follow.

Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.  Someday the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness.  But the memory of the morning of August 6th, 1945 must never fade.  That memory allows us to fight complacency.  It fuels our moral imagination.  It allows us to change.

And since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope.  The United States and Japan forged not only an alliance, but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war.  The nations of Europe built a Union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy.  Oppressed peoples and nations won liberation.  An international community established institutions and treaties that worked to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back, and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.

Still, every act of aggression between nations; every act of terror and corruption and cruelty and oppression that we see around the world shows our work is never done. We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations –- and the alliances that we’ve formed -– must possess the means to defend ourselves.  But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.

We may not realize this goal in my lifetime.  But persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe.  We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles.  We can stop the spread to new nations, and secure deadly materials from fanatics.

And yet that is not enough.  For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale.  We must change our mindset about war itself –- to prevent conflict through diplomacy, and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun; to see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition; to define our nations not by our capacity to destroy, but by what we build.

And perhaps above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.  For this, too, is what makes our species unique.  We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past.  We can learn.  We can choose. We can tell our children a different story –- one that describes a common humanity; one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.

We see these stories in the hibakusha –- the woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb, because she recognized that what she really hated was war itself; the man who sought out families of Americans killed here, because he believed their loss was equal to his own.

My own nation’s story began with simple words:  All men are created equal, and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens.

But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for; an ideal that extends across continents, and across oceans.  The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious; the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family -– that is the story that we all must tell.

That is why we come to Hiroshima.  So that we might think of people we love — the first smile from our children in the morning; the gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table; the comforting embrace of a parent –- we can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here seventy-one years ago.  Those who died -– they are like us.  Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life, and not eliminating it.

When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here.  But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace.  What a precious thing that is.  It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child.  That is the future we can choose -– a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.  (Applause.)