Divine Strake: a Bad Signal at a Bad Time
I have written a two page information brief, “The Divine Strake Nuclear Weapons Simulation: A Bad Signal at a Bad Time,” for the Western States Legal Foundation. The information brief is available on the WSLF web site as a pdf file (click here). It summarizes some of the material regarding Divine Strake previously posted here, and provides contact information for the coalition opposing the test.
Previous Divine Strake posts:
“Divine Strake” and the talk of a nuclear attack on Iran
The “Divine Strake” low-yield nuclear weapons simulation: government denials and responses
Did the WashPost Miss Explosive Story?
Bringing Nuclear Disarmament “Home” to the Peace and Justice Movement
Readers of this blog have been privy to in-depth information and analysis about the Iranian crisis and what it really means, by my colleagues, Andrew Lichterman, John Burroughs, and Michael Spies. You might wonder about the name of our blog, “DisarmamentActivist.org.” We believe that education and critical thinking are essential building blocks of effective activism. But at the same time, while we’ve been delving into the facts and putting them into context, we’ve also been working with our colleagues on plans for action. (Obviously much more needs to be done!) The initial results can be found on the new United for Peace and Justice No War on Iran! No Nukes! campaign pages. There you can sign and send letters to members of Congress and the U.N. Security Council calling on them to oppose military action against Iran, uphold the law, support diplomatic solutions, and put an end to U.S. nuclear hypocrisy. You can also sign AfterDowningStreet’s petition to Bush and Cheney, and find links to additional educational materials and action items. On April 29, under the banner No Nukes! No Wars! we’ll be marching for Peace, Justice and Democracy in New York City, and hosting an interactive No War on Iran! No Nukes! tent in the Peace and Justice Festival. Join our Nuclear Abolition contingent at 20th Street, east of Broadway, starting at 11:00 am (enter from Park Avenue South)!
This recent activity is the result of a steady, patient, behind the scenes campaign. Since late 2002, during the runup to the Iraq war, we’ve been working with U.S. member groups of the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons to bring nuclear disarmament “home” to the peace and justice movement. In the run up to the U.S. attack on Iraq, premised in part on the wholly unsubstantiated claim that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program, a new anti-war movement began to coalesce, with a heightened sensitivity to the domestic impacts of the “war on terror,” including attacks on immigrants, and drastic cuts to social services for the poorest members of our population.
The first National Assembly of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), held in Chicago in June 2003, seemed like a good opportunity to reclaim nuclear disarmament as a peace and justice issue, and to reintegrate it into the broader anti-war movement. A proposal from Abolition 2000 groups to make nuclear disarmament a UFPJ priority was adopted, with little discussion or controversy. It was striking, however, that several delegates voiced objections to the effect that “nuclear disarmament is the Bush agenda!” This turned out to be the tip of an iceberg, exposing a vast lack of awareness in the new anti-war movement–reflecting the general lack of public awareness–about the realities of U.S. nuclear weapons and their central role in our “national security” policy. And it marked the beginning of a continuing internal education process in UFPJ, the largest anti-war coalition in the country, with over 1,300 member groups. The Nuclear Disarmament/Redefining Security Working Group of UFPJ, which I convene, has been working steadily to raise awareness about the historically unbroken U.S. nuclear threat in the context of an increasingly aggressive, unbelievably arrogant and unilateral administration in Washington.
Now it seems that like it or not, the threatened use of nuclear weapons by the United States against Iran, reported by Seymour Hersh in the April 17 New Yorker, is forcing the still somewhat reluctant anti-Iraq-war movement to come to grips with the prospect of nuclear war. With the risk of use of nuclear weapons climbing towards levels not reached since the darkest days of the Cold War, where is the public outcry? What happened to the massive anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s? Why has the anti-war movement been so quiet about nuclear weapons?
Iran’s Overhyped Nuclear Progress
There is renewed buzz and fear-mongering relating to Iranian president Mahmoud Amadinejad’s latest nuclear boasts. According to the New York Times, days after Amadinejad announced Iran has succeeded in enriching uranium to a level suitable for a reactor, he casually dropped that Iran has begun work on the more advanced P2 centrifuge design. To the NYT, reminiscent of the role it played in the lead up to the Iraq war, these statements mean Iran “is pursuing a far more sophisticated way of making atomic fuel that American officials and inspectors say could speed Iran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon.” Taking their cue, U.S. officials expressed the usual scripted shock and dismay meant to convey the sense of hysterical urgency that the Bush Administration associates with every step the Iranians take in their fledgling nuclear development program.
While the P2 program serves as the central plotline in Iran’s ongoing drama with the IAEA inspectors exploring Iran’s past concealment, it is a stretch to see how the announcement to pursue work on the design changes the bigger picture in any meaningful way. After more than 18 years of work to develop the P1, Iran has only recently succeeded in reportedly producing a minute amount of reactor grade plutonium in a 164 machine cascade. This is far short of the 3000 machines Iran would need to operate continuously for a full year in order to produce sufficient material for a single weapon, and shorter still from the 50,000 Iran needs to fuel its present nuclear energy program.
The announcement is notable in light of the fact that the largest remaining issue in the IAEA’s investigation into Iran’s past nuclear program involves the major gap in the history of its work on the P2 design. While the Iranians acquired the design from the Khan network in 1995, they claim they had not worked on them in the period leading up to the revelation of the Natanz facility in 2002. Naturally this raised suspicion with the IAEA, which has been insistently pressing Iran for documentary evidence to prove it did not work on the designs during that time. Iran claims it lacked the resources to carry out R&D on both designs, so it stuck to the easier model.
The IAEA recently confronted Iran with documents related to work allegedly carried out by a contracting company between 2002 and 2003, and the import of centrifuges components. The IAEA inquired about the alleged import to a contracting company of 900 magnets from a foreign entity in mid-2003. Iran replied that only a limited number of magnets were delivered. It should be noted that Iran is not required to report the import of such components under either its Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/214) or the Additional Protocol, but it is obligated under the Additional Protocol to provide the IAEA with such information upon the request of the Agency (see: INFCIRC/540, Article 2.a.ix.b; and IAEA, Report on the Implementation of Safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran, para. 19, February 2006). (more…)
The U.S. and Iran: Time to Talk
The most important step in the current U.S./Iran crisis is for the two sides to talk. Senator Lugar and others agree. It sounds doable, right? But the reality is that the United States and Iran have not been talking in any in-depth, sustained way since the 1979 revolution and the hostage crisis. In the negotiations between the E3 (Britain, France, Germany) and Iran in 2004-2005, the United States was on the sidelines. It was hailed as a breakthrough when Secretary of State Rice just approved those negotiations. But the United States was not there to engage on its priority issues — Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, Iranian policy towards Israel, human rights — nor on priority issues for Iran — its uranium enrichment program, an end to existing U.S. sanctions, security assurances. The Bush administration did, however, exact a price for its backing of the negotiations that virtually assured their failure — that Iran would not be permitted to engage in any uranium-enrichment related activities whatever in the foreseeable future.
In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now following up on his New Yorker article, Seymour Hersh made the point about the failure to talk vividly:
What’s amazing, Amy, about this is this, and what always surprises me about my country is, here we have a president that doesn’t talk to people he disagrees with. And anybody who’s been around little boys, big boys, knows that when they get out of control, you grab them. If you’re a nursery school teacher, you grab the little four-year-olds by the scruff of the neck, and you pull them together, and you say, ‘You two guys, shake hands and make up, and go play in the sandbox.’
Bush doesn’t talk to people he’s mad at. He doesn’t talk to the North Koreans. He didn’t talk to the insurgency. When the history is done, there were incredible efforts by the insurgency leaders in the summer of 2003. I’m talking about the Iraqi insurgency, the former Sunni generals and Sunni and Baathist leaders who were happy to see Saddam go, but did not want America there. They wanted to talk to us. Bush wouldn’t. Whether it got to Bush, I don’t know, it got in to four stars. Nobody wanted to talk to them. He doesn’t talk to the president of Syria; in fact, specifically rejects overtures from al-Asad to us. And he doesn’t talk to the Iranians. There’s been no bilateral communication at all.
Iran has come hat-in-hand to us. A former National Security Council adviser who worked in the White House, Flynt Leverett, an ex-C.I.A. analyst who’s now working at Brookings, wrote a piece a month or so ago, maybe six weeks ago, in the New York Times, describing specific offers by the Iranians to come and ‘let’s deal.’ Let’s deal on all issues. I’m even told they were willing to talk about recognizing Israel. And the White House doesn’t talk. And it’s not that he doesn’t talk, it’s that nobody pressures him to talk. There’s no pressure from the media, no pressure from Congress. Here’s a president who won’t talk to people he’s walking us into a confrontation with.
With other NGOs, Michael Spies and I, on behalf of Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, have been meeting with diplomats from the countries on the Security Council and other key countries. We’re picking up indications that there’s a desire to get the United States and Iran talking. There’s also a feeling that the E3, who are nursing grievances over what they regard as Iranian misbehavior during the negotiations, need to get over it and find a way to engage both Iran and the United States.
Let’s say that the United States and Iran did talk, either bilaterally or in a wider setting, for example in the context of a proposal Britain would like to see put forward by the E3 plus Russia, China, and the United States. Are the issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program capable of resolution? It certainly seems possible, assuming the United States is willing to drop the posture of simply delivering to Iran the ultimatum that it must cease all enrichment-related activities. It should be stipulated that this all would have been much easier before Ahmadinejad came into office. He continues to stoke the fires of confrontation. (more…)
“Divine Strake”and the talk of a nuclear attack on Iran
There have been two related sets of news stories in the past week involving nuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, and the Washington Post ran stories regarding planning for a possible use of nuclear weapons in an attack on Iran. The reported rationale for considering nuclear weapons use is that some underground Iranian facilities might be difficult to destroy with conventional weapons. A scattering of newspapers have reported that a large conventional test explosion called “Divine Strake,” planned for June at the Nevada Test Site, will simulate nuclear weapons use. One purpose of the program of which that test is a part, according to Department of Defense budget documents, is to “develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.”
Both reports subsequently were denied by government sources. Nonetheless, It is virtually certain that they are to a large extent true. There undoubtedly are plans being prepared for possible attacks on Iran, and that process likely includes examining (if not choosing) nuclear options for hard to destroy facilities. All the evidence except the government denials themselves suggests that data from the “Divine Strake” test will be used to refine understanding of nuclear weapons effects on underground structures, and that such understanding will be incorporated into the tools and procedures used to plan and execute nuclear strikes (In a previous post I provided a summary of the Divine Strake coverage, including government denials and responses to them).
What is important is what these two chains of events mean. They can be understood along a continuum that ranges from the normal grinding along of an immense military apparatus that always is refining its understanding of nuclear weapons and always is preparing contingency plans to attack a variety of potential adversaries, to danger signs of a near-term attack on Iran that could involve nuclear weapons use if certain factions within the government have their way. I would place these events somewhere in the middle of this range, with nuclear weapons use still highly unlikely but some kind of attack on Iran growing steadily more likely, although not on the immediate horizon. This is an extraordinarily secretive administration, making its intentions difficult to discern. It is also a very fluid political moment domestically, with an ongoing constitutional crisis that evidently is viewed by the incumbent government mainly as a political problem to be managed using all the tools at its disposal, which could include the distraction of a conveniently timed, and, from its perspective, “manageable” use of military force. This is a government that has shown itself willing to roll the dice, and it may include dominant elements (and not only in the Executive branch) who believe that the worst outcome– widespread war in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region and some measure of global economic chaos– will one way or another allow it to consolidate an increasingly autocratic form of rule. (more…)
The “Divine Strake” low-yield nuclear weapons simulation: government denials and responses
In my Friday March 31 entry “Did the WashPost miss an explosive story?” I provided evidence that the “Divine Strake” experiment which will detonate 700 tons of explosive in the Nevada desert is intended to simulate the effects of a low-yield nuclear blast on underground structures. Since then, there has been a round of investigation and commentary by various reporters and arms control experts, summarized below. In the early rounds the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) confirmed that Divine Strake was indeed the “Full-Scale tunnel defeat demonstration using high explosives to simulate a low yield nuclear weapon ground shock environment at Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site” described in last year’s budget request. Later, DTRA changed its story, claiming that language suggesting that the purpose of the “Divine Strake” test had changed, and that language regarding its nuclear weapons applications had been left in this year’s budget request by mistake.
In the initial round, John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal wrote the first piece on April 2, drawing on material from this site. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists got the first official confirmation that the Divine Strake test is the one referred to in the budget documents provided in my analysis last Friday. He wrote on the FAS Strategic Security Project Blog that
“The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) today confirmed to FAS that the upcoming Divine Strake test widely reported in the media to be a non-nuclear event is in fact a low-yield nuclear weapons calibration simulation against an underground target….
In response to an email earlier today, a DTRA spokesperson confirmed that Divine Strake is the same event that is described in DTRA budget documents as being a low-yield nuclear weapons shock simulation designed to allow the warfighters to fine-tune the yield of nuclear weapons in strikes on underground facilities.”
U.S. plans for Iran “options” and the nuclear weapons debate
Jeffrey Lewis at Armscontrolwonk.com responded today to the Seymour Hersh article on U.S. preparations and planning for an attack on Iran. Hersh reports that a debate is raging in the government over use of nuclear weapons against certain hard to destroy targets. Lewis suggests that it is unlikely that use of nuclear weapons is under consideration, arguing that the underground facility built for Iran’s uranium enrichment operations can be destroyed with existing U.S. conventional weapons. But there remain unanswered questions, and Hersh’s report that vigorous debate regarding nuclear weapons use against Iran is going on inside the government is as important as how “practical” such use might be.
First, Hersh is not the only one reporting that the government is considering nuclear weapons use in its ongoing planning for a possible attack on Iran. The Washington Post had a passage, buried far down in its story on U.S. options for an attack on Iran today, stating
“Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices. The Natanz facility consists of more than two dozen buildings, including two huge underground halls built with six-foot walls and supposedly protected by two concrete roofs with sand and rocks in between, according to Edward N. Luttwak, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
‘The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels,’ said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst. “Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it’s going to be very difficult to do.’”
This is a bit garbled regarding potential target depth, perhaps referring to one of the sources also cited by Lewis, stating that the Natanz facility is 8 meters (not feet) underground. GlobalSecurity.org reports, however, that Natanz has been reinforced substantially since that time:
“By mid-2004 the Natanz centrifuge facility was hardened with a roof of several meters of reinforced concrete and buried under a layer of earth some 75 feet deep.”
The 75 feet figure is consistent with Hersh’s story. Lewis notes the diverse accounts regarding depth, and believes that Natanz likely could be destroyed with conventional earth-penetrating weapons. Natanz has been the main focus of public discussion regarding possible nuclear targeting; one unanswered question is whether there are other hard to destroy underground targets in Iran on the U.S. target list.
Hersh’s discussion of planning for possible nuclear weapons use is not limited, however, to inferences from the nature of Iran’s facilities, and what it might take to destroy them. What caught my attention in his piece were the detailed comments (although from anonymous sources) regarding the heated debate over potential nuclear weapons use at the top levels of government:
“The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it ‘a juggernaut that has to be stopped.’ He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. ‘There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,’ the adviser told me. ‘This goes to high levels.’ The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. ‘The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,” the adviser said. “And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.’”
In the end, the internal debate as Hersh reports it supports the view that use of nuclear weapons in a “counterproliferation” attack against Iran remains unlikely, if only because the military itself would be strongly opposed. But if it is true that a significant faction at the top levels of government is seriously contemplating nuclear weapons use here, it should be a matter of the utmost concern, and should be met with unambiguous condemnation. A “preventive” war against Iran, a country that has attacked neither us nor its neighbors and shows no imminent signs of doing so, would be illegal, another act manifesting the rejection by the United States of the international legal framework that it played a leading role in constructing after World War II. An unprovoked nuclear attack would be an atrocity of historic proportions, definitively marking the United States as an outlaw state, ruled by criminals deserving of comparison with the most terrible regimes of the past.
In a stunning article, “The Iran Plans,” to appear in the April 17 New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration has intensified planning for bombing Iran; that it is giving serious attention to the option of using nuclear weapons to attack buried targets; and that U.S. combat troops are already in Iran preparing for military operations and recruiting local supporters from minority groups. As a whole, the article conveys that the administration is prepared to launch an attack should Iran not accede to U.S. demands, above all not to proceed with uranium enrichment activities. But the potential conflict goes beyond that: the administration seems committed to regime change regardless of whether the nuclear issues are capable of resolution (which they probably are, given any willingness to compromise on Washington’s part).
If executed, U.S. military action would apply the Bush doctrine of preventive war in an unprecedented way that would set the template for years or decades of regional and global violence, unrestrained by law. While the doctrine was a pretext for the Iraq invasion, that lawless action could at least be seen as a continuation of hostilities going back to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Iran would be an atrocious act violating the existing near taboo that has held since U.S. devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That would in turn make it far more likely that the weapons will be used elsewhere as well–including against American cities.
The abhorrent consequences of military action, and of possible nuclear use, are referred to in the Hersh article and elsewhere. But it’s worth dwelling on issues relating to international law constraints that receive far too little attention in the United States (for example, they go unmentioned by Hersh).
First, as Andy Lichterman explained in a recent post, an attack on Iran would be an act of aggression, barred by the UN Charter and prosecuted at Nuremberg. That is, it would be aggression unless authorized by the Security Council or in response to an Iranian attack. (For in-depth analysis, see the piece I co-authored in Human Rights, and Peter Weiss’s presentation to the New York session of the World Tribunal on Iraq.) The Security Council, however, may not even be able to agree on a resolution requiring Iran to cease enrichment-related activities, let alone a resolution imposing sanctions. The Council barely was able to agree on the recent non-binding presidential statement, given Russian and Chinese reluctance to engage in a confrontational course. Absent some very major change in circumstances, a resolution authorizing force is out of the question.
Second, as I explained in a 2003 paper, a U.S. nuclear attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would violate international law requirements of necessity, proportionality, and discrimination acknowledged by the United States and affirmed by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion on nuclear weapons. The Court put the principle of discrimination, which it described as “fundamental” and “intransgressible,” as follows: “States must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets.” (emphasis added) Given the blast, heat and widespread radiation effects of an attack–the spread of radiation is elevated by an underground explosion by an earth penetrator–that requirement cannot be met. (more…)
Iran& Iraq war& War and law
06 Apr 2006 07:11 pm
What should go without saying
The American Society of International Law adopted the following resolution at its recent annual meeting:
The American Society of International Law, at its centennial annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 30, 2006, Resolves:
1. Resort to armed force is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and other international law (jus ad bellum).
2. Conduct of armed conflict and occupation is governed by the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and other international law (jus in bello).
3. Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any person in the custody or control of a state are prohibited by international law from which no derogations are permitted.
4. Prolonged, secret, incommunicado detention of any person in the custody or control of a state is prohibited by international law.
5. Standards of international law regarding treatment of persons extend to all branches of national governments, to their agents, and to all combatant forces.
6. In some circumstances, commanders (both military and civilian) are personally responsible under international law for the acts of their subordinates.
7. All states should maintain security and liberty in a manner consistent with their international law obligations.
The fact that this resolution even should be necessary reflects the depths of our current crisis. As Scott Horton, a leading international lawyer, put it in a PBS interview following the Abu Ghraib revelations, “…if adherence to the Geneva Convention becomes a political issue in this country, we have fallen into a deep moral gutter.”
Regarding resort to armed force, the ASIL resolution similarly states what should be the obvious. When considering both the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and the possibility of military action against Iran, it is important to begin with the basic framework of modern international law. It is a framework this country played a major role in creating.
In the war crimes trials conducted after World War II, the United States and its allies declared aggressive war to be the most serious of all international crimes. Robert L. Jackson, the U.S. Representative to the International Conference on Military Trials, declared,
“We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.” Statement by Justice Jackson on War Trials Agreement; August 12, 1945.