Nuclear weapons--global

Nuclear weapons--global& Strategic weapons and space10 Nov 2006 07:55 am

John Burroughs

Today an item in the New York Times World Briefing said, in its entirety:

France successfully fired its new submarine-launched long-range M51 missile over the Atlantic in its first experimental test flight, the Defense Ministry said. The missile is designed to carry six thermonuclear warheads and has a range of up to 6,000 miles.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a Security Council resolution condemning the test as jeopardizing international peace and security. That was the Council’s response to the July missile test by North Korea. But as Michael Spies blogged here regarding a subsequent U.S. missile test, the United States, France, and other permanent members of the Council apply different standards (if any) to themselves.

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear power24 Aug 2006 09:25 am

Michael Spies

Eight days before the lapse of Iran’s Security Council imposed deadline to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, Argentina reportedly announced its plans to expand its nuclear power program including a return to uranium enrichment. A the first step in a multistage initiative named the “Argentina Nuclear Plan” intended to reinvigorate its nuclear energy sector, Argentina will spend $3.5 billion to finish construction of the Atucha II reactor, and in 2010 to begin construction of a fourth power reactor. Like an increasing number of states, Argentina is looking toward the exploitation of nuclear energy as a mean toward reining in greenhouse gas emissions.

Like Brazil, Argentina was a late-comer to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, joining in 1995 ahead of the treaty’s indefinite extension. Also like Brazil, its nuclear history is far from unblemished. Predating the Brazilian program by a number of years, the Argentine nuclear program began in the early 1950s. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, between 1978 and 1990 the military junta which seized power in 1976 actively sought to construct a plutonium reprocessing plant for which no legitimate non-military use could be externally ascertained.

The long rivalry between Argentina and Brazil and their developing nuclear programs led to what many commentators described as a nascent nuclear arms race. Following the restoration of civilian rule in both countries after the early 1980s, both states undertook regional confidence-building measures, including a bi-lateral verification regime known as the Argentine-Brazilian Accounting and Control Commission (ABACC) in 1991. In the mid-1990s both countries joined the Treaty of Tlateloco, which establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Latin America.

Argentina presently operates two nuclear power reactors, with a combined installed capacity of nearly one gigawatt. This capacity is similar to both Iran and Brazil. Brazil began operating a small industrial scale enrichment plant this year, intended to provide fuel for its civil nuclear program and for naval reactors. Argentina’s nuclear program is under IAEA safeguards, although neither Argentina nor Brazil have signed Additional Protocols with the IAEA, which would give the Agency the authority to inspect for undeclared and clandestine nuclear activities.


Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space18 Jul 2006 04:15 pm

Michael Spies

Less than a week after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning North Korea for test launching several ballistic missiles, the United States is set to launch an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The missile, carrying three dummy warheads, will be fired across the Pacific toward the missile test range at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, with a flight time of about 30 minutes.

According to the Santa Maria Times, the test scheduled for early Wednesday morning is intended to test the reliability and capability of the missile system. The United States currently deploys 500 Minuteman III missiles, kept on high alert and each carrying a single nuclear warhead with a yield, depending on the configuration, of 170 kT or 335 kT, respectively 10 or 20 times more powerful than the U.S. atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima.

This test is the latest in an ongoing series of regularly scheduled ballistic missile tests conducted by the U.S. military. In the period between January 2000 and the present, the U.S. has test launched at least 23 Minuteman III ICBMs from Vandenberg. The last test of a Minuteman III occurred on June 14th. Regarding the purpose of the test, Andrew Lichterman pointed out that according to the 30th Space Wing, the goal was to “provide key accuracy and reliability data for on-going and future modifications to the weapon system, which are key to improving the already impressive effectiveness of the Minuteman III force.” He further noted that “as this blog has documented, this is only one small part of a wide-ranging effort to develop the next generation of U.S. strategic weapons, with the intention of being able to strike targets anywhere on earth in hours or less.”

The ongoing conduct of these tests represents yet another example of U.S. exceptionalism; the U.S. feels no embarrassment in criticizing others for the same activities it or its allies engage in. For instance, days after the North Korean tests the Bush Administration “offered an unprecedented defense and rationalization of India’s missile test and nuclear programme” following India’s test launch of a nuclear capable Agni-III missile. The tests of such weapon systems is ill-timed following the international chorus of condemnation, partially led by the U.S., of the North Korean tests. In the regional context of the Korean Peninsula, given the heightened tensions surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the U.S. test of a nuclear capable missile is unambiguously provocative. In the global context, the U.S. missile test is blatant hypocrisy, symptomatic of a dangerous foreign policy based on the imposition of discriminatory, self-serving norms backed by the threat and use of force.


Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space02 Jul 2006 08:11 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The headlines in recent weeks have been full of the latest “threat,” this time a possible missile test by North Korea. The Bush administration has filled the airways once again with bellicose rhetoric, ranging from the now-routine “all options are on the table” to threats to shoot the missile down with U.S. ballistic missile defense interceptors. As Jeff Lewis and Victoria Sampson argue persuasively in a series of posts at, the shoot-down talk is almost certainly an empty threat, intended only for consumption by those who know nothing about either ballistic missile defense or the likely trajectory of North Korean missile tests.

Not to be outdone, leading Democratic Party “national security” figures, including Clinton-era Defense Secretary William Perry, are suggesting a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean launch site, claiming that the outcome of this unvarnished act of aggression would be not only predictable but positive. The mainstream media and U.S. political elites seem permanently locked in a deadly symbiotic embrace: for the media, “if it bleeds it leads,” for the political elites, “if we kill it sells.” Or so it seems, more and more in this grim new American Century, where “diplomacy” seems to mean little more to those who wield American power than threatening force for a bit longer before using it.

The confrontation between the U.S. military behemoth and North Korea’s possible nuclear weapons and its still-theoretical long range missile capability works well enough, in any case, for the elites of both states, each growing progressively more isolated from the rest of the world, although in different ways. What each may fear most is their own growing irrelevance: North Korea to the world as a whole, the United States to East Asia, where convincing key states– such as Japan and South Korea–that it remains an “indispensable nation” is a critical element in slowing U.S. descent from the zenith of its power (now clearly in the rear-view mirror of the U.S. juggernaut, however much we may debate how many mileposts have passed since the peak). For North Korea, fueling up the missile (if that is what they actually are doing) gets the world’s attention by slapping the “rogue leader with nukes (maybe)” bargaining chip on the table once more, particularly with the U.S. government and its echo-chamber media playing the role of both predictable antagonist and massive message amplifier. Thomas Schelling, Henry Kissinger and company may have invented the “madman theory” of deterrence and diplomacy, but no one has gotten more mileage off less fuel with it than North Korea.

As for U.S. elites, the North Korean “threat,” particularly with the added fillip of an endless nuclear and missile crisis, is a good excuse for the U.S. to maintain its massive military presence in the region. It also is a major selling point for ballistic missile defense, both at home and abroad. Defenses against strategic missiles are an arms contractor’s dream: arcane, extremely expensive technology, for which there is a potentially unlimited demand, that is unlikely to be tested in any battle likely to be followed by rational debate over its success or failure. In this regard, the current round of North Korea missile-threat fear mongering may already have served its purpose. Last week the United States and Japan inked a pact for further cooperation on missile defense development, and this week Japan agreed to the deployment of Patriot 3 missiles, designed for defense against aircraft, cruise missiles, and shorter range missiles. While neither of these agreements may have been caused by the current North Korea missile test scare, they may provide useful political cover for the government of Japan, where increased cooperation with the U.S. military is controversial.


Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.20 Jun 2006 07:34 pm

John Burroughs

I managed to get an op-ed about the Blix report published in the June 17 Chicago Sun-Times, “This time, let’s listen to Blix on WMD.” It shouldn’t be that hard to place informed and reasonably well-written op-eds on a topic of great, arguably supreme, importance (nuclear weapons), but it is, I can say from experience over the years. The op-ed traces the U.S. rejection of disarmament commitments, observing that:

“In the longer term, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons requires reversing proliferation where it began, in the United States. We led the world into the nuclear age during World War II; now we must lead it out. Unfortunately, since the treaty banning all nuclear test explosions was negotiated in 1996, the United States has abandoned the multilateralism necessary to the exercise of leadership. The Senate rejected ratification of the treaty in 1999. In the 2000s, the Bush administration has repudiated commitments the United States made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] to work with other nations to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in security postures and to pursue verified, irreversible reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals.”

There wasn’t space to refer to some of the unflinching statements of the Hans Blix-led Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction regarding the regressive U.S. role. Notably, the report says:

“Some of the current setbacks in treaty-based arms control and disarmament can be traced to a pattern in US policy that is sometimes called ’selective multilateralism’ - an increased US skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery.” (p. 25)

The report also says:

“It is easy to see that the nuclear-weapon states parties to the NPT have largely failed to implement this commitment [to nuclear disarmament] and failed to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith’ on nuclear disarmament as required of them under the NPT. Indeed, all states that have nuclear weapons are still seeking to modernize their nuclear capabilities.” (p. 94)

From one vantage point, that of the media-starved disarmament activist, coverage of the release of the report was pretty good. There was an excellent story in the New York Times, and Blix did interviews on Fresh Air and Meet the Press and an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune. From a more objective standpoint, it was fairly limited in extent (the Washington Post ran only a wire story, as Andrew Lichterman noted on this blog) and short in duration. There was certainly no pounding away at different aspects of the story day after day, week after week! What coverage there was seemed motivated partly by Blix’s status as a quasi-celebrity due to his role prior to the U.S. invasion as UNMOVIC chief inspector investigating alleged Iraqi programs involving biological and chemical weapons and missiles. It also tended to focus on what Blix had to say about the U.S./Iran situation.

For selected media coverage and other items regarding the report, including a summary and preliminary commentary and a list of key implications for U.S. policy, see, the website of the project of “civil society review” of the report initiated by the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, and Reaching Critical Will.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.02 Jun 2006 05:06 pm

Figure from Weapons Of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, Report of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, p.36.

Andrew Lichterman

“So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, there is a risk that they will one day be used, by design or accident. And any such use would be catastrophic. The accumulated threat posed by the estimated 27,000 nuclear weapons, in Russia, the United States and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states, merits worldwide concern. However, especially in these five states the view is common that nuclear weapons from the first wave of proliferation somehow are tolerable, while such weapons in the hands of additional states are viewed as dangerous.” Weapons Of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, p.60.

As noted in the previous entry, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by Hans Blix, released its report, Weapons Of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, at a press conference at the United Nations Thursday (download the full report in pdf here). The Washington Post online ran a Reuters story on the report predictably tracking mainstream Washington’s obsessions and repressions, focusing on Iran (who has no nuclear weapons) and its relationship to Israel (who does). The immense nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia, and those of the other original nuclear weapons states, are an afterthought, relegated to a few paragraphs at the end.

A good place to start in turning this skewed world view right side up is by remembering that nuclear weapons are the true “weapons of mass destruction.” And it is worth contemplating the magnitude of the danger presented by the arsenals of the existing nuclear powers, still big enough to destroy most, perhaps all, of human civilization in a day.

A single U.S. ballistic missile submarine, armed with 12 Trident missiles each capable of carrying up to eight separate nuclear warheads, can deliver as many as 192 nuclear weapons in short order. Independent analysts estimate that the average missile load today is 6 warheads, which means 144 warheads on a single boat. Each of these weapons will have a yield of either 100 or 475 kilotons, depending on which of the two SLBM warheads are employed. The yield of the bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima was, by comparison, estimated to be at most 15 kilotons– so these modern warheads range from more than 6 to almost 32 times the size of that first city-destroying weapon.


Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.01 Jun 2006 10:29 am

Michael Spies

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC), chaired by Hans Blix, released its final report today at the UN in New York. Blix presented the report, titled Weapons of Terror: Freeing the World of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Arms, to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Jan Eliasson.

Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, Western States Legal Foundation, and Reaching Critical Will, in partnership with the Arms Control Association have formed a project to assess the report of the WMD Commission and analyze its implications, especially for turning around U.S. policy.

A preliminary response to the report is available on the project website,

Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Iraq war& Social movements and protest20 May 2006 10:18 pm


Jackie Cabasso

The April 29 March for Peace, Justice and Democracy was a huge success! Initiated by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and with 8 major co-endorsing organizations forming an unprecedented coalition*, the organizers estimate that 350,000 people participated. Equally important was the tone of the day - spirited yet serious, and focused simultaneously on many issues of concern to the peace and justice movement.The morning started out rather dramatically for the Nuclear Disarmament tent at the Peace and Justice Festival site. Our set-up crew arrived at Foley Square, loaded down with boxes of literature and displays, to find - to our dismay - that tent assembly was running way behind schedule, and that only about half of the tents had been set up. Ours was not one of them. We also discovered that our location, in front of the Federal Courthouse, was located in a wind tunnel and shaded from the sun by the surrounding buildings.

As we huddled together in the cold, we watched our huge tent (something like 20 x 40 feet) being assembled. We were given the go ahead to start moving tables and chairs into the space when a sudden gust of wind literally blew the frame apart and the upended the tent on the courthouse steps! Fortunately no one was hurt, but the tent landed with such an impact that it literally ripped a street sign out of the concrete sidewalk. We couldn’t resist darkly joking among ourselves that the upside down shredded tent looked like the aftermath of a nuclear blast. The Police immediately told us we couldn’t have a tent in that location.


Iran& Nuclear weapons--global03 May 2006 02:21 pm

John Burroughs

This afternoon a British/French draft of a resolution on Iran was made informally available outside the Security Council chambers.

The draft states that the Council is “acting under Chapter VII” of the UN Charter. This means that it is based upon a finding of a threat to international peace and security, is legally binding and could be the basis for later imposition of sanctions or authorization of force. When asked about the draft outside the chambers, China’s representative, Amb. Wang, said that China will not accept a Chapter VII resolution. Russia’s position has been similar. Some elected members of the Council might also prefer a non-Chapter VII resolution but the “E10″ (the ten elected members of the Council) so far have not attempted to press their views, leaving dealing with Iran up to the “P5″ (the permanent five members).

It is somewhat unusual for a draft to be released before the P5 have reached agreement, indicating that Britain, France and the United States may be seeking to increase the pressure prior to a possible meeting involving foreign ministers in New York next week.

Some quick reactions to the draft: As I told some elected members of the Council in a meeting organized by Greenpeace International yesterday (see “Options for the Security Council”), there is no basis for a finding of a threat to international peace and security. Further, it is hard to see how a hard-line resolution confronting Iran is going to lead to a productive outcome. The draft requires Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities. Also, going beyond the presidential statement and the February IAEA board resolution, it requires Iran to suspend construction of a heavy water reactor. Previously Iran had been asked only to consider this step. Iran likely would not react positively to these requirements. Iran has said it will continue safeguards implementation, and therefore IAEA monitoring of its enrichment facilities, provided that Iran’s nuclear dossier remains “in full” in the framework of the IAEA. (See April 28 IAEA report, para. 6) So Iran might stop cooperating with the IAEA on safeguards if a Chapter VII resolution is adopted. (more…)

Disarmament& Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& Social movements and protest24 Apr 2006 06:24 pm

Jackie Cabasso

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, “” 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?


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