Category Archives: Nuclear weapons

Depends what the meaning of “introduce” is…

Ever since 1963, the official Israeli policy regarding the possibility (!) that it has nuclear weapons has been– as Shimon Peres first said that year– that “we shall not be the ones to introduce nuclear weapons into the area.”
(Yossi Melman gives some background to that utterance, in this article about the recent incident in which Ehud Olmert –intentionally or otherwise– clearly implied that Israel is indeed a nuclear-weapons power.)
Of course, it all depends what the meaning of the word “introduce” is, doesn’t it?
US policymakers, who for those past 43 years, have been terrified of finding out– or, more to the point, terrified of publicly acknowledging— what the actual status of Israel’s nuclear-weapons program is, have spent all of those 43 years studiously avoiding ever trying to find out what “introduce” means.
Basically, though, does the Peres utterance mean, “We shan’t be the first to acquire nukes?” or does it mean, “We shan’t be the first to use ’em?”
No-one in Washington DC ever wanted to ask.
I have just scanned and uploaded a copy of my Summer 1988 article Israel’s Nuclear Game: The U.S. Stake, which explores some of these issues. You can find it:
here. (It’s a 1.1 MB PDF file, so you might want to wait till you’re on a fast link before downloading?)
… Anyway, back in the 1950s, the Israelis enjoyed close nuclear cooperation with France, which gave their buddy Peres most of the technology he needed. Later, they had continuing technical coordination in this field with both the Shah’s Iran and with apartheid-era South Africa (which may well have helped the Israelis test a nuclear “device” over the South Atlantic back in 1979.)
I wonder what kind of information one might be able to get from South Africa, these days, about the nature of that cooperation?? What I do see from this simple chronology of South Africa’s nuclear program, is that in September 1989,

    At a meeting of his senior political aides and advisors, President F.W. de Klerk declares that in order to end South Africa’s isolation from the international community, both the political system of apartheid and the nuclear weapons program must be dismantled.

So the two deeply transgressive and violent policies were thereafter abandoned in tandem…
Contrast that with this second great Shimon Peres quote, this time from 1998: “We have built a nuclear option, not in order to have a Hiroshima, but to have an Oslo.” (source: here, at footnote 110.)
I note, first of all, that the always halfhearted peace “process” that Peres engaged in in Oslo with the PLO never got anywhere… So now, Israel still has both its near-permanent occupation of Palestine plus its nuclear weapons… Plus, I note that the difference in the two situations was basically that South Africa came under huge international pressure to end both apartheid and its nuclear-weapons program.
Whereas Israel– ?
And finally here: an estimate fromJane’s Intelligence Review in 1997 estimating the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal at a whopping “>400 deliverable thermonuclear weapons” (same source as the last one, at footnote 172.)

Olmert on Israel’s nukes: a slip or not?

In an interview broadcast by Germany’s N24 broadcast station today Israeli PM Olmert very clearly implied that Israel has nuclear weapons. I heard a re-broadcast of his words on a BBC news channel.
Ha’Aretz got the wording quite right in this account of his words:

    we have never threatened any nation with annihilation. Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?

This caused a storm in Israel, which for 20-plus years has “had its cake and eaten it” regarding its possession of nuclear weapons. That is, while everyone recognizes that Israel has an advanced nuclear arsenal (and therefore, Israel enjoys all the “benefits” of nuclear deterrence– however chimerical they may in fact be), at the same time Israel’s leaders have never before openly admitted they have such an arsenal, and thus– with the continuing connivance of the entire US political establishment– they have been able to avoid attracting any of the opprobrium heaped on other nuclear “proliferators” like India and Pakistan.
Oh wait a moment. India just got rewarded by the US administration and congress for its act of proliferation. I guess the international calculus has changed?
Maybe the new calculus in a US-dominated world order is that it’s only Muslim nations getting bombs that is bad?
That HaAretz article linked to above notes that,

    Olmert’s spokesman, Miri Eisen, who accompanied the prime minister on a trip to Germany on Monday, said he did not mean to say that Israel possessed or aspired to acquire nuclear weapons.
    “No he wasn’t saying anything like that,” she said.
    Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Olmert had meant to categorize the four nations as democracies to set them apart from Iran, and was not referring to their potential nuclear capabilities or aspirations.
    Olmert’s comments come a week after the incoming U.S. secretary of defense, Robert Gates, shocked observers when he said that Israel possessed nuclear arms, before a Congressional confirmation panel…

Actually, maybe that open admission from Gates should be seen as equally important as Olmert’s (intentional or unintentional) “slip of the tongue.”
Back in the late 1980s I studied the Israeli nuclear program quite a bit and published a couple of articles about it. Maybe it’s time to dig them out and put them up on the site here. In one of them I argued that one of the main benefits Israel gained from its possession of nukes was to be able to blackmail the US government into increasing its despatch (at US taxpayers’ expense) of very lethal “conventional” weapons to Israel on the basis that, “If we can’t get the conventional weapons we need then we may just need to pull the you-know-whats out from under their wraps…”
Time for worldwide deactivation of all nuclear arsenals, I think.

North Korea, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear disarmament

I’ve been thinking about North Korea’s explosion of an (apparently fairly unsuccessful, but still worrying) nuclear device. (“Device” is what you call it before it’s been recognizably made into a deliverable warhead/munition.)
I see that Kofi Annan has, refreshingly, been calling for the US to open direct talks with North Korea about its concerns:

    “We should talk to parties whose behavior we want to change, whose behavior we want to influence. And from that point of view, I believe that . . . the U.S. and North Korea should talk,” Annan said.

Bush is so far resisting this idea. Here’s what he said at a news conference today:

    In response to North Korea’s actions, we’re working with our partners in the region and the United Nations Security Council to ensure there are serious repercussions for the regime in Pyongyang.
    I’ve spoken with other world leaders, including Japan, China, South Korea and Russia. We all agree that there must be a strong Security Council resolution that will require North Korea to abide by its international commitments to dismantle its nuclear programs.
    This resolution should also specify a series of measures to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear or missile technologies and prevent financial transactions or asset transfers that would help North Korea develop its nuclear missile capabilities…
    The United States remains committed to diplomacy. The United States also reserves all options to defend our friends and our interests in the region against the threats from North Korea.
    So in response to North Korea’s provocation, we will increase defense cooperation with our allies, including cooperation on ballistic missile defense to protect against North Korean aggression, and cooperation to prevent North Korea from exporting nuclear and missile technologies.

I hate it when a US president uses the formulation “reserves all options”. With regard to North Korea as to Iran, this is a threat of nuclear retaliation cloaked in only the flimsiest of diplo-speak garments. Somebody should tell the Prez that everybody already knows that the US has nuclear weapons… “And you don’t need to keep threatening in this ugly, bullying way, that you might be prepared to use them!”
Which brings me to the main thing I wanted to say here. Remember how, once it seemed as though the White South Africans were about to lose their monopoly control of nuclear-weapons technology in their part of the world, they suddenly decided that maybe their whole region would be better off without nuclear weapons and made rapid and very public efforts to dismantle their whole nuclear-weapons program?
Why on earth don’t we think that this same approach might be even more valid, today, as between the United States and the rest of the world?
Nuclear weapons are truly terrifying things. (I’ve been to Hiroshima and talked to survivors of the 1945 bombing there. I wish everyone else in the US could do the same.) They are terrifying in anyone’s hands. Including in the hands of a very poor, desperate, marginalized-feeling government like that of North Korea. So maybe as the march of nuclear proliferation continues around the world, instead of focusing just on a strategy that involves shoring up the strategic position of the US and its allies in these increasingly dangerously circumstances, we should focus on one that would look at human security as a function of the global interdependency of all humankind, and conclude that what’s needed today is the dismantling of all the world’s nuclear arsenals.
(As all NPT members states, including the US, committed to back at the time of signing the NPT, rtemember.)
Yes, there are all kinds of “cascade effects” that might follow from North Korea’s action– within eastern Asia, and far beyond. But I think Pyongyang’s recent test gives all of us around the world who hate these weapons a new chance to stand up together and say, No to everyone’s nuclear weapons! Human solidarity now!

North Korea’s nuclear test

Oops. Yet another step toward global instability, taken while the US has been quite distracted by its self-created quagmire in Iraq:

    “The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, 2006, at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward… ”

Oh, my God. All the world needs: another “great leap forward” in this or any other field of endeavor.
The world now apparently has nine nuclear weapons powers. Five of them are “recognized” nuclear weapons states: the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France. And four are non-“recognized”: Israel, India, Pakistan, and now North Korea. Only one state, the US, has ever used nuclear weapons.
By an “amazing coincidence” (irony alert!), the five recognized NW states are also the five states that wield vetoes at the Security Council.
Back in 1970 when the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) went into effect, the five recognized nuclear states and all other NPT signatories solemnly committed themselves to engaging in good-faith efforts of “complete and general disarmament.” (Article 6.) Having seen the huge constraints in the modern era of any too-great reliance on unilateralism and military force– in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and Lebanon– it is now time to draw all the nations of the world into a campaign to follow through on that promise. The ingenuity of humankind is surely great enough for us to devise ways of resolving problems and differences among us that do not rely on threats of speciescide.

Chinese Commentary on Iran Nuclear Case

If you’ve only been briefed by American MSM sources about the latest page in the saga over Iran’s nuclear program, you might be thinking that finally, the great powers, including China and the Soviet Union, are now on board with the United States. On July 11, US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack confidently declared that there were “no divisions” among the “P5+1” countries (the veto wielding UN Security Council members plus Germany) regarding their willingness to move towards “punitive measures” against Iran.
That characterization would be news to China, one of the P5. Today (19 July), the US government’s own “Open Source Center” released a translation of an interesting commentary appearing on Junly 13th in China’s official news agency, Xinhua Domestic Service. I append the document below.
After a rather balanced and positive rendition of key recent developments, the commentary includes striking interpretations of Iran’s ongoing “room for maneuver,” US Ambassador John Bolton’s “desperation” (sic), and a pointed reference to the Russian view that “sanctions at this moment will undermine the positive trend that is emerging.”
As this is, after all, an official Chinese news source, China’s own stance is left as ambiguous and non-committal: China remains opposed to nuclear weapons proliferation, maintains that “the best option is to peacefully settle the Iran nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiations,” and hopes that “all concerned” could soon resume talks “on the basis of the package proposal.”
No “slam dunk” here.

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Graham Allison on Taqiyya?

Harvard Professor Graham Allison is one of the better known political scientists in America. His classic text, “The Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis” remains widely inflicted on graduate students and has sold over 350,000 copies. Allison later helped found Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and then served for several years in the Clinton Administration as an Assistant Secretary of Defense. A 1999 2nd edition of his Cuban Crisis text was written with Philip Zelikow – whose latest post is as Counselor to Secretary of State Rice.
Whatever his political loyalties, Allison is something other than “liberal” on his current presumed area of expertise – “nuclear terrorism.” Instead, he’s lately been making one of the more ultra-hawkish cases for “dealing with Iran.” Here’s his recent essay on the subject with Yale Global.
I emphasize the original link, because one significant alteration has sometimes been made in its subsequent re-prints around the world – namely whether one revealing sentence in the last paragraph about “taqiyya” gets included or not. More on that below.

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Death of world’s foremost nuclear proliferator

Yuval Ne’eman, the nuclear physicist who was the theoretical father of the Israel nuclear weapons program, died in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, aged 81.
(Its political father was none other than Mr. Nobel Peace Laureate Shimon Peres, author of the Qana massacre which occurred almost exactly ten years ago now, in April 1996.)
Ne’eman was also the founder of the viciously territorial maximalist Israeli party Tehiya. He served three terms in Israel’s Knesset for Tehiya, during which time he was a member of three governments, usually having the “Science” portfolio.
And just to demonstrate the connivance with which the US authorities viewed the Israeli nuclear program we can see that in the mid-1970s, Ne’eman was a professor at the University of Texas, which still proudly claims him as an emeritus.
My gosh! Do I smell double standards?

Is the NPT useful?

Almost immediately after my column in today’s CSM on nuclear-weapons issues went up onto their website, I received an interesting email from Rajat Talwar of Rolla, Missouri. The column dealt with the current US-Iran standoff in light of other moves the Bush administration has been making with regard to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the treaty that since 1968 has been the main pillar of the US’s approach to preventing the global spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT came into force in 1970.
The kind of n/w proliferation the NPT deals with is also sometimes known as “horizontal” proliferation, i.e., proliferation to additional countries… as opposed to “vertical” proliferation, which is the proliferation of weapons/warheads within any single country’s arsenal, a field in which the US has always– clearly– been “the leader”.
Rajat Talwar made some important and serious arguments in his email, so with his permission I’m putting the whole text of our exchange to date up here so all the rest of you can join in a general discussion on the value of the NPT. (It looks as if the comments on yesterday’s quick post about the column are mainly about the Iran dimension. That’s good. These are two distinct and important discussions. Let’s discuss the general value of the NPT here.)

    From Rajat Talwar

Dear Ms.Cobban,
In your piece today on the CSM, you argue against the India-US nuclear deal while arguing for the preservation of the NPT system which arbitrarily allows certain nations to possess and increase their nuclear arsenal. India has not signed the NPT because the treaty essentially allows 5 nations to keep and develop nuclear weapons in perpetuity – a sort of a nuclear Jim Crow system. One is curious as to what NPT supporters like you need to see to understand that the NPT authorized nuclear powers have zero intentions on giving up their nuclear weapons when even after 35 years since the treaty, a country like China continues to make nuclear weapons (and point them at India).
Many in India wonder if the only problem opponents have with the India deal is that some in the US are unwilling to see Indians sitting in the front of the nuclear bus, metaphorically speaking. If opponents can live with the US selling nuclear reactors to China without safeguards and even as China makes more bombs, then they should be able to accept India getting reactors under safeguards – unless they have a thing against brown skinned people having nuclear bombs.
I personally believe that the only language the NPT nuclear powers understand is the stick of nuclear terror – the same stick that they have used on “lesser” powers. A nuke in everyone’s pocket brings respectful diplomacy.
Sincerely,
Rajat Talwar
Rolla, Mo

    From me:

Hi, Rajat. Thanks for your email. Can I post it on my Just World News blog?
I am for global disarmament including nuclear disarmament. I understand and largely sympathize with your point about the discriminatory nature of the NPT. However– because I have lived for a lengthy period of time in a war-ravaged nation and because I have also spent time in Hiroshima– I cannot feel as cavalier as you seem to be about the prospect of continued acquisition of arms including nuclear arms being a way to global justice.
For a number of reasons I think supporting the NPT including especially its Article 6 (cited in the column) is the best way to go.
But we should continue this conversation! That’s why I’d like to post your email on my blog…
Be well, friend–
Helena Cobban

    From RT:

Sure. Feel free to post my email on your blog.
I realize the dangers of nuclear weapons but I also realize that disarmament does not happen in a political vacuum. The NPT’s Article 6 is a joke because it has no time limit and no mechanism for enforcement. Even the non nuclear states don’t take that Article seriously. Australia and Canada, for instance, have nuclear dealings with weapon states without requiring the latter to begin disarmament. Under these conditions, to persevere to enforce the NPT will only result in the perpetation of the unjust requirements of the treaty – an enforceable one on non weapon states while the weapon states enjoy impunity.
I hate to say this but you need to look at your own writings, for example. Just last week, China signed a deal to buy massive quantities of Australian Uranium without IAEA safeguards or without declaring an end to its nuclear weapon production. Yet no nonproliferation advocate cared enough to point out that China is in violation of its Article 6 commitments by refusing to end weapon production, Yet, the India deal has caused a furor. Did you even know about the China deal? If so, where is the proof that your dedication to the NPT is just as strong when it comes to China?
Regards
RT

    By me, to him, now:

You make excellent points there about the persistently proliferatory (vertical and horizontal) behavior of China and other NPT members. I’m sorry I hadn’t been aware enough of the China developments, which I am sure look very threatening to India and are a challenge to all our efforts for global disarmament.
However, I am still quite shocked by your claim that “A nuke in everyone’s pocket brings respectful diplomacy.” Certainly I can see the prima facie egalitarian appeal of that argument… but it seems fraught with terrible, terrible potential for mundicidal mishap.
Can we agree that securing actual implementation of the goals mentioned in Article 6 is desirable and very necessary? If so, wouldn’t you agree that starting and then finishing the mentioned negotiations for a complete and general disarmament would be more easily accomplished if the effort is based on an existing regime of some trust and global cooperation? Don’t you think that the existing NPT regime could be seen as providing that basis?
Actually, maybe rather than getting into arguments about “a nuke in everyone’s pocket” we should be brainstorming on how to get to the convening and the successful conclusion and implementation of the general disarmament goal. (The UN already has a lumbering old body called the Conference on Disarmament, as well as a Disarmament Commission… But neither seems to me to have any clear orientation toward implementing the goal of the NPT’s Article 6. Equally importantly, world public opinion is not very attuned to this whole issue… Maybe that’s what we need to try to change first!)
Of course, India and the other non-NPT states need to be folded into the general-disarmement effort from the very beginning. But why should we put up with wrecking the significant global cooperation we already have in the NPT regime, as we proceed? I think that’s an unacceptable and very reckless prospect.
One of the problems with the NPT, and with the entire global system as currently constituted (with the five NPT-recognized nuclear ‘have’ states gaining thereby veto power in the security Council) is that it incents every else to try to get nuclear weapons. In my view, we should be doing everything we can in our dealings around the world to reduce the value of weapons– all weapons– and of militarism in general, and to re-stress the value of cooperation as the best (and in the end, the only) way to support human flourishing and indeed to assure human survival….
Anyway, let the discussion continue…

CSM column on Iranian nuclear program and the NPT

The column I wrote yesterday about the Iranian nuclear program, western concerns about that, and the urgent need to preserve the NPT is now up on the Christian Science Monitor website. It’s actually going to be in Thursday’s paper.
It’s titled Work through the NPT to address concerns about Iranian nukes.
In there, I also point out that the Bush administration is currently attempting to drive a ten-ton truck through the NPT by urging Congress to change the US’s own anti-proliferation legislation in order to allow ratification of his recent proposed nuclear deal with India.
I already had one very interesting letter in response, from someone who argued that all nations should indeed be allowed to have nuclear-weapons programs…
But I’m really glad the looming presence of the Indian-nuke deal will force folks in the US to seriously engage with whether we want to keep (and strengthen) the NPT or not.
I say, “Yes!”
Anyway, go read the column, and you can post your (as always, courteous) comments on it here.

Iran, the nuclear issue, the NPT

Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the UN, has a significant op-ed piece on the nuclear issue in todays NYT. Titled “We Do Not Have a Nuclear Weapons Program”, the piece says:

    There need not be a crisis. A solution to the situation is possible and eminently within reach.
    Lost amid the rhetoric is this: Iran has a strong interest in enhancing the integrity and authority of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It has been in the forefront of efforts to ensure the treaty’s universality. Iran’s reliance on the nonproliferation regime is based on legal commitments, sober strategic calculations and spiritual and ideological doctrine. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, has issued a decree against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.
    Let me be very clear. Iran defines its national security in the framework of regional and international cooperation and considers regional stability indispensable for its development. We are party to all international agreements on the control of weapons of mass destruction. We want regional stability. We have never initiated the use of force or resorted to the threat of force against a fellow member of the United Nations. Although chemical weapons have been used on us, we have never used them in retaliation — as United Nations reports have made clear. We have not invaded another country in 250 years.

Zarif makes a potent argument. One potential problem, though: the Bush administration has been running away from the NPT faster than a person could ever hope to run from the fallout from a nuclear weapon… Yesterday, Condi Rice was up on the Hill trying to drum up support for the deal the Prez reached with India recently, that would reward India in a major way for having bypassed the NPT completely and produced its own, now well-demonstrated and very robust nuclear weapons program.
Worse still, that WaPo report and the NYT report both said that Kerry and Biden said they were inclined to support the deal. Maybe we should write the obituary for the NPT and move on? No! That is ways too scary a prospect… I really think we all need to work together to find a way to save (and indeed strengthen) it. And we should fight for implementation of its Article 6, too.