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Several new reports have been released painting a bleak picture of where Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are headed. Russia is not the only culprit here. The United States and Russia have now reach parity in terms of their deployed strategic nuclear forces- a number that remains over the agreed upon limit of the New Start treaty of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads. According to a recent State Department fact sheet the United States deploys 1,642 warheads (nuclear warheads on high-alert status) on 794 vehicles and Russia about 1,643 on 528 vehicles. The number for concern is the amount of deployed delivery vehicles, including ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles), and heavy bombers. While Russia finds itself in line with the New Start Treaty by having fewer than 700, the fact that the country deploys the same number of warheads on significantly fewer vehicles indicates that the Russian strategic nuclear forces are more advanced that the United States and that Russia has been rapidly advancing its weapon delivery systems.
The New Start Treaty, signed by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, entered into force on February 5, 2011. Comparing State Department data released in September 2013, March 2014, and September 2014, it is clear that neither country seems to be completely dedicated to the agreed upon treaty goal of bi-lateral disarmament. By 2013 Russia had gone well below the threshold of allowable deployed warheads with 1,400 deployed. By early 2014 the United States hovered right over the threshold with 1,585 deployed warheads. However, since March both countries have increased the number of deployed warheads. Russia now has more warheads deployed than prior to the signing of the New Start Treaty! Within the context of the current tensions between Russia and the United States this bi-lateral increase in strategic nuclear forces echoes the Cold War. How do we get out of this Cold War style framework and begin true progress towards bi-lateral disarmament?
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EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) delivers a statement in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov. 24, 2013. After intensive negotiations, the P5+1 group and Iran have reached a first-step agreement on Iran's nuclear program, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced early Sunday morning. (Xinhua/Wang Siwei)
In the past week, many have argued for or against the recent interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Among those who disprove of the recent agreement, some argue against the entirety of the recent interim agreement claiming that the US and other P5 +1 states fail to see that Iran is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; others maintain that existing sanctions must be held tightly as fierce bargaining chips; while others critique this interim agreement as just another initial attempt that will fall apart and possibly lead to further regional destabilizing. These objections stem from a fear-based perspective that too easily lends itself to a military offense as the only alternative. Trillions of dollars, boots on the ground, and bloodshed are not viable alternatives to diplomacy, especially since it is widely accepted that such a militaristic alternative would be politically unpopular and ultimately not only unlikely to halt Iran’s nuclear aspirations but would actually instigate further proliferation and region-wide and global warfare, including increased terrorist attacks.
In more optimistic perspectives, the recent interim agreement is at least better than the stagnation of the status quo and far better than the militaristic alternative. Could Iran be a sheep in wolf’s clothing? Perhaps. This interim agreement is designed to reveal Iran’s intentions by putting them to the test. Could this agreement fall apart? Yes. That possibility is precisely why this agreement is designed as an interim agreement rather than a full comprehensive agreement. If the deal falls apart, could it lead to further regional destabilization. Yes. Would that be dangerous for the oligarchs in control of the region? Yes. Would that be dangerous for the regional revolutionaries? It could be but not any more dangerous than the status quo.
It seems that the choices before the international community are to start the comprehensive work towards the promise of the NPT, live with the status quo or attempt to bomb our way to security. It should be recognized that Iran remains a member of the NPT unlike North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel. Although deeply mistrusted, Iran remains a part of the NPT and is currently compliant with IAEA inspections, while North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel have not only shirked inspections from the IAEA but Korea, India and Pakistan have not respected the global moratorium on testing while Israel hides and denies its rather significant nuclear weapons stockpile.
This interim agreement breaks the status quo, avoids a catastrophic militaristic alternative and begins to probe Iran’s commitment to the NPT. Could it fail? Of course, it could. The potential of a failed agreement, however, is less dangerous than the status quo and that of the certainty of failure in a militaristic response. Although diplomacy has the potential for failure, it is also pregnant with the potential for stabilizing the region, ushering in the possibility of a WMD-Free Middle East Zone and securing peace.
Tammy Murphy, Executive Director of Project for Nuclear Awareness
Using the Friends Committee on National Legislation Mail System, I sent the following letter to the editor:
Let's urge our PA Senators to publicly support these efforts toward a
diplomatic resolution of the decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear
The success of U.S.-Iran negotiating efforts demonstrates that when our
nations commit to serious diplomacy, historic progress is possible. The
United States and Iran are in reach of a deal to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and a devastating war.
Our Congressional leaders should usher in this diplomatic victory and avoid the pitfalls of fear-based leadership, including renewed sanctions that would jeopardize the progress our diplomats have worked so hard to achieve.
Please visit Project for Nuclear Awareness a local youth think tank on nuclear abolition at www.pnausa.org.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation also has more info on how to peacefully prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran: www.fcnl.org/syria.
~~Tammy Murphy, Executive Director of Project for Nuclear Awareness.
A copy of this letter to the editor was sent to the following recipients:
Philadelphia Inquirer; Philadelphia City Paper; Philadelphia Daily News; Philadelphia Gay News; Philadelphia Metro
Nuclear sharing is the concept that allows NATO’s nuclear powers, especially the US, to store tactical nuclear weapons on the soil of NATO countries which are not nuclear powers themselves. The US currently has nuclear weapons stored in Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and Turkey. At present, no other military alliance has a nuclear sharing doctrine, although Russia and Belarus (which are both members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO) have discussed the possibility of creating a joint missile system, possibly in response to plans to build a NATO missile defense shield in Poland.
Earlier this month, reports emerged that the US plans to upgrade its nuclear arsenal in Belgium. This news serves as an excellent opportunity for us to discuss what nuclear sharing is, as well as the grave risks it poses, though its supposed purpose is to increase security. “As long as there are nuclear weapons, NATO will be a nuclear alliance [and] in a nuclear alliance, you need to share risk and responsibility” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated. While nuclear sharing is part of what is known in political science as confidence building, namely, collective security measures meant to increase the sense of security in a region, nuclear sharing actually has the opposite effect.
“Risk”, as former Secretary Clinton highlights in her previous statement, could not describe nuclear sharing better. Nuclear sharing actually increases the risk of nuclear war dramatically. A case in point is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. US missiles were stationed in Turkey (which, at the time, bordered directly with the USSR thanks to a shared border with modern-day Armenia and the Republic of Georgia). As a direct reaction to this perceived American threat, the Soviet Union moved missiles into Cuba. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and a nuclear war was (barely) averted. The presence of nuclear weapons in the hands of a few nations is a bad enough threat as it is, but the ability to spread them to other allied states increases that risk manifold.
Thankfully, we have lived in the nuclear age long enough to see that there are in fact possibilities to roll back or downgrade the importance of nuclear weapons in a given area. Canada participated in a nuclear sharing agreement with the US until 1984; Greece also held US nuclear arms on its soil until 2001. In 2010, Russia’s Depurty Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov requested the US remove its nuclear weapons from Europe. The US refused, but then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a counter-offer to remove nuclear weapons from NATO’s borders. Perhaps ending the practice- or at least making it less threatening, as in the case of Clinton’s counter-offer- is a good start to overall disarmament, as it decreases the geographic spread and capabilities of nuclear arms
In September 2014, Scotland will vote on independence from the UK. If Scotland votes "yes" for independence, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which currently holds the majority in Scotland’s parliament, plans to remove all nuclear weapons from the country. At the same time, the SNP wants Scotland to join NATO.
The UK's nuclear forces, known as Trident, are based at Faslane and Coulport in Western Scotland, and consist of four nuclear submarines. Faslane has a deep-water port, which allows nuclear naval forces quick access to the Atlantic. The Trident Alternatives Review carried out by the British Parliament states there are no other feasible areas to re-locate the nukes. Thus, the British government would prefer to keep its nuclear arsenal in Scotland even if it were to become independent. According to The Guardian, if Scotland gained independence and ordered Trident to be removed, the British government would reduce Scotland’s severance package to cover the removal costs. Yet despite the complaints from London that removing the weapons would be too expensive, the UK government plans to replace Trident with a new nuclear submarine system based in Scotland which would cost an estimated ₤65 billion (USD $100 billion). A poll taken in March, 2013 by TNS BMRB shows that 60% of Scots oppose the plan to replace the nukes with an upgraded system, and only 14% approve of it.
Regardless, public policy analysts in the UK are currently debating contingency plans to deal with the issue of where to store the British nuclear forces in case of a victory for the Scottish independence, either by finding an alternate location or working out a deal with Scotland to keep them there.
NATO has stated that Scotland would not be able to join if it has disputes with the government in London over the location of UK nuclear weapons. George Robertson, a former NATO Secretary General, emphasized that nuclear operations are a major part of NATO strategy, and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore says that Scotland cannot join NATO and then "disregard the fact that it's a nuclear alliance".
Scotland may opt to remain outside NATO, yet participate in its political structures and other missions. This is what France did when it was outside NATO from 1966-2009. Ireland, while not a NATO member, is a member of its Partnership for Peace. Membership in NATO may also represent a financial burden that an independent Scotland is not willing to shoulder. Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) believes that an independent Scotland’s defense spending would not exceed ₤2 billion, or 1.4% of GDP, and may even be significantly lower. Thus, Scotland may be able to participate with NATO within defense budget constraints without being a full member, perhaps until differences between the Scottish and UK governments over the placement of nuclear weapons are reconciled.
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has recently unveiled his desire for closer relations with Latin America. While meeting with Cuban Vice President Cabrisas last week, Rouhani described the need to strengthen ties with Havana as especially important for the economy of both nations. Due to the suspicious nature of the state’s relationship under the Ahmadinejad administration, many U.S. officials are beginning to question the real motive behind Rouhani’s sudden outreach. With two nations reputedly responsible for state-sponsored terrorism, many believe Ahmadinejad’s relationship with Cuba was founded on one underlying principal: ‘fighting the same front’ Cuba has openly supported Iran’s program to develop nuclear technology, dating back to former President Fidel Castro who often spoke of his admiration of Iran’s ability to fight major powers. Returning the favor in a sign of support, Iran has many times publicly denounced U.S. embargo on the island nation.
Rouhani, however, had made clear during his inauguration his intent to open up to the international community in an attempt to resolve the nuclear issue and restore Iran’s economy. The self-proclaimed reformist responded to claims of having ulterior motives by reassuring his country “does not seek war with the world” and will focus on stopping those who do. Rouhani also took the opportunity to reiterate his previous stance on increased transparency; stating it is the only “key to open the doors of trust” with other nations. According to CNN’s Mariano Castillo, the U.S. finds it rather suspicious that this meeting occurred almost immediately following the recent Panama Canal discovery of a ship carrying undeclared arms from Cuba. Although the origin of the ship was confirmed to be from North Korea, officials believe the timing of the discovery to be much more than simple irony. The multiple common ground factors shared by these three ‘rogue states’ makes for a complicated assessment by the international community on the recent cargo findings.
It remains difficult to judge the true intentions behind Rouhani’s expansion in Latin America. Thus far, his actions have proven to coincide with his words; for the most part holding true to his progressive objectives. As we have seen in the past, however, things are not always as they may appear and foreign policy agendas have a tendency to change rather quickly. One thing seems certain— if suspicions turn out to be correct; this trilateral alliance could potentially become the United States’ most dangerous national security threat.
Foreign Policy Fellow
In a recent Washington Post (WP) interview, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the U.S. to take cautious steps in dealing with Iran’s newly elected leader. He stressed the need for realistic thinking when engaging in talks with Iran about its continuing nuclear program. Although Rowhani is internationally seen as a moderate reformist and has repeatedly declared intentions to reestablish peaceful diplomacy with the West, Netanyahu remains skeptical. He firmly believes Iran can be judged only by its actions, stating, “If it insists on continuing to develop its nuclear program, the answer needs to be clear”. Rowhani has pledged numerous times since his election to uphold the rights of his nation by continuing to develop Iran’s enrichment program within the legal bounds set by the international community. While some may see this as an admirable step toward further transparency, Netanyahu perceives this as an ambiguous admission of guilt that Iran possesses nuclear weapons.
Despite his belief that the election results reflect the Iranian citizens’ desire for change, Netanyahu does not think their voice is loud enough to change their nation’s nuclear ambitions. He made this opinion clear immediately following the election when he told WP’s Lally Weymouth that Israel would accept nothing less than “total cessation of all nuclear enrichment materials by Iran,” regardless of the new administration. Israeli officials postulate that Rowhani was strategically chosen to be a candidate by the Supreme Leader Khamenei to deflect the international community from Iran’s continued nuclear enrichment. Rowhani, a tolerant progressive, was chosen from a slate of candidates whose extremist views all closely aligned with those of the Ayatollah. Netanyahu believes that by calming the nerves of world leaders with Rowhani, Iran is able to steadily move forward with its nuclear program without stirring up controversy. He supports this assumption by citing a speech Rowhani gave in 2004 in which he admitted that even when Iran suspended uranium enrichment, it was able to make the ‘greatest nuclear advancements because the pressure was off’. He went on to boast about the extensive equipment Iran was able to install at a crucial nuclear facility while talking with the Europeans in Tehran.
Israeli president Shimon Peres has publicly agreed that President Obama’s original commitment to Iran being a non-nuclear weapon state through peaceful means was reasonable. However, he has since reiterated that Obama had the intention of using non-military means without excluding such [military] means if necessary. Claiming Iran is a danger to both states’ security and existence alike, Peres believes Israel should not bomb Iran’s nuclear program unilaterally. Rather, he believes Israel and the U.S. should work together using combined resources to ensure the future safety of their nations—which he believes is indeed, necessary. Unfortunately, Israel has made explicit its zero-tolerance stance on Iran obtaining any type of nuclear energy, whereas the United States has shown cooperation in allowing Iran to enrich for legitimate means. The lack of accord between these allies has created numerous foreign policy complications in respect to Iran.
Over this past weekend, Iranians took to the ballots to vote for their new President. Replacing notorious hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani won the election and declared his intentions to rebuild Iran’s relationship with the West. Iran has refused to open its nuclear program to international scrutiny over the past eight years, causing a variety of countries to impose strict sanctions that have hindered the nation’s economy. After comparing Iran’s relations with the U.S. to an “old wound that needs healing,” Rowhani pledged an administration of increased transparency.
However, this is not to say Rowhani favors the nuclear submission or direct negotiations requested by the West. He made it clear in his first news conference immediately following his election that “…the next government will not budge from defending our inalienable rights”. The new President vowed to continue developing the country’s controversial nuclear program within its legal limits to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes. Despite Rowhani’s reluctance to cede to the demands of the West, many Iranians see his election as a testament to their desire for reform. If Iran’s negotiating partners come further forward to meet its requests for continued enrichment, an initial confidence-building agreement on the nuclear situation will be possible. Unfortunately, Rowhani’s intentions cannot be entirely clear this early in the game. To further this uncertainty, his intentions may also be limited by Iran’s current power structure that allows the president minimal room for change. Because the underlying authority rests with Supreme Leader Khamenei, Rowhani’s assurances all remain cautious hopefulness.
Security experts on both sides of the aisle agree that since the Cold War is over it is time to terminate our outdated and wildly expensive nuclear strategy. Although President Obama’s speech in Berlin echoed a long bipartisan tradition of efforts to replace unnecessary nuclear capabilities with tools that actually protect America from today’s security threats, we are still set to spend $640 billion on nuclear weapons in the next ten years.
In Philadelphia, our mayor defends the closure of schools, the layoff of teachers and the elimination of school nurses and numerous effective social programs to address a $304 million deficit. How much of our tax dollars go to an outdated nuclear weapons system that does nothing for our safety but jeopardize it on multiple levels. While Pennsylvanian tax dollars support a $400 million state prison in the suburbs of Philadelphia, you can see that the money is there. As Philadelphians, as Pennsylvanians, as Americans, we have the money to satisfy all of our needs as a society once we prioritize humans over profit. The $640 billion over the next decade will not keep us safe, as Obama and many bipartisan security experts have repeatedly acknowledged. It will line the pockets of those profiting from the military industrial complex and they will lobby their congressional leaders to continue weapons profiteering. At Project for Nuclear Awareness we will advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons by educating the public and policy makers. Will you join us?
Tammy Murphy, LL.M.
Project for Nuclear Awareness
"It should be mentioned that the US government has no merit to label other nations of sponsoring terrorism as it has a long ... record (of) supporting terrorist groups in our region as well as Israeli state terrorism," Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for Iran's UN mission.
A recent post on an English-language Israeli news site outlined Tehran's belief that the US is the true perpetrator of terrorism. A recent US State Department report accused Iran of increasing its support for terrorism, marking it the highest resurgence of violence since the 1990s. Tehran has responded by turning the tables, claiming it has actively engaged in various measures to counter terrorist attacks supported by the US government. For example, Iranian officials cited the recent removal of a terrorist organization, the Mujahadin-e-Khalq, from the US official list of terrorist organizations. This Iranian dissident group has been known to target Iran's Shi'ite Muslim clerical leadership and fought alongside Iraq's Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 war with Iran. What guidelines is the US using to justify this group's behavior? Is the US deterred from taking action because this is an Iranian-based group targeting the Islamic Republic as its main target? Tehran argues that the US holds a double standard when it comes to terrorist activity, allegedly designating others as terrorists only when a direct threat toward American people exists.