Monday, August 16, 2010

Update on Iran

It seems that U.S. voters are not the only party feeling disillusioned about Obama’s campaign promises of “Hope” and “Change.” The 2010 Arab Opinion Poll, taken by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, shows a downswing in Obama’s approval ratings and a sharp decline in overall optimism about the administration’s Middle East foreign policy. This shift in opinion is accompanied by a notable increase in support for a nuclear Iran.

The poll’s sample size is just under 4,000 individuals and includes nationals of Egypt (818), Saudi Arabia (812), Morocco (816), the United Arab Emirates (512), Lebanon (509), and Jordan (509). The participants were polled on a number of broad topics, including identity; world view; the Arab-Israeli conflict; the United States and the Middle East; and Iran.

The percentage of respondents who believe that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons rather than peaceful research hasn’t changed much (a 55% majority, compared to last year’s 59%). However, while a reassuring 40% felt that Iran should be pressured to curtail its nuclear program in last year’s poll, only 20% of all 2010 respondents favored curtailment. Similarly, attitudes about the regional impact of a nuclear armed Iran seem to have been reversed: in 2009, a mere 29% said that they thought the outcome for the Middle East would be “more positive” if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, while 46% said “more negative.” This year, 57% choose the “more positive” option, and only 21% “more negative.”

Shibley Telhami, Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a nonresident senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, headed the poll. In an interview with Voice of America News, he stated that the 35% decrease in “hopeful” attitudes about U.S foreign policy was directly correlated to increased support for Iran. “When they’re optimistic about our American foreign policy,” said Telhami, “they’re much tougher on Iran.”

The truth is that it’s getting harder for anyone to be optimistic about U.S. foreign policy – particularly where Iran is concerned. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. and EU’s most recent attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear program have been largely unsuccessful. After the U.N. adopted somewhat lax trade sanctions against Iran in June, the U.S. and EU hurried to add more stringent restrictions. The U.S. sanctions are aimed at preventing the sale of refined petroleum products and aid in refinement of petroleum to Iran, while the EU sanctions penalize foreign investment in banking, shipping, insurance, transportation as well as energy and nuclear-related industries.

The economic pressure exerted by the sanctions is intended to curb Iran’s nuclear development. Despite the U.S. Department of State’s assurances that they are, in fact, having an effect on the "thinking in Tehran” there seems to be a hiccup in the plan. China, Russia, India and Turkey have moved ahead on investments that violate the sanctions, taking advantage of the opportunity to expand their business. Indian daily The Hindu reports that Iran has also decided to dramatically reduce gasoline consumption and work towards self-sufficiency in its domestic refining sector. These steps, combined with foreign support from China, Russia, India and Turkey could very well take the sting out of the U.S. and EU sanctions.

Unsurprisingly, neoconservatives are endorsing a military “solution” to Iran. U.S. House of Representatives’ Resolution 1553 explicitly provides support for Israeli military strikes against Iran, backing Israel's use of “all means necessary” “including military force.” The resolution has garnered the support of nearly on third of House Republicans, yet supporters seem to be ignoring expert opinion Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General David Petraeus, The Brookings Institution's Saban Center, and the Oxford Research Group all agree that another war in the Middle East would be disastrous, and do nothing to curb Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

Celebrated Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji adds to the chorus of protestors, noting that an attack on Iran would decimate Iran’s growing Green Movement. “The mere fact that Obama didn't make military threats made the Green Movement possible," Ganji stated. He refers to Iran's increasingly secular liberal democratic movement, which is comprised largely of the middle class and college educated youth from all social classes. The Green Movement was born in response to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the June 2009 elections. Protestors flocked to the streets to decry what they regarded as a fraudulent election. Although Ahmadinejad retained power, Green Movement continues to push for democracy and civil rights within the framework of the existing regime. Ganji is optimistic about the movement’s future, but says that it needs time to stabilize and develop leadership. “It's not to our benefit for this regime to collapse today,” Ganji explained, “You need an experienced democratic force that will be able to replace the regime.”

So where do we go from here? According to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, engagement is still an option. Iran has to “reassure the international community by words and actions as to what their nuclear program is intended for," Clinton told The New York Times. We can only hope that U.S. - Iran relations don’t take a turn for the worse; military action would be madness in light of plummeting Arab opinion, lack of support from other nations, and the warnings of intellectuals and military leaders alike.

Preventing Iran from developing of a nuclear arsenal is certainly important in the struggle for non-proliferation, but perhaps it is even more important to look closer to home. Reflecting once again on Obama’s campaign promises of “hope” and “change,” it seems high time for the administration to make good on their promise to work toward U.S. disarmament. A little more than two years ago, Obama told CNN, "It's time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons." The then-candidate continued, “we'll make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy." With ratification of the START treaty stalled until after summer recess and no clear roadmap for fulfilling the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, however, the “clear message” sent by U.S. nuclear policy sounds a bit like double talk. A nuclearized Iran is certainly a terrifying prospect, but it is the U.S.’s massive arsenal that has helped create a world in which nuclear weapons are ubiquitous with political clout. We can hardly inspire other nations to rethink the role of these weapons in their foreign policy without taking measures to show that we are doing the same. Ultimately, while staying true to the goal of non-proliferation, the U.S. must tread carefully, speak softly, and be very careful about wielding any big sticks.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Far Larger DoD Cuts Are Needed

The US budget for 2008 shows over
50% is spent on the military.
 The US military budget is way out of proportion to our national budget, our needs as a country and the threats that confront us. In fact, the military budget may be the greatest single threat to the future of the United States. We now spend well over $700 billion a year on “defense,” more than the rest of the world (including our allies) combined, or nearly so. The US military budget dwarfs education, health care, and other social needs. In light of this, the DOD's plan to save $100 Billion over five years is paltry and largely insignificant.

US citizens need to be asking why it is that we take such good care of the military with our taxes and such minimal care of our citizens in need. We currently spend more than $50 billion a year on nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, weapons that cannot be used without destroying ourselves in the process. If we wanted to be serious about reducing the military budget, we could start with abandoning plans to modernize our nuclear arsenal for $80 billion over the next 10 years and improving delivery systems for nuclear weapons for $100 billion over 10 years. In fact, we should be asking ourselves in a serious way why we need nuclear weapons at all, and wouldn't we be far better off leading the way to a world without these weapons.

For roughly $50 billion annually we could assure that the United Nations meets its eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015 to reduce poverty, disease, childhood and maternal mortality, etc. We would have far less need for a bloated, oversized and largely ineffective military if we reached out to the world with anti-poverty measures rather than predator drones and wars of choice.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence

I'm thrilled to announce the release of our newest video, "The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence." This five-minute animated video shows that relying on nuclear deterrence is extremely dangerous and that, in fact, the only way for us to be safe from a nuclear attack is to abolish all nuclear weapons around the world.

The video was directed by Erik Choquette, an 18 year-old from Santa Barbara, CA. Erik won our Swackhamer Disarmament Video Contest in 2008 and 2009, and we are happy that he is continuing his involvement with the Foundation in this way. I owe Erik and his team at Chipotle Pictures a huge thank you for their hard work and dedication in getting this video done over the summer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another Reason to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Links between nuclear security and climate change demonstrated by wildfires in Russia

by Rob van Riet*

From massive landslides caused by torrential rain in China, to unprecedented floods affecting over 14 million people (and counting) in Pakistan, to rampant wildfires spreading through parts of Russia; the Northern hemisphere has been experiencing some extreme weather conditions this summer. Although one should be careful in proving (or disproving) climate change by pointing to such incidents, these episodes give a taste of some of the expected effects of global warming.

A concern that has been growing in my mind for some time is how nuclear security fits into this increasingly unstable picture (all three abovementioned countries have nuclear arsenals).

The wildfires that have been besieging Russia for over two weeks now have deepened this worry. With western and central parts of Russia suffering the worst heat wave since records began 130 years ago, wildfires have been ravaging the countryside. They have destroyed more than a third of cultivable land, claimed over 50 lives, clouded Moscow in smoke and damaged several military sites. Another threat surfaced last week when blazes were on their way to engulfing key nuclear sites.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Real Price of Nuclear Weapons

By Adrianna Wolaver

If you ask an economist for a price, their answer will not only include the number where the supply and demand curves intersect, but the opportunity cost for those resources. The concept is simple; what else could have been done with that time and/or money? That’s the opportunity cost. Recently, Stephen Shwartz, author of Atomic Audit, has put the price tag of the entire pursuit of nuclear deterrence since 1940, including development, maintenance, and expansion, at $7.5 trillion.[1] Today we spend $55 billion annually on nuclear weapons and related programs.[2] To some people this may seem like a reasonable price for “nuclear security” and global military dominance, but I want to challenge you to think about what else that money could do.

There are eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set forth in 1990 by the United Nations designed to substantially improve the quality of life and safety of our planet. The eight goals are as follows:
  1. eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by halving the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day, 
  2. achieving universal primary education, 
  3. promoting gender equality and empowering women, 
  4. reducing child mortality by two-thirds, 
  5. improving maternal health by reducing maternal mortality ratios by two-thirds, 
  6. combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases, 
  7. ensuring environmental sustainability, and 
  8. creating a global partnership for development.[3] 
The MDGs' 2015 deadline is fast approaching and many of the goals are far from being reached. It is possible, however, to reach these goals with $40-60 billion per year in foreign aid. [4] In order to put our nuclear weapons budget into perspective, I am comparing the United States’ annual nuclear budget of $55 billion with the foreign aid that is needed annually in order to reach the MGDs. Let’s close our eyes and imagine that we could redirect $55 billion a year to the MDGs.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Upcoming Reminder for Sadako Peace Day

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation will remember the 65th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing on August 6th with our annual Sadako Peace Day Memorial. The event will take place in the Sadako Peace Garden at the Casa de Maria Retreat Center.

Sadako Sasaki was just two years old when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. She survived the bombing, but was later diagnosed with leukemia. As her condition progressed, she began folding origami cranes, inspired by the Japanese saying that one who folds a thousand papers cranes was granted a wish. She finished her thousand paper cranes and continued folding more. Tragically, leukemia took Sadako’s life at the age of twelve. Japanese children fold cranes in her memory, and leave thousands at her memorial in the Hiroshima Peace Park every year on August 6th.

Sadako’s story can inspire all of us to believe in peace. If you are in the Santa Barbara area, we invite you to join us at Sadako Peace Day. If not, we encourage you to reflect on the subject of peace and how we can share peace in the future. For a fun activity, make you own paper crane and place it in a spot where it will remind you of peace. For instructions click here.

Message for Hiroshima Day

The Nuclear Age has entered its 65th year. The first test of a nuclear device took place on July 16, 1945 at the Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto Desert. The Spanish name of this desert means “Journey of Death,” a fitting name for the beginning point of the Nuclear Age. Just three weeks after the test, the United States destroyed the city of Hiroshima with a nuclear weapon, followed by the destruction of Nagasaki three days later. By the end of 1945, the Journey of Death had claimed more than 200,000 human lives and left many other victims injured and suffering.

Over the past 65 years, the Journey of Death has continued to claim victims. Not from the use of nuclear weapons in war, but from the radiation released in testing nuclear weapons (posturing). We can be thankful that we have not had a nuclear war in the past 65 years, but we must not be complacent. Our relative good fortune in the past is not a guarantee that nuclear weapons will not be used in the future. Over the years, the power of nuclear weapons has increased dramatically. They have become capable of ending civilization and complex life on the planet. What could possibly justify this risk?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Countdown to Zero Follow-Up

Countdown to Zero was a great success here in the LA area.  To those of you who came out to see it, thank you!  If you haven't seen it yet, CtZ is still playing in theaters.  Everybody at NAPF loved it, and those who we talked to after the movie liked it as well; we were quite pleased how responsive people were after the film.  It is a well-made and beautifully photographed film--so go see it now!

Also, check out Valerie Plame's recent article in Newsweek, written as a corollary to the film.  She discusses the dangers of nuclear terrorism and the hope for a world without nuclear weapons.  
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