Tag Archives: nuclear weapons justice and the law

What Nuclear-Weapon-Free Really Means: better nuclear weapons

Nobel peace prize 2009. image from wkipedia

As North Korea dug tunnels at its nuclear test site last fall, watched by American spy satellites, the Obama administration was preparing a test of its own in the Nevada desert.

A fighter jet took off with a mock version of the nation’s first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, it was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites. And its yield, the bomb’s explosive force, can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.

Mr. Obama has long advocated a “nuclear-free world.” His lieutenants argue that modernizing existing weapons can produce a smaller and more reliable arsenal while making their use less likely because of the threat they can pose. The changes, they say, are improvements rather than wholesale redesigns, fulfilling the president’s pledge to make no new nuclear arms.

But critics, including a number of former Obama administration officials, look at the same set of facts and see a very different future. The explosive innards of the revitalized weapons may not be entirely new, they argue, but the smaller yields and better targeting can make the arms more tempting to use — even to use first, rather than in retaliation.

The United States military is replacing the fixed tail section of the B61 bomb with steerable fins and adding other advanced technology. The result is a bomb that can make more accurate nuclear strikes and a warhead whose destructive power can be adjusted to minimize collateral damage and radioactive fallout…

The B61 Model 12, the bomb flight-tested last year in Nevada, is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise.  Already there are hints of a new arms race. Russia called the B61 tests “irresponsible” and “openly provocative.” China is said to be especially worried about plans for a nuclear-tipped cruise missile….The advanced cruise missile are estimated to cost up to $30 billion for roughly 1,000 weapons….Because the missile comes in nuclear and non-nuclear varieties, a foe under attack might assume the worst and overreact, initiating nuclear war.

Excerpt from WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGERJAN, As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy, NY Times, Jan. 11, 2016

see also Nuclear Weapons, Justice and the Law

Why Nuclear Weapons are Here to Stay

 More details A Soviet inspector examines a BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missile in 1988 prior to its destruction. Image from wikipedia

[D]espite the establishment in 2009 of [a process to] discuss multilateral disarmament, not much has happened. The main reason is the chilling of relations between Russia and the West, which predated Russia’s annexation of Crimea. An offer by Mr Obama in 2013 of new negotiations to reduce each side’s stock of warheads by a third was met with stony silence.

More recently Russia has, according to America, violated both the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, by testing a banned missile, and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 that guaranteed Ukraine’s security when it gave up the nuclear weapons it had inherited on the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Russians are also refusing to attend next year’s Nuclear Security Summit, a meeting to prevent fissile material falling into the wrong hands.

Without further cuts in American and Russian nuclear forces (which account for more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons), China, the most opaque of the P5 power (US, UK, Russia, China, France), will block attempts to get multilateral disarmament talks going. However, Rose Gottemoeller, America’s under-secretary of state for arms control, praises China for its leading role in producing a common glossary of nuclear terminology. This may not sound much, but it is seen within the P5 as essential for future negotiations.

Ms Gottemoeller is also keen to stress that, despite the Russian impasse, America has tried to meet its obligations. It is eliminating “excess” warheads at the rate of almost one a day and closing down old bits of nuclear infrastructure. …It is doubtful whether these modest, incremental efforts will cut much ice with the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative, a movement supported by civil-society groups and championed by Austria, Norway and Mexico. Faced with what they see as foot-dragging by the P5 (which are modernising their nuclear forces to maintain their long-term effectiveness), the initiative’s backers, some of which want to make nuclear weapons illegal, may question whether working through the NPT serves any purpose…

Another source of friction is the failure to hold the conference on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East that was promised in 2010. Israel,…insists that regional security arrangements must precede any talks on disarmament, whereas Egypt says the first step is for Israel to accede to the NPT—a non-starter.

Excerpts from Nuclear weapons: Fractious, divided but still essential, Economist, May 2, 2015, at 54

The Swiss Nuke Smugglers, CIA and Libya

Three Swiss engineers are set to escape jail for nuclear smuggling, in part because they helped the CIA bust a global ring that was supplying Libya’s atomic weapons program.  Urs Tinner, his brother Marco, and their father Friedrich are accused of aiding the smuggling network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.  But according to Swiss prosecution documents released Tuesday setting out a plea bargain deal, the three also cooperated with U.S. authorities who were able to seize a shipment of nuclear equipment destined for Libya in 2003.  The CIA operation ultimately destroyed the Khan network and Libya gave up its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Prosecutors say their work was hampered by the Swiss government’s decision to destroy key evidence in the case.  The plea bargain will be put before a Swiss court for approval next week.

Swiss nuke smugglers who helped CIA to escape jail, Associated Press, Sept. 18, 2012