Focal Points Blog

Raise Your Hand if You Think the Expansion of Our Nuclear-Industrial Complex Escapes Iran

Focal Points has frequently featured posts about the distinctly Soviet era-sounding Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility. The CMRR-NF, as it’s known, is a project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory of such mind-numbing expense that it boggles the mind (doggles the boon?).

A watchdog association called the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) has been spearheading efforts to stop the CMRR-NF in its tracks. Permit me to excerpt an April 25 post that I blurbed: “Nuclear watchdogs take to the courtroom to halt the manufacture of a new facility to build the part that makes nuclear weapons explode.”

Forces Opposed to Dangerous, Extravagant Nuke Project Get Day in Court

If you’re not a regular reader, you may be surprised to learn the federal government seeks to ram through a new nuclear facility that’s intolerable on a number of counts.

1. Its intended purpose is to build plutonium pits — the living, breathing heart of a nuclear weapons, where the chain reaction occurs. In other words, mad science at its most extreme.

2. Its projected cost is greater than all the work done on the Manhattan Project in New Mexico during World War II.

3. The land the building will occupy is seismically, uh, challenged (subject to seismic shocks twice as great as those experienced at Fukushima).

At the time the New Mexico nuclear watchdog group, the Los Alamos Study Group, was about to present its long-gestating lawsuit against the NNSA and the Department of Energy. In a recent LASG newsletter, Executive Director Greg Mello explains.

At 9:00 am Wednesday April 27th, in the Brazos Courtroom . . . of the Federal Courthouse . . . Albuquerque, the Honorable Judge Judith Herrera will hear arguments from the [LASG] and the federal defendants — the Department of Energy . . . and the [NNSA] over whether final design of the CMRR-NF . . . should be halted pending analysis of alternatives to the project.

The two opposing motions:

. . . whether a) to throw out [LASG’s] lawsuit . . . or b) temporarily pause the project . . . in order to give the court the opportunity to hear evidence on the [LASG’s] contention that the project cannot proceed without a valid, new environmental impact statement [EIS] [to address, primarily, the sesmic risk].

Hearing held, the LASG is cautiously optimistic. Noted nuclear physicist Frank von Hippel, who, during Perestroika, helped sell the Russians on monitoring and verification (as chronicled in David Hoffman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Dead Hand), testified. LASG’s lawyer asked von Hippel why he thought a new study of alternatives to the CMRR-NF was called? In part, he replied:

The need for large-scale pit production has vanished. In 2003, the [NNSA] was arguing that the [United States] needed the capability to produce 125 to 450 pits per year by 2020 to replace the pits in the US weapon stockpile that would be 30 to 40 years old by then. . . .But, in 2006, we learned that US pits were so well made that, according to a Congressionally-mandated review of Los Alamos and Livermore studies on pit aging, “Most primary types have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years as regards aging of plutonium.” [Besides, although] the Los Alamos and Livermore National Laboratories have been lobbying to develop and manufacture new-design “reliable replacement warheads,” and the Bush Administration supported the idea, Congress refused in 2007 to fund the program.

Also the updated U.S. Nuclear Posture Review Report mandates that

In any decision to [develop] warhead LEPs [Life Extension Programs], the United States will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. . . . the preferred strategy is to reuse existing pits where necessary, or simply refurbish the balance of the warhead. . . . As of the end of Fiscal Year 2009, the total size of the U.S. warhead stockpile was about 5,000 warheads . . . and about 14,000 pits recovered from [decommissioned] warheads . . . were in storage at the Pantex warhead assembly/disassembly facility in Amarillo.

In other words

There will be no shortage of pits to reuse.

Hope those concerned that the United States would run out of these infernal little internal destruction machines will rest easy now.

Also testifying was executive director Mello. When asked by LASG’s lawyer about the CMRR-NF’s estimated cost, he responded.

In November 2010, the White House estimated the budget at “$3.7 to 5.8 billion.” Defendants recently pushed back the projected date of a reliable cost estimate to 2015.

In fact (emphasis added)

In its submissions to Congress, NNSA is just writing “TBD” in the future cost and schedule columns.

Echoing von Hippel (or vice versa; not sure who testified first), Mello explained that the Department of Energy’s science advisory group, which is referred to as JASON

. . . reviewed research done at LANL and Livermore on pit life. JASON concurred with these labs that most U.S. pits would last for a century or more. There are also extra pits for almost every kind of warhead, thousands in all, and these reserves [as von Hippel also mentioned] are growing as warheads are dismantled. . . . Production of new plutonium pits is not necessary to maintain a very large, diverse, powerful nuclear weapons stockpile for several decades to come.

Meanwhile the NNSA is attempting to ram through a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), instead of an entirely new EIS. But

. . . issuing a SEIS at this point could not achieve NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] compliance [since NNSA] is . . . in the process of executing it as fast as it can. . . . To enforce NEPA, the Court should put the brakes on this juggernaut and then look for a way to achieve an objective NEPA analysis.

After all, Mello reminded us:

The Administration has made agreements with Senators to complete the Nuclear Facility.

Von Hippel expanded on this when the LASG lawyer asked “Why then, with this huge cost over-run and lack of mission, is the Administration pushing so hard to build the CMRR-NF?”

This appears to be primarily because a number of Republican Senators [led by Jon Kyl (R-AZ)] extracted a commitment from the Administration to build the CMRR-NF and a facility for producing weapon-components [at another] site in exchange for their votes to ratify the New START Treaty.

But, of course,

In the end, Senator Kyl did not vote to ratify the New START Treaty.

Von Hippel then speculates on how Kyl’s double-cross, as it were, might have affect the administration’s current attitude toward the CMRR-NF.

My guess is that, if this Court required it, some in the Obama Administration would welcome being forced to have a relook at alternatives to the CMRR-NF.

With so much invested in nuclear disarmament as an achievement that the Obama administration can brandish, scarcely does it wish to be played again by the opposition. As it is, the sincerity of its disarmament intentions is called into question by the CMRR-NF. Don’t think nations such as Iran aren’t watching the progress CMRR-NF and posing the hypothetical question “And you wonder what we want with nuclear weapons?”

Daylight Opening Between U.S. and Israel Barely Visible to Naked Eye

Netanyahu ObamaLike many people, I expected little from Obama’s performance at AIPAC. He has to straddle parallel universes: the real one, in which most countries recognize Israel as tantamount to an international scofflaw, and the American domestic political universe in which Israel is always right. The US’s real allies and the rest of the world have long wearily resigned themselves to how, as with his speech at the State Department, the President has to pander to pro-Israeli organizations and the Congress members whose support he needs on domestic issues.

Obama congratulated himself, deservedly, for continuing to raise unpalatable issues with elections in the air, and while pandering in a traditionally nauseous way, there was some reassurance from the sound of silence in his speech.

AIPAC’s conference is a mind-numbing experience. “My country right or wrong” is a rightly derided principle. But at AIPAC ten thousand people are assembled dedicated to the proposition that someone else’s country should be supported, right or wrong, even if it flouts every principle they support at home — and even if its civil laws on marriage and conversion deny the branches of Judaism to which most practicing American Jews adhere.

The organizations tend to be donor-driven rather than grass roots motivated. American Jews, true to their liberal roots, voted for Obama in higher proportions than any other ethnic group — even as a raucous minority of the community questioned Obama’s citizenship and Christianity. That minority is disproportionately represented in the counsels of AIPAC and many of the “official” organizations and tends to Republican, Likudnik hawkishness.

But they also tend to think in slogans and catchphrases, without comparing them to reality, let alone with Robert Burns’s “giftie to see oursel’s as others see us.” They have been helped to remain in their parallel universe because presidents and secretaries of state have pandered (with the notable exception of James Baker) for decades to AIPAC — and no one notices. As is customary, dogs are biting men.

The media attention to President Obama’s address is significant since for the first time in twenty years, there is visible crack showing between the White House and AIPAC — and Israel. It is going too far to say that Obama is biting the dog — but he is sinking his gums into the Lobby and Netanyahu. He is doing so to the background of an American Jewish community that is split more than ever before, and certainly more so than the “official” spokesmen and organizations reveal.

While admitting there are problems with a unity Palestinian government, “We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements,” Obama did not exclude negotiations, but in effect put conditions, which Hamas has, in reality, already gone a long way to meet and is on the way to go further.

One hopes that he realizes that the key phrases he used, such as the need to accept Israel’s “right to exist,” were introduced by Israeli leaders precisely because they were unacceptable to Palestinians. He might even have noticed how quickly Israel switched from refusing to negotiate because the authority was divided, to refusing because it is united! It is like demanding that American Indian tribes accept that their dispossession was right and goes beyond acceptance of the obvious fact of Israel’s existence and its now nearly universal acceptance as an established state.

Such phrases have traditionally been used in the Levantine blame game in which the purpose of negotiations is not to reach a solution but to blame the other side for failure. But there is always a way to wiggle — a phrase that would irk some Israelis would be for the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s “right to exist under UN Decisions!”

One hopes that the president is now playing this game with Netanyahu. One also hopes he harbors grudges. For the world’s most benefitted welfare queen to publicly dress down the president of its benefactor at the White House should give most Americans some frisson of indignation.

While in the real world, Obama’s insistence on the 1967 boundaries as a basis for negotiation for land swaps has been generally accepted, Palestinians irate at this admitted denial of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,” may have missed, along with nuance-free AIPACers, his endorsement of the Palestinian people’s “right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state,” which presumably implies that in return for giving up some of the settled area, the Palestinian state will have a land bridge between Gaza and the West Bank. One can see why he might not have chosen to spell that out for AIPAC!

While he stated a fact, “No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state,” he did not state a principle. He said, “The United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.” He did not say that the US would veto a UN acceptance of Palestine as a member state.

Indeed, he challenged the sloganeers with reality. “The number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.” Secondly he pointed to how atavistic the old obsession with territory as security is since “technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace,” and finally, he pointed to the changes in Israel’s neighbours, so peace can no longer be bought with few local kleptocrats. “Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.”

If the US is retain influence in the region, it can no longer pay exclusive attention to Israeli public opinion while sending a few billion to local rulers. It, and Israel, have to show ordinary Arab citizens that they are serious about peace. Obama cannot regret the consequences to Palestinians of occupation while carrying on passing the ammunition to Israel.

It is unlikely that Netanyahu will voluntarily relinquish the not so secret Likud desire for an Arab-free state all the way to the Jordan. Obama has, perhaps deliberately and adroitly, maneuvered the Israeli Prime Minister into insulting the President of the US. He now has to follow up and show that there are consequences for Israel.

Obama balked at his best opportunity, which was the UN resolution on the settlements. He should stop equivocating and come out plainly with a declaration that if Netanyahu continues to refuse to come to terms with reality in the region, then he cannot take a US veto in the Security Council against Palestinian membership for granted nor even a nay vote in the General Assembly against a declaration of statehood.

Ian Williams has written for newspapers and magazines around the world. He is currently writing a book on the Americans who blame the UN for all the US’s ills. For more by Ian Williams visit Deadline Pundit.

WikiLeaks: Mauritanian Child Brides Embody the Dark Side of Globalization

Mint El Moctar(Pictured: Mint El Moctar.)

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fifty-fifth in the series.

One of the least remarked upon aspects of the WikiLeaked embassy cables is the persistent focus by diplomats on the so-called “dark side of globalization”—the illicit global economy. From gun-runners and nuclear smugglers to concerns about the trafficking of people and natural resources, cables detailing the corrosive effects of organized crime on the national interest pepper the Cablegate database with remarkable frequency.

The issue of human trafficking, particularly, consumes the focus of numerous cables. As the anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi warns in her new book, Gridlock, the discourse around trafficking tends to oversimplify and blur thinking about a spectrum of activity that is not always coerced nor connected to the sex trade, but is often assumed to be monolithic, gendered and defined by socioeconomic desperation. However true this observation—and evidence suggests that it’s spot on—some cases are less unambiguous.

Child trafficking is one such instance, the subject of a 2009 cable with the alarming title “From Child Bride to Sex Slave,” which discusses the disturbing trend in Mauritania of young girls being “married off to wealthy Saudi [Arabian] men in exchange for hefty bride prices.” The bulk of the report recounts a discussion embassy officials had with Aminetou Mint El Moctar, president of the Association of Women Heads of Household, a Mauritanian NGO advocating for women’s rights.

Mint El Moctar told the diplomats that the traditional practice of child marriages

Was the main driver of trafficking. Traffickers approach poor and ignorant Mauritanian families about marrying their daughter to wealthy Saudi men. Hefty bride prices amounting to five to six million ouguiya (approximately $20,000) and promises of better opportunities for the girls lure the families into accepting…The intermediaries are usually associated with local travel agencies, which Mint El Moctar are in reality trafficking networks. The girls are taken to Saudi Arabia by a family member or by a travel agency-designated “tutor.” The agency intermediary gets a commission from the husband for the striking the marriage deal—amounts vary according to the girl’s beauty and youth.

What’s worse,

Mint El Moctar stressed that once they arrive in Saudi Arabia, these child brides become sex slaves to their husbands. She explained that pre-pubescent girls are highly prized by Saudi men but, once they reach puberty or become pregnant, they are of no further interest to their husbands. According to Mint El Moctar, the girls are then repudiated and thrown into the streets. Without a support network, they have no choice but to become prostitutes.

Mint El Moctar’s claims came as no shock to embassy officials which, the cable notes, had heard similar stories from other human rights activists. One claimed that “she had met a Mauritanian girl who had spent three years in Saudi Arabia locked up in a room without seeing anybody but her husband and a female servant who tended to her needs. ” American diplomats had also heard reports from Radio France International which in an expose of the networks had interviewed young women brought to Saudi as child brides, including one “who, upon her divorce, had to leave her children behind in” the country.

Compounding the problem, “the Mauritanian government does not recognize trafficking as a problem” despite the fact that” articles 332 and 335 of the penal code have provisions against trafficking,” provisions that “are not enforced.” Mint El Moctar reported that she had contacted government officials in an effort to get them to at least rhetorically “denounce government inaction, but received no response.” As a result, Mint El Moctar reported that she had begun mobilizing “a public awareness campaign and is fighting for the creation of a law project to criminalize and combat trafficking.”

The cable’s author, Charge d’Affaires Dennis Hankins, notes in an aside that Mint El Moctar would likely have her work cut out for her. The previous February, embassy officials had raised the issue of human trafficking with a representative of the Ministry of Justice

Who states trafficking of Mauritanian women did not exist and trafficking to Saudi Arabia was not possible because there was a government law that required women to travel with a male family member.

For a problem that supposedly doesn’t exist, the stakes sure are high for activists like Mint El Moctar, who warned that “she has received death threats for pushing the issue. She has been accused of being a liar, a madwoman, and a traitor who damages Mauritania’s reputation.”

More broadly, Mint El Moctar reported that young girls in Mauritania who were not trafficked out of the country faced other problems no less upsetting. She

Expressed concern about a recent surge in child marriages in Mauritania…According to Mint El Moctar, early marriages expose young girls to domestic violence, domestic servitude, and endangers their health. She introduced PolOff to a pregnant twelve-year-old girl who had already been married for three years and regularly beaten by her husband.

After the meeting, Hankins followed up by verifying the child’s claims with another human rights NGO representative, who also reported that “one of her clients was a twelve-year-old who almost died in childbirth.”

Mint El Moctar argued that families pressing their daughters into early marriage were driven by fears of pre-marital sex or worries about the possibility of rape. As Hankins notes,

Rape is a generalized problem in Mauritania that receives no government attention. Zeinebou Mint Taleb Moussa, president of the Mauritanian Association for the Health of Mother and Child (AMSME), said that in 2008 the center she supervises—the only one providing services to victims of rape in Mauritania—received 304 victims. She stated that most victims do not seek help. The week of April 1, a center volunteer was raped and threatened for her affiliation to the center.

Even as the Mauritanian government willfully ignored these violations of women’s rights, transnational advocacy groups and their partners at the United Nations were fully aware of what was going on. Yet sadly, the cable reports that UNICEF officials made clear to the embassy that “they do not have the resources to take concrete actions,” and “requested United States funds to help accelerate actions against child trafficking in Mauritania.” It’s not immediately evident what their idea of action might look like, but if their other tentative plan—“to approach this issue in its next national study”—is any indication, there’s much to be desired.

Hankins closes the cable with the observation that

trafficking, the corollary of poverty and traditional practices harmful to women, is one of many taboos in Mauritanian society. NGOs like Mint El Moctar’s wage a lone battle without resources or recognition…As the United States seeks to support democratic forces in Mauritania, it should put emphasis on increasing these NGO’s capacity to denounce and fight human rights abuses as well as provide support to victims. With their “in your face approach” towards the government, their capacity to undertake concrete actions and mobilize the population at the grassroots level, and their desire to fight against all odds for a more democratic society—even at the expense of their reputation and personal safety—human rights activists like Mint El Moctar are among our best partners in democracy.

Hankins’ recommendations did not go unheeded. In June 2010, Mint El Moctar and other activists dedicated to ending the trade in human trafficking were recognized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their courageous work. And to be sure, it has been impactful. The government of Mauritania now officially recognizes child trafficking as a public problem demanding emergency attention. At the same time, words have not been met with deeds. According to the US State Department’s 2010 annual report on human trafficking, Mauritania has not made any significant efforts to combat the phenomenon within its borders since 2009, inhabiting the exclusive basement tier in a worldwide ranking of countries fighting the trade in people.

WikiLeaks: To Maintain Illusion of Independence From U.S., Canada Downplayed Role in Iraq Invasion

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fifty-fourth in the series.

In the wake of 9/11, Americans were introduced to some of the uglier features of their government at war. On the one hand, we were witness to the petty politics of competing bureaucracies—small-minded battles over information that ultimately led to failures of security and bungled missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, we became subject to the repressive character of secrecy regimes that defend Constitutional violations in the name of preserving the very principles—such as transparency—that bolster a democratic society. But according to new embassy cables published this week by WikiLeaks, the United States isn’t alone. Our neighbors to the north, it seems, have had their own problems with sharing information—amongst themselves and with the public.

During the chaotic period immediately following the American invasion of Iraq, the Canadian government was stuck scratching its chin over what to do with Mamdouh Mustafa, the sole Iraqi diplomat remaining in Ottawa. The Canadians had already kicked a handful of Iraqi diplos out of the country on suspicion of espionage by then, but Mustafa had been allowed to remain, even if kept under close watch.

In a cable dashed off roughly a month after the initial stages of the US invasion, the American embassy in Ottawa reported that the Canadians continued “to monitor closely the activities of…Mustafa, and had no indication that he was destroying Iraqi Government records or property.” The leadership in Ottawa was particularly keen, it would seem, to get inside of the embassy once Mustafa left the country so they could “remove items of an ‘undiplomatic nature’ from the premises of the Iraqi Embassy,” though what those items may have been is left a mystery.

But the bigger problem, beyond confiscating the leftovers of an abandoned embassy, was how to proceed with the diplomat himself. The Baath regime of Saddam Hussein had collapsed two days earlier, and according to the Canadian Foreign Affairs Desk Officer for Iraq, Chris Hull,

Mustafa…has given no indication of his future plans. Hull saw no basis for him to be granted refugee status, but said that if Mustafa makes such a claim he could remain in Canada while his case is being reviewed. The GoC could also decide to declare him persona non grata. The RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] is providing security for the Iraqi Embassy and is escorting Mustafa due to concerns about potential demonstrators.

Despite Canada’s official refusal to aid the American toppling of Saddam (which may have masked Canadian participation in the invasion, as new Cablegate documents suggest), the two governments worked closely together on the Mustafa situation.

The GoC has been very helpful to us…and we have concurred with their reasons for not expelling him from Canada. The GoC is now taking a wait-and-see approach on how to deal with him. The Foreign Affairs spokesperson has said it would be up to the new Iraqi government to decide whether to withdraw current diplomats.

By the following month, however, waiting around for a new government to magically appear in Baghdad seemed a distinctly less wise proposition than before. Whether at the behest of Ottawa or by his own volition, Mustafa returned to Iraq, as a second cable—written the following month—makes clear.

Thing is, the Foreign Ministry didn’t bother to let their associates in Canadian intelligence know. As the cable notes, while “the GoC had taken a decision to facilitate the return to Baghdad of Iraqi Charge d’Affaires…sources at post advise that CSIS (Canadian intelligence) was unaware of the…decision.” Not only did the ministry apparently want to keep the news hidden from their interagency partners, but they were also looking to cook the books to obscure the nature of Mustafa’s repatriation to Iraq. The government’s Middle East Division Deputy Director Graeme McIntyre requested that the United States smuggle Mustafa’s name onto “the worldwide list of former regime officials posted abroad whose departure USG previously had encouraged to different host governments,” a move Ottawa would find helpful in greasing the wheels of Mustafa’s exit from Canada.

The reason for this bit of bureaucratic deception, it would seem, had less to do with national security and everything to do with controlling the possibility for domestic political damage to the ruling Liberal Party, which was already falling apart at the seams.

McIntyre said the GoC is particularly sensitive to the possibility of negative press coverage about Mustafa’s departure (and probably, the likelihood that left-leaning opposition MPs will attack the government decision as a “rights” violation etc.).

That way, “if Mustafa was accredited to Canada as a full charge, then it would appear” as if Canadian-American machinations had nothing to do with the diplomat’s return, because he would fall “into the category of ‘head of mission’ and is thus covered by the instruction from the Iraqi [foreign minister].”

The United States obliged, and with good reason: Washington owed Canada a pretty big favor. Despite then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s adamant public refusal to support the American adventure in Iraq, another WikiLeaked document clearly shows the behind-the-scenes reality to be quite different. As my friend Matthew Bondy, a conservative political columnist in Canada, has written, Chretien’s party “blew their nationalist trumpet with one hand and crossed their fingers with the other,” offering to “discreetly” assist coalition forces as they prepared to overrun Iraq even as the Liberals celebrated their foreign policy independence from Washington.

One bad turn, after all, deserves another.

Iranq: One Size Foreign Policy Fits All

At Right Web, Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib write:

Imagine there’s a Middle Eastern country with a history of rocky relations with the United States. Washington hawks insist the country poses a threat to both the United States and its allies. They undertake a PR campaign demonizing the country’s polity and make cocksure claims about its imminent acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. They also make dubious claims tying the country to the perpetrators of the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor. The country’s name starts with the letters I – R – A. What country comes to mind?

Iraq and Iran both fit the profile.

In Iraq, years of pro-war drumbeating were kicked into high gear after 9/11, culminating in the 2003 invasion and occupation—and subsequent bloody civil war—based on inaccurate claims of WMD production and ties to Al Qaeda. The war came with enormous costs in blood and treasure, as well as loss of U.S. prestige and credibility—not to mention the price paid by Iraq.

Undeterred by these costs, many of the same people who led the push for regime-change in Baghdad now have their sights set on Tehran. Using the same playbook they used for Iraq, these hawks are again selling U.S. military strikes as a sort of “cakewalk.”

Few high-profile American commentators have openly called for a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran, but many of those who have are neoconservatives pundits, among them Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin[1] and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Reue lMarc Gerecht[2]. Others still, such as the AmericanEnterprise Institute’s (AEI) Michael Rubin, have called for assassinating Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.[3]

To read the article in its entirety, visit Right Web.

Don’t Just Indict “DSK,” Charge the IMF Too

At IPS, Lacy MacAuley writes:

The hotel worker IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted likely suffered in her home country as a result of IMF policies, like so many of the world’s poor.

Last month, I helped lead a march of hundreds of people to protest what we consider to be the International Monetary Fund’s criminal behavior during its yearly spring summit with the World Bank. Along with others, I raised my voice to say, “Arrest the IMF!”

Now, Strauss-Kahn is in a jail cell. According to witnesses and other evidence, he sexually assaulted a female hotel worker in a shockingly violent act in a posh suite at the Manhattan Sofitel hotel. When the worker he allegedly attacked bravely broke free, Strauss-Kahn fled the scene, leaving behind personal items such as his mobile phone. The worker, who is an immigrant from the West African nation of Guinea, immediately told others what had happened to her. Law enforcement personnel caught up with him at JFK airport and pulled him off of the airplane minutes before his flight to Paris was scheduled to depart.

While the alleged details are shocking, it’s no surprise to me that an IMF chief would exhibit violent, sociopathic behavior. After all, the IMF’s austerity policies have assaulted poor countries for years.

To read the remainder of the story visit IPS. Also see The IMF: Violating Women since 1945 by Christine Ahn and Kavita Ramdas at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Are Nuclear Weapons Required to Enforce Nuclear Disarmament?

Maybe this should be filed under the category of Watch Out What You Wish For. But in the event, however utopian-sounding, that Global Zero is achieved and every state in possession of nuclear weapons agrees to destroy them, how would it be enforced? The Global Zero movement’s own step-by-step plan drawn up in February 2010 refers only to an “agreed upon mechanism for resolving compliance disputes and, in the case of violations, enforcing compliance.”

In his disturbing new book How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (Simon & Schuster), which we’ve been citing in a series of posts, Ron Rosenbaum asks:

. . . wouldn’t the inspection regime require explosive weapons powerful enough to blow open sealed underground bunkers where prohibited nuclear mischief might be going on?

Answering his own question, he writes:

In fact, the inspection regime would somehow have to be the most powerful political entity on earth, perhaps relying on a monopoly of nuclear weapons itself, and thus deterrence, and we’re back where we started.

In other words, Global Zero could provide us with the worst of both worlds: for conservatives, world government (new world order!). For Global Zero supporters: disarmament turned inside out, becoming instead a means by which the existence of nuclear weapons in perpetuity is guaranteed.

Fukushima Has Become the Sequel to “Groundhog Day”

Groundhog Day(Pictured: Bill Murray and friend attempting to escape from Fukushima.)

Remember that 1993 film in which the Bill Murray repeats the same day over and over again? The Japanese nuclear crisis has also become déjà vu ad nauseum (please excuse mixed romance languages). Fukushima news reports today aren’t appreciably different from those shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. On May 18 the New York Times reported (note two words emphasized):

Amid widening alarm in the United States and elsewhere about Japan’s nuclear crisis, military fire trucks began spraying cooling water on spent fuel rods at the country’s stricken nuclear power station late Thursday after earlier efforts to cool the rods failed, Japanese officials said. . . .Earlier Thursday Japanese military forces tried to dump seawater from a helicopter on Reactor No. 3, making four passes and dropping a total of about 8,000 gallons as a plume of white smoke billowed. . . . Video of the effort appeared to show most of the water missing the reactor and the Japanese military later said the measure had little effect on reducing the temperature in the pool where the spent rods are stored. . . . The developments came as the authorities reached for ever more desperate and unconventional methods to cool damaged reactors, deploying helicopters and water cannons in a race to prevent perilous overheating in the spent rods of the No. 3 reactor.

Unconventional, maybe, but no longer new. In fact, it’s a reprise of what was attempted when the cooling problem emerged shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. From the BBC on March 17:

Thursday’s attempt to use helicopters to dump seawater on to the Fukushima power station is almost certainly unprecedented in more than half a century of nuclear power operations around the world. Long-range video footage indicates why it is not a more widely-used technique: it does not appear to work. Water cannon — tried, with similar results — seemed a similarly desperate measure.

Desperate in March, it must be a deeper shade of desperate now, which would seem to be indicated by this, from the May 18 Times article.

The decision to focus on the No. 3 reactor appeared to suggest that Japanese officials believe it is a greater threat, since it is the only one at the site loaded with a mixed fuel known as mox, for mixed oxide, which includes reclaimed plutonium [and which] would produce a more dangerous radioactive plume than the dispersal of uranium fuel rods at the site. . . . In the worst case, experts say, workers could be forced to vacate the plant altogether, and the fuel rods in reactors and spent fuel pools would be left to melt down, leading to much larger releases of radioactive materials.

In early April, Australian TV news is even more discouraging.

. . . One expert says the radiation leaks will be ongoing and it could take 50 to 100 years before the nuclear fuel rods have completely cooled and been removed. “As the water leaks out, you keep on pouring water in, so this leak will go on for ever,” said Dr John Price, a former member of the Safety Policy Unit at the UK’s National Nuclear Corporation. . . . “The final thing is that the reactors will have to be closed and the fuel removed, and that is 50 to 100 years away.

Meanwhile, from the May 18 Times story:

The United States’ top nuclear official followed up his bleak appraisal of the grave situation at the plant the day before with a caution that it would “take some time, possibly weeks,” to resolve.

Looks like we can look forward to yet more sequels of Japan’s Groundhog Day.

Call for Attacks on Libyan Infrastructure Provides Glimpse of NATO’s Real Motives

Gen. Sir David Richards(Pictured: Gen. Sir David Richards, supreme commander of Fredonia.)

According to the New York Times (5/16/11), Gen. Sir David Richards, “Britain’s top military commander,” is proposing that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) target Libyan “infrastructure,” including electrical power grids and fuel dumps, in government held areas.

Frustrated by the two-month old stalemate, Gen. Richards told the Times that “The vice is closing on [Muammar el-] Qaddadi, but we need to increase the pressure further through more intense military activity.” The British are playing a major role in the bombing campaign, and Gen. Richards was in Naples, the command center for the war in Libya, when he talked with the Times.

The Times went on to write, “The General suggested that NATO should be freed from restraints that precluded attacking infrastructure targets.”

Let us be clear what “infrastructure” means: “The fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants and schools” (Random House Dictionary, Second Edition).

Now let’s see what the 1977 Protocol Addition to Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 says on the business of attacking “infrastructure.”

In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.
— Part IV, Section I, Article. 48

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuff, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.
— Article 54

It is prohibited for the Parties to the conflict to attack, by any means whatsoever, non-defended localities.
— Article 59

In short, you can’t bomb power plants, electrical grids, water pumping plants, or transport systems that service the civilian population, even if the military also benefits from them. As Article 50 states: “The presence within the civilian population of individuals that do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

The pressure to step up the bombing and widen the delineation of targets reflects the fact that the war has turned into a stalemate. “We need to do more,” Gen. Richards told the Times, “If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Qaddafi clinging to power.”

That last statement appears to be a violation of United Nations Resolution 1973, which called for “protection of civilians,” a “no-fly zone,” “sanctions,” a “freeze of assets” and an “arms embargo.” Nowhere does 1973 mention regime change and getting rid of Qaddafi.

So are we being dragged into a war whose goals violate UN Resolution 1973, and whose means violate the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts? It is hard not to answer that question in anything but the affirmative.

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Sans Insurance, a Nuclear Meltdown Can Become a Financial Meltdown

Way to stay unruffled, Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK). The headline at NHK’s website yesterday reads “TEPCO to review cooling operation.” Sounds sober enough — until you find out why it plans to conduct that review.

Tokyo Electric Power Company will have to review its plan for stabilizing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility after a large amount of radioactive water was found in the basement of one of its reactor buildings.

The utility says it discovered an estimated 3,000 tons of contaminated water in the basement of the damaged Number 1 reactor building.

It “discovered”? How does that go overlooked? Never mind: how the water wound up in the basement is light years more frightening.

TEPCO says fuel rods in the Number 1 reactor melted down and created a hole in the bottom of the pressure vessel. It says the containment vessel also appears to be damaged and highly radioactive water has leaked into the basement of the building.

As if that’s not bad enough, Agence France Presse reported:

Ruling-party lawmaker Goshi Hosono, special aide to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said. . . . reactor three has not cooled down as hoped earlier, saying it was more of a worry to him than reactor one.

Perhaps as a consequence (from the same article)

Japan on Sunday started the first evacuations of homes outside a government exclusion zone. . . . Some 4,000 residents of Iidate-mura village as well as 1,100 people in Kawamata-cho town . . . began the phased relocations. . . . Although Iidate-mura and Kawamata-cho are 30 kilometres (20 miles) away from the plant, they have consistently received high amounts of radioactive materials due to wind patterns.

All at huge cost to the state, of course. But, surprisingly, of all the institutions to come out of this without taking a financial bath, you’d think the last is insurance. But, for those who may be unaware of it, when it comes to insuring nuclear-power plants, insurance companies keep their exposure to a minimum. Juergen Batz reports for the Associated Press.

Japan’s Fukushima disaster, which will leave taxpayers there with a massive bill, brings to the fore one of the [nuclear-energy] industry’s key weaknesses — that nuclear power is a viable source for cheap energy only if it goes uninsured. The cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a plant in Germany, for example, has been estimated to total as much as $11 trillion, while the mandatory reactor insurance is only 3.7 billion. . . . “Around the globe, nuclear risks — be it damages to power plants or the liability risks resulting from radiation accidents — are covered by the state. The private insurance industry is barely liable,” said Torsten Jeworrek, a board member at Munich Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies. . . . In financial terms, nuclear incidents can be so devastating that the cost of full insurance would be so high as to make nuclear energy more expensive than fossil fuels.

In fact

Tepco had no disaster insurance.

Despite Fukushima, many, including those to whom it’s vastly less catastrophic for the environment than coal, remain unmoved in their advocacy for nuclear energy. But, the environmental effects of Fukushima aside, purely in financial terms, the world can scarcely afford more than one of these accidents every, say, ten years.

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