Focal Points Blog

True or False? We Can Abolish Nuclear Weapons, But Not the Know-How

“Weaponless” or “virtual” deterrence has emerged as a candidate for a crucial step on the path to Global Zero (the abolition of nuclear weapons). It’s based on the premise that states possessing them divest themselves of their nuclear weapons, but retain the ability to reconstitute them in the event of a perceived national-security emergency. Deterrence would be once removed — the threat of a threat of nuclear attack.

The obvious advantage of weaponless deterrence is that it dispenses with the risks of states keeping their weapons on hair-trigger alert or poised to launch on warning. In other words, a state would no longer have only 20 minutes to determine whether reports of a nuclear attack were genuine (still a problem after all these years) and decide whether to retaliate.

But weaponless deterrence comes complete with its own set of problems. In November of 2010, Hudson Institute fellow Christopher Ford issued a paper titled Nuclear Weapons Reconstitution and its Discontents: Challenges of Weaponless Deterrence that outlines the difficulties of effecting such a regimen. These include upending the delicate balance of deterrence: A state, once it’s decided to re-arm itself with nuclear weapons, would not only feel compelled to reconstitute before other states that are party to the regimen, but to launch their resurrected nukes before the state from which it fears a nuclear attack is able to complete the reconstitution process.

Another challenge is the rust that would set in with nuclear-weapons designers and scientists. (See an earlier post of mine: Can the Genie of Nuclear Knowledge Ever Be Put Back in the Bottle?). Ford explains.

According to U.S. nuclear weapons designers, their craft is in some regards as much art than science, and is passed along between the generations by a process akin to apprenticeship learning.

Disarmament advocates might bristle at characterizing nuclear-weapons design as an art, or even as a craft passed along from one generation to the next. But bear with Ford.

Their [the nuclear-weapons designers’] refrain is that “you’ve got to do it [in order] to learn it,” and they worry that the passage of time without “doing it” will rapidly create ignorance and incapacity. By these accounts, the twin issues of human capital retention and knowledge retention within the workforce are the biggest potential challenges for any serious effort to maintain [reconstitution] capability over time. . . . when knowledge disappears it may well be, for practical purposes, flat-out gone.

Furthermore

U.S. weapons experts interviewed for this study repeatedly emphasized that maintaining a first-rate human capital stock in sophisticated fields such as weapons design [and its] exotic specialties can be very difficult if one cannot offer employees the sort of qualitative frisson associated with working on issues that are both of paramount national and global importance, and involve formidable intellectual and technical challenges.

In other words, since the demise of the Cold War, it’s been difficult to attract young talent to nuclear-weapons design, no longer seen as a growth field. Besides which, it is an old technology, isn’t it? Working with a technology that’s perceived of as on-hold (however busy maintaining it in a state of readiness would, in fact, keep nuclear scientists) compounds the problem of attracting talent. In a footnote, Ford adds:

One U.S. laboratory official whose job is precisely to help ensure the continuation of his laboratory’s technical edge worries that once lost, such capabilities are perilously hard to recover. . . . he could not think of an example of anyone ever having succeeded in regaining the lost “bubble” of technical mastery associated with first-place position in their field.

If you’re a disarmament advocate reading this — biased against Ford, to their detriment they usually don’t — your excitement is building to the point where you’re about to burst. In the course of showing us how difficult it is to make weaponless deterrence work because nuclear knowledge fades, he seems to be providing the perfect response to the oft-heard argument against disarmament that you can get rid of nuclear weapons, but you can’t get rid of the knowledge how to make them. Ford explains.

Some disarmament advocates seem to like the idea that [nuclear-weapons design] can be highly perishable. For them, the notion of . . . reconstitution is attractive precisely because . . . it might equate to a sort of “stealth disarmament” — with today’s nuclear weapons states suddenly waking up one morning, as it were, to discover that they had accidentally disarmed themselves by forgetting how to reconstitute their former programs.

But “stealth disarmament” comes complete with its own set of problems.

. . . even if such “surprise” disarmament might occur, it would certainly not occur evenly, at the same rate for, or with the same operational impact upon, all participants. Asymmetries in the rate or implications of such atrophy could be greatly destabilizing, and offer strategic advantages — and perhaps even a nuclear weapons monopoly at some point — to those who were for some reason or another better positioned to retain their own weaponeering “knowledge” while others forgot theirs.

Still, there’s no way to back out of the nuclear-weapons era without, at some point, making ourselves vulnerable to nuclear attack. But it’s no greater than the risk of living with nuclear weapons.

Stockholm Institute Peels Back the Veneer of Nuclear Disarmament

Arms control organizations usually try to cut the Obama administration some slack on nuclear disarmament and accentuate the positive, such as the New START treaty, however minimal its disarmament measures. But the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) operates under no such constraints. Among the conclusions of its just-released SIPRI Yearbook 2011 (for purchase only): “continuing cuts in US and Russian nuclear forces are offset by long-term force modernization programmes.”

SIPRI Senior Researcher Shannon Kile said:

It’s a stretch to say that the New START cuts agreed by the USA and Russia are a genuine step towards nuclear disarmament when their planning for nuclear forces is done on a time scale that encompasses decades and when nuclear modernization is a major priority of their defence policies.

An example of modernization in the United States is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), about which I frequently post, at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In November 2010, the White House estimated the budget for its construction at $3.7 to $5.8 billion. The function of the CMRR-NF is to support the manufacture of nuclear pits (the core of nuclear warheads, where the actual chain reaction occurs).

Bear in mind that not only are 14,000 pits that have been recovered from decommissioned warheads stored at Amarillo’s Pantex plant, where warheads are both assembled and disassembled, but Los Alamos studies on pit aging have shown they have lifetimes in excess of 100 years. That’s assuming that you believe we actually need nuclear warheads for national defense.

Commentators and arms control organization spend too much time debating the nuclear disarmament policies. But calling for rollbacks in nuclear weapons counts for little when a state such as the United States commit huge sums of money to ensure the continuation of the nuclear-industrial complex. American arms-control organizations can take a lesson from SIPRI and follow the money. Their failure to do so only raises questions about the sources of their own funding.

Can the Genie of Nuclear Knowledge Ever Be Put Back in the Bottle?

You know how we’re always hearing that we’re stuck with nuclear weapons forever because the knowledge it took to create them can’t be unlearned? Those who believe that disarmament is both dangerous and pointless make the case that sufficiently threatened, a state that once possessed nuclear weapons can always restart the production lines. But, however obvious that may seem, perhaps it’s not quite so straightforward.

In November 2010 the Hudson Institute published a paper by fellow Christopher Ford entitled Nuclear Weapons Reconstitution and its Discontents: Challenges of “Weaponless Deterrence”. The phrase in quotes, also known as “virtual deterrence,” means that, even if state were to reach something approximating Global Zero, they could still deter each other with the ability to ramp up production of their nuclear weapons should they decide a national-security crisis warranted it. But exactly how viable is that?

In a section of his paper titled “The Problem of Re-Learning,” Ford writes:

. . . a former nuclear weapons possessor would need to take careful account of the fact that in an arcane and sophisticated arena such as nuclear weapons design, it can be terribly hard to re-learn after a long absence what one was previously able to do. It may be the case, as Jonathan Schell has argued, that “the knowledge” of how to make nuclear weapons cannot be erased from the world, but one must qualify this by an appreciation that there are a great many different levels of knowledge of nuclear weapons design.

For example, preserving the knowledge of how to make

. . . a ballistic missile re-entry vehicle that must not only be fairly small but also carefully engineered for mating to and precise detachment from its booster under the demanding physical and environmental circumstances of trans-atmospheric travel [is a] demanding requirement. If one were additionally constrained by [a prohibition against building] “new nuclear weapons,” . . . the requirements would be tougher still. According to some experts interviewed for this study, quickly and reliably rebuilding present U.S. “legacy” designs years from now — and with a workforce none of the members of which had been involved in building or testing them in the first place — might scarcely be possible at all.

Ford refers to this as a problem (for plans for weaponless deterrence, anyway). In fact, it provides some hope that nuclear knowledge can be, if not unlearned, too rusty and dusty to be of any real use. In the end, weaponless deterrence may turn out to be ineffective as a last resort in the event of abolition. Neither may nuclear knowledge prove to be as much a barrier to disarmament as it now seems.

New Peruvian President Humala’s First Challenge: a Polarized Peru

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

With Ollanta Humala the virtual winner of Peru’s presidential elections, it is time to think about the very real challenges he faces as he prepares to take office on July 28, 2011.

Before analyzing the real policy and governance challenges facing Humala, we thought it important to examine an immediate challenge he faces: the need to calm the waters in Peru after a deeply polarizing political process that pitted his nationalist proposals against the more conservative program of Keiko Fujimori. It is important to remember that Humala and Fujimori were the two candidates that generated the highest degree of rejection among Peruvian voters on the eve of the first-round elections. In the second round, then, many voters found themselves forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” This resulted in a sharp and polarizing political process, which endured a grueling two months between the first and second rounds.

The polarization rippled through Peruvian society. Families were divided over which candidate to support. One middle-class lawyer told us that she supported Humala because she was vehemently opposed to a return to fujimorismo, but that the rest of her family supported Fujimori, and they implored her not to publish negative stories about Fujimori on her Facebook page. When she refused, her brother refused to speak to her.

More worrisome, the race and class-based divisions that are such a remarkable feature of Peruvian society came to the fore with a virulence not seen since the height of the internal armed conflict in Peru. This was seen in the media, with remarks with racist undertones or even overt racism were heard frequently. Aldo Mariategui, the director of the right-wing daily Correo, wrote in his column on the day before the elections warning that Humala would be a dangerous choice for Peru and implored his fellow citizens to vote for Fujimori in sharp, denigrating tones, “Peruvian, don’t be stupid at the voting booth tomorrow.” Fernando Szyszlo, the famous Peruvian painter, said that Peruvians faced an impossible choice in Sunday’s electoral contest. A triumph of Ollanta Humala, he said, “would be the triumph of the uneducated, of the ignorant, of those who do not know what is good for the country.” If Fujimori triumphed, he said, it would be “a victory for the corrupt.”

Peruvians concerned at the tone of racist remarks created a Facebook page called Democratic Shame in which people could denounce such behavior. Over 7,000 people have joined the page and have shared offensive remarks they have received or observed in the course of the campaign. One post read: “Shitty Indians!!! Only they could be so ignorant!!!” Another said: “Shitty Puneños… Die of cold, now let Ollanta send you clothes!” (Many people from Puno, especially children, have died due to extreme cold weather in Puno in recent years, and there have been frequent charity campaigns to prevent more deaths.) Ollanta Humala’s Facebook page was frequently intervened with racist comments and posts, also posted on Democratic Shame’s Facebook page. After the first-round vote, one Facebook user posted [sic]: “Shitty Indian, renounce your candidacy” while another said, in allusion to Humala’s supporters, “Son of a bitch, no one wants you, people who vote for people like you have know idea of what would happen if you become president, they are ignorant just like you…”

Peru is undoubtedly a society marked by deep racism. This was noted by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which identified long-standing racism and exclusion as the root cause of the violence that devastated Peru in the 1980s and part of the 1990s. The current climate of polarization is deeply informed by this racism and by the classism that accompanies it. Humala has promised a government of national unity that brings together the country’s diverse democratic sectors and that is open to the participation of Peruvian civil society. This is an important step in the right direction, but tackling the underlying classism and racism that reared its ugly head in this electoral process will require much more than that.

Israel’s Atonal September Song

Dagan Netanyahu(Pictured: Meir Dagan and Benjamin Netanyahu in happier times.)

As is its tendency — simultaneously sober to a fault and arrogant — the New York Times affixed an unprepossessing headline, A Former Spy Chief Questions the Judgment of Israeli Leaders, to a story which was, in fact, astonishing. Ethan Bronner writes that Mossad’s former chief Meir Dagan

. . . contends that Israel’s top leaders lack judgment and that the anticipated pressures of international isolation as the Palestinians campaign for statehood could lead to rash decisions — like an airstrike on Iran.

The former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan. . . . made headlines a few weeks ago when he asserted . . . that a military attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea.” This week Mr. Dagan . . . said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.” . . . Mr. Dagan went on to complain that Israel had failed to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and that it had foolishly ignored the Saudi peace initiative promising full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 border lines. He worried that Israel would soon be pushed into a corner.

Dagan also expressed

. . . his belief that his retirement and the retirement of other top security chiefs had taken away a necessary alternative voice in decision making. In recent months, the military chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the director of the Shin Bet internal security agency, Yuval Diskin, have also stepped down. . . . “I decided to speak out because when I was in office, Diskin, Ashkenazi and I could block any dangerous adventure,” he was quoted as saying. “Now I am afraid that there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak. ” . . . This concern was backed by a former Mossad official, Gad Shimron. . . . : “The leadership makes fiery statements, we stepped on the brakes, we are no longer there and we don’t know what will happen.”

Meanwhile Ari Shavit of Haaretz told Bronner

“Dagan is really worried about September,” . . . referring to the month when the Palestinians are expected to ask the United Nations General Assembly to recognize their state within the 1967 border lines. The resolution is expected to pass and to bring new forms of international pressure on Israel. “He is afraid that Israel’s isolation will cause its leaders to take reckless action against Iran,” he said.

Netanyahu and Barak’s insulation in their echo chamber parallels Israel’s increasing isolation in the world and region.

Meanwhile, with respect to Iran, it behooves the West to heed former U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering told Seymour Hersh for his recent New Yorker article:

Get off your no-enrichment policy, which is getting you nowhere. Stop your covert activities. Give the Iranians a sign that you’re not pursuing regime change. Instead, the Iranians see continued threats, sanctions, and covert operations.

Alberto Fujimori’s Future Inextricably Linked With That of Peru’s Democracy

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

On April 7, 2009 former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted for human rights violations in three cases: the Barrios Altos massacre, the forced disappearance of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and Samuel Dyer.

The legal proceedings against Fujimori demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he was the key architect of a state plan to eliminate suspected subversives and opponents of his regime. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty in Peruvian law, 25 years.

The verdict was ratified on December 30, 2009 by a tribunal comprised of five Supreme Court justices. This was the final appeal, and the ratification means that Fujimori’s sentence of 25 years is firm and not subject to further appeal.

The Fujimori trial and sentence are regarded by Peruvian and international jurists, scholars and human rights observers as fair and impartial, and impeccable in guaranteeing and respecting the defendant’s due process rights. The Washington Office on Latin America organized several international missions to observe the trial and can attest to this directly.

Moreover, the guilty verdict against Fujimori has been hailed by international legal scholars such as Kai Ambos and Juan Mendez as a milestone in global justice efforts to end impunity and guarantee accountability for crimes against humanity such as forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture.

Fujimori did not question the impartiality of the judges nor did he impugn the proceedings against him while they were taking place. However, after the first sentence was ratified in December 2009, Fujimori and his allies launched a political and legal strategy to question the legitimacy of the verdict. This is because for the political project of fujimorismo, the release of Alberto Fujimori is an essential objective. Given the history of fujimorismo, especially its manipulation of the Judiciary and its trampling on democratic institutions to achieve its objectives, there is major concern among democracy and human rights activists that Fujimori could be freed using questionable methods.

There are two avenues by which Fujimori’s supporters have sought to have their leader released.

The first is via a presidential pardon. Since the initial verdict was handed down the question of whether or not the current president, Alan Garcia, would pardon Fujimori (presumably in exchange for a future promise of protection from prosecution for human rights violations committed during his first government) or whether his daughter, should she be elected president in 2011, would pardon her father. From the day of his conviction, Keiko Fujimori repeatedly stated that her “hand would not tremble” to pardon her father.

However, there are significant problems with this avenue. Peruvian law prohibits pardons from being granted to those convicted of aggravated kidnapping, as was the case with Fujimori. International law prohibits pardons from being granted to those convicted of crimes against humanity; the judges clearly stated in their verdict that the crimes of aggravated homicide, assault and kidnapping of which they found Fujimori guilty are crimes against humanity in international law.

Moreover, it would be costly politically to grant Fujimori a presidential pardon. The vast majority of Peruvians now believe Fujimori was guilty of these and other crimes, the Fujimori sentence is viewed positively by two-thirds of the Peruvian population. It is perhaps for this reason that Keiko Fujimori has recently pledged not to pardon her father if elected. Her change of heart may be related to her faith that a second avenue to freeing her father is still available: a legal strategy that seeks ultimately to overturn the Fujimori conviction. To this end, Fujimori’s lawyers have submitted no less than 17 writs of habeas corpus to Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal (TC).

The TC has agreed to hear at least one of these writs of habeas corpus, but has stated that it would wait until after the presidential elections to emit its ruling. This habeas corpus essentially challenges a ruling that denied Fujimori’s petition alleging that the Supreme Court judges named to review his appeal of the April 2009 verdict were not impartial and requesting their removal from the case. Human rights lawyers note that while the TC has handed down very important rulings in the years since Peru’s democratic transition in 2000-2001 that established important human rights jurisprudence in Peru, in recent years it has handed down several rulings that move away from some of this jurisprudence that represent a backsliding in efforts to combat impunity (for example in 2010 the TC ruled that crimes it had previously considered crimes against humanity, in which no statutes of limitations can apply, were in fact simple crimes and that statutes of limitation did apply).

If the TC were to accept the argument outlined in the writ of habeas corpus, it would amount to a revocation of the ratification of the original sentence, and a new trial would be held that could lead to Fujimori’s exoneration, or to a different sentence that could facilitate a presidential pardon. WOLA and its partners in Peru are deeply concerned at such a prospect, which is especially likely should Keiko Fujimori be elected president of Peru this Sunday.

Should this comes to pass, not only is it highly likely that Alberto Fujimori will be freed; it is also probable that Vladimiro Montesinos, along with other members of the Fujimori regime currently serving prison time for corruption, drug and arms trafficking, and human rights violations will also be set free, and that a general amnesty will be put in place effectively ending attempts to achieve accountability for human rights violations committed in the context of Peru’s internal armed conflict. Such an outcome clearly puts Peru’s fragile democracy at risk. It would likely generate political and social discontent and instability, which could elicit the kind of repression and authoritarian practices of the Fujimori years that Peruvians have fought so hard so overcome.

New IDF Chief Makes No Bones About His Intention to Over-react to Palestinian Demonstrations

In response to Palestinian demonstrations on Israel’s borders last month, and the upcoming 2nd Gaza Freedom Flotilla later this month, the IDF’s new Chief of Staff Benny Gantz outlined the actions the IDF will take against such demonstrations from here on out:

The spectrum of the threats, in light of the changes in the Middle East, has broadened significantly – from daggers to nuclear weapons. There is a focal player in the Middle East – the street – and it is clear to us that in the coming months we can find ourselves in broad popular demonstrations, which gain public resonance. The IDF is preparing for these demonstrations.

Gantz discussed the implications of the fall of Mubarak in Egypt as well, and addressed security concerns regarding Lebanon and Syria.

For this reason, we will act with great fire power and full force at the very beginning of the confrontation. Anything the camera can stand or could stand in the first three days of fighting – it will not be prepared to put up with thereafter.

Gantz’s statements were collaborated by reporting from Ynet News and Electronic Intifada. The full text of the IDF Chief of Staff’s statement on the response to mass demonstrations is available in Hebrew and in English.

“Israel, it would seem, like other regimes in the region, knows of no other way to respond to people demonstrating for their legitimate rights than to shoot at them,” commented Electronic Intifada. Ynet News reported Gantz as saying that “the next conflict will be brief but intense.

Further Nabka demonstrations are currently being planned in Israel’s Arab neighbors.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Yet Again the U.S. Backs the Forces of Repression in an Americas Presidential Race

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

With less than a week to go before Sunday’s vote, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, presented a report to the Peruvian government purporting to document Venezuelan government support for the campaign of presidential contender Ollanta Humala. According to Noriega, “We have a very sensitive source in Venezuela who says that Humala receives money, possibly from the Venezuelan Embassy in Lima, where cash is sent by military plane from La Paz (Bolivia), and from there across the border that is controlled by military attaches of the Venezuelan embassy in Lima.” In an interview with Univision, Noriega claims that “sources” in Venezuela have told him that Venezuelan military officers delivered cash for the campaign, but that he won’t release the report or the names of his sources so as to not put them in jeopardy. A high-level Peruvian government official told Univision that the report provided no proof of the allegations.

That Noriega sees Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a threatening enemy is no secret. (Assistant Secretary from 2003 to 2005, Noriega was replaced by a career diplomat in large part for having driven U.S.-Venezuelan relations to the breaking point.) Yet somehow, despite his obvious enmity for Chávez, Noriega claims to have internal sources that have provided him with this information. Also highly questionable is his timing, which certainly appears to be intended to give Humala’s opponent, Keiko Fujimori, a boost before Sunday’s vote. Ironically, Noriega was given an award by the government of former President Alejandro Toledo for his work (then as a top aide to then-U.S. Senator Jesse Helms) for his efforts to bring an end to the Fujimori dictatorship of the 1990s. (Now that he is working to put another Fujimori back in the presidential palace, he should have the decency to return the award.)

Such meddling in the electoral politics of Latin American countries was commonplace during previous administrations, though it sometimes backfired. In 2002, Evo Morales came very close to winning the presidency (which he then assumed in 2006) after statements against him by the U.S. Ambassador, Manual Rocha, caused his popularity to jump significantly. To its credit, since assuming office, the Obama administration has refrained from public interventions in electoral politics. According to a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, “The United States supports the democratic process, including elections that are free, fair, and transparent, and looks forward to learning the outcome of Peru’s presidential race. The Peruvian people will choose the next president of Peru. Regardless of who is elected, the United States looks forward to continuing its strong bilateral relationship with Peru.”

Behind the scenes, however, the U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Rose Likins, is evidently playing a very different role. As reported in a previous blog, she has openly expressed support for Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy in private meetings, including with a group of human rights activists where she actually attempted to defend Keiko Fujimori’s human rights credentials. According to journalist Gustavo Gorriti, “The U.S. Embassy strongly opposes Humala’s candidacy.” Like Noriega, Ambassador Likins no doubt fears another progressive government in South America joining the ranks of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – all countries more willing to stand up to entrenched economic interests and the United States.

It is certainly true that Peruvian President Alan Garcia is now one the few consistent U.S. allies in the region. If Keiko Fujimori wins the elections on Sunday, it would be logical to assume that she would continue to play that role. However, it would be a mistake for the U.S. government to simply put Humala in the Chávez box. As reported previously – and despite Noriega’s claims to the contrary – Humala has sought to distance himself from Chávez, presenting himself instead as a more moderate candidate in the mold of the highly popular Lula in Brazil. Moreover, during the second round Humala has broadened his political support to include a range of progressive and moderate Peruvians. In short, if Humala were to win Sunday’s elections, it would behoove the U.S. government to reach out and try to work with him, rather than ending up in yet another situation of tense bilateral relations.

As is often the case in Washington, the official memory is short-lived. In the 1990s, the U.S. government was a key international actor in responding to human rights violations and the steady dismantling of democratic institutions in Peru. Developments there were seen as a direct threat to the democratic advances across the region and hence a threat to the U.S. government’s interest in promoting stable, democratic governments. Since then the U.S. voice has largely subsided. But a return to Fujimorismo in Peru would necessitate far more attention from the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration. Whoever wins Sunday’s vote, the U.S. government should be vigilant with regards to issues related to democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Peru and should work with its Latin American neighbors to ensure that the hard-fought gains of the last decade are not rolled back.

Finally, U.S. officials should not overlook the fact that a significant percentage of the population supports Humala – particularly in the southern and central parts of the country – which underscores the need address the countries’ real and deep inequities. While Peru has had impressive economic growth over the last decade, the levels of inequality have only improved slightly. Clearly, far too many Peruvians continue to suffer from extreme poverty, lack of opportunities for meaningful employment and a poor quality of life overall. If measures are not taken to address these issues – measures that go beyond food handouts – then the problems that Peru faces today will continue to grow larger, including social conflict and violence. Rejecting Humala as the “Chávez candidate” may be politically expedient for some, but negates the important role he has played in bringing the issue of inequality and poverty into the political debate.

France Seeks to Act (Operative Word) as Israel-Palestine Peace Broker

Sarkozy Juppe(Pictured: France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and President Nicolas Sarkozy.)

“The status quo cannot be maintained, things need to get moving… if there is a single chance, it must be grabbed,” declared French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé to Le Monde before departing for a diplomatic trip to Israel and the West Bank with the goal of relaunching the peace process. After a layover in Rome where he met with PLO Chair-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, he flew to Ramallah to speak with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and met Benyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Juppé was hoping to convince each party to come back to the negotiation table at a conference to be held in Paris before the end of July.

The conference was originally planned as a meeting of potential donors to the state of Palestine, but France now wants to expand the scope of the event to a resumption of peace talks toward the two-state solution. “We are convinced that if nothing happens before September, the situation will be very difficult for everybody at the UN General Assembly,” Juppé said on Thursday, referring to Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and admission as a full member of the United Nations at the September assembly.

The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization broke down last Fall. Netanyahu’s conditions for their resumption include Abbas’ break of relations with Hamas and the recognition of Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, while Abbas is requesting the immediate freeze of the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. However, Juppé believes that grounds have shifted significantly enough to hope to revive the process; according to him, the context of the Arab Spring, the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation and Obama’s acknowledgment of the 1967 borders are factors that have the potential to create a new opportunity to resume discussions.

The French Foreign Minister further echoed Nicolas Sarkozy’s previous statement that France would be ready to “take on its responsibilities” at the UN General Assembly in September, a “strong message,” according to Juppé. The innuendo is most likely to be interpreted as a decision for France to recognize the state of Palestine, an option that Sarkozy has already declared to be considering “in consultation with [France’s] European partners;'” yet his preference lies in a resumption of peace talks, which would prevent France from taking such a critical foreign policy decision.

Juppé’s trip fits into Sarkozy’s increasingly prominent will to see France play a larger role in the Israel-Palestine peace process. “Americans won’t succeed on their own,” he said in an interview in May. But while France is attempting to present itself as an alternative mediator, it is evident that its position does not differ from the United States’ in any significant way. In opposition to the U.S., Alain Juppé welcomed the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a “positive development.” The demarcation, however, stops there.

Indeed, Juppé specified that were the proposed Paris peace conference to take place, it would proceed according to the roadmap President Obama recently outlined. Phyllis Bennis and FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes have vehemently emphasized the flaws of Obama’s line. “President Obama identified the principles of U.S. diplomacy and Israeli demands as the ‘foundation for negotiations.’ But he is wrong. The only foundation that will work is that of international law and human rights,” writes Bennis.

Juppé further follows in the US footsteps by maintaining a rhetoric which revolves around the security of Israel first and foremost, with no mention for Palestinians’ security. His recent statement that “We must drive Hamas to evolve in the direction we are hoping for, which means renouncing violence and recognizing the state of Israel” is representative of the usual double-standard though which demands are made of Palestinians but not of Israelis: Juppé is not demanding that the members of Israel’s government who refuse to recognize Palestine do so, nor is he denouncing Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. Juppé conveniently chooses to push back the issues of refugees and Jerusalem to the following year, focusing only on the issues of borders and land swaps.

When, in a recent radio interview, Juppé was faced with a journalist who questioned France’s potential to be heard, he answered, “Who is heard these days, can you tell me?” implying that the international community was powerless at large to influence the situation. Yet his assessment is incorrect in the case of the United States: it is not that Obama is not heard, it is that he does not speak up. In a recent interview, Phyllis Bennis explained how the U.S. has failed to put proper pressure on Israel: “We never saw real pressure, what we saw from the US president Obama was a series of requests: ‘Please stop expanding settlements!’ Israel said no, the US continued to request, Israel continued to say no and the US stopped requesting. Real pressure would have meant that when Israel said no, that the US said ‘all that 30 billion dollars we’re paying you in military aid over these ten years, you can kiss that goodbye.'”

France’s leverage is much more limited, revolving primarily around its position as president of the G8 and G20 and the potential moral impact that its recognition of the state of Palestine would have at the next UN General Assembly. Whether or not Israel and Palestine come to the table that is offered to them in Paris, it is unlikely that a safe, secure and sovereign Palestinian state might result from the process as long as the United States do not use their own extraordinary leverage to push Israel to respect human rights and international law.

Taking Drones to Their Logical Conclusion: Nuclearize Them!

While the military has no plans to decommission the Stealth bomber or even the B-52 (already 59 years old), both of which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, it is planning the Stealth’s successor. At the Los Angeles Times, W.J. Hennigan reports.

The military’s top weapons buyer [Ashton Carter] quietly visited . . . leading aerospace executives about plans to build a fleet of radar-evading bombers that the military hopes to have ready for action by the mid-2020s. . . . Now on the Pentagon wish list is a proposed fleet of 80 to 100 nuclear-capable bombers that could operate with or without a pilot in the cockpit.

Although the article focused on the cost and possible use of the “black budget,” the hook for commentators was the pilotless angle. In other words, nuclear bombs could be delivered by drones. Hey, at least we don’t have to worry about any more flight crews with cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that can only be measured in megatons!

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