Focal Points Blog

With Abuse of Palestinian Children, IDF Hits New Low

“A CNN investigative report [that] aired Thursday slammed the treatment of Palestinian children by IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers [including] uncorroborated charges of sexual abuse against Palestinian youngsters while in IDF custody,” reported Israel’s YNet.

That a major network like CNN would run a piece accusing it of wrongdoing is a mark of how far Israel has fallen in favor with the American media and public, especially considering how sensitive the issue is. But wait — children in custody? The stone throwers, for the most part. According to Palestine’s Ma’an News (follow link for graphic details), Save the Children and UK-based based children’s rights group Defence for Children International (DCI). . .

. . . confirm Israel routinely prosecutes Palestinian children as young as 12, describing the ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children as “widespread, systematic and institutionalised.” . . . In 2009, DCI collected 100 sworn affidavits from Palestinian children and teenagers who said they were abused in Israeli military and police custody. Almost 70 percent complained of being beaten, four percent reported being sexually assaulted, and 12 percent said they were threatened with sexual assault. . . . all were dismissed without a single criminal investigation. . . . A 2009 report by Save the Children says [that the] psycho-social consequences of detention affect the immediate behavior of children, the way they think including their analysis of the outside world.

Speaking of which, what “psycho-social” circumstances affect how members of the IDF “think including their analysis of the outside world”? Those most often cited include the Holocaust, Israel’s sense of being surrounded by hostile states, suicide attacks and shelling by Palestinians, and Iran’s role in funding Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.

The legitimacy of those concerns is unquestionable. But, an inability or unwillingness on the part of recent Israeli governments to behave like a citizen of the world or at least of its region instead of acting as if it exists in a vacuum can’t help but make one wonder if deeper issues influence the psyches of Israelis, especially members of the IDF. The treatment of detained Palestinian youths might shed some light.

In fact, it can be safely surmised that the abuse in question is a symptom of a hyper-militarized state. According to the school of psychohistory, hyper-militarized states are often a reflection of authoritarian child-raising. The obvious examples are Germany and Austria in the late nineteenth century. (No comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany implied!)

In his landmark 2002 book The Emotional Life of Nations, the founder of psychohistory, Lloyd DeMause (who celebrated his 79th birthday yesterday), wrote: “Polls of Germans of the time show the majority were . . . routinely beaten by their fathers, and considered him ‘absolute law in the family . . . we feared him more than we loved him.’”

Unwanted babies were often killed, but, “If a German newborn was allowed to live, it was then subjected to the most horrifying traumatic tortures that can be inflicted upon children, every detail of which became indelibly imprinted on their early amygdalan fear system and then re-inflicted upon ‘enemies’ during the war and the Holocaust.”

As for the sex abuse, “When infants were removed from their cribs, they usually slept in the family bed and either were made part of the sexual act or regularly witnessed it close up. [Also] German doctors reported ‘nursemaids and other servants carry out all sorts of sexual acts on the children entrusted to their care.’”

Needless to say, abuse and murder of children is nowhere near this widespread in either Israel or any Western state today. But neither is Israel immune to the same troubling degree of child abuse as any Western state. Back in 2008, Israeli child and spousal abuse expert Daniel Eidensohn told this story:

The holiday of Succot had arrived, and, when their father was out praying at the synagogue, the children were growing hungry. One of them, a girl, took the initiative and prepared nine pizzas for herself and her siblings. As they sat down to eat, their father arrived home, and gazed with rage upon his daughter’s efforts. “Eat every single one by yourself,” he ordered his terrified daughter, forcing her to obey until she vomited. The father . . . admitted to carrying out the actions described [as well as] sexually abusing one of his daughters, and to routinely verbally and physically abusing all of them. . . . Last month, it was the Rose Pizem case. The country listened in horror as details of the murder of the four-year-old at the hand of her grandfather, who stuffed her body into a suitcase and tossed it into the Yarkon river, emerged. Soon after that, three mothers murdered their young children in the space of a single week.

When it comes to the Orthodox Jewish community in general, in May of this year the Guardian reported:

The uncovering of sexual abuse perpetrated by religious leaders in the Catholic church is mirrored within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community [and] starting to be prosecuted in New York. And as with the Catholic church . . . ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders are beginning to permit the reporting to police of these crimes. . . . A little known Jewish law called mesira . . . forbids a Jew from reporting another Jew to the gentile authorities. The law was in response to non-Jewish governments whose courts were staffed by antisemites. [Today most] Jewish communities recognise the legal system of the countries where they live [but] . . . . Perpetrators of, for example, domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual crimes, are often protected by the ultra-Orthodox communities and dealt with “in-house”. They are sometimes beaten up by the self-appointed Jewish “police”, and often moved to areas where there is no knowledge of their crimes

Whatever the rate of child abuse in Israel, though, how did its citizenry evince the passivity it displays in the face of its government’s policies toward Palestine? The same, of course, can be said for the acquiescence of most Americans to the illegal wars that the United States is conducting. Bottom line, as Lloyd DeMause says, the “way to stop wars and terrorism is by giving more help to mothers toward improving child care, not by increasing military power.”

Does the U.S. Really Want Talks With the Taliban to Succeed?

Peace talks involving the Taliban and its allies are apparently underway, according to the Asia Times (AT), and from most accounts a deal appears doable. AT’s Pakistan bureau chief Syed Saleem Shahzad reported Sept. 11 and 15th that, under the auspices of the Pakistan military and intelligence services, “serious negotiations” were taking place, with Saudi Arabia serving as the go-between to the U.S.

That the antagonists are looking for a way out of the nine-year war is not surprising, given the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan and the rising tide of opposition in Europe and the U.S. to continuing the war. What is surprising is that at the same time as there looks to be a possible diplomatic breakthrough, the U.S. has launched a major military operation in Kandahar.

Is the new offensive a cover for the secret talks or an effort by the U.S. military to derail any possibility of serious negotiations?

According to the AT, while Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar has not been directly involved in the talks, according to a “Pakistan security official” the elusive cleric “has shown a positive and flexible attitude.” The talks also include Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has been a major thorn in the side of the occupation troops, particularly the U.S.

There are several sticking points, but none of them seem insurmountable. The Taliban want to talk about the 60 Afghans currently imprisoned in Guantanamo, while the U.S. wants to make sure al-Qaeda can no longer operate from within Afghanistan.

On the first point Pakistan appears hopeful that the U.S. will release the detainees. It “would be a good will gesture from the American side,” a Pakistani official told the AF, “and also set the stage for negotiations between the Taliban and Washington.”

Regarding al-Qaeda, the Taliban say they are willing to make sure that no “outside” forces use Afghanistan as a springboard to attack other nations. The Taliban have agreed to expel the terrorist organization, but they argue that al-Qaeda be given “honorable treatment.” What that means is not clear, but it is not likely to become a major sticking point. U.S. intelligence says al-Qaeda has virtually no presence in Afghanistan. According to Shahzad, the terrorist organization is more interested in the Central Asian “Stans” and southern Russia. On Sept 9, the group set off a bomb in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz that killed 18 people.

According to AT, al-Qaeda would rather get the U.S. out of Afghanistan than for it to have an in-country presence, and the organization would have no objection to the Taliban cutting a deal with Washington.

The Americans also want the right to keep troops in Northern Afghanistan, the home of its major in-country allies, the Northern Alliance, but, according to officials close to the talks, the Taliban want all foreign troops out.

The Taliban originally demanded the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan that existed at the time of the 2001 invasion. But in Ramadan talks held in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, “Taliban representatives indicated a willingness to accept a more broad-based political setup in Afghanistan,” says Shahzad.

The Taliban are still hostile to some of their internal opponents, ranging from former mujahedeen leaders to men like General Abdul Rashid Dostrum of the Northern Alliance. However, according to Pakistan officials, the group is willing to work with other people associated with their opponents, provided “they have a clean reputation and have never been involved in bloodshed.” The “clean reputation” refers to graft. As for the “bloodshed,” all sides have at one point or the other fought one another, so it is unclear what the Taliban mean.

“The process of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table is gaining momentum,” says Shahzad, “with the United States and its allies escalating their efforts to get America out of the Afghan quagmire.”

So then why has the U.S. launched an offensive into western Zhari near the city of Kandahar? This is the same region that the Canadians went into in 2006 and got thoroughly thrashed. Not even the U.S. commander on the ground thinks much is going to come of it. Lt. Col. Peter Benchoff of the 101st Airborne told the Los Angeles Times that, as far as western Zhari goes, “Security sucks. Development? Nothing substantial. Information campaign? Nobody believes us. Governance? We’ve had one hour long visit by a governmental official in the last two and a half months.”

The 101st’s base is regularly mortared, and three contractors were killed two weeks ago by Taliban shells. The town has no schools, no clinics and no government presence.

Indeed, the situation all over the country is going downhill for the U.S. and NATO. In spite of the surge—allied troops levels have risen from 30,000 in 2005 to 150,000 today—the country is less secure and more violent than it was in 2001.

The Afghan Study Group found that American combat deaths have sharply escalated, as have roadside bombs, suicide attacks, assassinations, and civilian casualties. According to the International Security Assistance Force, shellings, bombings and small arms attacks for August 2010 were up 49 percent over August of last year. And local Afghan media sources report that there are four to five assassinations every day in Kandahar City.

For the Sept. 19 election there were 350 fewer polling places—14 percent of the total—than there were last year, because the government could not provide security.

More than that, Gareth Porter of Inter Press Service found that there has been a sharp drop in the number of roadside bombs being reported by local people. “The percentage of Taliban roadside bombs turned in had been averaging 3.5 percent from November 2009 through March 2010,” says Porter, but after the U.S. stepped up its nighttime raids with Special Forces, “the percentage of turn-ins fell precipitously to 1.5 percent.” In short, the “surge” has deeply angered the average Afghan.

Parts of the country that used to be safe, like the north and east, are increasingly insecure, and in places like the North, most the insurgents are non-Pashtuns. Pashtuns make up the bulk of the Taliban and are mainly concentrated in the south. According to the United Nations, travel is no longer safe in 30 percent of the country, and insurgent attacks have more than doubled from a year ago—from 630 in August 2009, to 1,353 in August 2010.

The Americans attribute the rise in violence to the surge, but most of the attacks are occurring in places where the surge has no presence. “We do not support the perspective that this constitutes ‘things getting worse before they get better’,” Nic Lee, director of Afghan NGO Safety Office, told the New York Times, “but see it consistent with the five-year trend of things getting worse.”

Under pressure to show “progress” in the Afghan war, the U.S. military has fallen back on a device it used during the war in Southeast Asia: the body count. Gen. David Petraeus told National Public Radio that this summer, NATO forces has killed or captured 2,974 insurgents, 235 of them “commanders.” But Porter found that the captures included “suspected” insurgents, which generally means anyone in the immediate vicinity of a raid. The Guardian concluded that as many as two-thirds of those detained in such raids are innocent.

Porter also questions the “commander” designation, since the Taliban is not organized into formal fighting units. “The vast majority of those ‘leaders’, it appears, were low level Taliban personnel who are easily replaced,” he says. Given that the step up in raids over the past year has not resulted in a reduction of insurgent activity—indeed, quite the opposite—Porter’s doubts seem valid.

Is the Kandahar operation, then, blind folly—Gen. David Petraeus is lobbying for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan for years to come—pre-negotiating positioning, or theater, because the enormous U.S. military budget is coming under increasing pressure? No one is going to suggest cutting military spending while the troops are locked in battle, a point that U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been arguing to Congress.

The danger is that the U.S. will step back from an opportunity to end the bloodletting in Afghanistan because Washington is worried that it will look like a defeat—it is—or because keeping the war going will armor the Pentagon from spending cuts. There was a moment like this in 2007, but the U.S. ignored a tentative Taliban peace proposal and the war got worse. If the Obama Administration is not careful, it could happen again, and the U.S. will slip deeper into the Afghan quagmire.

For more by Conn Hallinan visit Dispatches from the Edge.

New START’s Big Winners: U.S. Nuke Complex, Pentagon, and Contractors

Clinton-Kerry_LugarPassage of New START in a 14-4 vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is already being hailed by Democrats and arms control NGOs as a substantial victory. A floor vote for ratification is now apparently set to occur after the elections.

While ratification is by no means guaranteed, there are several clear winners already: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aerojet General, Alliant Techsystems, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories, Y-12 nuclear labs, the Pentagon, and Bechtel Corporation.

While much noise has been made about the New START treaty’s cut to the nuclear weapons stockpile, the actual required reduction in arms may be as low as 8%, or 162 warheads out of a total of thousands. Furthermore, keep in mind too that this only affects deployed strategic warheads, not “tactical” weapons, and not weapons in the “reserve” stockpile.

So why the big deal? Why are both sides fighting like mad over a treaty that really requires virtually no change to the status quo US-Russia relationship and US nuclear stockpile?

Here’s why in a nutshell:

1. The Democrats, led by the Obama administration, want the treaty badly in order to prove that their means of combating proliferation and the rising power of states like Iran is better than the Republican strategy. The difference essentially is that the Democrats propose to give the impression that the USA is cutting its arsenal and seeking “global zero.” Of course it’s not and the Dems intend to fund the US nuclear complex at large levels. Long-range national security state doctrine calls for keeping nukes far into the future, and modernizing them the whole way along. But the Democratic foreign policy establishment thinks their plan will provide superior power, diplomatic and military, when dealing with nations that pose a threat to US imperial interests. It’s a tough balancing act, this anti-nuclear nuclearism! Thankfully the liberal militarists have found willing allies in the foundation community. Funds and NGOs like Ploughshares, American Friends Service Committee, and Peace Action West have lobbied extensively for ratification, proving that a little money goes a long way in politics.

2. The Republican strategy remains what the old gipper gave us — “peace through strength.” G. W. Bush pursued it with his aggressive nuclear weapons programs, but the Democrats managed to back him down. Undeterred, many Republicans think the Democrats are wasting the national security state’s time and energy and would just rather invest huge sums in weapons and invade and occupy nations as a first and early recourse when problems arise. There remains a great deal of ideological opposition to treaties, especially arms control pacts, whether or not they actually constrain US military might.

3. In addition to this acrimonious debate about imperial strategy, there’s bread and butter. While New START doesn’t pose any threats to any military funding whatsoever, it does offer a major opportunity to demand huge funding increases for several weapons programs.

A. Chief among these is the nuclear weapons program. New START ratification is being used as the primary forum in which to hash out the budget for nuclear weapons over the next ten years. Thus far supporters of the nuke complex have gotten a pretty good deal; a minimum $10 billion increase over the next ten years to build a new plutonium pit factory, new uranium plant, new weapons components factory, and other major capital projects. Corker and Isakson’s votes on September 16 to pass the treaty to the full Senate for a ratification vote may signal that they have received even larger funding commitments for the huge nuclear facilities in their states, or that they will use their vote on the floor to extort better deals between now and then.

B. Then there’s “missile defense” and “prompt global strike.” Missile defense has its own agency in the Pentagon and budget larger than the NNSA’s. Prompt global strike, a new conventional strategic weapons system capable of killing anyone on the planet in under an hour with hypersonic munitions, is a multi-hundred million dollar and growing program. Both are getting very large increases in Obama’s FY2011 budget, due in part to Republican demands that neither program be constrained by New START. Of course the treaty does no such thing, but the concern is really a theatrical way of demanding even larger increases for these weapons systems. The Democrats are too happy to oblige. Obama and Biden are champions of prompt global strike.

4. Thus the Senators on both sides of the debate are working for the nuclear weapons complex, Pentagon, and their powerful corporate contractors. The Democrats have already offered up major funding increases, even before Republican opposition. Conservatives have only pulled the issue further to the right, and arms control foundations and NGOs have fed the whole process by making New START out to be vastly more important and meaningful than it objectively is.

Still don’t see the bi-partisan consensus to fund the nuclear weapons complex and Pentagon’s missile defense and prompt global strike programs and contractors? Here’s some campaign finance data for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members’ 2010 election cycle bank accounts. Both Democrats and Republicans are well endowed, demonstrating why the interests of the nuclear weapons complex and other weapons programs are absolutely not threatened by New START.

[The first number ranks the contributing corporation among the Senator's top donors for 2010. Figures from Raytheon, Textron, Lockheed, Boeing, United Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Carlyle, BAE, and EADS all contract with the Missile Defense Agency and related Pentagon program offices. Lockheed serves at the lead contractor for prompt global strike. Bechtel, Honeywell, CH2M Hill, McDermott (through its BWXT subsidiary), URS, Flour, and Lockheed Martin contract with the NNSA to operate the US nuclear weapons complex. AECOM is subcontractor for the US nuclear weapons program.]


John Kerry
20 Raytheon Co $15,250
84 Honeywell International $8,500
84 Textron Inc $8,500

Christopher J. Dodd
3 United Technologies $115,250
16 General Dynamics $29,300

Barbara Boxer
18 CH2M HILL $23,500
84 Lockheed Martin $10,300
89 Honeywell International $10,000

Robert Menendez
21 CH2M Hill $36,075
95 AECOM Technology Corp $17,200

Benjamin L. Cardin
41 Northrop Grumman $15,700
83 Lockheed Martin $11,000

Robert P. Casey Jr
5 SAIC Inc $20,000
8 Northrop Grumman $18,150
21 US Dept of Defense $10,800
24 McDermott International $10,000
48 Raytheon Co $8,250

Jeanne Shaheen
17 Honeywell International $16,000

Kirsten E. Gillibrand
59 BAE Systems $16,300
79 Carlyle Group $12,500
85 Raytheon Co $11,750


Richard Lugar
24 Lockheed Martin $10,000
33 Raytheon Co $9,750
36 Bechtel Group $8,850
39 Honeywell International $8,500

Bob Corker
57 Honeywell International $15,000
85 US Government [partly Y-12] $12,650

Johnny Isakson
50 Boeing Co $10,000
50 Lockheed Martin $10,000

James E. Risch
5 URS Corp $12,700
12 Honeywell International $10,000
50 Bechtel Group $7,000
69 Boeing Co $5,000

Jim DeMint
13 URS Corp/Washington $16,499
18 Fluor Corp $14,250
25 Lockheed Martin $12,600
44 Boeing Co $10,201
91 Honeywell International $9,000

John Barrasso
15 Northrop Grumman $13,500
34 Honeywell International $10,000
96 URS Corp $6,000

Roger F. Wicker
14 Northrop Grumman $17,500
21 European Aeronautic Defence & Space $14,500
41 General Dynamics $11,000
47 Raytheon Co $10,000

James M. Inhofe
21 BAE Systems $12,700
27 Lockheed Martin $12,000
29 Boeing Co $11,750
48 Honeywell International $10,000
48 Northrop Grumman $10,000
48 Raytheon Co $10,000
48 United Technologies $10,000

Darwin BondGraham is a member of the Los Alamos Study Group. He’s also an ethnographer and historian with a degree in sociology. His current work focuses on economic and social development.

Give Me Liberty or Give Me — the Extinction of the Human Race?

At his website, New Paradigms Forum, Christopher Ford recently hosted an email colloquy on the subject of nuclear deterrence between staunch disarmament advocate Steven Leeper, chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, and himself. The position of Ford, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and chief negotiator of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons for the Bush administration, can perhaps best be described as counseling extreme caution in disarming while other states still seek to develop nuclear weapons programs.

Leeper, who writes, “I have very little contact with people who think the way you do, so I am genuinely interested in what you have to say,” sprays questions at Ford like a machine gun. But one evokes an elemental issue that seldom sees the light of day in dialogues about nuclear weapons. Breaking down his question into two parts, Leeper asks:

. . . which would be worse, for the whole world to be dominated by Russians, Chinese, communists, Muslims, Arabs and/or eco terrorists [not sure how that got in there -- RW] or for all human beings on Earth to die as a result of nuclear winter, radiation and/or environmental catastrophe? In this connection, have you ever believed it would be better to be dead than red?

Ford’s response:

I’m not sure what to make of this question. You want me to posit a choice between being ruled by “Russians, Chinese, communists, Muslims, Arabs and/or eco terrorists”? And to weigh this choice somehow against species extinction? I don’t know on what basis such a question would be intelligible, much less answerable. (Do you think these are choices that actually face us?) It sounds like you’re fishing for a way to draw me out on “better dead than red” or “better red than dead” preferences, but those are bumper stickers, not policy choices or real options that face anyone.

Leeper doesn’t help himself by harkening back to a scenario now obsolete. The likelihood of Russia threatening to attack the United States with nuclear weapons if it refuses to surrender to, say, Russia’s attempt to conquer it, is nonexistent (and probably always was, even during the Cold War). In fact, that’s what Ford is alluding to when he says, “Do you think these are choices that actually face us?”

The scenario’s current unreality basically undermines the legitimacy of the question to Ford. Besides, realists operate under a set of assumptions that don’t allow for the question that Leeper is struggling to ask. Which is, as I see it: if threatened with nuclear attack, should a state, especially one that characterizes itself as founded on a respect for human rights, threaten to retaliate, thus ensuring massive loss of life on its own as well as the aggressor’s side? Or, should it refuse to retaliate and, instead, yield to the aggressor’s demands, such as surrendering the reins of government? (For simplicity’s sake, the subjects of a limited nuclear exchange and a large country held nuclear hostage by a smaller state aren’t addressed in this post.)

However archaic the scenario, the image it evokes of untold numbers of deaths in mass warfare is always timely. But the question is a non-starter to national-security types, who find it naïve to the point of touch-feely. In fact, to them it’s a complete abnegation of national security since surrender means there is no longer a nation for which to provide security. It’s also counterintuitive for any state, especially one that traces its origins back to concepts like “live free or die” or “give me liberty or death.”

But when the cost of liberty is tens of millions of the enemy, as well as your own citizens, dead, it makes a mockery of the heroism implicit in those slogans. Before we consider an alternate strategy to nuclear retaliation, let’s ask ourselves what kind of ethical and/or religious individual would take pride in being the citizen of a state that is not only partly responsible for but makes him or her complicit in the loss of so much life? Here’s how some people of faith view this issue.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson leads an evangelical disarmament movement, the Two Futures Project, that’s gaining surprising momentum. In an op-ed for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section, he writes:

There’s nothing wrong with a strong military. . . . But if we take seriously the whole witness of Scripture, we must also recognize that the unfettered pursuit of strength — fearing mortal enemies more than God’s judgment – in fact leads to an ungodly arrogance and idolatry. . . . we cannot simply take a secular utilitarian, value-less approach to security policy.

In other words, the sanctity of the state comes in a distant second to that of the Kingdom of Heaven. Meanwhile, in a testimonial on the Two Futures Project website, Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus, Eastern University, wrote. . .

Fear of what other nations could do to us with their weapons is no justification for developing nuclear weapons ourselves. As Christians, perfect love should cast out that fear and allow us to take the risks that go with disarmament.

In the statement above and the one that follows, the words “humane individual” could be substituted for Christian. A commenter to the Washington Post piece, one Arancia12, sums it up best.

I do not believe in survival at any cost. . . . Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. Not living as a Christian is the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.

In other words, were communism still around, yes, maybe red than dead — for the time being anyway. A Christian or a humane individual could contrive to lead a more ethical life under such conditions, no matter how trying, than in a state with an ocean of blood on its hands.

Meanwhile, a military alternative exists to nuclear retaliation. Bear in mind that, along with a nation’s nuclear weapons sites and infrastructure (not to mention its civilian population), conventional weapons depots will be destroyed in a nuclear attack. Whereas, were we to surrender, they would instead be appropriated by the aggressor state. Why not devise a contingency strategy in advance with munitions cached around the countryside? Odds are, the U.S. government already maintains such a program. It need only be activated in the event of an attack or occupation.

As commenter Arancia12 wrote, there are worse things than death, such as — and it bears repeating — living in a country complicit in the greatest mass murder in the history of mankind. We may lose our immediate liberty by surrendering. But fighting for it is arguably at least as liberating as living under a liberty which today we take for granted and allow to erode anyway. But that’s a post for another day.

Ahmadinejad’s Apocalypse-Soon Proclamations: For Real or a Joke?

President Mahmoud AhmadinejadProgressive commentators tend to think that conservatives are naïve to believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad longs for the Apocalypse. First, we wonder what their sources are. Second, we think that the right fails to acknowledge how savvy a political player Tehran has traditionally been, even during the fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution. (For more, see Trita Parsi’s Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States, Yale University Press, 2007.)

If true, though, what does Ahmadinejad gain by making public his Apocalyptic leanings? Holocaust denial may play to his constituents and distract from the bad economy while the nuclear-energy program enhances national pride. Let’s try to find out where the right draws evidence that Ahmadinejad is apocalyptic.

I was recently assigned to review a book by Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister and as a foreign policy advisor to him. The Rise of Nuclear Iran made the New York Times bestseller list as did two of his previous books, Fight for Jerusalem and Hatred’s Kingdom (no, not Iran in that instance, but Saudi Arabia).

Of course, one immediately questions their trustworthiness since they were brought out by Regnery Publishing (think Unfit for Command – you know, the Swiftboaters). But it must be acknowledged that most of the sources Gold cites in his footnotes are credible. Furthermore, he supplies some answers to the question of why many conservatives are convinced that Ahmadinejad is an end-timer. Excerpts follow.

Besides the escalation of Ahmadinejad’s anti-western incendiary rhetoric, the second feature of his presidency that has received enormous attention has been his repeated references to the imminent return of the Twelfth or Hidden Imam. In Twelver Shiite tradition, Muhammad ibn Hasan was the twelfth descendent of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib. He was born in 868, but at the age of six, he vanished and was expected to reveal himself as the Mahdi (literally, the “Rightly Guided One”) at the end of days before the Day of Judgment, when a new era of divine justice will prevail, and Shiite Islam will be recognized as the true global faith. . . .

Ahmadinejad made the re-appearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi into a hallmark of his presidency. He declared in an address to the Iranian nation shortly after his 2005 election victory: “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi.” . . . In September, he sponsored in Tehran the first annual International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine. He required his cabinet members to sign a symbolic pledge of allegiance to the Twelfth Imam. . . .

Despite his government’s economic struggles with unemployment at 30 percent, Ahmadinejad allocated $20 million in 2005 to expand the [Mahdist] mosque complex at Jamkaran, and further funds for commemorating the Mahdi’s birthday. . . .

It was reported in November 2006 that Ahmadinejad told a visiting foreign minister from an unnamed Islamic country that the current crisis in Iran “presaged the coming of the Hidden Imam, who would appear within two years.” . . . On another occasion he said that it was his mission to hand over Iran to the Madhi at the end of his presidency. . . . in a meeting with [EU foreign ministers in 2005] Ahmadinejad shifted the focus on their conversation unexpectedly and asked the European diplomats; “Do you know why we should wish for chaos at any price?” he then answered his own rhetorical question: “Because after chaos, we can see the greatness of Allah.” . . . .

During his student days in the late 1970s, he was linked with a secretive Islamist movement known as the Hojatieh society. Founded in 1954, [part of its mission was to] pave the way for the appearance of the Madhdi. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s Mahdism had been advanced and supported by those who served as his religious mentors, particularly Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi [whose lectures] repeatedly stressed the theme of hastening the coming of the Mahdi.

You can see that, even though only some of it is substantive, there are enough bones for hawks to chew on and gain enough sustenance to continue to hype Iran as an “existential” threat to Israel.

Robert Wright and the Koran: Grappling with the Wrong Religion

I appreciate Mr. Wright’s attempt in the New York Times yesterday to highlight the balance that characterizes the Koran. For example, he writes: “though the Koran does call the Jews God’s chosen people, and sings the praises of Moses, and says that Jews and Muslims worship the same God, it also has anti-Jewish, and for that matter anti-Christian, passages.”

But I cannot help regretting that such well-intentioned efforts always suffer from a crippling flaw. When liberals counter neoconservative attacks on Islam, they often couch their remarks within the context of Christianity and Judaism—but they rarely acknowledge the one overriding religion in America: nationalism.

The right’s focus on Islam is not about Islam; it is about America. It is about blurring out the role that American-Israeli violence plays in spawning Islamist violence by blaming Islam itself for the latter. So it is not necessarily fruitful to respond to this Islam-gazing with more Islam-gazing.

Parsing the Koran will not produce answers about the roots of terror any more than staring at a cup will enlighten onlookers about the source of water. Any human being—even those at the Pentagon—can explain that occupation, invasion, sanctions, and military assaults produce anger and blowback among any people.

When the discussion is about the evils of “Islam” (conservatives) or “radical Islam” (liberals), it is an implicitly nationalist, denial-based game that vanishes the massive violence our own country exports to all corners of the globe.

Let us look at the obverse side of the dynamic.

When three planes hurtled into national icons, did anger and hatred rise in American hearts only after consultation of Biblical verses? Was that required? Or was the anger instinctive and reflexive, with some turning to religious animosity after the sudden surge of emotion?

This same festering hatred enabled Americans to dupe themselves into believing Iraq was connected to 9/11. Liberals then were puzzled by the widespread aversion to the facts—but the facts didn’t matter. It was all about getting back at Them.

Why pretend the process is different with Muslims abroad?

As Shakespeare wrote, placing his words in the mouth of Shylock, “And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

Revenge is a human impulse, not a religious one. And this impulse does not “alter when it alteration finds”—it is constant no matter which tribe of humans has been wronged. The denial of this basic truth lies at the heart of nationalism.

Wright suggests that people of good will in all three faiths choose to “ignore or downplay” the “darker side” of their scriptures.

Within the uniformly dangerous religion of nationalism, all adherents must “ignore or downplay” the atrocities committed by their side and in their name. And it is that commandment—not what the Koran says or does not say—that strains our relations with the Muslim world.

M. Junaid Levesque-Alam also posts at his website, Crossing the Crescent.

Japan’s Three Elections

Japan Prime MinisterWashington may well be rejoicing at the result of today’s election inside the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Prime Minister Naoto Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa by a large margin in a battle for the party’s top spot. Ozawa, with his calls for a more equal partnership with the United States and a renegotiation of the Okinawa military base deal, did not create a lot of warm, fuzzy feeling in Washington. If Ozawa had won, he might well have reopened negotiations on the 2006 agreement that would close the Futenma Marine Corps base, build a second facility in Okinawa, and relocate many of the Marines to Guam. Disagreement over this 2006 deal caused a deep rift in U.S.-Japan relations that continues even today.

Kan, on the other hand, has dutifully fallen into line. On taking over from Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned shortly after backing away from his call to renegotiate the 2006 relocation agreement, promptly called President Obama to make the proper reassurances. “He made the call even before formally assuming office,” writes Gavan McCormack at Japan Focus, “and in his introductory policy speech to the Diet he pledged, as had Hatoyama before him, the ‘steady deepening of the alliance relationship.’”

But Washington shouldn’t pop the champagne corks quite yet. There are two other elections to consider.

Nago is the city in Okinawa nearest to where the United States and Japan plan to build another base to replace part of the aging Futenma Marine Corps facility. Until recently, the city council in Nago was deadlocked, with twelve members supporting the relocation plan and twelve members against (and three neutrals). But after Sunday’s election, the anti-base forces have a 16-11 lead. This result strengthens the position of the mayor of Nago, Susumu Inamine, who ran on an anti-base platform last January.

Next up is the Okinawan governor’s race in November, which pits a lukewarm opponent of the base relocation plan against a steadfast opponent. “Okinawa’s governor can hinder the progress of the relocation plan by refusing to allow dumping tons of landfill into Oura Bay, known as the northernmost feeding ground of the endangered dugong, a saltwater manatee,” write David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida in Stars and Stripes. “If the governor refuses to approve the landfill project, the national government would have to pass special legislation to bypass his veto.”

Both Naoto Kan and the Pentagon have said on various occasions that they won’t go ahead with the relocation plan without local approval. Okinawans oppose the plan by a huge majority. After these elections, it will be increasingly difficult to find any political institution on the island to provide a veneer of local support.

Meanwhile, Congress is coming back in session and the Obama administration will soon have to answer domestic critics of the relocation plan. Barney Frank has taken the lead in questioning the utility of the Marine Corp’s presence on Okinawa. And, in a climate of belt-tightening, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut three-quarters of the administration’s $452 million request for Guam relocation funds.

Some combination of Okinawan resistance and congressional skepticism may well derail the 2006 relocation agreement that so troubled U.S.-Japanese relations this year and cost one prime minister his job.

How to Convince a State That Thinks It Wants Nuclear Weapons That It Really Doesn’t

Written with the assistance of another individual, who, I can safely say, would not care to be identified with my work.

The success that nuclear weapons supporters have experienced in convincing centrists and other self-described realists that disarmament should be uncoupled from nonproliferation makes advocating nonproliferation a loaded proposition. In other words, one of the two greatest nuclear powers, the United States, seems to feel less of a need than ever to set an example for states that have yet to acquire nuclear know-how and technology by disarming. (Except for the token extent to which the United States is ostensibly disarming while seeking to funnel exorbitant amounts of funds to its nuclear weapons industry.)

In fact, nuclear-weapons advocates and those they’ve won over to their point of view not only insist that other states refrain from acquiring nukes while we keep ours and disarm ever so slowly, they’re using nonproliferation as a pretext to call for an attack on a state that seems to be developing the means to make a nuclear weapon, if not the actual weapon (Iran, of course).

Accepting, for the moment, the reality, or lack thereof, of disarmament, a plethora of options nevertheless exist for diverting states from acquiring nuclear weapons. But first, let’s examine the reasons why states feel the need to acquire the technology and know-how to build a nuclear weapons program in the first place. Those often cited include:

Security threats. States, of course, assume that nuclear weapons will deter them.

Prestige, as well as swagger. Primarily, this line of thinking goes, if a state cannot defend itself from foreign rivals, it is not legitimate. Furthermore, military organizations and advanced weapons systems serve a function similar to that of flags, airlines, and Olympic teams: They’re what modern states believe they need to win the respect of their peer states. Of course, they’re also a source of national pride and serve to exalt a ruler, as well as the state’s military, elite classes, and scientists in the eyes of the public.

Domestic politics. The development of a nuclear weapons program is used to advance political ends such as winning elections. Author Scott Sagan, in an article titled “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?” for the winter 1997 issue of International Security (not available online) provided an example: Support for the Ghandi government in India “had fallen to an all-time low in late 1973 and early 1974 due to [among other things] a prolonged and severe domestic recession. . . . it would be highly surprising for a politician with such problems to resist what she knew was a major opportunity to increase her standing in public opinion polls and to defuse an issue [a reluctance to test a nuclear weapon] about which she had been criticized by her domestic opponents.” The decision to proceed with the test was made by Gandhi at “the advice of a very small circle of personal advisers and scientists from the nuclear establishment. Senior defense and foreign affairs officials in India were not involved.”

Now let’s move on to how a state that aspires to be the proud possessor a nuclear-weapons program can be disabused of the notion that it needs one. Using the same bullet-point headings as above, measures that may be taken include:

Security threats. According to conventional thinking, a state is less likely to seek nuclear weapons if it’s in an alliance with a nuclear power, especially one with a declared first-use policy. Other ways to keep it from proliferating include instituting confidence-building measures, such as transparency and verification, as well as “negative security assurances” (that nuclear states will not use their weapons against non-nuclear states).

What tends to be forgotten is that states often develop nuclear weapons only in part to deter other nuclear states. More often, they seek to deter a neighbor with a more powerful military and a larger arsenal of conventional weapons from launching a non-nuclear attack (even if the more powerful state possesses nuclear weapons, too). The obvious examples are Pakistan and India. In fact, disarmament can backfire if states that divest themselves of nuclear weapons build up their conventional arsenals by way of compensation.

Moving to the next concentric circle beyond conventional thinking, a fundamental shift in how states identify and prioritize threats needs to be implemented. In other words states need to understand that custodianship of nuclear weapons and materials makes them less secure by turning them into targets for terrorists looking to sabotage or steal these capabilities. Furthermore, they need to stop viewing non-state actors as useful instruments of policy for engaging in low-grade conflict with other states (like Pakistan with the Taliban) and as threats to not only the state’s nuclear-weapons program but to the existence of the state itself. In fact, were it up to Islamic terrorists, with their dreams of a modern-day caliphate, the state system period would be dismantled.

Prestige, as well as swagger. Sagan writes that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons appears to have had some success shifting “the norm concerning what acts grant prestige and legitimacy from the. . . notion of joining the ‘nuclear club’ to the. . . concept of joining ‘the club of the nations adhering to the NPT.’” For example, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, Ukraine decided to eliminate its nuclear weapons program. Sagan explains: “Without the NPT, a policy of keeping a nuclear arsenal would have placed Ukraine in the category of France and China.” Post enactment of the NPT, Ukraine would have been consigned to “the company of dissenters like India and Pakistan and pariahs like Iraq and North Korea.”

Besides the NPT, what are other paths to prestige are open to a state? For one, writes Sagan, “a policy that made permanent UN Security Council membership for Japan, Germany, and India conditional upon the maintenance of non-nuclear status under the NPT.”

As for actual swagger, moving yet another concentric circle beyond conventional thinking, other types of societal achievements are capable of instilling states with confidence in their technical capabilities and international prestige. In Renaissance Europe, Leonardo da Vinci’s revolutionary inventions were sometimes military in nature, but essentially they were trophies for royal courts. Italian city states competed by showing off the technical prowess and resources of their engineers.

What technologies today would impress other states as Da Vinci’s technologies did visitors to the royal court? Possibilities include high-powered computers, renewable energy sources, scientific research facilities such as the Hadron Collider, and satellite technology. In the future, nanotech and biotech are also capable of replacing nuclear-weapons programs in sheer prestige. Perhaps a nuclear terrorist attack itself could even act as the spur for a new technical race for prestige. For example, a nano-machine could be created or an organism bioengineered organism to “eat” the radioactive fallout from a nuclear detonation.

Domestic politics. It’s difficult to meet a ruler or ruling party’s perceived need for nuclear weapons when it’s motivated by internal politics since writes Sagan, “the key factors that influence decisions are domestic in origin and therefore largely outside the control of U.S. policy.” For example, he explains that South Africa surrendered its nuclear-weapons program, not, as often thought, because the threat of Soviet expansionism had disappeared. It seems that, because apartheid was ending, President F.W. de Klerk feared nuclear weapons would wind up in the hands of the ANC — or white extremists.

Still, he writes, “International financial institutions are [as of the nineties] demanding that cuts in military expenditures be included in conditionality packages for aid recipients. [Also] deducting the estimated budget of any suspect research and development program from IMF or U.S. loans to a country. . . could heighten domestic opposition to such programs.” Furthermore: “To the degree that professional military organizations area supporting nuclear proliferation, encouraging their involvement in other military activities could decrease such support. [For] laboratory officials and scientists, assistance in non-nuclear research and development programs. . . could decrease personal and organizational incentives for weapons research.”

These methods of meeting the needs of states that aspire to nuclear-weapons programs, however outside the box, still fall under the heading of policy prescriptions. But, ultimately, it’s difficult to deny that, even if swept up in the passions of nationalism, states experience deep, emotional needs that they believe will be met by the development of a nuclear-weapons program. Just as policy needs can be met in other ways, perhaps a state’s unconscious needs for nuclear weapons can be as well (a subject for a future post).

Americans Don’t Really Believe There Is Such a Thing as a Moderate Muslim

The Koran-burning minister and the Ground Zero “mosque” have lanced the boil of American Islamophobia which had been building since 9/11 and now the pus is oozing out. While I haven’t been able to locate a poll to authenticate it, my internal zeitgeist gauge (however idiosyncratically calibrated) informs me that many Americans labor under the impression that most Muslims seek the destruction of the United States.

First it behooves us to acknowledge that since 9/11 a number of Muslim charities operating in America have been exposed as fronts for Islamists. Also, at the risk of being politically incorrect, I maintain that progressives delude themselves if they think that cheers weren’t raised in some American mosques after 9/11, if not from the pulpit at least in back rooms. As for Muslims “hating” America, neither was that entirely nonexistent. This 2006 comment from a forum sheds light on those feelings (“sics” where appropriate.)

A few weeks ago an American I met at a friends house asked a much repeated query, “Why do you the Muslims hate the Americans?” To which I answered in the same way as all the preceding instances in which this question was posed to me: “We don’t hate the Americans, we might disagree with a certain US policy and dislike recent American actions in the Muslim world but we surely don’t hate the American people.”

The American who interrogated me was clearly not convinced with my answer and secretly I wasn’t either. The truth is that at present the Muslims hate America and now, they hate not only its policymakers but most of the American people since they have proven recently without a shadow of doubt that they agree with their elite by voting back into office, by a comfortable majority, the Bush administration in spite of it’s obvious record of lies and abuse of power.

Again, just a hunch, but Americans seem to think that Muslims support terrorism, when in fact such feelings are rare unless terrorism is defined as resistance to Americans in Iraq. The reason Americans labor under this impression is not only 9/11, but, perhaps, because they think that Muslims didn’t speak out with enough frequency and force after 9/11. But, begins an article on by one Huda . . .

In the aftermath of the violence and horror of 9/11, criticisms were made that Muslim leaders and organizations were not outspoken enough in denouncing acts of terrorism. Muslims are constantly perplexed by this accusation, as we heard (and continue to hear) nothing but unequivocal and unified condemnations by the leaders of our community, both in the United States and worldwide.

Huda then cites statements compiled by over 50 professors of Islamic and Middle-Eatern studies from the U.S. and Canada assembled under the title, Scholars of Islam and the Tragedy of September 11th. Also, a University of North Carolina professor compiled an extensive list of his own: Islamic Statements Against Terrorism in the Wake of the September 11 Mass Murders. Meanwhile The Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Judicial Council said:

Islam rejects such acts, since it forbids killing of civilians even during times of war, especially if they are not part of the fighting. A religion that views people of the world in such a way cannot in any sense condone such criminal acts, which require that their perpetrators and those who support them are held accountable.

But most Americans either don’t remember or weren’t exposed to these condemnations. Jason Linkins at Huffington Post outlines what we’re more used to hearing (emphasis added):

Yesterday afternoon, the leader of a microscopic cult of idiots who announced plans to stage an “international” day of Quran burning in Gainesville, Florida held a press conference, for a rapt media which decided that his moronic plans were the single most important thing going on in America. At that press conference . . . this cult leader lied to everyone who was watching, telling them that he was going to call off his 9/11 book burning festival because he had successfully reached a deal with the people behind the Park51 community center in Lower Manhattan, in which they would move their facility away from the site of the World Trade Center.

In other words, while those media outlets to which most Americans are exposed may have reported the above statements, they didn’t feature them prominently. They’re not, as it were, sexy enough. In a recent post at Save the News, Libby Reinish explains the rules that the media play by.

Take a look at the “if it bleeds, it leads” approach expressed with chilling precision in the submission guidelines of the self-described “backbone of the world’s information system” — the Associated Press. . . . For example, here are AP Minnesota’s guidelines for journalists looking to pitch stories:

  • Train wrecks, airplane crashes, drownings, fatal auto accidents (if there are multiple victims or unusual circumstances) and unusual accidental deaths;
  • Meetings where action of regional or statewide interest is taken or where a prominent person speaks [a rare respite from the blood -- RW];
  • Riots, demonstrations, strikes;
  • Major fires (involves loss of life, public disruption or destruction of a structure/site known statewide), explosions, oil or other chemical spills. Unusual bank robberies (exceptionally violent, hostages taken, serial robber, etc.);
  • Weather news, including ice and hail storms, heavy snows, damaging rains and floods, record heat and cold, tornadoes. . . .

AP Ohio offers this twist:

Single-victim murders that involve unusual circumstances, a prominent person or happen outside the metropolitan areas, where murders are common. . . . No: Routine one-victim murders in big cities.

    In other words, until American Muslims hold a rally and burn an effigy of Osama bin Laden — or, better yet, burn the Koran themselves — Muslim denunciations of terrorism will never receive widespread exposure. And most Americans will persist in believing that most Muslims seek the destruction of the United Sates.

    When Nuclear Terrorism Isn’t Terrorism

    Wait, is this one of those articles that tries to justify terrorism as a legitimate tactic for a people fighting an occupying power? No, but we are questioning why atrocities committed by a state don’t qualify as terrorism. After all, as Jim Holt wrote at Slate in 2002 of terrorism . . .

    The broadest definition is the deliberate killing of noncombatants. That, for example, is how Caleb Carr characterizes terrorism in his recent book The Lessons of Terror. For this he was taken to task in the New York Times Book Review by Michael Ignatieff, who insisted that if the slaughter is carried out by “a state army under regular command, as part of a formally declared campaign to defeat another state,” then it ought not to be called terrorism.

    In other words, wrote Holt, “The decision to reserve ‘terrorism’ for nonstate acts of terror, or to extend it to state acts, is a semantic one.”

    In part, because the word “terrorism” just won’t stick to states, and no other term packs its punch, states (including the United States, of course) invariably avoid prosecution for killing noncombatants. Meanwhile, new attention has been focused on that subdivision of terrorism that plumbs the very depths of our terror — nuclear terrorism. The recent high-profile disarmament documentary Countdown to Zero has been criticized for hyping the threat from Muslim terrorists as a means to justify using force if necessary to keep Middle-Eastern states from proliferating. But at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hugh Gusterson points out one of the film’s savings graces:

    But, if the film does play up the danger of a terrorist attack on an American city, is that so unreasonable in a situation where Al Qaeda is known to be seeking a nuclear weapon? . . . Indeed the reason that people like Henry Kissinger and Graham Allison have switched sides in the debate on nuclear abolition is that they fear a world where nuclear deterrence stops working because the people thinking of attacking American cities have no territory against which retaliation might be threatened. Surely the film is naming an all-too-plausible danger of our age that we need to confront.

    In other words, if Osama bin Laden had never attempted to procure nuclear material in the 90s, Kissinger might never have tested the waters in the disarmament end of the pool. See, we knew OBL was good for something.

    Meanwhile, nuclear terrorism is defined as a non-state actor such as a terrorist group obtaining nuclear weapons and brandishing them. But the degree of difficulty for such a group to deploy nuclear weapons may only be exceeded by attempting to do the same with a delivery system, such as a missile. Thus it’s usually assumed that the non-state actor would instead attempt to smuggle nuclear devices and uranium into the target country.

    Yet as Dr. Stanley Erickson, whose job title today is Principal Scientist supporting the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO), wrote for the Nonproliferation Review back in 2001, a state on a budget might attempt to acquire an entry-level delivery system such as the cruise missile. Nor is it outside the realm of possibility that a terrorist group might attempt to do the same. Still, smuggling remains more likely.

    Stashing a cache of demolition munitions can also be called “prepositioning,” a term to which I was first exposed while reading 7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (Bantam Books, 2009) by Andrew Krepinevich, the executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The second of Krepinevich’s alarming, but plausible scenarios is titled “War Comes to America.” In 2011, a Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapon is detonated in San Antonio, home to several major Air Force bases and an intelligence center. Krepinevich writes (emphasis added):

    Strategic Command’s nuclear forces are placed on high alert . . . military specialists pore over incoming satellite imagery to determine if they somehow missed a missile launch indication . . . and to detect any additional missile launches that would indicate a follow-on strike. . . . That evening President David Reynolds . . . informs the American public that [they've found] no indication that the weapon was delivered by any kind of missile or aircraft. Simply stated, the bomb was prepositioned in the city covertly and then detonated, perhaps remotely.

    Turns out, though, that use of this term to describe munitions cached in advance — but only by a state — was already coined by Dr. Erickson, who wrote another article in 2001 titled Nuclear Weapon Prepositioning as a Threat Strategy, which appeared on the website of a company that provides analysis for the Department of Homeland Security. His definition: “Prepositioning is not the same as nuclear terrorism or state-sponsored nuclear terrorism, but is a military operation conducted by military personnel, using the new nuclear nation’s full range of military assets, including intelligence, communications, and special operations forces.”

    In fact, if successful, said state might even cache them in a safe house or underground. However far-fetched that sounds, a precedent may exist. Stanislav Lunev is the highest-ranking member of the GRU (Russian foreign intelligence agency) ever to defect to the United States. He speculates that GRU agents crossed the U.S.-Mexican border with SADMs (special atomic demolition munitions, aka, suitcase nukes) and buried them just in case war broke out between the United States and Russia. That his musings can be found in the pages of an autobiography published by Regnery Publishing (publisher of books like the Swiftboaters Unfit for Command) makes it automatically suspect, however.

    Meanwhile, the explanation that Dr. Erickson provides for what might possess a state to preposition is one you’re unlikely to have encountered.

    If a midsized nation were contemplating an activity such as taking over a smaller neighbor, suppressing discontent among some groups, or pushing out its boundary line, it would be concerned about international opposition. It might assume that the United States would be the principal opponent or be a leader in blocking it. It might therefore seek ways to prevent any serious U.S. response, especially military, to its activities. If the nation is a new nuclear nation, having accomplished nuclear proliferation either covertly or overtly, it might seek ways to use its new capability to promote this end and to deter the United States from taking any action against it. One possible method would be to preposition nuclear weapons at targets inside the United States and then inform the U.S. government that the threat exists and demand that the United States cease calling for or planning any military actions in the region of the new nuclear nation.

    In fact state prepositioning is a potentially more significant threat than a non-state actor’s terrorism. Dr. Erickson again.

    Terrorism is a difficult problem to deal with, but one advantage that counterterrorist forces have is the terrorist groups’ lack of resources, including technical expertise, planning ability, communications capability, transport options, and highly trained manpower. This advantage disappears in the prepositioning threat. Discussions of the terrorist threat revolve around a situation involving a single weapon, whereas in prepositioning, the threat is multiple weapons.

    Though, in 7 Deadly Scenarios Krepinevich postulates a terrorist group armed with seven weapons distributed throughout the United States. Either way, measures can be taken and some of them, writes Dr. Erickson, begin with you and me.

    Once a weapon is inside the United States, detection may depend on chance encounters rather than comprehensive search. An aware public can play a useful role in such a situation. Once clues are obtained regarding neighborhoods in which such weapons are located. . . . disabling an armed nuclear weapon that has been booby-trapped is a matter of extreme skill and care.

    One can only imagine. We’re obviously in Hail Mary territory here. Meanwhile, what what would have been a first line of defense keeping the weapons from penetrating so deeply into the country? That’s where the likes of Dr. Erickson come in. His work in support of the DNDO (in case you didn’t get it the first time, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office) includes cargo radiography and ASP (advanced spectroscopic portal) which, besides cargo containers, screens car, trucks, and railroads for nuclear materials.

    For all the outstanding work on the part of the DNDO, gaps remain through which terrorists bearing nukes could slip, such as along the southern and northern borders of the United States. Also nuclear material could presumably be offloaded from an ocean-going vessel to a smaller boat which could dock in a lonely cove.

    Even more important to national security is keeping nuclear weapons other than our own in the arsenals of the states that possess them, where they belong (if, indeed, they can be said to belong anywhere). This requires scrupulous compliance and verification to monitor the whereabouts of nuclear materials and weapons at all times, as well as continuing to secure loose nukes in the states of the former Soviet Union. In his book On Nuclear Terrorism, Michael Levi demonstrated how many different elements need to fall into place for an attack by nuclear terrorists, or states adopting their tactics, to succeed. But persistence on the part of a terrorist group or state determined to probe our defenses could eventually pay off for them (if you call the retaliation they’d likely bring down on them and their people paying off).

    In the end, of course, the chance that a state might attempt to smuggle nuclear weapons into the United States as if it were a terrorist group only compounds the urgency of disarmament.

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