Focal Points Blog

Nuclear Weapons Program Probably Not Among the Many Crimes of Assad

We should all be grateful that Syrian President Assad apparently never began a nuclear weapons program. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

We should all be grateful that Syrian President Assad apparently never began a nuclear weapons program. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons )

At LobeLog, former British ambassador to the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency Peter Jenkins casts doubt on the belief that the Syrian structure attacked by Israel in 2007 was a nuclear reactor intended to process plutonium for nuclear weapons.

What I wrote earlier this month about the reasons to doubt the wisdom of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board’s decision to find Syria non-compliant with its IAEA safeguards agreement led to contact with a retired senior inspector [who] is very familiar with the North Korean [model] which the Syrian reactor at Dair Alzour is said to have resembled.

Access to this specialized knowledge has driven me to the conclusion that there is a high degree of uncertainty as to whether the structure destroyed by an Israeli raid in September 2007 housed a nuclear reactor.

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“Pivot” to China Has U.S. Military Branches at Each Other’s Throats

A U.S. aircraft carrier, poised to parry China’s “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. (Photo: Dept. of Defense)

A U.S. aircraft carrier, poised to parry China’s “anti-access/area denial” capabilities. (Photo: Dept. of Defense)

Recently, at Foreign Policy in Focus, John Feffer reported:

“I’d say the war with China will probably take place in the next 10 years,” opined Professor Joseph Siracussa of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet James Lyons, along with security analyst Richard Fisher, had a pointed recommendation for the Obama administration: “Either it leads the way to a new ‘armed peace’ in this region, or China will soon commence a war for domination.”

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The State of Extremism in Romania

According to journalist Petru Clej (pictured), anti-Roma sentiment remains pervasive in Romania, and anti-Semitism is rising. (Photo: John Feffer)

According to journalist Petru Clej (pictured), anti-Roma sentiment remains pervasive in Romania, and anti-Semitism is rising. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Romania Mare (Greater Romania) was founded in 1990 first as a magazine and then as a political party by two former court poets of the Ceausescu era: Corneliu Vadim Tudor and Eugen Barbu. As its name suggests, the ultra-nationalist party has been dedicated to expanding the borders of Romania to encompass Moldova and parts of Ukraine. It has also combined anti-Semitism and anti-Roma sentiment with efforts to combat the political influence of ethnic Hungarians.

In the 2000, Romania Mare reached the apex of its popularity. In the parliamentary elections that year, the party came in second with approximately 20 percent of the vote. Even more surprising perhaps was the performance of the party’s leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who captured 28 percent in the presidential election. By 2008, however, Romania Mare was no longer pulling in enough votes for even a single seat in parliament. And Tudor, serving in the European parliament, had drifted to the margins.
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War With Iran Increasingly Unfeasible, Nuke Deal Only Option

an is surrounded with natural defenses from invaders, such as the Dasht-e Kavir desert region pictured. (Photo: Jeanne Menj / Flickr Commons)

an is surrounded with natural defenses from invaders, such as the Dasht-e Kavir desert region pictured. (Photo: Jeanne Menj / Flickr Commons)

As many experts have attested, bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities will only slow Iran’s efforts at processing nuclear fuel. In addition, it would only confirm Iran’s worst suspicions about the West and, very likely, harden any existing resolve some among its leadership might already have to develop nuclear weapons. (For the record, I don’t believe Iran is currently developing nuclear weapons.)

Meanwhile, those hawks who think the United States and other states we dupe into cooperating, could pull off an invasion and occupation of Iran should read Zachary Keck’s recent National Interest. To begin with, he writes, “this option is almost never proposed by any serious observer.” Why?
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What Purpose Do the Islamic State’s “Faces of Death” Videos Serve?

The Islamic State’s violent videos may be part of a coordinated attempt to prevent another Iraqi “Awakening.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State’s violent videos may be part of a coordinated attempt to prevent another Iraqi “Awakening.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday I wrote a Focal Points post about the increasing deviousness of the Islamic State’s forms of punishment. I quoted Tage Rai at Aeon, who wrote:

Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.

… In spite of widespread beliefs about its existence, sadism is so rare that it is not even an official psychiatric diagnosis. Its closest relative is psychopathy, but psychopathy is not characterised by malevolent joy at the suffering of others.

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Islamic State Turns Moral Relativity on Its Head Once and for All

A government building in Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, which uses punishment as a pretext for its forces to commit sadistic acts. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

A government building in Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State, which uses punishment as a pretext for its forces to commit sadistic acts. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State continues to stretch the envelope of its own demented brand of creativity when torturing and killing prisoners, often designated as spies. After upping the ante on its trademark beheading, as well as stoning, by burning a Jordanian pilot to death, it recently released a video (unseen by me) in which it lowered five men in a cage into the pool of a luxury hotel in Nineveh, Iraq and drowned them, all while lovingly filming the entire act.

Also on the video, Islamic State forces locked men into a car, which they then blew up with a round from a grenade launcher. As if that’s not bad enough, the video also shows them linking five prisoners together with a live cable, which is then detonated, blowing up the prisoners.
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Iran Parliament Seeks Right of Approval on Nuke Deal

The Iran parliament seeks to throw obstacles in the path of President Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West. Pictured: the Iran parliament building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Iran parliament seeks to throw obstacles in the path of President Hassan Rowhani’s nuclear negotiations with the West. Pictured: the Iran parliament building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With the deadline of June 30 fast approaching on Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West, its parliament, reports Agence France Press, has passed a bill that requires President Rowhani “to safeguard the country’s ‘nuclear rights and achievements,’ despite talks with global powers on curbing the Islamic republic’s disputed atomic program.” It also stipulates that the parliament approve a nuclear deal.

Rowhani’s spokesman, Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, said: “This bill contradicts article 176 of the constitution. The issue of negotiations is in the sphere of the Supreme National Security Council… not the government or the parliament.”

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Smolensk and the Deficit of Trust in Polish Society

Tomasz Kazmierczak, who teaches social work and studies community development, is concerned with the deficit of trust in Polish society, which he traces back to feudalism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Tomasz Kazmierczak, who teaches social work and studies community development, is concerned with the deficit of trust in Polish society, which he traces back to feudalism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

On April 10, 2010, Polish President Lech Kaczynski traveled with his entourage to Russia to attend a commemoration of the Katyn massacre. In 1940, the Soviet NKVD murdered 22,000 Polish army officers, police, and intellectuals in the Katyn forest and then pinned the blame on the Nazis. In 1990, the Soviet Union finally admitted its guilt in the matter. Twenty years later, the Poles and the Russians were to have a historic meeting to commemorate the massacre. But on the morning that the Polish delegation was to arrive, the weather was terrible. The plane crashed on its descent to the airport near Smolensk, killing all on board.

Despite evidence of pilot error, any number of conspiracy theories became popular in Poland. There was a bomb on board. The Russians held up the plane because they didn’t want the Poles to participate in the commemoration. The Russians wanted to assassinate Kaczynski. Some conspiracy theorists even speculated that the Russians produced artificial fog to cause the crash. The official Russian and Polish investigations, though differing on some details, both attributed the crash to pilot error. Still, some conspiracy theories remain popular.
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Yes, Hacking Into Our Nuclear Command and Control Could Actually Happen

Silos housing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles are better equipped to handle a nuclear attack on them than hackers. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Silos housing nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles are better equipped to handle a nuclear attack on them than hackers. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

In a piece at the San Francisco Chronicle, Ploughshares Fund head Joe Cirincione asks What happens when our nuclear arsenal is hacked? Wait, what?

In fact, you’re right to be shocked. Cirincione reports that former head of STRATCOM (which includes U.S. nuclear weapons) retired Gen. James Cartwright told the audience at what he describes as the annual Ploughshares Fund gala that “our nuclear missiles could be hacked — launched and detonated without authorization.”

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Al Qaeda Airs Sour Grapes About Islamic State

Al Qaeda (its forces pictured) seems to have been elbowed aside by the Islamic State. (Photo: TPPN.com)

Al Qaeda (its forces pictured) seems to have been elbowed aside by the Islamic State. (Photo: TPPN.com)

In a Guardian article on June 10, the team of Qaida Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman, Mustafa Khalili chronicle how How Isis crippled al-Qaida. They focus on al Qaeda ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and his friend Abu Qatada, another radical cleric, both of whom are ardent critics of the Islamic State. Due to their affiliation with al Qaeda, it’s obviously a little difficult to feel sorry for them.

The list of Isis’s crimes that have offended Maqdisi and Abu Qatada is long. They include creating division within the wider jihadi movement, publicly snubbing Zawahiri and establishing a caliphate to which Isis demands every other jihadi swear fealty or face death. For more than a year both say they have worked behind the scenes, negotiating with Isis – including with Baghdadi himself – to bring the group back into the al-Qaida fold, to no avail. “Isis don’t respect anyone. They are ruining the wider jihadi movement and are against the whole ummah [Muslim nation],” Abu Qatada said.

… Both men are particularly appalled, they said, by the way Isis has used their scholarship to cloak its savagery in ideological legitimacy, to gain recruits and justify its battle with al-Qaida and its affiliates. “Isis took all our religious works,” Maqdisi said. “They took it from us – it’s all our writings, they are all our books, our thoughts.” Now, Abu Qatada said, “they don’t respect anyone”.

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