Let’s Give Diplomacy a Chance in Ukraine

February 8, 2015

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Ukraine, or Ukrainian-Russian social, historical and economic ties. I do recall after the break-up of the Soviet Union there was consternation in Ukraine, a country about the size and population of France in what Ukrainians consider to be the heart of Europe (it’s not “Eastern Europe,” that’s the westernmost part of Russia), that all anyone seemed to care about was the disposition of Soviet nuclear weapons there. Ukraine wisely gave up the nukes, returning them to Russia, but I recall a justifiably angry quote by a Ukrainian that the attitude of most of the world was “Give us your nukes and go to hell.” And of course Ukrainians still deal with the awful legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster nearly 30 years ago.

As the current situation in Ukraine devolves into an increasingly horrible war, we see an urgent diplomatic initiative led by Germany and France contrasted by contradictory “tough talk” by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and some in Congress advocating increased U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine while admitting there is no military solution.

So let’s just skip the field day for the weapons dealers and focus on diplomacy.

Here is a radio interview I did yesterday on the status of diplomacy and pressure for increased U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine on KPFA Pacifica radio. One part they didn’t use was my question about how anyone can justify the loss of life in this increasingly horrible war when the likely outcome is known now — some sort of de facto autonomous region for the Russian population of Eastern Ukraine, with assurances to Russia by the U.S., NATO, European Union and Ukraine that the country will not become the eastern-most outpost of U.S./Western European military/strategic/political economic neo-imperialism — whether it becomes a reality in a week, a month, or a year from now. How is this situation worth anyone dying over? (Host David Rosenberg replied that could be said of most wars, I wish they had aired that part of our exchange!)

And here is a letter to the editor I sent to the New York Times last week, unpublished.

February 3, 2015

To the editor:

Sending U.S. weaponry to Ukraine as the conflict there escalates is a horrible idea (“U.S. considers supplying arms to Ukraine forces, officials say,” February 1) unless the objective is to increase overall death and destruction there. Any moves that inflame the situation in Ukraine should be avoided. Apart from the situation in Ukraine itself, U.S. and NATO triumphalist policies since the end of the Cold War have needlessly and unwisely isolated Russia, at a time when the U.S. and Russia need better relations, not worse, for cooperation on a host of issues including nuclear weapons reductions, bringing peace, stability and security to the broader Middle East region and addressing violent extremism and global climate change.

U.S. arms transfers into regions of conflict are short-sighted and have a spectacularly bad record of blowback and unintended consequences against our country and our allies (in Iraq and Afghanistan, to note only two bitter and current examples). It’s hard to recall many instances where such transfers brought about peace and stability instead of worsening armed conflict. Let’s give renewed diplomacy involving the various actors in the region a chance instead.

Sincerely,

Kevin Martin

Executive Director

Peace Action

I’d be interested to know what readers of this blog think we, as U.S. peace activists, should advocate regarding Ukraine and specifically U.S. government policies toward the conflict.


Are the U.S. and Russian Governments Once Again on the Nuclear Warpath?

February 3, 2015

by Lawrence S. Wittner (Peace Action national board member)

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, “What’s Going On at UAardvark?

A quarter century after the end of the Cold War and decades after the signing of landmark nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements, are the U.S. and Russian governments once more engaged in a potentially disastrous nuclear arms race with one another? It certainly looks like it.

With approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons between them, the United States and Russia already possess about 93 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal, thus making them the world’s nuclear hegemons. But, apparently, like great powers throughout history, they do not consider their vast military might sufficient, especially in the context of their growing international rivalry.

Although, in early 2009, President Barack Obama announced his “commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the U.S. government today has moved well along toward implementing an administration plan for U.S. nuclear “modernization.” This entails spending $355 billion over a ten-year period for a massive renovation of U.S. nuclear weapons plants and laboratories. Moreover, the cost is scheduled to soar after this renovation, when an array of new nuclear weapons will be produced. “That’s where all the big money is,” noted Ashton Carter, recently nominated as U.S. Secretary of Defense. “By comparison, everything that we’re doing now is cheap.” The Obama administration has asked the Pentagon to plan for 12 new nuclear missile-firing submarines, up to 100 new nuclear bombers, and 400 land-based nuclear missiles. According to outside experts and a bipartisan, independent panel commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department, that will bring the total price tag for the U.S. nuclear weapons buildup to approximately $1 trillion.

For its part, the Russian government seems determined to match―or surpass―that record. With President Vladimir Putin eager to use nuclear weapons as a symbol of Russian influence, Moscow is building, at great expense, new generations of giant ballistic missile submarines, as well as nuclear attack submarines that are reportedly equal or superior to their U.S. counterparts in performance and stealth. Armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles, they periodically make forays across the Atlantic, heading for the U.S. coast. Deeply concerned about the potential of these missiles to level a surprise attack, the U.S. military has already launched the first of two experimental “blimps” over Washington, DC, designed to help detect them. The Obama administration also charges that Russian testing of a new medium-range cruise missile is a violation of the 1987 INF treaty. Although the Russian government denies the existence of the offending missile, its rhetoric has been less than diplomatic. As the Ukraine crisis developed, Putin told a public audience that “Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” and foreign nations “should understand it’s best not to mess with us.” Pravda was even more inflammatory. In an article published in November titled “Russia prepares a nuclear surprise for NATO,” it bragged about Russia’s alleged superiority over the United States in nuclear weaponry.

Not surprisingly, the one nuclear disarmament agreement signed between the U.S. and Russian governments since 2003―the New START treaty of 2011―is being implemented remarkably slowly. New START, designed to reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons (the most powerful ones) in each country by 30 percent by 2018, has not led to substantial reductions in either nation’s deployed nuclear arsenal. Indeed, between March and October 2014, the two nations each increased their deployed nuclear forces. Also, they maintain large arsenals of nuclear weapons targeting one another, with about 1,800 of them on high alert―ready to be launched within minutes against the populations of both nations.

The souring of relations between the U.S. and Russian governments has been going on for years, but it has reached a very dangerous level during the current confrontation over Ukraine. In their dealings with this conflict-torn nation, there’s plenty of fault on both sides. U.S. officials should have recognized that any Russian government would have been angered by NATO’s steady recruitment of East European countries―especially Ukraine, which had been united with Russia in the same nation until recently, was sharing a common border with Russia, and was housing one of Russia’s most important naval bases (in Crimea). For their part, Russian officials had no legal basis for seizing and annexing Crimea or aiding heavily-armed separatists in the eastern portion of Ukraine.

But however reckless the two nuclear behemoths have been, this does not mean that they have to continue this behavior. Plenty of compromise formulas exist―for example, leaving Ukraine out of NATO, altering that country’s structure to allow for a high degree of self-government in the war-torn east, and organizing a UN-sponsored referendum in Crimea. And possibilities for compromise also exist in other areas of U.S.-Russian relations.

Failing to agree to a diplomatic settlement of these and other issues will do more than continue violent turmoil in Ukraine. Indeed, the disastrous, downhill slide of both the United States and Russia into a vastly expensive nuclear arms race will bankrupt them and, also, by providing an example of dependence on nuclear might, encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional nations. After all, how can they succeed in getting other countries to forswear developing nuclear weapons when―47 years after the U.S. and Soviet governments signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which they pledged their own nuclear disarmament―their successors are engaged in yet another nuclear arms race? Finally, of course, this new arms race, unless checked, seems likely to lead, sooner or later, to a nuclear catastrophe of immense proportions.

Can the U.S. and Russian governments calm down, settle their quarrels peacefully, and return to a policy of nuclear disarmament? Let’s hope so.

– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/158159#sthash.vfbjTQf5.dpuf


Tell the Senate to support patient, persistent diplomacy with Iran

January 16, 2015

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The U.S. and its international allies are within reach of a peaceful resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program look very promising, with a framework agreement likely by March and a final deal possible by a June deadline. You may have seen promising media reports in the last day or two about negotiations in Geneva between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, which is very good news.

However, conservative senators and even some supposed liberals are dead set on imposing new economic sanctions on Iran, which will risk scuttling the talks and putting us on a reckless path toward yet another Middle East war.

Contact your senators today and tell them diplomacy is the only answer, not more sanctions and threats of war.

We stopped sanctions last year, and intend to do it again, but your senators need to hear from you today. The new sanctions bill is scheduled to move through the Senate Banking Committee starting next week, with a full Senate vote expected in February or March. That may sound like we have a bit of time, but, unfortunately, pro-sanctions forces are lobbying hard, and senators may well decide their positions on this issue very soon, so this alert is extremely urgent.

While some senators claim their push for new sanctions is intended to support diplomacy, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) let the cat out of the proverbial bag, stating “The end of negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action; it’s an intended consequence.”

Please take a few minutes to contact your senators today.

This may be one of the most important actions for peace you could take this or any year. After you’ve sent your email to your senators, if you want to do more, please visit our Peace Blog for a target list of Democratic senators and sample letters to the editor for you to write a letter to your local newspaper, still one of the best ways for us to get our views out to a wide audience (and to senators as well, their staffs monitor the letters to the editor pages religiously).

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – When you go to our action page please take a few minutes to edit the letter to your senators in order to personalize your message.


The Movement for Global Nuclear Weapons Abolition: On from Vienna to New York City!

December 16, 2014

- Peter Deccy, Development Director

Peace Action and our allies in the global movement for nuclear abolition won a small but significant victory at the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons last week in Vienna.  We have been pressing the administration for over a year now demanding greater participation in international fora dealing with nuclear disarmament.  This was the first time the United States was present to address the impact of nuclear weapons and the potential for their use on human health, the environment, agriculture and food security, and the economy.

The U.S. was absent at the first two of these international conferences, a visable reminder to the growing number of nations working for zero nuclear weapons that the U.S. wants to keep nuclear weapons out of their hands but isn’t planning to give up its nukes anytime soon.  The Obama administration needed to demonstrate it is taking their work seriously or risk serious blowback at the next year’s review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT RevCon).

Peace Action’s Field Director, Judith LeBlanc and our chapters in New York and New Jersey are playing a key roll in organizing an international grassroots presence at the NPT review conference, just as we did at the last one in 2010, organizing an international conference and a 15,000 person march to the United Nations.

Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee have dedicated staff working with an ad hoc committee of nuclear abolition allies formulating plans for the our presence at the NPT review conference which will involve:

•    Organizing an inclusive international Nuclear Weapons Abolition conference on the eve of the NPT RevCon;
•    Organizing a mass rally and march on the eve of the Review Conference to demand nuclear weapons abolition, peace and justice – including reducing military spending and the funding of essential human needs;
•    Organizing an international  peace festival at the conclusion of the rally and march;
•    Facilitating organizing by the rising generation of young nuclear abolitionists;
•    Facilitating delivery of millions of Japanese petition signatures urging negotiations without delay for a nuclear weapons abolition convention;
•    Facilitating the organization of an international interfaith service on the eve of the Review Conference;
•    Facilitating the visits of Hibakusha and international peace activists to communities in the United States to encourage nuclear weapons abolition organizing; and
•    Exploring additional nonviolent actions that can reinforce our demand for nuclear disarmament.

You can expect to see more from us on our NPT actions as plans are finalized early next year.  We certainly hope you will take action in support of our nuclear abolition campaign in the coming months and we promise to provide you with ample opportunities to do so.


Torture is wrong, illegal and ineffective – do we really need to debate this?

December 16, 2014

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Apparently we do. Last week’s release of the Senate report on CIA torture, er “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” provoked a quite a media storm, including Dick Cheney and other Bush-league torture apologists and enablers defending not just their actions in the past, but the possible use of torture in the future.

While more information will presumably be forthcoming (it was only the executive summary that was released), a key issue for the peace and human rights advocacy community, and presumably for our country, is what steps should be taken now.

There are two main approaches being floated, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on which Peace Action ought to emphasize, or tell us your own ideas using the comments section below this post.

-Legislative clarification/remedy – while torture is already illegal under U.S. and international law (and the U.S. is bound by the United Nations Convention Against Torture), some members of Congress think further clarification or specification on what constitutes torture and what is and isn’t allowable in “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” could be beneficial.

-Call for Accountability/Prosecution – the only official in jail as a consequence of the CIA torture program is whistleblower John Kiriakou. Briefly stated, they got the wrong guy. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Rice, Brennan, Yoo and company are the ones who should have to face the music, or at least prosecution. While I didn’t agree with President Obama’s 2009 decision not to pursue prosecutions, I understood the political calculation he made at the time.

But he certainly could reverse that decision now. While it’s extremely unlikely he will, it would be a righteous act in the final two years of his presidency, and it’s really not optional, under the Convention Against Torture the U.S. has a duty to prosecute torturers, as several UN officials noted last week.

Personally, I favor the option of calling for accountability and prosecution over a legislative approach as I fear opening up the issue of torture to becoming even more of a political football, but I could support legislation if congressional leaders made a strong case for it, and if there is a likelihood it would pass in the new Congress, which is no sure thing. A bill that failed to pass might be worse than not trying at all. On a conference call last Friday of some key Peace Action affiliate and chapter leaders, there was a consensus on the demand for prosecution rather than legislative approach.

I’d love to hear what you think, so again feel free to use the comments box below.


Letter to Obama Administration on upcoming nukes conference

October 30, 2014
Peace Action Development Director Peter Deccy at the "A-Bomb Dome" in Hiroshima

Peace Action Development Director Peter Deccy at the “A-Bomb Dome” in Hiroshima

The following news release is part of an ongoing effort to press the Obama Administration to participate in multilateral nuclear disarmament fora. Peace Action has helped lead this push for a few years now. The first link is to the letter we signed onto. Scuttlebutt is the Administration may soon decide on whether to attend the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons in December.

Leading Nuclear Policy Experts and Organizations Call on the United States to Participate in International Conference on Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons

For Immediate Release: October 29, 2014

 

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.) –A group of more than two dozen leading nuclear policy experts, former U.S. government officials, and peace and security organizations are urging the Barack Obama administration “to authorize U.S. participation in the Dec. 8-9 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna, Austria.”

In an October 29 letter to the White House, State Department, and Pentagon, the signatories write that U.S. participation in the Vienna conference “would enhance the United States’ credibility and influence at the 2015 NPT Review Conference. U.S. participation would also provide support to key U.S. allies and partners,” many of which are also urging the United States to send an official delegation.

The Vienna humanitarian impacts conference, which is the third such meeting since 2013, “is a useful and important venue for raising awareness about the risks of nuclear weapons,” the letter signers write, and it “contributes to the oft-repeated U.S. government call for ‘extending the nearly 70-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons forever.'”

The United States and the other five original nuclear weapon states–Russia, the U.K., France, and China–have not attended the two previous humanitarian impacts conferences, citing concerns that it could be used as a launching point for negotiations calling for a ban on nuclear weapons or a convention leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

“While some participating states and some nongovernmental organizations support such a ban … this conference is not a negotiating conference and is not intended to launch such an effort. Even if it were, there is no clear consensus among the participants about the direction of any such process,” the signers note in their letter, which was addressed to the president’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

“Nuclear-armed states may have reasons to argue that not all potential uses of nuclear weapons necessarily would lead to humanitarian disaster, and that nuclear weapons may deter other existential threats,” says George Perkovich, Vice-President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and one of the letter’s signatories.

“But given that the whole world would be affected if they are wrong, they should be willing to discuss these issues with others,” Perkovich says. “Unwillingness to do so suggests an arrogance that can only provoke international contempt and resistance.”

A decision on the part of the Obama administration not to attend the Vienna conference, the signatories write, “would be a major lost opportunity and a setback for President Obama’s own call for action toward a nuclear weapons free world.”

 

###

The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.


Constitution Schmonstitution! Let’s go ahead and have a (we won’t call it a war) on ISIS/ISIL

September 11, 2014

constitution

Quick trivia question – on what subject was Barack Obama a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School?

Birthers might say “Islam” but it was in fact Constitutional Law. So he knows full well, and at times has shown he understands, that the U.S. Constitution clearly assigns the power to declare war to Congress, not the president. The best example of this was just over a year ago when he surprisingly but wisely concluded he needed to come to Congress for authorization to bomb Syria, then even more wisely never even went to Congress when he realized he had scant public and Congressional support (and his pal Vladimir Putin also helped save his hash by convincing Syria to divest itself of chemical weapons).

So now the president wants to continue to bomb the radical forces of ISIS (or ISIL as the Administration calls them) in Iraq (and likely, ironically, Syria again) and says he’d “welcome” Congressional support but he does not need it. (When I heard that line in his speech last night I reacted the same as U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who said it was “almost condescending” though I’d omit the “almost.”)

Earlier this week it appeared very unlikely Congress, eager to duck accountability for okaying what is a surefire quagmire-to-be, impatient to campaign for re-election in November’s midterm elections or wrapped up in other dysfunctional and/or partisan squabbles (take your pick, and for some Members of Congress it is “all of the above”) would schedule a vote on any type of war authorization bill before adjourning later this month.

However, now there are rising calls for Congress to do its job and vote on authorizing a new war from the Progressive Caucus, some Libertarians and others in the House and a growing gaggle of Senators from across the political spectrum. Anyone who would hazard a guess as to how such a vote would turn out would be someone not worth listening to at this point (especially since a war authorization might be subject to all manner of currently unknowable limitations or conditions that would affect the support it would draw). We may well learn more next week about a possible Congressional vote.

There’s no question such a vote is required. The president is just plain wrong on this point, and not just about Congress, but also he is ignoring international law requiring United Nations Security Council approval. Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and Just Foreign Policy laid it out clearly in an article for The Hill.

Take the UN requirement first:

“Just as the U.S. Constitution provides a check on the president’s authority to wage war, at the international level there is the law of the United Nations, which is supposed to govern the use of force in international relations.  Article 2 of the U.N. charter, to which the U.S. is a signatory, prohibits the use of military force against other nations unless authorized by the Security Council.  There are exceptions, for threats of imminent attack, but the U.S. is not under imminent threat of attack and no one has claimed that it is.”

Then the Congressional one:

“…the United States is still a constitutional democracy, or is intended to be one; and under our Constitution (and the War Powers Resolution) it is still the Congress that has to decide if the country is going to war.”

Ah the War Powers Resolution, dating to 1973, an attempt by Congress during the Vietnam War to curtail presidential war making run amok. The Obama Administration has been until now complying with the WPR’s requirement to notify Congress of ongoing military action, even though the WPR does not grant the president authority to bomb in Iraq.

Says who? Former eleven term U.S. Representative from Illinois Paul Findlay (the federal building in Illinois’s state capital, Springfield, is named for the man), one of the main authors of the War Powers Resolution. Testify Brother Findlay (from a news release by our colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy):

“Our elected leaders are acting like jelly fish. Members of Congress must decide whether to bomb Iraq or Syria, or both. The president has no authority to bomb either country. He violates the Constitution with every bomb he sends to Iraq. Ordering acts of war is too serious a decision to leave to one man. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

“We just marked the 50th Anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which I voted for and which President Johnson used to dramatically escalate the Vietnam War. I never intended that Resolution to be a blank check for war against Vietnam. Yet that is exactly what Johnson used it for.

“As a consequence, in 1973, I helped draft the The War Powers Resolution and my vote helped override President Nixon’s veto.

“Enforcement of limits on presidential employment of war powers deserves the vigilance of each member of Congress. Each member should consider enforcement a grave personal responsibility. War measures that today seem inconsequential can lead to larger involvements tomorrow. Their ultimate size and duration are unpredictable, as we found in our costly war experiences in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Just recently, Congress stood by as the President ordered bombings in Iraq. Then two U.S. citizens were killed. Rather than using their deaths as a rallying cry for more war, they should be a warning of the negative consequences of war. It’s no accident that the framers deemed the decision of war-making too important to be made by one person.

“If the president orders acts of war in the absence of congressional approval, he risks impeachment by the House of Representatives for usurping a power the Constitution reserves exclusively to the Congress. If Obama wishes lawfully to order airstrikes in the territory of Iraq or Syria, he must first secure a resolution of approval from Congress.”

Would love to see this man debate his fellow Illinoisan/commander in chief, yes?

Returning to the matter at hand, exactly what does the president cite for his purportedly existing “I don’t need no stinkin’ Congressional vote” legal authority to bomb Iraq and soon Syria?

Until yesterday the Administration had not said, exactly, but I had a hunch it was the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Congress granted President George W. Bush just after 9/11, which only U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee voted against. Sure enough, last night an unnamed “senior Administration official” confirmed this in response to a reporter’s question on a conference call. After stating Congress could specifically authorize military action against ISIS/ISIL, said official stated the following:

“But, to be clear, we do not believe the President needs that new authorization in order to take sustained action against ISIL.  We believe that he can rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing against ISIL, for instance.  And we believe that he has the authority to continue these operations beyond 60 days, consistent with the War Powers Resolution, because the operations are authorized by a statute.  So we welcome congressional support.”

This is, to be polite, garbage, especially from an administration which has previously advocated repeal of that law (and said it would not rely on that nor on the 2003 AUMF for the Iraq war for its legal authority). Here is what the 2001 AUMF authorized a different president to do:

“…the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized,committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

How a reasonable person would conclude this applies to the current situation in Iraq and Syria is anyone’s guess, especially since ISIS/ISIL and al Qaeda have split and are at each others’ throats, though many peace activists and Constitutional scholars have long feared broad presidential war-making powers would be claimed under this AUMF. At best, it is a highly dubious proposition that this AUMF applies because ISIS/ISIL is an offshoot of al Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks.

The salient point is the Obama Administration should be forced to make that case, if that’s what it believes to be its war-making authority now, to the public and Congress. Oh yeah and not just the legal authority question, it also needs to convince the Congress and the country that we absolutely need to get involved in another Middle East war. That’s what democracy looks like.


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