Pope Urges Nuclear Weapons Ban

The Pontiff lends his support - Pope Francis sent a letter to the UN conference on banning nuclear weapons today. In it he said, “If we take into consideration the principal threats to peace and security with their many dimensions in this multipolar world of the twenty-first century as, for example, terrorism, asymmetrical conflicts, cybersecurity, environmental problems, poverty, not a few doubts arise regarding the inadequacy of nuclear deterrence as an effective response to such challenges. These concerns are even greater when we consider the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that would follow from any use of nuclear weapons, with devastating, indiscriminate and uncontainable effects, over time and space.”

--“Similar cause for concern arises when examining the waste of resources spent on nuclear issues for military purposes, which could instead be used for worthy priorities like the promotion of peace and integral human development, as well as the fight against poverty, and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development… This Conference intends to negotiate a Treaty inspired by ethical and moral arguments. It is an exercise in hope and it is my wish that it may also constitute a decisive step along the road towards a world without nuclear weapons. Although this is a significantly complex and long-term goal, it is not beyond our reach.” The full letter can be found here. http://bit.ly/2nwpw34

Tweet - @plough_shares: A world without nuclear weapons is possible. Living under the threat of nuclear weapons forever is not realistic. http://reut.rs/2ouMaX3

U.S. boycotts UN conference - “Saying the time was not right to outlaw nuclear arms, the United States led a group of dozens of United Nations members on Monday that boycotted talks at the global organization for a treaty that would ban the weapons,” write Somini Sengupta and Rick Gladstone for The New York Times. “The talks, supported by more than 120 countries, were first announced in October and are led by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden. Disarmament groups strongly support the effort. The United States and most other nuclear powers, including Russia, oppose the talks. The Obama administration voted against convening them.”

--U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley “questioned whether countries favoring a weapons ban understood the nature of global threats... She cited North Korea and Iran in articulating her opposition to the talks. But those countries have taken divergent positions. North Korea, like the United States and its allies, is sitting out the talks. Iran, which does not have nuclear weapons and has promised not to acquire them, is participating... Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement that the opposition expressed by Ms. Haley and her allies ‘demonstrates how worried they are about the real impact of the nuclear ban treaty.’” Full story here. http://nyti.ms/2nqGH4d

See also - For a historical look at the events leading up to this month’s debate at the UN, see “The Coming Ban on Nuclear Weapons,” by Zia Mian for Project Syndicate. http://bit.ly/2o1YykW

3,000 scientists support nuke ban - “Nuclear arms are the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited by an international convention, even though they are the most destructive and indiscriminate weapons ever created. We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought,” write a group of thousands of scientists, nobel laureates, and prominent government officials including Stephen Hawking and former SecDef Bill Perry.

--“But there is also cause for optimism. On March 27 2017, an unprecedented process begins at the United Nations: most of the world’s nations convene to negotiate a ban on nuclear arms, to stigmatize them like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate goal of a world free of these weapons of mass destruction. We support this, and urge our national governments to do the same, because nuclear weapons threaten not merely those who have them, but all people on Earth.” Read the full letter from the Future of Life Institute here. http://bit.ly/2o6VLaq

Tweet - @ArmsControlNow: "Beginning to Ban the Bomb--Day 1." A Daily Blog of the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Talks by @azakre http://bit.ly/2o29ONW

Don’t gut the IAEA - “There are some things to which most reasonable people can and should agree. Chief among these is that the United States has a long-standing and continuing interest in preventing countries and terrorists from building nuclear weapons,” write Jon Wolfsthal and Laura S. H. Holgate for Foreign Policy. “Unfortunately, the only way to interpret Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the State Department and the international programs they fund is that he couldn’t care less. One of the critical investments the State Department makes is funding our obligations, and then some, to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N.–affiliated agency the United States helped create in 1957.”

--The IAEA “may be the greatest national security bargain the United States has. As the old cliché goes, if we didn’t have it, we have to invent it. Washington provides a significant percentage of the IAEA’s annual budget and, on top of that, additional resources known as voluntary contributions. This money ensures that the IAEA can handle its current responsibilities... which is, to put it bluntly, to help keep us and other countries safe and enable all to benefit from the peaceful benefits of nuclear technology.” Full essay here. http://atfp.co/2nsCFKa

SecAF formally nominated - “Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson’s official nomination to become secretary of the Air Force arrived on Capitol Hill this week, paving the way for a confirmation hearing Thursday,” writes Michael Coleman for the Albuquerque Journal. “The White House announced the Republican’s nomination in late January but did not formally submit the paperwork to the Senate Armed Services Committee until Tuesday, leading some on Capitol Hill to wonder whether her nomination had run into trouble.”

--“Although Wilson comes highly recommended for the position from the White House and many in the national defense community, she’s likely to face questions at her hearing about a lucrative and controversial consulting contract she entered into with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque after leaving Congress... A 2013 Department of Energy inspector general’s report alleged Sandia, then run by defense giant Lockheed Martin, had inappropriately paid Wilson about $226,000 in consulting fees beginning in January 2009, to lobby for Sandia to take on new assignments for the federal government. Sandia and Wilson have said no prohibited lobbying occurred.” Article here. http://bit.ly/2neFwnJ

See also - For an in-depth refresher on the SecAF nominee’s non-lobbying lobbyist’s past, see “Trump pick for Air Force boss frustrated auditors with lucrative, murky consulting for nuclear weapons labs,” by Patrick Malone and R. Jeffrey Smith of The Center for Public Integrity. http://bit.ly/2lTLHiT

Time for a nuke audit - “Two senior House Democrats have asked the head of the Government Accountability Office for an audit on potential modernization of U.S. nuclear warheads,” writes Ellen Mitchell for The Hill. “House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (Wash.) and House Appropriations Energy and Water subcommittee ranking member Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter last week to U.S. comptroller general Gene Dodaro, questioning ‘the affordability and need’ for ‘interoperable’ warheads that can work on multiple kinds of delivery systems.”

--“The interoperable warheads would be used on two new systems, the Navy’s submarine-launched ballistic missile and the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missile. ‘We are concerned there is a lack of detailed analysis or clear need for this program, including continuing uncertainty about the reason for developing and producing a new warhead and the funding costs that could detract from key programs needed to sustain the rest of the nuclear enterprise,’ Smith and Kaptur wrote... The lawmakers want the GAO to examine the warhead need, as well alternative options, ‘as soon as possible.’” Article here. http://bit.ly/2o6SvvC

Trump’s nuclear danger - “As if you didn’t have other things to worry about, add ‘think about the threat of nuclear war’ to your to-do list,” argues Jefferson Morely in Salon. “The early hopes that Trump’s admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin might translate into a new nuclear arms agreement went a-glimmering on Feb. 24 when Trump told Reuters that he thought the existing U.S. Russia accord, known as New START, was ‘one-sided.’ In fact, the New START treaty limits both countries to the same number of deployed nuclear warheads — 1,550 — by Feb. 2018.”

--”The United States is going from ‘Cold War to Gold War,’ said Tom Collina, director of policy at Ploughshares Fund... He noted that when Trump recently announced plans to seek an additional $54 billion in defense spending, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that a key priority would be ‘restoring our nuclear capabilities,’ meaning more money for nuclear weapons.” What can be done? Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association argues, “Now, as in the past, there are practical solutions that can steer us away from the precipice and we must all look for way to work together to effectively engage our elected leaders to take the actions that reduce the nuclear dangers. As the old saying goes, ‘don’t mourn, organize!’” Full story here. http://bit.ly/2nXPYDz

Take action - One step you can take today to make your voice heard on nuclear security? Inspired by the legislation proposed by Rep. Ted Liu and Sen. Ed Markey, Ploughshares Fund, along with fifteen other public interest groups, has created a new petition urging Congress to keep America safe by preventing any U.S. President from unilaterally launching a nuclear weapon. Sign and share the petition today. bit.ly/pf-petition


Foreign investors bullish on Iran - “After years shunning Iran, Western businesses are bursting through the country's doors -- but U.S. companies are noticeably absent,” write Asa Fitch and Benoit Faucon for The Wall Street Journal. “Dozens of development projects and deals have been hammered out since Iran's nuclear accord with world powers in 2015 lifted a range of sanctions. Among them, France's Peugeot and Renault SA..., the U.K.'s Vodafone Group PLC..., major oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell PLC..., and infrastructure giants, including Germany's Siemens AG, have entered into agreements for large projects.”

--“U.S. companies are at risk of losing lucrative deals to early movers into a promising market of 80 million people, analysts say, setting off skirmishes among European and Asian companies eager to gain an edge on more-cautious U.S. competitors... The nuclear deal removed a range of U.S., European Union and United Nations sanctions in 2016 that had held back Iranian energy exports and put the brakes on foreign investment... Government-approved foreign direct investment shot up to more than $11 billion last year... from $1.26 billion in 2015. Pedram Soltani, the vice president of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, said more than 200 foreign business delegations have visited Iran since the nuclear deal took effect.” Article here. http://on.wsj.com/2nEwkvL

Need a nuclear update? -Ploughshares Fund President Joe Cirincione went on The Bill Press Show this morning to discuss a wide-range of nuclear policy issues including the real value of the Markey-Lieu bill, the Iran nuclear deal, and the meaning of Trump’s push for a $1 trillion nuclear modernization package in today’s global security climate. Video here. http://bit.ly/2ndvUsy

WH signals intent on Iran - “A senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump on nuclear matters says that the United States will honor Iran's nuclear deal with world powers for now, while seeking to ensure strict compliance by Tehran. Christopher Ford, the White House National Security Council's senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, told a conference in Washington on March 21 that the U.S. administration accepted the deal despite repeated criticism by Trump.”

--“But he said the White House was reviewing the July 2015 agreement -- which curtailed Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions -- along with all the other nuclear arms pacts that the United States has negotiated under previous administrations... ‘Until otherwise decided, the United States will adhere to the Iran nuclear deal and ensure that Iran also does... [but] we are reviewing policy across the board,’ Ford said. ‘That necessarily includes reviewing, among many other things, whether the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is in fact a realistic objective in the near-to-medium term in light of current trends in the international security environment.’” Article from RadioFreeEurope here. http://bit.ly/2n7ENpf

DPRK ready to test (again) - “Specific intelligence indicators now show that North Korea is ready for its sixth underground nuclear test at any time, two US officials told CNN on Friday,” writes Barbara Starr for CNN. “For weeks, satellites had observed extensive activity on the surface, including vehicles, personnel and equipment, as well as two tunnel entrances being dug out. But the most recent imagery shows that activity has now stopped. That is a similar change in the pattern of activity just before previous tests, indicating all final preparations are now complete.” Full story here. http://cnn.it/2n73Jvp

See also - “The Detonation Detectives: How to decipher a North Korean missile test in just 72 hours,” an interview by Rachel Becker with Jeffrey Lewis for The Verge. http://bit.ly/2nLVrxm

Expert: Tillerson approach to DPRK is nothing new - “When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson showed up in Asia this month, he announced that the United States would take a ‘new approach’ to North Korea. Tillerson avoided any specifics of how he planned to get a different result, but he was well armed with platitudes,” writes Jeffrey Lewis in The Washington Post. “Someone forgot to tell [Tillerson] that a new administration promising a new approach it can’t quite articulate is, in fact, the old approach.”

--“We have accepted the development of a nuclear-armed North Korea, having neither the bravado to attack nor the courage to lower our expectations for a diplomatic settlement. Of course, military action would have been madness, even before the country was armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. And the politics of negotiating with Pyongyang are terrible... Instead, we should consider how our policies need to change and what concessions we might trade... I don’t believe that Pyongyang is going to abandon its nuclear or missile programs. But we might successfully seek a freeze in nuclear and missile testing that prevents North Korea from advancing those programs even further.” Full piece here. http://wapo.st/2neXyX1

Tweet - @Livableworld: We should seek a freeze in #NorthKorea's nuclear and missile testing in exchange for easing of its eco. isolation. http://wapo.st/2nwDl1e

Trump revives the unwanted dead in Nevada - “Near the southern tip of Nevada is a ridge politicians have been fighting over for 30 years. Yucca Mountain was designated the permanent underground storage site for nuclear waste in 1987. It had an ambitious mission—to entomb high-level radioactive waste safely for at least 10,000 years,” writes Sarah Zhang for The Atlantic. “In 2011, the Obama administration officially mothballed the project... [but] in a proposed budget last week that otherwise slashes non-defense spending, the Trump administration found $120 million to restart an approval process for Yucca Mountain.”

--“Assuming Congress approves the $120 million, the federal government faces deeply entrenched opposition in Nevada. The state has filed 218 contentions against the Department of Energy’s application for the storage site... Going through the contentions will take an estimated four to five years of hearings and cost the federal government $2 billion—all before the shovel even hits the ground. Nevada’s governor and five of its six members of Congress have already come out swinging against the latest attempt to revive Yucca Mountain. ‘Republican, Democrat, independent—there is enormous opposition to Yucca Mountain,’ said Robert Halstead, executive director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects.” Article here. http://theatln.tc/2neMTvo

See also - “Energy chief Perry tours Yucca Mountain nuclear site,” by The Associated Press. http://wapo.st/2nwpSqi

Quick Hits:

--“North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: New Activity at the North Portal,” by 38 North. http://bit.ly/2ou9295

--“Commentary: How to describe American military options in North Korea? Bad and worse.” by Peter Apps for Reuters. http://reut.rs/2ouqWsz

--“We Can't Afford to Lose U.S.-Russian Nuclear Cooperation,” by Nicolai N. Petro and Josh Cohen for The National Interest. http://bit.ly/2nZYamR

--“Forget North Korea: A Nuclear War Between India and Pakistan Should Terrify You,” by Sebastien Roblin for The National Interest. http://bit.ly/2nDQzd4

--“China Won’t Fix North Korea—Focus on These Four Areas Instead,” by Jacob Stokes and Alexander Sullivan for Lawfare. http://bit.ly/2ocVOyn

--“Negotiating a global nuclear ban treaty: nuclear-armed states vs the UN,” by Rebecca Johnson for Open Democracy. http://bit.ly/2nnUoB5


--“Deterring Iran after the nuclear deal,” a panel hosted by CSIS featuring Lt Gen Charles Q. Brown, Jr., USAF, Colin Kahl, Michael Singh, Jon Alterman, and moderated by Melissa Dalton. Friday, March 31, 10:00-11:30am at 1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Details here. http://bit.ly/2mI8o6F

--“Nuclear Proliferation: The Case of North Korea,” an event featuring Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution. April 3 from 5:00-7:00pm at 1619 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington. Details here. http://bit.ly/2neSWzY


PETA weighs in on nukes - “Right now if you take the bus down 16th Street in northwest Washington, D.C., you’ll pass a banner that might not make sense at first, or after that. It shows North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un riding a missile. It says, ‘Don’t go ballistic. Go vegan.’ The blue banner hangs outside the office of the animal-rights-advocacy organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, which also issued a letter this week to none other than U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to use veganism as a strategy for world peace.” Read the full story from James Hamblin for The Atlantic here. http://theatln.tc/2o7wblJ

Edited by