The Nuclear Club Nobody Wants to Join

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When I was born three nations had nuclear weapons: The United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.  By the time I graduated from high school, that group of three had grown to only five, with the addition of France and the People’s Republic of China.  Since that time only four more nations have been added to that list, India, Pakistan, North Korea and (despite on-going denials) Israel.  Currently, through the NATO nuclear weapons sharing program, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey have U.S. nukes in their possession. None of these five countries however has the capability to build their own atomic weapons.

Building an atomic bomb is not easy.  In fact, it’s beyond really hard.  Most people think that is preferable.  Very preferable.  Except there are, of course, those who want one so bad, those meaning in this case, a country, they will go to any length to manufacture their own.

For years, we have worried about North Korea and its psychotic leadership, first in what appears to be a case of intra-genocide by starvation of the entire nation, with the notable exception of those in power, to spare no expense to build their nuke, and second, now they have it, the fact they only need to toss it over the DMZ and a substantial percentage of the South Korean population is annihilated.

To date, they have been contained, probably due to the North Korean autocrats needing to keep enough of the citizenry alive so as to provide the labor for their military and their personal extravagances, so the only bargaining chip they have with the world is to not act on their sabre-rattling rhetoric to procure enough essential supplies of food and oil to maintain their horrendous status quo.  It also is relevant that another source of their restraint, to date, is having the Great Chinese Fire Dragon on their northern border that could annihilate the entire country with their nuclear arsenal should the Kim boys misstep.

Actually, the Chinese know they wouldn’t even have to use any of their nuclear weapons. Simply amassing a few million Red Army soldiers on the line between the two countries would send a message even the highly deluded Despot in Pyongyang would understand.  Well, maybe.

Here’s my question: For how much longer will the United States be the only nation ever to use a nuclear weapon in an act of war continue?  Read More…

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Democracy: The Universal Solvent

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Updated: 19 Feb 2011

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This post is dedicated to the Egyptian Coptic Christians who participated in the protests in Tahrir square, largely ignored by the press, but claiming their ancient heritage as Egyptians, stood along side of their fellow Muslim citizens.

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In 8th grade science we were taught that water was considered the universal solvent. That is, given enough time, water would dissolve almost everything.  Water inexorably works its way into every crack, nook and cranny, saturating the soil, seeping through the dikes and dams built to try to hold it back.  In that sense, water will dissolve or penetrate any barrier it meets or finds a channel though which it can flow if given enough time.

In North Africa and the Middle East a new manifestation of that concept has appeared. The flowering of democracy and freedom among the populace to break the grip of autocratic and repressive theocratic regimes seems to be a gathering force that politically and socially is having the effect of a universal solvent against retrenched and decades long rule by dictators or monarchs. The water of democracy has not only found the cracks in the façade of those rulers who by force have imposed their will upon the people, but it has opened up channels and holes in those walls and is flowing with historically-unprecedented force.

First we saw Tunisia, which did not demand our attention immediately, although it should have. The success of the revolution, remarkable for its lack of violence, did make us sit up and take notice. The collapse of the government in a matter of days and the exile of the strongman ruler, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, were accomplished without the revolutionaries possessing guns.  In an ironic contrast, according to the Gun Rights doctrine espoused by millions who practically deify the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution here in the United States, Tunisia’s gunless should have been inconceivable let alone successful.

Then came Egypt. For eighteen days we held our collective breath as the unarmed protesters daily came in waves into Tahrir Square demanding President Hasni Mubarak’s resignation, a new democratic government, a new constitution, and a reduction in soaring food prices.  Each successive day we watched entranced, despairing that night the hated police attacked the protesters, who had managed to conduct their demonstrations with virtually no violence. Then finally, with stunned disbelief we again allowed ourselves to hope the cause might succeed for the Egyptian people when the army began taking very visible action to protect the protesters and take the reins of power from Mubarak and his cohorts. Though many questions remain, Egypt was transformed into a proto-democratic state in just over two weeks. Once again a government was toppled without the people being armed to the teeth and having no equivalent to the U.S. 2nd Amendment in their constitution. Bringing down a government without a heavily armed populace is not supposed to be within the realm of the possible.

Jordan’s King Hussein, educated in America, saw the events unfold and voluntarily began to institute democratic reforms. Whether they will be enough to satisfy the force of the democratic waves pounding against the shore of an autocratic monarchy remains to be seen. But here we have a third instance where the true power of the ideals of democracy works into the hearts of the oppressed and the realization of that dream does not require an armed populace.

Now we are again holding our breath as we watch the protests and demonstrations in Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, Algeria, and most importantly, Iran.  The regimes of those autocratic and theocratic states are resorting to using brute force in their attempt to make the price of protest and dissention too high and to preserve their iron-grip on the status quo. What will the final outcome be?  Only time will tell.  None of these countries have a 2nd amendment on the right to bear arms.

There are, in my assessment, two broad consequences regarding bringing down a government by force. The first, when the population has unlimited access to firearms, an scenario is set up that will either almost certainly be a protracted or bloody revolution, or worse, an even bloodier civil war.  In recent years we have seen the horrendous conflicts in places like Rwanda, the breakup of Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Somalia and Chechnya and East Timor, to name a few.

What we have witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt in the past few weeks is incontrovertible evidence that revolution by an unarmed populace does not require years but weeks, and does not require the blood of thousands. It also does not require that populace be armed with guns. Unfortunately the protests claimed the lives of a few dozen who were caught in the fringe of rage staged by the ruling regime’s police and their operatives.

But in recent history, this is not the first time we have seen a revolution succeed largely without violence. We watched two decades ago, transfixed, by the collapse of East Germany, and then to our greater astonishment the disintegration of our Cold War super-power adversary, the Soviet Union.  Poland and Czechoslovakia broke away from the Warsaw Pact and had their own versions of bloodless revolutions.  Czechoslovakia in particular separated into to two countries, The Czech Republic and Slovakia without a civil war.  Hungary voted to leave the Warsaw Pact with an 85% majority, as did Bulgaria, Estonia, and Latvia. Romania was the only Eastern European country to have a bloody revolution as part of its citizens overthrowing the government, ending in the execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena.

I cannot predict the outcome of the current protests for democratic reforms in these other nations, but I have confidence in the universal solvent of democracy.  The tide has turned. Even against massive state violence, as has happened in Iran and Bahrain, where the protesters are beaten back for a while, the regimes’ blindness to the unequalled strength of the democratic ideal will ultimately be their downfall.

The right to bear arms as a part of the Great American Experiment, as guaranteed in the Constitution in the context of the power of Democracy and Freedom, is appearing more and more like one of our greatest failures when placed against these historical events. We endured the horrors of one Civil War, and I can see no rationale that excludes a similar nightmare and threat to the Union should a group of radically discontented  people decide it is their right to overthrow the legally elected government by force.

Such action would be treason because all the other parts of the Constitution, which are more important than the 2nd Amendment, are the solid foundation we enjoy as a nation of laws as well as providing for the orderly transfer of power every eight years at the most, ensuring that democracy and freedom remain the keystone of The Republic.

What we have seen in the events unfolding in Africa and the Middle East is that the true power of Democracy and Freedom comes from the hearts of their people and not from their having all the guns in the world.  It is a lesson we Americans, particularly at this moment in our own history, need to understand where the reality actually lies.

Dr John Bogen contributed to this post.

START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

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The New START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

A Guest Post by Dr. John Bogen, M.D.

The First Atomic Blast "Trinity" Taken by Jack Aeby. July 16, 1945. The only color photo taken of the blast. Photo: PD

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote an op-ed column titled  A Poor START for the online political website, RealClearPolitics on November 22, 2010.  Lowry questions why the New START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), signed earlier this year by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev, is being promoted as such a crucial issue by the Obama Administration that requires immediate ratification by the U.S. Senate before the end of the lame-duck session in December.

Lowry concludes that “the administration wants the treaty because it thinks it makes the Russians feel good and fosters a ‘reset.’ The benefits of reset are overrated, though. Yes, the Russians voted for the fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, but only after watering them down along with the Chinese. They have made it clear they won’t support more stringent sanctions outside the U.N.”

START’s History

U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon & Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev at the signing of the SALT I Treaty in 1972. Photo: Nixon Presidential Library

The history of the START goes back over forty years to 1969, when negotiations began for the original SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This ultimately culminated in the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972.

In 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT II, which was not ratified by the U.S. Senate in part due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later in 1979. Nevertheless, both countries agreed to abide by the terms of the treaty until 1986, when, per Wikipedia, “the Reagan Administration withdrew from SALT II after accusing the Soviets of violating the pact.”

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated certain intermediate-range missiles for the primary purpose of enhancing the security of Western Europe.

START I, signed in 1991 by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, expired in December 2009, and with it, among other things, verification provisions that each country was actually in compliance with the treaty. (START II was signed by United States President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 and was subsequently ratified, but never activated. A START III treaty was negotiated, but was never signed.)

Russian Pres. Putin and U.S. Pres. Bush signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the "Moscow Treaty," 2002. Photo: The White House Archives.

The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the Moscow Treaty, was signed in 2002 by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, further limiting the numbers of nuclear warheads, yet failing to contain verification provisions. SORT expires in December 2012.

President Obama, who ran on a platform of a nuke-free world, took office in January 2009, and had his administration negotiate with the Russians a New START treaty as a follow-on to START I and SORT. This was signed in April 2010.

Lowry asks a legitimate question in his op-ed piece, why the sudden rush for ratification of New START?  As noted above, past treaties have been adhered to without formal ratification. The Senate and in fact the entire Congress faces more pressing issues, such as deciding on an extension of the Bush (43) tax cuts and dealing with the economy, not to mention immigration reform and energy policy.  Isn’t the New START a relic of a Cold War that came to an end almost twenty years ago with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union in 1991?  And in light of the growing nuclear threats from Iran and particularly North Korea dominating the news on November 23, 2010, why is the president pushing so hard for ratification of an obsolete treaty that does little to make the world safer from nuclear conflict?

We Should Be Negotiating “STOP” not START

Personally, I think any treaty between the U.S. and Russia that falls short of completely eliminating nukes is meaningless. Both countries have no desire for war let alone nuclear war.

There exists a new global war, to be politically incorrect, between a growing list of nations and Muslim extremists. Nuclear powers including the U.S., Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Israel, and Pakistan all face conflicts with radical Muslims. These jihadists have also murdered hundreds in Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several African nations. And that doesn’t even count Iraq or Afghanistan. Regional hotspots also exist with rogue nations such as North Korea having recently acquired nukes and Iran widely believed to be endeavoring to do so.

U.S. Pres. Obama and Russian Pres. Medevev signing the "New START" treaty, April 8, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Courtesy AP.

So, I believe New START is irrelevant in today’s world. The U.S. and Russia are moving towards smaller arsenals through attrition and both countries do not have the money to keep the numbers up. Regardless of the treaty, both countries still have enough nukes to destroy the world many times over. Does it really matter if you have 2,200 or 1,550 or 500 or 100 nukes? This treaty is obsolete even before it has been ratified. Inspections could be extended without even mentioning numbers, and the numbers would come down on their own through obsolescence.

Completely eliminating nukes from the arsenals (except for maybe a token number just in case they are needed for example, for asteroid mitigation–not unlike the stocks of smallpox kept secure in the U.S. and Russia, needed for the manufacture of vaccines should the disease reappear somewhere in the world) would be a bold step the U.S. and Russia could take.  This might reduce the desire for nuclear proliferation throughout the world, or at least embarrass rogue nations by making them appear less civilized (e.g. “We are civilized. Nukes are so ‘yesterday.'”).

Even if the U.S. gets nuked someday by a terrorist bomb via a shipping container smuggled into a port city, or by an ICBM from a rogue nation, the U.S. won’t respond indiscriminately with a nuke.  And that is the biggest reason to abandon New START – a treaty designed to reduce yet continue the obsolete military doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

Trident II-D5 Nuclear Capable Missile Submarine Launch. Photo: U.S. Navy/PD

The current conflict over New START ratification between Democrats and Republicans is purely political posturing and is meaningless from the national security standpoint. I disagree with Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) trying to get more money (which we don’t have) appropriated for modernization of our nuclear arsenal. However, he does have a valid concern that Russia wants to limit the U.S.’s ability to field an anti-ballistic missile system, which most certainly would be for protection against limited missile strikes from rogue nations, rather than to defend against Russian attack.  I also disagree with the Democrats for making this treaty out to be more important than it really is, and who just wish to deliver a foreign policy victory to President Obama, following his recent lackluster Asian and European trips. The political void of the November-December lame duck period is about as empty as Washington D.C. is every August – much ado is made about nothing.

Ratification of New START should hardly be the highest priority for the Senate when the economy, unemployment, tax rates, and the deficit / debt are far more pressing issues. The Congress and President Obama should get their priorities straight. And so that the Russians do not feel ignored, I would begin negotiations on START IV, a.k.a. STOP (as in STOP ALL NUKES), a much bolder push to lead the entire world away from dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons.