Working in Nuclear while Muslim

Working in Nuclear while Muslim

Since the inception of nuclear energy, anti-nuclear critics have been warning about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to sabotage. Recent events indicate that we are moving closer to a period of global instability in which state governments cannot protect against non-state actors who will deliberately or unintentionally create a nuclear disaster.
This week a group of Tatar radicals attacked electricity transmission lines in Ukraine which deliver power to Crimea. The government of Ukraine has a well-known dispute with Russia over its claim to Crimea, but it likely had no intention of committing such a war crime that would endanger the lives of millions of civilians and create further tensions with Russia. The narrow-minded attackers were apparently unaware of the effect their assault would have on Ukrainian nuclear power plants, but nonetheless two of them were cut off from the electrical grid and had to use backup power. A report in Russia Today quoted a Ukrainian energy company official about the seriousness of the situation:

The apparent act of sabotage in Ukraine’s Kherson region forced an emergency power unloading at several Ukrainian nuclear power plants, which can be extremely dangerous, according to the first deputy director of Ukraine’s energy company Ukrenergo, Yuriy Katich. [1]

It was backup power that was famously lost at Fukushima-Daiichi, leading to the meltdown of three reactor cores and a melting of spent fuel in the Reactor 4 building. Thus these plants in Ukraine are just one step away from meltdown, but it is likely in this case that backup power can be maintained until the transmission towers are repaired. Yet the incident highlights how things will go worse in the future when a similar event occurs in a failing state where fuel for backup generators can't be supplied in time and the main transmission lines can't be repaired.
Social instability is also a factor now in France. The attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 highlighted the inability of security agencies to identify and break up groups of French citizens who are intent on committing acts of mass violence. If they couldn't be found in the suburbs of Paris, how can we be sure that they will be found among people who work at nuclear power plants? This issue came to light in a report published in Le Journal du Dimanche on November 22, 2015 (translated below). It was reported that French security agencies have been using religious affiliation as a reason to deny access to nuclear power plants.
Everyone would like to keep NPPs safe from deliberate acts of destruction, but there are serious problems involved in trying to eliminate all risks. The security agencies are using affiliations as the basis of exclusion, without any official charge of criminal intent or conspiracy. Thus if an enterprise is so dangerous that large segments of society have to be denied the right to work in it, in the vain hope that doing so will prevent sabotage, it is worth asking whether this enterprise should exist at all. Is there a safer way to boil water or to produce electricity without boiling water?

translation of:
Le Journal du Dimanche (Sunday Journal)
by Matthieu Pechberty
November 22, 2015

Radicalization has affected nuclear power plants operated by EDF (Électricité de France). Authorities have already withdrawn access for dozens of employees since the beginning of the year.

Since the attacks [November 13, 2015], state authorities are on the lookout as they face a rise in Islamic radicalization at EDF sites. During a meeting of the High Commission for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Security (HCTISN), the high commissioner for defense of nuclear security, Christophe Quintin, acknowledged, without being more precise, that employees are being refused access to nuclear power plants notably for reasons related to Islamic radicalization. Michel Lallier, representative of the CGT [labor union] (Confédération Général de Travail) confirmed, "He certainly spoke of radicalization, even if his response was evasive. We'll never know exactly what the security concern was."

At this meeting, Mr. Quintin's assistant, Colonel Riac, emphasized the justification for the lack of transparency of the authorities. A Greenpeace representative who was at the meeting, Yannick Rousselet, said, "He clearly said he would not state the reasons for the denial of access to an employee. It could be because he frequented a radical milieu. He even acknowledged that these people have not committed any offense and the judgment process is somewhat arbitrary." The two officials were contacted, but did not return calls.

An employee at Flamanville targeted by DGSI

On November 4th, Christophe Quintin made an important announcement. At a lunch conference devoted to information on nuclear sites, one of the attendees reported that Mr. Quintin told the invited group that he estimated "the services eject one person per week for the phenomenon of radicalization." He explained that this surveillance applied to French workers but less so to foreign workers and workers subcontracted by EDF. Each year, the services of the state make 100,000 administrative inquiries for 73,000 workers (of which 23,000 are contractors)
In Flamanville, an employee of EDF told his story. Clément Reynaud, chemical engineer for ten years, converted to Islam in 2010 and requested site management in 2012 to provide a place for him to pray. After lengthy examination, EDF, which knew of no similar cases, gave its approval. However, the security forces at the site alerted the local offices of information services, which then became involved in the case. Eighteen months later, Mr. Reynaud became the secretary of the association that manages the mosque at Cherbourg. A police officer in Normandy explained, "His file was taken to the national level by the DGSI (Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure). The case was judged to be serious." On December 1st, Clément Reynaud took a one-year leave of absence in order to create his own personal coaching business for Muslims. He explained, "I want to help them organize their lives to make time for the five daily prayers and for reading the Koran."
In August 2014, a Muslim engineer employed by an EDF subcontractor was denied access to the nuclear power plant at Nogent-sur-Seine. There again, the prefecture did not explain its motives for the decision, but religion was at the heart of it. One year ago, Belgian authorities discovered that a person who left to fight in Syria had spent several years working as an engineer at the Doel NPP with access to the reactor. The plant is operated by the French company Engie (formerly GDF Suez).
* The headline in the original article used the term dérives, which has a softer connotation than radicals, but it is difficult to find a similar term that is in common usage in English. Dérive implies one who has gone off the correct path, drifted, or become misguided. These terms perhaps should be used in English to describe those who commit violence in the name of religion, but instead the terms radical and extremist are more common.


More Ringo, Less John: Nuclear Disarmament Don't Come Easy

More Ringo, Less John: Nuclear Disarmament Don't Come Easy

Peace, remember peace is how we make it,
Here within your reach
If you're big enough to take it.
I don't ask for much, I only want your trust,
And you know it don't come easy.

-Ringo Starr (April 1971)
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
-John Lennon (October 1971)

It has become impossible to talk about a world free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants without facing the urgent problems that stand in the way. The grim meat-hook realities [1] of conventional war, environmental degradation and inequality lie in wait for anyone who wishes for a world free of nuclear technology. Earlier this year the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, a proponent of the elimination of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants, pointed out that American military spending is the greatest obstacle to a nuclear free world. [2] Smaller nations will not even think about reducing their arsenals while one nation maintains its stockpile of thousands of nuclear warheads and has higher military expenditures than all others combined.

If we could imagine a future time when the global network of American military bases was rolled back to the homeland, and American military power shrank to a size sufficient to defend only itself, then other nations might be ready to reduce their arsenals as long as America and Russia agreed to reduce theirs to hundreds of weapons rather than thousands. At this level they would be at parity with other nations, so all nuclear-armed states could start talking seriously about the path to zero. But this is a long, long way off. In spite of Vladimir Putin's recent rebuke telling America to "look at what you have done," [3] the American political establishment has no interest in reading Chomsky and taking that long, hard look in the mirror to see the role it has played in the world over the last century.

Even if we could get to serious talks about nuclear arms reduction, the present framework promotes nuclear energy and promises that all nations that give up nuclear weapons will still have access to the "peaceful" uses of the atom. This path became entrenched in the 1950s during the first serious moves to slow the arms race. At that time even the most dissenting scientists had faith that peaceful applications of nuclear energy could be developed. They had to keep this faith because otherwise the bombs they had made would weigh too heavily on their conscience. Thus no one was motivated to ask the necessary questions about accidents, internal radionuclide contamination, and waste disposal. Nuclear fission was understood 15 years before the structure of DNA was discovered, so no one was thinking much about what a beta particle could do to a strand of DNA. In the 1950s there had been no commercial nuclear reactor meltdowns, the toxic operations and accidents of uranium mining and nuclear fuel facilities were poorly understood, and environmental awareness was yet to be a political force.

The first signs of an anti-nuclear energy movement emerged in 1957 in California with the successful protests to cancel the proposed Bodega Bay power plant. [4] Later, scientists like Alice Stewart, Ernest Sternglass and John Gofman broke away from the nuclear science establishment when their research findings convinced them that nuclear power posed unacceptable risks to the public. Gofman was notable for being against nuclear power but in favor of nuclear deterrence and underground testing. [5]

Several nuclear reactor and fuel facility accidents occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, but the public knew little or nothing about them. Then the big catastrophes happened at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. These all had an impact on the political and financial viability of nuclear energy, but they didn't lead the international community to call for a ban on nuclear power. The attitude all along among governments and the United Nations seems to have been that eliminating nuclear weapons is the priority: we will work on that first then maybe talk about nuclear power later—which, at the current pace, means never.

Even though nuclear power plant catastrophes continued to happen every one or two decades while nuclear disarmament talks proceeded, their obvious danger never registered in the official consciousness. No nuclear bombs had been used in war since 1945 and none had been accidentally detonated, but in contrast there were three nuclear power plant catastrophes, all of which came very close to being exponentially worse. With these nightmares staring them in the face, the only lesson the so-called global community seemed to draw from them was that they were miniature demonstrations of how bad a nuclear war would be: look at that exploding nuclear power plant over there, doesn't that remind you of the need to eliminate nuclear weapons?

So this is how far we have to go to get to a nuclear free world, but first there is that problem brought up by Mr. Gorbachev, the same problem that Russel and Einstein emphasized in 1957: Peace first, then get rid of the bombs. [6] The dreadful news out of Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Lebanon and France in recent weeks is a grim reminder of how far humanity is drifting from these goals. Every drone and suicide bomb delays the elimination of nuclear bombs.

The transcript below is a translation of an interview with the former prime minister of France (2005-2007), Dominique de Villepin, one which was aired on television in 2014, before the Charlie Hebdo murders and the attacks of November 13, 2015. Monsieur de Villepin was also famous for being the foreign minister at the time when France refused to go along with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. One could easily find some of the same views expressed in other intelligent commentary on world affairs, but this interview is striking for the fact that these are the views of a political conservative. The reasoned approach that is expressed here is no longer found in either of the mainstream political parties in America, and even that radical socialist Bernie Sanders prefers to say as little as possible about foreign policy.

Obviously, it is easy for ex-prime ministers to be critics. If M. de Villepin were in power now, I doubt that he would do anything differently than President Hollande is doing because the situation created by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has forced Russia, France and others to take drastic measures to reverse the descent into further chaos.

Some of France's former colonial sujbects might beg to differ with M. de Villepin's view that "we are peacemakers, interested in dialog, we are mediators." The use of a modal verb (are should be peacemakers…) might have expressed the ideal and aspiration more accurately, but nonetheless, his understanding of the present situation passes as the height of reason in the present political climate. If Monsieur de Villepin is wrong on the historical interpretation, he is right on the ideals. France should stick to its Enlightenment values because after all else is put aside, these are what need defending from extremists on both sides of the conflict.

Former Prime Minister of France (2005-2007), Dominique de Villepin, spoke about Syria and terrorism during a television interview held on September 29, 2014
translation by Dennis Riches
English version:  https://youtu.be/xE0zOktY4K0 (with English and French subtitles)
French version: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x26sp1d_de-villepin-a-propos-de-l-etat-islamique-6-minutes-d-intelligence-et-de-lucidite_webcam (original source, no subtitles)

Dominique de Villepin, you think this war is a mistake, another mistake, so could you tell us why?

Military interventions, when they are circumscribed, with a targeted and limited objective, can be effective. They are one of the tools that all democracies should be able to use in certain circumstances with reason and in the most restrained way possible, but in the present case, we are engaged—and the head of state has stated it very clearly, and the Americans have told us in the clearest way—we are engaged in a war against terrorism. The war against terrorism cannot be won. There is not even a chance of winning. Failure is guaranteed from the outset. Why? Because terrorism is an invisible hand, mutating, changing opportunistic. We don't know how to fight an invisible hand with the weapons of war.

We have to be capable of using all our mental faculties, statecraft, and peaceful means to break up the solidarity which is forming around these terrorist forces. So we need a political strategy, a political vision, a capacity to think of actions far beyond the use of bombs and military action in the strictest sense. All we know—and there is no counter-example—all we know of this type of war that has been waged for decades, in particular in Afghanistan, is that it leads to failure. There is no example today—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya—that has not led to more war and more chaos. So we are favoring a situation in which, by war, we hope to do better than in the previous war that we waged, while being aware that this Islamic State has been let loose. We ourselves played a large part in feeding it from one war to the next, from 2003 to 2011, in the support of Syrian rebel groups. We are trapped in a vicious circle.

And it is not only ineffective. It's also dangerous because beyond the Middle East region we have to consider the whole Arab-Muslim world where there are many crises, injuries, and scars. It is in a profound crisis of modernization which has at its heart a violent social crisis which hits the most disadvantaged, and even the middle classes because of corruption and the fall of oil prices. The region has deep inequalities.

Many of the jihadis come from the middle classes. So we are feeding the cycle of escalation. We want to believe that the images of horror that we see here, unfortunately, are decreasing the appeal of jihad, but this is also a phenomenon with magnetic appeal for certain people. They don't see the same images on the other side of the Mediterranean. They don't see the same spectacle. They don't interpret them in the same way because their identities are wounded. What is true over there, is also, unfortunately, true here in France. The escalation helps in recruiting jihadis over there, and there are consequences here too.

We strike in Syria and Iraq, and we hit a terrorist enemy. What is the result? The horror when we found out our compatriot Herve Gourdel was cowardly assassinated. Where? In the mountains of Algeria. This means that tomorrow all these minorities who, brandishing the banner of Islam, acting in the name of Islam, aren't actually doing so. Islam is not the problem. It is the flag of Islam that is brandished. And these minorities exist in Myanmar, in Malaysia, in Thailand and Indonesia, in all of the Arab world and also in Maghreb (North Africa) and throughout Africa. In all these places these minorities can find common cause. This means that we are helping in this war against terrorism to bring about a crystallization of these diverse groups who are finding ways to link up and escalate the violence to a level that is the most cruel, the most murderous and the most violent because this is the way to attract fighters and financial support. Behind all this there is a race toward death, a race to recruit more jihadis, which is utterly horrifying.

I would like to finish by saying I would like to be able to boast this evening. I would like to be able to say that we are ready. I would like to be able to say that we are not afraid, but this would be a lie because the French are a democratic society that has not engaged in security as other democratic societies have, like the Americans. Overseas communities of Americans are bunkerized and barricaded, in a way no others come close to, and so the risk is much less for them than for us. Israel has chosen the same path. Israeli society has chosen the policy of the security state. But the situation is different in France. We are exposed to the four winds, particularly in Maghreb, in the Middle East, in Asia, and so we are in a vulnerable situation. And what is true there is true in France as well.

So, as a fundamental understanding of this complexity, I would like us to take the lead in a crusade, but I want us to take account of the risks and know that this crusade can't win anything. Right now we are feeding a process of destruction. We are feeding a process of hate. And this is not because there is not anything else to do. There is obviously a lot that we can do, moving in a completely different direction—with a political strategy, accompanied by military strategy, highlighting who should be taking the lead: the countries of the region themselves. There are about 500-600 fighter aircraft in the region that belong to the Gulf countries. They are perfectly capable of leading the response.

But we follow the Americans, who, as always, look for enemies all over the world, and they are engaged in a sort of universal messianic quest. France does not play this role. It is not our vocation. We are peacemakers, interested in dialog. We are mediators. Now we are being used against this objective, led down a path that has no logical end because this war against terrorism has no end. It is a perpetual war. We know that it cannot stop. Hatred leads to more hatred. War leads to more war.


[1] The phrase originated with Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971).

[2] "Gorbachev calls US military might 'insurmountableobstacle to a nuclear-free world,'" Russia Today, August 6, 2015, http://www.rt.com/news/311796-gorbachev-nuclear-free-world/.

[3] Luciana Bohne, "A Game of Dice With Russia: 'Do YouRealize What You Have Done?'" Counterpunch, October 1, 2015, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/01/a-game-of-dice-with-russia-do-you-realize-what-you-have-done/

[4] Paula Garb, "Review of Critical Masses: Oppositionto Nuclear Power in California, 1958-1978, by Thomas Raymond Wellock." Journal of Political Ecology: Case Studies in History and Society, 6 (1999), http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_6/wellockvol6.htm 

[5] Pat Stone, "John Gofman: Nuclear and Anti-NuclearScientist," Mother Earth News, March–April 1981, http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/john-gofman-anti-nuclear-zmaz81mazraw.aspx

[6] "The Russell Einstein Manifesto," Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, July 9, 1955, http://pugwash.org/1955/07/09/statement-manifesto/.


Pugwash 2015: Remember your humanity, but forget about a nuclear free world for now

Pugwash 2015: Remember your humanity, but forget about a nuclear free world for now

“The person who prays for peace must not hide even a needle, for a person who possesses weapons is not qualified to pray for peace.”
-Takashi Nagai, Towers of Peace [1]

Remember your humanity, but forget about a nuclear free world for now. That may not be the official line, but it was the take-away message from the Pugwash Conference sessions in Nagasaki on November 1, 2015. Diplomatic niceties and patience were emphasized at this time when “mutual trust and confidence” have declined amid alarming new regional conflicts and refugee crises. The imbalances of economic and military power make nuclear deterrence, with only slow, incremental disarmament, the only safe way to proceed.
One might think that because the Pugwash Conference espouses such high ideals that it has always called for the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons, but it never actually made such a radical demand. The website of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs includes the following description of the founding of the organization:

During the darkest days of the Cold War, the founders of Pugwash understood the dangers of nuclear weapons. In their efforts to change dangerous policies they became pioneers of a new kind of transnational, “track 2” dialogue. [2]

The conference was founded two years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell had released their famous 1955 manifesto, signed by nine other distinguished scientists [3]. It is notable that the manifesto did not stress the abolition of nuclear weapons but rather the abolition of war. It stated, “Although an agreement to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments would not afford an ultimate solution, it would serve certain important purposes.” A footnote called for this to be a “concomitant balanced reduction of all armaments.” The manifesto seemed to assume that nuclear weapons were here to stay and would inevitably be used in war, so the more urgent issue was for nations to accept “distasteful limitations of national sovereignty” and “find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”
Thus one shouldn’t expect the Pugwash Conference to be a militant organization that cannot tolerate the existence of nuclear arsenals. Pugwash and its co-founder were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 in recognition of their mission to “diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms” [4] (emphasis added).
Other organizations have emerged over the years that have much less patience for elimination “in the long run,” so the Pugwash Conferences now seem complacent by comparison.
At the Pugwash Conference public session in Nagasaki on November 1, 2015, most of the speakers, aware that they were facing an audience of divided opinions, chose to stick to factual reports and to refrain from expressing their personal conclusions. Government officials preached pragmatism and patience.

There was no opportunity for the audience to challenge the ideas presented or have a dialogue with the speakers. The Q and A sessions were too short, and only the Pugwash members in the front rows were offered chances to ask questions, and most of them were inarticulate and long-winded commentaries. Some of them showed by their questions that they hadn’t even been following current events like Fukushima and didn’t know some of the basic science and history of the nuclear era, but they have been deliberately asking naïve questions just to make a point.
Meanwhile, the general public and media representatives in the back rows were supposed to only listen and learn. It was ironic to hear the speakers saying repeatedly that the public is woefully ignorant about the issues and needs to be educated, while here members of the public had made the effort to attend yet their questions and comments were not wanted. Why should the public get educated if they are not going to have any influence even at a small conference such as this?
This structure revealed what seems like a serious problem with the Pugwash organization. Perhaps back in 1957, when the US and USSR were playing with hydrogen bombs like they were firecrackers, there really was an urgent need for scientists from both countries to get together in a remote place for private meetings so that they could go back and hopefully influence leadership in their respective countries, but this no longer seems necessary. This sage-on-the-stage approach is out of date now when scientists are even more sidelined from power than they were then. The mass media will flock to a press conference concerning the latest iPhone release, but there is no equal to Russell or Einstein today who can assemble the media to take note of an “important announcement.”
What is needed now are truly participatory events that are connected with critical voices, citizen groups, and contrarians who can break through the polite diplomatic niceties and stale frameworks in order to truly debate the issues—at the risk of offending the dignitaries present. These problems can’t be solved if leaders are not going to really make the effort to educate themselves while they educate others, get out of their elite bubbles, then listen and do the hard work of leading by obeying.
What follows is a discussion of the session that was held on the afternoon of November 1, 2015. For anyone who has been following the anti-nuclear movement on the street or in the free-for-all of alternative media, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook groups, the stilted and constrained parameters of discussion will come as a shock. All discussions were limited by the realities that have been laid down by the United Nations and the signatories of the Non-Proliferation, Strategic Arms Limitation, and Nuclear Test Ban Treaties. The experts who know the history of these treaties can extemporaneously list all the dates, treaty numbers, signatories, conditions, and exceptions, with the effect that the listener is left in a state of utter confusion and intimidation. Once one becomes an expert in this subject, one is in that world and can no longer think about lofty ideals and principles. The possible is restricted by what the treaty history has carved out. So this process is very slow at nuclear disarmament, but it is very effective at disarming anti-nuclear activists who would like to see rapid change.

Statue of Mother and Child at the Hypocenter, Nagasaki
From the start, the anti-nuclear activist is already out of the picture because the basis of all the Non-Proliferation Treaties is that all states which agree to forego the development of nuclear weapons are guaranteed the freedom to develop nuclear energy. This idea became entrenched before the first nuclear catastrophes, and it is always presumed the IAEA will be eternally omnipotent and capable of spotting any attempt to convert plutonium from a civilian waste product to one that is militarily useful.
Thus the entire framework of global disarmament has no problem with the legacy of Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi, and the risk of other future catastrophes is not a concern. The treaties have nothing to say about unsecured uranium mine tailing ponds, depleted uranium weapons, and the seventy-year-old unresolved question of what to do with nuclear waste. Ecological, social and human health impacts are of no concern.
Spent nuclear fuel facilities could be considered as a radiological weapons which nations stupidly build as if they wanted to do a favor for any future aggressors they might face. They spare enemies the need to have a nuclear weapon because all they require is a conventional missile to launch at a nuclear facility. Or it could be that nuclear facilities are supposed to be a kind of a deterrent. Who would want to pillage or occupy a country after it has been turned into a nuclear wasteland? Unfortunately, disarmament treaties pay no attention to this hazard.
One of the first people on the stage was Hitoshi Kikawada, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, who repeated the usual government platitudes: the only country ever attacked by nuclear weapons, deeply committed to a world free of nuclear weapons, and so on.
If the Japanese government were serious and it really wanted to change the behavior of the nuclear states, it would break off ties, impose sanctions, and employ any means available to alter the behavior it wanted changed. This is where Japan’s hypocrisy becomes obvious. It is hardly “deeply committed” to a nuclear free world at all. It may want a nuclear free world, but it is not a high priority. If Japan were serious, it would come out from the US nuclear umbrella, and, as long as the US insisted on having nuclear weapons, it would not host US military bases on its soil. States like Japan, which live under a nuclear umbrella, have been called the “weasel states” [5] of global disarmament talks, and along with the truly non-nuclear states they have always overlooked their power to shun, exclude, and sanction the nuclear powers as a strategy for forcing them to change their ways. Perhaps the time has come for them to employ this strategy, but so far they have been divided and ruled, or other considerations force them to stay in their alliances.
At this time of “heightened tension” and “degraded trust” (people at the conference hesitated to say “Syria” or “Ukraine” explicitly), it was interesting to see two officials from the US and Russia sitting side by side, sticking to their talking points while diplomatically only alluding to the mutual grievances that were on full display at the UN just weeks earlier. [6] But at least they showed up in this forum to respond to an organization that has for 61 years urged the superpowers to seek peaceful solutions and pursue disarmament. In the roster of speakers, the absence of representation from North Korea, Pakistan, Israel, and France was notable, and no one from Germany was there to discuss its recent exit from nuclear energy or its diplomacy on the front lines between East and West.
Anita Friedt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Department of State (USA), claimed that arms reductions are continuing, and went over the progress of the 1990s. She said the expensive upgrades to the arsenal consist of no expansion of capability. Knowing that President Obama has been ridiculed for his Nobel Peace Prize, she insisted that his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons hasn’t diminished. She just blamed Russia for not picking up the offer to begin talking about reductions.
She said all this apparently oblivious to Russia’s reasons for not being ready for such a step. She would be a rather incompetent official if she didn’t know that Russia is displeased with eastward expansion of NATO, overseas “democracy promotion” propaganda in Eastern Europe (even within Russia), [7] the recent decade of illegal wars and drone-targeting against sovereign nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan), and America’s enormous expenditures on advanced conventional weapons  that aim to eliminate strategic parity. [8] It’s hard to know if she is incompetent or if she was deliberately trying to portray this false image of American innocence. Vladimir Putin has spoken very clearly on these points at recent press conferences, so the Russian point of view is hardly a state secret. [9]
Mikhail Ulyanov, Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia, hinted at these grievances but didn’t state them explicitly. This was a shame because the audience may not have grasped exactly what he was referring to, and in any case, a good raging argument would have made things interesting. It was mid-afternoon by this time and the audience was getting drowsy. I had to wonder if this is the reason we now have this lamentable state of “degraded trust” over “situations” that couldn’t be described. If speakers at such gatherings didn’t use such passive and evasive language, perhaps they could really talk and work out their differences right there.
Mr. Ulyanov stressed the important point that one cannot talk of nuclear disarmament without talking about imbalances in conventional weapons. He could have expanded this point by adding that conflicts are ultimately driven by financial interests and financial crises. Russia knows well that the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria involve struggles over energy resources and efforts to bring those countries, and surrounding regions, into Western economic spheres.
Mr. Ulyanov, like his counterpart, said some questionable things when he stated an opinion about deterrence. He claimed that we just have to accept that disarmament will proceed slowly because the rapid loss of deterrence could be extremely destabilizing. As evidence he said that deterrence with conventional weapons failed in WWII, and the USSR lost 27 million lives in that war. He said Russia cannot accept ever risking that situation again. However, he left out some crucial details such as the fact that Stalin had purged his military of effective leadership by the time the Nazis invaded. The Western frontier of the USSR was not sufficiently defended to deter or stop the Nazi advance. The Soviets had no effective conventional deterrence at the time, but perhaps there is some confusion on this point between ”failure of deterrence” and “absence of deterrence.”
     Other nations in Europe also made insufficient attempts to create conventional forces that would deter Germany. Mr. Ulyanov’s argument assumes that deterrence existed but failed, when in fact it follows logically from the word’s meaning that if it failed it didn’t exist. American general Brent Scowcroft made this point in 1983 when he said, “... 
deterrence is a very ambiguous notion. It cannot be demonstrated unless it fails, in which case you know it was not there. Otherwise, it cannot be demonstrated.” [10] It is difficult to conceive of how Germany could have avoided defeat once it was opposed by both the USSR and the USA, so Hitler should have been deterred but he obviously wasn’t. Considering the gamble he took in fighting the war he chose to fight, it is conceivable that he wouldn’t have been deterred in the post-nuclear world, either. Such a reckless leader might gamble that no one would dare use a nuclear weapon, and indeed North Vietnamese and North Korean armies did not surrender under to a nuclear-armed opponent.
     In any case, the circumstances of WWII were unique, and we must keep in mind that deterrence is not a concrete noun. It doesn’t exist in weapons themselves. It exists as a set of behaviors and messages deployed in a particular circumstance in order to try to influence the behavior of others. Nations can defend themselves, and war can be avoided in numerous ways without a nuclear arsenal, and even a nuclear arsenal wouldn’t be enough to deter all hypothetical opponents. In fact, the existence of a nuclear arsenal creates new dangers and can make nations extremely complacent about building the foundations of lasting peace.
Furthermore, if we assume that nuclear deterrence succeeded after WWII, that is only the selfish viewpoint of the superpowers counting the lives of their own citizens. The newly de-colonized countries that were devastated by Cold War conflicts might have a different view. We also have to take account of the opportunity costs, and the ecological and human toll of uranium mining and the manufacturing and testing of nuclear weapons, both inside and outside the territories of the US and the USSR. The nuclearization of nations also transformed them into paranoid security states, and the harm to the political and social fabric was carried over to the “war on terror.” Finally, while one is busy nuclear deterring, one is running the constant risk of unleashing all the consequences that would follow from the accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon. The logic of deterrence doesn’t hold up, but if Russia still wants to insist they need deterrence, then logically it makes sense for all nations—and the weaker ones need it all the more.
Mr. Kim Won-soo, UN Under Secretary-General and Acting High Representative of Disarmament Affairs (Republic of Korea) was next and spoke of being “deeply disappointed” by the recent failure of NPT Conference earlier in 2015.[11] For this author it was “deeply disappointing” that he couldn’t specifically talk about some of the reasons for the failure. The hesitation to name names and describe specific disagreements amounts to a shrug in which global leadership just seems to wistfully say “stuff happens.”
Professor Hiromichi Umebayashi, of the University of Nagasaki, discussed his group’s proposal for working toward a nuclear free Northeast Asia. This plan seemed fatally flawed. It is hard to understand how they could seriously believe that North Korea would ever consider this plan. It depends on the building of mutual trust among North Korea, South Korea, and Japan, with China, Russia, and the US promising (Scout’s honor) to never resort to the use of nuclear weapons in a dispute in this region. One flaw in the plan is the fact that the US is called a “neighboring nation” as its territory is nowhere near Northeast Asia. More importantly, North Korea would never consider this proposal while Japan stays under the US nuclear umbrella and hosts US military bases. Even if the US promised not to use nuclear weapons, its nuclear-armed submarines would still be patrolling the ocean in the region, and the US would be capable of hitting North Korea from afar by other means even if the subs were removed.
Furthermore, North Korea distrusts Japan for all the same reasons as China and South Korea. There is no common agreement about what happened in the region in the early 20th century, and this problem provides a rather weak foundation for building the trust needed for a nuclear weapons-free zone. A nuclear free Northeast Asia seems to require a nuclear free world, so the first step would be for South Korea and Japan to each unilaterally break with the American alliance. This would be the only change that North Korea could believe in. But even then there would be that little problem of Japan’s plutonium stockpile in Rokkasho. What, exactly, are their intentions?
The final speaker was Ambassador Akylbek Kamaldinov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Japan, who was honored by Pugwash for his nation’s bold decision to relinquish the nuclear weapons it had on its territory at the breakup of the USSR. Kazakhstan has recently announced that it wants to lead a movement that will see the world free of nuclear weapons by 2045. They take the high ground in speaking about nuclear weapons, but speak little of the widespread contamination throughout the country caused by seven decades of uranium mining. Kazakhstan is a leading producer of uranium, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was recently there concluding deals for the future development of nuclear energy. [12]
Progress in nuclear disarmament is impossible if two aspects of the accepted reality continue to go unchallenged. Firstly, nuclear energy is incompatible with a world free of nuclear weapons. Secondly, few countries will want to give up their nuclear deterrence as long as one superpower maintains a global network of military bases and outspends all others combined on conventional military forces. [13] The Nagasaki Declaration released after the conference (November 2015), called for only for “the containment of nuclear technology risks,” when referring to the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe. Otherwise, Pugwash endorses nuclear energy in a world free of nuclear weapons, a co-existence that many anti-nuclear activists believe would be impossible to sustain. The declaration also stated that “all parties must avoid military conflicts at all costs” but it made no mention of the extreme imbalance in conventional military forces and military spending between America and every other nation. [14] Like many advocacy groups, Pugwash has decided that the best is the enemy of the good, but that also means the good is an ally of the worst. There is a time to be practical, but one must also follow logic wherever it leads. The pursuit of practical “third way” compromises has eroded international security. Groups that pursue only what they deem politically feasible and safe are like the drunk who lost his keys on a dark street. The keys are not under the lamp post, but that’s the only place he will look because the light is better there.


[1] This quotation is on display in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. For information about Takashi Nagai, read A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai-Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb, by Paul Glynn (Ignatius Press, 2009).

[2] “History,” Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, accessed August 27, 2016, pugwash.org/history.

[3] “The Russell Einstein Manifesto,” Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, accessed August 27, 2016 http://pugwash.org/1955/07/09/statement-manifesto.

[4] “Oslo Award of the Nobel Peace Prize,” Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, accessed August 27, 2016, http://pugwash.org/1995/12/10/oslo-award-of-the-nobel-peace-prize.

[5] Kourosh Ziabari, “Alice Slater: US is not Honoring its NPT Promise for Nuclear Disarmament,” Fars News Agency, October 31, 2015, http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13940809000029.

[6] Luciana Bohne, “A Game of Dice With Russia: ‘Do You Realize What You Have Done?’,” Counterpunch, October 1, 2015, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/01/a-game-of-dice-with-russia-do-you-realize-what-you-have-done/.

[7] Gerald Sussman, “The Myths of ‘Democracy Assistance’: U.S. Political Intervention in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe,” Monthly Review, December 6, 2006, https://monthlyreview.org/2006/12/01/the-myths-of-democracy-assistance-u-s-political-intervention-in-post-soviet-eastern-europe/.

[8] “Gorbachev calls US military might ‘insurmountable obstacle to a nuclear-free world’,” Russia Today, August 6, 2015, https://www.rt.com/news/311796-gorbachev-nuclear-free-world/.

[9] “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” October 22, 2015. Accessed August 27, 2016, en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50548.

[10] ABC News Viewpoint, Discussion panel following the broadcast of The Day After, November 20, 1983, 00:21:23~. Accessed August 27, 2016, https://youtu.be/UzXcQ2Lr-40
[11] Editorial, “Disappointing NPT Conference,” the Japan Times, May 26, 2015,

[12] Kyodo News, “Abe Says Japan Can Reap 3 Trillion Yen in Central Asia Projects,” the Japan Times, October 27, 2015, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/27/national/politics-diplomacy/abe-vows-support-kazakhstans-plan-introduce-nuclear-power/ 

[13] Chalmers Johnson, “America’s Empire of Bases,” TomDispatch.com, January 15, 2004, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1181/chalmers_johnson_on_garrisoning_the_planet.

[14] Nagasaki Declaration of the Pugwash Council, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, https://pugwashconferences.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/20151105_pugwash_nagasaki_declaration_for_release_embargoed.pdf