Monday, October 29, 2007

Can universities respond to nuclear dangers?

eGov monitor posts a letter from David Willets, the United Kingdom’s Conservative Shadow Universities Secretary, to John Denham who sits on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities, and Skills concerned about Iranian students studying proliferation-sensitive subjects at British universities. A particularly important observation emerges from among Mr. Denham’s several specific concerns:
“We have a clear obligation to ensure that our own universities, even inadvertently, do not contribute to nuclear proliferation.”
This obligation is particularly relevant as humanity faces an imminent future that George P. Schultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn have called:
“a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence.”
These notable authors gathered last week at Stanford University to further explore these new dangers and possible solutions at Stanford University. This work is to be applauded, but as institutions engaged in seeking knowledge and truth, universities can and perhaps must do more to respond to the emerging truth of new global dangers posed by nuclear weapons. The voice of universities may be especially relevant now as the production of nuclear warheads of new designs is reportedly being considered in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia.

It is not immediately obvious what sort of response would be appropriate, but three ideas emerge easily that seem appropriate points of departure for how universities might best respond to this global danger:

First, universities could make a statement of policy supporting compliance with the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and related agreements, particularly including the 1995 Statement of Principles and Objectives for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament which is an integral element of the indefinite extension of the NPT. Not only would such a statement be consistent with the educational mission of these institutions, it would also be consistent with emerging university practices such as Tufts University’s April 24, 1999 commitment to “meet or beat the Kyoto [Protocol] goal of a seven percent reduction below 1990 in our carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2012.”

Second, universities could convene institutional review boards, faculty governance groups, or other deliberative bodies composed of experts from relevant disciplines to consider how the work of their institutions might be prevented from inadvertently contributing to the dangers of nuclear proliferation.

Third, universities could form a network to explore the conditions under which the NPT Article VI obligation to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons could be achieved and how they might contribute to the necessary technical and knowledge basis for meeting these conditions.

The danger nuclear weapons pose to humanity is immediate, global, and complicated, and it may be that much work remains to be done to provide uncover new knowledge and prepare today’s graduates to live with the evolving danger of nuclear weapons. Restricting access to education may prove necessary in some unfortunate cases, but it is certainly not the limit of higher education’s obligation to meet this challenge.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Step away from the plutonium

Los Alamos Reporter staff report that Chairman A.J. Eggenberger of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board sent an October 23, 2007 letter to the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, observing:
"The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) current plan for sustained manufacturing of plutonium pits, essential to national security, relies on continued operation of the 55-year-old Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board believes that continued operation of the CMR facility in its current condition poses significant risks to workers and the public.”
The letter goes on to observe “serious vulnerabilities” at the CMR including “the lack of robust building confinement to prevent a release of radioactivity during an accident” and “the identification of a seismic fault under two wings and the susceptibility of all the wings to structural collapse due to ground motion from a 500-year return period earthquake.”

Loyal readers will recall from July the Los Alamos National Laboratory “celebration” of the production of the first plutonium “pit” certified for use in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile since 1989 and our curiosity at the time about why new pit production is necessary now. Tuesday’s letter from the Defense Nuclear Safety Board underscores the need for critical thinking about the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the importance of including potential dangers to human life and health in public consideration of this important policy issue.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Scotland the Brave! (and someday nuclear weapon free?)

Thanks to Martin Butcher for surfacing that BBC News reports that Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has “written representatives of 189 countries signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)…asking them to back his bid for Scotland to have observer status at future treaty talks.” In the letter, Salmond requests support for Scotland to have observer status in future NPT Review Conference talks and articulates his government’s opposition to the planned replacement of the British Trident subamarine-launched ballistic missile capability:

"The majority of Scottish people and their elected representatives oppose these deployments."
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explains:

“It is not about trying to make common cause with any particular country…Given that Trident is based in Scotland, I think it is right that we make sure all of these countries know Scotland's view.”
Deputy First Minister Sturgeon hosted a conference today titled A National Conversation: Scotland's Future Without Nuclear Weapons opposing Trident replacement. At this event she said:

"There are few more important issues in the world than nuclear weapons. And the position of the Scottish Government is clear - we are opposed to the replacement of the Trident system and the deployment of weapons of mass destruction on Scottish soil."

"That position is shared by a majority of MSPs, a majority of Scottish MPs, and a majority of the Scottish public. The fact that defence issues are currently reserved to Westminster does not make such opposition irrelevant - rather it forces all of us to consider how best to convey that strong feeling of opposition to the UK Government."

"There are strong moral arguments against nuclear weapons. But we need to consider the practical implications of having a replacement to the Trident system on Scottish soil. That is the responsible thing to do - and that is what we are doing."

The engagement of the Government of Scotland on the question of the future of nuclear weapons has several important implications. First, it signals Scottish willingness to contribute new energy to the resolution of issues of global concern, offering an important voice to global deliberations regarding prudent and effective movement toward the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons. Second, it suggests that despite the continuing exaggeration of the political value of nuclear weapons by some states, non-nuclear weapon state status within the NPT can still be used to assert sovereignty. Third, it indicates, as the Mayors for Peace have, that smaller governmental entities may be more sensitive to the nuclear weapon free ambitions of their constituents. Fourth, raises the profile of internal criticism of the United Kingdom’s plans to replace Trident, perhaps openning the door to greater public engagement on this vital issue.

Scotland may have a tough row to hoe with the three NPT depository governments (the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia) – credentialling representatives for the next Prepartory Committee meeting is likely to prove quite challenging – but the presence of Mr. Salmond, Ms. Sturgeon, or their representative at the 2010 Review Conference would be an important signal to the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Okay, who is NOT building a new nuclear weapon?

Russian President Vladimir Putin answered questions today from the Kremlin for over three hours in a live television, radio and internet broadcast of “The Hot Line with the President of Russia.”

AFP reports that:
“Putin told servicemen at the Plesetsk nuclear missile base that Russia would build another nuclear submarine next year and was also planning a "completely new" atomic weapon, about which he did not elaborate.”
Additionally, the AP reports that President Putin said:
"Our plans are not simply considerable, but huge. At the same time they are absolutely realistic…I have no doubts that we will accomplish them."
Putin’s remarks come on the heels of his discussions with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran in the first visit of a Russian leader to Iran since the 1940s, and of the Russian test launch of a Topol intercontinental ballistic missile.

In the context of previous Russian tit-for-tat behavior, such as withdrawal from START II immediately following the effective date of the U.S. abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the recent announcement that Russian participation in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty would end on December 12 of this year following U.S. missile defense facility siting decisions in Eastern Europe, this move may create an opportunity to ask the Russians if they would consider terminating the development of this new nuclear weapon of the United States forgoes the planned Reliable Replacement Warhead.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Additional delay on the US-India nuclear deal

Amid encouragement from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush praising the US-India nuclear deal, and also from International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei stating that India should be part of the “nuclear renaissance” and that a nuclear deal would remove restrictions imposed on India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, reports suggest that Prime Minister Singh was expected to call President Bush to announce that India would not press for the US-India deal, at least for now. In so doing, the Singh government seems to be shelving the nuclear deal, at least temporarily, to avoid the withdrawal of the UPA-Communists from the coalition government and early elections.

While India might still go forward eventually with negotiations at the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency, it appears that, barring a break-through with the UPA-Communist parties, it looks as though the deal may be on hold in India.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Opposition to Nuclear Terrorism

United Kingdom Member of Parliament from Woodspring and Tory Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Dr. Liam Fox addressed the threat of nuclear terrorism yesterday in a speech at Kings College, London. He makes important points about the dangers of nuclear weapons and materials and echoes Professor Graham Allison’s “three no’s: no loose nukes, no new nascent nukes, and no new nuclear states.”

However, his silence is disappointing on the topic of British leadership in the nuclear disarmament process, particularly including specific steps suggested by outgoing UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Margaret Beckett in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace International Nonproliferation Conference in June.

Also of interest, Dr. Fox addresses the bargain of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) directly:
“The time is surely coming for us to revisit the NPT, especially article IV. Unless the international community develops new controls and ownership of both nuclear fuels and spent fuels and unless there are clear economic incentives for countries to accept this new authority, with the major powers willing to effectively police it, then we are asking for trouble.”
One may hope that this envisioned “revisitation” will be one that includes the voices of the international community full of non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear weapon free states who exercise impressive restraint and humility in their defense and security policies by not pursuing nuclear weapons. An imposed change – particularly one that envisions different classes of states with different rights and obligations – would strain an already weakened regime.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Non-Aligned Movement opposes new nuclear weapons, including RRW

Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at last month’s conference on facilitating the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in Vienna, Malaysian Ambassador Arshad M. Hussain made clear that the NAM views new nuclear weapons, particularly including the so-called “Reliable Replacement Warhead” (RRW) as inconsistent with significant commitments undertaken by the U.S. Government under the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

“In this regard, NAM wishes to emphasize that the development of new types of nuclear weapons is contrary to the guarantee given by the five nuclear weapon States at the time of the conclusion of the CTBT, namely, that the Treaty would prevent the improvement of existing nuclear weapons and the development of new types of nuclear weapons. Pending the entry into force of the Treaty, we call upon States to refrain from any actions contrary to its objectives and purpose. In this context, NAM is seriously concerned by the decision by a nuclear weapon State to reduce the time necessary to resume nuclear testing to 18 months as a setback to the 2000 NPT Review Conference agreements. The lack of progress in the early entry into force of the CTBT also remains a cause for concern. NAM also notes with concern the recent statement by this nuclear weapon State in July 2007 in which it purportedly justified on the need invest in the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) and thus modernizing its nuclear infrastructure as part of its nuclear deterrent force. This nuclear weapon State even argued that delays on RRW would raise the prospect of having to return to underground nuclear testing, which in our view goes against the spirit and letter of the CTBT. NAM is of the view that the development of new types of nuclear weapons, is in contravention not only with the undertakings provided by the nuclear weapon States at the time of the conclusion of the CTBT, but also with the Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
This unambiguous statement should inform domestic discussion of likely international reaction to the RRW and other plans to develop new nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons production capabilities, and indefinitely maintain a nuclear arsenal numbering in the thousands of weapons. Specifically, it may be a preview of difficult discussions ahead at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.