Advocates of nuclear disarmament are raising alarms about reports that the Trump administration is planning to loosen constraints on the U.S. nuclear weapons program, warning that the Pentagon’s forthcoming plan “makes nuclear war more likely.”
Jon Wolfsthal, an official who worked on arms control in the Obama administration and has reviewed what he believes is the final version of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), told the Guardian the Pentagon’s new review includes plans to develop more nuclear weapons and expand “the circumstances in which the U.S. might use its nuclear arsenal, to include a response to a non-nuclear attack that caused mass casualties, or was aimed at critical infrastructure or nuclear command and control sites.” Continue reading →
Given Trump’s expressed affinity for America’s nuclear arsenal, it is not entirely surprising that his administration’s security strategy would place it at the center of attention. (Photo: Devin/Flickr/cc)
Viewed by critics as further evidence that President Donald Trump is “obsessed with nuclear weapons and creating the conditions for nuclear war,” the White House’s newly unveiled National Security Strategy (NSS) lionizes America’s nukes as the “foundation” of its security policy and suggests they could be deployed even in the case of non-nuclear threats.
“Nuclear weapons have served a vital purpose in America’s National Security Strategy for the past 70 years,” states Trump’s NSS document (pdf), made public on Monday. “While nuclear deterrence strategies cannot prevent all conflict, they are essential to prevent nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression.” Continue reading →
The new policy calls the weapons “an effective and necessary capability.” (Photo: mary wareham/flickr/cc)
The Pentagon made a decision that “beggars belief,” human rights groups said Friday, when it tossed out its plan to ban certain cluster bombs that leave a large percentage of lethal, unexploded munitions, which pose a significant risk to civilians.
“This is a profoundly retrograde step that puts the U.S. way out of line with the international consensus—cluster munitions are banned by more than 100 countries due to their inherently indiscriminate nature and the risks they pose to civilians,” said Patrick Wilcken, researcher on arms control and human rights at Amnesty International. Continue reading →
Hawaiian officials will begin using an alarm system on Friday to prepare residents for a potential nuclear attack. Community meetings have also been held to let Hawaiians know what to do in the event of an attack by North Korea. (Photo: @USAToday/Twitter)
With President Donald Trump showing little interest in sitting down at the negotiating table with North Korea—regarded by many in the U.S. and around the world as the best method for deterring nuclear development by Kim Jong-un’s government—Hawaiian officials are being forced to take precautions to make sure residents know what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.
At the beginning of next month, the state will begin testing the missile warning system it used during World War II and last tested during the Cold War. Continue reading →
“What if we tell House Republicans and Democrats that North Korea wanted to close schools, take our healthcare away and pump CO2 into our air—we could suddenly, magically find $700 billion dollars for all of it.”
“This is a massive cash cow for weapons companies, nothing more,” writes Alex Emmons of The Intercept. (Photo: mariordo59/Flickr/cc)
In a bipartisan show of support for endless war and out-of-control military spending, the House of Representatives on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the nearly $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 that aims to boost war outlays by $80 billion—an amount that critics noted would easily cover the costs of free public college tuition and other initiatives that are frequently dismissed as too expensive.
The final vote tally was 357-70, with 127 Democrats throwing their support behind the bill. Sixty-seven Democrats—including Reps. Barbara Lee of California, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and John Conyers of Michigan—voted against the legislation. Continue reading →
Despite warnings about the intensifying humanitarian crisis in war-ravaged Yemen, members of the U.S. Congress dodged questions from an Intercept reporter this week about why lawmakers haven’t voted on U.S. support for the Saudi-led military coalition that is bombing the impoverished country while also imposing a blockade of urgently needed aid.
Lee Fang, a journalist with The Intercept, partnered with NowThis to a produce a video that shows him attempting to question members of Congress on Capitol Hill as part of a report published earlier this week about U.S. support for the war in Yemen and the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) that passed Congress after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and which U.S. President Donald Trump and his predecessors have used to justify military actions around the globe without explicit permission from lawmakers. Continue reading →
“From the civilians harmed and displaced by violence, to the soldiers killed and wounded, to the children who play years later on roads and fields sown with improvised explosive devices and cluster bombs, no set of numbers can convey the human toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or how they have spilled into the neighboring states of Syria and Pakistan, and come home to the U.S. and its allies in the form of wounded veterans and contractors,” the new report states. (Photo: Lynn Friedman/flickr/cc)
A new analysis offers a damning assessment of the United States’ so-called global war on terror, and it includes a “staggering” estimated price tag for wars waged since 9/11—over $5.6 trillion.
The Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Center says the figure—which covers the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from 2001 through 2018—is the equivalent of more than $23,386 per taxpayer. Continue reading →
The disaster is believed to have resulted from Pyongyang’s hydrogen bomb test, which sparked earthquakes and landslides
By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 10-31-2017
Initially, a tunnel collapsed on 100 workers, and an additional 100 went in to rescue them, only to die themselves under the unstable mountain,” Business Insider reports. (Photo: TV Asahi/Screengrab)
Experts are issuing urgent warnings of a possible radiation leak following the collapse of a tunnel at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, an accident that reportedly killed at least 200 people.
“Should [the Punggye-ri site] sink, there is a possibility” that hazardous radioactive gas could be released into the atmosphere, warned South Korea weather agency chief Nam Jae-cheol during a parliamentary meeting on Monday, ahead of reports of the incident. Continue reading →
When President Donald Trump took office in January, it was unclear whether the bombast from his campaign would translate into an aggressive new strategy against terrorism. At campaign rallies he pledged to “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State. He openly mused about killing the families of terrorists, a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits violence against noncombatants.
Ten months into his presidency, a clearer picture is emerging. The data indicate several alarming trends.
According to research from the nonprofit monitoring group Airwars, the first seven months of the Trump administration have already resulted in more civilian deaths than under the entirety of the Obama administration. Airwars reports that under Obama’s leadership, the fight against IS led to approximately 2,300 to 3,400 civilian deaths. Through the first seven months of the Trump administration, they estimate that coalition air strikes have killed between 2,800 and 4,500 civilians.
Researchers also point to another stunning trend – the “frequent killing of entire families in likely coalition airstrikes.” In May, for example, such actions led to the deaths of at least 57 women and 52 children in Iraq and Syria.
The vast increase in civilian deaths is not limited to the anti-IS campaign. In Afghanistan, the U.N. reports a 67 percent increase in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.
The key question is: Why? Are these increases due to a change in leadership?
Delegating war to the military
Experts offer several explanations.
One holds that Trump’s “total authorization” for the military to run wars in Afghanistan and against IS has loosened Obama-era restrictions and increased military commanders’ risk tolerance. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations notes: “Those closer to the fight are more likely to call in lethal force and are less likely to follow a value-based approach.”
In other words, an intense focus on destroying IS elements may be overriding the competing priority of protecting civilians. Because Trump has scaled back civilian oversight and delegated authority to colonels rather than one-star generals, the likely result is higher casualties.
A second explanation points to the changing nature of the counter-IS campaign. The Pentagon contends that the rise in casualties is “attributable to the change in location” of battlefield operations towards more densely populated urban environments like Mosul and Raqqa.
This is a partial truth. While urban warfare has increased, Trump’s team has substantially escalated air strikes and bombings. According to CENTCOM data, the military has already used 20 percent more missiles and bombs in combined air operations in 2017 than in all of 2016. One notable airstrike in March, for example, killed 105 Iraqi civilians when U.S. forces dropped a 500-pound bomb in order to take out two snipers in Mosul. In fact, a Human Rights Watch analysis of bomb craters in West Mosul estimates that U.S. coalition forces are routinely using larger and less precise bombs – weighing between 500 and 1,000 pounds – than in prior operations. Finally, the urban battlefield explanation also does not account for increased civilian deaths in Afghanistan from airstrikes, where the environment has remained static for several years.
Pressure from the president
A third explanation of higher civilian casualties is that aggressive rhetoric from the president is inadvertently pressuring the military to take more risks and to deprioritize protecting civilians.
As former Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski observes: “If your leaders are emphasizing the high value of Raqqa and Mosul, while saying less about the strategic and moral risks of hurting civilians, it’s going to affect your judgment.” Words matter, especially coming from the commander-in-chief. In the face of such aggressive rhetoric, it should not come as a surprise that military officers feel encouraged – if not indirectly pressured – to take greater risks.
Unfortunately, the increased trend of civilian casualties is unlikely to diminish. In fact, signs abound that the White House is developing a new set of policies and procedures that will authorize more sweeping discretion to the military. In September, The New York Times reported that White House officials were proposing two major rules changes. First, they would expand the scope of “kill missions” and allow for the targeting of lower-level terrorists in addition to high value targets. Second – and more notably – they would suspend high-level vetting of potential drone attacks and raids.
Then, in 2016, Obama issued an executive order on civilian harm that established heightened standards to minimize civilian casualties from military actions, and required the public release of information pertaining to strikes against terrorist targets.
While the latest actions from the Trump administration stop short of reversing Obama-era restraints, they are unsettling steps in the opposite direction. For example, it appears for now that the White House will preserve the “near certainty” standard, which requires commanders to have near certainty that a potential strike will not impact civilians. But this could change over time.
One senior official quoted in The New York Times article bluntly asserts that the latest changes are intended to make much of the “bureaucracy” created by the Obama administration rules “disappear.” As the White House dissolves the existing bureaucracy and relinquishes civilian oversight, Trump is embarking on a slippery slope that will potentially lead to major diminutions of civilian protection.
The current battle to take the Syrian city of Raqqa is emblematic of the stakes at hand. The U.S. is leading a punishing air war to soften IS defenses. In August, U.S. forces dropped 5,775 bombs and missiles onto the city. For context, this represented 10 times more munitions than the U.S. used for the whole of Afghanistan in the same month and year. The resulting civilian toll has been gruesome. At least 433 civilians likely died in Raqqa due to the August bombings, more than double the previous month’s total. Since the assault on Raqqa commenced on June 6, more than 1,000 civilians have been reported killed.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein cautions that the intense bombardment has left civilians caught between IS’s monstrosities and the fierce battle to defeat it. Zeid insists that “civilians must not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid military victories.”
Trump would be wise to heed this warning. Even as U.S. forces continue to turn the tide on IS, the trail of destruction left in the campaign’s wake is unsettling. The specter of massive civilian casualties will remain a rallying point for new terrorist organizations long after anti-IS operations conclude.
IDF soldiers deployed during “Operation Protective Edge.” (Photo: IDF/flickr/public domain)
Last week, Israel began holding its largest military drill in 20 years, and it was specifically designed to simulate a war with Hezbollah.
From the Independent:
“The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has deployed thousands of air, sea and land personnel to the Lebanese border for its biggest military drill in almost two decades, a show of strength designed to intimate Hezbollahand Iran even as their power grows in neighbouring Syria.”Continue reading →