7 Points on the Iranian Nuclear Standoff

Once again an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report of Iranian progress in developing its nuclear industry has set off alarm bells in Washington and Tel Aviv, sparking renewed discussion of possible Israeli military strikes.  The following points should be kept in mind as the debate about Iran’s nuclear program continues:


1. There is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon or that it is taking steps toward actually building a bomb. Iran continues to permit IAEA inspectors to monitor its known nuclear facilities.

2.  Although the UN Security Council has demanded in multiple resolutions that Iran halt uranium enrichment, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty entitles all countries to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The Treaty refers to this as an “inalienable right,” language that Iranian authorities constantly cite.

3.  Iran is steadily developing its capacity to enrich uranium. It has now produced more than enough uranium enriched to 20 per cent purity to maintain the production of medical isotopes at its Tehran Research Reactor. Iran does not have enough more highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear warhead. Some of its 20 per cent uranium is in a form that is extremely difficult to enrich to the higher levels (90 per cent purity) that would be needed for a bomb.

4.  Iran has added another 1,000 centrifuges at its underground enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. These are older, less reliable centrifuge models, and only about a third of the installed centrifuges are operating.  This may be an indication that international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program are having some impact.

5.  Military strikes are not a solution to the Iranian nuclear dilemma. Israel does not have the military capacity to destroy Iran’s widely dispersed, well defended, and increasingly hardened and deeply buried nuclear facilities. Bombing strikes would cause only a limited and temporary setback to Iran’s nuclear program.

6.  Israeli military strikes would have extremely negative security implications in the region. Iran would almost certainly retaliate militarily, and its political leaders might respond to external military aggression by accelerating nuclear development and proceeding to actual weapons production.

7.  Diplomacy is the only way to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran. Sanctions are useful to diplomacy but they should be combined with incentives, including an end to military threats against Iran and an offer to remove sanctions if Iran is fully transparent and allows more rigorous international monitoring of its nuclear program.

Arms Merchant to the World

The United States has surpassed all records in global arms sales, a whopping $66.3 billion in armaments sold last year. Most of the weapons went to Persian Gulf nations, although India also bought more than $4 billion in military equipment. U.S. arms sales in 2011 were triple the previous year’s level and the highest annual total ever recorded.

The U.S. is once again the world’s number-one arms proliferator, accounting for 75 percent of global arms sales. Word of this dubious distinction comes as our leaders claim to support and have been working at the United Nations to negotiate a global Arms Trade Treaty.  The report makes a mockery of the UN negotiations and our government’s presumed commitment to control the arms trade.

The U.S. government is promoting arms sales to nations in the Gulf as a way of increasing the military force arrayed against Iran. Many of the countries receiving these weapons, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic, are undemocratic dictatorships with abysmal human rights records. Providing more arms to these repressive regimes in the volatile Middle East and Gulf region increases the risk of war and violent repression.  It fuels the arms race in the region and gives encouragement to those who are calling for military action against Tehran.

Building and selling arms reinforces the illusion that military force is the solution to the difficult political dilemmas that plague the Middle East and other regions. Relying on weapons perpetuates the dangerous and often counterproductive tendency of political leaders to rely on military force rather than diplomatic solutions to address political problems.

Encouraging other nations to spend more on arms undermines economic development. Studies by investigators at the World Bank and other agencies have found that high military spending retards economic growth in developing countries.

President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned against the military industrial complex in his 1961 farewell speech. He declared: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed…”

The latest arms trade report shows that the military industrial complex is alive and well, still feeding at the public trough and diverting resources from the needy, pouring tens of billions into the production of high tech weaponry while many millions of people struggle to make ends meet.  The consequences for global peace and human rights are grim.

Inside Attacks in Afghanistan

The insanity and horror of the war in Afghanistan are worsening. According to ABC News twenty U.S. soldiers have been killed there in the past two weeks. Ten of the soldiers were shot in cold blood by Afghan soldiers or policemen. Another American soldier was killed by an Afghan police recruit yesterday. General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in Kabul today discussing the problem with U.S. and Afghan officials.

The number of such attacks has increased dramatically, 30 so far this year, compared to 11 in all of 2011.

The military refers to these shootings as ‘insider attacks.’ Previously they were labeled ‘green on blue.’ Whatever we call them, they are a terrifying manifestation of the impossible predicament our troops are facing.

It’s bad enough that U.S. forces are under constant attack by Taliban insurgents. Now our troops are increasingly threatened by our supposed allies in the Afghan army and police, troops we are training and whose salaries we are paying (to the tune of $43 billion since 2002.)

A NATO study claims that the insider attacks are not caused by Taliban infiltration but are the result of personal disputes or outrage. If true this is hardly reassuring. It suggests an extraordinary degree of hatred and mistrust between many Afghan recruits and U.S. troops.

These insider attacks are a dagger in the heart of the U.S. mission. They strike at the core strategy of training Afghan forces to replace our troops. If we cannot trust the troops we are recruiting, how can the mission succeed? How can our soldiers do their job if they have to constantly look over their shoulders?

Why are we continuing to sacrifice U.S. soldiers to this mission impossible? It is time to bring the war to an end, as quickly as possible. The U.S. should immediately declare a ceasefire and begin direct negotiations with the insurgents to reach a political solution.

Budget Baloney

Many are rightly criticizing the Romney-Ryan budget plan, which would slash funds for needed social programs while providing additional tax cuts for the super-rich. Less attention has focused on the candidates’ proposals for military spending, which are equally distorted. The Ryan budget plan would reduce spending on veteran’s benefits, while providing additional funds for weapons and military programs that even military leaders believe are unnecessary.

According to a recent message from Veterans for Common Sense, Rep. Ryan’s 2013 budget plan would cut $11 billion from benefit programs for veterans. It would replace current veteran’s health programs with a voucher system, as Ryan has proposed for Social Security. Costs for veterans would increase.

A recent analysis from the National Priorities Project shows that over the next decade the Ryan plan would cut $1.28 trillion from discretionary non-defense programs such as education, the environment and the social safety net, while adding almost $600 billion in additional military spending. This is more than Pentagon leaders advocate.  When the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before Congress that they support the Obama administration’s modest reductions in projected military budget increases, Ryan publicly questioned their veracity, drawing a rebuke from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Romney and Ryan claim to be concerned about reducing budget deficits, but their proposals would significantly increase the budget deficit. They vow to support veterans but propose slashing their health programs. They say they want to shrink the size of government, but they propose increasing the budget of the largest and most wasteful government bureaucracy, the Pentagon, disregarding even military assessments of appropriate spending levels.

Thanks to Veterans for Common Sense and National Priorities Project for helping to expose this hypocrisy.

What Next for Afghan Women?

As U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan proceeds, the question of what will happen to the women of Afghanistan is increasingly urgent.

Afghan women and girls have achieved significant social and economic gains over the last decade. With the support of development funding from the international community, millions of women have acquired an education, participated in community development programs, and gained access to health care.  These achievements are among the few bright spots of the international mission in Afghanistan. They should be protected as foreign troops begin to withdraw and political negotiations seek to end the war.

These developments are discussed in my new updated report, Afghan Women Speak: Enhancing Security and Human Rights in Afghanistan, just released from the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Produced and disseminated in cooperation with Women’s Action for New Directions, the report draws from more than 70 interviews in Afghanistan, including those conducted during my trip to Kabul last October. The report sheds new light on the political, social and economic conditions of women in Afghanistan today. It offers concrete policy proposals to sustain the gains that have been achieved as the U.S. and other foreign forces complete their military withdrawal in the coming months.

A copy of the report is available here.