IPS Blog

What Drove Michael Hastings to His Death?

With the media world still reeling from the death of journalist Michael Hastings, there has been a growing fervor to conspiracy theories surrounding the unusual circumstances of his death.

Michael HastingsThe speculation began after a longtime friend—Staff Sergeant Joseph Biggs—released an email Hastings had sent hours before his death. In the email, which Biggs described as “panicked,” Hastings revealed fears that the Feds were investigating him and said he planned to “go off the radar for a bit” due to a new story he was working on.

Hastings’ email was not the only spark for conspiracy theorists. Wikileaks released a series of tweets revealing that just a few hours before his death, Hastings had reached out to Wikileaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson and warned mysteriously this his death would have “serious non-public complications,” a confusing claim that may have suggested some sort of government involvement.

Less than 12 hours later, Hastings would die in a fiery car crash, so explosive that the car engine would be ejected and found nearly 100 feet away. Initial reports speculated that Hastings was driving at 100-plus miles per hour and lost control of his vehicle. Yet given the publicly available evidence and Biggs’ claim that Hastings “drove like a grandma,” many of Hastings’ followers are beginning to ask questions.

Most famous for penning a Rolling Stone article that led to the resignation of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Hastings was not short on enemies, a fact that theorists have fixated on. The topic of the big story Hastings said he was working on is not yet known, but that hasn’t stopped speculation as to whether it was somehow connected to his sudden death. Contradicting earlier reports from the Los Angeles Times, Hastings’ wife recently dispelled rumors that he was researching Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite connected to the Petraeus scandal.

All of the mystery shrouding Hastings’ death has even led to suggestions that his car was subjected to a cyber attack. Former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism Richard Clarke bolstered this theory when he told the Huffington Post that Hastings’ crash appeared to be “consistent with a car cyber attack.” Clarke, who worked under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, referred to research done at universities that proved the plausibility of hacking into a car’s computer system to alter acceleration and braking abilities.

Given Hastings’ recent criticism of the NSA and its spy program, it seems only fitting that one of the major theories involves computer surveillance and cyber hacking. The FBI recently released a statement denying any investigation into Hastings—a very unusual move for the bureau, which seldom addresses rumors concerning investigations and had earlier declined to comment.

Other sources of skepticism include an eye-witness who claims to have seen sparks and flames coming from Hastings’ car prior the crash, spurring theorists to wonder about possible tampering with the car’s wiring. In his last article, which now seems quite foreboding, Hastings lauded several prominent journalists for making sacrifices and taking risks to investigate and criticize the government.

Hastings’ car crash may well have been an accident, but given the history of his work and the recent overreaching of the NSA, some questions must be asked and answers demanded.

Lizzie Rajasingh is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Battle of the Studies

Before I went to college, my high school advisors strongly encouraged me to choose a “practical” major. Science, technology, engineering, math — any of these fields would lead to a promising career. I rebelled. I chose to study international affairs and history.

People today think of humanities majors as the “starving artists” of academia — students who’ve sacrificed profit for passion. I couldn’t disagree more.

Many forget that there’s considerable overlap between the humanities and the hard sciences. Specifically in an area that’s captured my interest — environmental history.

matthileo/Flickr

matthileo/Flickr

Environmental historians study the relationship between people and their environment and how that relationship affects both the course of human history and the biophysical world. Together, historical thinking and scientific analysis provide scholars with unique perspective. Ask environmental historians why the Roman Empire fell, and they’ll say lead poisoning.

The Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences recently published a report that promotes collaboration between the humanities and the hard sciences, claiming that the humanities “provide context for international policy decisions regarding the environment, global health, and human rights.”

This couldn’t be truer. If countries are to agree on scientific policies, they need to understand each other’s histories, cultures, and politics.

Students shouldn’t be forced to choose a particular field or shamed for choosing to study something that’s deemed less desirable. When the humanities and the sciences are pitted against one another, interdisciplinary studies get lost in the crossfire.

It’s clear that our country’s future is dependent on humanists, scientists, and those who fall somewhere in between. We need to encourage students to follow their passions.

Our society needs passionate people.

Colleen Teubner is a student at the George Washington University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

President Obama’s Anti-Nuke Sentiments a Cover for Plans to Secure Their Existence in Perpetuity

ObamaBerlinIn its most recent press release, the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) explains how President Obama’s recent speech in Berlin reaffirming his ostensible commitment to nuclear disarmament is contradicted by plans to lock their existence in for at least the next 25 years. Many readers may not be exposed to the LASG’s work. Hence, from another one of the most eloquent series of press release you’re likely read (emphasis added).

The “$275 billion (B), 25-year plan to maintain, design, and produce new nuclear warheads and build up U.S. warhead production capacity. … eclipses all prior planning for U.S. nuclear warheads.

Among its other features the new plan would:

• Replace all current warheads and bombs – even those currently being upgraded – with several new warheads and bombs in a so-called “3+2” stockpile plan;
• Build dozens of new design, testing, and production facilities, to cost tens of billions of dollars; and
• Require ever-rising spending at warhead production sites and labs, from about $8 B today up to about $14 B annually by 2038.

But, points out LASG Director Greg Mello himself:

… the plan is silent regarding the deeply troubled relationship between the federal government and the management and operating (M&O) contractors which actually run the nuclear warhead complex and its laboratories on a for-profit, cost-plus basis.

Furthermore, he says of this “profoundly nostalgic product”:

Official protestations aside, this is a Cold War plan, one that aims to perpetuate indefinitely the prerogatives and staffing levels enjoyed by nuclear weapons contractors at the same time as it perpetuates tensions with Russia. … This plan would establish a policy of planned warhead obsolescence, creating much work where little is needed.

For

Without new warheads, the weapons labs especially would have much less work to do. This plan solves that “problem” by loading the entire warhead complex with so much work and so many ambitious, simultaneous projects that it is very difficult to imagine their successful completion. Despite its claim, the plan is very unlikely to be “executable.”

In fact

We can state confidently that the delivery systems necessary to carry all these warheads will not be built.

As for President Obama, Mello recommends that he

… “execute” this plan, fire those most responsible for it, and make another plan that is more realistic, much cheaper, and in harmony with U.S. treaty obligations, the conscience of humanity, and the realities of diplomacy today.

Finally, Mello says

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this plan is not the financial waste involved but the misdirection of national attention away from our truly urgent crises.

Junius Williams on Public School Reform: The New Inequality in Education

Privatizing Public Schools, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Privatizing Public Schools, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

On June 12, the Institute for Policy Studies and Teaching for Change co-hosted a presentation by lawyer and community organizer Junius Williams on the challenges and next steps for those confronting public school reform in their own communities. Here are some of the stories and analysis he shared.

This spring, a coalition of parents, teachers and administrators rallied outside Roseville Avenue Elementary School to protest the school’s slated closing at the end of the academic year. Roseville Avenue School, in Newark, New Jersey, is housed in a 130 year-old building. It has no gym, no auditorium, and no air conditioning. In the past three years, critical teaching positions at Roseville were cut, including a lead science teacher and a bi-lingual teacher. Despite persistent challenges of high student turnover and limited funds, state superintendent Cami Anderson named one of the top eight high performing/high growth schools in New Jersey in 2012. Just one year later, the school was set to close on the purported basis of poor academic performance and under-enrollment. But parents strongly support the neighborhood school, which has a small, supportive staff that works closely to determine educational needs of the community…

Read the full article by Teaching for Change intern, Annie Preston.

Algeria’s Trappist Monk Massacre: The Case That Won’t Go Away

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The Case That Won’t Go Away

G.I.A.-Habib Souaidia-Marc Trévidic-Mohammed Samraou-Tibhirine-Armed Islamic GroupIt’s the case that won’t go away, that of the Monks of Tibhirine (Algeria), killed and then beheaded in March, 1996. Among the most gruesome killings in recent times, no U.S. administration in the past 17 years has deigned it important enough to press either Algeria or France to investigate.

To the contrary, the brutality of the Algerian government during the 1990s seems to have greatly impressed Washington policymakers. Washington might talk the talk of human rights and democracy, but the U.S. has a long and sordid list of close allies who specialize in various and demented forms of mass repression, from Pinochet in Chile and the Argentinian generals, to Mobutu of the Congo, Mubarek of Egypt, Sharon of Israel, the Shah of Iran and the ‘Kings’ of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, just to name a few of the usual suspects.

Now add the Algeria to the list.

Downplayed, but no secret, since 9/11, the United States has entered into a growing, if not solid strategic partnership with Algeria. It’s a curious alliance given the public political feuding between a North Africa government that publicly considered itself ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘anti-colonial’ and the behemoth of modern neo-colonialism since World War II’s end, the United States.

How else to explain the silence this side of the Atlantic concerning the beheading of the seven gentle souls, by all accounts deeply appreciated by local Algerians who knew them? It could undermine the strategic hand-holding, upset the relationship vital for U.S. growing interest and strategic control of northern Africa, from Algeria to Nigeria with its extensive deposits of oil, natural gas, uranium and the like. In the same manner and for the same reasons, here in the US we tend to hear little of the Nigerian government’s human rights violation. Funny how that works!

The US-Algerian “Deal”

In today’s world, Algeria and the United States are nothing less than birds of a feather and they most definitely flock together. The US opens doors for Algeria internationally; Algeria opens doors for Bush and Obama regionally. For the United States, Algeria has become its eyes and ears in northern Africa – the Magreb, the Sahara, the Sahel – regions where frankly despite U.S satellite and drone intelligence, Washington hardly has a clue as to what is going on, on the ground. For its part, Algeria gets some communication and high-tech weaponry toys in return, but actually something far more important – international credibility, credibility that its government was fast losing as the country’s civil war of the 1990s drew to its bloody close.

Part of ‘the deal’ includes downplaying the growing voices, allegations of government crimes against the Algerian people during the 1990s and unexplained gruesome incidents like the Tihirine killings. The Algeria civil war was very low on the U.S. media radar and was hardly reported in the United States while it was transpiring. What news that did filter in reflected the Algerian government’s version of those events. Still there is something about war crimes – they don’t go away, not like their perpetrators hope. Ten, fifteen, fifty years later, the voices of victims from their mass graves, torture chambers, those dropped from helicopters into the oceans, still percolate back to the surface.

The Tibhirine Monk Massacre

So it is with the monks of Tibhirine, who were, truth be told, a tiny part of a much more extensive horror story that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, victims of Algeria’s dirty war. Virtually unknown in the USA, the case of the Tibhirine monks refuses to die in France and continues to haunt the ruling circles of Algeria as well, the latter dominated by the military and the country’s powerful security apparatus.

But then ‘it’ – the kidnapping, slaughter and decapitation of seven Trappist monks from the monastery at Tibhirine – was one of the more gruesome acts of Algeria’s ‘Dirty War’, the civil war which wracked the country during most of the decade of the 1990s. The Trappist monks were among the 250,000 or so killed, although the exact figure will probably never be known. Only the heads remain; neither the bodies nor their possible whereabouts have been identified. What in French is called the Groupe Islamique Armee (the Armed Islamic Group) or G.I.A claimed responsibility.

Questions remain, especially concerning the possible infiltration of the G.I.A. by the Algerian security apparatus who very well might have actually run the group and directed its activities pressing the G.I.A. to commit a series of gruesome acts, including the massacre of the Tibhirine monks, in an effort to discredit the opposition movement, make them appear like monsters that need to be exterminated, as political dialogue is out of the question.

To what degree was the Algerian government complicit in the Tibhirine killings? Did they actually direct the operation? To what degree was French intelligence that had close ties with their Algerian counterparts at the very least aware of this gruesome operation (as well as many others)? These are the questions that do not go away, and once again, emerge in the public sphere.

As reported recently in the Irish Times, in France, seventeen years after the seven Trappist monks were kidnapped and killed, their decapitated heads left smiling by a small country roadside, families of the victims have asked French President Francois Hollande to fulfill a campaign promise to press the Algerian government to cooperate with the investigation. There is an ongoing investigation of the case in France, headed up by an anti-terrorist judge, Marc Trévidic, but it has been stalled for years due to lack of cooperation from both the French and Algerian governments.

Trévidic wants to interview some 20 Algerians, among them members of the government in power at the time of the murders; he also is asking for an autopsy to determine whether the decapitations took place either at the time of the killings or afterwards. To date, Algiers has been less than enthusiastic about replying, although the ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised to cooperate although nothing has happened since.

Up From the Grave They Arise…Again and Again

Both French and Algerian government circles would like the case to simply run out of steam and disappear. Not likely. Besides the families of the victims, still unsatisfied with the explanations given by the Algerian government, the Order of the Friars Minor – known more commonly as the Franciscans – continue to pursue the case. There have been several documentaries and books, mostly in French but also in English. Doubts continue to grow that the official version of events reflects what actually happened.

The most damning evidence – evidence that implicates both the Algerian government of the time and to a lesser degree, France – comes from two former members of the Algerian intelligence apparatus, the Departement de Renseignement et de la Securite (DRS). Habib Souaidia was an officer in the DRS’ special forces unit charged with countering Islamic terrorism who now enjoys political refugee status in France.

The other intelligence officer, Mohammed Samraoui, became the No. 2 man in the DRS’s counter-intelligence unit. He quit and sought political asylum in Germany after being asked to organize the assassination of an Algerian Islamicist living in Germany, whom Samraoui knew had nothing to do with the Islamist guerilla movement.

Of the ruthless methods the DRS would use against its opponents, real and imagined, Samraoui would write:

At least from 1994 onward, I was able to confirm that the leadership of the DRS habitually tortured and killed their fellow citizens, as if they were simple insects. Once committed to this cycle of violence, it became perfectly logical that the generals would use massacres as a tactic to regulate the political problems that befell them in 1997 (1)

In a book published slightly earlier, by Decouverte Press in 2002 (in French), La sale guerre (The Dirty War), Habib Souaidia claims that many, if not most, of the Islamic terrorist groups in Algeria in the 1990s were both infiltrated by the DRS as well as literally run by them, prime among them the G.I.A. mentioned above. Running the G.I.A. operations from his Algiers office was Smail Lamari, Deputy Director of the DRS and in charge of operations of its military wing, known as the Securite Militaire, or SM.

Many of these ‘operations’ were ‘false flag’ operations, operations secretly conceived and implemented by the Algerian government itself, with the knowledge of the ruling clique to make the country’s Islamic movement look far worse than it was in actual fact. Committing acts of brutality, in actual fact carried out by the government, but in the name of Islamic militants helped to isolate the Islamic movement at the time from its popular base, provoke intense fear among a population that would then ask for stronger security measures, i.e., a more repressive hold on the country by the state.

At the time of the Tibhirine murders, Souaidia was serving a four-year sentence on trumped-up charges of having stolen automotive material from avmilitary warehouse, but it was because of his refusal to continue to participate in the Dirty War which was the more probably cause of his incarceration. La sale guerre does not discuss the Tibhirine murders but it cast doubts over the Algerian government’s official explanation of the murders, suggesting that, like so many others, that this was some kind of false flag operation manipulated by the Algerian state itself through the DRS, in this case with the goal of undermining talks of a political settlement then taking place in Rome.

While none of this directly implicates the Algerian DRS in the Tibhirine murders, still it is suggestive of the lengths to which the Algerian counter-intelligence operation was willing to go. In the decades since other suggestions challenging the government’s official version of the Tibhirine events have surfaced, among them French intelligence complicity with their Algerian counterparts, certainly enough ‘smoke’ to suggest that somewhere there is a fire and to merit a serious investigation.

Consequences of Tibhirine

If all the details of the Tibhirine massacres remain under wraps, the consequences are not at all ambiguous. As Louis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire wrote of the Tibhrine tragedy in Francalgerie, crimes et mensonges d’Etats:

In attacking Christianity in its very heart and soul, the assassination of the monks traumatized France, still ‘the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church’,(1) discredited the Islamicists that much more, re mobilizing the West (France, USA, UK, Germany etc.) in support of a harder anti-Islamicist position(2) at a time when a negotiated settlement between the warring parties was being considered in Rome’.(3)

What Algeria’s generals feared most at the time was a negotiated settlement with Algeria’s Islamicists that would threaten their hold on power and the oil wealth that comes with it. Aggoun and Rivoire’s analysis, while not proving Algerian DRS management of the Tibhirine killings, still gives a viable political explanation for why the Algerian government might have acted as it did.

As has been the case, frankly for decades, a fierce, under the surface power struggle in Algeria, is unfolding, ‘the battle of the clans’ as it is often referred to although in this case, the ‘clans’ as they are called in French are more accurately called in English ‘interest groups’. The DRS and the military (although there are some differences between the two) have held the reins of power for decades, their power consolidated just before the Dirty War began and continuing until today.

On the other hand, there is the president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his circle who have, rather unsuccessfully it appears, tried to wrest power from the security- intelligence apparatus. Other presidents who tried were either assassinated (Boudiaf) or unceremoniously pushed aside (Zeroual) when their usefulness had run its course, or when they decided to challenge the powers that be. It is not entirely inconceivable that the Tibhirine monks’ massacre could emerge as an issue in this power struggle as the power struggle gets dirtier. It already is pretty intense.

Regardless, the case of the Tibhirine monks is essentially only kept alive due to popular pressure especially in France and Algeria. It is time the U.S. human rights movement adds its voice to the chorus demanding an explanation, justice in this case. That it might embarrass the U.S. government some, the French government more and the Algerian government most of all should have little bearing on case.

_____________

1. Mohammed Samraoui. Chronique des annees de sang. Algerie: comment les services secret ont manipule les groupes islamistes. Denoel, Paris: 2003. Back cover jacket.

2. ‘la fille ainee de l’Eglise’

3. Referred to in French as ‘l’option eradicatrice’ – or the ‘eradicating option’ – i.e., the need for the total physical destruction of political Islam in Algeria.

4. Louis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire. Francalgerie, crimes et mensonges d’Etats. La Decouverte. Paris, 2004. p.474

Climate Milestones in President Obama’s Speech

Obama climate speech photoPresident Obama’s speech at Georgetown University was a milestone on climate change. It is a milestone in two ways. First, he made it clear he is not afraid to tackle coal as the primary culprit in climate change. Second, he made a major pivot in how he framed the Keystone XL pipeline debate. He’s no longer talking about “energy security” or “jobs” when talking about the pipeline but instead linking “our national interest” with whether or not the pipeline would have a significant impact on the changing climate.

Virtually all climate scientists who have weighed in on the Keystone XL pipeline agree that tar sands oil, if exploited, would result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. NASA’s former top scientist, James Hansen, said it would be “game over” for the climate if the pipeline went forward.

But more significantly, Obama signaled in this speech that he is ready to use his executive authority, and not willing to compromise on two key things: the climate impacts of coal and tar sands.

He made a major pronouncement in stating that public financing of coal should end, such as financing via agencies such as U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The Institute for Policy Studies was the first organization, together with Friends of the Earth, to document the significant climate impacts of U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s fossil fuel investments in 1998. That research resulted in a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the City of Boulder challenging both of those public financial institutions with violations under the National Environmental Protection Act, for not calculating the cumulative emissions of their projects on the global climate. Obama’s statement today takes that research and legal action one step further and calls for an end to almost all U.S. government funding of coal overseas. The White House statement released today says:

“…The President calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, except for (a) the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or (b) facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies. As part of this new commitment, we will work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible.”

While this statement allows for some wiggle room on coal – if the carbon produced from the coal can be captured, which currently is not financially or technically feasible – it would eliminate U.S. Obama climate speech photo 2backing of coal financing in countries like India and South Africa, both of which have recently received billions of public dollars for massive coal-fired coal plants.

Obama also said he would encourage developing countries to transition to natural gas as they move away from coal, a posture consistent with what he is calling for at home. Such a statement is unfortunate as it encourages the expansion of fracking on U.S. lands, which results in fugitive methane emissions, water contamination, and health problems for nearby communities. The low price of natural gas, while welcome as a replacement for coal, is making truly clean and renewable energy less attractive financially.

Obama also continues to support nuclear power – a surprising posture in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, a disaster that is transforming Japan, causing it to shut down its nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable energy.

And Obama was unafraid to call out the climate deniers – the “flat earth society” – and shame them, while urging the public to “invest, divest,” a statement sure to warm the hearts of students and faith groups across the country, who are urging their institutions to divest their endowments of fossil fuels.

But the significance of this speech is that Obama is finally showing us he is willing to fight – on coal, on tar sands, and on climate. Obama remains an “all of above” champion who believes he can simultaneously frack and drill our country’s oil and gas resources and solve the climate crisis. But his apparent feistyness and willingness to challenge the climate impacts of coal and tar sands – after years of silence on both topics – is cause for some celebration.

DOMA’s Demise

I arrived at the Supreme Court a half hour before decision time, only to wade into a sea of rainbow, red, white, and blue.

The last time I was here was in March. Bundled into my coat and scarf, I joined a demonstration outside the court as opening arguments were heard in Windsor vs. United States and Hollingsworth vs. Perry. They’re also known as the anti-DOMA and Anti-Prop 8 cases.

This time, the crowd dripped with sweat as we waited in frenzied anticipation for the decisions to be handed down.

Signs ranged from admonishing, (“SCOTUS, Try to Be Less Wrong Today”) to comically threatening, (“If I Can’t Marry My Boyfriend, I’ll Marry Your Daughter”) to simply powerful (“Gay Rights ARE Human Rights” and “Love Conquers All,” among others). One man carried an actual closet door on which he’d painted, “This Used to Oppress Me. Down with DOMA — No More Shut Doors.”

Not all the demonstrators supported marriage equality. One man stood behind a giant “Repent or Perish” sign. Another booed us from a passing trolley.

But these bigoted voices were drowned out by honking cars and cheering people of all kinds: Ministers and rabbis, Democrats and Republicans alike held pro-marriage signs.

The sun beat down, minutes crept damply by, and we waited. When not being shooed off the courthouse steps by police, the crowd sang “God Bless America” and “Goin’ to the Chapel,” or chanted “Equality now!”

In

Photo by Kathleen Robin Joyce

Photo by Kathleen Robin Joyce

the shuffle of the crowd, I ended up next to a woman named Mary, who had driven down here the night before from New York, along with her partner, to be at the court to witness history.

Suddenly, a wave of cheering and screaming broke over the assembled masses. Like nearly everyone at the court, Mary’s partner had SCOTUSblog on her phone, which was how I learned that DOMA was declared unconstitutional. Mary cried and kissed her partner. I got goosebumps and screamed my throat raw.

Mary’s partner translated the legalese of the opinion into plain English for us — the Supreme Court has declared DOMA unconstitutional, by a ruling of 5 to 4, on the basis of the Fifth Amendment.

The majority opinion says, “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

The crowd was ecstatic, and with good reason. Many feared that the decision would be drawn narrowly, striking down DOMA, but declaring marriage equality a state issue. But now, the justices actually recognized LGBT people as a minority being persecuted by hateful legislation.

We were hardly deflated when, as expected, the court also ruled that the plaintiffs in Perry didn’t have standing to challenge Prop 8. Let it go back to the lower court! DOMA is dead!

Kathleen Robin Joyce is a student at Georgetown University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons More an Irritant Than Deterrent

The B61 dial-a-yield bomb

The B61 dial-a-yield bomb

You’ve heard of planned obsolescence — tactical nuclear weapons are a case of deferred obsolescence: a weapon that has long ago worn out its welcome in the U.S. arsenal. On June 6, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Steve Andreasen, a consultant for the Nuclear Threat Initiative, wrote:

“Throughout the Cold War, thousands of tactical nuclear weapons — short-range nuclear artillery shells, missiles and bombs — were deployed by the United States to deter the Soviets from exploiting their advantages in Europe to mount a lightning attack. … After the Soviet Union collapsed, President George H. W. Bush ordered the return of almost all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, leaving only a few hundred air-delivered gravity bombs — the B61 — in European bunkers.

“… Politically, however, there are still voices that argue that even a bomb with no military utility is ‘reassuring’ to certain allies, and that storing this artifact in European bunkers and maintaining allied aircraft capable of dropping this bomb is a valuable demonstration of NATO ‘burden sharing.’ Moreover, these proponents are prepared to pay — or rather, have the U.S. pay — $10 billion to modernize and store the B61.”

But to a state such as Pakistan, tactical nuclear weapons present an exciting new addition to their arsenal for which they may have big plans. At his Foreign Policy blog Best Defense, Tom Ricks interviews Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. He said that Pakistan is

“… now are looking at tactical nuclear weapons.” [Their fear, Armitage said, is that if there is another Mumbai-like attack, India will respond with a corps-sized attack on Pakistan.] “Tactical nukes is what you’d use against a corps.” [This might provoke India to escalate further.] “But Pakistan would say that its tactical nukes would deter that.” [Brackets are Ricks’s.]

In a recent post titled Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?, I excerpted the Times of India’s Indrani Bagchi, who quoted Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. The latter said that Pakistan (according to Indian policymakers) hopes, by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

What Pakistan is “signaling” to me is that it doesn’t want to feel compelled to stay the hand of its Islamist militants, who it’s long viewed as its wild card. (That’s making the generous assumption that the army and/or ISI won’t be complicit in a future militant attack on India.) Instead, Pakistan is making contingency plans for the retaliation from India that it expects. But, is the luxury of keeping militants around worth developing and maintaining tactical nukes to clean up their messes? That’s some skewed calculus.

To give you an example of the problems this created, consider Ricks’s remark “This might provoke India to escalate further.” Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective. … “A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In other words, not only wouldn’t India be deterred from retaliating by Pakistan’s tactical – once called “battlefield” – nukes, it would retaliate with strategic – your garden-variety, apocalyptic – nukes! This whole business is riddled with opportunities for miscommunication that could result in an all-out nuclear war. In October 2012, George Perkovich explained in a Stimson Center report, about which I posted a month later.

Many worry about Islamist militants acquiring proprietorship of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. But the greater risk, according to Perkovich, is the confusion that India experiences in situations such as when its parliament was attacked in New Delhi in 2001 and during the Mumbai 2008 assault. Thus the nuclear deterrence model, which, according to conventional thinking, worked for the United States and Russia, may not be universally applicable. Why?

Perkovich writes that, “when it comes to … initiating and managing warfare between nuclear-armed states, it is generally assumed that a tight, coherent line of authority” is S.O.P. Otherwise “the implications for deterrence stability are profound.”

For example, if

… India is attacked by [Islamist militants] emanating from Pakistan and with ties to Pakistani intelligence services, [India] naturally infers that such actions represent the intentions and policies of Pakistani authorities. … If Pakistan does not … detain and prosecute the perpetrators … pressure mounts for India to demonstrate through force that it will [retaliate].

Perkovich presents this scenario.

For example, while India could perceive that the terrorist attacks it attributes to Pakistan signal Pakistani aggressiveness, Pakistani leaders [may only have intended the] initial terrorist attacks as a signal that the Pakistani state does not seek a wider conflict but [merely seeks] to press India to make political accommodations, in Kashmir or more broadly.

… This signaling process becomes all the more difficult and precarious if the Pakistani leaders who are presumed to be the authors of Pakistan’s signals and actions deny that the [terrorists] actually do manifest the policies of the state.

In that case …

Indian leaders then face a highly unstable dilemma. They could act as if the initial violence reflects the intentions of Pakistan’s chain of command, and send … signals of retaliatory action according to normal models of deterrence.

But this might only confuse Pakistan. Perkovich explains (emphasis added).

… if Pakistani leaders believe or claim that the perpetrators were not carrying out state policies, and India does escalate, Pakistani leaders will feel that India is the aggressor.

It becomes obvious that not knowing on whose authority an Islamist extremist attack on India was mounted

… produces dangerous confusion and ambiguity that interfere in the management of deterrence. Who is sending signals through violence that is perceived to be emanating from the state and/or its territory? What is being signaled?

In the end

… disunity erodes the rationality on which deterrence is predicated.

Returning to Ms. Bagchi and tactical nukes, she writes that another reason Pakistan developed them is

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

In a recent ebook, historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, confirms this.

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

Or, reports Elaine Grossman for the National Journal (emphasis added):

“When the U.S. says that they are worried about the security [of] Pakistan’s nuclear arms, it means it fears that these might fall in the hands of such elements as the extremist Taliban,” said a commentary published by Pakistan’s Frontier Post in late 2011. “However, when [former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi says so, he means that these are in danger of being whisked away by the U.S. armed forces.”

Update on the B61 from Arms Control Now:

But today (June 27), the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut funding for the B61 by $168 million, or 30 percent below the request, to $369 million.

This Week in OtherWords: June 26, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Julian Bond calls on Congress to fix the mistakes the Supreme Court made in its ruling that gutted the Voting Rights Act. Given that our cartoonist Khalil Bendib had so masterfully illustrated the many ways that voting rights were under attack long before the majority’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling came out, we’re reprising two of his earlier cartoons on this topic. One accompanies Bond’s commentary and the other goes with a column I wrote with William A. Collins. We’ve also got a new editorial cartoon regarding genetically engineered crops.

As always, our commentaries and cartoons are available for use at no charge in newspapers and new media under a Creative Commons license. Editors may find information about that on our website or contact me with any questions at OtherWords[ AT ]ips-dc.org. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. The Modern Movement for Civil Rights / Julian Bond
    Congress must act to correct the Supreme Court’s many wrongs.
  2. Michigan’s Snappy Innovation / Nehemaiah Rolle
    The Farm Bill should expand a pilot program that’s alleviating hunger and helping farmers in Michigan and Ohio.
  3. Today’s Mad Men / Colleen Teubner
    The military justice system needs a 21st century wake-up call.
  4. Giving a Big Story the Cold Shoulder / Don Kraus
    TV news coverage of climate change is spotty and misleading.
  5. Where Would We Be Without Social Security? / Jo Comerford
    Congress must ensure that the promise of Social Security and Medicare remains fully funded.
  6. An Endangered Species Up in Arms / Don Kraus
    The number of students taking humanities courses is plummeting, and financing for liberal arts education is being tea-partied to death.
  7. Runaway CEO Pay Gets a Free Pass / Sam Pizzigati
    The House Financial Services Committee has just moved to repeal the only statutory provision now on the books that puts real heat on overpaid top executives.
  8. The 2013 Corporate Chutzpah Award / Jill Richardson
    The World Food Prize Foundation should look further afield.
  9. A New Housing Emergency / Jim Hightower
    Many of our wealthiest citizens are hurting.
  10. Fair Elections, RIP / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    The Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling aids a Republican plan to win more elections without winning support from more voters.
  11. Corporate Witchcraft / Khalil Bendib cartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies OtherWords.org

    Corporate Witchcraft, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Corporate Witchcraft, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Germans Shocked That Obama Allowed NSA Free Rein

The former East Germany’s Stasi used similar justifications as the U.S. for total surveillance.

Stasi detention facility

Stasi detention facility

If recent revelations have led Americans to question how the United States defines freedom, Germans are questioning how the United States defines friendship. Turmoil surrounding PRISM’s overseas snooping has pushed the protection of privacy to the front of Germany’s agenda, imperiling German-U.S. relations. The American National Security Agency has been able to access data clouds in Europe for the last five years, which is news to most European citizens, although the European Parliament has known since 2011. In Germany, outrage is boiling as many begin to reassess the German-American relationship.

Since the end of World War II, Germany and the United States have enjoyed a relative closeness and codependency and are often described as a partnership, marriage, or friendship. But over the last decade, political rifts over the global economy, the war in Iraq, and America’s civil rights violations have caused this transatlantic love to fade. PRISM’s direct invasion of Europeans’ privacy provides further cleavage between the two Western superpowers.

German government officials, political parties, and news sources have been openly critical of the Obama administration, demanding information and justification. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger linked the security issue to one of democracy’s fundamental predicaments, explaining that “the more a society monitors, controls and observes its citizens, the less free it is.” She called on Washington to be completely transparent about its motivations for such excessive surveillance in order to resolve the conflict.

During President Obama’s visit to Berlin on June 19, Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed the president for specifics on the NSA’s role in Europe. While Obama’s outline of the NSA’s restricted domain and assertions about its role in terrorism prevention in Germany seemed to reassure Merkel, he’ll have to do much more to win over the rest of the country.

One reason that many Germans aren’t taking the bait is that former East Germans, including Chancellor Merkel herself, liken the invasiveness of PRISM’s techniques to Stasi infiltration. The all-too-recent horror of the German Democratic Republic’s repression hovers in German minds, giving a particularly sinister gleam to the NSA’s operations. The Socialist Unity Party of Germany justified Stasi actions as efforts to preserve state security, a frighteningly similar goal, when taken at face-value, to that of our own security agency. European Parliament member Mark Ferber reported that he “thought this era had ended when the DDR fell.”

With no comparable national experience in the popular American imagination, it seems that the U.S. government is less constrained to value privacy in the same way. The disparity is even embedded in law—the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly provide protection of citizens’ privacy, whereas Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects Germans’ lives, homes, and correspondence from interference by public authorities. The threat that PRISM poses to Germany’s guarantee of privacy protection is frightening to Germans on a deep level that perhaps even the most concerned Americans can’t fully comprehend.

Although Merkel and Obama used the term “friendship” liberally throughout their joint press conference, the term may no longer describe a unity of ideals with regard to human rights. “Is [Obama] a friend?” asks Jakob Augstein at Spiegel Online, observing that “revelations about his government’s vast spying program call that assumption into doubt.”

It is obvious that the German people will not readily sacrifice the privacy that they fought to have, and the United States can either take a page from the German book or retain its current security agenda. But even if the latter becomes agreeable to the American people, NSA persistence overseas may discolor the German-American friendship with pigments of mistrust and reluctance.

Emma Lo is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Page 10 of 235« First...89101112...203040...Last »