The Risk of Nuclear War is Increasing

A new simulation depicts the consequences of a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange. Credit: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University

By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON DC, Sep 30 2019 – Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet.

Today, a new generation is mobilizing to demand dramatic action to address another existential threat: the human-induced climate emergency. The scientific consensus is that climate change causes and impacts are increasing, and little more than a decade is left to take the bold steps necessary to cut global carbon emissions in half and reverse the slide toward catastrophe.

The disarmament movement has achieved success in reducing nuclear dangers before, but there is no room for complacency. The nuclear threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is growing. The risk of nuclear war is increasing.

Just as dramatic action is needed to avoid climate change catastrophe, immediate and decisive action is required to counter the growing threat of nuclear war before it is too late.

A qualitative global nuclear arms race is now underway. The world’s nine nuclear-armed actors are collectively squandering hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and improve their arsenals. Tensions between nuclear-armed states are on the rise. Key treaties are under threat.

With the loss of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August, the only remaining treaty verifiably limiting the world’s two largest arsenals is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in less than 17 months.

Washington and Moscow are pursuing the development of destabilizing types of weapons, including new lower-yield, “more usable” nuclear weapons. Each side still clings to Cold War-era nuclear launch-under-attack postures that increase the risk of miscalculation.

The use of nuclear weapons—even on a so-called “limited” scale—creates the potential for global catastrophe. A new simulation developed by scientists at Princeton University estimates that if, in a U.S.-Russian confrontation in the Baltics, one side resorts to the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons and the other responds, their current war plans could lead to an escalatory exchange involving 1,700 nuclear detonations against military and civilian targets.

Within five hours, nearly 100 million people would be killed or injured.

Many more people would suffer and die in the weeks and months afterward. A new study of the longer-term climatic effects of a large-scale U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange estimates that the resulting fallout and fires would inject 150 million metric tons of soot and smoke into the earth’s upper atmosphere within two weeks, resulting in a drop in global temperatures of 9 degrees Celsius and a 30 percent drop in precipitation within 12 months.

The resulting nuclear winter would wreak havoc on food production and lead to global famine.

Effective policies to address the nuclear threat must begin with the understanding that the only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a crucial step in this direction, but it is not an all-in-one solution to reduce today’s nuclear dangers.
Leading nuclear and non-nuclear states need to take overdue, common-sense steps necessary to halt and reverse the arms race, reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, eliminate the most destabilizing types of weapons, and create the conditions for nuclear disarmament.

To start, all nuclear-armed states should reaffirm the 1985 pledge made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The Kremlin has recently proposed that U.S. and Russian leaders reissue a joint statement along these lines, but Washington has demurred.

Nuclear-armed states should agree to adopt policies that reduce nuclear risks, such as no first use of nuclear weapons. Given the risks of escalation, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

Washington and Moscow also should extend New START by five years as allowed by the treaty and immediately begin talks on a follow-on deal to set lower limits on all types of nuclear weaponry, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons; a new agreement dealing with ground-launched, intermediate-range systems; and new restrictions on destabilizing missile defense deployments and long-range hypersonic weapons.

Further U.S.-Russian progress on disarmament would pressure the other nuclear actors, including China, to agree to freeze the overall size of their smaller but still deadly nuclear arsenals and agree to joint nuclear risk-reduction measures, such as ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and join talks on nuclear disarmament.

The catastrophic consequences of failure on climate change and nuclear weapons are well documented, the steps necessary to mitigate the risks are well known, and the public demand for action is powerful. But the political will to take action is weak.

To give future generations the chance to eliminate the nuclear danger, our generation must act decisively to reduce the threat of nuclear war and put us back on the path to global zero.

Right-Wing Politicians Fear “Invasion” of Europe & US by Migrants and Refugees

Credit: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNOHCR)

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 2019 – The United Nations commemorated its annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WDMR) on September 29 —- this time amidst rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and widespread xenophobia.

The right-wing populist attacks have come mostly from politicians and political leaders primarily in Europe, the United States and Australia.

“Those who do not put clear limits on migration will soon start to feel like strangers in their own land,” Austria’s former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, was quoted as saying.

Hungary’s hard-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has proclaimed his intention to protect Europe from “a Muslim invasion” says “in the world today, there are basically two types of leaders: globalists and patriots” –- a sentiment strongly asserted by US President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly September 24.

And as a follow-up, the Trump administration announced September 26 that the US will accept only about 18,000 refugees, out of an anticipated 368,000 claims, in 2020: down from the current limit of 30,000 and a fraction of the 110,000 the Obama administration allowed in 2016.

“At the core of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is a commitment to make decisions made on reality, not wishes, and to drive optional outcomes based on concrete facts”, the US State Department said in its official announcement last week.

In France, and in several other European countries, there are fears of a “grand replacement” of the country’s original “white population” with newer arrivals, mostly from conflict ridden nations in Africa and the Middle East.

These fears have been vociferously reinforced by hard right politicians not only in the US, Hungary and Austria but also in Italy, UK, Poland, France, Sweden and Australia.

Germany was the only country in Europe to admit about one million refugees by the end of 2018, a decision that had heavy political costs for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a report released September 19, the United Nations said the number of international migrants globally reached an estimated 272 million in 2019, an increase of 51 million since 2010.

Currently, international migrants comprise 3.5 per cent of the global population, compared to 2.8 per cent in the year 2000.

According to the report, titled International Migrant Stock 2019, a dataset released by the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), in 2019, regionally, Europe hosts the largest number of international migrants (82 million), followed by Northern America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).

At the country level, about half of all international migrants reside in just 10 countries, with the United States of America hosting the largest number of international migrants (51 million), equal to about 19 per cent of the world’s total.

Germany and Saudi Arabia host the second and third largest numbers of migrants (13 million each), followed by the Russian Federation (12 million), the United Kingdom (10 million), the United Arab Emirates (9 million), France, Canada and Australia (around 8 million each) and Italy (6 million).

Meanwhile the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) says so far this year, over 63,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea–almost 30,000, or almost half of the yearly total number of people have arrived in the past nine weeks.

About four out of five migrants or refugees enter Europe through Greece or Spain, with others arriving mostly in Italy, Malta or Cyprus.

The IOM has also launched five campaigns to prevent the risks of irregular migration and to encourage informed decision-making among young Central American migrants.

The campaigns are taking place in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Brandon Wu, Director of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid USA, told IPS: “Certainly, we expect migration trends to continue increasing.”

Instead of addressing the root causes of migration, he pointed out, governments are largely ignoring them.

“We are not investing in solutions to the climate crisis, either in terms of reducing emissions or supporting communities to adapt to climate impacts. We are not investing in food security or to support rural livelihoods”, he noted.

Wu said governments like the U.S. are not changing harmful foreign policies that are driving conflict and persecution.

“A deterrent strategy of persecuting migrants after they have already left their homes can only go so far – to reverse the trend of increasing migration, we have to address the reasons that people move, and no governments are truly tackling these issues at the right scale,” he declared.

He said the strategy used by Europe and U.S. to expand its borders outwards for the purposes of keeping migrants at arms’ length is fundamentally flawed.

“It’s a temporary solution at best, especially in the case of the U.S. which is now relying on terribly politically unstable countries like Honduras or El Salvador to absorb asylum seekers.”

The policy solutions that would actually best serve to protect the rights of migrants would be a combination of welcoming them into recipient countries and providing them the same social services afforded to citizens, and shifting policies (including foreign policy, foreign assistance, climate policy and more) to address the reasons why people are migrating in the first place, declared Wu.

Credit United Nations

Singling out the vulnerabilities of women in the refugee crisis, Jacqui Hunt, Director of Equality Now’s Europe and Eurasia Office, told IPS pre-existing sex inequalities mean that women and girls already face multifaceted disadvantages and this is compounded by other factors such as poverty, ethnic or cultural background, disability, and age.

Women generally have fewer assets to rely upon, lower levels of education, and are often absent from decision-making.

Also compounding their vulnerability are legal inequalities such as sex discriminatory citizenship rights, said Hunt, who has spearheaded several of Equality Now’s successful campaigns, including for the creation of a UN Working Group to focus on ending discrimination against women in law and in practice..

When people flee from conflict or natural disasters, they lose their home, livelihood and social network. Families that previously might have been able to afford to feed and educate several children may resort to marrying off their daughters in exchange for a dowry or simply because it means there is one less person to provide for, she pointed out.

Hunt said refugees and asylum seekers are often forced to live in impoverished and desperate conditions with limited choices, placing women and girls at greater risk of sexual assault, exploitation and trafficking.

“The international community needs to address the underlying sex discrimination faced by women and girls and how this also has a disproportionate impact on women and girls’ migration. It should position this dimension at the centre of policy discussions and implementation.”

This, she said, requires a gender responsive approach that involves women in all levels of decision making. Governments must strengthen their commitments to take action and be held accountable for their commitments and legal protections.

The Sustainable Development Goals and other international standards and objectives can help guide the way, she declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org