Over the last week I and my colleagues have brought you some of the highlights from the debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 in the House. For my final post on the matter (for now) I want to talk about an issue that has long been pillar of the Reform Movement’s advocacy, but which rarely gets much play in the press these days – nuclear disarmament.
The national debate around how to best prevent gun violence took on an international dimension when, on Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a treaty to regulate international trade in small arms. The Obama Administration has played a critical role in crafting and developing this treaty and the United States joined 154 countries that voted for it; only three countries voted against it (Syria, Iran and North Korea), and twenty others abstained.
The treaty – which includes tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms and light weapons – would require that sellers of munitions take steps to ensure that the weapons are not likely to be used in the abuse and violation of human rights.
Much of the discussion around this treaty has focused on Bashar Asad and the Syrian government who, despite well-documented human rights abuses and killing of countless civilians, have continued to receive arms shipments from abroad. Anna McDonald, an analyst for Oxfam International, said of this treaty, “This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight, no treaty could do that, but it will help to prevent future Syria, It will help to reduce armed violence. It will help to reduce conflict.” Syria was joined by North Korea and Iran in an attempt to block the treaty from coming to a vote late last week.
In order for the treaty to take effect it needs to be ratified by at least fifty countries, and that is likely to be a difficult fight. President Obama, who has repeatedly expressed support for the treaty, will likely face intense resistance in the Senate, where it must pass with a two-thirds majority. The National Rifle Association has come out strongly against the bill saying that it could infringe on the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. There is likely to be considerable resistance from arms manufacturers as the United States is the leading exporter of arms around the world. Finally, there is little appetite for any international treaty for some in Congress, as particularly in light of last year’s disappointing vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Religious Action Center has been engaged in a number of actions to help prevent gun violence over the past several months (make sure to call your Senator through Faiths Calling on April 9th in advance of their vote on a domestic gun violence prevention package! ) and we will continue that work as the attention of U.S. lawmakers turns toward considering this treaty.
In case you haven’t noticed, my colleague Zach likes to use puns in his blog-posts. But I wonder if I use bomb imagery too much when I think about current events. A story blows up, it explodes. Someone rockets into the news or launches a new campaign. A new development is a bombshell or else it lights a fuse for something else. I worry that such language might obscure the true cost of these weapons, so let’s just say that nuclear weapons have gained a prominent presence in the news lately.
Most 16 year olds are worried about tests. Most 16 year olds are worried about being accepted by their friends. Most 16 year olds spend long days agonizing about the promise of a drivers license. However, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which turns 16 today, is not like most 16 year olds. The tests that it is worried about involve massive explosions with dire health and environmental consequences. The group of friends it’s trying to get in with are the 39 countries that still need to ratify it. And on the CTBT’s 16th birthday, we see no signs of movement in the United States or abroad.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was drafted through the United Nations by numerous countries including the United States. It would ban all future nuclear explosions – in tests and in warfare – and would create an international regulatory regime to monitor the testing of nuclear weapons. Sixteen years ago today, the day the treaty was opened for signatures, 66 countries signed it including the United States and the other four nuclear powers of the day (China, France, the UK and Russia). As of last spring when Indonesia submitted its ratification, a total of 183 states had signed onto the treaty and 157 had ratified it.
Addressing a packed crowd of policy enthusiasts at the Brookings Institute on Tuesday, Lt. General Daniel Holoutz, Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, spoke about Israeli security and threats posed by a potentially nuclear Iran. Click here to watch the full press conference.
Low-level diplomatic talks between world powers and Iran have failed, according to Israeli officials. Sunday on Israel Radio, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon suggested that, if all world powers involved in the talks would collectively declare failure, “it will be clear that all options are on the table.” This comment, referring directly to the threat of a preemptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program, has amplified the rumors that Prime Minister Netanyahu has all but made the final decision to attack Iran unilaterally in the coming months.
Although the American press has taken a break from counting down the hours until a potential nuclear Iran, such a threat remains a top priority for both the Netanyahu and Obama administrations. The trigger points for an attack by either of these two parties may differ, but leaders of both countries have insisted that “no options are off the table” and that a policy of containment is neither viable nor acceptable.
Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s Minister of Defense, spoke last week at the Aspen Ideas Festival about the differences in Netanyahu’s and Obama’s policies toward a nuclear Iran (he was interviewed by Tom Friedman of the New York Times, whose recent op-ed on what the Egyptian elections mean for Israel is worth a read). In his interview with Friedman, Barak noted similarities such as, “We all say that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable,” and he insisted that both parties believe that negotiations and sanctions should be dramatically accelerated and should be prioritized over any military action. However, he was quick to point out that the consequences of a successful Iranian nuclear weapons program would rest squarely on the shoulders of Israelis. Therefore, he concluded, “We cannot afford delegating this decision even in the hands of our most trusted and trustworthy allies, which is you,” meaning the U.S.
North Korea’s much-anticipated rocket launch, publicized as a means to collect data about North Korea’s agricultural resources in order to inform the nation’s response to natural disasters but likely a guise to test the country’s long-range rockets, failed and fell apart before reaching orbit on Friday. The failure apparently surprised North Korean leaders, who had been so certain of its success that international press was invited into the country. BBC correspondent Damian Grammaticas reflected the experience of the journalists in a tweet: “Now in bizarre situation our NKorea minders asking ME to tell THEM if rocket has launched. Went up 4 hours ago but they have no information.”