Australia: The Next Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)


A heavyweight trio of Australia’s strategic and defense policy analysts has opened a debate on the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear weapons.  Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith  documented the increased strategic risk to Australia based on a critical assessment of China’s capabilities, motives and intent.

Paul took that further  in The Australian, canvassing the idea of investing in capabilities that would reduce the lead time for getting the bomb to give us more options for dealing with growing strategic uncertainty. North Korea’s nuclear advances and diminishing confidence in the dependability of US extended nuclear deterrence add to the sense of strategic unease.

Andrew Davies  inferred Hugh White’s support for the idea and implied that both Paul and Hugh had been too coy to take their analyses to the logical conclusion. Hugh has been the preeminent Australian analyst advocating an  independent recalibration of our position vis‑à‑vis the China–US tussle for strategic primacy  in the Asia–Pacific.

In reply, Hugh  politely, gently but firmly rejected the implication that he’s a closet supporter of Australia taking the nuclear weapon path. He neither advocates nor predicts that Australia should or will go nuclear. He professes uncertainty about the role of nuclear weapons in shaping Asia’s emerging strategic landscape, highlights the importance of getting the decisions right on conventional capabilities first, and points to the choices and trade-offs that would then have to be made between the security benefits and risks of a weaponized nuclear capability.

Who will call out the nuclear emperor for being naked? Nuclear weapons haven’t been used since 1945—Hiroshima was the first time and Nagasaki the last. Their very destructiveness makes them qualitatively different in political and moral terms, to the point of rendering them unusable. A calculated use of the bomb is less likely than one resulting from system malfunction, faulty information or rogue launch.

On the other hand, the non-trivial risks of inadvertent use mean that the world’s very existence is hostage to indefinite continuance of the same good fortune that has ensured no use since 1945.

Curiously, Hugh, Paul and Andrew don’t explore the roles that nuclear weapons might play, the functions they would perform, and the circumstances and conditions in which those roles and functions would prove effective. This is a crucial omission. The arguments I canvassed in a review of the  illusory gains and lasting insecurities of India’s nuclear weapon acquisition  apply with equal force to Australia, albeit with appropriate modifications for our circumstances.

In short, the nuclear equation just does not compute for Australia.

Consistent with the moral taint associated with the bomb, the most common justification for getting or keeping nuclear weapons isn’t that we’d want to use them against anyone else. We’d only want them either to avert nuclear blackmail or to deter an attack. Neither of those arguments holds up against the historical record or in logic.

The belief in the coercive utility of nuclear weapons is widely internalised, owing in no small measure to Japan’s surrender immediately after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet the evidence is surprisingly clear that the close chronology is a coincidence. In Japanese decision-makers’ minds, the  decisive factor in their unconditional surrender  was the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific war against Japan’s essentially undefended northern approaches, and the fear that the Soviets would be the occupying power unless Japan surrendered to the US first. Hiroshima was bombed on 6 August 1945, Nagasaki on 9 August. Moscow broke its neutrality pact to attack Japan on 9 August and Tokyo announced the surrender on 15 August.

There’s been no clear-cut instance since then of a non-nuclear state having been bullied into changing its behaviour by the overt or implicit threat of being bombed by nuclear weapons.

The normative taboo against the most indiscriminately inhumane weapon ever invented is so comprehensive and robust that under no conceivable circumstances will its use against a non-nuclear state compensate for the political costs. That’s why nuclear powers have accepted defeat at the hands of non-nuclear states (for example, Vietnam and Afghanistan) rather than escalate armed conflict to the nuclear level. Non-nuclear Argentina even invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 despite Britain’s nuclear arsenal.

Australia’s nuclear breakout would also guarantee the collapse of the NPT order and lead to a cascade of proliferation. Each additional entrant into the nuclear club multiplies the risk of inadvertent war geometrically. That threat would vastly exceed the dubious and marginal security gains of possession. The contemporary risks of proliferation to, and use by, irresponsible states in volatile conflict-prone regions, or even by suicide terrorists, outweigh realistic security benefits. A more rational and prudent approach to reducing nuclear risks to Australia would be to actively advocate and pursue the minimisation, reduction and elimination agendas for the short, medium and long terms identified in the  Report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament —an Australian initiative that was co-chaired by distinguished former Australian and Japanese foreign ministers.

Too Little Too Late for the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Op-Ed: Indian Point Should Be Decommissioned, Cleaned Up ASAP

The NRC allows nuclear power plants up to 60 years and that’s too long, says the Riverkeeper Staff Attorney.

By Lanning Taliaferro | Jun 13, 2018 10:24 am ET

Riverkeeper submitted its comments on the Annual Report from the State Indian Point Closure Task Force on Friday, June 8, 2018. The report lays out for the public complex issues regarding spent fuel management, current U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations, the radiological contamination of the site, effects on communities and workers, and useful references regarding other reactors that have closed.

It also clarifies that replacement energy is already available even without new gas power plants.

However, on site reuse, the Task Force report fails to examine one of the best options, which would be to decommission and clean up the whole Indian Point site within a reasonable period, such as 20 years. Instead, the Task Force goes into details on options for the reuse of small parcels that are highly constrained and that Entergy has said it will not make available until the site is decommissioned.

The Task Force took this limited approach because the the NRC, which oversees decommissioning, allows nuclear power plants up to 60 years to decommission. However, the NRC is focused on the interests of nuclear licensees, not the local community.

It is therefore necessary and appropriate for the State and its Task Force to act as a champion of local concerns and interests during the forthcoming Indian Point decommissioning process. Experience with decommissioning so far shows that it can be done within 20 years or even faster if the will is there.

A prompt decommissioning and cleanup that would allow reuse of the whole site would be the best option for the local communities on several levels. First, they would need many workers for the task, supporting local businesses. Second, the whole site would yield far more value than trying to segregate small parcels. Third, it would ensure that spent fuel is moved rapidly into safer dry storage and would protect the Hudson River from the radioactive plumes of contamination that are currently under the site.

Although the NRC has exclusive jurisdiction over safety, the State has jurisdiction over economic issues. It could therefore exert state jurisdiction to mandate a prompt decommissioning.

At a more detailed level, Riverkeeper supports the idea of an inclusive Citizens Oversight Board that would work in parallel with the Task Force, but would include a broader range of stakeholders. We also believe it is important to minimize the risks from the long term storage of spent fuel and to consider the risks from the gas pipelines that are on and close to the site.

Maggie Coulter

(The writer is Riverkeeper Staff Attorney)

More fighting outside the temple walls (Revelation 11:2)

Israel Fires Toward Gaza Cell That Launched Airborne Firebombs

Twenty-seven fires broke out in Gaza-border communities throughout the day ■ Israeli military arrests Palestinian trying to breach border fence

Almog Ben Zikri

An Israeli army aircraft fired toward a Hamas cell that launched incendiary balloons towards Israeli territory from the southern Gaza Strip, the military said Wednesday.

The army also said it detected a Palestinian trying to cross the border fence in the south of the strip. He was caught and while security forces searched him, soldiers found explosive materials and metal-cutting instrument. The man was subsequently taken for questioning by security forces.

Fire-fighting and rescue services were called to contain 27 fires that blazed along the Gaza border throughout the day as result of airborne firebombs hurled at Israel. All the fires were put out.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel will close the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza over the airborne firebombs being sent into Israel in recent weeks.

“In agreement with the defense minister, we will act with a heavy hand against the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the step “a new crime against humanity” that are against international law and human rights.

This was not the only step Israel is taking to counter the threat, Netanyahu said, but refused to elaborate. “As for Gaza, I’ve already told you that I have no intention to prematurely announce all of the steps we are taking,” the prime minister told Likud lawmakers. “There will be other steps which I won’t detail.”

Save the Oil and the Wine (Revelation 6:6)


LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian vice president Eshaq Jahangiri acknowledged on Tuesday that U.S. sanctions would hurt the economy but promised to “sell as much oil as we can” and protect its banking system.


President Donald Trump said in May he would pull the United States out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose U.S. sanctions. Washington later told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from Nov. 4 or face financial consequences.

Jahangiri said it would be a mistake to think the U.S. “economic war” against Iran will have no impact, but added: “We will make Americans understand this year that they cannot stop Iranian oil sales.

The U.S. ambassador to Berlin called on the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to block an Iranian attempt to withdraw large sums of cash from bank accounts in Germany.

Iran’s foreign ministry and the central bank have taken measures to facilitate banking operations despite the U.S. sanctions, Jahangiri said without elaborating.

The Iranian oil ministry said last week that it exported 2.2 million barrels per day of crude oil in June. The figure is not significantly lower than exports of 2.4 million bpd in April and in May.


European powers still support the 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear development in exchange for international sanctions relief. They say they will do more to encourage their businesses to remain engaged with Iran, though a number of firms have already said they plan to pull out.

Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatory countries to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — offered a package of economic measures to Iran on Friday but Tehran said they did not go far enough.

“We think the Europeans will act in a way to meet the Iranian demands, but we should wait and see,” Jahangiri said.

The pressure on Iran came as Washington had launched an “economic war with China and even its allies”, he said, referring to trade tensions between the United States and many of its main trading partners.

Jahangiri also accused Washington of trying to use the economic pressure to provoke street protests in Iran.

A wave of anti-government demonstrations against economic hardship and alleged corruption engulfed cities across the country in late December and early January.

Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by John Stonestreet, Andrew Heavens and David Stamp

The Rising of the Iraqi Horn (Daniel 8:6)

An emerging populism is sweeping the Middle East

Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr celebrate their electoral success in Baghdad in May 2018. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

by Renad Mansour and Lina Khatib

Monkey Cage Analysis


AnalysisInterpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events

July 11 at 7:45 AM

This year featured key parliamentary elections in Iraq and Lebanon. In both countries, formerly controversial populist figures performed far better than expected and are playing central roles in the scramble to form governments. In Iraq, the Saeroon coalition led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the notorious former leader of the Mahdi Army militia, won the plurality of seats. In Lebanon, the Samir Geagea-led Lebanese Forces, a former militia traditionally seen as a right-wing Christian party, doubled its number of seats in parliament.

At first glance, the two outliers, Sadr and Geagea, may appear to be diametrical opposites, but their surprising victories reveal an emerging form of populism sweeping the Middle East. And while Iraq and Lebanon are often compared for their ethnic and sectarian power-sharing agreements, these elections also show that ideology is the wrong lens through which to understand political nuance.

Discontent with the status quo and elite politics

Low voter turnouts in both elections illustrated citizen disillusionment with the political process. Compared with previous elections, voter turnout was down from 60 percent to 44.5 percent in Iraq and from 54 percent to 49.2 percent in Lebanon. In Iraq, although expectations were high after the territorial defeat of the Islamic State militant group, many citizens expressed doubt that the same political parties and lists that had benefited from the system since 2003 were willing or able to change it. Similarly, in Lebanon, voters were cynical about participating in an election widely perceived to reinforce the elite.

Sadr and Geagea were not affected by the turnout, which served as an indictment of the political process. Each convinced their supporters that they were committed and able to bring back power to the people. Their campaigns reveal an emerging trajectory of populist movements in the region. What are its features?

Despite belonging in various capacities to this club of elites, both leaders have publicly criticized it for the past several years. Geagea has spoken against Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s accommodation of Hezbollah’s interests after its involvement in the Syrian conflict, criticized Hezbollah’s insistence on retaining weapons and, despite endorsing Michel Aoun for the presidency, indirectly critiqued Aoun’s alliance with the group.

Since coming back from exile in 2011, Sadr has also actively worked against the establishment elite. In 2012, he led a no-confidence motion that came close to ousting then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In 2015, he took over a protest movement that eventually invaded Baghdad’s Green Zone in 2016, forcing Haider al-Abadi to change several of his cabinet ministers.

As such, both Sadr and Geagea appealed to the people and against their establishment colleagues, serving as markers of the emerging populism in the region.

Populist leaders proving themselves by reforming their own movements

Another feature of these populist movements is their attempt at internal reform. Both leaders have made anti-corruption changes to their own movements or to state offices that their party members have held. For the 2018 elections, Sadr decided to run with a slate of new candidates, telling many of his seasoned political colleagues to step aside. He has also come down hard against members in his movement accused of corruption, including former deputy prime minister Baha Araji.

Similarly, the Lebanese Forces called for reform within the ministries in which its members serve. In the Ministry of Social Affairs, internal reform was led by a Lebanese Forces-affiliated minister to prevent the common practice of siphoning international aid to private pockets. These efforts helped prove to many voters that both Sadr and Geagea were more committed to systemic reform than their electoral rivals.

Populism succeeds where grass-roots movements have failed

In Lebanon, the protests led by independent civil society activists in 2015, sparked by a crisis about garbage collection, failed to cause governmental change as many protesters had hoped. Although a large number of independents ran in the 2018 election, only one independent candidate won.

Iraq’s protest movement similarly failed to bring about systemic change. Only when the Sadrists joined did it offer glimpses of dramatic change. As a result, several prominent civil society activists decided to join forces with the Sadrist movement for the elections. As one prominent activist said, “We knew that without Sadr, we would not have any chance of gaining power in parliament and pursuing our reform agenda.” The success of the Lebanese Forces and the Sadrists alike can be partly attributed to the failure of independents to instigate change on the street or instill public faith in the political process.

As a result, unlike the other elite who suffered from the turnout, Sadr’s party of newcomer candidates maintained its electoral base and Geagea’s party managed to snatch votes formerly given to the establishment Free Patriotic Movement. Their populist combination of elitism with a reform agenda appears to have given voters more confidence in the ability of Sadr and Geagea to implement reform than in the prospect of independent voices to change the system.

Prospects for populist leaders after electoral success

Whether these leaders’ ambitious visions can be transformed from populist opportunism to a genuine and realistic program for reform remains to be seen. The struggles both are facing as they strive to influence cabinet formation in the aftermath of the elections illustrate how electoral success in the Middle East does not automatically translate into political agenda-setting.

Both are facing significant pushback from their political rivals as they try to influence the formation of the cabinets in Iraq and Lebanon. Sadr has been forced to negotiate a government with elites such as leader of the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance Hadi al-Amiri, Abadi and others. Geagea had to endorse Hariri, who has been confirmed as prime minister once more with Hezbollah’s blessing, despite his Lebanese Forces publicly complaining of Hezbollah efforts to exclude it from prominent positions in parliament and the cabinet. The prevailing strength of the status quo challenges populist leaders’ chance to transform their electoral success into the kind of political influence that can deliver on their promises.

Renad Mansour is a research fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, where he leads work on Iraq. Follow him @renadmansour

Lina Khatib is the head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House. Follow her @LinaKhatibUK