Korean Peninsula – Lowering the Temperature
The declarations and approaches of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un are an true lesson in how not to avoid a war, and with the respective nuclear arsenals to which both “leaders” refer, the implications of such a war are disastrous – for each country and for the planet, if other nuclear powers decide to get involved. Clearly a better avenue can and must be pursued…what Senator Ben Cardin called a “diplomatic surge”, and what has historically been proven possible. Jimmy Carter negotiated a stop to North Korean nuclear weapons development in the 1990s, and while the structure of that agreement broke down, it forestalled a potential nuclear nightmare at the time. And more sanctions are not diplomacy, but rather just serve to provoke North Korea and further inflame everyone’s rhetoric.
During his recent visit to China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implied that diplomatic approaches were again being made to North Korea. This potentially positive news was countered by Trump’s suggestion that such a meeting was “a waste of time” and that Tillerson should abandon the idea. Between Trump’s threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” North Korea (its very uttering likely a violation of international law) and his incendiary tweets, he seems ominously open to the unthinkable. Even a “conventional” war can escalate to something far worse.
We can be open to the notion that it is all (on both sides) just talk, but even words can affect a nuclear alert system. And as to talking, there are far better things to say than what we are hearing. Members of Congress need to take a stand for diplomacy, and do everything possible to remove any sign of legitimacy to what Trump and Kim are putting forth.
Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier or Anna Eshoo, or whosever district you reside in, and tell them to speak up in the House on behalf of starting talks, aimed at addressing each side’s concerns and avoiding an armed conflict, with the North Korean government. Urge both Senator Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein to make the same kinds of statements in the Senate. Suggest that while trying diplomacy will not be easy, it would, as it has before, improve on the possible alternative of a nuclear war with an unknowable outcome.
Upholding the Deal
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated between Iran and the U.S. along with five other nations to regulate Iran’s nuclear program, Trump is required by October 15 to certify to Congress whether, in his opinion, Iran is complying with the agreement – and whether he believes the deal remains in the U.S. national security interest. Unfortunately, Trump’s words of late indicate he will move to decertify the JCPOA.
That would open the door for Congress to introduce and perhaps pass new sanctions on Iran, a move that many in the peace community see as provocative and destabilizing. It also could isolate the U.S. by setting it apart from the other six nations who are a party to the agreement. After all of the work on the 2015 plan, Trump’s words about “renegotiating” are unrealistic and a non-starter. Indeed, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and nonproliferation experts around the world have affirmed that Iran is keeping up its end of the deal – a fact best not ignored by either the White House or Congress.
North Korea becomes a factor here as well, in that they would see no motivation to sit down and negotiate on their nuclear arsenal if Iran’s cooperation is rewarded by turning away from that deal and turning up sanctions. North Korea could instead further escalate its own program. Congress needs to recognize all of these implications.
Action: Contact Reps. Speier or Eshoo, as well as Senators Feinstein and Harris, and urge them to become vocal about the need to keep the JCPOA functioning. (Bonus points for contacting Sens. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee.) Remind all of the success of the deal so far, as reported by the IAEA, and that a new one would be impossible. Add that – assuming Trump decertifies U.S. participation – they need to oppose new sanctions on Iran, which could escalate tensions and cause them to reconsider any nuclear ambitions they might have.
(Thanks to the Peace Action national office for much of the text for this alert)
In Yemen, the U.S. has been supporting a vicious bombing campaign carried out by a Saudi-led military coalition. The coalition’s airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians by indiscriminately bombing schools, hospitals, marketplaces, and other vital infrastructure. Congress has yet to debate or vote on authorization of U.S. involvement in Yemen.
That is now set to change: South Bay Representative Ro Khanna joined with Reps. Walter Jones, Thomas Massie and Mark Pocan to introduce a bipartisan bill to invoke the War Powers Act. H Con Res. 81 would force a debate and a floor vote on ending U.S. participation in Saudi Arabia’s disastrous intervention; House members would be on record for where they stand.
Besides the thousands of civilian deaths caused directly by military strikes, widespread destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure – including roads and hospitals – along with an aerial and naval blockade have pushed Yemen into a major humanitarian crisis. Yemen is now on the brink of famine, and is suffering the world’s worst cholera outbreak on record, with a million malnourished children at risk from the disease. When the director of UNICEF was asked how to end Yemen's humanitarian catastrophe, he pointedly said: “Stop the war.”
The U.S. was wrong from the start to offer support for the Saudi military intervention in Yemen back in March 2015. Since then, with arms sales, and logistical and political support, the Saudi-led military coalition has virtually ruined Yemen. Meanwhile the U.S. arms the Saudi-led coalition, and refuels Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) warplanes bombing Yemen. Thus the U.S. is literally fueling this war, and therefore bears part of the responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe.
Action: Contact Rep. Speier or Eshoo and urge their support for H. Con Res. 81, to force a vote on our participation in the war in Yemen. Tell them that with its population on the brink of starvation, the U.S. should stop facilitating this ill-advised intervention and focus on feeding people and facilitating a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Stop Spying On Us
An important provision of the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year. Section 702 of this law authorizes intelligence agencies such as the FBI and NSA to scan in bulk phone calls, text messages and emails traveling across the internet. While this information sweep is supposedly meant just for people outside the U.S., Americans’ communications become part of the data – without a warrant or any particular suspicion of wrongdoing.
Members of Congress from both major parties have shown interest in removing Section 702…a big reason may be that they are also targets of such surveillance as well as everyday people. In fact, it’s conceivable that, under this section, internet communication data from every American has been collected.
But Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is not so phased, and introduced a bill that would prevent the sunset of Section 702 and permanently reauthorize this provision of invasive surveillance. This would allow companies like Booz Allen (the former employer of Edward Snowden, who first told us about Section 702), Lockheed Martin and Leidos to reap government contracts for the surveillance.
On the other hand, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard introduced H.R.2588, the Preventing Unconstitutional Collection Act, which targets Section702. Thus the House has a chance to accomplish in a different way what the Senate is also attempting.
Action: Contact Sens. Feinstein and Harris, and tell them to oppose Sen. Cotton’s bill to perpetuate Section 702 as part of the FISA Amendments Act. Likewise reach out to Reps. Speier or Eshoo, and urge their support for H.R. 2588. Suggest that we don’t need or want the FBI and NSA sweeping up all of our personal online information; to do so is a violation of the 4th Amendment protecting us from unreasonable searches.
Whose Finger on the Button?
The current U.S. policy that threatens the first use of nuclear weapons has always been controversial; in these times it’s a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Even military leaders who have been in charge of our nuclear forces, such as General James E. Cartwright, argue that there is no need for such a policy that cannot be addressed by economic, diplomatic and conventional tools. And of course, should the United States ever launch a nuclear first strike, the risks of catastrophic escalation would be great. If one nuclear attack led to others, a nuclear winter could ensue, risking billions of casualties and any number of global crises.
Maintaining this first-use policy, especially when the decision of whether to carry it out is left in the hands of one person – in our case, the President – encourages other nations to pursue advanced nuclear weapons in order to deter a potential U.S. first strike…which in turn increases the chance of an unintended nuclear war. The current resident of the White House, and the manner in which he has so far done his job, brings new significance to the notion that no president should be able to unilaterally launch a nuclear first strike.
In January California Rep. Ted Lieu and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introduced corresponding bills in the House and Senate, entitled the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. This legislation – H.R. 669 in the House and S. 200 in the Senate – would prohibit a President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. In a government that thrives under a system of checks and balances, the bills would seem to be the ultimate “check” in favor of our survival. While nuclear weapons should never be used under any circumstances, the bills are a move in the right direction to prevent what amounts to what has been called a “thermonuclear monarchy”.
Action: Contact Rep. Jackie Speier to thank her for co-sponsoring H.R. 669, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. Rep. Anna Eshoo has not yet co-sponsored, so her constituents can tell her to sign on. Likewise contact Sen. Kamala Harris and tell her to add her name to the corresponding S. 200. Suggest this is a long-overdue bill, but especially timely during the present administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has signed on in the Senate, so feel free to also thank her.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121
Senator Kamala Harris
50 United Nations Plaza, Ste 5584 San Francisco, CA 94102
(916) 448-2787 FAX: (202) 228-3865
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Department of State:
(202)647-6575 FAX: (202)647-2283