Fate of disarmament: Russia-USA tension; Putin suspends weapons-grade plutonium deal!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
It might amount to over simplification of the facts if one says USA or Uncle Sam is the root cause of all troubles and tensions the world and humanity facing today. How come having got largest WMD on earth and having test the efficacy of bombs on humans, USA has also been able to dictate its terms to the world nations?
Today world is being threatened by the menace of nuclear weapons or nukes or WMD, capable of dismantling entire world along with living beings and non-living things. Yet, the world’s top nuclear weapons’ states like USA, Russia, UK and China have not made any sincere attempt to rapidly reduce nuclear weapons according to a reliable time table plus easily verifiable methods and briskly make the world free from WMD.
Instead of taking steps to realize the objective of total disarmament, super power USA and other world nuke powers just threaten Iran, North Korea, among others who want to acquire nuclear technology at par with others seeking it for peaceful purposes, thereby giving a false impression that they seek to destroy their own nukes. These naughty powers threaten them because they just do not want more countries to join the nuke club to share its bogus prestige.
Nuclear weapons like climate disorder complicate the international environment and add to the human insecurity. A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission (fission bomb) or a combination of fission and fusion (thermonuclear weapon). Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first test of a fission (“atomic”) bomb released the same amount of energy as approximately 20,000 tons of TNT (84 TJ). A nuclear device no larger than traditional bombs can devastate an entire city by blast, fire, and radiation. Nuclear weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction, and their use and control have been a major focus of international relations policy since their debut.
Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have been detonated on over two thousand occasions for the purposes of testing and demonstration. Only a few nations possess such weapons or are suspected of seeking them. The only countries known to have detonated nuclear weapons—and acknowledge possessing them—are (chronologically by date of first test) the USA the Soviet Union (succeeded as a nuclear power by Russia), the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Thanks to USA and other western veto members, Israel also possesses undeclared and unlawful nuclear weapons, though in a policy of deliberate ambiguity to confuse the IAEA and UN, it does not acknowledge having them. Germany, Italy, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands are nuclear weapons sharing states.
The nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) aimed to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons, but its effectiveness has been questioned, and political tensions remained high in the 1970s and 1980s. As of 2016, 16,000 nuclear weapons are stored at sites in 14 countries and many are ready for immediate use. Modernisation of weapons continues to occur. But outdated nukes retained in arsenals pose danger to the world.
USA and Russia, with the largest nuclear assets and arsenals, do not have any plan for credible disarmament to make the humanity fear less.
During the cold war, both the then super powers USA and Soviet Union amassed huge arsenals of nuclear weapons as defense measures against each other. The highly destructive potential of these arsenals were meant to deter direct conflict between the United States and USSR, since any direct war between two powers with that amount of nuclear destruction would completely wipe out both sides. After the fall of the USSR, relations between the two countries began to normalize, and portions of these stockpiles began to be eliminated. But relations between the US and Russia have begun to sour again. The Russian presidential decree claims that “a fundamental change of the circumstances” has taken place between the two countries since 2010, according to the state-owned TASS Russian News Agency.
A nuclear deal signed by the USA and Russia in 2000, hailed as a step forward in cooperation between former enemies towards the common goal of eliminating cold war nuclear stockpiles, has been suspended by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The deal, which was expanded in 2010, put both countries on a course to securely dispose of over 34 tons of plutonium, enough for almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. But the Russian presidential edict that suspended the agreement on October 03 cited “unfriendly actions” on the part of the USA, but said that Russia’s plutonium would still only be used for peaceful purposes.
The treaty, on the disposal of plutonium, the material used in some nuclear weapons, was concluded in 2000 as one of the framework disarmament deals of the early post-Cold War period. It required Russia and the USA to destroy military stockpiles of plutonium, a deal which represented another encouraging step away from nuclear doomsday and an insurance policy against the materials falling into the hands of “terrorists or rogue states”. The deal has no bearing on the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed by Russia or the United States. Instead, it concerns 34 tons of plutonium in storage in each country that might go into a future arsenal, none of which has yet undergone verifiable disposal.
Under the agreement, which was signed in 2000 and expanded in 2006 and 2010, Russia and the USA each were to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, enough material for about 17,000 nuclear warheads. When it was signed, the deal was touted as an example of successful cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation between Washington and Moscow.
The deal of disposal of weapons-grade plutonium has been a symbol of US-Russian rapprochement that has fallen apart amid tensions over Ukraine, Syria and other disputes. A 1993 agreement allowed Russia to sell blended-down uranium bomb cores to American utilities for use as fuel rods in civilian power plants, in a swords-to-plowshares program called Megatons to Megawatts. This program generated about 10 percent of all electricity in the United States for 20 years, until 2013. The plutonium program, while smaller, held the potential to also yield energy for civilian electrical networks.
Russia will withdraw from the original pact and subsequent amendments, the decree says, meaning that the country will no longer be treaty-bound to destroy its plutonium stockpiles. But the decree also offers an assurance, backed by no bilateral agreement, that the plutonium will not be used for military purposes. These agreements were designed to limit and circumscribe the future chances of getting back into a competition over nuclear arms. It was an important step in defusing the strategic nuclear arms race.”
Other US-Russian nuclear deals still stand, including the pivotal New START nuclear arms reduction treaty that limited the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 for each country. In its statement, the State Department said Russia had not lived up to the terms of an agreement last month to restore the cease-fire in Syria and ensure sustained deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged cities.
Russia had viewed the agreement as rendering disarmament irreversible by destroying the fissile materials accumulated during the Cold War. In this light, the Russians had interpreted the treaty as requiring that the plutonium be irreversibly transformed into nonexplosive materials by using it in civilian nuclear power plants as a type of fuel, called mixed oxide fuel, or mox. Russia is pressing ahead with that. But glitches and cost overruns in the mox plant at Savannah River, S.C., delayed the American program. President Obama proposed canceling the program in the 2017 budget and instead sending the plutonium for long-term storage at a nuclear waste site in Carlsbad, N.M. The US State Department has said the move complies with the treaty, but the Russians have said it does not, as Putin reaffirmed on Monday.
The plutonium decision follows the failure of a USA-Russia ceasefire in Syria last month. Washington and Moscow continue to trade accusations over which side was responsible for breaking that agreement, even as fighting escalates around Aleppo. “President Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Syria has led to international sanctions and at least a partial isolation internationally,” John Herbst, the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006 tells the Monitor in an email. “He blames the USA for these problems and has few instruments that he can use to effectively retaliate. So he has chosen the renunciation and violation of arms control agreements as a way to express his unhappiness with US policy.”
Collins, who was the US ambassador to Russia when the agreement was signed, called the abrogation a “strange move,” given the extraordinary danger, not least to Russians, should plutonium fall into terrorist hands. He added that it was “in my understanding the first time they have withdrawn from a specific nuclear agreement,” highlighting the slide in relations lately. Russia and the United States had reaffirmed the plutonium disposal agreement in 2009, as President Obama pursued the “reset” policy with Dmitri A. Medvedev, then the Russian president.
Separately, the US State Department said it was suspending bilateral contacts with Russia over Syria, following Secretary of State John Kerry’s threat to suspend contacts amid new attacks on the city of Aleppo.
USA says it remains “interested” in arms control and would be ready to sit with Russia to discuss the agreements that the Kremlin has either violated or renounced. But the USA is not willing to acquiesce in Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine or its revisionist aims in Europe. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the government was disappointed by the Russian decision since “both leaders in Russia and the United States have made nonproliferation a priority.” “We’ve also been quite disappointed by a range of Russian decisions both in Syria and inside of Ukraine,” Earnest said, adding that the decision on the plutonium deal was part of a problematic pattern.
Putin’s decree cited as reasons for Moscow’s move the “emerging threat to strategic stability as a result of US unfriendly actions,” as well as Washington’s failure to meet its end of the deal. It said, however, that Russia will keep the weapons-grade plutonium covered under the agreement away from weapons programs.
Putin pointed to the stalled plant construction earlier this year when he accused the US of failing to meet its end of the deal. He also argued that the policy change would give the U.S. “return potential,” or a chance to recycle the material back into the weapons-grade plutonium. “Russia has been observing the agreement unilaterally for quite a long time, but now it no longer sees such a situation as possible amid the tensions,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Commenting on Putin’s move, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the USA has “done all it could to destroy the atmosphere encouraging cooperation,” citing US sanctions on Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis and deploying NATO forces near Russian borders. “We would like to bring Washington back to understanding that it can’t introduce sanctions against us in areas where it’s quite painless for the Americans, and at the same time continue selective cooperation in areas it sees as advantageous,” the Foreign Ministry said. It emphasized that Moscow was suspending the deal and not annulling it altogether, adding it would be ready to restore the plutonium agreement if the USA takes Russian concerns into account.
The increasing tension between the two superpowers stems in large part from conflicts in Crimea and Syria, with the US and Russia constantly finding themselves supporting opposing powers in local conflicts in the manner evoking Cold War skirmishes. In Syria, for instance, both countries have a common enemy in the form of the Islamic State. But the countries back different factions in the Syrian civil war, making chances of genuine cooperation between the US and Russia slim at best.
Russia and the USA last signed a nuclear disarmament accord in 2009, when both sides agreed to a new limit on delivery vehicles such as bombers or cruise missiles of 500 to 1,100, and a limit on deployed warheads as low as 1,500. In the chaos surrounding the end of the Cold War, the USA embarked on a sweeping program to secure the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal and fissile materials by returning them to Russia from former Soviet states and upgrading security at storage areas. The Soviet nuclear program was so entwined with the economy and society that slowing the Cold War military machine took years and cost United States taxpayers billions of dollars. In several cities, specialized nuclear reactors, for example, continued to pump out plutonium because they were also used to heat water for residential use in showers and space heating in nearby towns..
The Kremlin had signaled previously that it planned to cut back on mutual efforts with the USA to secure nuclear material on Russian territory. Times have changed, Putin wrote in the decree signed on Monday. “The threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the USA against Russia, and the inability of the USA to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties” forced Russia’s hand, he wrote.
Russia said last year it had started up a plant that produces mixed-oxide commercial nuclear reactor fuel known as MOX from weapons-grade plutonium. Meanwhile, the construction of a similar US plant in South Carolina has been years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
In April, Russia began to express concerns that the USA was not living up to the 2010 agreement. The agreement stipulates that the plutonium is supposed to be disposed of in a specific, but expensive, way. A Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Fabrication Facility in South Carolina, which would have recycled the plutonium into mixed-oxide commercial nuclear reactor fuel, was supposed to be built for $1.7 billion, but ballooned to $7.7 billion in 2013, according to RT. The facility, which is expected to cost at least $1 billion per year to operate, has yet to be completed. As the cost and problems with the MOX facility piled up, the Obama government proposed a different, more cost-efficient method involving diluting the plutonium and storing it in special facilities. Russia expressed concerns that the US chemical process of disposal would be easily reversible, allowing for the reclamation of weapons-grade plutonium. The Union of Concerned Scientists said in a proposal the Russian position had “little technical merit,” and went on to point out that Russia’s disposal approach would produce fissile material that might not be “weapons-grade” but could still be “weapons-usable” itself.
The USA wants to cancel the Savannah River Site’s MOX project and use an alternative method for disposing of excess plutonium. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the state-controlled Rosatom nuclear corporation, said that while MOX makes sure that weapons-grade plutonium can’t be used for any military purposes, the U.S. intention to dilute and stockpile the material means “it could be dug up again.”
In Putin’s second term in office, Russia pulled out of a treaty governing conventional forces in Europe in retaliation for the Bush regime’s abrogation of the antiballistic missile treaty that prohibited missile defense systems.
As part of the suspension, the USA is withdrawing personnel that it had dispatched to take part in the creation of a joint US-Russia center to coordinate military cooperation and intelligence if the cease-fire had taken hold. The suspension will not affect communications between the two countries aimed at de-conflicting counter-terrorism operations in Syria.
A strain in ties between the former Cold War rivals has escalated in recent weeks followed the collapse of a truce in Syria and the Syrian army’s massive onslaught in Aleppo under the cover of Russian warplanes.
It seems unlikely that the two countries will resume cooperation on plutonium soon. The abrogation signals that the nuclear agreements that accompanied the breakup of the Soviet Union and were to lead the world back from the hair-trigger brink of atomic conflict could be open to revision, as Russia’s relations with the West sour on a range of disputes today, including Syria and Ukraine and the Kremlin’s interference in the domestic politics of Western democracies.
As ties with the West have frayed under Putin, analysts in Moscow have floated the prospect of a Russian pullback from an array of disarmament agreements dating from a period of greater friendliness. Two years ago, for example, Washington accused Russia of violating another bedrock security agreement by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile.
In a draft bill on suspending the plutonium agreement sent to parliament, Putin specified the document could be restored if the USA reverses its moves to deploy its forces near Russia’s borders and pulls them back to areas in Europe where they were in 2000. He added that the US should also “renounce its unfriendly policies” by revoking anti-Russian sanctions and compensating Russia for the damage incurred by them and by “putting forward a clear plan for the irreversible disposal of the weapons-grade plutonium in line with the agreement.”
Russia has only suspended weapons-grade plutonium deal with USA and not entirely withdrawn from the deal, giving rise to speculation about its expectations from USA in order to subsequently withdraw the suspension and resume the bilateral deal action. Saying relations with the USA have deteriorated in a “radically changed environment,” President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia withdrew from a landmark nuclear security agreement, in a troubling sign that the countries’ cooperation in a range of nuclear areas could be threatened.
The Kremlin first wants the removal of all economic sanctions and compensation for the damage they have caused; the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which allows Americans to freeze the assets of Russian officials thought to have been involved with human rights violations; and reductions in the American military presence in countries that joined NATO after Sept. 1, 2000.
The suspensions of the deal will likely further strain tensions between the two powers, which have been increasingly at odds in recent years. The presidential decree for the suspension could still be overruled by the Russian parliament. However, the chances are “near zero,” particularly as Russia looks to regain cold war-level influence. The suspension can be undone quickly if that is what Putin wants.
Unless the USA shows the way to the world by dismantling its own nukes first and then works for total disarmament and denuclearization, the world would continue to manufacture more and more nukes. Terrorism of states and illegal invasions and destruction of alien nations by NATO and allies like Israel cannot do away with nukes.
Peace cannot established in the world so long as colonialism, imperialism and capitalism , requiring nukes to threaten weak nations, decide policies for the humanity.
Humanity is shivering, including Americans.