MLK Triple Plague 4/5/17

“Fifty Years On: MLK’s Giant Triplets Still Plague Us, Including Militarism.”

by Kevin Martin and The Reverend Dr. Herbert Daughtry

Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry

Fifty years ago this April 4, a year to the day before he was murdered, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called us to overcome the giant triplets plaguing our society – racism, militarism and extreme materialism – in his ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence’ address at Riverside Church in Manhattan. In his speech, King decried our descent into a ‘thing-oriented society.’ One wonders what he would think of our current, thing-oriented president.

In the remarkable speech, co-written with the late Vincent Harding, King also exclaimed, ‘[a] nation that continues

Kevin Martin

year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’ Unfortunately that is even more relevant today, as military spending consumes well over half the federal discretionary budget, and President Trump is advocating a nearly 10 percent, $54 billion increase, equivalent to the entire annual military budget of Russia, for the Pentagon and severe cuts to foreign aid, diplomacy, social and environmental programs.

King also powerfully, and accurately, linked violence in U.S. cities to our foreign policy, especially the terrible war in Vietnam (noting the Vietnamese must see Americans as ‘strange liberators,’) and acknowledged the pressure put on him by civil rights leaders to keep silent about his opposition to the war, which he of course could not do. Yet for many, the giant triplets rubric still resonates most powerfully today among all the words of wisdom King and Harding imparted in the speech.

Racism, extreme materialism and militarism are still inextricably linked, and still prevent our society’s becoming anything close to King’s ‘beloved community.’ Of the three, militarism may be the one about which Americans are most ignorant or most in denial.

No serious person could say we have overcome racism, or dealt with the extreme materialism and economic injustice and unsustainability of our ‘thing-oriented society.’ However, the pervasive equating of patriotism with support for war, charges of being soft on communism, terrorism or defense, and cynical, coercive ‘support the troops’ displays (when the best way to support them would be to stop our incessant wars) seemingly prevent any serious examination of U.S. militarism.

How many Americans know the U.S. has been at war for all but a relatively few years (fewer than 20) of our history since 1776? Or that the U.S. has more than 900 foreign military bases? (China has one and is about to build a second, near ours in Djibouti.) Or that we maintain nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads, all tens, hundreds or even thousands of times more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb that killed 140,000 people? Or that the U.S. conducted more than 1,000 nuclear ‘test’ explosions, and under President Obama, recently embarked on a 30-year, at least $1 trillion scheme to upgrade our entire nuclear weapons arsenal (unsurprisingly, every other nuclear state is now doing the same, sparking a new arms race)? Or that the U.S. military is the biggest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet?

Ignorance or denial about these facts is dangerous, to our society falling behind in nearly every indicator of social and environmental health as we continue to invest in the war machine, and to the people on the receiving end of our bombs. How many countries are we bombing right now?

At least seven we know of: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And as King claimed the bombs we dropped on Vietnam also exploded in American cities, the blowback to the U.S. from all the anger we sow and enemies we reap in these countries and around the world, will surely harm our country.

So what is it about the United States? Are we in the grip of what President Eisenhower warned us, the military-industrial complex (that he did a lot to empower before decrying it)? Weapons contractors make a killing, but they don’t really help the economy. Military spending is about the worst way to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Education is the best, creating 2.5 times more jobs than military spending, according to economists at the University of Massachusetts.

We doubt anyone has any satisfactory answers to why our country is so uniquely militaristic, yet seemingly oblivious to the consequences. Perhaps peace and social justice activists and political leaders have for too long failed to integrate the struggles to overcome the giant triplets.

If that is the case, Martin Luther King, Jr. still points the way toward a solution, 50 years after he first called out to us. Is it too late to hear his wisdom and change course?

As the impressive grassroots resistance to Trumpism continues to show up for racial, economic, social and environmental justice, we must also show up for peace and disarmament if we hope to one day realize King’s beloved community.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide. The Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry is the National Presiding Minister of the House of the Lord Churches.

Nuclear Weapon Folly 3/29/17

Let’s Come to Our Senses on Nukes – by Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

President Trump, the tweeter-in-chief, famously used that platform to announce, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Actually, most of the world’s countries long ago came to their senses regarding nuclear arms, as only nine countries have chosen to deploy these horrific weapons. This week, the United Nations General Assembly began negotiations on a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, similar to the agreements outlawing chemical and biological weapons. A second round of talks will be held from mid-June through early July, which could result in a treaty being signed by a large majority of the world’s nation-states.

These negotiations are somewhat curious, since the overwhelming majority of states are already prohibited from getting nukes, since 1970, by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In return for foregoing nukes, the non-nuclear signatories expected the then five nuclear powers (the United States, Soviet Union/now Russia, United Kingdom, France and China) to live up to their end of the bargain to conduct good faith negotiations to abolish their arsenals, as agreed in the treaty’s Article 6, which they have not done. Subsequently, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea joined the nuclear club.

Many non-nuclear states see the NPT process, with review conferences at the UN every five years, to be an exasperating waste of time, hence the new push to negotiate a treaty to ban nukes. The thinking among leading proponents of the treaty, both governments and non-governmental organizations, is that nukes can be banned, stigmatized and even made illegal under international law before they are actually abolished. Predictably, the nuclear haves are not supporting the new effort.

As a matter of fact, all nine nuclear powers are going in the wrong direction, committing to decades long, multi-trillion dollar upgrades of their nuclear arsenals. The U.S. began its nuclear “modernization” program, which should properly be dubbed the New Nuclear Arms Race, under President Obama, and it will be soup to nuts – nuclear laboratories, storage facilities, warheads and bombs, missiles, planes and submarines. The projected price tag for all that is at least $1 trillion over 30 years, and if past experience holds, it will surely cost more, likely much more. These exorbitant expenditures will displace needed investments in feeding the poor, educating our children, building badly needed civilian infrastructure and addressing climate change.

Some Members of Congress advocate a different approach. U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) introduced a bill to prohibit any U.S. president from initiating a nuclear strike without a declaration of war from Congress. Senator Markey also introduced the SANE Act, to significantly curtail nuclear weapons spending, and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has a resolution expressing opposition to nuclear weapons “modernization.” None of these measures are expected to become law any time soon, but offer an alternative to the dangerous business as usual approach, or worse, a global nuclear escalation.

Unless or until these and more sensible policies are enacted, U.S. foreign and military policies encourage nuclear proliferation, thus making America and the world less secure. Because of overwhelming U.S. conventional and nuclear superiority, combined with NATO’s eastward expansion and provocative missile defense deployments, which are properly seen by Russia as part of a first strike capability, not a defensive strategy, Russia is now more reliant on nukes for its defense. Similarly, North Korea’s ramping up of its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while regrettable, is perfectly logical, as it finds itself in a dangerous region brimming with nukes, and facing a hostile U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance whose military, economic and political might dwarfs that of North Korea. Recently, Obama Administration officials admitted they knew North Korea would keep, and in fact enhance, its nuclear and missile programs after the overthrow of Muammar Ghaddafi in Libya, who had voluntarily ditched his chemical and nuclear weapons, only to be ousted in U.S./NATO attacks that destabilized the country, creating yet another failed state in the Middle East.

Put even more starkly, on nukes and other regional and international policies emphasizing military might over diplomacy, aid and development, American tax dollars fund a U.S. foreign and military policy that makes America and the whole world less safe.

So one might reasonably ask the president, who has come to their senses on nukes, and who has not? Let’s cancel the New Nuclear Arms Race, challenge the other nuclear states to do likewise, and join the talks for a treaty to once and for all close the door on the folly of nuclear weaponry.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Brimming with Danger 3/15/17

President Donald Trump Should Make a Deal with North Korea -by Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

President Donald Trump likes to be known for his deal-making, and now he has the opportunity to make deals that can impact world peace and security, not just real estate or other business deals for his profit. North Korea would be a great place to start.

Former President Barack Obama described North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs as the most pressing international security problem when he briefed Trump just before leaving office. President Obama, who scored impressive diplomatic successes with the Iran nuclear agreement and the opening to Cuba, failed in his policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea, refusing to engage in official negotiations for eight years while the nuclear and missile programs progressed and regional security concerns worsened.

Promising unofficial talks, known as “track two diplomacy,” were held as recently as last fall in Malaysia, led by former U.S. officials Robert Gallucci and Leon Sigal, who had succeeded in negotiations with North Korea to freeze their nuclear weapons and missile programs for almost a decade beginning in 1994. These talks have been discontinued, and the Trump Administration recently refused visas to North Koreans who were supposed to travel to the U.S. for further talks, in retaliation for a recent ballistic missile test.

China, which is also very concerned about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, recently proposed a sensible, reciprocal approach North Korea had previously advocated, namely a halt to joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises (often called war games) in exchange for a halt to missile tests. The Trump Administration rejected this, but ought to reconsider.

While nobody wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, its pursuit of them as a potential deterrent to overwhelming U.S., South Korean and Japanese military, economic and political might is unfortunately logical. Adding to the long-standing military imbalance is the recent deployment of THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, by the U.S. in South Korea.

THAAD is a missile system which aims to shoot down short-and-medium-range ballistic missiles as they descend to their targets. North Korea, China and Russia see THAAD as a de-stabilizing weapon, fearing it could thwart their ballistic missile-carrying nukes. In North Korea’s view, THAAD could possibly be part of a U.S./South Korea first-strike strategy, in which THAAD defends South Korea from a North Korean attack in retaliation for a U.S. strike, whether conventional or nuclear.

Finally, China, Russia, India and Pakistan have nuclear arsenals. U.S. submarines with nukes also patrol the region, so it’s a scary neighborhood brimming with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Trump seems to have a serious bee in his bonnet about his predecessor. In addition to his original support and funding for the “birther” movement falsely claiming Obama was not a U.S. citizen and his recent charge that Obama bugged Trump Tower, Trump has disparaged Obama’s 2009 New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia, the Iran nuclear agreement, and of course the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.”

Regardless of how one feels about any of those issues and Trump’s assertions, he now has a chance to do something Obama didn’t, which is to increase global and regional security by at least halting North Korea’s advances on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology.

The basic contours of what North Korea wants are well known, at least first steps, and it’s not rocket science. Not necessarily in this order, they are: a formal peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice at the end of the Korean War in 1953, direct talks with the United States, and relief from what it sees as a confrontational military posture by the U.S., South Korea and Japan, cessation of war games being the most obvious step.

On several occasions during the election campaign last year, Trump made positive comments about talking with North Korea. Now he can, and should, put that into practice. As Winston Churchill famously said, “to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.”

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Feel the Need 11/23/16

Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

Threats and “Strategic Patience” haven’t worked with North Korea, let’s try serious diplomacy – by Kevin Martin

Last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper surprisingly told a House Intelligence Committee that getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons was probably a “lost cause.” The assessment was not surprising, but rather the candor, an admission the Obama Administration’s policy of “strategic patience” — refusing to negotiate with North Korea and hoping economic sanctions and international isolation would bring it to the negotiating table — has failed.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken contradicted Clapper almost immediately, trying to re-assure South Korea, Japan and other regional allies the U.S. has not thrown in the towel, that the U.S. does not accept North Korea’s possessing a nuclear arsenal. In the midst of all this, unofficial talks with the North Korean government were taking place in Malaysia.

“I think the best course would be to test the proposition by some serious engagement in which we see whether their (North Korea’s) legitimate security concerns can be met,” said Robert Gallucci, a participant in the Malaysia talks and lead negotiator of a 1994 disarmament agreement that curbed North Korea’s nuclear program for nearly 10 years. This is a rare admission that North Korea has legitimate concerns, which is welcome.

“We don’t know for sure that negotiations will work, but what I can say with some confidence is that pressure without negotiations won’t work, which is the track we are on right now,” noted Leon Sigal from the New York-based Social Science Research Council. Sigal also took part in the Malaysia talks.

While it is cause for serious concern, no one should be surprised by North Korea’s insistence on maintaining its nuclear arsenal. Tensions in the region are high, and require a serious commitment to diplomacy and disarmament by all parties, rather than recent threats by South Korea to ramp up its military posture. Informal talks with North Korean officials are better than nothing, but no replacement for formal negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Surrounded by far superior militaries (those of the United States, South Korea and Japan) it is no wonder North Korean leaders feel the need to keep their nukes.

Threats against the North have proven a failure. A far cheaper and more effective strategy to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear arsenal would include the following:

-negotiate a formal peace treaty to replace the supposedly temporary armistice negotiated in 1953;

-address North Korea’s concerns about the U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance’s aggressive military posture in the region (an end to provocative joint “war games” in and around the peninsula would be a great start);

-restore some credibility to U.S. non-proliferation policy by scrapping plans to “modernize” our entire nuclear weapons enterprise – laboratories, warheads, missiles, bombers and submarines – estimated at $1 trillion over the next 30 years (Predictably, every other nuclear state including North Korea has followed suit in announcing their own plans to “modernize” their arsenals.);

-explore regional peace and security-building measures with other key regional actors including China (without overestimating China’s ability to compel North Korea to denuclearize).

Compounding the problem is our country’s lack of credibility, with North Korea but also globally, on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The U.S. and other nuclear weapons states are working to undermine plans for the United Nations General Assembly to begin negotiations on a global treaty to ban nuclear weapons, beginning next year. (The exception is North Korea, which last week voted with 122 other countries to support the negotiations. The U.S. and other nuclear states opposed or abstained, but the process will go forward with solid support from a large majority of the world’s countries).

Even worse is the exorbitant nuclear “modernization” plan, which should instead be dubbed The New Nuclear Arms Race (That Nobody Wants Except Weapons Contractors) for the Next Three Decades Proposal.

Resolving tensions over North Korea’s nukes, likely by the next president at this point, will require the same commitment to diplomacy the Obama administration showed in securing the Iran nuclear agreement and opening to Cuba, but we would have much more credibility were we not preaching atomic temperance from a barstool brimming with nuclear weapons.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is President of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.