Increased Risk of Nuclear War

The increased risk of nuclear war was the sobering conclusion of remarks at a January 24 Global Minnesota event by Tom Hanson, the Diplomat in Residence at the Alworth Institute for International Affairs at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a retired Foreign Service Officer.[1]

According to Hanson, we are now engaged in a extremely dangerous new arms race with a high risk of nuclear war. The U.S. is developing what it calls the Prompt Global Strike (PGS), which is a hypersonic, precision-guided, controllable-yield nuclear missile that can be delivered anywhere in the world within one hour.[2]

Moreover, just this past December, the U.S. confirmed that Russia has developed an undersea drone that can carry an enormous nuclear warhead that is capable of traveling underwater at speeds up to 56 knots to distances of to 6,200 miles and of submerging to depths of 3,280 feet. Russia calls the system “Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.” [3]

Others have sounded this alarm.

William J. Perry, U.S. Secretary of Defense (1994-97), last July said, “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” One of the many reasons for his assessment is both the U.S. and Russia are enhancing their existing nuclear arsenal and developing long-range cruise missiles that can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads.[4]

General Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as Nato’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe between 2011 and 2014, said that an attack on Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia – all Nato members – was a serious possibility and that the West should act now to avert “potential catastrophe”.[5]

On January 26, 2017, the Union of Nuclear Scientists advanced its doomsday clock 30 seconds to make it only 2.5 minutes to midnight, the closest it has been to that fateful hour since 1953. Two of the group’s officials said, “In 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.”[6]

“Making matters worse,” they said, “the [U.S.] now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts. . . . Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security.”

Other reasons for the change in the clock are the following:

  • “North Korea’s continuing nuclear weapons development, the steady march of arsenal modernization programs in the nuclear weapon states, simmering tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and stagnation in arms control.”
  • More specifically, “Russia is building new silo-based missiles, the new Borei class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines and new rail-mobile missiles as it revamps other intercontinental ballistic missiles. The [U.S.] is moving ahead with plans to modernize each part of its triad (bombers, land-based missiles and missile carrying submarines), adding capabilities, such as cruise missiles with increased ranges.”
  • “Doubt over the future of the Iran nuclear deal . . . in the Trump administration.”
  • “Deteriorating relations between the [U.S.] and Russia, which possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

Conclusion

I was unaware of these recent technological reasons to be more fearful of a nuclear war. But I share the Union of Nuclear Scientists’ concern about Donald Trump’s having his finder on the nuclear button. As expressed in other posts, I believe that he is so uninformed about so many issues and so temperamentally impulsive and insecure that he could push the nuclear trigger at the slightest perceived personal or national insult.[7]

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[1] Hanson’s analysis of the world order will be covered in a subsequent post.

[2] Prompt Global Strike, Wikipedia; Cong. Research Service, Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues (Feb. 24, 2016).

[3] Mizokami, Pentagon Confirms Russia Has a Submarine Nuke Delivery Drone, Pop Mech. (Dec. 8, 2016); Gertz, Russia has tested a nuclear-capable drone sub that could pose a strategic threat to US, Bus. Insider (Dec. 8, 2016).

[4] Hallin, The World, at the Brink of Nuclear War: “It is Only by Chance that the World has Avoided a Nuclear War,” Global Research (July 27, 2016).

[5] Cooper, Nato risks nuclear war with Russia ‘within a year,’ warns senior general, Independent (May 18, 2016).

[6] Krauss & Titley, Thanks to Trump, The Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2017).

[7] Why Is Donald Trump Disparaging the Intelligence Community?, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 9, 2017); Comment: Other Observers Identify Trump’s Character Flaw, dwkcommenataries.com (Jan. 9, 2017); Comment: Another Columnist Nails Trump’s Character, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 10, 2017); Conservative Columnist George Will Condemns Donald Trump, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2016). Now New York Times’ columnist Charles Blow makes this explicit by calling Trump a compulsive liar: Blow, A Lie by Any Other Name, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2017).

Issues of Cuban Human Rights To Be Discussed by Cuba and United States (Part II)

On March 26 Cuba announced that the U.S. and Cuba will commence their negotiations regarding human rights on March 31 in Washington, D.C.; this was covered in a prior post.

Issues of Cuban human rights that probably will be put on the agenda for further discussions were first examined in a prior post about the recent speech on this subject by Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

In Cuba’s March 26th announcement of the upcoming talks, Pedro Luis Pedroso, Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, referred to “the recognition Cuba received at the last Universal Periodic Review [UPR] by the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the international community praised and commended Cuban achievements in areas such as education, health and access to cultural rights, and the contribution the island has made in those same areas in other countries.”

Therefore, this post will look at that UPR of Cuba while another post will discuss the latest U.S. State Department report on Cuban human rights (the one issued in 2014 for 2013).

The Nature of the UPR Process [1]

In order to assess the recent UPR of Cuba, we first must understand the UPR process, which provides the opportunity for each of the 193 U.N. members, on a periodic basis, to declare what actions it has taken to improve its human rights and to fulfill its human rights obligations.

The UPR process includes a report on all human rights issues from the subject country, compilations of information about the country from various U.N. organizations and from “stakeholders” (non-governmental organizations), a public interactive session of the Human Rights Council about the country, a report by a working group about the proceedings that includes conclusions and recommendations, the subject country’s responses to those conclusions and recommendations and a subsequent evaluation of the UPR by the Council.

It is exceedingly important, however, to know that these conclusions and recommendations are merely a systematic compilation or listing of all those that had been offered by all of the countries participating in the UPR. Hence, there is a lot of duplication and overlapping in this part of the report, which is not similar to an independent judicial body’s reaching certain findings and conclusions based upon an evaluation of often conflicting evidence. Indeed, the Working Group’s report expressly states that the conclusions and recommendations “should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole.” In short, there is no overall “grade” of a country’s human rights performance by the Working Group or by the Council as a whole.

Most Recent UPR of Cuba [2]

The most recent UPR of Cuba occurred in 2013.

1. The Report of  the Working Group.

The key document in figuring out what happened in this UPR is the “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba” that was issued on July 8, 2013. It has the following standard structure, after a brief Introduction:

I. Summary of the proceedings of the review process

A. Presentation by the State under review

B. Interactive dialogue and response by the State under review

II. Conclusions and Recommendations

The “interactive dialogue.” This section of this report states that there was such a dialogue about Cuba involving 132 delegations at the session on May 1, 2013, and sets forth a brief summary of that dialogue in 144 numbered paragraphs. One example is paragraph 31, which states, “ Nicaragua highlighted the commitment of Cuba to human rights despite the blockade, and condemned the [U.S.] convictions against five Cubans.”

The only reference to U.S. comments in this dialogue is in paragraph 77, which states the U.S. “raised concerns for impediments to multiparty elections and freedom of expression and referred to Alan Gross and Oswaldo Paya.” Cuba, according to paragraph 111, responded to this U.S. comment by saying that “freedom of the press was guaranteed in Cuba“ and by “reiterated[ing its] . . . willingness . . . to continue talks with the [U.S.] . . . on the situation of Mr. Gross and of other individuals who were held in detention in Cuba and in the [U.S.].” [3]

Conclusions and Recommendations. This section starts with the following statement: “The recommendations formulated [by all the countries participating] during the interactive dialogue and listed below will be examined by Cuba, which will provide responses in due time, but no later than the twenty-fourth session of the Human Rights Council in September 2013” (para. 170). This section of the Report is concluded by this statement: “All conclusions and/or recommendations contained in the present report reflect the position of the submitting State(s) and/or the State under review. They should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole” (para. 171).

The actual conclusions and recommendations are summarized in 292 numbered subparagraphs of the Report. Those offered by the U.S. are for Cuba to “allow for independent investigations into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero” (para. 170.138) [4], to “release Alan Gross and imprisoned journalists such as Jose Antonio Torres immediately” (para. 170.187) [5] and to “eliminate or cease enforcing laws impeding freedom of expression” (para. 170.176).

2. Cuba’s Responses to the Recommendations.

In response to the U.S. recommendations and 20 others from other countries, Cuba said they “do not enjoy [its] support . . . on the grounds that they are politically biased and based on false premises; they derive from attempts to discredit Cuba by those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the Cuban people’s diversity and right to self-determination. These proposals are inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation and respect demanded by the UPR process.” Moreover, said Cuba, they “are incompatible with constitutional principles and national legislation, and whose content is contrary to the spirit of cooperation and respect that should predominate at the UPR.” [6]

The other 20 numbered recommendations that were so summarily rejected by Cuba related to protecting human rights defenders, including journalists, against abusive criminal prosecutions, harassment and intimidation (Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, Germany, Hungary); release of all political prisoners (Czech Republic, Belgium, Slovenia, Poland), end indefinite extensions of preliminary criminal investigations (Belgium); improve freedom of expression (Romania, Estonia, Hungary, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Canada); repeal laws relating to “pre-criminal social dangerousness” (Ireland); end repression, investigate acts of repudiation and protect targets of intimidation and violence (Netherlands); and end Internet censorship (Australia, Germany).

Cuba, however, did accept 230 of the recommendations while noting, “Many of these . . . have already been complied with, or are in the process of implementation , or are included among future national priorities.” Therefore, these items “will be implemented in accordance with our capabilities and in step with the evolution of the circumstances within which Cuba is pursuing its aim of complete social justice.”

The remaining 42 recommendations were “noted” by Cuba as matters to be examined with the understanding that its “process of ratifying an international instrument is very rigorous;” that is stands ready “to continue cooperating with . . . the UN System’s human rights machinery;” that it is “philosophically opposed to the death penalty: and wants to eliminate it when suitable conditions exist;” that it has an “extensive and effective” system for resolving human rights complaints; that its “system of criminal justice . . . ensures fair and impartial hearings and full guarantees to the accused;” Cuba is working at expanding internet access; and “the right to freedom of expression and assembly . . . [is] enshrined in the Constitution and . . . national legislation.”

3. Human Rights Council’s Evaluation of this UPR. As paragraph 170 of the Report of the Working Group provided, the Council was to review the UPR of Cuba at its session in September 2013 after Cuba had submitted its response to the conclusions and recommendations. That Cuban response was just summarized, and the Council on September 20, 2013, reviewed this UPR and approved, without a vote, a resolution “to adopt the outcome of the universal periodic review of Cuba, comprising the report thereon of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review . . ., the views of Cuba concerning the recommendations and/or conclusions made, and its voluntary commitments and replies presented before the adoption of the outcome by the plenary to questions or issues not sufficiently addressed during the interactive dialogue held in the Working Group.” [7]

Criticism of the Recent UPR of Cuba

It must also be noted that an observer has alleged that Cuba “corrupted and abused” this UPR process by prompting the submission of many “fraudulent” stakeholder NGOs; there was a total of 454 submissions regarding Cuba compared with the next highest, 48 on Canada. As a result, says this observer (UN Watch), “numerous statements of praise taint the UN’s official summary” of stakeholders’ submissions. UN Watch also alleges that the compilation of information from U.N. agencies was unfairly slanted in favor of Cuba. [8]

Another observer (International Service for Human Rights) reported that during the UPR of Cuba, 132 countries, at 51 seconds each, took the floor to ask questions and make recommendations. As a result, Cuba received 293 recommendations, the highest number that a State under review has ever received at the UPR, but 121 of them started with the verb ‘continue,’ thus requiring minimal action to be taken by Cuba. [9]

Conclusion

I do not know whether any of NGO stakeholders at this UPR were “fraudulent,” as alleged, but it does appear that Cuba “stacked” the process to minimize the time available to authentic critics of its human rights record and to maximize the time available to its supporters. It also appears as if Cuba rejected recommendations for improving many foundational human rights.

In any event, because the UPR process does not involve a truly independent fact-finder to assess the human rights record of Cuba or any other country in such a process, I reject the assertion by Cuba’s Deputy Director General of Multilateral Affairs and International Law, Pedro Luis Pedroso, that Cuba obtained a laudatory evaluation of its human rights record by the U.N. Human Rights Council. In short, I think this UPR is irrelevant to Cuba’s human rights issues.

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[1] Details about the UPR process are provided on the Council’s website. The process involves a “working group,” which is composed of all 47 members of the Council.

[2] All of the documents about the UPR of Cuba are available on the Council’s website, including the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba, dated July 8, 2013.

[3] As discussed in a prior post, Alan Gross was released from a Cuban prison on December 17, 2014, and returned to the U.S. as part of the U.S.-Cuba agreement to re-establish normal diplomatic relations.

[4] Paya was a Cuban political activist, a leader of the political opposition to the to the Cuban government. He was the founder and organizer of the Varela Project, which collected enough signatures to present to the government a request for changes in legislation. He was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Human Rights of the European Parliament in 2002. On July 12, 2012, Paya was killed in an automobile crash in Cuba under suspicious circumstances; Harold Cepero, a youth leader, was also killed in the crash. Many people believe they were murdered by government agents.

[5] Torres, a correspondent for the Cuban government newspaper, Granma, wrote an article about alleged mismanagement of a Santiago Cuba aqueduct project and of the installation of the Cuba-Venezuela fibre-optic cable. Afterwards he was charged and convicted of spying and sentenced to 14 years in prison and cancellation of his university degree in journalism.

[6] Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review—Cuba: Addendum: Views on conclusions and/or recommendation, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review [Cuba] (Sept. 2013).

[7] Report of the Human Rights Council at its 24th session (Para. 24/114) (Jan. 27, 2014).

[8] UNWatch, Massive Fraud: The Corruption of the 2013 UPR of Cuba.

[9] Int’l Service for Human Rights, Unprecedented challeng to the Universal Periodic Review (May 31, 2013)  See also Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, Alleged Fraud During Cuba’s Universal Periodic Review, Human Rights Brief (Oct. 24, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Geographic Bee

For at least the last 24 years, the National Geographic Society has conducted the annual Geographic Bee in the U.S. to promote the study of geography.

This year the National Champion will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands and lifetime membership in the Society. The 2nd and 3rd place national winners will receive $15,000 and $10,000 college scholarships respectively. This year’s national Bee will be held at the Society in Washington, D.C., May 22-24, 2012 and will be shown live on the National Geographic Channel on cable television.

Minnesota State Geographic BEE Contestants, 3/30/12

Each state has its own Bee to select its candidate for the national competition. This year’s state competitions were held on March 30th. Minnesota’s was at St. Cloud State University for 100 fourth through eighth graders who won their local schools’ competitions and who were the highest scorers on a written examination out a field of 500. Here was the makeup of this year’s 100 Minnesota contestants: fourth graders, 3; fifth graders, 6; sixth graders, 9; seventh graders, 23; and eighth graders, 59. Only 7 of the 100 were girls.

Minnesota Geographic BEE Final Round, 3/30/12

The Minnesota Bee started with four Preliminary Rounds. The 15 top scorers in those four sessions with perfect scores of 8 were then assembled for a Tiebreaker Round to select the top 10 individuals for the Final Round, two of whom were girls. These 10 were questioned, and eventually only two individuals were left for the Championship Round. More questions were addressed to the two contestants until one individual was eliminated, leaving the other as the state champion. The deciding question was “Name the Baltic country that replaced its currency (the kroon) in early 2011 with the Euro, becoming the most recent country to join the eurozone?” (Correct answer: Estonia.)

The Minnesota State Champion this year was Gopi Ramanathan, an 8th grader from Sartell Middle School; he also was the State Champion in 2010 and the second-place state winner in 2011. The second-place winner this year was William Bogenschultz, an 8th grader from Ramsey Junior High School in St. Paul; he was the State Champion in 2011 and the second-place state winner in 2010.

The procedures for the Bee are very detailed and very fair as were the questions.

For example, in the Preliminary Round that I observed, there were 21 contestants, who were randomly assigned numbers 1 through 21 and who were then questioned in that order. For each of eight rounds of questions after an initial practice round, the moderator announced the type of question that would be asked. For example, the first round was a set of questions asking which of two named states in the U.S. had a certain characteristic. She then asked questions, and the contestant had 15 seconds to answer. One of the questions in the first round was “Which state has the longer shoreline, Maryland or New Hampshire?” (Correct answer: Maryland.) The questions got more difficult with each passing round. In the eighth and final round the questions were about political geography, and one of the questions was “What southeastern Asian country near the Gulf of Tonkin was reunited in 1976, Myanmar or Vietnam?” (Correct answer: Vietnam.)

Similar procedures were followed in the Tiebreaker, Final and Championship Rounds with increasingly more difficult questions.

Before the start of questioning in the Final Round, a film “What will you do with geography?” was shown. It had brief comments by a number of people whose jobs required knowledge of different types of geographical subjects. I learned a lot about this topic from the film and thought it was answering a question that many of the contestants and their parents probably had.

Elliott Krohnke

I attended the Minnesota Bee because my grandson, Elliott, a sixth grader at Lakes International Language Academy (LILA) in the town of Forest Lake, was one of the 100 contestants. Afterwards Elliot said that this year’s competition would help him prepare for next year’s BEE. (Last Spring as a fifth grader, he prepared a presentation at his school about Libya and the NATO bombing,)