#12 – Claude Buettner: Atoms for Peace Needs Rethinking

A very conservative acquaintance once asserted to me that the primary purpose of a national government is to establish security. Our global governance system (UN, WTO, IMF…) is failing by this primal measure to guard against potential global conflicts that could be precipitated by the ever-increasing water/food/energy insecurity.
There is an inherent loophole built into the “Atoms for Peace” regime (http://www.iaea.org/About/index.html) which allows all nations the right of owning the entire production cycle of nuclear material. As Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector and the presenter in our past September Forum [MN Citizens for Global Solutions “Third Thursday”], pointed out in his recent book, Target Iran (http://www.amazon.com for details), all nations including Iran have the right to process nuclear fuel for civilian use. Unfortunately, the exact same process used for enrichment of nuclear material for civilian energy use is also used for further enrichment for use in nuclear bombs for military use (merely cycle the material through the cascading centrifuges until the desired concentration is reached).
How could international law be changed to block countries from developing this technology or at least requiring all nations to submit to full supervision of the concentration phase of production? Can we imagine the US and Russia (who own 96% of all nuclear weapons according to the reputable Union of Concerned Scientists) going along with these new requirements? Can we imagine other countries agreeing to such supervision if these rules don’t apply to the US and Russia? The relationship between the US and Russia, especially on the nuclear issue, will remain pivotal if the world is to move forward on the security front.
Allen Greenspan recently said it was human nature that caused the global financial meltdown and because human nature doesn’t change a similar meltdown could occur again in the future. Hmmm…if that’s true then by the same reasoning we remain vulnerable to all-out nuclear war and the 96% of the nuclear weapons must also be seen as a greater long-term threat to civilization than the new ones coming on line. It may seem that the cycle of mass violence the past shows us is the skeleton of human history upon which the details are fleshed out. But it is social, industrial and governmental structures that make up the framework of civilization and it is war, and especially global war, that is the cancer that threatens that structure. What we need now are effective structures for peace, to use a favorite term of our late MN Citizens for Global Solutions local chapter inspiration, Stanley Platt.
It’s time to get on with the work of civilization to establish and maintain peace at the international level, even if peace is imperfect at the local level. In the same way peace among adjacent US states doesn’t completely eliminate local crimes or brawls. The higher authority of our federal courts allows even serious disputes between states to be resolved without resorting to action from the militia. This is the tradition that needs to be established at the international level.
Claude Buettner is a life member of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS, formerly World Federalists) and the current President of the Minnesota Chapter of CGS. He’s also active in other internationally related organizations such as United Nations Association, Committee on Foreign Relations, and Minnesota International Center. He’s a salesperson for MTS Systems Corporation. He can be reached at claude101ATcomcastDOTnet.