TIME Foreign Policy

Exclusive: Netanyahu Canceled Intel Briefing for U.S. Senators on Iran Dangers

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu attends cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
Gali Tibbon—Reuters Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem March 8, 2015.

Israeli spy chief warned Congress might blow up talks on Iranian nuke program

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to cancel a January briefing for U.S. Senators by his nation’s intelligence service that warned Congress could damage talks aimed at constraining Iran’s nuclear program, according to sources familiar with the events.

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had requested the Jan. 19 briefing for six of his colleagues traveling to Israel so that the intelligence agency, Mossad, could warn them that a Senate proposal might inadvertently collapse the talks. After Netanyahu’s office stripped the meeting from the trip schedule, Corker threatened to cut his own Israel trip short in protest.

Netanyahu relented after the personal intervention of Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, and allowed the briefing to go forward, sources say. Attending were Corker, Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso, Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Joe Donnelly, and Independent Senator Angus King.

At issue was the fate of a Nov. 2013 agreement between Iran, the U.S. and five other international powers. That temporary agreement promised no new economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for a freeze of Iran’s nuclear program, new international inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites and the removal of nearly all medium-enriched uranium from Iran’s possession. Both sides have stuck to the interim deal while talks on a long-term deal to constrain the Iranian nuclear program have dragged out.

The controversial but popular bill proposed by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez would have imposed new sanctions on Iran if it didn’t agree by June 30 to a long-term deal. U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that the Kirk-Menendez bill risked collapsing the talks and taking with it the 16-month-old agreement, according to a report by Eli Lake and Josh Rogin of Bloomberg View. Corker wanted the Mossad briefing to bolster the U.S. assessment.

During the Mossad briefing, the agency’s chief, Tamir Pardo, warned that the Kirk-Menendez bill would be like “throwing a grenade” into the U.S.-Iran diplomatic process. After some of the contents of the briefing were first reported by Bloomberg View, Pardo released a statement saying he had used the phrase not to oppose new sanctions, but “as a metaphor” to describe the effect derailing current talks might have.

A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to say why the Prime Minister acted to prevent the Senators from receiving the briefing from Pardo. Since the Mossad briefing, Corker has rallied support for an alternative measure to replace the Kirk-Menendez proposal, support for which has faded. Corker’s bill, which has broad support and potentially could receive enough votes for a veto-proof majority, would only impose new sanctions if Iran walked away from the Nov. 2013 agreement.

U.S. and Iranian officials are entering a tense phase of negotiations in Switzerland this week as they attempt to reach a political deal to extend and expand the Nov. 2013 agreement for at least 10 years. As the challenges of reaching the longer-term deal have increased, some in the U.S. are trying to ensure the interim agreement that has frozen the Iranian program isn’t undermined in the process.

Some members of the Senate oppose the ongoing talks with Iran. Freshman Republican Senator Tom Cotton last week issued an open letter with 46 other GOP Senators warning the Iranian leadership that Congress could reverse parts of any deal the talks produce. Corker did not sign that letter; his bill provides for partial Congressional approval of a deal.

Cotton has said that rather than negotiate with Iran, the U.S. should adopt a policy of regime change and should arm Israel with bombers and bunker busting bombs with which it could attack Iranian nuclear sites. Authorities in both parties, including Obama’s first Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have worried that an Israeli attack could draw the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran on unfavorable terms.

Supporters of Kirk-Menendez argue it would increase pressure on Iran to make concessions that would more effectively limit its ability to get a nuclear weapon. Republicans are concerned that the Obama administration is too eager to do a long-term deal with Iran and is making too many concessions in the current talks. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for talks in Geneva Sunday ahead of a self-imposed Mar. 24 deadline for the political framework for a long-term deal. Final terms of a comprehensive agreement would not be worked out before June.

Netanyahu is seeking re-election in a tough vote Tuesday, with his Likud Party trailing his strongest competitor, Zionist Union, by four points in recent polls.

TIME Iran

Kerry Pushes Back on Israeli Criticism of Iran Nuke Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at nuclear negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on March 4, 2015, in Montreux, Switzerland
Evan Vucci—AP U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at nuclear negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Montreux, Switzerland, on March 4, 2015

"We continue to be focused on reaching a good deal, the right deal," Kerry said

(MONTREUX, Switzerland) — U.S. officials sought Wednesday to tamp down expectations of a substantial preliminary nuclear deal with Iran by the March deadline while working to move past the political dust kicked up by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism of an emerging agreement’s contours.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was well aware of the potential nuclear danger Iran poses to countries in the region and will endorse only an agreement that seriously and verifiably crimps Tehran’s ability to make atomic arms.

“We continue to be focused on reaching a good deal, the right deal, that closes off any paths that Iran could have towards fissile material for a weapon and that protects the world from the enormous threat that we all know a nuclear-armed Iran would pose,” Kerry told reporters at the end of meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Iranian diplomat told NBC News on Wednesday, “We believe that we are very close, very close.”

The sides hope to have a progress report by late March allowing them to finesse details into a final pact by June. But a senior U.S. official appeared to walk back from the significance of that first stage, describing it as only “an understanding that’s going to have to be filled out with lots of detail” by the June final target date.

The official’s comments could be an attempt to stretch the interpretation of what should be achieved by March, allowing further negotiations even if nothing more is achieved than a vague declaration.

They contrast sharply with what the West laid down earlier.

Justifying an extension of the talks on Nov. 24, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond of Britain — one of the five powers backing the U.S. at the talks — said he expected “an agreement on substance” by March. Western and Iranian negotiators said then they would use the time between March and June only “if necessary … to finalize any possible remaining technical and drafting work.”

The U.S. official, who demanded anonymity in line with State Department rules, said President Barack Obama will make a call on whether to continue into June once he sees the March assessment from U.S. negotiators.

Playing down the prospects of any lasting damage to U.S.-Israeli ties caused by Netanyahu’s speech to the joint houses of Congress Tuesday, the U.S. official said senior Israeli officials would be briefed by secure phone by top U.S. negotiators on the latest round.

Still the Netanyahu speech is likely to further embolden critics in U.S. Congress who fear the U.S. may accept terms too lenient on Iran. He told Congress Tuesday that the agreement taking shape is dangerous and would allow Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

Last week, senators introduced legislation to give Congress a say over any deal, and Republicans are trying to get it passed even as the talks continue.

The American public appears divided. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows more than 6 in 10 Americans initially say that they favor Congress instituting new sanctions against Iran, while only 7 percent say they are opposed. Another quarter of Americans say they are neither in favor nor opposed.

But the new poll also finds that 31 percent of those who initially said they support new sanctions say that Congress should hold off if the administration says it would reduce the likelihood of a future deal. In total, about 4 in 10 Americans think Congress should go forward with sanctions even over the president’s protests.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Netanyahu offered no alternate negotiating tactic beyond urging the U.S. to walk away from the table, a point Kerry noted Wednesday.

If talks are successful, the deal being negotiated will “achieve the goal of proving that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain peaceful.” Kerry said. “No one has presented a more viable lasting alternative for how you actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

The focus of his comments to reporters at the Swiss resort town of Montreux reflected U.S. concerns about the potential damage Netanyahu’s speech could have on the negotiations by further empowering powerful Republican opponents in Congress.

Zarif dismissed Netanyahu’s claims that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon. “Mr. Netanyahu has been proclaiming, predicting that Iran will have a nuclear weapon within two, three, four years since 1992,” he told NBC News.

“There may be people who may have been affected by the type of hysteria that is being fanned by people like Mr. Netanyahu, and it is useful for everybody to allow this deal to go through,” Zarif said.

Kerry planned to meet with Arab Gulf state allies in Riyadh Thursday before sitting down with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany in Paris on Saturday to share the state of the negotiations.

TIME Television

Watch Jon Stewart Compare Republicans’ Welcome of Israel’s Leader to a Sex Act

Benjamin Netanyahu is "the leader they wished they had"

Jon Stewart poked fun at congressional Republicans’ very warm welcome of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, comparing it to a certain lewd sex act.

Netanyahu was speaking against the emerging nuclear deal President Obama is pursuing with Iran. Cheers from the majority-Republican Congress were so loud that they actually caused problems for C-SPAN’s sound equipment.

“It was the State of the Union address Republicans wanted, delivered by the leader they wished they had,” Stewart joked on The Daily Show.

Watch the full clip below:

TIME Military

Concern Over Iran’s Nukes Drowns Out Its Growing Role in Iraq

Tehran helps Baghdad try to retake Tikrit as U.S. watches

Consternation over Iran boiled Tuesday on Capitol Hill as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Tehran’s push for nuclear weapons “could well threaten the survival of my country.” But over at the Pentagon, the Iran focus wasn’t on Netanyahu but Iraq. That’s because Iran is playing a key role in Baghdad’s fight to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, while the U.S. is confined to the sidelines.

After the U.S. invested $26 billion rebuilding the Iraqi army over the past decade, some Pentagon officials found it disconcerting to see Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias leading the charge into Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Iranians, of course, are relishing the opportunity: Hussein was running Iraq when it launched the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in a stalemate in 1988 with roughly 200,000 killed on each side.

American concern is justified: having Iranian-backed Shi’ite forces storm largely-Sunni Tikrit risks turning the conflict against the Sunni ISIS forces into a sectarian conflict that could balloon into a civil war. “It’s absolutely key that [the Iraqi government] make sure that they have provisions in place to accommodate the Sunnis,” Army General Lloyd Austin, chief of the U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. “That lack of inclusion is what got us to this point, and I think the only way that we can ensure that we don’t go back there is if we have the right steps taken by the government.” Fewer than 1,000 of the 30,000 fighters battling ISIS for Tikrit are Sunni tribal fighters, according to Iraqi estimates.

The populations of both Iran and Iraq are primarily Shi’ite. Since Saddam’s hanging in 2006, the Sunnis of western Iraq have been treated poorly by the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad. Many Sunnis welcomed ISIS’s move into the region last year, when it killed more than 1,000 Iraqi Shi’ite troops who had been stationed at a base known, when the Americans were there, as Camp Speicher. Some of the Shi’ites attacking Tikrit are bent on revenge for the slaughter, which could exacerbate intra-Muslim tensions.

Iran, according to reports from the front and Pentagon officials, is backing Iraqi forces with air power, artillery fire and advisers guiding Shi’ite militiamen, who account for perhaps 10,000 of the fighters trying to retake Tikrit. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee later Tuesday. “Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. — which has conducted thousands of air strikes against ISIS targets since August — has been grounded in the battle to retake Tikrit. The daily U.S. tally of air strikes launched Wednesday ticked off targets around al Asad, Bayji, Mosul, Ramadi and Sinjar. But there were no strikes in or around Tikrit, although U.S. drones are keeping a nervous eye on the fighting (“We have good overhead imagery,” is how Austin put it).

Iran has reportedly dispatched commanders notorious for their killings of Sunnis to the fight. That may lead Tikritis to view those seeking to free their city from ISIS’s grip not as rescuers but as bloody vengeance-seekers.

As the U.S. and Israel work to keep Iran’s nuclear genie bottled up, both Washington and Tehran have said they are not operating together inside Iraq. “We don’t coordinate with them,” Austin, whose command oversees U.S. military forces inside the country, repeated Tuesday.

In other words, they’re allied, but not allies. “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America,” Netanyahu told Congress on Tuesday. “Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam … They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.”

TIME Israel

Obama Says Disagreement With Netanyahu Is Not ‘Permanently Destructive’

U.S. President Obama speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an exclusive interview with Reuters in the Library of the White House in Washington on March 2, 2015.

"This is not a personal issue"

President Barack Obama acknowledged Monday that his administration is in “substantial disagreement” with Israel’s government about how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but said its criticism was not “permanently destructive” to the two countries’ relationship.

Obama’s sit-down with Reuters comes ahead of Tuesday’s address to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vehemently opposed a deal and believes one would still leave the door open for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran continues to deny it is working to develop them.

“This is not a personal issue,” he said. “I think that it is important for every country in its relationship with the United States to recognize that the U.S. has a process of making policy.”

The President explained that his administration’s goal is to make sure “there’s at least a year between us seeing [Iran] try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one” and said Iran should put any nuclear work on hold for a minimum of 10 years as a part of a to-be-reached deal.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME russia

5 Disputed Numbers That Explain Geopolitics

Ukraine
Vadim Ghirda—AP Russia-backed separatist fighters stand next to self propelled 152 mm artillery pieces, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine, Feb. 26, 2015.

From Argentina’s economic woes to Iran’s nuclear timeline, statistics that are up for debate can tell us a lot about geopolitics. 

Every world leader uses data for political purposes. But some take it a step further. Here are five disputed stats where the controversy itself sheds light on a deeper political question.

1. How many Russians are in Ukraine?

Estimates of Russian troops in Ukraine differ dramatically depending on which side of the border you’re standing on. (That is, if you can find the border—Russian-backed separatists continue to take territory in southeast Ukraine). Ukrainian President Poroshenko proclaimed last month that there are more than 9,000 Russian troops and 500 tanks and armored vehicles in his country. But Russia claims it isn’t that many—zero, to be exact. According to a spokesman for Putin, “there are no Russian tanks or army in Ukraine.” Other players split the difference: in August, a separatist leader claimed that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian citizen “volunteers” provided assistance to the rebels.

(Reuters, CNN, LA Times)

2. How quickly could Iran build a nuclear weapon?

When Western leaders emphasize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, there’s a recurring, essential question: How long would it take for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a bomb? Iran consistently downplays the threat: an Iranian source cited the ‘breakout time’ at a minimum of 18 months. But Washington believes it’s drastically shorter: about 2-3 months. There’s also fierce debate about how long that breakout time should be. In ongoing nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration wants to ensure it would take at least a year. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to eliminate Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons altogether.

(Reuters, Institute for Science and International Security, New York Times)

3. Can China boast that its economy is #1?

Last year, the International Monetary Fund projected that China’s economy was about to overtake the United States’ when measured on a purchasing power basis (a less common way of measuring GDP that takes exchange rates into account). China became the world’s largest trading nation back in 2012. But even China is pushing back against any perception that it’s on top: the state-run news agency Xinhua ran a piece in January titled “China denies being world’s No. 1 economy.” Beijing is careful to stress that it’s still very much a developing country, not yet wealthy enough to take on a lot of global responsibilities. They have a point. Despite relentless growth—last year’s economic output topped $10 trillion, more than five times higher than a decade before—China’s output per person is still nowhere near that of the U.S.

(New York Times, Bloomberg, Xinhua, Economist)

4. Just how valuable for Americans would the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) be?

One of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy priorities before he leaves office is to ink the TPP, a trade agreement that includes a dozen countries that collectively account for 40% of world trade and roughly a third of global GDP. The administration is quick to point out the estimated economic benefits. According to John Kerry, “TPP could provide $77 billion a year in real income and support 650,000 new jobs in the U.S. alone.” But not everyone buys that jobs claim. The White House’s statistics come from a 2012 book by the Peterson Institute that didn’t provide a precise jobs estimate. The book’s author said he avoided doing so because, “like most trade economists, we don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.”

(Congressional Research Service, Washington Post)

5. How is Argentina’s economy doing?

Argentina’s economic troubles are common knowledge. So is the government’s tendency to cast the numbers in a rosier light. The government claimed 30% growth in GDP from 2007 to 2012 (5.3% annual average rate), but a study last year claimed that GDP only grew half that much and the size of the economy was at least 12% smaller than official government estimates. Then there’s the issue of inflation. The government estimates 21% inflation for this year—but some private economists expect a rate of nearly 40%. Furthermore, the government’s official exchange rate doesn’t reflect reality: one U.S. dollar is officially worth about 8.7 pesos, yet the informal rate is as high as 13.

(World Economics Journal, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, BNamericas, Bloomberg)

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Are rising tensions between nuclear powers and an increased risk of rogue actors getting weapons spurring a new nuclear age?

By Rod Lyons in RealClearDefense

2. Psychological barriers — not science — are holding back progress on treating wastewater, improving crop yields and more.

By Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker

3. Massive computing power and better tools are making it harder to hide submarines. Are they becoming obsolete?

By Harry J. Kazianis in the National Interest

4. It’s too soon to celebrate a win in the Net Neutrality battle.

By Blair Levin in Re/code

5. Mumbling isn’t lazy speech. It’s data compression.

By Julie Sedivy in Nautilus

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hacking out of prison: San Quentin inmates are learning to code.

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

2. Your breath could reveal a fake: How a beetle’s camouflage trick might make money harder to counterfeit.

By James Urquhart in Chemistry World

3. Russia has learned there’s a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine.

By Amy Knight in the New York Review of Books

4. Protected areas like wetlands and coral reefs are at highest risk from climate change but can also be part of the solution.

By Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists

5. A U.S. deal with Iran could reset the Mideast balance of power.

By Patrick Smith in the Fiscal Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Iran

Iran’s President Says a Nuclear Deal With the West Is ‘Certain’

Hassan Rouhani
Mohammad Berno—AP Iranian President Hassan Rouhani participates in an interview in Tehran on Oct. 13, 2014

President Hassan Rouhani makes the pledge during a televised national broadcast

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took to the nation’s airwaves on Monday night to proclaim that a nuclear deal with the West will be signed ahead of a deadline in late November.

“We will find a solution to the nuclear subject and we believe that the two sides will certainly reach a win-win agreement,” said Rouhani, according to Iranian broadcaster Press TV.

Representatives from the U.S., E.U. and Iran are set to meet up in Vienna later this week to attempt to hammer out the details of the agreement. Diplomats issued the new Nov. 24 deadline after failing to meet an earlier target in July.

On Monday night, Rouhani struck a confident tone as he discussed the agreement, saying only the finer details of the deal need to be ironed out.

“Of course details are important too, but what’s important is that the nuclear issue is irreversible. I think a final settlement can be achieved in these remaining 40 days,” said Rouhani, according to a translation by Reuters.

The potential deal aims to guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program remains strictly for peaceful purposes. Iran has been hit with myriad sanctions by Western nations for moving ahead with a nuclear program that Tehran claims is engineered to meet the country’s scientific and energy needs. However, the U.S. and Israel have long argued that the Islamic Republic’s leadership has been attempting to develop a clandestine nuclear arsenal.

President Rouhani was swept into power 14 months ago after campaigning on a more moderate platform and signaling that he aimed to ease the animosity that’s been brewing between Washington and Tehran for decades. The potential nuclear deal is also seen as pivotal to staving off an all-out future war between Israel and Iran.

TIME politics

Why We Must Disarm the U.S.’s Unprecedented Nuclear Arsenal

Mayors of A-bombed Cities Issue Appeal To U.N. To Ban Nuclear Arms
The Asahi Shimbun—2014 The Asahi Shimbun Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui (C) speaks during the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the U.N. headquarters on April 29, 2014 in New York City.

The potential for so vast a massacre has never before existed.

August 6 is the 69th anniversary of the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The bombing of Nagasaki took place on August 9. An appropriate way to reflect on these events might be to contemplate our current nuclear arsenal and ask why it is being kept in place.

The U.S. has by far the most powerful nuclear arsenal on Earth. Our 14 Ohio-class submarines together carry the equivalent of at least 56,000 Hiroshima blasts. These ships are not a remnant of the Cold War. Eight were made after the opening of the Berlin Wall during the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

A fleet of 12 new Ohio-class submarines is currently undergoing design and construction: the first is scheduled for completion in 2021, the last in 2035. Also underway are a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile and a next-generation heavy bomber, land-based and air-based delivery systems initiated by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama.

The country’s nuclear planners do not wait for a crisis to choose possible targets. Thousands of designated targets exist right now, often involving cities whose populations have no quarrel with us. Specific missiles have been assigned to each target city.

The U.S. citizenry cannot stop nuclear missiles once they are fired. Nor can we undo injuries—to humans, animals, plants and to the earth and sky themselves—once they are inflicted. Only by acting now— before they are fired and while the danger seems remote—can missiles be stopped and the injuries cancelled.

Polls conducted at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies show that 73% of the U.S. population wants total elimination of nuclear weapons. But anonymous polls require no courage and carry no force. Making audible the population’s voice requires that people speak in their own voices and write their names, putting their opposition on record.

We have freedom over the ways we choose to express our opposition to these weapons. We have no freedom to determine what the stakes are or what happens if opposition fails.

Four factors make openly registering our opposition this summer and fall urgent:

1. Right now we have what we may never have again: a president who, in his Prague speech, put himself on record as saying nuclear weapons have to be eliminated. Furthermore, he acknowledged that because the U. S. is the only country to have used them, we are morally obligated to take the lead in eliminating them. So far Obama has failed to act. But if the U.S. population makes its will clear, he may act.

2. Next spring the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will undergo its next five-year review at the United Nations. Article 6 requires that nuclear states give up their nuclear arms. Many of the treaty signers have expressed dismay and disgust with the failure of progress on Article 6. If by April 2015 the nuclear states have—after 45 years—still made little progress, the countries that have so far abstained from acquiring them may become convinced that a nuclear-free world is impossible. The dream of non-proliferation will end.

3. We have at present an ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who has written extensively about the moral horror of genocide inflicted on Armenians, Rwandans and others. She has criticized the United States for failing to act to stop genocide. Surely our citizenry can convince her that our own nuclear architecture is the genocide-ready instrument most in need of elimination.

4. The U.S. constitution makes Congress (through the requirement for a declaration of war) and the citizenry (through the second amendment) responsible for overseeing the country’s war making. A citizenry that turns its back on this responsibility is infantilized and marooned, severed from all governance. No one can take from us the authority over the country’s defense the constitution gives us; but if we do not act on it, it’s gone.

There are ways of honoring this responsibility that most of us might find too costly. Right now, Megan Rice, an 84-year old nun, is serving a three-year prison sentence for cutting through the security fences at the Oak Ridge, Tenn. nuclear facility. She and two companions set out in the middle of the night, crossing wilderness ground for several hours before they reached and broke through the fences. They risked not just prison sentences; they risked their lives.

The U.S. arsenal has taken away the right of self-defense from all creatures everywhere. Arrangements for so vast a massacre have never before existed on Earth. These arrangements must be unmade. They will not be unmade unless each of us steps forward and insists that it happen.

Elaine Scarry, who teaches at Harvard, is the author of Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom.

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