288 - Afghanistan and Nonproliferation

Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 288
Panelists: Richard Denton, Corey Levine, Tariq Rauf, Doug Saunders, and Erika Simpson
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  13 July 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified: 7 September 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

Synopsis: The Afghanistan War has changed quickly since the US and NATO troops withdrew. Corey Levine, Tariq Rauf, Erika Simpson and Richard Denton expect a Taliban win.

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today we’re going to go talk about nuclear non-proliferation, because there is a Review Conference coming up in a few months and we’re going to consider what should be done about it. But we have some very diverse secondary interests of all the people on this panel today, somebody is interested in Cuba, somebody else is interested in Afghanistan. So, we may go off in who knows what direction because this is a Schmooze Day. That means you don’t have to stick to the topic. It means you can talk about whatever is of interest. So, I have five brilliant panelists today visiting me on my computer. And I will go from left to right: Doug Saunders is a correspondent or a columnist for The Globe and Mail and he’s been explaining to Erika that he’s about to go off to Germany in another month or so for another extended stay to do some research for a book. So next is Erika Simpson, who is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Western University in London, Ontario. She’s an expert on NATO. And here in the middle of this list on my screen is Corey Levine. Corey is in Victoria, British Columbia at the moment, but just recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan, where you were working for UN Women. And in Vienna, we have Tariq Rauf who is a longtime consultant, an expert on all things nuclear – so nuclear weapons and I know that you also worked at the IAEA, so you must have your fingers in other pies as well. So hello, Tariq. And in Sudbury, Richard Denton has just joined us. He is the Co-Chair of the North American Chapter of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which means that he knows a thing or two about nuclear weapons and also things like gamma rays. Why don’t we talk about the past and future of Afghanistan? What’s going to happen there? And what is already unfortunately happening? Corey, what’s going on? 

Corey Levine  

Well, that is a very interesting question. It a $64 billion question. I’ve only been back a couple of weeks. And even in the couple of weeks since I’ve returned, things have changed with lightning speed on the ground. I don’t think anyone expected the Taliban to militarily make as many gains as they’ve had. They’re taking over DACs – District Administrative Centers – left, right, and center. They’re basically knocking on the doors of the major urban centers – for example, Kandahar. They’ve actually taken over some of the provincial capitals already. So, you know, experts have been predicting that the government would fall within six months. I’m wondering if that timeline can be pushed up. I have no idea of what’s going to happen with Kabul. I would be interested to hear what Doug, Erika, and others may have to say about that. The Taliban have claimed that they’ve changed their stripes – that “We’ve changed. We are now a new modern, forward Taliban” – but [there are] reports coming in from the areas that they control – and I was actually talking with an Afghan women parliamentarian last night – are extremely concerning. We know that they’re closing girls’ schools. The parliamentarian was informing me that the Taliban are back to their tactics of night letters, sending night letters to women in Nangarhar province saying: “If you don’t stop working, we can’t be blamed for what may happen to you.” Women are being beaten for not having Mahrams, which are male relative escorts in the streets. And more horror stories like this. So, this is what constituents are reporting to their parliamentarians.

Tariq Rauf  

I’ve been following it a little bit. And I agree with what Corey said. I am of the opinion that the Taliban have not changed their stripes. They are just being politic in what they are saying. And I think the report are a little bit exaggerated that they now control 85% of the country. Apparently, the Afghan forces in many remote areas have not been properly supplied because of corruption and they are running out of ammunition. So those who are soldiers are surrendering. But I think it will be quite a fight for them to take the major urban centers. And Afghanistan is lightly populated in in many different areas. So, I also see, I think, some sort of a civil war coming, unfortunately, because some of the warlords and tribal leaders will be activated who have different agendas than the Taliban themselves. And then we have the neighboring countries, Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, they all have their different agendas. India as well. So, there will be some other proxy battles coming to Afghanistan. So I personally, unfortunately, am not very optimistic over the shorter to the medium term about stability, peace, human rights, and women’s rights in particular in Afghanistan.

Metta Spencer  

Erika? 

Erika Simpson  

Thank you, Metta.  I work on NATO issues, but I also work on Afghanistan and on security sector reform issues. So, on that topic, I wanted to mention that the Afghan national security forces are going to get 37 Blackhawk helicopters and all sorts of equipment from the US, although NATO has pulled out. So, the Italian, the Germans, and NATO have entirely pulled out as of last few weeks and the US is retaining some forces there to protect… I mean, I’m sympathetic Corey towards your argument about Kabul falling, but I think Kabul will not fall and the international airport will not fall, because internationally, that would look like Saigon in 1975 again. It would look terrible. And so, the US will be forced somehow to stay with a limited force and assisting the Afghan National Army, the Defense Force, and the Police. So on that score, I’m very sympathetic to what you’re saying, Corey, about what the Taliban is doing to women in the rural areas. But what I’m hearing from people in Afghanistan is that it’s a bit of propaganda – The New York Times – it’s a bit exaggerated about the number of districts. There are 400 districts. So, they’re saying that the Taliban have taken over – in the last few days – 160 [districts]. But the Afghan forces are saying that they’re securing them back again. So, Tariq’s point about a civil war is very valid as well, that there will be a civil war there for the long term for generations to come, but I’m optimistic that they’ll preserve the capital and perhaps Kandahar City.

Doug Saunders  

I’d be interested in hearing not how many districts the Taliban claimed to have achieved political control over, but how much of Afghanistan they have economic control over or control over trade routes. My knowledge of Afghanistan is out of date. I haven’t been there since a decade ago. But it always seemed to be true and it still seems to be true that whether a specific Afghan man was a fighter for the Afghan National Army or for the Taliban depended on the ability to pay him. And all the work we did found that the motivation for most Taliban fighters was self-interested economic concerns rather than necessarily ideology or anything. And that even during the height of the occupation and the military operations, Taliban related forces managed to control a large amount of the poppy economy and whatever there was of a non-poppy economy by controlling passage down roads and what farmers could grow and that sort of thing. So, I could imagine that would only get worse. I would say: if the Afghan government is stuck with Kabul is sort of a stronghold, that not going to be much of an Afghanistan. And I fear that bridge may already have been crossed. That we were never really able to give the Afghan government secure control over trade and economy.

Erika Simpson  

I think if I can add to what you’re saying, Doug, I think the only real difference now is that the Pakistan government is involved and is sending mercenaries in. So, I know the Afghanistan government has already captured 1417 Pakistani mercenaries. Pakistan is very involved in tipping that strategic area. I’d be curious what you think about the change [and] the shift in politics, because – as you know – Afghanistan has always been kind of a zone of fighting. So, if Pakistan takes over, how will that tip politics with India and with China? That’s interesting to me. I’m also obviously interested in women and schools and so on, but just looking at the larger strategic picture with Pakistan involved. 

Corey Levine  

To be clear, I’m not saying that Kabul is going to fall or won’t fall. There will be an incredible fight for it. That is for sure. It will take a long time to sort out what will happen to Kabul. So first of all, let me be clear on that. I do think the Taliban will be successful at taking over pretty much the rest of the country. In regards to Kabul, who knows what is going to happen. I think in the other urban centers – Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Kandahar – there’s also going to be problems. But I think to go back to Doug’s point, first of all: the Taliban is in the north now, which they had not been previously. They are controlling main trade roads and routes in and out of Afghanistan. Secondly, Pakistan is not the only spoiler in this conflict currently. There are mercenaries in there that are from many other countries, not just Pakistan. There is also ISIS in there. And other groups that didn’t exist when the Taliban controlled the country before. So, I think it’s a very different landscape than when the Taliban was in control of the country in the 1990s. I think Tariq already made the point that we have Iran in there. We have China and Russia, etcetera. Turkey has become a big player [too]. Someone mentioned the airport. The Americans negotiated with the Taliban to have the Turks take over control of Kabul airport. And, you know, in the end they agreed. The Taliban agreed to that. So, I think the airport is secure for the time being. But I’m just aghast at how things… as I said, I’ve only returned a couple of weeks and things have already changed lightning fast. Erika, your point about how many districts do the Taliban really control? We can’t know this, but they are advancing. Afghan security forces are surrendering. They are not putting up a fight, despite the billions of dollars that have been put into training. And one last point that I want to say – and actually the women parliamentarians were racing this with me last night – is the Afghan Air Force. Once it’s completely turned over to the Afghan Air Force to defend the sky, they will not be able to do that. 

Erika Simpson  

That’s the only part I disagree with you on, Corey, because they did buy a very good air defense system from the French about year ago and they purposely did so to not be reliant on the Americans. So, the Afghan Air Force is actually very capable and has been trained and will continue to be trained by the Americans. If we’re looking at air power, that’s the only point I disagree with you on. I actually think that they will be able to triumph. If that’s the word you want to use, I hate to say that. They will be able to – in terms of air power – protect the urban cities. But the devastation on the ground, we will not have reporters like Doug Saunders sending us grim and horrible photos, because nobody’s there. It’s going to be awful. It’s going to be a bloodbath. And past September. I don’t blame Joe Biden, I understand the reasoning for pulling out and for NATO pulling out after 20 years by 9/11, by September 11. But still, it must be awful for you knowing people on the ground, Corey, I’m very sympathetic. I wish we had more reporters.

Metta Spencer  

Does anybody have a theory about what could have been done differently that would have had a different outcome? This whole fiasco. 20 some years of nothing but trouble, confusion, and failure. What should have happened instead and was there any alternative?

Tariq Rauf  

I would like to focus more on what’s going to happen because what has happened has happened. I think we don’t have that much time. But I would sort of disagree with some of the points made. I don’t think the Taliban have agreed that the Turks will control the Kabul airport. I was just hearing some news conferences – supposedly from the Taliban spokesperson – and they are insisting that they will not accept the Turks or any foreign forces after the end of July… I forget what date that they mentioned. They specifically mentioned Turkey. So, I think this is still a question mark. Part of the challenge of the Afghan forces is supplying their far-flung units and the ones that are surrendering mainly are those that have run out of ammunition. And once they’re out of ammunition, their choice is either to be killed or to surrender. And unfortunately, some special forces that surrendered have been murdered in cold blood by the Taliban, including apparently some reports of the killing of seven pilots that they captured at some particular location. Even during the time of the Afghan Kings and then afterwards… Afghanistan has always been controlled by a number of warring warlords. The central power remains in Kabul as a sort of loose controlling thing. So, they’ve never really had an effective central government. I don’t know whether they will revert to that or not. And finally, NATO forces and the US forces never won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. They basically hated most of these foreign forces. There are, of course, exceptions. But generally, the way the kill and capture missions of bursting into people’s houses in the middle of the night and going into areas where their women were staying insulted a lot of these people. They just felt insulted in terms of the way they were treated by soldiers of the international forces. Many of them were really not used to the cultural norms and were rarely perceived to be rude and so on. Then, finally, with regard to Pakistan, it has the longest border with Afghanistan. For more than 20 years, it has nearly 3 million Afghan refugees still in there. These people brought the gun culture to the Pakistani society. So, there is now a proxy battle between India and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Pakistanis are reporting and showing videos of Indian Air Force transport planes flying through Iranian airspace and bringing weapons to support their supporters in India. So, these so-called infiltrators from Pakistan… I don’t know who they are… whether they are Afghans from the refugee camp. In that case, they wouldn’t be mercenaries, they would be Afghans returning to fight whatever battles they want to fight in Afghanistan. Then you have the Chinese economic interest, you have the Russian interest that this Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban doesn’t go into the Central Asian republics. I think this is also a problem for the current Pakistani government. That the Pakistani religious extremists will gain even more power in Pakistan than they have. And finally, Taliban is not a singular word. We should refer to them in the plural. It’s not the Taliban is or the Taliban has. It’s the plural of Talib. So, it’s the Taliban are. We don’t say the Americans is.

Erika Simpson  

Tariq, for me, I’ve written a lot of op eds on Afghanistan and have been against the involvement for the last 20 years. I think I was the only academic that was against it from the beginning. And I said foreign involvement in Afghanistan… foreigners will never know the Taliban. I’m not speaking in support of the Taliban at all. But I think intervention by America and the West was a mistake in the wake of 9/11. And on the topic of Taliban is … I believe my copy editors always write Taliban is. It’s not my fault.

Tariq Rauf  

The Taliban are the offshoot of the so-called Mujahideen. The religious fighters supported by the US and Pakistan to beat back the Soviets starting from 1980.  So, this element of a religious fight was brought in from the outsiders. And then the Mujahideen morphed into the Taliban and then an element of those morphed into Al Qaeda. And now another small element has morphed into ISIS, including the people who fled from Iraq and Syria as they were pursued. So this is a long tale and it’s not such a simple story. But I agree with you, Erika, it’s foreign intervention of people sitting in Washington and Brussels who have really very little understanding. They may have PhDs in whatever regional issues, but they have no understanding on the ground. And then I mean, look at the mess in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan – none of these interventions have succeeded anywhere. They’ve only made matters worse. And hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died. Nobody talks about them. We talk about the 2500 American casualties. I forget how many poor Canadians lost their lives and were injured. 

Erika Simpson  

Right.  158. 

Tariq Rauf  

Yeah, but what about the hundreds of thousands of Afghans who were killed in drone strikes? And of course, one shouldn’t forget that more Afghans were killed by the Taliban than the foreign forces. But it’s, you know, a huge mess in there.

Doug Saunders  

I’d like to hear from Erika about how you see how well this 20 years of foreign military operations has succeeded within the narrow area that it was legally and practically supposed to under the UN resolutions that authorized it and the NATO resolutions that authorized international support, which was not to get the Taliban out and it was not to democratize and stabilize Afghanistan. But it was to prevent a foreign militia and an Arab militia – at the time, Al Qaeda was the threat – from establishing itself there to the point that it was able to launch attacks on Western countries. And that was always the narrow definition of the International military operation in Afghanistan. It was the UN Security Council legal rationale for it. You mentioned that ISIS is established there. Has anything changed since the status quo pro ante in 2000?

Erika Simpson  

Well, Tariq’s point about Al Qaeda was kind of… I call it Frankenstein’s monster that came out of the Taliban. And so, you could argue that NATO is successful narrowly in defeating Al Qaeda, so that they weren’t able to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. So, we could say that NATO was successful narrowly and the US, but widely and Corey would agree with me… that in terms of peace building and building democratic institutions and bringing women in and education, the West was a resounding defeat. And keep in mind too, as Richard knows, all of Canada’s development money – instead of going to Africa and to development in Central America – went to Afghanistan. So, we’ve spent billions and billions of dollars of the world and what is the result? And so, it’s a failure, it’s a resounding failure.

Doug Saunders  

The one thing I kept hearing from military people in support of the results, even though measurably things had not worked out even a decade ago – and it was clear at the point when Canada withdrew – was that it had worked for women. That the rights of women had been secured. Participation of women in politics had improved. Forms of repression of civil life – mandatory purdah and head coverings and so on – at least in major urban areas had fallen apart. Corey, you’ve been watching that closer than anyone. Are things going to fall back to where they were in 1999 or 2000?

Corey Levine  

This is what Afghan women fear the most. But, to be clear, the media has done a good job in sort of highlighting: “Oh, women’s rights, women’s rights.” And the international community has said: “Oh, this is a red line. We’re not going to cross.” But their red lines have been very movable. They talk about it, but there’s no real commitment. But, you know, Afghanistan, despite being a very conservative, traditional, underdeveloped country, there has always been strong women advocates around. One of the women parliamentarians last night was pointing out that they had a female Minister of Health 40 years ago. The Taliban just imposed a very extreme theocratic version and interpretation of Islamic understanding of women’s rights. Needless to say, there were huge gains that were made in 20 years. Those gains haven’t, to a certain extent, really taken root in society. As Erika was pointing out, we have generally had a massive failure on the nation-state building project. And, yeah, I think we’re in very real fear of losing those particular gains. And as everybody else has acknowledged, the Taliban haven’t changed their stripes. I also think they have their frenemies. ISIS-K – the Islamic State in Khorasan – which is the Afghan version of ISIS. It’s hard to say [what is] the dynamic there and I’d be interested to hear what others think about it. On the one hand, I think there is some collaboration on the loose term. They’re engaging with each other. On the other hand, they’re fighting each other. But they are going to not outwardly have a say in what comes next if the Taliban get into government. The Taliban will be very conscious, though, of their interpretation. The Taliban call themselves an Islamic emirate, ISIS call themselves a caliphate. How those differences will play themselves out if/when Taliban get into government will have a huge impact on what happens with women. 

Metta Spencer  

As far as what is visible on the street, what is visible on the street? Do women wear burqas? Has there been a significant change in that kind of thing? If I walked down the street 25 years ago and today, would I see much difference?

Corey Levine  

If you walked down the street just shortly after the Taliban fell or in the intervening years: Yes. I mean, burqas were never compulsory until Taliban came into effect. It’s always been acceptable to wear a hijab. You know, there were the photos when the Soviets were in there of women in miniskirts and short sleeves. That was very sort of isolated in the in the urban centers. Even with my UN colleagues – Afghan UN colleagues – they don’t feel comfortable not wearing a headscarf in a UN compound at work, because it wouldn’t be acceptable amongst their male colleagues. Only a couple of them did not wear a headscarf at work. So, it just goes back to my point that the Taliban didn’t bring in anything in a way that wasn’t there. They just took an extreme version of that. But women will also tell you burqas are not our issue… I mean… 

Metta Spencer  

Really? It would be my issue. I wouldn’t want to wear those things.

Corey Levine  

Okay, having previously had to wear a burqa when I first went there when I traveled outside of Kabul. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable and not fun and hot and stifling. And you can’t see anything really. But they say: “Well, you know, covered up or not covered up, there’s endemic violence against women and girls.” Let’s talk about that. That doesn’t get addressed. There are so many other issues. Women only have – you know, it’s hard to know the real numbers – let’s say 20 to 25% literacy amongst women and girls.

Erika Simpson  

I thought it was higher, Corey, there’s a Canadian study – a government study – and they did a survey. It was something like 95% of Afghan women are illiterate. I was astounded. And then more than 50% have encountered sexual violence. More than 50%. And then child marriages are ubiquitous.

Corey Levine  

Yeah, absolutely. So well, you know, I’m being sort of generous in terms of the… but let’s say 75% illiteracy. 80% of women in girls have experienced some form of gender-based violence. Women have no access to economic resources. So, when you compare those issues to whether I have to wear a chador or not… in a way, it pales in comparison. And I don’t want to speak for Afghan women, but over the 20 years that I’ve been going there, this is pretty much the refrain that I hear.

Metta Spencer  

This is the saddest day. Everything I hear is extremely depressing. And I still have to say – and I know Tariq doesn’t want me to ask this question – but I want to know, what could have been done better? Was this inevitable? In a society like that do we just shrug our shoulders and say: There’s nothing we can do about it?” What should we have done, if anything?

Tariq Rauf  

Well, you know, with the Mujahideen, this was also funded by the Saudis. And with that came the Saudi version of Islam, which is a very restrictive and conservative version called Wahhabism. And the Saudis over the previous decades have funded madrasahs. [These are] religious schools all over the Muslim world, where they only teach children how to read the Quran and memorize it. They do not give them an education in science, social sciences, and so on. So you have many tens of thousands of young boys that have grown up in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, through these madrasahs that are completely under the control of these extremist political religious parties in the name of Islam – wanting a caliphate or a global emirate, and so on. So, coming back to Afghanistan, as was mentioned, during the days of the Shah, I mean, when I was growing up, we used to go to Kabul as children for vacations. And women were part of society. Within the South Asian context, they were they were quite free. But with coming of the Soviets and with the foreign intervention of the Mujahideen, this crazy interpretation of Islam came in and it’s now also spread all over. I mean, for example, the hijab is portrayed to be an Islamic requirement. In fact, it is not. The hijab was actually originally worn by Jewish people in the Middle East region, then a version of it was picked up by Christianity when it came along, and then by Muslims when Muslims came around. But again, it’s been interpreted by these people, mainly men; and now it’s sort of interesting that in Canada and elsewhere young women are wearing it. I personally have no objection. A woman can wear whatever she wants, whenever she wants in whatever way she wants. My objection is to say that hijab is a requirement under Islam. It is not. So, there are sort of broader implications of this phenomenon beyond Afghanistan as well. But I think there is one positive sign in so many of the documentaries that I’ve seen. Even though the Taliban unfortunately may be closing schools and intimidating women, in many families now the men have begun to recognize the importance of educating the girls and women in their family. And they’ve set up informal sort of schools to operate under the radar of the Taliban where they can be given at least some basic education and the girls are very eager to get that education and even take the risk of walking through fields to get to such education. But all of this, likely we don’t know how this will survive if there’s a full Taliban takeover.

Metta Spencer  

Erika, you don’t have to put your hand up. Just butt in. 

Erika Simpson  

Oh, thank you. On Tariq’s very valuable point about what I call the ideology of global Salafism, there is a concept in international relations in the theory – the meta theory of social constructivism – which is called “three generations.” That thinking and ideology like that changes over three generations. So, we can be hopeful that 50 years from now, with the onset of the internet, with secret… with cell phones, which are being banned, and so on. That perhaps the fathers and the patriarchy that we’re seeing and I think it’s – when we’re getting at the roots of it – I think Tariq, it’s male patriarchy not so much global Salafism that’s at its root here. That the fundamental problem is of male tribal warfare thinking. And we need to have what some people call the culture of peace, to combat that, to fight that. And see the words I’m using: combat and fight. But it’s male patriarchy, that is embodied in global Salafism. Those tenets that are starting to appear around the world. So, we need to fight that. And you can only do that with people like Doug, the media, computers, the internet, and cell phones – and then we’ll win in three generations.

Doug Saunders  

I wonder given that as Tariq points out and as Erika notes, there’s a disjunction between the authoritarian politics of theocracy – which I think Erika is quite right – which tend to be a much more of a misogynist politics rather than a specifically religious politics and the lived experiences of women in those states. Tariq points out that regardless of what’s happening with the Taliban, the education rate of women has increased quite a bit, and maybe ratcheted back somewhat, but it is hard to reverse. And, of course, the outstanding example there is Iran, which has always, or at least since the 1980s, had the very highest rate of university education of women in the Middle East and one of the highest rates in the world. It’s far higher than the rate of women. And of course, if you’ve spent any time in Iran, you know it’s an almost matriarchal society on the streets. The intelligentsia and the creative class are women. People driving cars or women in Iran. But, there’s this disjunction between that and the theocratic government and their official controls. It always feels in Iran, like it’s a tension that can never hold for much longer, because society is so out of step with what the government claims society is. I think Erika is right that that’s because it’s a defensive gender-based posture rather than a strictly religious posture. Will that change? Would a higher rate of education of women cause change sooner in Iran and eventually in Afghanistan?

Corey Levine  

Your example, Doug, of Iran is really interesting. I spent a year working in Iraq several years ago and since the fall of Saddam… You know, under Saddam, Iraqi woman had the highest rates of education and university education and were amongst the most educated women in the Arab and Muslim world. And since the fall of the former regime that has been dialed back incredibly. Women are no longer as you know, getting the kinds of education and have access to the [various] kinds of education. They’re getting married much earlier. So, I guess I’m using Iraq as an example. You can have those rights for decades and decades, but obviously they are very easily eroded. So, I guess I tend to be a bit more pessimistic about how many of these kinds of gains that have been made will really remain.

Tariq Rauf  

A short comment about Iran: The last time I was there in Tehran, in the area where I was, roughly 50% of the people driving cars were women and a number of those cars just had women in them or a man was sitting next to the woman but the woman was driving.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, you know, I’m impressed by the fact that we have so many Afghan experts here. But I am also mindful that we have some people who are also quite knowledgeable about non-proliferation and the upcoming conference. So, I would be loathed to have us end this conversation without turning, at least briefly, to anticipating what’s going to happen. And Tariq, would you give us – if you don’t mind – your guess as to where we’re going with the NPT Review?

Tariq Rauf  

Okay, so NPT Review Conferences are held every 5 years. And the last one was supposed to be held in April-May of 2020 and it got postponed repeatedly because of the COVID pandemic. It was first proposed to be held in January of this year [2021]. But then conditions were not right in New York and then it got postponed to be held in August of this year [2021], that date too has fallen by the wayside. Then there were proposals to hold it in the beginning of January [2022], from the 4th of January; but that overlaps with the first meeting of State Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which will be held in Vienna from the 12th to the 14th. So, the alternate dates that were proposed were from the 17th of January, but the Chinese have objected because it overlaps with their presidency of the Conference on Disarmament and also with the Chinese New Year. And also, it was pointed out that in order to not hold the session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, it requires a decision and that’s not likely to come. So, we are sort of stuck. A compromise proposal is to hold a shorter review conference in December this year (2021), starting from December 6th. But then a lot of the countries where people celebrate Christmas, they’re not too happy about it, because they don’t want to give up that Christmas, because in many Western countries have for the first time in two years the ability to spend Christmas with their families. My personal view is that we should postpone it to 2022. We have really no reason to hold an NPT Conference. I mean, it would have been good to have held it, but we don’t need to. Nothing needs to be decided. The Non-Proliferation Treaty will not fall away. We don’t have a Review Conference. Given the state of relations between the US and Russia and the US and China and the complete lack of progress on nuclear disarmament and nuclear modernization projects underway, a Review Conference now is not likely to yield any agreement on what’s to happen on nuclear disarmament. A lot of talk now is on bridge building between the weapon states and the non-weapon states and also on the relationship between the Ban Treaty supporters and its opponents. And so, everyone is now talking about nuclear risk reduction. So, the best measure of nuclear risk reduction is to have eventually no nuclear weapons. But who increased all the risks? It’s the nuclear weapon states. Through their modernization programs. Through their changes in doctrine of early use of nuclear weapons. The US now is thinking of using nuclear weapons to deter cyber-attacks under certain cases. Russians want to resort to nuclear weapons early if they feel they are losing a conventional war. We also have this issue of no first use. And here I think I’m going to antagonize many people on this panel. I personally don’t think no first use gets us anything. It just is another way of losing our efforts on promoting disarmament. And there are many agreements between Russia and the US from the height of the Cold War: Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities; the Incidents at Sea [Agreement]; nuclear risk reduction centers; and this current discussion and nuclear risk reduction has complete amnesia about this. So, if we were implementing those, we wouldn’t be having these incidents like in the Black Sea, where this British ship apparently challenged the waters that the Russians were defending. You have Russian bombers flying around the coast of North America. NATO bombers on the borders of Russia and basically raising the tensions. I also wanted to use this opportunity to show this book. This is by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt. It is called the “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.” It’s a very detailed book, which provides the negotiating history of how the Nuclear Ban Treaty came about, through its various sort of episodes, like the nuclear ban treaty meetings in Mexico. 

Metta Spencer  

Who is the author? Please tell me. I’ve never heard of him. 

Tariq Rauf  

This is Ambassador Alexander Kmentt. He is one of the people responsible for the treaty. He’s part of the core group and part of the Austrian foreign ministry group that held the Vienna Conference with the Austrian pledge on Disarmament that got the support of 159 states. So, this is the inside story of the core group of states: Mexico, Brazil, Austria, New Zealand, and Ireland – whose diplomatic efforts led to the Ban Treaty. ICAN was very useful in promoting international support. But the work inside the UN system, on getting the resolutions to negotiate the treaty and then [actually] negotiating the treaty, etc. was done by states. So, this complements the excellent book by Ray Acheson, which describes the role of civil society. This describes the role of states and the so-called non-nuclear weapons states. 

Metta Spencer  

You said you don’t have much hope that the “no first use” or what may also be called “sole purpose” would do much of anything. Then what would you consider the next promising forward step? 

Tariq Rauf  

Well, I understand where no first use is coming from. But it’s basically saying: “My house is full of guns” and I’m telling my neighbor that I’m not going to shoot him or her. But, if I change my mind, I have all the resources to use them [nuclear weapons]. Sole purpose is more. It’s a little bit more useful because one can say nuclear weapons should only be used to respond to or deter a nuclear attack. But again, that’s a verbal promise. It is not subject to verification. So, the best way is to have a follow-on treaty to New Start, which fortunately the Russians and Americans extended. It’s valid until 2026 and gives us 5 years. And so now, the new talk is – and I hosted a webinar with Rose Gottemoeller, the US negotiator of New Start; and Alexey Arbatov – a senior Russian parliamentary delegate; and so on – the 2 sides are actually thinking about all nuclear weapons, regardless of range – medium range, short range, and weapons that can threaten national existence and so on. The stumbling block still is the Russians also want to talk about the anti-ballistic missile systems and the Americans don’t. But there might be a way of finessing that. There’s also this issue where the Americans want to bring in China and then the Russian say: “Well, in that case, we also want France and the UK at the table.” As you know, the UK said that it will not go down to below 200 warheads. They have established a ceiling of 250. This does not mean that they will build up to 250. But that leaves the possibility there. And they are building new ballistic missile submarines. The US also wants to build them. People don’t realize that all British submarine launched ballistic missiles are actually American ballistic missiles leased from the US. And the US cooperates with the British in designing the warhead for it because the warhead has to fit on the missiles. And the missiles have to fit in the British submarine. So here you have very close nuclear weapons cooperation between the UK and the United States. Canada, unfortunately, is still part of those countries that’s resisting the nuclear weapons ban treaty. NATO just reaffirmed it has a new concept where they repeated this whole thing as long as nuclear weapons exist; the NATO countries will have an appropriate mix and so on. The current Secretary General wanted to extend NATO’s remit all the way to China. President Macron sort of reined them in and said: “North Atlantic means North Atlantic.” I’d be happy to hear Erika’s views on some of these issues.

Metta Spencer  

Richard, you haven’t spoken yet. I wonder, does IPPNW have a position? Or is it more like a networking for people with very different positions? What would you say is the prevailing opinion within IPPNW about the next most promising advance toward disarmament? I know that IPPNW was very much a sponsor of the ICAN project.

 

Richard Denton  

Correct. Certainly, IPPNW strongly supports ICAN and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and feels that is the way to go. I think I’m fairly simplistic. When at the NPT, it works by consensus, which means that someone has the veto and as a result nothing happens. The TPNW came about using the UN General Assembly voting system, which was sort of a two thirds majority. And but you had 122 countries out of 124 that agreed to it. So, to me that pretty much was consensus in terms of mutual understanding. What I also wonder though, is that do we need a third party or third forum? Because the nine nuclear countries said that they’re not attending the TPNW. We’ve got a few NATO countries and that they will attend as observers. You’ve got the Swedish proposals of 17 countries and they are proposing 22 or something different resolutions to move forward. But I’m just wondering – either Erika or Tariq – your thoughts on yet a third party? We in Rotary are trying to bring and get Rotary as another middle power to bring various groups together. With IPPNW, it’s all the health and World Health Organizations that are supporting ICAN and the TPNW. But I’m just wondering if we should have again another disarmament conference that would be on neutral ground to bring in the 9 nuclear countries. Now, I know Tariq has suggested that it begin with 5 or 7 and exclude Israel and North Korea. I’d appreciate your thoughts on that. 

Erika Simpson  

Tariq, I want to congratulate you on your survey there of all the issues that are reigning right now. I thought that was fantastic. I want to listen to that again. And so, Richard, your concept of a neutral disarmament conference somewhere, I want to connect to Afghanistan, because that was what we talked about a lot. And if you looked at how the decision was made to withdraw from Afghanistan, Donald Trump said he was going to withdraw and was opposed within by the Pentagon and so on. But the final decision that Trump made was criticized by the Germans and the Italians and they said fervently: “We can’t leave Afghanistan.” Then Joe Biden came in power. And on April the 10th, he said: “We’re withdrawing.” And right away the same day, NATO said they were pulling out. So, this, to me is a lesson of American hegemony that the United States dominates NATO. So long as NATO is dominated by the United States, we’re not going to get any changes. We’re not going to get any changes to NATO Strategic Concept, we’re not going to get any changes at the NPT. So, if I’m in civil society, and I want something effective, then I’m going to run for no first use because it’s understandable to Americans. No first use as opposed to sole use. And so, I can understand why PNND, civil society, and ICAN are all going for no first use. It’s something. It’s a low-lying fruit. We can grab it and maybe we can run with it. But until the United States decides that it wants to move toward disarmament, we’re not going to get anywhere. I’ve been to every NPT review Conference and seen how effective Tariq is there since 2000. And I think that until the United States decides that it’s going to take action, then Canada is going to be hypocritical on deterrence Canada’s can continue to vacillate and say we support NATO, the Strategic Concept, and deterrence. We’re not going to move anywhere until the United States changes. That’s why I want to move – if I could – to Washington, but I’m here in London, Ontario. Well right now, I’m in British Columbia, where my brother is running for the Green Party, so I’m helping him for a week in a good winnable riding. 

Metta Spencer  

I’d like to hear Tariq’s response to Richard’s question. Is it a good idea to have a new conference on neutral territory? 

Tariq Rauf  

Yeah, I think it’s a good idea, but the nuclear weapon states are not going to come. We already have the forum in Geneva – the Conference on Disarmament – where if they wanted to have discussions, they could have discussions. All of them are there, including North Korea. But they don’t want to discuss it there. The NPT, fortunately, is the only forum where five [of the] nuclear weapon states respond and explain their strategies. They do not do it in the General Assembly or in Geneva. It’s only in the NPT where they feel constrained. They are feeling threatened by the ban treaty, which is why their response is so strong. Because these days, you cannot stand up on TV or tweet that nuclear weapons are good and bring peace and security. The new generation that is coming up is watching British Columbia, California, and Australia burn. They see where the world is heading. And they see that billions of dollars or trillions are being spent on nuclear weapons. And here are these young people struggling with student debt, they don’t know what jobs they will be able to get. They can’t afford to buy their own houses and so on. So, their priorities are very different. And I think physicians and others, we need to target the younger people, because they are the ones who will affect change. They now have the numbers; they have the communications tools that are way smarter than at least I am with all kinds of things. WhatsApp has been superseded by other tools that I hear about. So, no first use was considered by Obama, but then he ran out of time and then Biden had made supporting statements when he was Vice President. But as President, I doubt very much he will have the space to agree to no first use. And this is one of the reasons why for the past two years, I’ve been pushing to move the NPT review conference out of New York to Vienna, because Washington is two hours away from New York. And in every review conference, when the going gets tough, we get a phalanx of American officials and they come and beat down progressive elements in the non-nuclear weapon states, including us in Canada when I used to be part of the Canadian delegation. And then we would get intimidated for a whole variety of reasons because we are very much vulnerable given our trade and so on. The pushback doesn’t come on the issue for issue. It comes in other areas.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, well, that’s a long discussion of all kinds of other possible actions. It didn’t really respond to Richard’s proposal, but maybe we should have a youth get together or something. I’m in favor of anything anybody proposes here. But time’s up. So, it’s been fun and interesting and important. And I’m very grateful to all of you for it. Say Goodbye. Thank you. 

[All panelists say Good Bye and Thank You.]

T248. Werbos, Computers, and God