23 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


US politics >>

The president-elect’s Twitter comments came the same day that Vladimir Putin said Russia needs to ‘strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces’

In May, Donald Trump suggested he could support South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia arming themselves with nuclear weapons for their own defence.

In May, Donald Trump suggested he could support South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia arming themselves with nuclear weapons for their own defence. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

US President-elect Donald Trump called on Thursday for a strengthening of America’s nuclear weapons programme, throwing into doubt longstanding efforts to reduce its arsenal.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

It was unclear what prompted the comment on a medium that favours brevity over context. But it came on the same day that also President Vladimir Putin addressed Russia’s nuclear capacity.

“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems,” Putin said.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller later issued a statement to NBC News, which did not add much clarity.

Miller referred “to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it, particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes”.

Trump, Miller said, “has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength”. Asked if this meant Trump was not in fact calling for more nuclear weapons, NBC reported, Miller did not respond.

There are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, over 90% of which are in the US and Russia. Since the end of the cold war, the old rivals have worked to curtail production and then cut their nuclear stockpiles.

But relations have deteriorated significantly in recent years, while Trump’s freewheeling election campaign has shaken up many former certainties. In May, he suggested he could support South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia arming themselves with nuclear weapons for their own defence. “It’s going to happen anyway,” he told CNN. “It’s only a question of time.”

In a Republican primary debate, Trump seemed stumped by a straightforward question about the nuclear triad. And in a presidential debate, he appeared to contradict himself over the policy of first use, eventually saying: “I can’t take anything off the table.”

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton hammered him as too erratic and volatile, saying more than once: “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Ten former nuclear missile launch operators also wrote that Trump lacks the temperament and diplomatic skill to avoid nuclear war.

On Thursday the state department declined to comment on

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Department of Homeland Security will tear down Nseers, in an attempt to place a roadblock in front of Donald Trump’s declared intention to ban Muslims

Thousands of Muslim Americans and activists march against Nseers in Washington on 12 December 2016.

Thousands of Muslim Americans and activists march against Nseers in Washington on 12 December 2016. Photograph: ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

The Obama administration is dismantling a discriminatory surveillance system that was used after 9/11 to keep tabs on Arabs and Muslims across the US, in a move that will make it more difficult for president-elect Donald Trump to achieve his goal of introducing a Muslim registry.

Thursday’s announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that it is tearing down the remnants of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (Nseers) marks the most audacious attempt yet by Barack Obama to place roadblocks in the way of his successor’s declared intentions. A key element of Trump’s bid for the White House was his threat to prevent non-citizen Muslims from entering the US and to keep them under surveillance once inside the country.

The Nseers program was one of the most contentious – and widely hated – elements of the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies in the wake of 9/11. More than 80,000 people from 25 listed countries, 24 of which had majority Muslim or Arab populations, were forced onto the scheme in which they were required to provide fingerprints and a photograph and periodically present themselves for in-person interviews with DHS officers.

About 14,000 of those individuals were placed into deportation proceedings. Yet not a single individual was found to have any links to terrorist or violent activities.

Mohammad Jafar Alam, a member of South Asian social justice group Desis Rising Up and Moving (Drum) that was at the forefront of the campaign to dismantle Nseers, was one of those who endured Nseers surveillance. He said he knew from personal experience what it did to individuals and their families.

“The extreme mental, emotional distress, the financial problems, the pressures on a family and the isolation that happens is a punishment not just for one person, but everyone involved.”

Joanne Lin, legislative counsel with the ACLU, which was also at the front line of opposition to Nseers, said it was a “completely failed counterterrorism program. Out of 80,000 men who registered for it, there was not a single terrorism prosecution, yet it alienated Muslim and South Asian communities across the country. So we are very pleased that the Obama administration has moved to end it.”

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Tribe, who fired arrows at helicopter photographing them, also face threat from proposed change to land laws, says group

Indigenous people in Brazil

‘These are dark times if you’re an indigenous person in Brazil,’ says Fiona Watson of Survival International. Photograph: Ricardo Stuckert

An uncontacted Amazon tribe could be at risk as Brazil makes austerity-driven budget cuts and proposals for constitutional change affecting land rights move through parliament, campaigners have said.

The tribe were photographed from a helicopter by Ricardo Stuckert this month near the border with Peru.

“These are dark times if you’re an indigenous person in Brazil,” said Fiona Watson, a field director at the London-based human rights organisation Survival International. “For the people in those photos the biggest threat is the loggers and drug traffickers on the Peru side. That’s the immediate, visceral threat. But the other threat is thousands of miles away in [Brazil’s] congress.”

The prospect of budget cuts to the governmental body tasked with protecting indigenous people, Funai, could be the “writing on the wall” for the tribe and the 102 other such uncontacted groups in Brazil, Watson said.

The UN special rapporteur for indigenous rights said this week that federal funding for the department had all but dried up, leaving staff overworked and dealing with a backlog of cases.

Indigenous rights groups are also concerned by PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment working its ways through congress that campaigners say could threaten the land rights of indigenous people.

But Watson, who has lived in the Amazon rainforest and has met members of previously uncontacted peoples, said she believed the tribe could still thrive. The people live in a very remote part of the rainforest and the Acre state government is relatively sympathetic to indigenous people’s rights.

Stuckert and José Carlos Meirelles, a tribes expert with the Acre government, who was also on the helicopter, reported that the estimated 300 members of the tribe appeared healthy.

While Watson admitted that little was known about the tribe, the photographs showed a substantial and well-made house, gardens and crops.

The bows and arrows carried mean the tribe almost certainly hunts for meat. “I imagine hunting is pretty good in that area – tapir, capybaras, wild pigs, probably deer, monkey. They probably do some fishing as well, they probably eat shellfish and crabs.” The tribe is likely to be semi-nomadic, said Watson.

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