David Albright Responds to my Post and Shows Why He Epitomizes Everything That’s Wrong with the U.S. Nonproliferation Epistemic CommunityPosted: October 5, 2012 Filed under: Nuclear 32 Comments
I’ve been meaning to post on this general topic for a while now, but David Albright’s comments in response to my recent post about a paper of his just gives me the incentive to finally do it. And it also provides an excellent case study of my point.
First, here’s the first few salvos in my exchange with David Albright, including my original post about his paper. You can see the full thread of comments, in which Albright only gets nastier and shows even more of his true colors, both to me and to another commenter, at the original post here:
Here’s a new article on the USIP site co-authored by David Albright of ISIS. Wow. Just 100% incorrect in its legal interpretations of the NPT. Why is it that in the nonproliferation area everyone, including engineers, physicists, chemists and general policy wonks, think they can do legal interpretation? You won’t find me writing articles about the technical aspects of missile capabilities, or the internal physics of a warhead core. I know these things are outside of my training and qualification to do. But apparently everyone thinks they can do legal analysis. With respect, I think David should stick to obsessing over satellite pictures of tarps at random military bases in Iran.
(David’s comment on the post yesterday:)
I have belatedly read Joyner’s rant about our IranPrimer article with amusement and likewise find his chorus of lackeys a pathetic bunch. Now I understand that Joyner’s blogging is supposed to be an ego trip for him and a safe haven for commentators, but Joyner’s blogging is particularly egotistical and, with respect, off-the-wall. In the comments and in Joyner’s writings, I can see the deep ignorance of the NPT. I certainly see no need to revise our analysis and statements in our IranPrimer article. We have consulted with many lawyers who find Joyner’s analysis deeply flawed and agenda driven. These attorneys actually know something about the NPT and safeguards agreements. With regard to writing about legal matters, all our work is informed and reviewed by lawyers with extensive experience in the field of nuclear non-proliferation. I would recommend that Joyner have his work reviewed by competent lawyers. He would need to revise most of his work. But it is a path I would recommend he follow.
(My response to his comment today:)
What an honor it is to have the great David Albright take time out of his busy media schedule to comment on my blog. Yes, you’re right David, maybe I should have my ten years of legal analysis of the NPT peer reviewed for correctness. Oh wait, that’s right. It has been. In two peer-reviewed university press monographs, which have also then been favorably reviewed by peers in numerous law journals; in peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters I’ve written; and in talks I’ve given at academic events all over. Please feel free to verify all this on my C.V. And BTW David, who has reviewed the work of the lawyers you’ve been consulting? Can you give me the name of even one of them who has published anything that has been truly peer reviewed? Don’t worry, I’ll answer for you. You can’t. Because David, if I was a betting man, I’d bet everything I own that every single lawyer you’ve ever consulted for your studies has at some point worked for the USG, and has had all of the reviews of their work provided to them by other USG lawyers. I’m right, aren’t I? And what else was that you said about my work? Agenda driven? Oh please, David. I think readers who know anything about the work of ISIS will find David Albright, supported by his cadre of USG lawyers, calling my work agenda driven, to be the clearest example of the pot calling the kettle black that they’ve ever heard of. You have got to be kidding. Everybody in this business knows that ISIS is for all practical purposes an agency of the USG, and does everything it can to advance USG policies and interests. And you have the gall to call me agenda driven? David, I’ll put my legal analysis up next to that of your lawyers any day of the week for review by independent international legal scholars from a broad section of countries, and I 100% guarantee you that they will choose mine as being the more correct 9 times out of 10. Oh wait, I forgot, they already have.
A colleague in D.C. once said this to me about the U.S. nonproliferation epistemic community – and by this community we both meant the entirety of the various NGOs and think tanks and the few University based centers that focus on nonproliferation studies in the U.S.: that the community is very D.C. centric, cliquish, incestuous and self-referential, to its detriment. These words have really stuck with me, because I find them to be absolutely true, and both insightful and parsimonious as I’ve observed the community over the years.
I would take it even further and say that in addition, in my opinion, the whole U.S. based nonproliferation experts community – with few exceptions – is systemically biased toward support of USG positions on all the top nonproliferation issues. They maintain an essentially common narrative and set of emphases that is in line with, and that provides support for, the narrative and emphases of the USG, with only the smallest amounts of quibbling around the edges (Albright will talk all day long about his “aluminum tubes” work). I think that there is in the work of the U.S. nonproliferation epistemic community far too little real, independent evaluation and criticism of USG positions. As I see it, the U.S. nonproliferation community almost acts as a second wave of apologists for U.S. policy, after the USG itself – though it sometimes shrouds this effort in a lot of technical and sometimes academic-looking jargon. But in the end what the U.S. nonproliferation community ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT DO is serve in the role of an independent, rigorous, analytical check on USG nonproliferation positions, as it could and should do, and as the nongovernmental nonproliferation community in other countries does.
And I think there are some clear reasons for this. Much moreso than in other countries, the members of the U.S. based nonproliferation community tend, with very few exceptions, to
1) have been employed by the USG in the past;
2) want to be employed by the USG in the future;
3) be funded by or hope to be funded by the USG; and/or
4) want to maintain the access and good favor they have with USG officials, for the sake of information and for the sake of invitations to cool events, etc.
Basically what I’m saying is that they are biased towards the positions of the USG, because of their overly close personal and institutional associations with the USG, and because they see their own professional success as being tied to the favor of the USG.
I think there’s also a significant degree of media whorishness at work here as well. As a colleague once wrote to me while we were discussing this topic: “I think there is another — very important — aspect you may be missing that may even over-ride the ones you mention: aside from taking USG positions, the non-proliferation community likes the high-media profile allotted it, when it loudly tut-tuts 3rd world nuclear arms capacities (or enemies of the west’s nuclear arms capacities), whether or not such capacities are consistent w/ NPT and/or CSAs. People like being quoted, appearing on TV, and generally feeling important. The Non-proliferation community *loves* the attention and basks in this glow, and though they would *privately* acknowledge that Iran is not so far outside bounds (if at all), they nonetheless pass on statements and innuendo to media indicating the alleged dangers and thus wittingly or not, fan the flames. Others like ISIS simply pass on opinions dressed as expert findings. It just would not do for Non-proliferation types to tell the media: “well, no, Iran’s program is actually not a threat to world peace yet” like the DNI did.”
As this colleague implies in his observation, I also think David Albright is a perfect example of someone that fits all of these descriptions. And it comes through so clearly in his work. In addition to the Iran Primer article I criticized previously, look for example at Albright’s “analysis” in this article. All he really does is make provocative speculations about what “could” be happening at locations in Iran, and what “maybe” Iran will do in the future. And it’s so clear that he’s working on the basis of a set of unproven, but firmly held assumptions about Iran – the same assumptions he had about Iraq, for which his work has been widely discredited – that they have a nuclear weapons program, and he is ginning up all the evidence he can that might support that assumption, speculating about what that evidence may mean, but only in a direction that would tend to support his preexisting assumption. There’s no rigor here in thoroughly considering and evaluating other possible explanations for the same observations – like a real academic or even a real, quality NGO analysis would. Maybe it’s because David has never done PhD level academic work, and so he doesn’t understand what is expected of quality scientific analysis. But this is an assumption-driven piece of provocative speculation that serves only to provide support for the USG’s contentions about Iran’s nuclear program. That’s just what he infamously did in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq war too. That’s not rigorous and independent analysis. That’s biased and low quality work, and it’s classic Albright.
I know very well how the D.C. nonproliferation crowd feels about me. Albright’s comments here are just the most recent example. They think my work is pro-Iranian and generally pro-developing country, and anti-U.S. They say I’m biased and agenda driven. I see myself as being actually independent and objective – i.e. not on the payroll of, or particularly concerned about the favor of, the USG – and willing to say what I genuinely think an independent and rigorous analysis of the applicable legal sources produces. I value my independence and my role as a legal academic more than anything else in my professional life, and I am professionally offended by bad legal argumentation. Especially bad legal arguments that go unanswered. Now, it would be naïve of me to say that there is no bias in my work. Every human being has sympathies and preferences based on their life experiences and identity, and academics are no exception. We don’t always know when those biases are at work, although sometimes we do. And when we do, I think it’s our job to weed them out, and to try and stay as objective and comprehensive, thorough and rigorous as we can. That’s the only way we can maintain our credibility as being independent and objective authorities in our areas of expertise.
Am I personally sympathetic to or biased towards the policies of the Iranian government? Absolutely not. As I was just saying to a good friend over lunch, if I woke up tomorrow and the people of Iran had overthrown their current leaders and instituted a democratic, liberal, secular government, I would be absolutely thrilled. That’s the best thing that could possibly happen to Iran. However, do I think that the legal arguments of the current government of Iran deserve a fair and independent and rigorous hearing and analysis by the international community, just as the legal arguments of any other government do? Yes I do, for many reasons, not least of which is the prevention of unnecessary and unjust economic sanctions and possibly war against the Iranian people, and the fairness and perceived legitimacy and relevance of international law. I don’t see anyone else stepping up to make these arguments, and make sure that they are taken seriously in the West, and that’s why I keep doing it.
Am I sympathetic to developing countries’ positions in the nuclear energy area generally? Yes I am. I admit that freely. And it’s because I genuinely think that they are bullied by the West in the nuclear area, as in many other areas, for a whole range of political and economic reasons, and that the legal advisors of Western governments have concocted erroneous legal arguments to give perceived credibility to these policies. I can’t change the policies and the politics they’re based on, but I think there is a real need to lend whatever professional abilities I have to making sure that their legal arguments are made at a high level of competence and sophistication, and are given due consideration by the international community. Again, noone else seems to be doing this in the West, and so I keep doing it. But I maintain that my legal analysis is independent and essentially objective, and that I follow the proper analysis of a legal source to its most persuasively correct conclusion, no matter what that conclusion is.
I think that the U.S. nonproliferation community, linked so closely as it is to the USG itself, generally takes a negative view of my work for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that they are so used to being able to effectively tell the rest of the world what to think about the NPT regime, and how to interpret the law associated with it, that when someone independent comes along and poses a genuine intellectual challenge to the warped and USG driven legal views of the NPT regime that they’ve been spouting for decades, they genuinely don’t know what to do about it. With the errors and intellectual bankruptcy of their legal arguments laid bare, they make only feeble attempts to defend themselves substantively because, honestly, they don’t have very good substantive arguments to make and they never have. The only argument they have left to make is to argue in desperation that the challenger is biased and agenda driven – which is in the end the ultimate irony, because it’s precisely their own bias and USG-centric agenda that has made their arguments so weak, and has provided the legal errors that the challenger now corrects, to the persuasion of everyone else in the world.
This accusation against me has been made many times, most notably by Norm Wulf in his review of my 2011 book in Arms Control Today (to which I responded here), and now by Albright. Although in Albright’s case, he adds a delightful soupçon of ad hominem attack against me, and some condescending language about my readers, to complete the recipe. Unfortunately, the ad hominem tack does seem to be Albright’s go-to M.O. when he’s challenged about his work. Have a read of this article about Albright, including an exchange that a reporter had with him. Look at how Albright responds to criticism by Scott Ritter and by the reporter. Wow. I have to say that Albright comes across as a pretty nasty piece of work. I’m finding that in my own communications with him as well. At the moment I would say that he’s the nastiest, most uncollegial person I have yet to come across in this business. And that’s saying something.
What a tirade. I had no idea I could generate such an over the top response in him by criticizing his work. This is especially surprising since I was responding to his unfair, untrue attack on ISIS and me. But his defensiveness leads him to the scoundrel’s method-untrue nasty personal attacks on me and the US nonproliferation community which he clearly does not understand or care to understand. Depending on Ritter, a sex criminal, Consortium News, and Washington Stakeout as his sources to attack me–no wonder his legal analysis on the NPT and the IAEA is so deeply flawed. Now I have to add that he is highly paronoid too.
You are lying about Iran the same way you lied about Iraq. You and ISIS are proven liars with with a clear agenda and no credibility. End of discussion.
You are an academic non entity period! First go back to school, get a Phd and maybe then you can start to fathom the level of intellect it takes to make educated assessments about the state of other countries nuclear programs. As of now it is crystal clear that you are a pawn of our government, being used whenever they need an “expert” to justify invading some god forsaken third world country (without congressional approval). And please don’t highlight your ignorance further by arguing with an actual expert in the field, it makes you look even more asinine if that’s even possible!
It would have been nice for Mr Albright to actually point out the flaws he claims exist in Joyner’s articles instead of simply accusing him of being “agenda driven” — especially when in reading over ISIS material and Albrights own writings, the agenda is quite clear. Take this report published on the IranPrimer (which, incidentally, repeatedly refers to “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” in the print version — though no such program exists.) http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/irans-nuclear-program
Here we can all see a pastiche of half-truths and enough spin to make a reader dizzy.
ALBRIGHT: “Iran intensified its drive toward nuclear weapons in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, following reports of an Iraqi clandestine nuclear program”
Really? Where’s the proof of this “drive”? None is provided, and to date no actual proof of any nuclear weapons program has been found in Iran — something Elbaradei took pains to point out after he was accused of “censoring” IAEA reports: “With respect to a recent media report, the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.”
ALBRIGHT: “A majority of the international community is at odds with Iran over its nuclear program” — except that NAM, which represents the majority of nations, repeatedly backs Iran.
In fact the conflict over uranium enrichment predates Iran’s nuclear program, since Developing nations have consistently fought efforts by some countries (the US, specifically) to impose limits on uranium enrichment which violate their NPT rights.
ALBRIGHT: “Iran initially constructed in secret its gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant at Natanz”
FACTS: Yes this was such a big secret that Iran announced the discovery of uranium and plans to enrich it on national radio in the early 1980s, and allowed the IAEA to visit Iran’s uranium mines in the 1990s, and formally announced the completion of Iran’s uranium conversion facility in 2000, three years prior to the dramatic MKO/ISIS “exposure” of Natanz. In fact according to Mark Hibbs, Iran and the IAEA had agreed to a technical assistance program for helping Iran complete its enrichment program (which was started under the Shah, with French assistance) — but the US interferred in that and prevented Iran from acquiring the information and technology on enrichment which it was entitled to obtain.
Iran was not yet required to formally declare the sites to the IAEA, which was fully aware of Iran’s enrichment plans nonetheless.
ALBRIGHT: in September 2009, the United States, France and Britain revealed the existence of a small, covert uranium enrichment plant being built in Iran near the city of Qom
FACTS: The Fordow facility was actually declared first by Iran. And furthermore the facility was not in the 180-day time limit so Iran was not required to disclose it yet, something Mr ALbright spins as proof of perfidy by referring to this site as “covert”.
ALBRIGHT: Iran has refused to answer the IAEA’s questions about evidence of past and potentially …
FACTS: Actually Iran filed a 117 page response to these allegations, even though according to the Iran-IAEA “Modalities Agreement”, Iran only agreed to “inform the Agency of its assessment” of the claims, “upon receiving all related documents” — which was never provided to Iran. In fact, Elbaradei makes clear how ridiculous he thought it was that the IAEA could not provide the documents to Iran (due to US pressure) that Iran was nevertheless expected to refute.
And lets note what’s missing from this piece by Mr Albright, for example:
1- Albright conveniently leaves out the fact that IAEA has stated that previously unreported activities by Iran were not related to a nuclear weapons program and involved no diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful uses;
2- Whilst accusing Iran of seeking a “breakout option”, Albright forgets to mention that currently 40 countries already have this “option” since it is inherent in having the technology;
3- And he also forgets to mention that Iran has repeatedly offered to place additional restrictions and limitations on its nuclear program well beyond its legal obligations — including ending 20% enrichment, capping enrichment and opening Iran’s nuclear program to joint participation with other nations — something that no other country has agreed to.
Sorry, but it is quite clear who has an agenda here, Mr Albright.
No, we do not have an agenda on Iran. We want to determine if Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past and whether it continues today. The IAEA evidence is strong that the former is true and suggestive about the latter. We also want to understand under what conditions Iran could seek nuclear weapons in the future. Our track record on understanding the Iranian nuclear program has been excellent. We also want to find a peaceful resolution of this issue; we are against military strikes against Iran. You seem unable to even comprehend that Iran could have or could be pursuing nuclear weapons. In general, you sound like an apologist and someone with a heavy, difficult to defend agenda.
This is what the IAEA has said: ““With respect to a recent media report, the IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.”
Calling me names isn’t going to change that.
As for the “evidence” — former IAEA head Elbaradei was quite clear that the allegations (not “evidence) have yet to be proven credible. In fact at least 1 item we know about — the bridgewire detonator claims — turned out to be bogus and were returned by the IAEA to the Israelis who had provided it. Elbaradei says that IF the allegations are true then Iran experimented with weaponization studies in the past — but he then says that “IF” has to be underlined three times.
Mr Allbright, please respond to the substantive points made by the previous poster; what you have written here is meaningless without factual support
I have to say that reading Albright’s posts has been most illuminating, but not in a way that places him in a favourable light.
Reading Albright’s reports always left me undewhelmed, but reading his talkback posts reveals something both more and less: there is an a.r.r.o.g.a.n.c.e. that goes with his gullibility, which is precisely why Dan nails him so well when he points out the most likely reason for the demonstrable lack of rigour in Albright’s “work” i.e. Albright simply can not conceive that his assumptions are wrong, and therefore he will see only what he wants to see.
Mr. Albright, the US government must have thought they had hit the jackpot when they stumbled across you for their TV bobbing head……
I wonder if the lawyers who reviewed Albright’s claims included John Yoo, the govt lawyer who claimed that torturing people was legal, thus giving the Bush administration an excuse to say that it has relied on legal counsel? Seems like if you look hard enough, you can always find a lawyer who’ll see things your way…
Does he actually need to look hard?
Indeed, does he even need to look at all?
After all, US government lawyers are – by definition – employed to sing for their supper.
Seems to me the US government has a vested interest in making sure some of their lawyers alight on the tree outside David Albright’s office every morning, so whenever he needs a legal opinion made to order he only needs to open his bedroom window and there they all are, all singin’ in unison……
Sorry, we did not use John Yoo. But a lawyer with an agenda, that is how I see Joyner,dare I say the Ayatollah’s lawyer.
DA: “But a lawyer with an agenda, that is how I see Joyner,dare I say the Ayatollah’s lawyer.”
You do appear to be very “daring” in your claims, Dr. Albright, no question about that.
It’s the inabiliy to substantiate any of your claims that appears to be your major weakness…. .
Well good morning to all. Well, to most. I just woke up to find this thread, and the one at the original post, had lengthened significantly since I went to bed. I thought about writing a whole new post this morning entitled “David Albright Loses His Crap and Stays Up All Night Arguing with Johnboy,” but I guess I’ll just write in the comments to these posts.
First, David I’m really just shocked at your behavior in making all these comments. Do you not see that you are making yourself look like a fool? You’re not giving enough information or substantive analysis in your comments in order to persuade people that you are right and that I and Johnboy are wrong. You’re just making trite little zingers (as you see them) and unprofessional personal attacks. I can’t believe that you ever achieved the level of notoriety that you have with this kind of judgment. Which reminds me, though, that there are a lot of other famous idiots out there too, so maybe it does make sense in the end.
I try to have a policy here at ACL of allowing all comments, unless there is profanity or other over the line content. And so far I’ve allowed everything you have said to be posted, so that you could get out any substantive points you had to make. But I don’t see you making substantive points, and I do see you making silly personal insults against me and others, so I’m considering cutting you off as a commenter. If you have something substantive to say, you had better say it quick.
Here’s what I’ll say substantively, and it does essentially accord with what Johnboy has been saying. This whole thing started with me saying that an article you co-wrote, which included legal analysis, was incorrect in that legal analysis. You responded that my legal conclusion was wrong, and that I was egotistical. Now, not being a lawyer yourself (even though you took credit for co-authoring a piece including legal analysis) you couldn’t actually debate me on the merits of the legal analysis in your article. All you could say is that you had consulted a secret cadre of lawyers who said you are right, and that I am deeply flawed in my analysis – not just in this instance, but in all of my work on the NPT. I asked you who was on your secret, but clearly authoritative legal team, so that readers could perhaps see a real debate between legal experts on this legal issue, raised at a blog devoted to law. You refused to divulge their identities.
So, that’s really where the substance of this conversation ended. You had no substantive arguments to make because you couldn’t make them, and you refused to disclose your legal sources of analysis who perhaps could have made them. Which leads me to ask, why did you even come here when you both couldn’t and wouldn’t provide substantive support for your contention that my criticism was wrong? What did you think you could achieve with no substantive cards to play? Did you really think I would just roll over and admit you were right, on the basis of no analysis? Again, I just can’t figure you out.
If in the future one of your legal brain trust wants to come here and actually debate me on the merits of your analysis in the piece, or on any other issue, then they’ll be welcome. That’s what this blog is for. Its not for you to come to and mouth off with groundless insults against me and others. So until either you have something substantive to say, or you get one of your lawyers to come here and make actual legal arguments, why don’t you save us all the spectacle of your continued self-embarrassment, and go back to leaking IAEA documents and beating the drums for war with Iran. I hope you’ll be very proud of yourself if it happens.
I find it distressing that the exchange betwwen Dan and David has become so personal. I am grateful to both for their contributions, in their respective fields, to enhancing understanding of the legal and technical complexities of the Iranian nuclear issue.
I am a linguist and a diplomat, not a lawyer or an engineer; and I am a European not an American. So prudence suggests that I ought not to be intervening in this quarrel. If I do so, it is in the hope of refocusing the discussion on some of the underlying issues.
There is no supreme court that will ever be able to adjudicate between conflicting interpretations of the NPT. The quinquennial review conferences could in theory perform a quasi-judicial role, I suppose, but they never will, because on such matters the membership is too divided to be capable of reaching the consensus that would be needed.
In these circumstances no party can claim to have a monopoly of wisdom, no party can claim infallibility for its interpretations.
My impression is that Dan’s interpretations would be often shared by many lawyers who work for non-Western governments, including the governments of very serious states like Russia and Brazil. They might even be shared by some European lawyers – those who work for governments that are used to taking up independent positions (independent of the US, I mean).
I personally am frequently in agreement with Dan’s interpretations. As a non-lawyer I rely simply on my sense of logic, imperfect though it is, and on the principle that I seem to recall having heard enunciated, that the most obvious interpretation of a legal text is most likely to be the correct one.
In the days when I worked for the British government on nuclear issues, it did sometimes occur to me that USG legal interpretations of the NPT, IAEA safeguards agreements and the IAEA statute could at times be self-serving. By that I mean that certain interpretations were strikingly convenient; they lent themselves to what I knew to be US political objectives. Whether they were also “wrong”, I was in no position to judge.
If one looks back over the last 40 years, one can discern a persistent USG drive to close what are sometimes referred to as “loop-holes” in the NPT. These were identified even before the Treaty entered into force. The one that has most troubled US officials over the years is that which allows NPT parties to develop technologies that are in effect dual-use. I understand all too well the motives of those concerned. They are honourable. But I have come to see them as misguided. In my view a treaty as valuable as the NPT needs to be preserved and sustained. That should be the priority, not trying to improve it, not making the best the enemy of the good – unless one can build a consensus for improvements, which in this case seems improbable. Attempts to achieve de facto “improvements” by sleight-of-hand or recourse to political muscle should be avoided, since they are likely to alienate some of the parties and, over time, erode the support that is so vital to the long-term effectiveness of the NPT’s provisions.
To put this another way, I have come to believe that the wisest course is to accept that the NPT does not offer perfect protection against the spread of nuclear tecnologies that can be mis-used, and that the safest way of remedying that defect is to focus on motivation. Possession of dual-use capabilities does not in itself amount to a threat to others; it only becomes a threat when there exist incentives to misuse that capability to do harm to others. So the international community should be focussing on eliminating potential incentives to do harm. This can be done without recourse to interpretations of the NPT that are controversial.
Peter, I want to thank you most sincerely for this invaluable contribution. This isn’t the first time a calm, prudent, and eloquent Englishman has stepped in to moderate the hot headedness of a couple of quarreling Americans. I find your comments here to be absolutely dripping with wisdom, insight, and pragmatism, and though I doubt it adds any marginal value I endorse them wholeheartedly. I actually don’t enjoy contention like what has been transpiring between me and David here. It’s relatively new to me professionally. In the old days, I just sat in my monk’s cell of a law school office, researching and writing away on my books and articles, with very little contact with the world outside academia. It’s only since many of them have been published, and my work has gotten more attention, that these contentions have arisen. Sometimes I think I might like to return to my cell. But then I remember my conviction that what I am doing really does need to be done by somebody, and that in the end these arguments need to be had. But I certainly agree with you that they should be pursued in a collegial manner, and for the purpose of increased mutual understanding on which to base future policy. The best discussions of this material I’ve ever had have been collegial debates with people like James Acton, Chris Ford, and Andreas Persbo. On those occasions we have been in very solid disagreement with each other, but we have nevertheless maintained a professional decorum based in mutual respect, and the result has been increased insight for all involved. That’s the kind of real, substantive discussion that I want to have on this blog. At times, hotheadedness and pride can betray those better ambitions. Anyway, I appreciate your intervention, and the sharing of your wisdom, born of long experience in the diplomatic trenches. I hope that you will offer it here frequently in the future.
The claim that U.S. NGOs supports the USG line on nonproliferation is untrue. It just happens that the Obama administration has been supportive of arms control policies and many goals align. Think back a few years to the Bush policies and you would find few supportive think-tanks and many experts hard at work trying to stop a war, as ISIS and David were. Few experts are as committed to diplomatic resolutions to nuclear crises as he is; ISIS has never supported military strikes and you can see this in any of our publications. The fact is that there is evidence of past and possibly ongoing work by Iran on nuclear weapons, it may not be in compliance with its safeguards agreements, and many countries are worried about war over this issue. Many legal experts, both domestic and foreign, assess that the IAEA has the right to demand the access it requires based on evidence of non-compliance. You are free to have a different opinion, Professor Joyner. ISIS will be publishing an assessment on the question of IAEA authority to investigate the Iran case in the coming weeks.
Welcome to ACL. Perhaps you and I can have a more collegial discussion that David and I were able to have. Thank you for letting me know about the imminent release of an ISIS report about the IAEA’s authority and standards of review. I’ll certainly be looking out for it, and no doubt will have thoughts to share about it when it comes out. Let me ask you some questions, if I may, on the larger point of whether it’s fair to see ISIS as institutionally biased towards USG positions, which allegation you deny.
Well, let’s start by looking at the ISIS website and its statement of purpose:
That sounds pretty good on its face – although I would note that I’m not sure what the statement means by stopping nuclear proliferation to “other countries. . .” Does that really mean countries other than the U.S.? Or countries other than the NPT NWS? Maybe it just means to countries in addition to those that already have NW? It’s not clear. Nor I must add is the principled underpinning for any of these positions particularly clear.
But anyway, ISIS is clearly about stopping the spread of NW generally, and about helping to achieve deep cuts in nuclear arsenals. One has to assume here that the deep cuts to nuclear arsenals you’re referring to would have to include the arsenals of NPT NWS, including the U.S. If not, that would be a pretty big set of arsenals – the biggest in the world in fact – that wouldn’t be covered by this purpose, which wouldn’t make much sense.
So again just reading this statement of purpose, you would have to say that it looks pretty good on its face, and not particularly associated with the policies of one government over any other.
But then if you actually look at ISIS’s work and research products, the story unfortunately changes pretty dramatically.
So in terms of proliferation threats, is there much ISIS work done about Israel and its nuclear weapons program? You know, the only known nuclear weapons program in the volatile Middle East region, held by a state with a demonstrated history of prosecution of armed conflicts against its neighbors and against civilians on land it’s occupying? A state that’s clearly on record as explicitly threatening another state in the region with preemptive military strikes? The answer is a big no. Basically nothing, and certainly no genuine analysis.
How about work on Japan? Again, goose egg. Nothing whatsoever about proliferation risk, even though there have been some quite alarming things said by Japanese officials lately with regard to Japan’s latent nuclear weapons capability. Things that, were they to have been said by Iranian or Syrian officials would certainly have produced a flurry of reports.
Ok, so at least a couple of pretty big holes there on the proliferation issue area. Well, what about the deep cuts in nuclear arsenals purposive area? Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see ANY ACTUAL ISIS WORK AT ALL in the area of helping to achieve deep cuts in the nuclear arsenals of NPT NWS including the U.S. Am I missing something? It’s one of ISIS’s core stated purposes, but it’s nowhere to be found in its actual work. Weird.
But now if you’re looking for research and reports on North Korea, look no further. ISIS has lots of that on offer. Ditto on Pakistan and Syria. And on Iran – fuhhgget about it! There’s a list of reports as long as your arm stretching back years and being added to seemingly every day.
Of course, if you look at the actual reports on Iran, you see that they have names like “Hypocritical Non-Aligned Movement communiqué supports Iran’s continued nuclear stonewalling” and “Time for Action on Iran at IAEA Board of Governors Meeting” And then you figure out pretty quickly that these aren’t just scientific studies, as the ISIS “About” page might make you expect. Many or most of these “reports” are better described as position papers, advocating for certain specific policies or actions by the IAEA or the international community regarding Iran. And without exception, the advocated positions are supportive of, and in harmony with USG policies on Iran.
So basically, looking at the ISIS website will show you that, despite what its purposive statements say, ISIS allocates its resources and attention quite discriminatingly among proliferation and disarmament issues and cases. And what’s more, you figure out pretty quickly that, quelle surprise!, that attention and those resources are focused overwhelmingly on precisely the proliferation cases that the USG focuses its policy on, and thinks are most important. But on proliferation cases like Israel and Japan, and on disarmament cases like the NWS including the U.S., there is next to nothing in terms of actual work being put out by ISIS. This of course is also completely harmonious with USG policy priorities.
So again, this disproportionate amount of attention on certain proliferation case studies and not others, fits perfectly into the USG narrative about which proliferation threats are the most important. But as you must know, for most of the countries in the world (see the statements of the NAM), they are as concerned or more concerned about the proliferation/disarmament cases of Israel and the U.S., than they are about Iran and Syria and Pakistan. And again that discriminatory emphasis is combined with very clear advocacy in ISIS reports, also in perfect harmony with USG positions, and not the positions of other countries, on the case studies you do focus on.
So Andrea, do you not see how, when viewing the work that ISIS actually does, instead of what it says it’s about, people just naturally conclude that ISIS is institutionally hand in glove with the USG, and purposefully shares an essentially common set of objectives and efforts? Indeed, how could someone avoid that conclusion?
Let me ask you this – do you ever undertake examinations of USG nuclear policies from an objective perspective? To see if they make sense? To see if they are scientifically grounded? To see if they are prudent? To see if they are legal? I can’t find anything like that on your website. But again, maybe I’m just missing it.
Coming back around to your IAEA standard project, then, this all leads me to ask you: why did you approach this topic of the IAEA’s authority? Was it to objectively examine the question of what the IAEA’s authority was? Or did you, as I very much suspect you did, go into the project with the specific purpose of supporting the view that the IAEA’s statements of its authority are correct? And if that is what you did, why did you do that? Do you really think that the IAEA needs help in justifying its authority? Do you not see how people’s natural conclusion is that this is just one more example of ISIS choosing a case study, and choosing a position to come out with in advance on that case study, specifically in order to support USG policies and efforts in its chosen areas of proliferation policy priority?
I know that’s a number of different questions. And to be clear, these are not rhetorical questions. I really would appreciate it if you shared your thoughts on these issues. Please feel free to take your time in responding.
“The fact is that there is evidence of past and possibly ongoing work by Iran on nuclear weapons,”
This is 100% false.
The fact is that every piece of “evidence” produced in the IAEA reports has been quite thoroughly debunked by people who bothered to look up the facts surrounding the “evidence”. People like independent journalists like Gareth Porter and ex-IAEA inspectors such as Robert Kelley.
These people were able WITHIN HOURS in some cases of the release of these IAEA reports to find evidence that the charges were insufficiently supported by facts, or outright nonsense. When an IAEA inspector like Kelly can complain that apparently the IAEA people don’t know anything about explosives testing chambers, it’s hard to understand why such charges are taken seriously.
The most one can say – as the DIA has alleged – about the interest of Iran in nuclear weapons is that they MAY have had a “feasibility study” which MAY have included actual field tests of technological aspects of a weapons program back when they were concerned that IRAQ might have such a program. And as all 16 intelligence agencies AND the Israeli intelligence agencies concluded, that program – quite logically – ended in 2003 once the US handed over Iraq to Iranian influence.
When you add in the quite obvious facts – ignored by almost every “pundit” on the subject – that Iran 1) has no need for nuclear weapons, and 2) couldn’t use them either strategically or tactically if they had them – EXCEPT in the one instance of use as deterrence against a potential Saddam nuke, and 3) that Iran recognizes both these facts and has repeatedly officially declared them, it becomes obvious that Iran does not have and never will have (absent some sort of significant government political shift in some future) a nuclear weapons program.
Add in the fact that the leadership of Iran has specifically religiously excluded nukes from consideration – and that this is taken VERY seriously by almost everyone with knowledge of the clerical leadership – and one finds it hard to make a case that such a program exists.
I believe there is also confusion sown by people not clear in the distinction between what they would like to be true or legal — and that which is.
I believe Albright would like to see a stronger more powerful IAEA with greater powers, which could be a noble aim, except that the IAEA has not been thus empowered yet.
Endowing it with such illusionary powers by fiat or advocacy does not make such powers come true. The IAEA-Iran CSA was negotiated in 1974 and outlines how to handle disputes that do not concern a diversion of fissile material.
Pierre Goldschmidt, former deputy director of the IAEA Safeguards Department, summed it up well:
“the Department of Safeguards doesn’t have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate and to provide the assurances the international community is expecting ”
i.e. the expectations are misplaced.
The law is what it is.
yousaf, I strongly agree.
You have touched upon one of the core problem facing so many “Western” advocates of non-proliferation: what they really, really, really want is to turn the IAEA to be a “nuclear policeman”, mainly because they believe that they can bend it into becoming THEIR nuclear policeman.
The problem, of course, is that the IAEA has no legal mandate to take on that role.
At which point the reaction is usually some variation of this: legal-smeagal, who cares? Why do you deny that he IAEA would make a great Nuclear Policeman?
yousaf: “The law is what it is.”
Sad to say but I suspect that a very large proportion of the US-based non-proliferation community would be gob-smacked by that comment.
To them “the law” is a useful stick to beat people with when it’s on their side, and useless and maligned time-waster when it’s on someone else’s side.
[…] that Iran account for activities not involving nuclear material (a valid question, in my view) was accused of being “the Ayatollah’s […]
[…] that Iran account for activities not involving nuclear material (a valid question, in my view) was accused of being “the Ayatollah’s […]
A quick comment about the claim that Albright is committed to diplomatic solutions rather than military strikes… You don’t produce this level of bogus “evidence” of a non-existent “WMD” program if you’re in favor of “diplomatic solutions.” It’s just not the case.
Second, I suspect there are a number of nuclear proliferation experts and nuclear physics expert – who would be happy to discuss Albright’s qualifications in that area – let alone his legal qualifications – to his detriment if they were aware of the discussion here.
His discrediting of Scott Ritter as a “sex criminal” is simply pathetic. But there are undoubtedly other UN inspectors who would be happy to debunk Albright’s credentials.
Dan, your characterization of the proliferation community above basically sounds exactly like the entire state of the “Beltway” think tanks that exist in every area of governance. They are all like that. They are “Very Serious People” who exist in some alternate reality the rest of us do. Their recommendations are invariably useless when they’re not actually a disaster (e.g., anything from the neocon and Israel Lobby think tanks – useless would be anything from Ann Marie Slaughter or Ivo Daalder).
Worse, all of the “polite” discussion over Iran assumes that US government officials are all serious-minded, honest, intelligent people devoted to rational US foreign policy interests and have nothing but the best at heart for the peoples of the US and the world.
And we all know that’s complete ruminant evacuation…
One doesn’t need to be a “conspiracy theorist” to know that the bulk of the most serious decisions made by the US government – vis-a-vis war, Wall Street bailouts, etc. – are made by people seriously compromised by campaign contribution and direct bribes from the military-industrial complex, the oil companies, the banks who finance such entities, the Israel Lobby, and other people with agendas infinitely far from the assumptions I list above.
Albright is just another one of these flunkies who provide bogus information in the service of these entities in exchange for a puffed-up ego and a decent paycheck.
I am very much appreciative of the contributions of Mr. Joyner. My personal research expertise is not arms control or international law, and my statements should be viewed as observations only.
I find it revealing that Mr. Albright’s responses do not address the key legal matters raised.
Admittedly, Mr. Albright is not an international legal scholar and he is not a nuclear physicist. Mr. Albright holds a Masters degree and an honorary Doctorate from Wright State. A search of IAEA documentation does not reveal him as a chief or deputy chief inspector on any mission. Of course, similar to a non-expert like myself, Mr. Albright is entitle to express his views. Nonetheless, one would expect and intelligent and reasoned response addressing the substance of the issues from Mr. Albright.
During the past 10 minutes while I was writing this note, I learned about M. Albright’s background – which raised a very curious question. With the availability of scholars and experts such as Mr. Joyner’s, what are the qualities that has made Mr. Albright the “expert” quoted by media outlets?
“what are the qualities that has made Mr. Albright the “expert” quoted by media outlets?”
He doesn’t like Iran. That’s all the “qualifications” one needs to be quoted in the main stream media. It’s the same reason the neocons are overwhelmingly selected to be on all the “pundit shows” on NPR, C-SPAN, etc.
I suggest to people to read my article about David Albright published in 2009:
A New Judith Miller for Iran’s Hawks?
I can write a whole article about Albright’s response to it, his e-mails to me, his agreement to debate the issues with me on antiwar radio and then changing his mind, demanding to be interviewed by the radio alone, because I had already spoken about the subject on the radio, etc., etc. I still have all of his e-mails. But, at the end of the day, the ISIS felt compelled to issue a long statement, “defending” its positions without saying what prompted that statement, because it did not want to attract attention to my article.
Yes, Ritter is a sex offender, but what does that to do with his work? This is another attempt by Albright to muddy the issues. Just listen to his interview with Sam Husseini to see how he threatens Sam.
[…] “stick to obsessing over satellite pictures of tarps at random military bases in Iran” aroused quite a comment storm on his blog, including a fierce rebuttal by Andrea Stricker, one of Albright’s few employees […]
Interesting article here that further shows what ruminant evacuation Albright is capable of…
Breaking: Albright Discovers That After Covering Buildings at Parchin With Pink Tarps, Iranians Now Removing Tarps!
And guess what – the building allegedly hiding the “explosives containment chamber” (already exposed as not being useful for nuclear work by Robert Kelley)…wait for it… is still standing…
One might even imagine that the Iranians have been deliberately playing Albright for an idiot…
[…] David just couldn’t resist making another legal assessment, even after our pointed conversation about his doing so a while ago. Well, his assessment is just as wrong on this outing. Currently, […]
[…] and the U.S. Department of Energy, one cannot expect objective analyses by Albright. See also here, here, and here for critiques of his work. I suggest that ISIS should stand for Institute for Scary […]
Mr Albrights comments r.e. Scott Ritters legal issues are irrelevant and frankly rather slimy…