Hot Docs: Obama and Human Rights, Skewed Nuclear Spending

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Obama Administration and Human Rights: If the incoming Obama administration wants to shift from the "abusive policies" of its predecessor, it must put human rights at the heart of its policy, a report by Human Rights Watch concludes. The comments come in the independent organization's 564-page "World Report 2009." The report is its 19th annual look at human rights in more than 90 countries. In an introduction, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that "shifts in global power have emboldened spoiler governments in international forums to challenge human rights as a 'Western' or 'imperialist' imposition. The force of China's authoritarian example and the oil-fueled muscle of Russia have made it easier to reject human-rights principles." He adds that governments that care about human rights have "largely abandoned the field." "For the United States, that withdrawal is the logical consequence of the Bush administration's decision to combat terrorism without regard to the basic rights not to be subjected to torture, 'disappearance,' or detention without trial. Against that backdrop, Washington's periodic efforts to discuss rights have been undercut by justifiable accusations of hypocrisy. Reversing that ugly record must be a first priority for the new administration of Barack Obama if the U.S. government is to assume a credible leadership role on human rights."

Study: Government Spending on Nuclear Programs Skewed: The United States dumped some $52 billion on nuclear weapons programs in 2008, but only 10 percent of that went to preventing a nuclear attack, a report by the private, nonprofit Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has found. The report, "Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities," found that only 1.3 percent of the nuclear security budget was allocated to preparing for the consequences of a nuclear attack while 56 percent went toward operating the nuclear weapons. The $52 billion figure does not include "costs for air defense, antisubmarine warfare, classified programs, and most nuclear weapons-related intelligence programs." Authors Stephen Schwartz and Deepti Choubey also found that the "2008 nuclear weapons and weapons-related 'budget' exceeds all anticipated government expenditures on international diplomacy and foreign assistance ($39.5 billion) and natural resources and the environment ($33 billion). It is nearly double the budget for general science, space, and technology ($27.4 billion) and is almost 14 times what the U.S. Department of Energy has allocated for all energy-related research and development."

Iran Nuclear Ambitions Go Way Back: Iran's interest in developing a nuclear capability is nothing new, according to newly declassified documents published by the National Security Archive. The documents show that during the 1970s, the shah of Iran pushed for a nuclear capability in talks with the Ford and Carter administrations concerning nuclear reactors. However, like today, the United States refused to budge and pushed an agreement with Iran, an ally at the time, that included nonproliferation controls on any nuclear materials supplied to that country. The agreement was eventually derailed by the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the shah and led to the installation of the current anti-U.S. government. According to the documents, the government was aware of the danger that would be posed if the shah was toppled. In 1974, officials at the State Department wrote that "domestic dissidents or foreign terrorists might easily be able to seize any special nuclear material stored in Iran for use in bombs" and added that an "aggressive successor to the shah might consider nuclear weapons the final item needed to establish Iran's complete military dominance of the region." The National Security Archive is a nongovernmental research group and library located at George Washington University.