Weekend Update: TIO, USAID and CTBTO

A US$1.4 billion telescope project looks at an alternative spot. Opponents fear U.S. cuts to international aid. A nonproliferation official sees opportunity.

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Some of the 13 telescopes already atop Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island (AN/Steve Cadman)

A US$1.4 billion telescope project in Hawaii is looking at an alternative spot in Spain. Opponents fear Trump administration cuts to international aid. A nonproliferation official sees opportunity amid nuclear tensions.

Telescope blockade prompts Plan B

The international organization facing a human blockade of its planned US$1.4 billion telescope atop sacred Hawaii’s sacred Mauna Kea has begun seeking a permit for an alternative spot in Spain.

The TMT International Observatory, or TIO, said it has applied for a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope in Spain in case its cannot follow its original plan to put the telescope where 13 other telescopes are located on the Hawaiian dormant volcano.

Its plans have been on hold for more than three weeks since hundreds of protesters turned out to block the start of construction in July. Some chained themselves to the metal grates of a cattle guard to block the road. Hundreds more peaceful protesters gathered in front of Hawaii’s State Capitol, where they held signs and danced against plans they believe will further ruin a sacred summit.

Opponents also filed a lawsuit alleging Hawaii failed to make the developer of the project post a security bond equal to the cost of the entire project in keeping with the state’s 1977 plan for managing Mauna Kea.

TIO’s Executive Director Ed Stone said in a statement that the group needs a backup plan though it still hopes to build the telescope on Mauna Kea. “Mauna Kea remains the preferred site,” he said.

Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute Director Rafael Rebolo told The Associated Press he had received a letter from the head of the Thirty Meter Telescope, seeking a building permit on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, where several powerful telescopes already are located.

“We are observing what is happening in Hawaii with the maximum respect,” Rebolo said. “Our position is that we are here if the TMT project needs us.”

Opposition to U.S. cuts in foreign aid including peacekeepers 

A rare bipartisan effort in the U.S. Congress has been shaping up to oppose Trump administration plans to cut the foreign aid budget.

“Slashing crucial diplomacy and development programming would be detrimental to our national security while also undermining Congress’s intended use for these funds,” several prominent Democratic and Republican lawmakers wrote to the administration in protest of any such planned cuts.

Hope amid the ruins of a nuclear treaty

The head of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization said he remains optimistic about nonproliferation chances, despite the expiration of the U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty earlier this month.

The demise of the landmark treaty, a key plank of Cold War-era nuclear arms control, has given rise to renewed fears of a new global arms race amid rising geopolitical tensions.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to set aside their differences and rescue the INF Treaty that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed three decades ago.

However, Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the CTBTO’s Preparatory Commission, told Kyodo News he sees the breakdown between the two nations as an “opportunity” to create a new nuclear disarmament regime. The preparatory commission he oversees was created to support the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, signed in 1996, that is not yet in force.

“The situation of the INF treaty proves once again that nothing is perfect,” said Zerbo, a geophysicist from Burkina Faso. “But one thing you should remember is that everything is perfectible.”

The INF Treaty banned all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. It led to the destruction of almost 2,700 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles and their launchers. What is needed now, Zerbo said, is a new international treaty that brings more people to the table.

“I will take it still as an opportunity to recreate better conditions for disarmament for all,” he said. “The question has always been how we achieve a ban on nuclear weapons without the participation of the nuclear weapon countries. What we have to do is create the conditions for (those) countries to be part of this framework.”

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