March 2006

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake31 Mar 2006 10:42 am

Andrew Lichterman

The Washington Post ran a story Friday headlined Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb.

According to the Post,

“A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada’s desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive — the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site — as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.”

It appears possible, however, that the Post missed the real story. There is considerable evidence that one of the main purposes of the “Divine Strake” test, if not the only one, is to use a large conventional high explosive charge to simulate the effect of a low yield nuclear weapon, although the picture is blurred a bit by recently released budget documents. February 2005 Department of Defense budget documents reveal plans to conduct a “Full-Scale tunnel defeat demonstration using high explosives to simulate a low yield nuclear weapon ground shock environment at Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site” in fiscal year (FY) 2006. The descriptions of the same program in February 2006 (FY 2007) documents continue to state that the program of which the test apparently is a part “will develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.” But the descriptions of specific activities in the current budget document deletes references to nuclear weapons, substituting vague general language about weapons effects (details and document links below; click on “more” to continue). (more…)

Iraq war& Social movements and protest25 Mar 2006 01:00 am

Boots Riley, Walnut Creek Rally, March 18 2006

George Miller, Rally, Walnut Creek

Andrew Lichterman

One of the over 500 demonstrations against the Iraq war held last Saturday took place in Walnut Creek, California, a San Francisco Bay Area suburb. Organized by East Bay groups, the event drew a crowd reported by the media at over 3,000. Demonstrators marched from the local Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station to a downtown park, where there was a rally featuring a variety of speakers and musicians, including Congressman George Miller, Norman Solomon, Medea Benjamin, Country Joe McDonald, and rapper Boots Riley. A number of local organizations had booths in a nicely organized space directly behind the rally. The event was one of at least four in the Bay Area Saturday, the others being in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Vallejo.

The Thursday before I had been part of a panel discussion titled “War and Peace: Connecting the Dots,” the first in a series of informal “think tank” sessions sponsored by the Socially Responsible Network, a network of over 200 community-based organizations in Oakland and the surrounding East Bay. Aimee Allison, a Gulf War veteran currently doing counter-recruitment work (and a candidate for the Oakland city council) expressed reservations about the constant round of rallies that have been a main focus of organizing against the war, and argued for putting more resources into face to face organizing efforts, and particularly into counter-recruitment and support for the growing number of people in the military who also oppose the war. This sparked a broader discussion about organizing approaches, ranging from the usefulness of mass rallies in big cities to the recent emphasis on coming up with a “progressive” version of right-wing “public relations” (i.e. propaganda) strategies. (more…)

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space16 Mar 2006 10:54 am

Andrew Lichterman

Two recent articles featured criticism from nuclear establishment insiders of the Department of Energy’s plan for a new approach to designing and making nuclear weapons, the “Reliable Replacement Warhead” (RRW) program. The Albuquerque Journal covered a talk by Richard Garwin, a bomb designer and long-time weapons lab consultant, in which Garwin labeled the RRW as “not necessary” because current designs work just fine and can be replaced. See John Fleck, “Bomb Designer Questions U.S. Nuclear Policy,” Albuquerque Journal, March 13, 2006 (subscription required). In the Oakland Tribune, ex-Sandia laboratory weapons program executive Bob Peurifoy also declared the existing stockpile safe and reliable, and said, “This is gigantic hoax on the taxpayer. It is stimulated by the self interest of NNSA and the (weapons) design labs based on the desire to extract ever more money from the taxpayer,” he said. “You think our weapons don’t work? Go stand under one. But don’t take your wife and kids.” Stanford physicist Sydney Drell, a long-time mainstay of government advisory panels on all things nuclear, also endorsed the existing nuclear stockpile, and worried that new designs could lead to a resumption of underground nuclear testing. see Ian Hoffman, “Weapons adviser supports nuke plan, Former lab director fears U.S. nuclear arsenal may see defects,”The Oakland Tribune, March 13, 2006

These articles are OK as far as they go, but what they leave out is more important than what they include. None of the ‘critics’ quoted challenge the assumption that the U.S. should keep nuclear weapons for many decades to come, despite its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation to negotiate in good faith for the elimination of its nuclear arsenal. Further, none of them address the potential of the RRW effort to produce nuclear weapons with new capabilities, despite the fact that being able to do so is an express purpose of the program. National Nuclear Security Administration chief Linton Brooks recently set forth the vision for the RRW program and its supporting nuclear weapons complex:

In 2030, our Responsive Infrastructure can also produce weapons with different or modified military capabilities as required. The weapons design community that was revitalized by the RRW program can adapt an existing weapon within 18 months and design, develop and begin production of that new design within 3-4 years of a decision to enter engineering development — again, goals that were established in 2004. Thus, if Congress and the President direct, we can respond quickly to changing military requirements. Linton Brooks, Speech to the East Tennessee Economic Council March 3, 2006

Essentially, everybody quoted in these articles is making “lawyer’s arguments” narrowly addressing the palatable title and superficial rationale for the program — making the nuclear stockpile more “reliable.” The new matter here, such as it is, is ex-weapons designers getting frustrated enough to denounce the program as pure pork. Unfortunately, it isn’t– those in power really do have missions in mind for nuclear weapons. Of course, visions for future military technologies encounter far less resistance when they follow money flows already firmly established.

But in any event, no arguments limited to the utility of a weapons system or the means of its development are truly significant in the current political context. There has, for example, been almost four decades of technical critique of missile defenses, making arguments that still largely stand unrefuted. Last time I looked (a couple of days ago while writing a fact sheet for activists about Vandenberg Air Force Base), the government was installing operational mid-course interceptors at Vandenberg and Fort Greeley, Alaska while spending many billions more on every potential BMD technology they can dream up. (more…)

Strategic weapons and space& Iraq war& Social movements and protest14 Mar 2006 09:55 am

Andrew Lichterman

MacGregor Eddy, a California central coast activist, goes on trial in Santa Barbara, California this Thursday, March 16. Eddy, who believes that activities at Vandenberg Air Force Base violate international law by providing direct support to an Iraq war she believes to be illegal, has been accused of attempting to enter the base unlawfully. At the time, she was carrying written materials supporting her views which she hoped to deliver to base authorities. More information about the trial and about ongoing organizing activities related to Vandenberg can be found at the Vandenberg Peace Legal Defense Fund web site.

Vandenberg, an immense base occupying thirty five miles of California coastline, launches and operates satellites that provide U.S. forces on the ground with space services ranging from weather reports and communications to Global Positioning System (GPS) guidance for bombs. In addition to its everyday support for U.S. military forces fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vandenberg tests intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile defense interceptors, and is likely to play a role in development of the next generation of “prompt global strike” strategic weapons. Vandenberg, along with Fort Greeley, Alaska, also are the first deployment sites for land based mid-course ballistic missile interceptors. I have written a short overview of Vandenberg’s role in the U.S. policy and practice of preventive war for Western States Legal Foundation, Vandenberg Air Force Base: Where the Present and Future of U.S. Warmaking Come Together.

Iran& Nuclear weapons--U.S.01 Mar 2006 11:11 pm

John Burroughs

On a listserv dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons on which I participate, there’s been a lot of chatter over the past few weeks about the possibility of U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Iran. Some cite this possibility as a major reason, even the main reason, for opposing military action. I offered the following comment:

“Military action, probably of a different kind (special forces, bombings) than we saw with Iraq, is well within the realm of possibility over the next weeks, months, or years re Iran; the longer term seems more likely to me. A U.S. nuclear attack as part of the opening stages of military action is not within the realm of possibility. The nuclear danger arises from the fact that wars are unpredictable. Just because in the 60 years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in numerous wars, the United States did not consider the circumstance to arise where nuclear use was appropriate, doesn’t mean that the circumstance cannot develop in future conflicts. But it would be a very dire situation – use your imagination – involving escalation drawing in other states, or large-scale attacks in the US, or etc.. So what we need to do is to work to prevent military action and also to support outcomes that help or at least don’t hurt non-proliferation/disarmament.”

My reasons for saying U.S. nuclear attack as part of opening stages of military action would not happen:

First, “strategists” in the United States are well aware (how could they not be?) that a U.S. nuclear use anywhere in the world, but certainly in the Middle East, raises very dramatically the odds that a nuclear explosive will be detonated in a U.S. city one day, in months, years, or decades.

Second, while the Bush administration is obviously quite impervious to world and domestic public opinion (perhaps less so now than a few years ago), still even they cannot fail to take into account the incredibly deleterious effects that a nuclear use would have on US standing in the world and on the viability of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the UN, and other international institutions/arrangements. Regarding domestic opinion, they would have to make a huge propaganda effort to manage it; however, this is possibly within their capability. (Another large-scale terrorist attack in the US would be a possible occasion, regardless of whether it was clearly established who perpetrated it.) (more…)