May 2006

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake30 May 2006 10:06 pm


Behind the Western Shoshone flag, protesters move down the road towards the Nevada Test Site gate, May 28, 2006

Andrew Lichterman

Sunday, I was at the Nevada Test Site, speaking at a demonstration against Divine Strake, a high explosive test that will detonate 700 tons of high explosive to simulate the effects of a low-yield nuclear explosion. One of the main points of my talk there was that mainstream debate about U.S. weapons programs remains largely confined to how best to pursue military dominance in service of what really is a global empire. Whether either empire or the use of overwhelming violence to sustain it are acceptable remains well outside the realm of “reasonable” discussion.

Yesterday, Exhibit A for the narrowness of Beltway discourse appeared in the New York Times: an article about the proposal to put non-nuclear warheads on Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs; see Michael Gordon, “Pentagon Seeks Nonnuclear Tip for Sub Missiles,The New York Times online, May 29, 2006) Much of the piece was devoted to the hyper-narrow debate in Congress, focused mainly on whether or not a non-nuclear SLBM launch might be mistaken for a nuclear attack on another nuclear weapons state (particularly Russia), resulting in a catastrophe for us (and really, who else do U.S. politicians care about, anyway?). The rest covered the barely broader perspectives offered by Washington arms controllers, some of whom apparently support the move to conventional strategic missiles, and some of whom do not. The most critical comment came from Steve Andreason, a former Nation Security Council staffer:

“‘Long-range ballistic missiles have never been used in combat in 50 years,’ Mr. Andreasen said. ‘Once the U.S. starts signaling that it views these missiles as no different than any other weapon, other nations will adopt the same logic.’” Gordon, “Pentagon Seeks Nonnuclear Tip for Sub Missiles.”

Bruce Blair, President of the World Security Institute and normally a sensible and insightful voice on arms control issues, offered views that were, if correctly reported, pretty disappointing. According to the Times, Blair described the development of highly accurate and destructive non-nuclear missiles with global reach as “a welcome trend toward substituting conventional weapons for nuclear systems, assuming that adequate safeguards can be worked out to avoid the risk of inadvertent nuclear confrontation.” The Times piece quoted Blair directly as saying

“‘They make a lot more sense than 14 subs loaded to the gills with nuclear-armed Trident missiles in this day and age.’” Gordon, “Pentagon Seeks Nonnuclear Tip for Sub Missiles.”

One can never know what someone really said to a reporter, or what the context was–reporters’ agendas frame the interview, and inevitably drive the choice of quotes. But to put it simply, anyone who thinks that its good for the U.S. to spend a single dime on new, more useable strategic weapons, whether nuclear or conventional, is not on the same side of the global struggle that I am. Further, under anything like the current distribution of wealth and power and with nuclear arsenals still numbering in the thousands, substituting a few highly accurate, destructive, and usable “conventional” missiles for nuclear ones will not reduce the nuclear danger. In the real world of a military industrial complex intertwined with thoroughly corrupt political and corporate elites firmly committed to global military dominance, we won’t get conventional strategic weapons instead of nuclear weapons. We will get dangerous numbers and varieties of both.


Divine Strake26 May 2006 02:35 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) announced today that it is withdrawing its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the massive Divine Strake high explosive test, originally slated to be conducted at the Nevada Test Site on June 2. The NNSA press release announcing the FONSI withdrawal mentioned no new date for the test, which apparently has been delayed indefinitely.

Divine Strake has sparked widespread opposition in the region, based in part on worries that it could mobilize radioactive materials at the site, which was used to conduct both above ground and underground nuclear explosive tests for four decades. Many also oppose the test as unnecessary and provocative, because government budget and planning documents show that one of its main purposes is to simulate the effects of low-yield nuclear explosions on underground structures.

The NNSA press release fails entirely to mention that Divine Strake would occur at a test range where the United States conducted the vast majority of its nuclear tests– 100 above ground tests and over 800 underground tests:

“This action is being taken to clarify and provide further information regarding background levels of radiation from global fallout in the vicinity of the Divine Strake experiment. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons by several countries in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the dispersion of radioactive fallout throughout the northern hemisphere. The efforts of the Nevada Site Office are focused on explaining, in a means clearly understandable to all, what background radiation from this fallout means with respect to the contemplated DIVINE STRAKE experiment.” NNSA Press Release, “NNSA Withdraws FONSI for Divine Strake Experiment,” May 26, 2006.

For more on Divine Strake, see the previous entries on the topic on this site.

UPDATE: Associated Press story in the Las Vegas Sun on the test postponement and the status of the Divine Strake lawsuit.

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Divine Strake24 May 2006 09:29 pm


Summer storm clearing over the Nevada Test Site

Andrew Lichterman

Divine Strake, a very large non-nuclear explosive test that is part of a program intended to “develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage,” will be challenged in the coming weeks in court and at the Nevada Test Site gate. A lawsuit has been filed by two Western Shoshone tribes and affected individuals, challenging the adequacy of the environmental review for the test. Divine Strake has been postponed, and no new date for the test has been announced. According to a press release describing the lawsuit, Divine Strake could mobilize radioactive materials into the atmosphere, posing a risk to people downwind. The press release also noted that the lawsuit would address other implications of the test, stating that Divine Strake “reflects a doctrine of warfighting in which nuclear weapons could be used first, against states not possessing nuclear weapons, in an integrated fashion with non-nuclear forces” which “is wholly inconsistent with a ‘diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies’ agreed by the United States in 2000 and a central element of compliance with the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] disarmament obligation.” An expert declaration by John Burroughs, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, filed in support of the lawsuit, provides an analysis of the international law implications of Divine Strake.

A Nevada Test Site event protesting Divine Strake is on for this coming weekend, May 27-28. A schedule of workshops, speakers, and other activities, along with directions and logistical information, is posted at I will be speaking at the Test Site on May 28, and I hope to see some readers there.

A revised version of the Western States Legal Foundation Information Brief, The Divine Strake Nuclear Weapons Simulation: A Bad Signal at a Bad Time, is now available, updated to reflect the postponement of the test. For more about the Nevada Test Site, see The Nevada Test Site: Desert Annex of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories, Western States Legal Foundation and Nevada Desert Experience Information Bulletin (2005).

Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Iraq war& Social movements and protest20 May 2006 10:18 pm


Jackie Cabasso

The April 29 March for Peace, Justice and Democracy was a huge success! Initiated by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and with 8 major co-endorsing organizations forming an unprecedented coalition*, the organizers estimate that 350,000 people participated. Equally important was the tone of the day - spirited yet serious, and focused simultaneously on many issues of concern to the peace and justice movement.The morning started out rather dramatically for the Nuclear Disarmament tent at the Peace and Justice Festival site. Our set-up crew arrived at Foley Square, loaded down with boxes of literature and displays, to find - to our dismay - that tent assembly was running way behind schedule, and that only about half of the tents had been set up. Ours was not one of them. We also discovered that our location, in front of the Federal Courthouse, was located in a wind tunnel and shaded from the sun by the surrounding buildings.

As we huddled together in the cold, we watched our huge tent (something like 20 x 40 feet) being assembled. We were given the go ahead to start moving tables and chairs into the space when a sudden gust of wind literally blew the frame apart and the upended the tent on the courthouse steps! Fortunately no one was hurt, but the tent landed with such an impact that it literally ripped a street sign out of the concrete sidewalk. We couldn’t resist darkly joking among ourselves that the upside down shredded tent looked like the aftermath of a nuclear blast. The Police immediately told us we couldn’t have a tent in that location.


Iran18 May 2006 08:18 am

Michael Spies

By now the initial bewilderment caused by Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s infamous letter to President Bush has receded back into the stream of the never-ending news cycle. For those who haven’t taken the time to read it, the synopsis in the media was more or less accurate. On the whole the letter was a meandering theological and philosophical tract, appealing to Bush’s oft-professed monotheistic values, and in essence inviting Bush to see the light and to practice what he preaches. It also contained lengthy diatribes against U.S. foreign policy.

Most commentators in the U.S. were quick to dismiss the letter. While the letter does stray pretty far from the norms of polite, diplomatic correspondence, quick dismissal reveals an unwillingness to understand or to even acknowledge the presence in the world of alternative modes of philosophical, cultural, and political discourse. Coming from most other corners of the world such casual disregard reflects little more than cultural bigotry. Coming from the U.S., in light of its global military and political preeminence, it can reflect a certain imperial hubris.

On the subject of imperialism, I recently heard historian Ervand Abrahamian’s take on the Iran nuclear dispute, framed within the context of Iran’s historical struggles against imperial powers. A professor at the City University of New York, Abrahamian spoke at an over-packed teach-in on April 26 at Judson Church in Manhattan, “Stopping the War Before It Starts: What We Need to Know to Resist A War Against Iran.” The event was sponsored by Action Wednesdays against War. In 2005 Abrahamian wrote a prescient short commentary, “Iran: The Next Target?.” He is currently working on two books for Cambridge University Press, The CIA Coup in Iran and A History of Modern Iran. According to Abrahamian, the heroes in Iranian historiography are those who refused imperialist ultimatums, and therefore it is hard for any Iranian government to submit to such ultimatums.


Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Social movements and protest& Divine Strake16 May 2006 09:41 pm


Nevada Test Site, August 6, 2005

Andrew Lichterman

On May 20th, there will be a demonstration at Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, California. Vandenberg is a major test facility for U.S. nuclear missiles and other strategic weapons and a command center for U.S. military space operations. It plays a continuing role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coordinating the use of military space technologies to assist ground warfare, and likely will be used to test next-generation strategic weapons, both nuclear and conventional. It also is one of the two sites where mid-course ballistic missile interceptors have been deployed. For more information on Vandenberg Air Force Base, see the Western States Legal Foundation(WSLF) Information Brief, Vandenberg Air Force Base: Where the Present and Future of U.S. Warmaking Come Together. For updates and information on parking, car pools., etc. for the May 20th demonstration, visit the web site of the Vandenberg Peace Legal Defense Fund.

On May 28th, there will be a rally and demonstration against the Divine Strake weapons high explosive test at the Nevada Test Site. One of the main purposes of the Divine Strake test is to simulate the effects of low-yield nuclear weapons against underground structures. With strategic weapons research proceeding on a number of fronts ranging from the continued modernization of intercontinental ballistic missiles and research on next-generation missiles and bombers to refinement of plans for nuclear weapons use through experiments like Divine Strake, the United States is leading the world into another century of arms racing.

For more information on Divine Strake, see previous entries on this site; for a short overview see the Western States Legal Foundation Information Brief, The Divine Strake Nuclear Weapons Simulation: A Bad Signal at a Bad Time. For more on the role of the Nevada Test Site in weapons development past and present, see the joint WSLF/Nevada Desert Experience Information Bulletin, The Nevada Test Site: Desert Annex of the Nuclear Weapons Laboratories. For updates and logistical information about the May 28th Nevada Test Site event, check the Divine Strake pages at Citizen Alert, the Shundahai Network, and the Nevada Desert Experience.

I will be speaking at both of these events. If you are a reader and are at either event, I hope we get a chance to meet.

Iran& Iraq war& War and law07 May 2006 09:02 am

John Burroughs

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and 32 co-sponsors have introduced a resolution (H. Con. Res. 391) in the House of Representatives declaring that the House, with the Senate concurring, “strongly and unequivocally believes that seeking congressional authority prior to taking military action against Iran is not discretionary, but is a legal and constitutional requirement.” DeFazio and 61 members of the House also wrote to President Bush expressing the same view.

The resolution and letter provide a history lesson, for example quoting President Washington that “no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after [Congress] have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure.”

In the case of the Iraq war, Congress basically rolled over, adopting a resolution that turned over the decision of whether or not to attack Iraq to Bush. His subsequent decision to invade was wrong, unwise, and contrary to the UN Charter. What has been lost in the chatter since then is that Congress abdicated its constitutional role. As the Washington Post reported at the time, it was not for lack of alternatives:

“A [resolution] sponsored by Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.) and Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), would have authorized U.S military action only if it were sanctioned by the Security Council or by a second congressional vote later this year. It lost 270 to 55.

A similar resolution, proposed by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), was defeated 75 to 24 in the Senate.”

Let’s hope that Congress has learned something and as Rep. DeFazio urges will assert its constitutional role with respect to any military action against Iran, whether it’s considered weeks, months, or years from now. It’s also way past time to start bringing the UN Charter and other international law into the deliberations.

Iran& Nuclear weapons--global03 May 2006 02:21 pm

John Burroughs

This afternoon a British/French draft of a resolution on Iran was made informally available outside the Security Council chambers.

The draft states that the Council is “acting under Chapter VII” of the UN Charter. This means that it is based upon a finding of a threat to international peace and security, is legally binding and could be the basis for later imposition of sanctions or authorization of force. When asked about the draft outside the chambers, China’s representative, Amb. Wang, said that China will not accept a Chapter VII resolution. Russia’s position has been similar. Some elected members of the Council might also prefer a non-Chapter VII resolution but the “E10″ (the ten elected members of the Council) so far have not attempted to press their views, leaving dealing with Iran up to the “P5″ (the permanent five members).

It is somewhat unusual for a draft to be released before the P5 have reached agreement, indicating that Britain, France and the United States may be seeking to increase the pressure prior to a possible meeting involving foreign ministers in New York next week.

Some quick reactions to the draft: As I told some elected members of the Council in a meeting organized by Greenpeace International yesterday (see “Options for the Security Council”), there is no basis for a finding of a threat to international peace and security. Further, it is hard to see how a hard-line resolution confronting Iran is going to lead to a productive outcome. The draft requires Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities. Also, going beyond the presidential statement and the February IAEA board resolution, it requires Iran to suspend construction of a heavy water reactor. Previously Iran had been asked only to consider this step. Iran likely would not react positively to these requirements. Iran has said it will continue safeguards implementation, and therefore IAEA monitoring of its enrichment facilities, provided that Iran’s nuclear dossier remains “in full” in the framework of the IAEA. (See April 28 IAEA report, para. 6) So Iran might stop cooperating with the IAEA on safeguards if a Chapter VII resolution is adopted. (more…)

Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Divine Strake01 May 2006 02:52 pm

Andrew Lichterman

On a media tour of the Nevada Test Site tunnel complex where the Divine Strake test is slated to take place, a Defense Threat Reduction Agency official implicitly acknowledged that the test data likely will be used to study nuclear weapons effects. According to the Las Vegas Sun,

“The detonation could simulate ‘a number of weapon concepts,’ said Doug Bruder, director of the counter-weapons of mass destruction program for the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

‘It could be nuclear or advanced conventional,’ he said. ‘A charge of this size would be more related to a nuclear weapon.’” Launce Rake, “Test blast linked to nuke weapons,” Las Vegas Sun, April 28, 2006.

But Bruder also continued the DTRA non-denial denials apparently aimed at diverting attention from the nuclear weapons effects testing purposes of Divine Strake, emphasizing that the test “‘does not replicate any existing or planned nuclear weapon.’” id. Bruder noted, however, that

“‘There are some very hard targets out there and right now it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to defeat with current conventional weapons. Therefore there are some that would probably require nuclear weapons.’” Las Vegas Sun, “Test blast linked to nuke weapons,” April 28, 2006

According to the Las Vegas Sun piece, some or all of Bruder’s statements were caught on tape by CNN. So far as I have been able to determine, CNN Burder’s remarks did not make it into CNN’s broadcast coverage (see CNN transcript, “On the Story,” “U.S. Tests Non-Nuke Bombs in Nevada Desert,” aired April 30, 2006)

To the extent that they confirm the nuclear weapons research and planning applications of Divine Strake, Bruder’s statements are consistent with previous government descriptions of the test series of which the test is a part. DTRA budget requests and other government documents reveal ongoing research aimed at better understanding how low-yield nuclear weapons can be used to destroy underground targets, and at upgrading strike planning techniques for determining what kind of weapon, whether conventional or nuclear, can best be used to destroy particular types of targets. For more analysis and document references, see previous posts regarding Divine Strake on this site.

UPDATE: Part of Bruder’s remarks were broadcast in another CNN segment: The Situation Room, April 27, 2006 (transcript here).