July 2006

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space27 Jul 2006 05:39 pm

Andrew Lichterman

A Department of Defense chart outlining the future of the nuclear stockpile, discovered by the Federation of American Scientists, forecasts that the U.S. will “develop warheads for next-generation delivery systems” between 2010 and 2020. Titled “Stockpile Transformation,” the chart also has a “long term vision” that includes “possible new DoD platforms and delivery systems.” In addition, the “long-term vision” includes “2-4 types of RRW’s” (reliable replacement warheads), while most media coverage to date has suggested that there will be only be two RRW designs, one to be developed by each of the nuclear warhead design labs at Los Alamos, New Mexico and Livermore, California.

The reference to possible additional RRW designs likely will draw the most attention, because warhead programs have been the main focus of what anti-nuclear weapons activism there has been in recent years. This chart, however, provides more evidence that new strategic delivery systems are in the offing, and that the requirements of those new delivery systems, if they go forward, will play a significant role in driving nuclear warhead design work in the years to come. I have written previously here and elsewhere on proposed new strategic delivery systems, which may range from new long range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles to reuseable launch vehicles, and their implications for nuclear weapons development (see, e.g., The Global Free Fire Zone: “Prompt Global Strike” and the Next Generation of U.S. Strategic Weapons; and U.S. strategic weapons programs: too many to talk about)

The time to stop the next cycle of the global missile and nuclear arms race is now. And it is long past time for the “arms control and disarmament” communities to develop an even-handed approach that demands a halt to the continuing development not only of nuclear warheads but of all long-range missiles and other long-range delivery systems, not just those of countries that the United States considers its enemies.

Iraq war& Social movements and protest25 Jul 2006 07:58 pm

Andrew Lichterman

Grandmothers Against the War came to the multi-service Armed Forces Recruiting Center in suburban Pleasant Hill, California, yesterday, symbolically offering to enlist to prevent the waste of young lives in U.S. wars. The Army and the Navy locked their doors, but the Marines stayed open. Grandmothers and their supporters filed in; the Marines distributed literature with enlistment requirements and informed them that they would not need their service at this time. Four people who refused to leave the recruiting office were cited for trespassing by Pleasant Hill police and released at the scene.

The Contra Costa Times ran a good story on page 2.

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space18 Jul 2006 04:15 pm

Michael Spies

Less than a week after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution condemning North Korea for test launching several ballistic missiles, the United States is set to launch an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The missile, carrying three dummy warheads, will be fired across the Pacific toward the missile test range at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, with a flight time of about 30 minutes.

According to the Santa Maria Times, the test scheduled for early Wednesday morning is intended to test the reliability and capability of the missile system. The United States currently deploys 500 Minuteman III missiles, kept on high alert and each carrying a single nuclear warhead with a yield, depending on the configuration, of 170 kT or 335 kT, respectively 10 or 20 times more powerful than the U.S. atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima.

This test is the latest in an ongoing series of regularly scheduled ballistic missile tests conducted by the U.S. military. In the period between January 2000 and the present, the U.S. has test launched at least 23 Minuteman III ICBMs from Vandenberg. The last test of a Minuteman III occurred on June 14th. Regarding the purpose of the test, Andrew Lichterman pointed out that according to the 30th Space Wing, the goal was to “provide key accuracy and reliability data for on-going and future modifications to the weapon system, which are key to improving the already impressive effectiveness of the Minuteman III force.” He further noted that “as this blog has documented, this is only one small part of a wide-ranging effort to develop the next generation of U.S. strategic weapons, with the intention of being able to strike targets anywhere on earth in hours or less.”

The ongoing conduct of these tests represents yet another example of U.S. exceptionalism; the U.S. feels no embarrassment in criticizing others for the same activities it or its allies engage in. For instance, days after the North Korean tests the Bush Administration “offered an unprecedented defense and rationalization of India’s missile test and nuclear programme” following India’s test launch of a nuclear capable Agni-III missile. The tests of such weapon systems is ill-timed following the international chorus of condemnation, partially led by the U.S., of the North Korean tests. In the regional context of the Korean Peninsula, given the heightened tensions surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the U.S. test of a nuclear capable missile is unambiguously provocative. In the global context, the U.S. missile test is blatant hypocrisy, symptomatic of a dangerous foreign policy based on the imposition of discriminatory, self-serving norms backed by the threat and use of force.


Secrecy and democracy& Social movements and protest& civil liberties07 Jul 2006 06:57 pm


Air Force personnel filming protesters, Vandenberg Air Force Base, May 2005

Andrew Lichterman

This week brought another in the long line of disclosures of government spying on Americans in the name of “security.” This time it was the California Office of Homeland Security, revealed by the Los Angeles Times to have compiled information about peaceful antiwar protests. These events included several discussed in previous entries here, such as the Walnut Creek, California demonstration on the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion and a demonstration supporting MacGregor Eddy, arrested protesting the many activities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in support of U.S. aggressive war making.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Office of Homeland Security intelligence reports on political demonstrations were prepared by a private contractor, SRA International Inc. The media coverage hasn’t told us much about SRA International, but a quick internet search reveals that they are a large information services company that has many contracts with the federal government. Among their services are “data and text mining,” and among their clients are a number of Defense Department organizations and “various intelligence agencies.” As SRA International’s web site notes, “text mining” for “Homeland Security and Intelligence” applications can include “Surveillance of the Web, e-mails, or chat rooms.” SRA International claims its text-mining techniques allow extraction “from free-text document entities such as persons, organizations, places, artifacts, and other concepts of interest, as well as key links between, and events involving, these entities.”

Although the Times reported claims by the California officials that the monitoring of peaceful protests was done in error, the story really raises more questions than it answers. How did this “mistake” happen? If, as state officials assert, there is no ongoing monitoring program that would sweep up the activities of peaceful protesters in its data-gathering net, what is a high powered (and undoubtedly high-priced) contractor that provides such services as “data and text mining” being paid to do? What kinds of precautions, if any, has the state taken to insure that monitoring that encompasses peaceful protest will cease? Was SRA International involved in the collection of raw data, or only in the analysis of data collected by public agencies? If the former, has SRA been told to stop gathering data on peaceful political protests, or only to stop including such information in its reports to the state? If the latter, who was collecting raw “intelligence” in a manner that swept up information about peaceful protests? It’s not enough simply to tell the contractor not to report information they collect on peaceful protesters (which is all the state appears to have done so far).

The Schwarznegger administration’s first response to getting caught with its hand in the civil liberties cookie jar (again) has been to allow the press (and the press alone) to review redacted copies of the series of reports in question, but apparently not to copy them. This response manifests another casualty of the current “security” frenzy, which is government openness. The California Public Records Act does not permit the state to release documents only to the press; once records have been released any claimed exemptions to public access are waived. Further, I know of no provision in the act allowing the state to release records for inspection without allowing them to be copied. Despite the statutory presumption in favor of releasing records, California officials (like most officials) are trying to get away with as little openness as they can probably with the hope of making this story as difficult for the press to cover as possible short of outright stonewalling. The ACLU has, however, filed a comprehensive public records act request for relevant documents, including SRA International’s contract with the state.


Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space02 Jul 2006 08:11 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The headlines in recent weeks have been full of the latest “threat,” this time a possible missile test by North Korea. The Bush administration has filled the airways once again with bellicose rhetoric, ranging from the now-routine “all options are on the table” to threats to shoot the missile down with U.S. ballistic missile defense interceptors. As Jeff Lewis and Victoria Sampson argue persuasively in a series of posts at Armscontrolwonk.com, the shoot-down talk is almost certainly an empty threat, intended only for consumption by those who know nothing about either ballistic missile defense or the likely trajectory of North Korean missile tests.

Not to be outdone, leading Democratic Party “national security” figures, including Clinton-era Defense Secretary William Perry, are suggesting a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean launch site, claiming that the outcome of this unvarnished act of aggression would be not only predictable but positive. The mainstream media and U.S. political elites seem permanently locked in a deadly symbiotic embrace: for the media, “if it bleeds it leads,” for the political elites, “if we kill it sells.” Or so it seems, more and more in this grim new American Century, where “diplomacy” seems to mean little more to those who wield American power than threatening force for a bit longer before using it.

The confrontation between the U.S. military behemoth and North Korea’s possible nuclear weapons and its still-theoretical long range missile capability works well enough, in any case, for the elites of both states, each growing progressively more isolated from the rest of the world, although in different ways. What each may fear most is their own growing irrelevance: North Korea to the world as a whole, the United States to East Asia, where convincing key states– such as Japan and South Korea–that it remains an “indispensable nation” is a critical element in slowing U.S. descent from the zenith of its power (now clearly in the rear-view mirror of the U.S. juggernaut, however much we may debate how many mileposts have passed since the peak). For North Korea, fueling up the missile (if that is what they actually are doing) gets the world’s attention by slapping the “rogue leader with nukes (maybe)” bargaining chip on the table once more, particularly with the U.S. government and its echo-chamber media playing the role of both predictable antagonist and massive message amplifier. Thomas Schelling, Henry Kissinger and company may have invented the “madman theory” of deterrence and diplomacy, but no one has gotten more mileage off less fuel with it than North Korea.

As for U.S. elites, the North Korean “threat,” particularly with the added fillip of an endless nuclear and missile crisis, is a good excuse for the U.S. to maintain its massive military presence in the region. It also is a major selling point for ballistic missile defense, both at home and abroad. Defenses against strategic missiles are an arms contractor’s dream: arcane, extremely expensive technology, for which there is a potentially unlimited demand, that is unlikely to be tested in any battle likely to be followed by rational debate over its success or failure. In this regard, the current round of North Korea missile-threat fear mongering may already have served its purpose. Last week the United States and Japan inked a pact for further cooperation on missile defense development, and this week Japan agreed to the deployment of Patriot 3 missiles, designed for defense against aircraft, cruise missiles, and shorter range missiles. While neither of these agreements may have been caused by the current North Korea missile test scare, they may provide useful political cover for the government of Japan, where increased cooperation with the U.S. military is controversial.