Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& great power war risk& Ukraine21 Feb 2015 06:30 pm

Andrew Lichterman

I have published a Western States Legal Foundation Commentary, Ukraine: Time to Step Back from the Brink, available at the link below.

Ukraine: Time to Step Back from the Brink, Western States Legal Foundation Commentary, February 2015.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Military budget& Strategic weapons and space& great power war risk22 Mar 2014 01:25 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

I gave a talk at the Global Network on Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space annual meeting last weekend. Several people asked for a text, so I am posting the talk here (see link below). The talk touches upon current U.S. strategic weapons modernization programs, military space, and their relevance to the current climate of growing great power competition and confrontation, including the crisis in the Ukraine.

Vandenberg Air Force Base: Local and Global Connections

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest18 Apr 2012 04:44 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

The Reaching Critical Will project of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has released a new report on nuclear weapons modernization. The report, titled Assuring Destruction Forever: Nuclear Weapon Modernization Around the World, can be downloaded for free and hard copies are available for $8 from the Reaching Critical Will website.

The report explores in-depth the nuclear weapon modernization programs in China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and analyzes the costs of nuclear weapons in the context of the economic crisis, austerity measures, and rising challenges in meeting human and environmental needs. It features three pieces by DisarmamentActivist.org authors. Andrew Lichterman, senior research analyst for Western States Legal Foundation, wrote the chapter on the United States and a chapter on the role of civil society and social movements in creating the requisite political will for disarmament, and John Burroughs, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, wrote a chapter on international law and nuclear weapons.

The chapters also are available separately as pdf files. Below are the links to chapters written by WSLF staff and board members.

Chapter on U.S. nuclear weapons modernization, by Andrew Lichterman

Chapter on international law and nuclear weapons modernization, by John Burroughs

Civil Society, Social Movements, and Disarmament in the 21st Century, by Andrew Lichterman

There will be a launch event for the report in Vienna, Austria on Thursday May 3, one of a number of NGO events scheduled alongside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty preparatory committee meeting the first two weeks of May. The launch event will be in Room M2 of the Vienna International Center, May 3, 1:15–2:45p.m.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest20 Feb 2012 07:11 pm

Almost nine years after the start of the 2003 Iraq war, are once again seeing U.S. politicians and elected officials targeting an oil-rich nation in the Persian Gulf, claiming that it might soon build nuclear weapons, a claim based on sketchy evidence provided by sources we never see. This time the target is Iran, and the U.S. is once more trying to drag its allies with it on a path that could lead to war.

Yet while the U.S. government lectures and threatens Iran and North Korea about the evils of nuclear weapons, it routinely test fires its own long-range nuclear Minuteman missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California. Almost 450 Minuteman missiles remain deployed and on alert, part of a U.S. nuclear arsenal still large enough to end civlization in a day. The next Minuteman test launch is scheduled for February 25, 2012.

A nonviolent protest is planned at Vandenberg at five minutes to midnight, Friday February 24.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has chartered a Green Tortoise bus that will leave for Vandenberg from Oakland at 5 pm, Feb. 24, returning by 7 am the next day, picking up people along the way.

Plan to get on the bus! $40 requested; no one turned away! Contact MacGregor Eddy: macgregoreddy@gmail.com; 831 206 5043

If you live in Southern California, please join a protest from 12 noon–1 pm on Feb. 24 at the Los Angeles Air Force Space and Missile Center, 262 N. Douglas Street.

Wherever you live, please sign the petition calling on President Obama to cancel the test and start negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons. click here to see the petition.

For more about Vandenberg Air Force Base, see the Spring 2012 Western States Legal Foundation Information Brief, Vandenberg Air Force Base: Where the Present and Future of U.S. Warmaking Come Together

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Nuclear power& Social movements and protest05 Oct 2011 07:17 am

by Andrew Lichterman

I’m here in Washington D.C. with my Western States Legal Foundation colleague Jackie Cabasso for a number of events, all potential strands in a movement bringing together those working for peace, for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable economy, and for a political system in which every person genuinely has an equal voice.

We spent the weekend at the New Priorities Network planning meeting. That network focuses on bringing together coalitions at the local and regional level to raise awareness of the impacts of war and military spending and inequitable economic policies on the ability of state and local governments to provide for the basic human needs of their residents. Those attending represented local and national organizations throughout the country, and there was a general feeling that the frozen politics of the past two decades is beginning to thaw–from the bottom up.

Thursday we will be joining what likely will be thousands of others at the peaceful occupation of Freedom Plaza here in the District of Columbia. Although we must return to California at the week’s end, we hope that occupation will build on the momentum generated by the Wall Street occupations and those that already are following from it.

We have prepared a short piece on the place of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the context of the broader global political, economic, and ecological crisis; a pdf version can be obtained by clicking the link: Nuclear Connections: Weapons and Power in the Age of Corporate Globalization.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest20 May 2011 05:11 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

Publication note:

I have a piece titled “Nuclear Disarmament, Civil Society, and Democracy” in Disarmament Forum, 2010 No.4, full text available at


A short excerpt:

Twenty-five years ago there were vigorous and diverse disarmament movements in the United States and elsewhere. In the United States today, those movements are largely gone. What remains is the “arms control and disarmament community,” an insular subculture of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that focuses most of its resources on policy debates and proposals in national capitals and international negotiating forums. These groups mainly deploy the standard repertory of interest group political pressure techniques, with expert policy analysis and top-down publicity and public opinion mobilization used to muster support for proposals initiated by segments of governing elites that can be portrayed as moving toward disarmament.

The disappearance of the movements and the gradual transformation of most of the institutions left behind into professionalized single-issue pressure groups, I believe, are less the result of choices by the particular people and organizations than manifestations of deeper trends affecting not only disarmament work but other efforts for a more fair, democratic and ecologically sustainable way of life. These broader transformations have left us with less voice in the decisions that affect all of our lives than we had two or three decades ago. If we want to have an effect on something as central to the order of things as the ultimate weapons in a system underwritten by overwhelming violence, we must at the same time address the fragile state of what little democracy we have.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.11 Apr 2011 10:16 pm

by Andrew Lichterman

In the United States, what public discussion there was in 2010 about nuclear disarmament centered on the new U.S.–Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The treaty, however, did little to reduce nuclear armaments. It changed warhead counting rules to allow both the U.S. and Russia to make minimal changes in their nuclear deployments while claiming more significant reductions in numbers. Further, the package of political commitments and conditions extracted by Senate allies of the military-industrial complex are designed to assure that the U.S. will be able to sustain a nuclear arsenal of world-destroying size for many decades, and to continue strategic weapons development on other fronts as well.

The principal players in the START ratification drama came to it with different agendas. The Obama administration, its lofty disarmament rhetoric aside, appeared mainly to be seeking to capture the polemical and diplomatic high ground, regaining at least some of the credibility lost by the Bush administration’s history of disarmament inaction and counter-proliferation prevarication. As the President put it in a radio address pushing the treaty, “[w]ithout ratification, we put at risk the coalition that we have built to put pressure on Iran, and the transit route through Russia that we use to equip our troops in Afghanistan.” The Senate representatives of the nuclear-military-industrial complex sought to obtain as much as possible in weapons budget increases and policy commitments. Bob Corker, Republican Senator from Tennessee (home of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the largest U.S. nuclear weapons facilities) stated the trade-off clearly: “I saw this entire process as an opportunity to push for long overdue investments in modernization of our existing nuclear arsenal and made clear I could not support the treaty’s ratification without it.”

Given that the Obama administration in every other area of policy had proved willing to concede whatever was necessary in Federal dollars and corporate-friendly policies to obtain something that it could claim as a legislative “win,” these two agendas were by no means irreconcilable. The final element needed to seal the deal, however, was the absence of significant opposition to the buy-off insisted upon by the nuclear and military establishments in exchange for even the most cautiously incremental arms control treaty. This piece too fell into place. Most U.S. arms control and disarmament organizations obediently lined up behind the Obama administration, parroting its talking points and saying little that criticized the budget increases and policy promises provided to the nuclear weapons establishment.

A striking aspect of the affair was the absence of debate within the U.S. “arms control and disarmament community” concerning whether the START package as a whole constituted disarmament progress, given the massive political and economic reinforcement provided by the Obama administration’s commitments to the actual institutions that must be disarmed. This likely was the consequence of the kind of vote-counting and assessment of relative interest-group power that passes for “pragmatism”among the professionals who dominate the upper reaches of both the political and nongovernmental organization (NGO) worlds. Disarmament NGO’s in this regard are little different from those that focus on other issues. This predominance of a cautious, careerist professionalism that sees the limits of the politically possible as what those who hold power are willing to give, however, manifests a weak civil society that has lost the essential nourishment of a social movement base. Pushing a treaty whose disarmament benefits required a professional eye to perceive (and perhaps to believe), together with silent acceptance of sweeping plans to rebuild and replace both nuclear weapons systems and arms factories sufficient to sustain a very large nuclear arsenal into the middle of this century, did nothing to make disarmament movements stronger. (more…)

Disarmament& Secrecy and democracy& Nuclear power16 Mar 2011 07:43 am

John Burroughs

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is catalyzing a reassessment of the risks of reliance on nuclear power for energy generation, as illustrated by this IPS story about the United States. The results will be increased regulatory oversight and higher costs, as investors shy away. The already oversold ‘nuclear renaissance’ is definitely over.

What understandably is not currently receiving attention is the close link between production of electricity by means of nuclear reactors and the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Every nuclear reactor produces spent fuel containing plutonium, which with chemical processing can be used in weapons. And with some adjustment, as the world has learned in monitoring the Iran situation, the same facilities used to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for power reactors can produce high-enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

The linkage has been known from the beginning of the nuclear age. In 1946, the Acheson-Lilienthal report stated that “the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are in much of their course interchangeable and interdependent.” The weapons-nuclear power connection must be part of the reassessment of nuclear power. In the view of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, while the global elimination of nuclear weapons must not be made dependent on a prior ending of reliance on nuclear power, a nuclear weapons-free world will be best sustained by the phase-out of nuclear power.

The nuclear disaster also should cause reflection on the hazards of reliance on advanced technology. US and Russian nuclear forces still are configured for quick launch, within minutes of an order to do so, in large, society-destroying, numbers. It should not be assumed that such a risky posture will forever not be subject to human error, technical malfunction, or sabotage.

Undoubtedly the disaster will give rise to renewed demands for truth-telling by the nuclear power industry and its regulators. That same demand should be extended to nuclear weapons establishments in the nine countries that possess nuclear arsenals and the many countries in nuclear-weapon alliances.

In the 1970s and 1980s, opposition to nuclear power was a generation’s entry point into opposing nuclear weapons. The same spillover effect can be expected now.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Social movements and protest17 Dec 2010 09:49 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The battle over ratification of the new START treaty is in its final stages, yet from a disarmament perspective the debate over its meaning has barely begun. The treaty will have little effect on the material institutions of the arms race. It will have only minimal effects on current nuclear weapons deployments, and places no meaningful limit on the modernization of nuclear arsenals or the development of strategically significant weapons systems such as missile defenses and conventional “prompt global strike” weapons with global reach. The principal purported benefits of new START, given that it requires only marginal arms reductions over seven years, mainly fall into two areas: resumption of on-the-ground verification measures, and re-establishment of a negotiating framework for future arms reductions. The concessions extracted by the weapons establishment in anticipation of ratification, in contrast, will have immediate and tangible effects, beginning with increases in weapons budgets and accelerated construction of new nuclear weapons facilities. These increased commitments of resources are intended to sustain a nuclear arsenal of civilization-destroying size for decades to come, and will further entrench interests that constitute long-term structural impediments to disarmament.

One would think that the START deal, with a treaty constituting at best very small arms reductions coming at the cost of material and policy measures that are explicitly designed to push any irreversible commitment to disarmament off many years into the future, would spark considerable debate within the U.S. “arms control and disarmament community.” Most U.S. arms control and disarmament organizations, however, have obediently lined up behind the Obama administration, parroting its talking points and saying little or nothing about the budget increases and policy promises provided to the nuclear weapons establishment. The vast majority of the e-mail blasts I receive from disarmament groups ask me to tell my Senator to vote for ratification without mentioning these commitments at all. The occasional message that mentions them seldom mentions their significance, despite the fact that it is quite clear that without these commitments–which, furthermore, have constantly increased as the ratification battle has dragged on–the chances for approval by the Senate are nil.

From the disarmament perspective, do the vast concrete negatives of the START deal outweigh its considerably more intangible positives? The “arms control and disarmament community” has concluded that the answer is yes, but has done so without any visible debate.

I have written a piece in which I examine the START treaty and deal in more detail, and also offer some reflections on the implications of the absence of debate on the matter among those who work for disarmament. That piece, published as a Western States Legal Foundation commentary, is available at the link below.

The START Treaty and Disarmament: a Dilemma in Search of a Debate

A shorter version of the piece is forthcoming in Wissenschaft und Frieden.

Disarmament& Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Middle East02 Aug 2010 07:37 pm

Andrew Lichterman

The recently released film Countdown to Zero has sparked controversy amongst disarmament advocates. Local disarmament groups were encouraged by national arms control groups and funders to turn people out for the film, but some who have seen it believe that at best it is unhelpful, and at worst that it might do more to build support for the next round of U.S. armed counterproliferation abroad than to advance disarmament. (see Darwin BondGraham, “Co-opting the Anti-Nuclear Movement,” MRZine.org). United for Peace and Justice has made available a leaflet, Countdown to Zero? Or fight for a nuclear free future! designed to fill in some of the key information about nuclear weapons and disarmament that the film leaves out.

Countdown to Zero is intended to be part of a broader campaign, with its main foundation funder, the Ploughshares Fund, encouraging its grantees to turn people out for the film and offering further grants “for activities that will take advantage of Countdown to Zero and help catalyze public support for a world without nuclear weapons.” I haven’t seen the film yet, but some things I have seen so far of the surrounding campaign raise troubling questions about its intentions and its likely effect.

On July 29, ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame, one of the experts featured in the film, appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews. The segment promoted the film, consisting of excerpts interspersed with back and forth from Plame and Matthews with a Countdown to Zero logo running in the corner of the screen throughout. The segment began by focusing on the alleged danger that Osama Bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda might get nuclear weapons, with another expert featured in the film, Graham Allison, stating several times that Bin-Laden had expressed the desire to kill four million Americans. The accompanying images were of Bin Laden and AK47-wielding Al-Qaeda members. Most of the rest of the segment was devoted to Plame and other experts, both in film excerpts and in her back and forth with Matthews, hammering on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Plame asserted in an excerpt from the film that that Iran “without question” is seeking nuclear weapons, and went on at length about how good Iran is at concealing and protecting its nuclear efforts.

In the four minute and forty second clip, only about twenty seconds can be characterized as even mentioning disarmament–and then only as a far distant goal, albeit ultimately the only definitive solution to the much-emphasized ‘nuclear terrorist’ and ‘rogue state’ threats of today. The rest of the segment was devoted to the dangers posed by the possibility that bad people who are Muslims of one kind or another might get or use The Bomb.

In fact, if this segment was the first thing you had ever seen about nuclear weapons, you would have no idea that anyone on earth already has a nuclear arsenal aside from Russia and Pakistan. Russia comes into the picture only as somewhere that terrorists might buy or steal nuclear weapons or materials to make them. And in the closing seconds of the segment, when asked by Matthews what posed the greatest nuclear threat–Pakistan, Iran, or terrorists (apparently the only nuclear dangers on the mainstream media menu) Plame didn’t take issue with the framing of the question. She chose Pakistan, because it is in “such a volatile region” and “we cannot have a lot of confidence in their command and control.” Pakistan lies in close proximity to unmentioned nuclear powers China and India, shares a contiguous land mass with unmentioned nuclear powers Israel and France and barely-mentioned nuclear former superpower Russia, and is fighting a covert and overt war as client (and perhaps partial adversary) of the unmentioned nuclear-armed sole superpower, the United States, and unmentioned nuclear power and former regional colonial overlord England. A “volatile region” indeed. (more…)

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