Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space& Social movements and protest02 Jul 2010 07:21 pm

Andrew Lichterman

(based on a talk given at a protest outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, June 5, 2010).

We are now several years in to a deep global economic and political crisis that shows no sign of abating. Those in command of the world’s political systems seem capable of doing little beyond protecting the immediate interests of privileged elements in their societies. At the same time, the familiar forms of oppositional activity seem spent, unable to pose a coherent and convincing alternative to the current order of things. Movements for peace and for a society that is more fair economically and sustainable ecologically can be found everywhere, but often are fragmented by specialization or particularized grievances and mired in habitual forms of thought and action. It is essential that all of us in these movements try to develop a broader understanding of this time and its challenges, starting from our particular work and location in the world and sketching the connections, however tentatively, to the larger whole. This will be one such sketch, with its starting point in disarmament work in the heartland of the U.S. aerospace-military-industrial complex in California.

Disarmament “progress” in the United States: rhetoric vs. reality

Last month in New York, the states that are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty met to review the status of the treaty and the performance of its parties, a review that occurs every five years. After opening the conference with general endorsements of the concept of nuclear disarmament, the United States (together with other nuclear weapons states) spent the remainder of the month doing its best to weaken or eliminate language in drafts of the Review Conference final document that would impose any substantive disarmament obligations on the nuclear weapons states, such as time limits or definite commitments to negotiate a convention for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile in Washington D.C., the Obama administration proposals for increases in nuclear weapons spending were moving through Congress, the only significant opposition coming from those who claim that the budget increases are too small.We now have a flurry of elite rhetorical enthusiasm for disarmament, and much celebration of a U.S.-Russia treaty that will have little effect on the thousands of nuclear weapons they currently deploy, and even those requirements aren’t mandatory until 2017. But a few hundred nuclear weapons can destroy any country on earth, and a thousand are more could have effects that destroy much of the world’s civilization, killing a significant portion of its inhabitants.

And in this year’s budget request, the Obama administration, if anything, seems determined to outflank its Congressional critics from the right, proposing a 10% increase in nuclear warhead research and production funding and further increases for future years. And that’s just the Department of Energy budget. The Defense Department budget also has sizable increases for nuclear weapons and delivery systems. In evaluating the level of commitment to disarmament of this administration, it might be wise to remember the observation repeated by several economists of the last century, that “the budget is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies.”

In early June I spoke at a protest at the gates of Vandenberg Air Force Base, a vast installation sprawling for miles along the southern California coast. Unlike the rest of the U.S. economy, Vandenberg is thriving, playing key roles in both the present and the future of this country’s war cycle, fighting endless wars in the present while striving endlessly for dominance in all imaginable wars to come. Vandenberg represents a kind of microcosm both of the gigantic U.S. military machine and of the upper echelons of U.S. society, tending ever more towards a perpetual exercise in maintaining power over others through violence while hiding behind layers of gates, guards, and guns.

The United States is continuing a broad effort aimed at developing new generations of strategic weapons and refining the techniques for using them, spending far more on high-tech weapons than any other country. This effort today includes upgrading existing intercontinental ballistic missiles and planning for work on next generation long-range missiles. For decades, Vandenberg Air Force Base has tested new generations of long range missiles, and continues to flight test those now operational.

Vandenberg is both a test range and one of the first two deployment sites for mid-course ballistic missile defense interceptors. And just a few weeks ago, the Air Force launched a Hypersonic Technology Vehicle from Vandenberg aimed at a target area at Kwajelein Atoll in the Pacific. That test was part of a program to develop a new generation of maneuverable gliding delivery vehicles that will be able to hit targets anywhere on earth within an hour or two. If deployed, these systems are intended to carry highly accurate non-nuclear payloads, permitting destruction by missile at global ranges with non-nuclear weapons for the first time. And one of the sites being considered for deployment is Vandenberg Air Force Base, supposedly to avoid confusion with the launch of nuclear-armed missiles from their bases in the Midwest.

Vandenberg is where the present and future of U.S. war making comes together. Many of the military satellites used for surveillance, to target weapons and to provide communications for current U.S. wars are launched here. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg does day to day planning of missions for the positioning and use of military satellites in those ongoing wars. (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Social movements and protest17 Apr 2010 02:24 pm

Andrew Lichterman

In May, disarmament organizations will assemble alongside government delegations meeting for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. Coming together in side events between attempts to pursue and persuade diplomats has become a familiar practice among the world’s nongovernmental organizations, and should provide an opportunity to reflect and to develop strategies together. The focus on governments, however, often overshadows our own discussions, limiting their scope to what those in power might be persuaded to do in the near term and how we might persuade them to do it.

As we gather this year, humanity is confronted with several crises, each different but all ultimately intertwined. We face the decline of our natural environment, with climate change being only one of the human-induced transformations destroying natural and man-made systems from which we draw our sustenance today, and limiting our options for how we will live in the future.

These changes strike the poorest first–those who cannot afford to move, build expensive new infrastructure, or import the means of existence from afar when their locale is devastated by a global mode of production dedicated to short-term growth heedless of the long-term consequences. As competition for key nonrenewable resources intensifies, essentials of food and energy devour an increasing portion of their income, creating a rising cycle of misery exacerbated by a two tier global economy in which immensely powerful private corporations destroy local markets while ultimately raising the price of many necessities, pumping up profits by pushing costs off on ecosystems and future generations.

At the same time, the economic crisis persists, precipitated by the collapse of the latest and largest financial bubble and prolonged by the immense gulf between those few who control most of the world’s wealth and productive assets and the millions who can neither find productive work nor pay for what might be produced by others. What recovery there has been consists mainly of securing more of the world’s wealth and social product for the top 20 percent or so, the increasingly self-contained top-tier economy of government organizations and giant corporations that buy and sell most of the world’s goods to each other and their upper echelons, inhabiting fortified islands of wealth amidst a global sea of poverty.

The growing chasm between the minority who hold secure places in the economy of large–and largely authoritarian–organizations and the rest of humanity is the defining social fact of our time. Unless it is directly confronted and overcome it will define the limits of the politically possible, driving increased conflict and with it expenditure by the wealthy sectors of society on “security.” Both pervasive conflict and the misdirection of ever more resources in an effort to contain it (rather than removing its causes) will make the transformation of global energy, transportation, agriculture, and industrial systems essential for long-term human survival more difficult, perhaps impossible.

In the first decade of the new century, we have wars and threats of wars, with nuclear weapons moving ever closer to the center of conflict. Nuclear weapons and nuclear “nonproliferation” serve as the justification for wars and as the stalking horse for the economic and geopolitical agendas of largely unaccountable elites who control the most powerful states. They are already nuclear armed and have shown themselves, as in the case of the United States, ready to threaten nuclear weapons use against those who have none. And nuclear weapons–the all too real national arsenals, not the theoretical ones that the demonized states du jour or “terrorist” groups might or might not be trying to acquire–remain the machinery of ultimate catastrophe. They are still there, waiting at the end of some as yet unforeseen chain of great power elite contention and confrontation as those in power attempt to “manage” the multiple crises in ways that apply ever more technology and violence, while stubbornly refusing to address the fundamental causes of deteriorating ecosystems and proliferating social conflict. This systematic exclusion of discussion about root causes, enforced myriad ways in forums world wide, creates a pervasive feeling of inertia, a sense that political systems everywhere are not working. (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.14 Dec 2009 08:04 pm

Andrew Lichterman

“Immediately the spirit of exploitation is gone armaments will be felt as a positively unbearable burden. Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit each other.” Gandhi, Harijan, November 12, 1938, quoted in Louis Fischer, ed., The Essential Gandhi, (Random House: New York, 1962), p.326.

Over the last couple of months I have had several conversations regarding conversion of U.S. nuclear weapons facilities to peaceful uses. Many disarmament advocates who live in communities that have nuclear weapons facilities, seeking to disarm some of the opposition to disarmament, push for conversion of their local plants or laboratories rather than their closure.

I do not believe that the institutions and facilities of the nuclear weapons complex can be converted to uses that are peaceable, ecologically sustainable, and that are part of an economy and society with a fair distribution of wealth and power. I do believe that the economy as a whole must be converted to a different path if humanity is going to survive much longer. I also wouldn’t hold out much hope for developing a plan for conversion that is compatible with a world that is both more peaceful and more fair that would be acceptable to the people in the upper echelons of the nuclear weapons establishment. These are very privileged people, and will not let go of their privileged place easily. There is no plan that is for the good of all that also preserves their privilege. This is a circle that simply cannot be squared.

There are some practical reasons why much of the nuclear weapons complex can not be converted for civilian uses. Many nuclear weapons research and production facilities are not much like World War Two weapons production plants, plants designed for assembly lines with infrastructure using general use industrial inputs (e.g. various kinds of rolled and cast metal) supported by arrays of people with generally applicable industrial skills (large numbers of assembly line workers, machine tool operators and manufacturers of machine tools, etc.) Much of the nuclear weapons complex physical infrastructure is designed for the demands of handling significant quantities of very dangerous materials little used in civilian activities, and hence have high fixed costs that could not be sustained with most forms of civilian enterprise. Many of the experimental facilities also are crafted to the particular demands of weapons research (or, in some cases, highly inflated versions of those demands), and also would not have useful roles in the civilian economy that could come close to justifying either the cost of the facilities or of the cadre of specialized people who conduct experiments, maintain the facilities, and analyze the data. Maintaining such facilities and the institutions around them (which are large enough to constitute significant concentrations of economic and political power) tends to generate demand for their services, which in turn can influence the path of technology development. I don’t see the suite of facilities and research capacities within the nuclear weapons establishment as having a very useful place on the (quite different) technology development path I believe we should be on. And I see the dangers presented by these institutions as economically and politically powerful organizations as outweighing whatever marginal usefulness they may have for technology development along a more ecologically sustainable, fair, and democratic path.

The issues around conversion of the nuclear weapons complex also are distorted, I believe, by the very successful efforts of the nuclear weapons establishment to portray themselves as all-purpose purveyors of Science, the “crown jewels” of the national science and technology establishment. This is compounded by a tendency across the political spectrum, even today, to view the development of science and technology as a politically neutral process. This has tended to suppress critical analysis even of the extent to which the very particular set of institutional capacities the institutions of the nuclear weapons complex possess would really be useful for civilian purposes, much less for an alternative development path that moves away from nuclear energy and in general towards forms of energy, transportation, and production infrastructure that are more decentralized and varied, adapted once more to ecological context rather than to the purposes of immense organizations with globalized supply chains driven by the goal of endless accumulation of wealth.

The main way that people in complex modern societies today extract a privileged wealth stream is through their positions in large, powerful organizations that deploy various combinations of advanced technology, bureaucratic technique, and ideology. The constellation of organizations that constitute the nuclear weapons complex sits close to the apex of global power and privilege, and the upper echelon inhabitants of those organizations are quite determined to hold on to what they have. Nuclear weapons establishments, in fact, are preeminent manifestations of how far those in power will go to preserve it–they will play dice with all humanity, even all life on earth. The nature of the institutions ultimately can not be separated from the purposes and practices that have shaped them since their inception. Born in secrecy and sequestered throughout their existence within the least accountable sector of American government, the nuclear weapons laboratories and the broader nuclear weapons complex have become powerful institutions in their own right. They have done so by using all the tools that the powerful have developed in this society for staving off democracy–control of information and technologies, propaganda, and alliances with other huge organizations in common strategies aimed at extracting a steady and expanding stream of wealth from the rest of the economy. There is no way to provide the upper level denizens of the nuclear weapons establishment–the scientists and engineers, the technocrats, bureaucrats, and propagandists–with some other pursuit that gives them a similarly “rewarding” position in society, unless we can come up with some other set of “missions” that can assure them of an equally comfortable, secure, and largely unaccountable place in the upper few percent of a national and global economy characterized by stark disparities in wealth. And why should we want to do that? (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear power19 Oct 2009 01:54 pm

Andrew Lichterman

Together with M.V. Ramana, I have written a short retrospective on the U.S.-India nuclear deal, drawing in part in commentary that appeared previously here. A pdf of the piece is available at the link below.

The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal: Violating Norms, Terminating Futures

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest24 Sep 2009 06:50 pm

Andrew Lichterman

On September 12, I gave a talk at the Alameda Public Affairs Forum in Alameda, California. The talk covered the current flurry of enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament among U.S. national security elites, including the Obama administration’s recent initiatives, and my view of their significance for disarmament progress. I attempted to put these initiatives in the context of the ongoing global economic crisis, noting that the current circumstances resemble in some ways those that have brought wars among major powers in the past. Yet most discussion of disarmament issues ignores the fact that even the more optimistic proposals for disarmament do not offer realistic strategies for reducing nuclear arsenals below civilization-destroying levels for decades or more, while the dynamics potentially driving towards great power conflict may be on a much shorter time line. I also addressed the single-issue, increasingly professionalized NGO advocacy that is dominant in arms control and disarmament work (and in work on other issues as well), and its roots in a broader set of assumptions and entrenched institutional patterns that prevent systematic discussion of the forces that drive war and conflict, and that make it difficult to move beyond single-issue advocacy to the broader social movements necessary to make meaningful progress towards nuclear disarmament.

The talk can be heard in its entirety by clicking the link below.

Andrew Lichterman, talk at the Alameda Public Affairs Forum, September 12, 2009.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Social movements and protest07 Aug 2009 07:19 pm

Andrew Lichterman

On August 6, I spoke outside the fence at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the main U.S. nuclear weapons labs, at a commemoration of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. I received many requests for copies of my talk–which at that point consisted of pages of notes and quotes. I have reduced it to a text which should be fairly close to the talk as delivered. A pdf of that talk can be found by clicking here.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Nuclear power26 Jul 2009 05:51 pm

By Andrew Lichterman

This spring, powerful politicians joined U.S. Department of Energy officials and nuclear scientists to celebrate the dedication of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s most powerful laser. The dedication was part of a well-orchestrated PR campaign aimed at sustaining support in hard economic times for the huge laser fusion project. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed the multi-billion dollar project as having “the potential to revolutionize our energy future,” opening the way to new nuclear plants that can “generate an endless amount of megawatts of carbon-free power.” Thomas Friedman of the New York Times flacked the NIF in a column headlined “The next really cool thing,” describing it as a possible “holy cow game-changer.”

Despite the hoopla over this century’s version of “energy too cheap to meter,” the NIF is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — a nuclear weapons design lab. NIF’s main purpose is to conduct nuclear weapons-related experiments. A 2000 Government Accountability Office study estimated that 85 percent of NIF’s experiments would be for nuclear weapons physics. NIF’s role in weapons work is controversial, with many independent experts believing it to have little relevance for maintaining the well-understood designs of weapons in a nuclear arsenal that the United States is legally obligated to eliminate under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. NIF’s advocates mainly are those who believe that the United States will need to keep nuclear weapons for decades to come.

Viewed as an energy project, NIF is a monument to a vision of the future that is firmly rooted in the past. It conjures images from science-fiction magazine covers of the 1950’s, of monolithic nuclear plants dominating a rectilinear landscape of factory-farmed fields, with transmission lines marching off to high-rise cities built without regard to the costs or effects of the energy they consume. But wait — that future looks a lot like our present — and it isn’t working. The pursuit of unlimited growth powered by unlimited energy has resulted in a society that is ecologically unsustainable, armed to the teeth, and that has levels of economic inequality that resemble those of 19th century robber-baron-style capitalism. Fission nuclear energy has proved far more technologically challenging, risky, and expensive than anticipated, and remains linked to the capacity to make nuclear weapons. Fusion too was viewed optimistically in the 1950’s, with some leading scientists then predicting controlled fusion energy within two decades. But the physics, engineering, and economic challenges of fusion energy dwarf those posed by fission power.

A half century later, fusion power remains a distant, and very expensive, dream. Even if it proves workable, commercial deployment is at best many decades away, and hence unlikely to provide a significant contribution to solving problems posed by diminishing fossil fuel supplies and climate change caused by burning them. And despite being sold as a more “proliferation resistant” nuclear energy technology because it does not require uranium or plutonium fuel, any country that is capable of building and operating inertial confinement fusion-based power facilities likely will have the know-how to build and deploy hydrogen bombs. By any stretch of the imagination, it will be a capital-intensive, high-risk energy path, requiring as well extensive — and expensive — environmental controls and security throughout its fuel, power, and waste cycle.

Rather than gambling on a future powered by unknown physics and unproven technologies, we should be investing in what we already know about physics and technology. It will cost tens of billions of dollars to find out if fusion electricity generation will work, and hundreds of billions more to deploy it in significant quantities. Our energy dilemmas can be solved more quickly and safely by reducing the work that energy does — moving people and things less far, less frequently, in larger capacity vehicles, designing our buildings so they can be heated and cooled more easily, and growing our food closer to where it is eaten, in ways that stay within nature’s energy cycles rather than depending on industrial inputs from afar. At the same time, we can pursue renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power that can be deployed in smaller increments, crafted to fit this less fragile and more sustainable development path.

Ultimately, our goal must be to end the endless pursuit of more, to build a society where we no longer chase bigger homes stuffed with more toys, but instead value a life lived in balance with the world we all share. Doing so is the only path to fairly sharing the risks of the difficult energy and economic transitions humanity now faces. With global tensions driven by economic inequality and resource competition on the rise, it also is central to the task of ridding ourselves of the world-destroying weapons that both NIF and the pursuit of endless power help sustain.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.07 Apr 2009 10:48 pm

Andrew Lichterman

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

The headlines tell us that President Obama is committed to working towards a nuclear weapons-free world. As is always the case in such matters, we would do well to look at the fine print. We should not expect that the United States, or any other country, will give up its nuclear weapons anytime soon. “This goal,” Obama tells us, “will not be reached quickly–perhaps not in my lifetime.” Further, he says, so long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will maintain an “effective arsenal to deter any adversary.” In this, the justification for nuclear weapons remains the same: the elites of every nuclear-armed country always have insisted that nuclear weapons are only for “deterrence.” With enough nuclear weapons still in existence to destroy civilization and to damage irreparably all life on earth, its time to take a closer look at “deterrence.”

In significant ways, the discourse of nuclear “deterrence” resembles the discourse of torture. We can understand this parallel better if we substitute the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” for “torture,” as the Bush regime attempted to do (with some success, as manifested in widespread use of the term, often without criticism, in the mainstream news media).

The difference is that the success of those in power at placing the notion of “deterrence” at the core of nuclear weapons discourse has been far greater than the Bush regime’s effort to place the notion of “enhanced interrogation” at the center of discourse about torture. This is likely so because torture has existed for a very long time across a vast range of human experience, and hence is a well-known and relatively well-understood horror–opaque only to those in populations that have not in living memory been on the receiving end of it. Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, still are a new part of the collective human story, and were created and remain closeted still within powerful, secretive, institutions. Hence their perceived character and meaning have been subject to planful manipulation from the very moment of their creation. Elite efforts to define nuclear weapons–and to limit permissible meanings we may give to them–have been so successful that we have no easily available alternative to “deterrence.” We don’t even have our own word for the permanent presence of nuclear weapons in our lives.

So we must first solve the equation: “enhanced interrogation techniques” is to “torture” as “deterrence” is to “_______.” The horrors of nuclear weapons use are so great that it is hard to come up with an appropriate phrase. Constant threat of genocide and ecocide? (too clinical, lacks the deep reference in the concretely rooted collective imaginary of “torture”). “Hell on earth?” (Too abstract and theological, also completely omits the element of human intention that is at the core of whatever the permanent, constant brandishing of nuclear weapons by largely unaccountable elites for decades on end really means).

We can find our starting point, perhaps, in clues that suggest my analogy is appropriate. The intention of the Bush regime’s rhetorical move–calling torture “enhanced interrogation”–was to encapsulate the justification for an inherently awful, degrading, and unjustifiable practice in its new name. If this “move” is successful, then the purpose, the intention, behind torture will simply be assumed, rather than discussed. The “purpose” of “enhanced interrogation” obviously is to “obtain information.” Once this is accepted, the metaphorical battle is quite nearly won. And if the “information” to be obtained can be portrayed as essential to “national security” (another self-justifying phrase in great need of disaggregating), the battle is virtually over.

So too with “deterrence.” The word itself presumes not attack, but defense. It is implicitly passive, unless one linguistically and politically disaggregates it to reveal its terrorist roots. And if one accepts that the purpose of nuclear weapons is only to defend against attack, the purposes of nuclear weapons (and the intentions of those who control them) are already assumed, and assumed to be in the general interest of the nation-state that “possesses” the nuclear weapons. The only question left is whether deterrence “works,” and actually makes a country or the world (again assuming without scrutiny or debate that everyone has the same interests) “safer.” Here too, if this rhetorical move is successful, the argument is nearly over, and readily subject to pacification (another neologism whose real meaning is its opposite) via traditional rhetorical moves and tools of the powerful: deployment of legions of experts claiming privileged access to knowledges too complex and obscure for ordinary folk to understand and to secret “information,” and if necessary attacks on the “patriotism” of any who nonetheless persist in raising questions. (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear power22 Sep 2008 02:25 pm

Andrew Lichterman

With the collapse of the Nehruvian paradigm, consisting of democracy, secularism, non-alignment and “socialism,” the top ten to fifteen percent of Indians, the upper-crust of society, have set their face against the rest, especially the poor. Culturally, economically, and politically, they are closer to Northern elites and their own kin in North America and Europe. Strongly influenced by social-Darwinist ideas, they see the poor as a drag on “their” India. They want a shortcut to high global stature. What better route than the military one? Greatness here is defined purely in terms of power untempered by civilized conduct or compassion. Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, New Nukes: India, Pakistan, and Global Nuclear Disarmament (New York: Interlink Books, 2000), p.136.

Last summer, the Bush Administration completed an agreement with India, initially negotiated in 2005, that would allow expanded trade in nuclear fuel and technology. It is now before Congress. If approved, the deal could allow India to expand its nuclear arsenal more easily by using scarce domestic uranium for weapons production while buying fuel for its power reactors on the international market. It will also undermine an already shaky Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty(NPT) regime by giving a country that developed nuclear weapons outside the Treaty the benefits of international nuclear trade. In general, the deal reinforces the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and weakens global rule of law, as the United States, the world’s leading military power and a country that ignores its own NPT obligations to negotiate for the elimination of its nuclear arsenal, also claims the right to choose which countries are sufficiently “responsible” to have both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

In addition, the U.S.-India nuclear deal is an effort by elites in both countries to bolster nuclear energy programs that long have been unable to fulfill the promises made by their advocates of cheap, reliable nuclear-generated electricity. The risks posed by nuclear accidents and long-term storage of highly radioactive spent fuel remain unsolved. Expanded energy production and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be accomplished more flexibly and in a way that serves a broader spectrum of India’s population via the development of a variety of decentralized renewable energy technologies. Trade and investment in such technologies also would benefit the United States, helping to accelerate the development and use of renewable energy here as well.

Neither the press nor most U.S. arms control analysts have paid much attention to the broader changes in the U.S.-India relationship that elites in both countries are seeking, each with an eye to maximizing their own wealth and power. The 2006 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review declared that “India is emerging as a great power and a key strategic partner.” U.S. Military planners envision India as a possible forward base for operations from South Asia to the Middle East, and perhaps as a junior partner in those operations as well. Arms makers see huge potential profit from increased arms sales, with India being one of the world’s largest importers of high-tech weapons. U.S.-based multinationals are gearing up for expansion into India, hoping to use the enhanced “security” partnership as a wedge to further open India to foreign investment and sales, not only in nuclear technology and services but in everything from banking to food and agriculture to big box retail stores.

The ambitions of elites in the two countries to strengthen an array of military and economic ties is reflected in the set of initiatives announced by U.S. President Bush And India’s Prime Minister Singh in July 2005 together with the agreement in principle on nuclear trade and cooperation. A few weeks earlier, the two countries had agreed to a “New Framework for the U.S.–India Defense Relationship.” The “New Framework” called for increased military cooperation across a wide range of activities, from joint exercises and intelligence exchanges to increased weapons trade to collaboration in missile defense development. The July 2005 agreements also established a “CEO Forum” to “harness private sector energy and ideas to deepen the bilateral economic relationship,” an agreement for closer cooperation in space technology and commercial space activities and a “Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture.” The U.S. private sector members of the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative governing board are Archer Daniels Midland, a diversified giant that takes agricultural products from the world over and turns them into commodities ranging from processed foods to biofuels and industrial chemicals, Biotech giant Monsanto, and Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer.

A significant part of the CEO Forum’s agenda is to greatly expand the degree to which foreign banking and financial services companies can do business in India. This position was duly echoed by the U.S. government, with a Treasury Department fact sheet stating that

the development of the financial sector and trade in financial services will play a key role in promoting private-sector led growth and economic stability in India. Opening the financial sector to foreign participation would make additional long-term financing available for infrastructure development.

In light of the spiraling collapse of the U.S. financial sector, the notion that opening India to its particular brand of radically deregulated, short-term profit-driven “financial services” will promote “economic stability” is dubious at best.

The socioeconomic impact of these proposed new arrangements–how they will affect the mass of the populations in India, the United States, and world-wide–remain almost entirely outside the ambit of U.S. discussion of the nuclear deal, although they have not escaped the notice of commentators in South Asia. The effect of the U.S.-India deal–or deals–will be to bind India to a development path favorable to particular elements in the U.S. political and economic elite, and to their Indian counterparts. In this future, India’s development will center on production of goods and services that serve global supply chains controlled by multi-national corporations. In addition to consumer goods and export crops that are mass commodities available to many in a few wealthy countries, but are luxury items available only to a fraction of the world’s population as a whole, there will be further expansion of “service industries” such as back-office corporate operations ranging from call centers to billing and information technology support. Also part of this global circuit of trade and investment are armaments and the capital goods, and engineering and construction services necessary to build new infrastructure to sustain components of these global production chains in “underdeveloped” regions. Increased U.S.-India trade and cooperation in high tech weapons, space, and nuclear technology will reinforce this pattern, producing few jobs for those below the top 20% of either country in income and little development that benefits the majority of the population in either country, further increasing wealth disparities, and consolidating the power of narrow elites in both states.

Nuclear technology is a prototypic element of this global system–and in the future envisioned by the elites of many countries is poised to become more important as supplies of fossil fuels are depleted. Producing energy in large, expensive centralized facilities, nuclear power is most useful for serving the emerging production and service centers of the global corporate capitalist metropole. It has far less promise, however, for improving living conditions among the many hundreds of millions of rural poor in India and world wide who neither can afford to buy much that global corporations have to offer nor are likely to be served by centrally-generated electricity anytime soon.

Only the nuclear cooperation deal itself is before Congress this week. But its purpose and likely effects need to be reevaluated in light of the mounting evidence that the dominant neoliberal global development model–which the set of U.S. India deals reached in recent years largely are designed to promote and enforce–is a disaster, leading to a global economic typhoon that capsizes all but the sturdiest boats rather than raising them.

The Bush administration is trying to push approval of this complex and important matter through Congress in the few days left before its session ends on September 26 (although the Congressional session could be extended). Unfortunately, the Democratic Party congressional leadership seems inclined to rubber stamp the deal, despite the lack of time for study or debate in the closing days of a session dominated by a financial crisis of historic proportions. This is a bad deal for most people in the U.S. and India, and likely for the rest of the world as well. At the very least, it deserves extensive, well publicized discussion before going forward.

For more information on the U.S.-India nuclear deal and the broader energy and security context, see

Rushing into the Wrong Future: The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Energy and Security, by Andrew Lichterman of the Western States Legal Foundation, Oakland, California, and M.V. Ramana of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore, India.

For more detail on the nuclear weapons proliferation impacts of the agreement, see the commentary and resources provided by the Arms Control Association.

And for more in-depth background:

Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana, “Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2006

Aspects of India’s Economy No.41, ‘Global Power’, Client State: India’s Place in the US Strategic Order

Achin Vanaik, “Post cold war Indian foreign policy,” Seminar web edition #581 January 2008

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global20 May 2007 04:46 pm

Ray Acheson

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is notorious for evoking frustration, rage, and despair among the members of civil society and the diplomatic community. Mandated to negotiate multilateral disarmament treaties (the only standing body that can do so), it hasn’t even agreed on a program of work for over ten years. It operates on consensus, meaning all 65 member states have to be in agreement for anything to happen. Every year the disarmament community gears up for another round of deliberations, hoping this year is the year that the stalemate will end and the deadlock will be broken. However, some of the major military powers continuously block the creation of new global security arrangements, choosing further military development over arms control, disarmament, and security.

There has been a long-standing dispute in the CD among the five (recognized) nuclear weapon states over the issues on the CD’s table: a fissile materials ban, prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), nuclear disarmament, and negative security assurances. The US wants to begin negotiations on a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), but until this year has refused to allow substantive discussions on outer space (it is now willing to allow discussions on PAROS in the CD, without reference to the possibility of an agreement). China maintains the opposite position. While it actively promotes an international legal agreement on PAROS, it has been cautious and even hostile towards an FMCT.

On 23 March 2007, the six presidents of the CD put forward a proposal of work and a draft decision. The draft decision is a package approach (it includes action on all four issues simultaneously), it is carefully worded, and it accommodates conflicting priorities among member states. However, China (and a few other states) began making noise immediately, stalling the Conference from taking a decision on the proposal by arguing they needed more time to consult with their capitals. The first session of 2007 ended without a decision, and when the CD reconvened on 15 May, several states, including China, maintained they still needed more time to decide if they can accept the proposal.

Without intending to ignore the other states responsible for the delay, it is important to note that China’s response to the draft proposal in particular is reflective of the major problems facing all attempts to negotiate or even discuss disarmament measures: hyper-militarism among the major powers, and the capacity for geostrategic concerns to impede progress in negotiating treaties that could actually help shift the (im)balance.

Of the five nuclear weapon states, China has the least amount of fissile material stocks; if its production were banned, it would never be able to catch up to the other states. China’s objection to this appears, at first glance, rather ironic, considering China is the only nuclear weapon state that regularly calls for nuclear disarmament in its official statements at the United Nations. This concern, however, is determined by the parameters of power in the international community, which are currently set by the US, its foreign policy, and its quest for a “prompt global strike” capacity. It wants its military to be able to “hit targets anywhere on earth in an hour or two,” giving it unprecedented (and unmatched) dominance over the world’s affairs. In this context, China and other major and emerging powers believe they are faced with a choice: acquiesce, or keep up. Meanwhile, the US carefully makes strategic alliances with some of these powers that create the impression of further insecurity for others. For example, the US and India signed an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation that, if approved by US Congress, will allow India to import foreign uranium for its civilian programme while using more of its indigenous uranium to make nuclear weapons. The agreement undermines every international non-proliferation agreement and resolution, and of course, makes China and Pakistan nervous.


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