Nuclear weapons--U.S.

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,” 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…)

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--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 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…)

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& U.S. military& Iraq war& War and law06 Oct 2008 09:34 am

John Burroughs

In the October 2 vice-presidential debate, moderator Gwen Ifill ventured into a crucial area rarely touched by regular media. She asked:

Governor, on another issue, interventionism, nuclear weapons. What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?

Sarah Palin responded:

Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.

Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that’s a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.

But for those countries — North Korea, also, under Kim Jong Il — we have got to make sure that we’re putting the economic sanctions on these countries and that we have friends and allies supporting us in this to make sure that leaders like Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad are not allowed to acquire, to proliferate, or to use those nuclear weapons. It is that important.

When it was his turn, Joseph Biden did not answer the question, instead referring to John McCain’s vote against ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1999, and to Barack Obama’s work on “keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.”

But Palin really did not answer the question either. She claimed that U.S. reliance on nuclear forces is “safe” and “stable” deterrence. One major question that comes to mind is whether Palin believes the eight other countries in the world with nuclear weapons also practice safe and stable deterrence. Her answer is no with respect to North Korea, and Biden also talked about the danger posed by Pakistan’s arsenal. That leaves six other countries (China, Russia, India, France, United Kingdom, Israel). Palin also said that “dangerous regimes,” Iran being one, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. But if deterrence works for the United States, why not for current nuclear have-nots?

More fundamental, though, and at the heart of the question posed by Ifill and not addressed by either Palin or Biden, is this: Deterrence is based on the will and capability to use nuclear weapons when deemed necessary. If you embrace deterrence, you embrace the possibility of use. Similarly, you can’t support the death penalty as a deterrent to horrendous crimes without supporting actual executions. Biden knows this. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed in June 2007 entitled “CSI: Nukes,” he stated that the “U.S. has long deterred a nuclear attack by states, by clearly and credibly threatening devastating retaliation.” He went on to argue that the United States should accelerate work on capabilities to trace the origin of fissile materials used in a terrorist nuclear attack, in order to be able to deter the country where the materials originate. He did not rule out U.S. use of nuclear weapons against such a country.

My organization, the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, this year released a statement, summarized here, that does answer Ifill’s question. In brief, the answer is it is never lawful, moral, or wise to use nuclear weapons, and therefore the United States should abandon the policy of deterrence premised on possible use and work hard for the global elimination of nuclear forces. We emphasize that nuclear use is incompatible with the present-day U.S. conduct of military operations in accordance (in the U.S. understanding) with legal requirements of necessity, proportionality, and discrimination. That is true in all the myriad circumstances (certainly not only in response to a nuclear attack) in which the United States holds out the option of use of nuclear weapons: preemptive or responsive use against biological and chemical as well as nuclear capabilities or attacks; in response to overwhelming conventional attacks; and even in response to “surprising” military developments.


Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space18 May 2007 11:46 pm

Trident missile launch from sea.

by Andrew Lichterman

On May 11, a National Academy of Sciences panel issued an interim letter report on equipping Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. provides an easy to download copy of the report here.

Congress requested that the NAS provide an analysis of conventional Trident in the conference report accompanying the 2007 Defense Appropriations Act. A final report from the NAS committee is scheduled to be issued in 2008. The reports are not limited to the conventional Trident proposal, but will “consider and recommend alternatives that meet the prompt global strike mission in the near-, mid-, and long-term.” The NAS panel recommended that research and testing of the conventional Trident should proceed with funding levels sufficient to keep the program on course to allow deployment in three to five years. It advised against full funding for production and deployment, because other “global strike” technologies also being researched may prove more promising in the long run, and because various technical and policy issues, including the danger that a conventional Trident might be mistaken for a nuclear launch, remain unresolved.

Despite some reservations about nuclear ambiguity and the relationship of new conventional long-range systems to nuclear arsenals, the NAS panel appeared enthusiastic about pushing ahead with a new generation of strategic weapons. It endorsed further exploration of a variety of other concepts, such as a new sea-launched global strike missile design, high speed cruise missiles, and hypersonic boost glide vehicles with intercontinental range. It concluded that “[t]he committee believes it is preferable to consider all proposed CPGS weapons as elements of a portfolio, one that needs balancing in terms of technical risk and time to deployment.”

These programs, intended to yield highly accurate delivery systems with global reach for conventional weapons, are proceeding with little public debate. Further, the barriers to using improved or new non-nuclear long-range delivery systems for nuclear weapons are largely made of paper. Buried in its discussion of the danger that a conventional long-range missile might be mistaken for a nuclear one, the NAS committee acknowledges this, stating that “[i]ndeed, the ambiguity between nuclear and conventional payloads can never be totally resolved, in that any of the means for delivery of a conventional warhead could be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.” [emphasis added]

U.S. research on new strategic weapons continues apace, with advances in delivery systems and in supporting technologies used to find and track targets and to guide weapons to them appearing more significant than anything (or at least anything publicly known) happening in nuclear warhead development programs. Yet most NGO arms control and disarmament work concerning U.S. strategic weapons programs remains focused on a narrow set of nuclear weapons design and production activities. Is it more likely that there will be some development in nuclear warheads as opposed to delivery systems that affects the nuclear strategic/political calculus–including everything from the level of U.S. military commitment to nuclear weapons to the way potential adversaries view U.S. capabilities and intentions to the likelihood of nuclear weapons use–in ways that adversely affect disarmament prospects? If new, more accurate delivery systems are developed that can be paired with existing nuclear weapons (perhaps with modifications) to destroy difficult targets that the majority of Congress members (and likely still a majority) repeatedly have voted to find ways to destroy, will Congress deny the military such capabilities? Why should we believe this? I have yet to see much of a discussion of such issues in the “arms control and disarmament community,” much less their implications for disarmament strategies. But perhaps I am not looking in the right places.

These questions, however, beg even larger and more important ones. How much do the details of all of this matter? If we believe that nuclear weapons are fundamentally immoral and that a global empire ultimately underwritten by weapons with global reach is fundamentally illegitimate, why do we allow ourselves to be caught up in debates about the minutiae of one or another weapons program? These are debates that those who hold long-term power usually win even when they appear to lose, the sci-tech-military-industrial complex leviathan surging inexorably on, growing insatiably regardless of whether we knock off a barnacle or two.

“You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.” Sven Lindqvist, “Exterminate all the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide (New York: The New Press, 1996), p.2

For more on the U.S. “Prompt global strike” programs, see the preceding entry, “Next generation strategic weapons and the possibility of arms races to come.”

Trident missile launch photo from U.S. Navy, Vision… Presence… Power: A Program Guide to the U.S. Navy - 2000 Edition

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Strategic weapons and space07 Apr 2007 11:45 am

by Andrew Lichterman

In its current budget request, the military is pushing ahead with its proposals for “prompt global strike,” a broad effort aimed at giving the United States the ability to hit targets anywhere on earth in an hour or two. In the near term, the military wants to deploy conventional warheads on Trident submarine launched ballistic missiles, taking advantage of accuracy improvements resulting from programs conducted in recent years that have received little public attention. In the current proposal, two missiles on each ballistic missile submarine would be conventionally armed. At the same time, the U.S. is exploring other technologies and weapons concepts, ranging from land-based missiles with accurate, maneuverable re-entry vehicles to hypersonic glide vehicles that could deliver a variety of weapons. Although the technologies that would be developed in the Global Strike program currently are slated to be used to deliver only conventional weapons, there is nothing, aside from current policy, to prevent them from being adapted for nuclear weapons delivery in the future, potentially resulting in significant increases in the capabilities of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Together with initiatives to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex and to design new warheads with the flexibility to be fitted to a variety of delivery systems, the pieces are being put in place for a renewed arms race in the 21st century, with the U.S. leading the way.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces subcommittee last week, high ranking military officers and administration officials insisted that the United States absolutely must have the ability to strike targets inside any country, anywhere, anytime, in short order. Rear Admiral Stephen Johnson, Director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs noted that the budget request “frontloaded the funding,” asking for $175 million for FY2008 in order to allow the Conventional Trident to be deployed by 2010. Statement of Rear Admiral Stephen Johnson, Director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 28, 2007, p.5. Johnson noted that considerable development and flight testing of technologies allowing the requisite accuracy already has been done:

“CTM [Conventional Trident] will use existing D5 missiles, MK4 reentry bodies equipped with aerodynamic controls, GPS-aided terminal guidance, and a conventional warhead. Advanced error-correcting reentry vehicles with GPS-aided Inertial Navigation Systems have been flight proven in a previous D5 test program. Total time from decision to weapons-on-target is about 1 hour. CTM technology can be rapidly developed and deployed within 24 months.” Johnson Statement, p.5

Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Commander James Cartwright lamented the lack of “the means to deliver prompt, precise, conventional kinetic effects at inter-continental ranges.” Statement of General James E. Cartwright Commander United States Strategic Command Before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, March 28, 2007, p.14. Neither Cartwright nor any other witness thought it relevant to mention that no other country has any such capability, or shows any signs of developing one). Cartwright noted that in addition to the Conventional Trident, the “Air Force Space Command is developing a promising concept for a CONUS [Continental United States] -launched conventional strike missile (CSM), which capitalizes on the maneuverability and precision-to-prompt-effects offered by maneuvering flight technology to produce effects at global distances.” (Id., pp.14-15). Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Capabilities Brian Green told the subcommittee that the Defense Department also “is considering other, longer-term solutions, both sea- and land-based, to broaden the portfolio of prompt, non-nuclear capabilities. The additional concepts include sea- and land-based conventional ballistic missiles and advanced technologies, such as hypersonic glide vehicles, employing precision guidance, advanced conventional weapons, and propulsion.” Statement of Mr. Brian R. Green Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Strategic Capabilities for The Senate Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee Hearing Regarding Global Strike Issues, March 28, 2007, p.8. Conventional Prompt Global Strike, Green concluded, “is critical to meeting evolving U.S. security needs in the 21st Century.” id. p.11.


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