California’s Nuclear Nexus
In early 2007 four honored Cold Warriors published what appeared to be an unlikely op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) calling for a “world free of nuclear weapons.” The essay was signed by none other than the former Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William S. Perry, and former Georgia Senator and long-time Chair of the Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn. Now referred to as the “the four horsemen” by those who work on nuclear policy, they wrote that complete nuclear disarmament is “a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage.” The essay implored international leaders to work “energetically on the actions required to achieve” the lofty goals outlined within.
Reaction to the op-ed was swift and far-reaching. Within a year, it was endorsed by more than two-thirds of living former U.S. secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, and national security advisors. During the 2008 election season, John McCain and Barack Obama both joined the chorus with verbal nods to the WSJ essay. Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, called for the new president to convene a conference at the White House Rose Garden featuring Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn, so that “Americans can see at first hand the face of a new consensus.” This last piece of advice was dutifully accepted earlier this year.
But what does this supposedly new “consensus” actually entail? The novelty of such a hawkish and bipartisan coalition led by the four horsemen, ostensibly promoting the goal of nuclear disarmament, has curiously been spared critical reflection by long-time anti-nuclear activists. Indeed, many of the more established arms control, disarmament, and peace organizations—including groups as diverse as Peace Action, the Arms Control Association—have fallen over themselves with eagerness to cite the WSJ essay and the supposedly new political terrain it maps out.
Obama with the “four horsemen”: Henry Kissinger, George Schulz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn
Beneath its enticing veneer of humanitarian concern for “future generations,” critics of Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn say their work reflects a pragmatic strategy to maintain U.S. military and economic dominance well into the 21st century, resulting in the formation of a new intellectual paradigm perhaps best described as “anti-nuclear imperialism.” Dissident anti-nuclear organizers have begun warning their colleagues that association with this campaign may be counterproductive, that the politics at play may prove duplicitous. Far from embodying the spirit of nuclear abolitionism with its inherent link to wider anti-militarist and environmentalist goals, many have begun to see this strategy as a clever new kind of nuclear militarism. Others identify it as a variant of the rationalizations used by pro-nuclear forces to secure increased funding for their labs and facilities since the end of the Cold War.
Managing the Weapons Labs
This disarmament campaign is best understood within the historic context of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where it was incubated during conferences in 2006 and 2007. For roughly four decades, this influential right-wing think tank has enjoyed a little-known, but fateful administrative and political affiliation with the U.S. nuclear weapons complex operated partly by a sister college across the Bay, the University of California (UC). The link between Hoover and the nation’s two primary nuclear weapons labs—managed by a UC- and Bechtel-led consortium—provides a revealing window into the inner-workings of U.S. nuclear policy-making, a secretive process driven by a handful of elite think tanks and powerful multi-national firms, working in conjunction with the nuclear weapons labs at Los Alamos, New Mexico and Livermore, California.
The University of California has managed the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories since their inceptions in the mid-20th century. Together, these facilities have researched, designed, and tested every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The arrangement has provided the U.S. nuclear enterprise with access to the unparalleled intellectual resources of the world’s largest public university system, including a steady stream of student recruits and constant infusions of academic legitimacy. For their part, the UC’s powerful Board of Regents has had the opportunity to administer the political economy of U.S. nuclear weapons development, with all the political and financial benefits that position entails.
In 2003, the UC’s six-decade nuclear development monopoly came under threat. Following a series of revelations concerning security violations and managerial corruption at the labs, combined with the contemporary trend of privatization of federal government contract operations, the U.S. Department of Energy—the facilities’ landlord—put the lucrative management contracts up for bid. The competition included a formidable consortium: the University of Texas plus Lockheed Martin, together with several other military-industrial firms and universities.
In response, the UC formed a limited liability corporation (LLC) with the Bechtel Corporation, which in addition to its unparalleled role in the development of the nuclear power industry across the United States and around the world, currently holds or has held management and operations contracts with the DOE at eight or more of the installations which comprise the primary nodes of the national nuclear weapons complex. The UC-Bechtel corporate partnership beat out UT-Lockheed to receive a 20-year contract to manage the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), under which they stand to receive roughly $40 billion in revenue and as much as $360 million in profits. Two years later, a separate UC-Bechtel limited liability corporation was awarded a nearly identical Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) management contract.
Bechtel has deep links within the University of California. A science hall on the Berkeley campus is named after Stephen Bechtel, Jr., who, with John McCone, built the company into a transnational giant with federal contracts during World War II. The company’s executives have always enjoyed influence with the UC Regents. The UC and Bechtel’s respective leadership in nuclear research and weaponry, and nuclear energy and waste, have made them natural partners for over half a century.
Stanford’s Hoover Institution
Bechtel may have even closer ties to Stanford University and its Hoover Institution. Hoover’s Board of Trustees includes current CEO Riley Bechtel. One of the major sources of Bechtel’s staggering reach and influence has been the career of its former president and current “senior advisor,” George Shultz. Best known as secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, Shultz is now a Hoover Institution senior fellow.
Although he has now styled himself as a leading voice of nuclear disarmament, Shultz spent the better part of his private sector career as a member of what journalist Mark Hertsgaard has called “the nuclear brotherhood.” During his eight-year presidency of Bechtel, the company was the undisputed world heavyweight champion in proliferating the nuclear materials, infrastructure, and technology essential for the development of nuclear weapons. The Bechtel Corporation has estimated that it “has designed and built more nuclear plants and worked on more restarts than any other engineering and construction company in the world,” and “has provided engineering, construction, or management for 88 of 103 U.S. nuclear power units.”
Links between Bechtel, UC, Hoover, and the weapons labs go deeper. The boards of directors of both LLCs formed to manage the labs under the new contracts include not only executives at the UC and Bechtel, but also a pair of Hoover Institution senior fellows who work closely with Shultz: William Perry and Sidney Drell.
According to Manuel Garcia, Jr., a plasma physicist who recently retired after three decades at the Lawrence Livermore Lab, it is no coincidence that the same Hooverites now promoting “a world free of nuclear weapons” simultaneously direct the pair of institutions—LANL and LLNL—arguably most invested in forging a stable and enduring role for nuclear weapons. Garcia and others believe that “the new ‘nuclear weapons-zero’ evangelism at the Hoover Institution is another in a long line of carefully crafted excuses to keep open the pipeline from the U.S. Treasury to the nuclear weapons intelligentsia subsidy, and particularly its California contingent.”
A California Story
The codified UC-Bechtel-Hoover management nexus embodied in the new management contracts formalizes a political and economic alliance that has taken shape for several decades. During Ronald Reagan’s terms as California governor from 1967-1975, the management of the UC laboratories became increasingly integrated with the directorship of the Hoover Institution. Among Reagan’s handful of appointees to the UC Regents were Hoover Director W. Glenn Campbell and defense sector titan Dean Watkins, a two-time chair of the Hoover Institution’s board.
For more than two decades, these hawkish industrialists were among a small cadre of men who made every big decision affecting the UC’s nuclear weapons lab contracts. Campbell and Watkins partnered with the LLNL and LANL directors to influence a variety of large policy issues bearing on the Cold War arms race, while in turn giving them political cover during various internal struggles at the labs. In particular, that meant a close working relationship with one of Livermore Lab’s co-founders, the UC physicist Edward Teller, known to many as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” Teller was given immense support by these UC and Stanford overseers, as a professor of physics, a Livermore Lab executive, a Hoover fellow, and an adviser to president Reagan.
Professor emeritus of physics at UC Berkeley Charles Schwartz often raised Teller’s ire by opposing UC’s role in nuclear weapons development from within the University. According to Schwartz, Teller was a guardian of the UC-Stanford-Labs relationship and all of the U.S. policies this nexus fomented. “When considering the UC Regents and the Hoover Institution,” says Schwartz, “you cannot overlook Edward Teller as a prime link over a long time.” Upon his retirement from UC in 1975, Teller moved to Palo Alto and became a “distinguished fellow” at Hoover. Teller’s protégé, the Livermore and UCLA weapons designer Lowell Wood, also received a Hoover fellowship. Joining with the Institution’s roster of eminent conservative economists and political scientists, they provided technocratic muscle to the hyper-militarized and neo-liberal economic policy proposals being churned out.
The LLNL: magnetic coil fusion experiments (top); High Explosives Applications Facility firing tank (middle); National Iginition Facility lasers (bottom)
Throughout the latter part of the 1970s, Teller, Wood, and other Hooverite intellectuals worked to establish a bold new program of support for the weapons labs and, by extension, the entire nuclear arms industry. What emerged was the highly controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Teller’s role in garnering Reagan’s support for the program, better known as “Star Wars,” is well-documented. As Manuel Garcia, Jr., recounted, “Teller whispered sweet nothings into Reagan’s ear, and the echoes in that cavity were so garbled, they emerged as Strategic Defense Initiative; and Livermore was going to hand over an X-ray laser that could shoot down Ruskie missiles.” SDI is important because it embodies some of the same political and economic functions as the new “world free of nuclear weapons” rhetoric. SDI was defended by the Reagan administration as a “shield” against attack, a defensive mechanism to make the world safer and nuclear weapons obsolete.
It was, at least in the sales pitch, an antinuclear initiative. That it was created by nuclear believers within the UC labs and Hoover Institution reveals its double function; it was designed to satiate and disempower the movement for nuclear abolition by seizing the moral high ground from under them, while simultaneously providing huge long-term flows of funding to Los Alamos and Livermore Labs and military industrial corporations to experiment with new space-based weapons systems.
Even George Shultz, who came straight into the Reagan administration from the Bechtel Corporation and his academic base at Stanford, has noted Teller’s influence with Reagan. In his autobiography, Shultz describes learning from Teller of the briefing on “defense against nuclear attacks by using nuclear explosives” the physicist had given Reagan at Lawrence Livermore in 1967. “This may have become the first gleam in Ronald Reagan’s eye of what later became the Strategic Defense Initiative,” Shultz concludes.
But Teller was only one of several Hooverites who provided the policy gravitas to the overall Star Wars sales job. One of the Institution’s fellows, Stefan Possony, is widely credited as the intellectual father of the SDI. His intellectual influence among weapons lab engineers is famous. Reagan’s national security advisor, Martin Anderson, had been a Hoover fellow since 1971, and was the first person to inform Reagan about Livermore’s laser program. Anderson toured NORAD with Reagan in 1979 and used the opportunity to shock the soon-to-be president with the notion that there was “no defense” against Soviet Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). A few days later, Anderson wrote his “Policy Memorandum No. 3″ for the Reagan campaign which advocated “develop[ing] a protective missile system,” much like SDI.
In his memoirs, Hoover Director and UC Regent Campbell recalls a key instance where the Institution brought to bear its influence on Reagan’s national security policies. After receiving a “distress call” from Edward Teller when the SDI was threatened by opposition from military higher-ups, Campbell promptly arranged a White House meeting with Reagan involving Teller, Anderson, Lowell Wood, Livermore Director John Nuckolls, himself, and a handful of Administration officials. “At the end of the meeting,” Campbell wrote, “we agreed that the president should be urged to proceed with SDI as fast as possible because of the Soviet threat.”
As if all this weren’t enough lobbying to ensure SDI’s form and function, George Keyworth, Reagan’s science advisor, drove the points home in his many briefings before the president. Keyworth came to the White House directly from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he was director of the physics division. He later sat on the board of the Hewlett-Packard Corporation, which had strong ties to Stanford and the Hoover Institution (co-founder David Packard enjoyed multiple stints as chair of the Hoover board of trustees).
While they may have believed in the SDI program, the people involved in this policy process were also clearly acting on imperatives beyond their concern with bolstering “national security.” The Star Wars program yielded an immediate funding bubble for California’s staggering constellation of military-industrial firms. UC Regent John Canaday’s Lockheed Aircraft Co., based in Los Angeles, was the biggest recipient of SDI dollars. Los Alamos Lab saw large funding increases and Lawrence Livermore’s budget soared to previously untold levels. UC Regent and Hoover trustee Dean Watkins’s Watkins-Johnson Co., based near Stanford, was also a primary Star Wars contractor.
“A Real Scientific Renaissance”
The greatest living link between past and present generations of U.S. national security scientists, from the initial development of atomic weapons to the still-emerging paradigm of anti-nuclear imperialism, is undoubtedly Sidney Drell. Drell partnered with Shultz in convening the “World Free of Nuclear Weapons”—also known as the “Reykjavik Revisited”—conferences at the Hoover Institution. A co-founder of the Stanford Linear Accelerator, one of the world’s pioneering high-energy physics facilities, Drell has been a national security advisor in every presidential administration since that of Dwight Eisenhower. In his own words, Drell describes himself as a non-ideological scientist, positioned at the mid-point between the opposing views of “the anti-nuclear extremists” and the “chicken little school” of the far-right. But to Charles Schwartz, a friend of Drell’s at Stanford, it is a dangerous delusion to believe that one could positively influence U.S. nuclear weapons policy by associating with those people and institutions most interested in and dependent upon forging a stable and profitable role for nuclear weapons.
“I remember reading one speech given by my old friend Sid Drell, in which he praised the Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s for doing something good, something which could return sensible experts like himself to influential positions within the nuclear establishment,” Schwartz recalled. “Well, someone once told me a remarkably self-reflective comment that [leader of the Manhattan Project] J. Robert Oppenheimer, made late in his life: ‘Because I was on the train, I thought it was headed in the right direction.’”
The end of the Cold War and the cessation of full-scale nuclear weapons testing by the U.S. in the early 1990s thrust the weapons labs into an intractable crisis almost overnight. Budgets steeply declined and plans for massive layoffs haunted the halls. Within this context, Drell became chair of the new University of California President’s Council on the National Laboratories, a body assigned to advise the UC Regents and the UC’s system-wide president on policy issues concerning Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Throughout those years, Drell worked closely with the weapons lab brain trust to devise a new rationale for sustaining, if not increasing, federal support for nuclear weapons development programs. Drell served on a pair of congressional panels that asserted the necessity of a highly sophisticated program to surveil the “safety and reliability” of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. He argued, in other words, that the program would guard against accidental nuclear detonations and deterioration of the weapons’ destructive power through “aging.” These studies helped pave the way for a program called Stockpile Stewardship, what long-time antinuclear organizer and executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation Jaqueline Cabasso has referred to as “essentially an anti-disarmament program.”
President Clinton and Sidney Drell
Initially, the weapons labs faced difficulties receiving an audience with the Clinton administration. Those difficulties were largely alleviated as soon as one of the Hoover Institution’s own, William Perry, co-author of the WSJ op-ed, became secretary of defense. Perry was perhaps the most pivotal advocate of Stockpile Stewardship within the Clinton administration’s inner-circle. A Stanford engineer, long-time defense industry executive, and veteran of the Carter administration, Perry had served as co-director of Drell’s arms control project at Stanford, the Center for International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), prior to joining the Clinton administration.
With Perry’s help, the weapons laboratories negotiated a quid pro quo deal with Clinton whereby Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore received $3 billion in annual funding toward development of a vast new array of supercomputers, coupled with flash X-ray and laser facilities so as to establish a new regime of “virtual” nuclear weapons testing. They also won a degree of independence from congressional and departmental oversight, allowing them to work on weapons programs and other novel military systems not necessarily approved or even known about beyond lab and military circles. Additionally, the labs secured support for frequent “sub-critical” nuclear tests—nuclear explosions involving as much as 3.3 pounds of plutonium per test, an amount just below that which is necessary to bring about a full-blown nuclear detonation—in Nevada as part of this Stockpile Stewardship testing regime. In return for the exorbitant support from the White House, the weapons labs leadership agreed not to oppose congressional ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
One analyst who devoted much of the 1990s to documenting and exposing the underlying agenda embodied in Stockpile Stewardship is Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group. Mello argues that, “The stewardship program provided the labs with guaranteed growth in funding and long-term employment stability. New and entirely artificial technological ‘challenges’ that had no technical connection with maintaining nuclear weapons were created to rationalize this new policy. Maintaining the vitality of this large enterprise became a goal in itself.”
Ultimately, the CTBT was voted down by Senate Republicans. By the time Perry left the Pentagon and returned to Stanford, though, the weapons labs’ annual budgets stood at nearly 1.5 times their Cold War average, adjusted for inflation. In May 1998, Drell could boast to a group of senior nuclear weapons lab scientists at a conference in Las Vegas, “It is not an exaggeration to say that the weapons labs are enjoying a real scientific renaissance.”
Again, just as with SDI, the utilization of mildly anti-nuclear rhetoric in some camps was responded to by the weapons labs and UC and Stanford associated policy wonks with judo-like political maneuvers to turn what at first appeared to be an historical opportunity to de-fund and de-legitimate nuclear weapons into an opportunity to secure larger budgets and to maintain the techno-scientific aura of power and secrecy surrounding the laboratories. Greg Mello, for his part, has recently argued that the renewed push for ratification of the CTBT is ill-timed and, as it did in the late 1990s, will provide pro-nuclear lobbies embedded and linked to the weapons labs with a powerful bargaining chip. “It is impossible to pass a clean CTBT ratification bill in the U.S.,” says Mello. “Such a notion is 14 years too late. Largely as a result of the last CTBT ‘deal,’ nuclear warhead budgets rose 89% here in real (inflation-corrected) terms between 1995 and 2005. If warhead budgets were $4.77 billion today as they were in FY1995 (in 2008 dollars), surely we would not be talking about all these upgrades, new factories, and so on.”
The Rise of Anti-Nuclear Imperialism
In recent years, the common thread among supporters of the Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, Nunn vision is a front-burning desire to legitimize U.S. action against alleged “rogue states” and to tighten control over what has, since the mid-1990s, been called the “nuclear black market.” An equally important front-burner goal is to provide financial and programmatic support to the weapons labs in order to sustain the U.S. capacity to design, test, and build new nuclear weapons. These practical agendas are more or less obscured behind the rhetorical agenda of disarmament.
Perry’s intellectual efforts to design an anti-nuclear imperial strategy has found expression through a collaborative project between Stanford and Harvard Universities called the Preventative Defense Project (PDP). Co-directed with Harvard political scientist Ashton Carter, the focus of the PDP, in its own words, is to “prevent the emergence of major new threats to the U.S.” In addition to articles and op-eds advocating U.S. military action against North Korea, alarmist tracts about rising China, and justifications of the recent U.S.-India agreement on nuclear technology exports, Perry and Carter have also promoted a U.S. policy leading toward future disarmament as the best means of facilitating what they believe is necessary U.S. military action against those nations they simplistically label as “bad guys.” In their 2003 essay “Good Nukes, Bad Nukes,” they call for ratification of the CTBT as a way to lock in a global nuclear status quo, while also justifying U.S. military strikes against would-be transgressors of this geopolitical order. “The treaty does have an impact even on ‘bad guys’ like Iraq, Iran and North Korea,” they write. “When the United States moves against such regimes, it does so with the support of the global opprobrium for nuclear weapons that the treaty enshrines.”
In 2002-03, George Shultz served as chair of the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, the political action group that drummed up support for the invasion by arguing, among other things, that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons development program. We are now aware of how fallacious this claim was, even if it was among the primary justifications for invading the country. Nevertheless, Bechtel Corporation has profited handsomely throughout the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, garnering a $2 billion “reconstruction” contract. With his help, the Committee worked closely with the office of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Rice has since returned to Stanford as a Hoover fellow.
Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have been closely involved for several years with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, a self-described “moderate” counterpart to the Hoover Institution on the Beltway, formerly affiliated with Georgetown University. Currently, Nunn is chair of the CSIS Board of Trustees. Both he and Kissinger have served for several years as 2 of the organization’s 13 counselors, the vast majority of whom are former cabinet-level national security officials.
Like Hoover, the CSIS has played a key if largely unnoticed role in shaping U.S. nuclear weapons policies in the last several decades. In recent years, its trustees and fellows have comprised a leading intellectual force in garnering support for U.S. action against Iran. While presidential administrations will come and go, the collection of policy elites active at think tanks like Hoover and the CSIS provide a sort of long-term continuity in U.S. national security policies.
During the early years of the Bush administration, Drell, Shultz, and their Hoover colleagues including former U.S. ambassador James Goodby also began sounding an urgent note about the possibility of a terrorist “dirty” nuke attack in the U.S. In 2003, Drell and Goodby published a book aimed at influencing U.S. foreign policy makers called The Gravest Danger: Nuclear Weapons, which they wrote in close collaboration with Shultz. By this point, the Hoover arms control experts were already working out some of the main elements of the “Hoover Plan.”
Schulz, Hoover Inst. memebers, and military officers meeting at Stanford in 2008
Three years later, the Hooverites used the 20th anniversary of the Reykjavik, Iceland summit where Ronald Reagan and Mikael Gorbachev nearly negotiated elimination of their entire nuclear stockpiles as an opportunity to summon leading national security intellectuals to a conference at the Hoover Institution. Drell explained the purpose of the conference, entitled “Implications of the Reykjavik Summit on its Twentieth Anniversary,” thusly: “With the spread of nuclear know-how and material, we are facing an increasing danger that the deadliest weapons ever invented will be acquired by ruthless national leaders or by suicidal terrorists.” That the main barrier to a successful agreement on nuclear abolition at Reykjavik had been Reagan’s refusal to forego the Strategic Defense Initiative at the behest of Edward Teller, and that this program was almost entirely a creation of the Hoover intelligentsia itself, was an irony apparently lost on those assembled.
With a flock of Hoover, CSIS, and other national security intellectuals on hand, the conference attendees agreed to endorse a platform designed to “reduce nuclear dangers.” At the event’s conclusion, Perry proposed a follow-up conference for one year later. The January 4, 2007 WSJ op-ed was derived from the initial conference. A follow-up op-ed appeared in the WSJ in January 2008. A February 2008 conference in Oslo, Norway entitled “Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” featured Shultz, Drell, and Goodby as the keynote speakers.
At the Expense of Other Countries
In now-declassified conversations with Richard Nixon, under whom he served as national security advisor, Kissinger said candidly that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was “made at the expense of other countries,” and thus should have little bearing on U.S. policies. It is this kind of realpolitik that has been inspiring the recent disarmament rhetoric of Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, Nunn, and others.
A litmus test for the sincerity of the four horsemen’s desire to pursue nuclear abolition occurred shortly after publication of their initial op-ed. Since 2005, the directors at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore had been promoting a program called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), which they hoped would take the place of Stockpile Stewardship as the raison d’etre of the nuclear weapons complex. Under the rubric of “replacing” existing nuclear warheads and enabling a quantitative reduction in the U.S. arsenal, the labs sought to develop a new model nuclear weapon, receive billions of dollars in funding for production infrastructure, and train cadres of weapons scientists for future careers in the nuclear enterprise.
Throughout the 2007-08 congressional debate over the RRW, Kissinger, Shultz, and Drell proved to be three of the most prominent advocates of the new nuclear weapons program. As congressional subcommittee hearings concerning the program were in full swing, Kissinger wrote in a letter to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), “Specifically, I believe that research and design of the RRW should continue and that the infrastructure to support our current program should be urgently strengthened.” In a joint letter to Domenici, Shultz and Perry wrote, “upgraded infrastructure is needed…to manufacture warheads of any design. This work should proceed since a robust infrastructure will be necessary at every phase of the process of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons.”
Jacqueline Cabasso explained the RRW’s short career, saying that in the context of other weapons labs programs for upgrading existing U.S. nuclear weapons technology, the RRW was geared toward developing an arsenal of “fewer but newer” nuclear bombs. It was not intended to facilitate any tangible form of nuclear disarmament, Cabasso notes. Critics say that RRW was one part of an ongoing, vast consolidation and modernization program occurring throughout the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, intended to be the primary means by which the complex might reproduce itself in the post-Cold War era. But the RRW is not the policy sine qua non of the WSJ op-ed’s authors.
That fitting distinction belongs to the treaty which has been longest sought and hardest fought by genuine anti-nuclear activists: the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In keeping with the spirit of Kissinger’s remark that the NPT was “made at the expense of other countries,” the CTBT—once assiduously advocated by the likes of Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein—has been rendered an unqualified instrument of U.S. military dominance, thanks to high-tech advances in the last 15 years at Los Alamos and Livermore. Due to advances in virtual and sub-critical nuclear weapons testing capacity, the U.S. policy-making establishment is now supportive of CTBT ratification.
According to Ray Acheson, a disarmament expert with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Reaching Critical Will project, “any post-colonial nation that pursues nuclear weapons, such as North Korea, must do so based on the tried-and-true path of setting off a nuclear detonation. But to do so under the CTBT would almost reflexively entail sanctions and military strikes.” Acheson and others point out that the “virtual testing” advances at the U.S. labs—particularly in the areas of flash-ray and laser technologies—provide it with an exclusive, high-tech route around the CTBT. The U.S. remains free to continue developing qualitatively new nuclear weapons, as it did in the case of the RRW, without violating the letter of the agreement.
One of the central elements of the virtual testing program would be the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore, an exorbitant effort to use 192 ultra high-powered laser beams to create controlled nuclear fusion reactions in hydrogen fuel pellets. To date, the NIF’s price tag has been upwards of $4 billion, making it among the most expensive science facilities of any kind in the world. Owing to a series of embarrassing delays and cost overruns, proposals to scrap the NIF entirely have repeatedly made their way before Congressional subcommittees, only for the controversial facility to survive each time intact.
Schwarzenegger & lasers at the LLNL
On November 9, 2008 George Shultz conducted a high-profile tour of the NIF with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, generating a photo op colored by the governor’s carefully crafted “green” credentials. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Schwarzenegger as saying, “This laser has many exciting applications. What’s most exciting about it is the potential to revolutionize our energy future.” Nowhere did the article mention the NIF’s critical role in the modernized nuclear weapons testing regime.
The timing of the publicity stunt could scarcely have been coincidental, say California-based antinuclear activists. Two days following the presidential election, it was a calculated defensive maneuver by the California nuclear nexus to help ensure that its nuclear weapons development subsidy continues to expand.
The Hoover Plan in the Obama Administration
It is not yet clear what the Obama administration’s plans for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex are. These appear to be largely dependent on the role that nuclear weapons will play in overall U.S. military strategy.
However, as was true during the Cold War, the pro-nuclear weapons lobby—seated to a considerable degree in California’s vast military-industrial-academic complex—is likely to exert a profound influence over U.S. foreign policy. So far, things seem to be going according to plan—the Hoover Plan.
The Obama administration’s secretary of energy, Stephen Chu, is a product of the UC national laboratory complex, having most recently served as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Chu built his career in physics at Stanford University, holding the department’s chair for six years. Chu is widely considered a political protégé of Sidney Drell and, from 2001-03, served with him on the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration advisory committee. Although Chu is unlikely to be an outright supporter of new nuclear weapons development, he is also unlikely to oppose the Hoover Plan’s overall vision. Notably, he is an enthusiastic supporter of new nuclear power development.
Another high-level Obama staffer whose work will directly influence the Administration’s nuclear weapons policies is Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a Stanford faculty member and CISAC scholar. Sherwood-Randall is a close associate of William Perry. Joining Sherwood-Randall to formulate nuclear policies is yet another Stanford faculty member, Michael McFaul. A Hoover Institution fellow, McFaul will serve as special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and senior director at the National Security Council. Obama’s national security advisor, James Jones, was a CSIS trustee along with Kissinger and Nunn.
Early this year, Kissinger made a trip to Russia on behalf of President Obama to engage President Medvedev and Vladimir Putin in possible U.S.-led arms control initiatives. It has been reported that George Shultz has played an important role in these highly secretive talks, which focus on the U.S.-Russia stockpiles, U.S. plans for missile defenses in Europe, and Iran. With the new Administration in office, Manuel Garcia, Jr. sees the Hoover Plan as having laid the groundwork for a massive new funding stream for the weapons labs: “The subsidy of the California nuclear weapons mob will now be sold as an important security program, of course, to put the people who know nuclear weapons technology best onto studying all the potentialities they can imagine for rogue nuclear offensives, and to devise surveillance means and countermeasures. On the side they would stockpile their warhead designs, just in case for later.”
According to Ray Acheson, the authors of the WSJ op-ed have succeeded in creating imitators among similarly esteemed statespeople in the UK, Italy, and Germany. “Their vision for a ‘nuclear weapon free world’ is constantly cited in multilateral fora like the UN General Assembly and the Conference on Disarmament. Most recently, Italy’s under-secretary of state for Foreign Affairs, addressing the Conference, called them ‘the four American wise men.’” Acheson worries that “this widespread endorsement of their ‘vision’ makes it even more difficult to press for a vision that is not rooted in major power hegemony and gives other nuclear weapon states an excuse to put off their own disarmament obligations to the very distant future.”
Voices like Mello, Garcia, Jr., Cabasso, and Acheson, whose commitments to nuclear abolition are grounded in a wider vision of global justice, are in the minority among those who currently endeavor to influence U.S. nuclear policies. “Regardless of whether the individual motivations of the four horsemen are sincere, their institutional loyalties and larger political agendas reflect a political economy that is not only fundamentally at odds with nuclear abolition, but are anathema to peace and justice,” says Acheson. “Ultimately, if the Hoover ‘no nukes’ initiative is to have any genuine value, it will be because it helps to reveal the political and ideological trappings of an entrenched power structure that has for too long avoided criticism and exposure, and has made end-runs around arms control activists whose naive best intentions are no-match for the calculated strategies of the weapons labs and their allies.”
Darwin BondGraham is a sociologist. Will Parrish is an independent scholar. Nicholas Robinson is a writer and organizer. All three are long-time anti-nuclear activists working in California and New Mexico.