Admittedly, "StratCom: The Most Dangerous Place on the Face of the Earth" sounded a bit over the top for the title of a conference. But by the time the participants caught their flights home from Omaha, Nebraska in April 2008, there wasn’t anybody disputing whether U.S. Strategic Command deserved the label.
Two hundred people from twelve countries and twenty-eight states gathered April 11-13 at the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space 16th Annual Space Organizing Conference to learn about this remote command in America’s heartland. The local sponsor, Nebraskans for Peace, who for years had been worried about what was going on in its own backyard, couldn’t have been more excited. There’d never been an international conference specifically addressing the transformation that’s taken place at StratCom. But then, until just recently, StratCom had never before represented the threat to the world that it does now.
From the moment George W. Bush was rushed to StratCom’s underground headquarters at Offutt AFB on 9/11, the U.S. nuclear command began to undergo what StratCom Commander General Kevin Chilton described as "not a sea-state change, but a tsunami of change" in its role and mission. In the years since 9/11, the command has seen its traditional and sole responsibility of maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent proliferate to include missions for space, cyberspace, reconnaissance, surveillance, missile defense, full spectrum global strike, information operations, and combating weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. Strategic Command
In the blink of a strategic eye, the command has gone from being something that was "never supposed to be used" (i.e., the doomsday machine) to "being used for everything." It’s gone from being putatively "defensive" to overtly "offensive" to, in the words of Nebraska activists, "Dr. Strangelove on steroids."
With eight missions under its belt, StratCom’s fingerprints are seemingly everywhere. Here’s a rundown:
- StratCom is authorized to attack any place on the planet in one hour—using either conventional or nuclear weapons—on the mere perception of a threat to America’s "national interests."
- StratCom, through its National Security Agency component, is regularly conducting the now-infamous "warrantless wiretaps" on unsuspecting U.S. citizens.
- StratCom installations include proposed missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
- StratCom is actively executing the Bush/Cheney administration’s expressed goal of the weapon- ization and "domination" of space. Its shoot-down of a falling satellite using its Missile Defense System demonstrated its anti-satellite capability.
- StratCom, in promoting the development of new generations of nuclear weapons (the so-called bunker-buster tactical nukes and the Reliable Replacement Warhead), is seeking American offensive nuclear capability.
- StratCom commands access to hundreds of military bases around the globe and all four military service branches, while working hand-in-glove with the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice.
- StratCom is poised to routinely violate international law with preemptive attacks and to usurp Congress’s constitutional authority to declare war under the War Powers Act.
Regina Hagen, of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, speaks at the conference—photo by Aural Duta
StratCom, says Chilton, is "the most responsive combatant command in the U.S. arsenal"—and the next war the White House gets us into will be planned, launched, and coordinated from StratCom. In fact, Chilton recently told Congress, he believes the name actually ought to be changed to "Global Command" to better reflect the "global" nature of its new role and mission.
This is the new StratCom that Nebraskans for Peace has watched materialize. This is the menace the Global Network sought to expose to the international public at its conference in Omaha this past April. While the media coverage of the conference was minimal, the word is neverthess starting to get out. Most of the people in attendance were activists, organizers, and academics from all across the country and around the world. Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation stressed that addressing StratCom’s global command will require a global response.
That sort of international commitment was already in evidence. While the speaker from Poland was prohibited from entering the U.S. by Homeland Security, Jan Tamas of the "No To Bases Initiative" in the Czech Republic tied the proposed Star Wars radar in his country to StratCom. From the title of his talk alone, "StratCom is the Main Threat to Peace in the Korean Peninsula," Ko Young-Dae, the representative from Solidarity for Peace and Reunification in Korea (SPARK), made it clear that he understood the connection to the Omaha command center. British activist Lindis Percy of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases, who regularly contends with StratCom’s presence in her homeland, sized it up with the expression "horrid StratCom." Similar sentiments were expressed by the German, Swedish, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Mauritian, Italian, Romanian, and Canadian participants.
The final keynote of the conference was delivered by Bishop Emeritus Thomas Gumbleton, who in the mid-1980s had committed civil disobedience at Offutt AFB when it was still the Strategic Air Command. Back then, all we had to fear—and it was plenty—was nuclear holocaust. Today, Gumbleton said, we now have to fear StratCom’s nuclear prowess and much more.
That greed for power had been the message of the conference’s first speaker, American Indian activist and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska member Frank LaMere. The city of Omaha, LaMere noted, was named after the Indian Tribe of the same name that had inhabited this area for centuries and still had a reservation north of the city. Never, LaMere said, had they ever imagined when the Omaha deeded their lands to the U.S. government that an instrument capable of destroying the earth would rest on their homeland.
The Omaha, he said, cannot stop what is happening by themselves. To stop what is happening at StratCom Americans will need, LaMere said, the help of all their relations around the world. So he was cheered, he said, to see all these people from around the world in Omaha. "That was good," he said, "But we need to act fast. Time is getting short."
A protest rally at Offutt Air Force Base started the three-day conference—photo by Aural Duta