Who decides our national and nuclear policy?
“(a) REQUIREMENT FOR COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW. “In order to clarify United States nuclear deterrence policy and strategy for the near term, the Secretary of Defense shall conduct a comprehensive review of the nuclear policy of the United States for the next 5 to 10 years.” So says Section 1070 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008. This clarification of our policy is to be prepared primarily by the Defense Department, in spite of its vested interest in the outcome. While the lives of millions of people worldwide could be affected by this policy, it is prepared by the people who make their living by maintaining, guarding and preparing nuclear weapons for use. The millions who could be incinerated by a nuclear exchange, the millions more who could be poisoned by the fallout and the millions more who could die of starvation in the ensuing nuclear winter, caused by the smoke and ash cloud darkening the Earth, none of these are consulted.
While we fully realize that the peace movement does not represent those millions any more than the generals and admirals who prepare the Nuclear Posture Review, we do have the advantage of having human survival as our only interest in the outcome. On the contrary, we have come to believe that nuclear weapons and all of the activities associated with them should be abolished. We also hope that our collective human experience can overcome to some degree the narrow perspective of those who spend their lives thinking about nuclear war and preparing for these suicidal events.
The Big Picture
One of the problems with these Reviews is that they fail to take into account the wider world beyond the weapons, their delivery systems and potential enemies. Today there are two great threats to the survival of humanity: an exchange of nuclear weapons and global warming. The inevitable proliferation of nuclear weapons, as more and more nations acquire nuclear reactors and the know-how to operate them, increases the dangers of a nuclear war. Recent research is quite clear that even a small nuclear exchange can produce a nuclear winter, devastating radioactive fallout, and permanent damage to the human gene pool.
Global warming is now causing fire, droughts, water shortages and the spread of deserts over agricultural land. The melting Arctic snow and ice is causing the oceans to rise and cover many coastal areas. The disappearing snow and glaciers of mountain areas allow runoff to create floods in the rainy season that are followed by drying rivers and droughts in many surrounding agricultural areas. The price of grain on international markets has been rising and the UN has found food emergencies in 32 nations last year. These effects are being felt with greater speed than was anticipated only two years ago. There is broad agreement among scientists that only by rapidly shifting away from fossil fuels to sustainable sources of energy will we be able to avoid far worse developments in the next few decades.
And, while all of this is happening, the U.S. is in the midst of an ongoing recession and is focused on a ground war on the other side of the Earth that is costing vast sums of money, resources and human lives.
We believe that these factors should play a role in the development of the nuclear posture of the United States. In fact, not to do so seems both irresponsible and immoral. Therefore we examine the required elements of the Nuclear Posture Review through the dual lenses of human survival and its effects on the American people. We do not challenge the military’s unequaled technical expertise, but offer an alternative view through our broader lenses.
“(b) ELEMENTS OF REVIEW. – The nuclear posture review shall include the following elements: (1) The role of nuclear forces in United States military strategy, planning, and programming.”
Under President Bush the role of nuclear forces was made central to our military strategy. Our Air Force has just reorganized its nuclear facilities into an integrated system called the Global Strike Command. It covers our intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers as well as the stock of nuclear weapons that they are poised to deliver. The stated purpose of the Global Strike Command is to deter (threaten) any place in the world and to be able to deliver a ‘strike’ anywhere on Earth.
Whether this makes us safer, or encourages the more than 180 nations without nuclear weapons to acquire their own is one of the basic questions of our time. How does this ability to annihilate others influence our “military strategy, planning, and programming?” We believe that the possession of this ability encourages a sense of invulnerable power that encourages military overreach. In actual fact, it is difficult to imagine any situation in which incinerating whole cities would advance our military, political or economic interests.
From the perspective of human survival, which we have introduced above, it is hard to imagine any situation in which nuclear weapons would increase the world supply of food and water, improve agricultural land or protect the gene pool. We therefore respectfully suggest that nuclear weapons be removed from our “military strategy, planning, and programming.” As for the deterrent effect, that is preventing attacks on our nation or its allies, we believe that our conventional weapons are a sufficient deterrent to any nation considering such an attack. As for irrational fanatics who might consider such an attack, we doubt that our nuclear weapons would prove any more of a deterrent in the future than they have in the past.
“(2)The policy requirements and objectives for the United States to maintain a safe, reliable, and credible nuclear deterrence posture.”
It is obvious from the wording of this section that it is based on the assumption that maintaining a “credible nuclear deterrence posture” is an unmitigated good. It doesn’t question the nuclear deterrence, it questions the “policy requirements and objectives” of our nation to maintain the current nuclear posture. It suggests that we should continue to tune our national policy and objectives around nuclear weapons. Has the maintenance of the weapon become more important (to the writer) than the nation and its people?
The answer to this section is that nuclear weapons are believed to be a magic shield behind which we can act in any manner we please. The objective is the dominance of the world. If we want to continue the failed Bush policy of aggression and conquest, then we should maintain nuclear deterrence. But we believe that the American people have already voted for change! The loss of life, of treasure and of a healthy economy that the Bush worldwide aggression has produced is not in the best interests of the American people.
“(3) The relationship among United States nuclear deterrence policy, targeting strategy, and arms control objectives.”
As our targeting is secret, we must assume that it is aimed at nations likely to threaten our nation or interests. As Russia has the largest number of warheads and the means to deliver them, we are likely targeted on their military bases and they are likely targeted on ours. This standoff costs us some $50 billion a year. It does nothing to slow global warming, or provide useful jobs or alternative sources of energy. It does not help us to persuade the Taliban to stop killing our troops. And maintaining our overwhelming deterrence makes real arms control almost impossible.
“(4) The role that missile defense capabilities and conventional strike forces play in determining the role and size of nuclear forces.”
Historically, all defense measures have been penetrated by new attack technology sooner or later. Our missile defense capabilities are so uncertain that we rely upon an overwhelming deterrent force to prevent an attack. We believe that missile defense in itself should do little to influence the role and size of our nuclear or conventional forces. We believe that all battlefield nuclear weapons should be dismantled, because their use could lead to a suicidal all-out nuclear war.
“(5) The levels and composition of the nuclear delivery systems that will be required for implementing the United States national and military strategy, including any plans for replacing or modifying existing systems.”
What is the United States national and military strategy?
This is the great question that has been hanging over our heads for a decade. If we continue the Bush policies of trying to dominate the Earth and control its petroleum resources through military might, there is probably no limit to the “levels and composition of the nuclear delivery systems that will be required for implementing” this strategy. The EU, Russia, China, India and Brazil all have their need for energy and other dwindling resources. We can continue with these energy resource wars until our nation and its people are exhausted. If we continue, the Air Force’s Global Strike Command could eventually prove useful.
On the other hand, if we decide to honor our nuclear disarmament obligations under the Non Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations and most world opinion, we must begin by reducing our weapons and their delivery systems now. What national strategy requires us to maintain the ability to incinerate whole cities in minutes? What known military strategy requires us to refurbish, as we are now doing, over 3,000 W76 nuclear warheads for our submarines?
Our need for nuclear delivery systems, ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines, is dependent on our national strategy. In a democracy the people should decide on the path that they want our nation to take — especially when their lives are at stake. The current free market strategy has given us cheap imported goods and vast unemployment. It does nothing to prepare our nation or the world for the imminent threat of climate change. What do we want?
“(6) The nuclear weapons complex that will be required for implementing the United States national and military strategy, including any plans to modernize or modify the complex.”
There are several proposals for developing new large scale facilities that would allow the United States to consolidate nuclear operations and eventually save money (after spending many billions.) It would also make it easier to fabricate new nuclear weapons, should the need arise. The complete “complex” is estimated to cost $250 billion. The need for the complex is based on the assumption that we will need nuclear weapons far into the future, when existing weapons may become unreliable. The 2010 budget contains money for some of these new buildings.
Obviously, if we live up to our nuclear disarmament obligations, or President Obama’s statements, we will not need the complex in any form. Even if it takes decades to negotiate and dismantle our current thousands of weapons, we will be protected by the W76 warheads, now being refurbished, that are carried on our submarine fleet. Considering our current, serious economic situation, the building of new unnecessary nuclear facilities must be regarded as a boondoggle.
“(7) The active and inactive nuclear weapons stockpile that will be required for implementing the United States national and military strategy, including any plans for replacing or modifying warheads.”
Again, we must ask, what is our national strategy? Are we serious about nuclear disarmament and what is our timetable? As of 2008 the U.S. had a total of over 4,000 active warheads of which 500 are tactical. The plans for replacing or modifying our warheads have been resisted by the U.S. Congress, because of uncertainties about our over-all nuclear strategy. One of the reasons for the Revised Nuclear Posture Review has been to evaluate the need for a Reliable Replacement Warhead even though nuclear scientists have assured us that our warheads are reliable for at least 100 years after assembly.
“(d) SENSE OF THE CONGRESS. – It is the sense of the Congress that the nuclear posture review conducted under this section should be used as a basis for establishing future United States arms control objectives and negotiating positions.”
We disagree. This nuclear review, prepared primarily by the Secretary of Defense, should not be the basis of future United States “arms control objectives and negotiating positions.” It is the responsibility of the Administration and the Congress to determine these objectives in relation to human survival, the world situation, and the needs of American people.
At this time, the dangers of increased proliferation of nuclear weapons to more nations has caused our own former hawks and other knowledgeable people around the world to come to the conclusion that everyone would be more secure if nuclear weapons were abolished. Furthermore, we now have a worldwide system of sensors that guarantee that any substantial nuclear explosion anywhere would instantly be known to all. Because it is almost impossible to ascertain the effectiveness of a nuclear weapon without testing, or extensive testing experience, these sensors greatly inhibit the ability of non-nuclear nations to acquire effective weapons.
Given the overwhelming superiority of our conventional forces, it is extremely unlikely that any nation will attempt to take advantage of our nuclear weapons reductions. Hence, we no longer need to maintain a huge credible nuclear deterrent posture in order to protect the people of the United States. As a result, the United States is in the best position to utilize the current political and technical situation to boldly begin the disarmament process.
Improving Our Weapons
There are those who will agree, while hoping that we will develop new and more powerful weapons to compensate for our reduced nuclear stockpile. This duality of purpose will not be lost on the other nuclear nations. It will defeat our efforts to get them to join our disarmament negotiations. The same is true of the missile defense system. While we are slowly improving its ability to stop incoming missiles, potential enemies are developing ways to jam our electronic systems and avoid our defensive missiles. The announced substitution of a new, layered defense for the abandoned Czech-Polish ‘shield’ in the Mediterranean contradicts our stated purpose of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. Before paying for this expanded missile defense system, (the Maginot line in the sky) the American people and our European partners should know exactly what we are defending against.
None of this huge and expensive military effort does anything to stop the advance of deserts on agricultural land, preserve the mountain glaciers or prevent lowland flooding. While millions of people are threatened with shortages of water and food, is it not criminal to freely spend billions on high-tech military systems whose only use is to incinerate human beings and everything they hold dear?
Our arms control objectives are basically a moral issue. We can either continue with nuclear weapons until many nations have them and, through some small error, somewhere, they are loosed on the world, or we can eliminate them and gradually convert this vast ongoing investment in the technology of death for more humane purposes. The choice is ours.
Peter G Cohen, artist and activist, attended the University of Chicago when the first chain reaction was being developed in its stadium. He was on a troopship bound for Japan when the bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. He prepared materials for SANE during the fight to end bomb testing in the 50s. He was an independent peace candidate for Congress in 1968. He is now the author of the website <nukefreeworld.com>