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"Forget the Rest" blog


For immediate release 11/14/14

DoD Reviews of Nuclear Weapons Operations Largely “Management Clichés,” Fail to Address Core Problems, Group Charges

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

Albuquerque – Today’s long-expected internal and external reviews of the Department of Defense (DoD) nuclear operations do not address the root causes of the operational lapses that plague DoD nuclear forces, the Los Alamos Study Group charges.  (Accompanying DoD fact sheet.) An article this morning by Robert Burns and Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press explains the basic outlines of today’s announcement by Secretary Hagel.

According to AP, Hagel told his listeners that the good news “is there has been no nuclear exchange in the world."  Likewise Adm. Cecil Haney, Commander in Chief of STRATCOM said, "You don't see the mushroom cloud or that sort of thing. We must continue that."

Hagel said, "The root cause [of the persistent problems discovered] has been a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement."

Hagel told reporters the cost of implementing the improvements planned would increase DoD nuclear costs by about 10% per year.

A December 2013 study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) tallied the 10-year cost of DoD’s portion of nuclear weapons expenses at $19.2 billion (B) (p. 2; for more detail see p. 5).  A 10% increase in these costs thus comes to about $2 B per year or $10 B over the annual 5-year budget Future Years National Security Plan (FYNSP).

Based on past experience, CBO foresaw $30 B in cost escalation over DoD’s budgeted expenditures of $191 B over the coming decade, due to underestimation of acquisition costs.  Today’s announcement concerns operational costs and deferred maintenance rather than acquisition, so the 10% increase announced would add about $19 B to CBO’s estimate of overall DoD nuclear weapons costs over the coming decade.

Study Group Director Greg Mello: “In today’s announcement the frightening disconnect between the world of nuclear command and the world of human beings is fully apparent.  That, not management, is the "root cause" of the problems.

"If the 'good news' is that there has been ‘no nuclear exchange’ and no ‘mushroom cloud,’ to quote Secretary Hagel and the STRATCOM chief today, we know the bar is set too low.  There could hardly be more revealing comments.  It is the mission, not the management, which is the core of the problem.  Dysfunctional management has evolved to fit the dysfunctional mission.

“The way to get rid of problems in the ICBM force is to get rid of ICBMs.  They comprise the most absurd leg of the triad.  That will save a lot of money as well, though money is secondary to the increased security such retirements would bring.

“These studies had to be done, and I am sure they were done as conscientiously as possible by smart, experienced people.  Even so, the final result is riddled with what amount to management clichés and rah-rah boosterism.

“No amount of money or silly made-up medals will ever lead to ‘good morale’ in ICBM officers in particular, who must sit in a deep hole in the ground awaiting orders to end the world.  The mental gymnastics of nuclear deterrence theory do not make human sense to those who must live, day and night, in an inhuman environment with world-ending orders locked in a box in front of them.  They know they and their children will be first to die.  They know that in that final moment, their sacrifice of years, their struggle against doubts, will have been meaningless – and they know that they themselves will have been the agents of unspeakable war crimes.

“These reports miss the forest for the trees.  They are crafted within an ideological system that is itself irrational and bizarre, and examine management details AS IF they could possibly make sense.  The only thing missing is sanity -- a sane appreciation for the world-as-it-is outside the walls of the national security echo chamber, itself a capsule buried far from sunlight and air.

“Will the additional billions proposed create more national security?  No.  They will disappear into the same futile and misdirected black hole as the previous billions.  Will morale improve?  No.  Contractors will be enriched, and the generals will have the satisfaction of knowing that ‘something has been done.’  But the problems will persist.

"There is no reason to think today's ICBM force is any more dangerous than it has been at all times in the past.  There is no accumulation of danger.  Danger is the object of the exercise, and there have always been severe morale problems, accidents, and so on.

“It is quite possible that upgrades of old command and control systems will introduce new dangers, so DoD must be very careful.  The introduction of new dangers during upgrades is commonplace.  The biggest cause of problems is often solutions.

“I think any honest person with an ounce of common sense realizes that the only real path to higher morale in the nuclear weapons business lies in gradually shutting it down, starting with the most stupid parts first.  The hope that the nuclear sword of Damocles can finally be lifted, reinforced by gradual progress, is what can bring higher morale -- and only that.

“Norris Bradbury told every arriving new employee at LANL that 'we are doing our job in order to give the politicians time to solve the problem of nuclear weapons.'  It worked for a couple of decades and maybe in 1946 it was almost true.  Today's missile officers are told, instead -- what?  That the doomsday machine of which you are an inanimate cog is an essential aspect of U.S. national security essentially forever, or some such malarkey.  This, no one in their heart of hearts believes.  The system they directly observe contradicts all ideas of security.  It does not and will not feel secure to them any more than a suicide vest feels secure.  It doesn't jibe and never will.  The symptoms of these contradictions are what we see behaviorally.

“No amount of investment in a fundamentally bad idea can make it good.  Caliban doesn't become Prospero with new suit of clothes.  The man on a pale horse doesn't become our friend just because we buy him a shiny new scythe.”


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