(This is a guest editorial by Ray Acheson of Reaching Critical Will (and the Los Alamos Study Group). It first appeared in the 2016 First Committee Monitor No. 5 

31 October 2016

On 24 January 1946, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution, which set out to “deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy.” It established a commission with the task, among others, to make proposals “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.” Nearly 71 years later, the General Assembly has taken an enormous step towards this goal.

The adoption of resolution L.41, establishing a conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, represents a meaningful advancement towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. It also represents a revolt of the vast majority of states against the violence, intimidation, and injustice perpetuated by those supporting these weapons of mass destruction.

Revolt, wrote philosopher Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, is “one of the only coherent philosophical positions…. It challenges the world anew every second.” Camus explored the theme of revolt across many books and novels, finding that struggle not only “gives value to life” but also that it is an obligation, even in the face of adversity, power, and overwhelming odds.

“Will this process be the most efficient way to achieve the goal of full nuclear disarmament?” asked Sweden after the vote on L.41. “The fact is that we do not know today. But given the stakes involved, we believe we have an obligation to try, mindful of the challenges involved.”

The act of prohibiting nuclear weapons is an act of nonviolent, positive, courageous revolt.

Those that oppose it are not giving up their weapons of terror without a fight. Even on the day of the vote on L.41, France, Russia, and the United States issued warnings against its adoption. Russia warned of the “fatal, destructive repercussions” of adopting the resolution, describing the initiative to prohibit nuclear weapons as “hasty” and at risk of “plunging the world into chaos and dangerous unpredictability.”

We have heard such remarks from most of the nuclear-armed states, and some of their allies, for the last two years.

At the core of this rhetoric is a belief that certain states have the right to possess nuclear weapons. Russia and the United Kingdom have both flatly stated during this First Committee that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) confers legitimacy on their possession of nuclear weapons. We can see how this belief has dictated the course of history.  It has meant that for nearly half a century, five countries have refused to comply with their legal obligation to disarm. It has meant that four other countries have tried to assert their own claim to power through violence by acquiring nuclear weapons and shunning the NPT. It has meant a proliferation of programmes and mechanisms to prevent others from acquiring nuclear weapons whilst billions of dollars have gone to upgrade and extend the lives of the ones already existing.

By insisting on their “right” to inflict massive nuclear violence, the nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-supporting allies have created a division amongst the United Nations membership. They have forced the hand of the majority of states, which have gone along for decades in good faith with the agendas set by the nuclear-armed. This majority is now ready to take actions that align with its commitment to peace, justice, and security for all.

For this, they are being attacked and ridiculed and threatened by most of the states that wield nuclear weapons. They are being presented as interfering with matters that they do not understand or have no stake in. They are being told that they are the problem, not nuclear weapons or those that possess them. They are treated as if they are undermining international law and agreed commitments, when in reality the opposite is true.

In a joint statement last week, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States argued that banning nuclear weapons will render consensus at the next NPT Review Conference “impossible”. There is nothing, however, inherent in the process to prohibit nuclear weapons that would make this so. None of the states supporting L.41 and the negotiation of a ban treaty have blocked the adoption of NPT outcome documents. None have tried to prevent other states from supporting resolutions or initiatives on other nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation measures, at this meeting or at any other.

It is up to the states possessing nuclear weapons or believing in them for security to engage constructively in the upcoming processes, including negotiations to prohibit nuclear weapons and the next NPT review cycle. These countries are being encouraged to do so for reasons of humanitarian protection, human rights, the environment, development, and justice.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution welcoming L.41 and inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.

Amnesty International celebrated the adoption of L.41 and called on states not supporting the resolution to “take a stand for human rights by participating fully in the coming negotiations.”

17 Nobel laureates supported the adoption of L.41, urging states the ensure that negotiations are “brought to a timely and successful conclusion so that we can proceed rapidly toward the final elimination of this existential threat to humanity.”

Greenpeace International also supported the resolution, describing it as a “major breakthrough for nuclear disarmament” and outlining the importance and effectiveness of establishing a norm against nuclear weapons.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the prohibition of nuclear weapons as “an indispensible building block in reaching the universal goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” explaining that “unambiguous prohibition is both the foundation of disarmament and a disincentive for proliferation.”

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, noting that the treaty will stigmatise nuclear weapons and compel states to take urgent action on disarmament.

We have a big task ahead of us. The first bold step, establishing negotiations, has been taken. The struggle will continue next year—but it is a struggle that states, civil society, and the world are ready for.

Sustainability Requires Resistance

By Greg Mello

For the Solar Times, Fall 2016

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

(Abraham Lincoln, 1862)

And save our communities.

We aren’t doing that. What’s stopping us? In emergencies citizens usually respond rapidly, with surprising selflessness and skill. But our biggest emergencies are hidden in plain sight. Even most committed activists don’t really understand the urgency of the crises we face, or how quickly they are unraveling our communities.

The other big thing we don’t understand is our own power. We must “disenthrall ourselves” to find it.

We are taught that our main democratic power lies in voting. The truth is otherwise. Voting accounts for only a tiny fraction. Our real citizenship lies latent, for the most part.

To unlock that agency we need to summon some passion, reach out to like-minded others, develop new skills, and above all allow ourselves to act. Any action we take will provide new leadership, which is desperately needed. This will take many forms, matching personalities and circumstances. No special qualities are required, beyond putting one foot in front of the other, and keeping on. The scenery will change. We will change. Neither our communities, nor we and our families in them, are sustainable in their present form.

What’s just ahead for all of us is a very deep change indeed, a revolutionary change on par with a very great natural catastrophe or world war, which is already starting. We want to use our freedoms while we can, but regardless we are headed into a storm of crises, which are already confounding our reference frames.

It will be difficult for most people to stay fully sane, let alone understand what is happening. Our “experts” are themselves increasingly confused, since they are the ones most committed – intellectually, and in their careers – to the vanishing status quo.

Overall, our lack of resilience is dominated by a few key facts.

First, global warming and especially arctic warming, if not halted and reversed within a very few years, may enter a runaway thermal condition as vast natural stores of methane and carbon are released. Even without this ultimate catastrophe, global warming could destroy half the world’s species, render vast areas largely uninhabitable (including New Mexico), and submerge low-lying coasts and cities within living lifetimes.

Second, global industrial civilization and its growth-based financial system require not only undiminished fossil fuel consumption, but also plenty of one particular fuel: crude oil, which has to be cheap. Supplies of this fantastic substance are limited.

Cheap oil is necessary to acquire other energy resources (renewable and otherwise) and for commerce generally. For long-haul trucks, airplanes, and ships there are no scalable substitutes. Production of conventional crude oil plateaued in 2005. The world’s liquid fuel supply has since been extended by more expensive and inferior fuels, but supplies of these are now falling. “Peak oil” is in the rear-view mirror, obscured by falling demand.

What many do see (and more will, intimately), is economic and social decline. Capital – real capital, not debt and its counterpart, electronic wealth – is disappearing, right along with the cheap oil it depends upon.

The upshot is that we can’t wait for a more propitious time. There won’t be one. What were once separate problems amenable to gradual reform have converged into a “perfect storm” – political, economic, social, and environmental.

The unsustainability of our economic life may be the best climate news we have at the moment.

We who are awake to these existential dangers find we must make new commitments just to stay awake, and to be human. Knowledge without action, especially given these dangers, is a paralyzed, twilight sort of existence not useful to man, woman, or beast. There’s no dignity in it, just despair.

Even so, many of us may wonder how we, who are so small, can really act in any meaningful way in the face of such huge events. Aren’t we basically helpless?

Not at all!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead’s statement is quoted so often it seems like a cliché, but how many of us have really tested its truth ourselves? Or tried Whitman’s on for size: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Change always begins with a small group. Conditions have to be ripe, but more often it is we who are hanging back. The usual state of affairs is the canonical, “The harvest is ready but the laborers are few.”

Are conditions ripe, then? We can’t know what is ripe until we get into the field, a fact never understood by parlor generals and sidewalk spectators.

What exactly do we have to lose by trying to saving our families and communities?

In renewable energy, the harvest is very ripe indeed. You can live on it. There are plenty of solar jobs to be had for those with the right fire in the belly.

In Henry V, Shakespeare’s Archbishop of Canterbury uses the analogy of a beehive to illustrate how an undirected diversity of actions can serve a common purpose.

Therefore doth heaven divide the state of man in diverse functions…Many things, having full reference to one consent, may work contrariously… [and] a thousand actions, once afoot, end in one purpose, and be all well borne without defeat.

For us, “one consent” refers not to a king, but to the pressing facts at hand bearing on the survival of human and natural communities. We depend on those communities, and they on us. Their survival is our first duty, quite apart from any altruistic notions. Our consent, our mature acceptance of reality and responsibility, is signaled by our “all-in” action.

We discover the community around us with this consent. It is our microcosm, with the whole world in it. To update the cliché, we think locally and globally, and we act locally and globally as the occasion arises.

Communities have conflicts. They are ideologically diverse, with plenty of ignorance, structural malformations, and the occasional sociopath. They often make bad decisions. Some, perhaps most, will fail in the coming storm.

In such a time, like-minded friends you can count on, and who can count on you – revolutionary friends, by definition – are essential. With them, great deeds are possible – and pleasant.

Forsooth, brothers, fellowship is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell: fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death: and the deeds that ye do upon the earth, it is for fellowship’s sake that ye do them, and the life that is in it, that shall live on and on for ever, and each one of you part of it, while many a man’s life upon the earth from the earth shall wane. (William Morris, A Dream of John Ball)

We will not find this kind of fellowship within the constraints of a post-democratic consumer society, which passed its ecological and economic sell-by dates a long time ago. Consumer society, as such, is antithetical to community in any case. It requires and creates social atomization. From the beginning it evolved to maximize profit, not fellowship. Its one-way mass communication system corrodes any social contract, and undermines every tradition.

Nor can we find real fellowship in the dream of a renewably-powered consumer society. Why? Because such a society is a fantasy, an oxymoron. As discussed in the last issue of Solar Times, thermodynamics, climate science, and resource limitations will not allow it. As Gandhi understood back in the 1930s, it would take a whole other planet’s resources to reproduce worldwide even the modest prosperity of England at that time.

The illusion of a green utopia is delaying action and awareness. It is also hiding and abetting an all-too-real class war. It is postponing and distorting the transition we need. To be realized even a little, those utopian dreams must quickly mature into something far simpler, less implicitly violent in their use of resources, and more communal.

A society of “consumers” first of all needs to be replaced, in our thinking and then in reality, with producers. What we consume, in affluent countries, must drop a long way. And it sooner or later will – but when? With what wars, and with what justice, or peace?

George W. Bush was right when he said, “You are either with us or against us.” He was describing the reality of Empire. His words also fit our climate and justice situation, as it happens.

Renewal energy advocates and climate protectors are against empire and militarism. If the war-mongers and imperialists win, communities and the climate will lose. Right now, they are winning.

They think global aggression is necessary to extend the present economic and political order. The war juggernaut, ensconced at the pinnacle of U.S. power, is growing. More wars are coming. Militarism locks society into a death orientation. It will take everything if we let it, including our children’s lives. It has no political space and no financial resources to spare, least of all to prevent climate collapse or to provide a social safety net. Its energy plan is very simple: war. We know how that ends.

From here on out, sustainable communities will necessarily be communities of resistance as well as exemplary of sustainable production, consumption, and justice. “Transition,” “resistance,” and “occupation” necessarily converge, and they will. We need to discover and use coercive, nonviolent power and abandon the notion that we can buy our way to sustainability.

Summer 2016 Solar Times here

Journal from an Encampment – Guest Post by Joanne Forman, 3 August 1985

(Joanne Forman graciously allowed us to share her journal from her encampment outside the Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant from August 1985. It’s very interesting. Thank you Joanne!)





Two recent articles regarding a possible Obama “no first use” policy: comments

See update at bottom!

The president wants to roll out announcements on nuclear policy in September to coincide with his final appearance at the U.N. General Assembly, officials said. One administration official told me that, in part because of allied concerns, the internal push on “no first use” was not gaining traction.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told me that the administration is “always looking for additional ways to achieve progress” on Obama’s Prague agenda — named for the disarmament aspirations the president set out in his April 2009 speech in the Czech capital — “while maintaining a credible deterrent for the United States, our allies and partners.”

Given the powerful opposition by key U.S. “allies” (a bad term but one almost universally used; the complement of “adversaries”), by the military and its corporate allies, by much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and by the majority Republicans in both houses of Congress, a substantive no first use (NFU) policy appears unlikely, especially at this late stage in Obama’s presidency.

Of course we would like to see a real, concrete, enduring NFU policy — but only if it is part of a larger change in U.S. foreign and nuclear policy, including a no second use policy.

By itself a NFU statement or policy is just a piece of paper, ephemeral, subject to reinterpretation and modification, while nuclear weapons are “used” all the time, 24/7, to condition foreign relations, affect domestic politics, and so on. NFU has precious little to do with “global zero” and is not necessarily a step toward nuclear disarmament, let alone abolition.

Perhaps Ben Rhodes will write a nice speech for the president to give at the UN, like he did for Prague in 2009. I am sure it will be stirring to the gullible, and the U.S. elite press will recognize which themes they are supposed to expertly discuss, qualify, and disseminate. The speech will be designed to protect the empire, lull disarmament advocates, quiet domestic opposition, calm the contractor cartel and its congressional protectors with coded language which will be missed by those who “want to believe,” and it will avoid foreclosing too many options, lest “deterrence” be “damaged.”

Thus by far the most likely outcome of the internal discussions about Obama’s nuclear legacy and a possible NFU policy lie in the field of propaganda and political theater.

But regardless of all this, we at the Study Group have two immediate questions about any possible NFU policy.

First, what would a NFU policy cost, politically, in terms of other nuclear policies? For example, would a NFU policy mean that all the weapons programs and factories go forward with Obama’s renewed blessing? Would continuation of NFU bind President Hillary Clinton to the whole modernization “package” as well? Every so-called “step” in U.S. disarmament achieved by Democratic presidents since 1995 has come at a terrific cost. (See “Stewards of the Apocalypse: an abridged history of U.S. nuclear weapons labs since 1989,” this blog.) In disarmament it has been “two steps forward, one step backwards” since 1995 — except, ironically, for G.W. Bush’s substantial weapons retirements.

And now the administration has resurrected the Russian bogeyman, the better with which to stomp down anything smelling of nuclear disarmament and slightly less belligerence worldwide.

Second, how real and permanent would a NFU policy really be, and what else would be involved in implementing it? Cartwright and Blair wrote this past Sunday in the NYT (emphasis added):

Although a no-first-use policy would limit the president’s discretion by imposing procedural and physical constraints on his or her ability to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, we believe such checks on the commander in chief would serve the national interest.

OK, but what are these intriguing “procedural and physical constraints” on the president’s “ability to initiate the use of nuclear weapons?” And who, exactly, would place “such checks on the commander in chief?” A military leader, perhaps? Who else could? A committee, exerting powerful psychological pressure? Meeting where, composed of whom? Who would set up this decision-making process right now? What discussions with the rest of the U.S. are they going to have? (Answer: none.)

All these discussions are secret. They have to be. But would this create, or perhaps ratify the present secret existence, of a power above the president? Would this negative NFU power come with a de facto permissive power as well, the power to OK the use of nuclear weapons? Who would really be making decisions and how precisely would this new system work? This could be quite a can of apocalyptic nuclear worms.

In this regard, it is very far from clear to us how nuclear use decisions are or might be made. We do not fully believe much of anything we have heard or read on this topic of late, including what we heard in a briefing in 2015 from a very senior STRATCOM nuclear war planner and Rose Gottemoeller about this topic at a side event at the United Nations. With the exception of Bruce Blair, we do not think even the most knowledgeable U.S. NGO experts understand this clearly. At some point in a nuclear war, if the president is dead from the outset as he or she is likely to be, plans for nuclear decision-making may become part of Continuity of Government (COG) planning, which is shrouded in enduring mystery. For example, we do not believe that only civilians in the line of presidential succession can authorize the use of nuclear weapons, which is what Ms. Gottemoeller and her co-briefer insisted to us was true. STRATCOM told us they knew the whereabouts of every individual in the presidential line of succession at all times. We doubt this. We also doubt that every one of these individuals would have truly independent decision-making power in the event of nuclear war. What does the Secretary of Agriculture know about nuclear war? Answer: what he would be told.

Again, we are sympathetic but wary and skeptical about NFU as an Obama “legacy.” We have written a number of colleagues in the U.S. and abroad about this in greater detail than we can go into here. We said:

I rather imagine there have been a lot of discussions in the White House about how to have change without really changing, e.g. a NFU without roots or fruits. That’s “how they roll,” up there in the White House.

An NFU without concrete changes in deployments and investments falls into the reality parodied by one of our advisors:

“Trust us, we won’t use nuclear weapons first.” I can’t help but see this as another hypocritical “legacy-saving” move by Obama.  Never mind that he brought back the Cold War and rebuilt the entire nuclear weapons manufacturing infrastructure in the US . . . really, he wants to have a world free of nuclear weapons….Sadly, we all want to succeed desperately enough to sometimes convince ourselves that we can compromise our way to nuclear disarmament.

Leaving the main issue, we take issue with this comment (emphasis added):

Those missiles [ICBMs] are mainly for first-use; they are a risky option for second-use because they are highly vulnerable to enemy attack. Eliminating these weapons entirely would be the best option.

Well, maybe. Maybe also be that ICBMs are really for no use at all. Their sole “use” might (secretly) be as targets, to absorb a Russian strike. We’d be the last to know, of course. Secrecy and ambiguity is an essential aspect of any such strategy, coupled with the necessary touch of madness. Especially Cartwright could not say this if he wanted to.

Phasing out land-based missiles and shifting to a reliance on submarines and bombers would save about $100 billion over the next three decades. The elimination of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons would save billions more. President Obama could begin the phaseout of land-based missiles before he left office by instructing the Department of Defense to remove 550 weapons [sic — 431 and slowly falling] from the operationally deployed category and transfer them to long-term storage, thereby reducing the operationally deployed inventory to about 1,000 strategic warheads. These missiles are surplus weapons no longer needed for deterrence.

Eliminating the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrence is an excellent idea. Do it.

The most recent State Department figures for deployed ICBMs (fact sheet of July 1, 2016, current as of March 1), are: 431 deployed ICBMs and silos, 255 non-deployed ICBMs, 23 non-deployed silos, and 4 test silos.

Update!‘ (WSJ)

It appears that the prospects for a NFU policy are approaching nil.

For reference:

Selected news & analysis re present and future great power wars, Aug. 1-13

This is a first attempt at pulling together recent articles of interest to our members. This format is experimental and will no doubt change. I (Greg) have included what I think are some of the most interesting articles bearing on present and future great power wars, just from the past thirteen days. Articles on other themes will follow, perhaps in a simpler format.

You will understand that memes of “Russian aggression,” “our adversaries in Asia,” etc. ad nauseum bear heavily on U.S. conversations about nuclear weapons. A massive mountain of propaganda is being dumped on us daily, which is difficult for many people to see through. We must try, and we must succeed one way or another, or our civilization will surely end. Hence the subject of this first summary.

    Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has disrupted a plot to carry out terrorist attacks in the Republic of Crimea. The attacks, planned by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Chief Intelligence Directorate, targeted critical infrastructure and facilities in Crimea. Russia’s intelligence services take the view that these planned acts of sabotage and terrorism were intended to destabilise the socio-political situation in the region in the run-up to federal and regional elections….
The attempts to enter Crimea unlawfully, the recent attempt on the life of Head of the Lugansk People’s Republic Igor Plotnitsky, the constant firing along the line of contact in Donbass, and the actions of radical nationalists and so-called ‘activists’ from around Ukraine that go beyond the bounds of any lawful framework are a vivid illustration of the state of affairs in Ukraine today. The numerous provocations, efforts to portray Moscow as the enemy, and the deliberate cultivation of anti-Russian sentiments are an attempt by the Ukrainian government to distract the public from the country’s own troubles and the problems affecting the majority of people in Ukraine. We see a deliberate effort to divert public attention from the actions and responsibility of those in power and their inability to carry out long overdue reforms and conduct an honest investigation into the murders of journalists and human rights activists and the crimes committed in 2014 during the Maidan protests, in Odessa, Mariupol, and other cities….
Attempts to destabilise the situation in Russian Crimea are doomed to fail. Russia unconditionally guarantees Crimea’s stability and security.
Kiev and its foreign backers should know that any harm to Russia or the deaths of Russian personnel will not go unanswered.
As President Vladimir Putin noted on August 10, given the current situation and until we see real positive steps from Kiev, like renouncing terror and provocations, it makes little sense to hold Normandy format meetings, like the Beijing meeting in early September requested by Mr Poroshenko recently.
Once again, we call on our partners to use their influence with Kiev to dissuade the government from taking any dangerous steps that could have grave consequences. Playing with fire is dangerous.

    A “Russian cyberattack”? How can the NYT claim such, in an opening paragraph, when even the Director of U.S. National Intelligence is unable to make such a judgement?…
The “Russia is guilty” claim for whatever happened, without any proof, is becoming a daily diet fed to the “western” public. A similar theme is the “barrel bombing” of (the always same) “hospitals” in Syria which is claimed whenever the Syrian government or its allies hit some al-Qaeda headquarter.
All this propaganda is in preparation of the rule of the “We came, we saw, he died. Hahaha …” psychopathic queen of war Hillary Clinton.
As Marc Wheeler, aka emptywheel, reminds us: 6:13 AM – 10 Aug 2016 emptywheel @emptywheel: “The actions to ensure we will escalate our wars are being taken as we speak. January will be too late to stop it.”

    Stepping back a bit: in August 2011, when Obama and Clinton both demanded Assad’s departure, and closed down the U.S. embassy in Damascus, the opposition to Assad had been largely nonviolent. But armed factions were, with U.S. encouragement, already taking shape, loosely coordinating as something called the “Syrian Free Army.” They included many pro-al-Qaeda elements who officially formed the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) in January 2012.
(The rule, if you haven’t noticed, is: When the U.S. overthrows a secular leader in the Middle East, or tries to, it creates a power void; it creates promised lands of opportunity for vicious jihadis, whose atrocities justify the redeployment of U.S. troops to the country involved in order to “preserve regional stability” and so forth. It is as though Washington is actively working to enrage, not only your everyday Muslim anywhere in the world, but your everyday anyone anywhere in the world, by its regime change bombing campaigns rationalized by lies.)
Al-Nusra gained widespread respect among the armed rebels in Syria in 2012. The U.S. press gave slight attention to the fact that the “Free Syrian Army” publicly justified and insisted upon its alliance with this al-Qaeda chapter.
Currently most factions (80% in one estimate) of the hundreds of Syrian Free Army factions work with al-Nusra. They value its experience and competence, even if they may dislike its puritanism in such matters as tobacco smoking and personal appearance. U.S. officials have long since realized that to topple Assad they need to—if not befriend al-Nusra directly (repeat: al-Nusra/ Fatah al-Sham was until yesterday an official al-Qaeda affiliate)—at least give their (more) directly subsidized associates leave to mingle as needed, to get the regime change job done.
By 2014, with Assad still in charge and al-Nusra coming to dominate the “opposition,” Obama asked Congress for money to fund a program for U.S. personnel to train in Jordan some 15,000 armed rebels in marksmanship, navigation and other skills. But as of September 2015, as a sheepish-faced General Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told Congress, “We’re talking four or five” fighters actually trained.  In that same month, it was announced that about 70 fighters of “Division 30”—Syrians trained in Turkey, under the “Syrian Trade and Equip” program, had upon entering Syria turned over their weapons to al-Nusra…
The fact of the matter is, the U.S. has found it difficult, after all that’s happened in the region in this young century, to recruit Syrians willing to work with them. Blinded by their Exceptionalism, U.S. policy-makers can’t get it through their heads that U.S. actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya do not endear them to the peoples of those countries. Quite the opposite.

Kerry like Obama seems conflicted about what to do in Syria. He wants to topple Assad, because the U.S. government has announced he must go, and once such a proclamation is issued, it cannot (like a law of the Medes and Persians) be retracted for fear of loss of face. But Kerry’s also been (like Obama, who as you recall cluelessly called ISIL a “JV team” in August 2014) shocked by the sudden rise of that horrid outgrowth of the U.S. destruction of Iraq. It would be embarrassing if ISIL takes Damascus and blows up all the ancient Christian sites. Especially if Putin and tens of millions of Russian Orthodox believers who feel akin to Syrian       Orthodox Christians are standing around saying, “I told you this would happen, if you keep focusing so stupidly on Assad”).
So of course U.S. leaders have to condemn, and to some extent wage war on, ISIL as well as al-Nusra. The problem is how to pursue that objective while simultaneously maintaining that Assad is the main problem, and arguing that his very persistence in power strengthens the terrorists. It doesn’t make any sense.
In fact, the weakening of central state power encouraged by the U.S. since 2011 has allowed these groups to seize territory and advance their positions, while the reclamation of state authority when it’s happened has set back the bad guys. Or at least the worst guys.
The faction in the State Department that never learns anything and is currently demanding regime change is getting louder. The manifesto published by the 51 State Department dissidents suggests too much attention has been placed on countering ISIL. What we really need to do, they say, is step up efforts to remove Assad.    Despite The weird, unprecedented nature of the dissidents’ memo leak, Kerry has pronounced himself sympathetic. Meanwhile the recent statement from the “Center for a New Security” headed by key Clinton aide and likely future Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy similarly promotes regime change.
On July 29—the day that she secured the Democratic nomination in that sickening display of USA! USA! jingoism—Clinton’s campaign stated that she will “reset” U.S. Syrian policy as a top priority in office, to focus on toppling Assad from power. (Surprise, surprise, you fools who assumed she’d learned something from Libya.)
For all with ears to hear—and have learned anything at all since 9/11 and the inception of the era of constant wars, based on lies—the war-drums are sounding. But as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews notes, “Americans don’t care anything about foreign policy.”
One can only hope that the crazies in Syria are rolled back by rational secular forces before January, aided perhaps by welcome, coordinated foreign air power, when the Queen of Chaos comes to the throne (if so she does).
Because if she gets her chance, she will be looking for excuses to bomb Damascus.

    Last week, U.S.-based think tank RAND Corporation – which also studied the prospects of war in the NATO member Baltic states – unveiled its latest thinking on what a potential clash between the United States and China would look like…
RAND examined two different scenarios, one for an inadvertent conflict taking place in the present day and one in 10 years from now, assuming Beijing’s military and economic buildup continues at roughly its current rate. China will substantially close its military gap with the United States over the next decade, it predicts – but the fundamental dynamics of how things will play out might not be hugely different.
Even now, the People’s Liberation Army is seen as having the ability to give a bloodied nose to U.S. forces in the region. Washington could expect to lose an aircraft carrier and multiple other surface warships in the opening stages, RAND warns, citing Chinese advances in ballistic and guided missiles as well as submarines.
The report does not estimate the number of human casualties, but they could be substantial. The loss of an aircraft carrier or several major surface warships could easily cost thousands of lives in an instant.
At the same time, it’s also generally assumed that both Beijing and Washington would have considerable success with cyber attacks.
The real decision for Washington would be how much military force to commit to the Asia Pacific theater….
Whether a conflict only endured days or weeks or dragged on for a year or more, Washington would almost certainly retain the ability to strike widely at Chinese targets across the battle space – including, in at least a limited way, into mainland China….
The real battle of attrition, however, would be economic – as it almost always is when great powers confront each other….
Perhaps most importantly, China might find itself cut off from vital external energy sources while Washington’s energy supply chain would be far less affected…
While RAND estimates a year-long Asian war would take 5-10 percent off U.S. gross domestic product, it believes China’s economy could shrink by up to 25 percent…
In the case of the United States and China, RAND’s analysts say they believe nuclear escalation would likely be avoided even if both sides fought prolonged naval and air battles.

    If anything, the proposals would serve Saudi Arabia’s agenda to import its austere Wahhabism in the Arab Gulf to the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean, and empower radical Islamist groups in the Mideast to harm US national security as well as Eurasian stability.
US/Saudi air campaign in Yemen has already devastated the country and empowered Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Washington is again illegally bombing Libya to fight the jihadists it supported from its bombing five years ago.
It is also mind-boggling why Washington boasts US is a global leader in counter-terrorism while simultaneously stating it has no problem supporting jihadi groups that violate human rights and commit war crimes: chop off children’s heads;[6] use chemical weapons on civilians;[7] oppress women; massacre Christians, Alawites, and other religious and ethnic minorities.
Nonetheless, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said ‘one incident here or there” of beheading or chemical attacks will not stop Washington’s funding of jihadi groups.

    I just listened to Obama give Washington’s account of the situation with ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
    In Obama’s account, Washington is defeating ISIL in Iraq, but Russia and Assad are defeating the Syrian people in Syria. Obama denounced Russia and the Syrian government—but not ISIL—as barbaric. The message was clear: Washington still intends to overthrow Assad and turn Syria into another Libya and another Iraq, formerly stable and prosperous countries where war now rages continually.
    It sickens me to hear the President of the United States lie and construct a false reality, so I turned off the broadcast.
    If Helen Thomas were still there, she would ask the Liar-in-Chief what went wrong with Washington’s policy in Iraq. We were promised that a low-cost “cakewalk” war of three or six weeks duration would bring “freedom and democracy” to Iraq. Why is it that 13 years later Iraq is a hellhole of war and destruction?
    What happened to the “freedom and democracy?” And the “Cakewalk”?
    You can bet your life that no presstitute asked Obama this question.
    No one asked the Liar-in-Chief why the Russians and Syrians could clear ISIL out of most of Syria in a couple of months, but Washington has been struggling for several years to clear ISIL out of Iraq. Is it possible that Washington did not want to clear ISIL out of Iraq because Washington intended to use ISIL to clear Assad out of Syria?
    Washington produced this violence. Where is the question: “Why, Mr. President, did Washington introduce 15 years of massive and ongoing violence into the Middle East and then expect us to believe that it was the fault of someone else?”
    Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing have understood the message. Washington intends war. The purpose of Washington’s lies is to prepare the insouciant Western peoples for war against the two countries that Washington cannot subjugate except by victory in war…

    In the latest escalation of bellicose rhetoric over the territorial dispute involving the South China Sea, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan warned of “offshore security threats” and urged for a “substantial preparation for a people’s war at sea” to safeguard sovereignty, China’s Xinhua writes.
    The warning comes a day after China launched a massive naval drill which is set to prepare China for a “sudden, cruel and short” war.
    Chang was speaking during an inspection of national defence work in coastal regions of east China’s Zhejiang Province. He called for recognition of the seriousness of the national security situation, especially the threat from the sea.
    Chang said the military, police and people should prepare for mobilization to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also asked to promote national defense education among the public.
    [The newspaper] said that “China doesn’t want wars, a war with the US in particular. The only possible scenario for a Sino-US war is that the US corners China on its doorstep with unacceptable provocations and China has to fight back.”    We will be very prudent about going to war, but if a war is triggered, we will have greater determination than the US to fight it to the end and we can endure more losses than the US.

The contiguous US can only avoid being stricken under the condition that China’s land is not attacked….The biggest risks that countries such as Japan and the Philippines will be embroiled into war come from their alliances with the US, which will tie them to the chariot of the US.

Mello (more on this in a pending article from us):

    RAND seems to think that China does not now have and cannot soon make more high-tech missiles and other theater defenses, cannot hide them, and that we can “take out” their bases and capabilities, leaving our [presumed huge, and presumed available] military forces available to win. I think the truth might be, or might be soon, otherwise.
LRSO [the Long Range Stand Off air-launched stealthy nuclear cruise missile] is needed to “signal” that the “rules of the game” are that the US must always win and therefore must always dominate, end of story. LRSO makes them back down before taking out carriers, other capital ships, and US bases. That is the idea. It is why JASSM-ER is not enough, why LRSO is not completely redundant. We need a BIGGER stick than JASSM-ER, not just something to throw back that is similar to what they might throw at us, and it has to be stealthy. 300 tons (unboosted yield, easily done) or 4-5 kt, on up to 150 kt, or whatever is deemed a big enough stick.

When STRATCOM uses the word “deterrence,” they now mean deterring the prospect of losing any war, anywhere, anytime. They mean the old Roman ultima ratio, the final decider, the winning weapon. Which is why Obama will not sign a no-first-use (NFU) declaration, or if he does it will be meaningless. The objective situation is that the US is inexorably losing control of its empire. The American Century is over. LRSO is a desperate measure. It is a very dangerous situation.

Comment on this from a colleague:

RAND is not in touch with their home planet.
The US flew, what, 50,000 missions in Iraq and couldn’t take out all of Saddam’s Scuds.  Even a preemptive nuclear strike wouldn’t take out everything.
Chinese hypersonic missiles will quickly sink the US ships in the South China Sea.  They would probably hit US bases in Japan and Okinawa, which would remove any advantage current forward basing allows….

    The current attack on the government held Aleppo by al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al Nusra aka Fateh al Scam) was launched on August 1st. With up to 10,000 insurgents participating the attack was unprecedented in size. August 1st is exactly the same date Kerry had set as starting date for “a very different track”. This is likely not a random coincidence.
Despite the very large size of the “Great Battle of Aleppo” and its possibly decisive character for the war neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has so far reported on it.
The U.S. had long prepared for an escalation and extension of the war on Syria. In December and January ships under U.S. control transported at least 3,000 tons of old weapons and ammunition from Bulgaria to Turkey and Jordan. These came atop of hundreds of tons of weapons from Montenegro transported via air to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. According to the renown Janes Defense military intelligence journal these Bulgarian weapons ended up in Syria where the Syrian army confiscated some of them from al-Qaeda and U.S. supported insurgents.
During the ceasefire and negotiations with Russia, the U.S. and its allies continued to arm and support their proxies in Syria even as those were intimately coordinating and integrating with al-Qaeda. The U.S. does not consider these groups to be terrorists, no matter with whom they associate or whatever they do. Even when such a group beheads a 12 year old, sick child in front of running cameras the U.S. State Department continues to support them and opines that “one incident here and there would not necessarily make you a terrorist group.”
Good to know …

Comment on this from a colleague:

Endless unreported support for Al Qaeda by the US.
The unreported story of massive US arms shipments to Al Qaeda in Syria in preparation for their unreported massive attack on Aleppo and its disastrous results. Weren’t they the reason we invaded Afghanistan and passed the Patriot Act? You know, the Act that ended the US Constitition?
How many millions of people has the US injured, killed, and made homeless in the last 16 years? Does anyone here even care? It is just business as usual as far as I can tell.

The Crisis at Hand, the Emergency Mode, and the Need for Full-Scale Mobilization

The Crisis at Hand, the Emergency Mode, and the Need for Full-Scale Mobilization

[ReBAS Clock 5 minutes pastpublished here with this fine graphic, and with a few further edits, from the Summer 2016 edition of SolarTimes, hot off the press today. It will surely appear tonight or tomorrow at the McCune Solar Works home page. This is a shortened version of a talk given by Greg Mello to the Albuquerque chapter of on June 27, 2016 (video).]

What is the purpose of our life in this world?  Why are we here?  What is the goal of our work and all our efforts?  What need does the earth have of us?  It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned with future generations.  We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity.  Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us.  The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn….our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests. (Encyclical of Pope Francis, “Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home”)

There are many ways to enter the healthy “emergency mode” we now need. As the old gospel song says, there are twelve – which is to say many – “gates to the City.”

We can pour efforts into building renewable infrastructure and the new or transformed institutions we need. We can educate ourselves and others. We can protect vulnerable people, species, and places. We can resist the empire of violence in all its forms, stop its predations one at a time, and in the process change ourselves and our society.

We have to do all these.

What do we mean by the “emergency mode,” and why is it essential? Why do we need “full-scale mobilization?”

The “emergency mode” is what all healthy people and groups switch into when there is a life-threatening crisis. As Margaret Salamon writes at her excellent web site,,

Emergency mode occurs when an individual or group faces an existential threat, accepts that there is a life-threatening emergency and reorients by:

  • Adjusting their hierarchy of priorities so that solving the emergency is the clear top priority;
  • Deploying a huge amount of resources toward solving the crisis; and
  • Giving little priority to personal gratification and self-esteem enhancement for their own sake, and instead seeking them through engagement with the emergency. People seek to “do their part” to solve the crisis and build their skills to contribute more effectively.

There is no greater crisis, in all of human and post-Cretaceous ecological history, than the climate crisis we face today. That crisis is wrapped up with parallel crises of capitalism, resources, and war – just to identify three strands in the Gordian knot we face. Like Alexander, we need to cut the knot, not just pick at it.

A healthy response to the emergency we face means taking appropriate action and staying connected – with reality and to each other. Dysfunctional responses include endless distractions, despair, and any of the numerous policy fantasies available to us at little cost.

What many people don’t understand is just how rewarding the emergency mode can be. Salamon quotes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who pioneered study of what he called “flow states:”

Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one…your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost…The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

When applied to our human and ecological responsibilities this experience is not some attempted transcendence out of the world, or a hobby, or a sport. It is transcendence into the world, the path of maturity and fulfillment since time immemorial.

As Salamon rightly says, people very much like being “’in the zone,’ utilizing their entire capacity, whether they are playing sports, performing musically, studying intensely, or responding to an emergency.” “It is,” someone said, “the church of what is happening now.” Nanao Sakaki sings,

Farming the ancient way/Singing with coyotes/Singing against nuclear war—/I’ll never be tired of life.[1]

Salamon points out that the “emergency mode,” like the normal mode, is contagious. “We must,” she points out,

exit normal mode and abandon the gradual policy advocacies and enervated emotional states that accompany it. Instead, we must seek to restore a safe climate at emergency speed. To accomplish this, the climate movement must lead the public into emergency mode. First we must go into emergency mode ourselves, and then communicate about the climate emergency and need for mobilization with clarity, dedication, and escalating assertiveness….

In order to lead people into emergency mode, it is critical that the emergency threat is paired with an emergency solution (whenever it is available). First and easiest, the climate movement must fully adopt the language of immediate crisis and existential danger. We must talk about climate change as threatening to cause the collapse of civilization, killing billions of people, and millions of species. These horrific outcomes await us during this century, possibly even in the first half of it if things truly slip out of control. This is not a matter of “protecting the planet for future generations” but protecting our own lives and those of the people we care about. We are in danger now and in coming years and decades. The climate crisis is, far and away, our top national security threat, top public health threat, and top threat to the global economy.

As if this weren’t enough, there are even more reasons to “get with the program.”

As it turns out, the very gradual reform of our present energy-hogging, climate-destroying arrangements is not just an “enervated” approach that won’t work. It is also not possible. It won’t happen. We are not just facing a climate crisis, by itself. We are facing a multifaceted environmental and social crisis, a crisis in war and peace, a crisis in democracy, and more. There are thresholds in all these we do not want to pass, thresholds after which recovery could be difficult – and full-scale energy transition, impossible. We must therefore mobilize while we can, before the emergency comes to us as an overpowering storm.

One critical aspect of our predicament involves oil. Just by itself, without considering other problems, our oil dependence is bringing an early end to “business as usual.”

No, we are not running out of oil. That’s not the problem. We are running out of oil acquired cheaply enough in terms of net useful energy. Our economy grows on energetically-cheap oil. This kind of oil is now in the rear-view mirror, a momentous fact. It means real economic growth is over.

The extra catch is that our economy as it is currently organized must grow in order to function at all, because of its massive, pervasive debts. Without unending growth, much of this debt cannot be repaid.

Only a fraction of the energy in each barrel of oil does useful work for society as a whole. Still less of it supports new investment. A large and increasing fraction of each barrel goes to maintaining the oil industry, including for finding and producing more oil and providing everything employees need. Without paying all those bills, the oil industry would cannibalize itself. It is starting to do that right now.

Another significant fraction of each barrel is wasted as heat. Mr. Carnot, in 1820, told us the theoretical maximum efficiency we could achieve in any engine.

The rest of the barrel – if anything is left – supports growth and productive, new, non-oil investment. We are scraping the bottom of the net, useful oil barrel.

Any complex oil-based capitalist economy needs to be supplied with oil obtained very efficiently. That isn’t happening, and it will never happen again. We have pretty much run through all the “easy” oil.[2] Tight “oil” produced by fracking (mostly it is too light to be called “oil” at all, sensu stricta), and bitumen from oil sands, really don’t pay for themselves in a complex society such as ours. The rest of society in effect subsidizes these parts of the oil industry, in net useful energy terms, not even considering their horrible environmental impacts.

The upshot, first of all, is that we have to leave oil before it leaves us, and that moment is already at hand. Second, we can’t count on economic health henceforth, dependent as it is on real growth.

We certainly can’t tolerate the vast misallocations of money, energy and attention embodied in our militarized global empire, not even considering all its other risks and costs. Military expenditures on that empire currently cost in the neighborhood of $5,000 per U.S. household per year. What fraction of that should we bill to the oil industry? Quite a lot, in fact.

Neither do we have the luxury to gradually build out solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal generation facilities until we have substituted all these more or less “cleaner” energy sources for the dirty ones we have, from either the climate or the oil perspectives. We don’t have time, we don’t have the resources, and the underlying society we would power has been structured by cheap oil for the past century or so. We can’t just plug in different energy sources.

There’s also another problem. It takes energy – in our case mostly fossil fuel energy – to transform infrastructure. It takes energy to make renewable energy hardware and to install it. The faster we go and the greater the scale of transformation, the more greenhouse gases we spew.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t undertake the transition! We must do so, and as quickly as possible! But at the same time we must simplify our society’s wants, and not just our own, so as to complete the necessary transition as soon as possible. This is a political problem, not one we can solve simply by changing our own habits.

In this transition we must protect those who, even now, are being thrown under the bus. “Will this help the poor?” is the first test of any sound policy, as Gandhi taught us, for very sound public reasons which the climate activist community should learn. Regressive policies — like cap-and-trade, or a gasoline tax without rebate that falls more heavily on the rural poor — will not be politically practical for environmentalists. In a democracy, or as a revolutionary principle where democracy is absent, the thirst for justice generates political capital; planned injustice destroys it.

To make the thermodynamic problem of transition concrete, consider photovoltaic (PV) systems. The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) for PV installations has been estimated variously but appears to lie in the general vicinity of 10, omitting soft costs.[3] Assuming this figure, to produce 25 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity over the life of a system requires investing roughly 2.5 kWh of energy up front to make, transport, and install the system’s components. Supposing a system life of 25 years, that lifetime 25 kWh of PV electricity will come in at an average rate of 1 kWh per year. But the system will cost 2.5 kWh of energy in the year it is manufactured and installed. Of this, roughly 2 kWh will be fossil fuel energy. Thus in its first year of operation we get 1 kWh of renewable energy, costing 2 kWh of fossil fuel energy the previous year, omitting soft costs. Under these optimistic assumptions we don’t break even until the end of the second year of operation. (If soft costs are included, up-front energy costs more than double for U.S. residential PV installations. Soft costs diminish greatly with scale.)

Suppose we double PV installations each year, the kind of rapid build-out we need to address climate change. We end up increasing greenhouse emissions every year during the transition. Net progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions only starts when rapid build-out ends.

This “front-end problem” applies to all aspects of renewable energy and energy efficiency transition. Electric cars? They’re a net energy and climate sink for the first years of use because of their tremendous embedded costs. Electric cars can’t be, and won’t be, the future standard transportation for our society, though we will need some. Electric bikes, which use 1% of the resources of cars, might be. That’s the direction we are headed, like it or not. Small remains beautiful.

Does it need to be said that nuclear energy, with its great dangers and tremendous embedded fossil fuel costs and greenhouse gas commitments, provides no magical solution either? That is the kind of information its huge price tag is whispering to us, if we would only listen.

We just can’t replace all the fossil fuel sources we have now with renewable energy, and we are not in charge of the timing. We can replace some of them, a small fraction as it turns out, and that will have to be enough. If we do not get on this path very soon, we may never manage any of it. We’ve already used up our safe allowance of greenhouse gases, and we’ve used up the cheap oil. The arctic is melting and its ocean absorbing more heat from the sun; our forests are succumbing to beetles and fires and releasing their stored carbon; in a dozen other ways the capacity of earth’s ecosystems to buffer and absorb our pollution has been exhausted.

And we are at war, and planning yet other wars, to sustain that which is unsustainable. Ugo Bardi quotes Seneca, “It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”

For our own well-being and dignity then, let’s work together and build a truly just, sustainable future, while we can.

[1] Nanao Sakaki, “Break the Mirror.”

[2] To read more about this “thermodynamic trap,” see Louis Arnoux, “Some Reflections on the Twilight of the Oil Age,” at

[3] Charles Hall estimated “2.5” in 2008 (which included the total installation but is seven years old and therefore too low, given how costs and therefore energy investment per watt have dropped); see Bhandari et. al. got “11-12” in his review of 232 studies, apparently for panels and inverters only and not installation and other soft costs; see

On the eve of the August meeting of the 2016 Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) in Geneva

We very much hope the siren songs advocating “alternatives” to banning nuclear weapons — all of which alternatives are meaningless or fantasies — are not too distracting to delegates and NGOs at the upcoming OEWG meeting. For the nuclear weapon states and their proxies and dependents, distraction, dilution, and delay now comprise much of the game.

Here in the US, the menu of hypothetical “steps” toward implementing the “Prague vision” has been growing of late. As if there were a “Prague vision,” beyond maintaining a nuclear apartheid world! Actual disarmament, as opposed to a vague aspiration, i.e. propaganda, was never part of that “vision.” The president said as much at the time. The nuclear establishment in Washington and around the country immediately understood this, though that understanding did not stop them from using the speech in their own propaganda to great effect. Subsequent administration actions have proven this administration’s insufficiency of interest and will. Given the powerful forces supporting nuclear weapons in the U.S., a president who was serious about cutting back nuclear weapons would act first and explain later.

Even such widely-ballyhooed “steps” as the CTBT in the 1990s, and now more directly New START, greatly increased the political power of the US nuclear weapons enterprise, making disarmament harder. The 1992 nuclear test moratorium was very useful, but the subsequent compromises were too great and were ultimately ineffective for ratification anyway. We have been paying for them ever since. New START occasioned formal promises later written into law to modernize everything in the U.S. triad and left huge loopholes for non-deployed and bomber-delivered warheads. Both treaties were, on balance, steps backwards, away from disarmament. President Obama has been fulfilling those promises, requesting nuclear weapons development and production budgets that are the highest in history in real terms.

But that is far from all. Especially given what he has done, and allowed to be done, vis-a-vis Russia as regards NATO, missile defense, Ukraine and more, and also not forgetting the East Asian “threat” that obsesses Washington and his administration — President Obama has been undercutting the nuclear disarmament agenda for years. Even as regards the April 5 Prague speech, consider the context. Obama had just attended a celebratory NATO summit on April 3-4 marking the organization’s 60th anniversary and its continued expansion eastward (Albania and Croatia were accepted as NATO members a few days before, on April 1). Does this indicate a coherent disarmament “vision?” I don’t think so.

Now, at this late point in his administration, after 6 years of anti-disarmament commitments, and after poisoning our relationship with Russia in many extremely serious ways, Obama does not have the freedom of action or margin of power necessary to unilaterally implement substantive nuclear disarmament “steps.”

He can make gestures of course, which is what he usually does. More than this, he can and should cancel or delay certain nuclear weapon projects, such as the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO, a nuclear-armed cruise missile which would pretty much destroy nuclear arms control), or cut projects which have no real technical merit, like the expanded pit factory at Los Alamos and the first so-called “interoperable” warhead (IW-1). But as for lasting, substantive unilateral or bilateral U.S. nuclear disarmament steps — these he cannot now do. Alas.

However, and very significantly, he could quietly end the State Department’s efforts to undercut a treaty banning nuclear weapons and instead instruct his diplomats to support it. This would be a huge development. As we wrote in May, a ban treaty

is necessary because there is no legal and normative clarity regarding the possession of nuclear weapons, as the General Assembly recognized when it created this working group.

Disarmament can proceed by many paths: parallel and sequential; unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral. All of them would be enabled—and none impeded—by a clear and universal prohibition of nuclear weapons. The steps in the so-called “progressive’ agenda are impractical without first clearly stigmatizing nuclear weapons. A ban treaty would turn public opinion worldwide against nuclear weapons more strongly, including in nuclear-armed states that do not subscribe to the treaty.

The reality of a ban treaty would occasion a massive breakthrough in the world’s awareness of nuclear weapons. It would reconfirm and strengthen humanity’s negative valence toward these instruments of mass murder, releasing into consciousness and politics the pent-up frustration and animus against these weapons that many people, including political and opinion leaders, have carried their whole lives.

A ban would awaken and inspire civil society, with crossover benefits to civil society efforts in human development, solidarity, and human rights. A ban would provide a tangible source of hope for humanity and a bulwark against cynicism. Political and opinion leaders would have to take this new reality into account and incorporate it into their worldviews, actions, and identities. The status of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons careers would fall.

It would affect corporate investments and decisions, as we have seen with other weapon systems that have been prohibited. It will affect political values and spending priorities in the nuclear-armed states, whether or not they sign the treaty. All the nuclear-armed states have limited public funds and have competing demands for those funds both from within the military sector and from outside it. Nuclear investment decisions are often contested and will be increasingly so. Key destabilizing modernization decisions are being taken, in the U.S. at least, by relatively narrow margins.

As a thought experiment, if I were in the State Department, and I sought to prevent any serious damage to the prestige, legality, and utility of the US nuclear arsenals, I would indirectly use my international contacts to foster distractions and non-ban alternatives, which I knew in advance to be fruitless because they would depend on US (i.e. my) cooperation, which would never be forthcoming. I would string along divisive, futile processes for years if possible and encourage them in any way I could, for example through allies and dependent states, through my foundation friends, and so on. (In practice, this is the largely the unconscious outcome of shared values within the relevant circles.)

This would divide the NGO and diplomatic community nicely, and if I were lucky, postpone a ban treaty.

The single worst thing about the ban treaty process — for me in the State Department — is that I do not control it. NGOs and diplomats who argue that nuclear weapon state “buy-in” is important (because they have the weapons) do my work for me. Thanks to them, I can take it easy because my country will never agree to anything substantive in the nuclear disarmament line.

By requiring my country’s involvement — because we have the weapons, right? — they are giving a veto over all progress to nuclear weapons themselves!

That is how it has been for 70 years. It will not change if the State Department and CIA and other agencies in the public state, or the various uncontrollable factions in the wider U.S. “Deep State,” have any say in the matter.

The point is that the ban treaty process, now well underway and close to very positive results, does NOT give such agencies and factions de facto veto power. “Step-by-step” approaches, “framework” approaches, “building blocks,” comprehensive disarmament treaties, do give nuclear weapon states and their agents veto power. That is why these approaches will never bear fruit — until such time as other states have formally made nuclear weapons illegal to possess, use, and share.

In the meantime, NGO pleas for a “no first use” declaration from the US remain pathetically disempowered. They also undercut the humanitarian initiative by implying that ANY use of nuclear weapons would be useful, or moral. Where is the petition against any SECOND use of nuclear weapons?

In this regard, Robert McNamara said on more than one occasion that he strongly advised presidents Kennedy and Johnson to NEVER use nuclear weapons, under any circumstance whatsoever, even if the US were attacked with nuclear weapons.

I am also reminded that when Norman Cousins approached Albert Schweitzer in Africa about supporting a nuclear test ban treaty, Schweitzer declined. He said, in periphrasis because I do not have the quote handy, that this was a dangerous approach. It is not nuclear tests which should be banned, but nuclear weapons. This has turned out to be prescient.

At one of our own Study Group public meetings in the early 1990s in Los Alamos, Hans Bethe said we did not need a nuclear test ban treaty because we did not need nuclear weapons. At the time I thought that was too clever by half, but the wisdom of that statement has grown on me.

If all the compromise policies of all the arms control groups were implemented tomorrow — typically these run to as much as 10-12% of proposed nuclear weapons budgets — the world would still be unable to turn from the war and violence that is tearing it apart toward realistically facing, with justice, the dire threats of abrupt climate collapse, poverty and development, sustained and spreading drought, wars and the collapse of states, mass migrations, and so on. We cannot let compromise, or cosmetic, nuclear solutions crafted in or for the U.S. to distract the world community.

The fate of nuclear weapons and perhaps humanity itself largely revolves around approaches to nuclear disarmament which, in their legal and political norm-setting stages, do not require the participation of the United States, its nuclear-dependent states, or other nuclear weapon states.

Doomsday Forum – 2016, A story of deterrence, arrogance and extreme militarism

Guest post by Valentina Bellafante, Los Alamos Study Group Disarmament Fellow

On June 21, Albuquerque hosted the second annual symposium of the Strategic Deterrent Coalition, a “non-profit, non-partisan, community-based organization of concerned citizens with the mission of educating and informing the public and decision makers on the importance of a valid Nuclear Triad and strategic weapons”. The SDC’s mission of “educating the public” was absent in this exclusive event, given its unaffordable entrance fee of 250$.

Thus, the supposedly “public” symposium was mostly attended by active nuclear military (they received free admission), representatives of contractors working on the US arsenal, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) staff and government spokespeople.

The room was filled with extreme elite militarism; it looked like those secret Masonic meetings one only sees in movies.

The main message delivered at the event was clear, the United States needs all the enhancements that modernization will bring: new bombers, ICMBs, warheads and missiles. According to the speakers, only this complete and comprehensive asset will allow the US to maintain a “reliable and credible nuclear deterrent” to defend the country from increasing threats coming from hostile states. This modernization is outlined in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2010 (October 2009) and later in the Section 1251 Report Update to the NDAA of FY2010 (November 2010). No debate, not much space for questions.

Though the Cold War was before my time, I wonder if military propaganda meetings of the fifties were similar to this one.

The Cold War allowed the US to develop its international position quite comfortably. During World War II, the country suffered only a moderate number of casualties (compared to other states), its land untouched by bombings and its economy swollen with war production. The US managed an undisturbed rise as a superpower, and did so rather easily, in a world recently torn by two devastating conflicts. The reconstruction of Russia as an enemy allowed huge expenditures on defense programmes and fostered the development of a thriving military class that still survives today.

These smug men depicted an unstable world, in which the good guys (the United States) are surrounded by wicked, aggressive enemies ready to strike. And now they advocate for a strong, up-to-date, arsenal to deter such attacks.

But the international landscape changed since the Cold War. Many nuclear countries decided to pursue a reduced atomic arsenal to ensure a “minimum deterrent.” Russia and the US have negotiated nuclear cuts (with the Start II and Moscow treaties) while global threats have made way for local threats.

And the United States actually did change its strategic posture, becoming more hawkish with each step. Despite Obama’s stated intent to reduce the American nuclear arsenal, both militaries and his own governmental officials buried every possibility of following this objective. The nuclear hawks’ and the militarists’ power in the Administration became stronger as neo-cons came to power in this century, allowing them to exert a great and growing influence on US policies. These individuals fostered the modernization of the nuclear arsenal, justifying it with other countries’ progress in the field and their alleged aggressiveness toward the US.

It’s pretty clear, however, that the most aggressive country at the moment is the US. Even if Russia and China were to develop new missiles or warheads, we shouldn’t forget, for instance, the repeated provocation of Russia by NATO in Europe, the last of which was the development of a missile defense system in Romania, with another to follow in Poland.

And how has Evil Putin answered? Until now, he hasn’t. He delivered a concerned speech to top Russian military and political decision-makers, acknowledging technological developments of Americans as if to say, “we should be careful”. This shows that Russians have developed another kind of response to enemies’ provocations, different from the mere reaction-in-kind they used to carry out during the Cold War.

It is only in US propaganda that Russia seems the more Cold-War-rationale-led country of the two.

The SDC Symposium speakers argued that the modernization of the arsenal will protect the country against North Korean, Chinese or Russian attacks. Let’s quickly analyze all the options. In the first case, Kim Jong-un may be mad, but he isn’t stupid. He knows he can’t win a nuclear war against the US (as if a nuclear war could ever be won), so it’s quite unlikely he will start one. His repeated nuclear and missile tests seem more a way of increasing his internal consensus by trying to convince the population that his leadership will make their country one of the world’s great powers, as well as an attempt to gain influence over other international actors.

China announced a no first use policy in the mid-60s and doesn’t seem inclined to change it. Rather, China is focusing on local and domestic issues, aiming to acquire/maintain a regional hegemony. Russia has been involved in a series of (more and less serious) skirmishes with NATO in Europe, but still doesn’t seem willing to react heavily to American provocations in Europe.

What do we have on the other side? The US continues expanding NATO closer and closer to Russian borders (in May 2016, final accession talks were concluded to allow Montenegro to become a NATO observer; by the Spring 2017 its accession programme should be completed). Ever on the nuclear move, the US is reorganizing its military deployment according to the “pivot to Asia” and is speeding the development of new, more usable nuclear weapons (like the B61-12) to be deployed not only in the United States but in Europe, too.

This risks creating the very same destabilizing atmosphere the US claims it wants to counter.

The military establishment and its rationale are now stronger than ever, scaring many Americans who are weary of this extreme nuclear militarism. The population is, however, actively involved in only a few initiatives to counter this trend. Their silence is taken as a tacit consensus on the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. All those concerned Americans should not be passive but should protest and prevent nuclear military and government hawks from shaping their ideas.

Although the US population was not heard from or taken into account at this conference, its position is very important. The lack of strong and visible opposition seems to mean that nobody notices the thorough militarization of American society; nobody understands how the modernization programme is nothing but a way to have the most powerful and aggressive weapons to frighten adversaries. Nobody appears to care that a trillion dollars will be spent on weapons that will be built to (hopefully) never be used. Nobody seems to notice that the most tireless advocates for the modernization are the same ones that will benefit the most from it, at the expense of health care, development projects and social welfare.

The nuclear establishment wants average Americans to think that US needs a strong deterrent to protect against aggressive Russia, evil North Korea and mean China. Steadfastly refusing to reconsider this path, though, US has made itself the boogeyman of the international landscape. All its citizens reacting to perceived dangers (which the government wants them to perceive), while ignoring real and immediate risks. The ultimate effect is triggering an arms race. When the most aggressive country develops extremely deadly and usable nuclear weapons, what other choice is left to the rest of the world?

This huge modernization process increases by magnitude how much America can threaten other nations, forcing them to build up their defenses in answer.

Some of the things the speakers said were more impressive, however.

Speaking of the Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO), the brand new air-launched, supersonic, extremely-precise missile that the modernization should lead to, Cecil Haney (STRATCOM Commander) stated that the new missile will help to make the US a “geographic sanctuary”. This concept is (and has always been) very attractive to worried Americans and simultaneously it’s an old refrain often used to guarantee appropriations for those projects from which militaries could gain/earn more. The “sanctuary” myth has obsessed the US for a long time. One might recall the Strategic Defense Initiative project under Reagan.

But is there, seriously, anybody who really thinks that this is feasible? Developing offensive capabilities is far easier than building comprehensive defenses. By now it should be clear that this rhetoric is merely a way to protect governmental/military jobs. But this isn’t clear to everybody. Some Americans, the ones still relying on nukes to guarantee their own security, really hope that someday they will have a huge invisible dome protecting their homes and loved ones. These people are the target of the “military populism”, which leverages on panic, anxiety and collective ignorance, spreading like a virus among the population.

At lunch we were entertained by the nostalgic tale of Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, grandson of Paul Tibbets, the man that dropped the “Little Boy” atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. This young man, moving toward to the podium in his perfect uniform, began by speaking of how his grandfather’s action brought the war to an end. He proudly explained that the United States won the war thanks to the atomic bombs, that their use saved many lives. Words don’t convey how disgusting these words sounded.

Seeing one man smiling while enthusiastically speaking of the horrible death of thousands was sickening. I wondered if he ever saw the pictures of what his brave grandfather did to hapless human beings. What if he had seen the shadows left by vaporized men, if he had seen the burnt bodies, if he had witnessed the greatest tragedy of human history. Not content with his grandfather’s story, Tibbets added a bit of sexism and patriarchy, showing a video on Air Force wives’ sacrifices, underlining that marrying an airman is like marrying the Air Force and its mission. In barely ten minutes he managed to insult and disrespect the victims of the most brutal war-crime ever and all the Earth’s women. This was not, however, the worst part. Can you imagine a hall full of people laughing at jokes while hearing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I couldn’t have, before attending this symposium.

Thanks to SDC, though, we were relieved to know that the United States isn’t the only country with “bizarre” nuclear ideas. Some “interesting” statements were delivered also by international guests, in particular, by representatives of the UK and South Korea.

John Macdonald, Head of Nuclear Policy of the UK Ministry of Defense, devoted his speech to underlining how important cooperation with the US is to the UK. He welcomed the renewed commitment to cooperation between the two, sealed in 2014 by re-signing the 1958 Mutual Defense Agreement. He went on to assert that the UK is a “responsible nuclear weapons state.”

One wonders how any state with nuclear weapons can consider itself responsible? If we can’t even, unfortunately, guarantee the security of our airports, train stations or streets, how can we sleep easily knowing that nuclear weapons are around? Do we really believe they are so carefully stored that stealing one is impossible? No one can guarantee 100% security of nuclear weapons. Any possession of weapons of mass destruction makes their theft and eventual use possible, with catastrophic consequences. This is why even the mere possession of these weapons must be regarded as irresponsible.

Macdonald went further, reaffirming that both countries want to head towards a world without nuclear weapons but only “when security conditions will allow.” This is not what any nation committed to when signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)! Nuclear Weapons States vowed to negotiate in good faith (the academic world has spoken enough on this vague formulation) to pursue disarmament, full stop. Not “disarmament when we think the security environment will be comfortable enough.” The lack of a deadline for disarmament in the NPT allows this kind of speculation. The Treaty’s deficiencies have, over the years, led to increasing proliferation and a stagnant disarmament process.

The speech by Dr. Kwang-Chan Ahn, Former Deputy Minister from the South Korean Ministry of Defense, was more disturbing than rational.

Ahn said that South Koreans are losing trust in the US nuclear umbrella and that something more should be done to allow them to live a serene life. He anxiously called for an upgrade of US protection against the North Korean threat, proposing the re-deployment of American tactical nukes on ROK territory. Moreover, he suggested that the United States could pre-emptively strike DPRK if convinced of an imminent attack against South Korea. He also developed a chart with pros and cons of such a plan. Briefly, this man was suggesting starting a nuclear war because he was afraid of a nuclear war. Smart. And shocking proposal. The worst part is that it didn’t come from a common (or typical) man with no experience nor interest in strategy or international relations, but from a former deputy Minister.

The pro-disarmament position was entrusted to Joe Cirincione, from the Ploughshares Fund. He was very clear: nuclear weapons are “immoral, unnecessary and unaffordable.” He said that this idea is quickly spreading, not only among world population but also among governments and nongovernmental entities which recently met in Geneva at the OEWG to foster multilateral negotiation for nuclear disarmament. Even if his speech was full of fine words, it seemed too diplomatic and out of touch with the event.

Being a disarmament activist, sitting in a pro-nuclear forum (strange, huh) gives one an opportunity for rebuttal and it seemed that he omitted what he really thinks.

Two different points of view were expressed during the “View on Modernization” panel: Peter Huessy, of the Air Force Association Mitchell Institute, spoke out for the modernization programme, claiming that alternatives to modernization and opposition to the nuclear arsenal “almost universally promote grave instability at very little savings” (only in the military are billions ‘very little’ ! Blech). Barry Bleachman, co-founder of The Stimson Center, was the only one to call for a reduction of the developments envisaged under this programme, considering them too ambitious.

Then, we were shown a video: “Sleepwalking into Nuclear Nightmares”, produced by the Center for Assurance, Deterrence, Escalation and Non-Proliferation Science & Education (CADENSE). It was supposed to convince us (especially the young cadets in the audience) how hostile the environment where US moves is and how much the country needs a modern atomic arsenal. It featured a sleeping little girl dreaming of scary Russians, North Koreans and Chinese preparing for war while the US “allows its nuclear forces to atrophy.” It outlined the great danger which Saudi Arabia, homeland of 15 out of 19 9/11 terrorists, which has purchased some missiles from China “for so-called deterrent purposes” represents. Hasn’t Saudi Arabia been a friend of the US? And why, if they purchase missiles they do it for “SO-CALLED” deterrent purposes and if the US does so, it’s SURELY for deterrence purposes? This wouldn’t make sense to any non-partisan listener. At the end of the clip, the little girl wakes and mushroom clouds shine in her eyes. Using a little girl for nuclear propaganda, is pretty tacky.

The event closed with the remarks of Frank Klotz, DOE Undersecretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator, NNSA. After exalting DOE and NNSA work in ensuring a “safe, secure and effective” strategic deterrent for the US, he coolly and briefly illustrated NNSA Life Extension Programmes (LEPs) and the plans to modernize the facilities and the infrastructures of the national security laboratories and production plants.

This forum taught me that the US is continuing on a dangerous path of extreme militarism, something one would think was buried with Cold War remains. American paranoia and the rhetoric of deterrence are pretexts to allow the development of a stronger, more aggressive nuclear power. The US, already first among world superpowers, is becoming a hyperpower. All under the guise of “modernization”!

Is it possible to turn the tide? Much depends on Americans: they can choose to impose upon the government to revert to being the bastion of freedom they have always claimed to be, or just give up and accept the reckless, hazardous and uncertain future recent Administrations have arranged for them.

For diplomats and international disarmament campaigners: “framework” approaches to nuclear disarmament are pernicious

Yesterday I sent the following message to a large number of international disarmament campaigners and a few others. I am posting it here for the sake of wider accessibility and for the record. For background see also:

Subject: “Framework” approaches are pernicious

It was wonderful to see some of you in Geneva and to see the wonderful progress that was made at the May meeting of the 2016 Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG). There is now considerable momentum among the world’s states toward a ban treaty.

Of course there are going to be efforts to diffuse and/or re-direct this momentum.

Some states and some NGOs want to harness the OEWG to provide support for disarmament “approaches” (using that word loosely) which require good faith involvement of the nuclear weapon states (NWSs).

Those approaches will not work because the NWSs do not want to disarm. They first have to be made to want to disarm, by a sufficient combination of forces they cannot control. Disarmament commitments of any kind whatsoever are not something NWSs can be persuaded to want, let alone to achieve, by any kind of multilateral negotiation or discussion. Powerful internal factions in these states prevent that. NWSs first must be presented with a fait accompli, with new fact, [namely] a ban treaty. Only then can “good faith” disarmament efforts begin to grow.

A ban treaty would be effective because it is coercive — not specifically coercive, but generally coercive. A ban treaty would strip some power — illegitimate power, but very real power — from NWSs. The “biggest loser” by far would be the U.S. One of the beautiful aspects of a ban treaty is that, being voluntary, it imposes nothing specific on non-signatory states, while it strips away, immediately, the claimed legitimacy of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.

In other words, a ban says the nuclear emperor has no clothes. An emperor with no clothes is not an emperor at all. That’s the end of him as an emperor. It’s the beginning of him as a mortal human being, the beginning of his humanity. The nuclear emperor will never negotiate anything — any “framework” for example — that includes the fact of his nakedness. That fact must first be established for all the world to see. It will be a process. The beginning of the process is a ban treaty in which each state party affirms that nuclear weapons are illegitimate — that the nuclear emperor has no clothes. Then the nuclear emperor will negotiate, sooner or later, and from a much weaker but more humane position. It is [a] fact-establishing process and a coercive process we are engaged in. There is not going to be any “convergence” with the NWSs in that process. They will howl.

All this seems too elementary to repeat, but again and again (and since getting home from Geneva) I see what look to me like desperate proposals from some NGOs for some kind of “framework agreement” that would “build engagement with nuclear-armed states” — as if that were even possible or a good idea, or for a “framework” which would provide only political rather than legal commitments.

Such “political commitments” are just fantasies and they don’t meet the central OEWG mandate for effective legal measures. They wouldn’t provide anything more than the “Thirteen Steps” of the 2000 NPT RevCon or the 2010 RevCon’s “Action Plan” did, both of which resulted in no action at all. They weren’t agreed to in good faith and they weren’t commitments. They were “promises” meant to be broken — lies. That is the best the NWSs can offer. It is pure folly to seek for more.

We also see proposals from NGOs for a series of “summits,” as if “summits” were effective legal measures. Anything but a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, apparently!

I could go on in greater detail and hope to do so in early June, after taking care of other work here. It seems incredibly important at this juncture to restrain the strange desire for “convergence” with NWSs and nuclear-dependent states, wherever and whenever possible.

If there is going to be any effective legal measure for nuclear disarmament, it is going to have to be negotiated — up to and including entry into force — by non-nuclear weapon states (NNWSs). The NWSs will do everything they can to prevent any disarmament treaty.

I don’t see how anyone with any experience at all could come to the conclusion that “bridges should be built” (or any other such language) with the NWSs. Yet this seems to be the sine qua non of the “framework” approach.

Pretending that all states want a “world without nuclear weapons,” which I heard repeated often in Geneva by diplomats as well as NGOs as a kind of mantra, was bizarre. None of the NWSs want a “nuclear weapons free world”, not in any meaningful way, and not yet. If they did, they’d act differently. Sure, politicians may say this or that, but why in the world should their claims be credenced, when the opposite is being done?

So I think the “framework” approach is very pernicious, because a “framework” implies something negotiated with NWSs (they have the weapons, after all). A “framework” without NWS participation boils down to a ban treaty. A “framework” approach that seeks NWSs concurrence would burn up years we do not have. You can see just how that would work by looking at the Conference on Disarmament.

The NNWS cannot achieve more than a ban treaty, since they do not have the weapons, and they cannot achieve less, if they would be effective.

The glory of the OEWG and of General Assembly procedures is that consensus cannot be used to suppress the aspirations of NNWSs for true collective security.

It seems almost too elementary to repeat, but we have to protect the power and agency of NNWSs as we go forward. If we can do that, and move with all due speed, a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is the natural outcome.

Stewards of the Apocalypse: an abridged history of U.S. nuclear weapons labs since 1989

What follows is a short and very abridged history of these labs since the Cold War, which will help us understand the political dynamics these labs operate in, how they attained their present grand scale – and what we can do about it. It is adapted from a talk I gave at the New York Academy of Medicine in February 2015 at a symposium sponsored by the Helen Caldicott Foundation entitled “The Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction.”

I tried to tell this story through distinguishable time periods, over the course of which there were about five separate “breakouts,” in which the labs escaped democratic control a bit more each time. In the process there were two major “deals” made with the arms control community, both under Democratic Party presidents. These deals failed to achieve their stated goals and facilitated breakout.

The most significant disarmament occurred during the presidencies of G. H. W. Bush and that of his son G. W. Bush, both Republicans. Obama has done the least for disarmament and the most for modernization.

Administrations change, with apparent novelty and some new slogans. Contractors change occasionally. But at the nuclear labs, there’s enormous continuity as well as change. Beneath the surface, the institutional DNA of the nuclear weapons labs has remained remarkably constant, for decades.

Finally, one cannot understand these laboratories in isolation from related issues. To understand the resurgence of nuclear weapons programs and spending today, it is also necessary to recount the general outline of U.S.-Russian relations in the post- Cold War period. I do that here, in italics. Basically, the neocons made a very successful end-run around nuclear arms control. The extent to which arms control advocates are victims of anti-Russian propaganda is still not much understood in Washington.

Stewards of the Apocalypse: an abridged history of U.S. nuclear weapons labs since 1989

1989-1994: Uncertainty and then downsizing (or “right-sizing”) at the labs. Rocky Flats shutdown and elimination of the Berlin Wall (both 1989). Reciprocal stockpile reductions (to about half of before), bomber de-alerting. Successive failures of DOE plans for a renewed weapons complex. Production site closures (about 80% of facilities). Staff declines (about 1/3 of weapons designers). End of nuclear weapons production after Short-Range Attack Missile (SRAM) workaround. Nuclear test moratorium from 9/92, extended under Sec. O’Leary in 1993 after collapse of stated testing rationales and notional commitment to what became Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship (SBSS). Eileen Welsome Pulitzer-prize reporting on human radiation experiments, O’Leary press conference (12/93). Initiation of the ambitious SBSS program (milestone JASON SBBS report, 11/94); aggressive programs for new nuclear weapons at labs continue to press upwards but fail.

During this period, Cold War triumphalism, which meant more to some factions than others. Leaked Wolfowitz draft Strategic Planning Guidance (1992), at the time seemingly dead in the water. Yeltsin era begins in 1991 (through 1999). Dismantling and collapse of Soviet Union; terrible hardship. Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II) signed (1993), ratified by Russia in 2000 under Putin, including the condition that U.S. must remain within the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.


1994-1996: Stabilization and groundwork for growth; new powers to the labs; many new weapons proposed, first new bomb built (B61-11). SBSS begins, the precursor of the broader Stockpile Stewardship and Management (SSM) program. SBSS the result of a political deal for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (“Deal #1”). The Galvin Panel threat to the labs (especially to LLNL and NIF) fended off. Clinton Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) fails under Ash Carter (1994), endorses status quo. SSM Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for weapons complex renewal. Comprehensive JASON 1995 study of stockpile: performance margins for fission primaries are all high enough and can be made higher; JASON issues strong warning against changes. Major effort to include disarmament provisions in Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) led by 120 countries of Non-Aligned Movement nations (NAM) fails in 1995 due to opposition from nuclear weapon states and U.S. arms control funders and NGOs; “Abolition Caucus” of NGOs formed in response. “Stockpile Confidence Symposium” hosted by STRATCOM later in 1995; new weapon candidates briefed to military by labs. First “Submarine Warhead Protection Program” (SWPP) meeting (1995), eventually leading to significant upgrade of W76 fuzing in what is now the W76-1 Life Extension Program (LEP), which as of Feb. 2015 was a little more than half completed. CTBT signed, new “Safeguards” in place with annual warhead certification requirement initiated which gave considerable power, really blackmail power as some understand it, to lab directors. With these changes a new era for labs begins. B61-11 earth-penetrator rapidly created by a field modification (1996) after years of study; it is the first “new” post-nuclear-testing warhead or bomb.


1995-2004: Decade of large real annual increases in warhead and lab spending, fully-supported by arms control community as part of CTBT ratification “deal.”

During this period, initial rise of the neocons. Project for a New American Century (PNAC) begins (1997); “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (2000). Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard (1997). Clinton turns right on NATO, nukes. Lewinsky scandal, impeachment, Kosovo war (all 1998). NATO expansions (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999; Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania in 2004); other Russian border states put in NATO “vestibule” pending membership.


1997 or 1998: National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “reforms” give additional new powers to lab directors and other weapons complex and STRATCOM leaders. Lab directors, who are contractors, now cannot be fired for opinions about stockpile, etc. “Project Sand Dune” (1997), part of stage-setting for new weapons in next administration (a repeating pattern).


1999-2000: “Lab Breakout” I, when CTBT ratification (“Deal #1”) fails. The labs just renege on the deal. Wen Ho Lee scandal. Foster Panel reports (these continue through 2003) promoting labs. NNSA created, largely to provide freedom from DOE oversight. PNAC nuclear policy study, which becomes blueprint for initial G. W. Bush nuclear policy.


2001-2005: Neocons in power, unprecedented warhead budgets (Breakout II, attempted but only partially successful); plan to make over or replace the entire arsenal in Bush NPR (fails but is successfully reinstated under Obama); Modern Pit Facility (MPF) proposed but fails. This breakout was checked in part by lack of sound purpose, by bipartisan congressional and NGO opposition, and florid, poor management. Half-year LANL security and safety shutdown (2004).

During this period, beginning of continuous global “liquid war” and resulting growing chaos (aka “War on Terror”). U.S. withdrawal from ABM treaty (2002), triggering end of START II (2002). The weak but surprisingly effective Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed (2002).


2005: Breakout III: physics lab privatization decision (LANS 2006, LLNS 2007). Bechtel-led consortia with only minor corporate differences take over both labs. Lab directors are now interest-conflicted corporate presidents and CEOs. Previous contractor (University of California) was not using the latent power of labs sufficiently. Privatization causes significant reductions in force and lays groundwork for defined-benefit pension crisis in the present decade. Warhead budgets begin falling in real terms as the cost of new wars weighs down the military budget and tax cuts are enacted. Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) proposed.

During this year (2005): Peak conventional (i.e. cheap) oil appears, in the form of an “undulating plateau” of production. Net oil exports peak worldwide, peak oil per capita and peak oil per dollar GDP all pass into history, initiating a new era of incipient scarcity. Oil and gas geopolitics in all their forms enter a fraught new period, with Russia near or at the top of oil export rankings and Europe highly and increasingly dependent on Russian gas.


2006-2008: Relative stability at the labs amid the growing turmoil about performance; budgets sag in real terms and operational costs soar. RRW dies. New plans laid; but global financial crisis. GW Bush retires half of nuclear arsenal (2007), fulfilling SORT commitment 5 years early.

During this period, Putin speech in Munich reviews history of arms control, drawing line, halting Russian weakness toward U.S. and NATO (Feb. 2007). Russo-Georgia war (2008).


2009-2010: Breakout IV: the “Prague Deception,” Nobel rumors (in February), then the Prague speech in April, then the prize. December 2009 love-fest with lab directors at White House; administration commits to wider role for nuclear labs in homeland security, intelligence and DoD, later visible in interagency charter of July 2010 immediately preceding New START endorsement by lab directors, plus also $1 trillion comprehensive DoD/DOE nuclear modernization commitment, plus also a New START without significant disarmament (with more warheads at higher readiness in the reserve arsenal than before). Vague NPR issued with differing interpretations. This whole package is “Deal #2.”

During this period, Albania and Croatia join NATO (2009).


2011-2013: Modernization falters. Flagship project Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) paused by litigation then fails from lack of need, wasting $500 million; fiasco continues to now [2016]. Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12 site in Oak Ridge stumbles and is dramatically downsized and redesigned, also wasting a half-billion or more dollars. At this point, every large NNSA and DOE project is in trouble. Budget Control Act (BCA) sequestration limits modernization “takeoff,” given the highly wasteful institutional environment.

During this period, direct U.S. involvement in U.S.-abetted and U.S.-ally-funded Syria war, sought by neocons since 2003 and before, averted at last minute (2013). Pentagon approves possible nuclear reduction of one-third, which isn’t implemented in part due to political conditions associated with Deal #2. Yalta (Crimea) conference about the (European) future of Ukraine and Crimea, including both Clintons and former DOE Sec. Richardson, who promises that fracking will provide natural gas independence for Ukraine from Russia.


2014: Breakout V: massive warhead budget liftoff at last, Obama disarmament hopes ended. But also some significant retrenchment and delays in stockpile management goals. Nuclear moderate Asst. DoD Sec. Andrew Weber fired by Obama; nuclear war-fighting mentality slips the leash. Old-fashioned “public service” fee model for labs floated by NNSA given poor performance under profit motive. “Interoperable” warhead delayed indefinitely at end of year or beginning of 2015, effectively ending (lab-written) “3 + 2” stockpile plan in all but name, but LRSO schedule moved up 3 years. LANL idiocy shuts down WIPP indefinitely due to scientific, management error incurring $500+ million in costs. DOE withholds all LANL fee, shortens contract by two years. Latest reform committees stumble forward fecklessly. NNSA called “failed experiment” but nothing is done.

During this period, U.S.- and other launch violent “color revolution” (“Maidan” coup d’etat), to bring Ukraine into the Western economic and political orbit which would drastically weaken Russia and seize Russia’s warm-water Black Sea port of Sevastopol, culturally and militarily part of Russia since Catherine the Great.. The new Ukraine government initiates civil war. Neo-Nazi violence grows. Russia accepts Crimea back after fair, highly-lopsided vote, without violence, frustrating neocon plan. Economic sanctions against Russia, plus a currency attack. And so arms reductions likely end under Obama before they begin.


2015-2016: continued robust budget growth, shorter warhead modernization deadlines, required design and prototyping of new warheads.

Meanwhile, Russia makes itself indispensable in Syria and as regards Iran, strengthens its military, elevates its nuclear command, establishes large, capable National Guard force, and continues nuclear modernization. Ukraine now seems a bigger problem for Europe. NATO forces strengthened dramatically across the Eastern Europe. Plans for big NATO navy base at Odessa. Cold War II well underway.


How shall we summarize this history of the labs? I would say:

  • There have been 25-plus years of crises and fiascos, punctuated by periods of apparent relative stability (or lack of visibility of problems). During most of this time, budgets have grown.
  • We have seen continuous active and passive support for nuclear labs by the arms control community, by Democrats as well as Republicans, right down to present day. Fantasies of “diversification,” “conversion,” and “cleanup” are used to bring in donors and Democratic Party voters. This is highly counterproductive.
  • Ever-more-sophisticated modes of public relations, political control, and propaganda are being used by these labs nationally as well as regionally. Mere existence at scale and continued funding largesse, without accountability, are now considered essential elements of the U.S. nuclear “deterrent,” independent of any products, milestones, or logic.
  • Approximately 55 studies of DOE lab reform were conducted from 1994-2014. Some are ongoing now [in 2015], all with little or no success. GAO has kept DOE and now NNSA large project management on its “high risk” list for waste, fraud, and abuse since the early 1980s. As a result of this and other factors, long survival of a functioning warhead complex is not assured. The great funding success of the warhead complex has also made it inefficient and internally weak. It is something of a stuffed goose.
  • Across this span of time the labs have gained power, but also squandered the same in poor management. Funding is higher but so are salaries; employment remains near Cold War levels.
  • A workload and mission crisis looms at LANL and LLNL especially, despite Herculean efforts by all three labs to broaden their missions. If new warheads are not funded the crisis will become general across the complex in the 2020s. New forms of hybrid war, and homeland security, have become a successful new business for SNL.

What prospect, then? Expanding our lens as at the beginning of this talk, we find ourselves in a new era, almost a discontinuity in history across many fronts. The common quality of these changes is increasing constraint on the choices available. A Churchillian “period of consequences” has begun. But please note, these constraints also act on the nuclear warhead enterprise, which faces headwinds it finds mysteriously potent.

To conclude, we face a number of risks, including:

  • Nuclear war, the risk of which is high and growing. There are already, or soon will be, fundamental material sources of conflict between nuclear armed states. By contrast the Cold War had a predominately ideological character.
  • Catastrophic climate change. Should we continue policies of nuclear deterrence on a grand scale, in a matrix of militarism sufficient to support it, we will be unlikely to address climate deterioration. Only economic collapse might save us.
  • Resource limitations, particularly of oil. These limitations are sharp and growing beneath the surface, despite apparent market gluts, themselves created by the end of growth, lack of purchasing power, debt saturation, etc. “Demand destruction” is a matter of geography and economic class. The race for resource dominance and related geopolitical position is the single most potent motivator of U.S. wars in this century.
  • Crises of capitalism, imperialism, and legitimacy of governance are now pervasive and linked. They are beginning to escape control, and as a result certain truths are no longer told in elite media. The mountain of misinformation (Robert Parry) is growing. Propaganda saturates decision-making circles, which are increasingly blind.

In such a situation we have very little to lose by boldness, and everything to lose by incrementalism. When a centrist former Secretary of Defense (William Perry) argues that the U.S. has no need for either ICBMs or new cruise missiles, we should sit up and pay attention. Why is the Air Force in the nuclear business at all? The answer to that question is not “nuclear deterrence.”

There will be no wide or deep political support for discussions of how many of our nuclear demons will fit on the head of a pin. We should be aiming at deep cuts and major changes in policy, not 10% trims. We need to advocate for slashing lab budgets and we need to attack the legitimacy of nuclear weapons themselves. This, as part of a broader turning of our society away from militarism, empire, and war, toward human solidarity and stewardship of our precious, fragile earth.