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December 31, 2015

Bulletin 214: Funding appeal (last day); what is to be done; will Udall and Heinrich push new nukes? (more)

  1. Last days of 2015 funding appeal: thank you, please help support the Study Group if you can! 

  2. New board members!

  3. ICAN continues to lead toward a nuclear ban treaty

  4. “What is to be done”

  5. Internships available

  6. Feinstein opposes the proposed new nuclear cruise missile; what about Udall?

  7. Important McClatchy series on sick nuclear workers

  8. Next time:

  • Building opposition to retaining two full-size physics labs
  • Manhattan Project National Historical Park update
  • Omnibus spending bill endorses expanding warhead budget

A very happy and productive New Year to everybody!

Dear friends –

1. Last days of 2015 funding appeal: thank you, please help support the Study Group if you can!

Thank you so much for your generous financial support.  This is the last day of the year and we hope all of you who can contribute but haven’t will do so.  You can also contribute on-line and in many other ways.  For more on why and how to support our work, see this.

2. New board members

We mentioned our two newest board members back in Bulletin 210 but only in passing.  So to repeat: we are grateful and very happy to welcome Bob Alvarez and Mia Gandenberger to our board.  You can see their backgrounds here.  They bring us tremendous additional expertise, experience, and greatly enhance our presence in Washington and Geneva.

3. ICAN continues to lead toward a nuclear ban treaty

Looking back on 2015, excellent progress was made towards a treaty banning nuclear weapons despite numerous diplomatic distractions and opposition from nuclear weapon states (and from states which foolishly rely on a U.S. nuclear “umbrella”).

There is also a revealing lack of support for prohibiting nuclear weapons from the U.S. arms control and nonproliferation community, which seldom if ever crosses the State Department.

The excellent International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) led the way. ICAN recently produced a useful world map of the 121 states now supporting a ban, with statements. (The size is 594 mm x 841 mm; it may be best viewed on a screen.)  A large majority of the world's governments have declared their support for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Now we need to convince them to act.

In addition, this year the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) formally endorsed the humanitarian perspective toward nuclear weapons (as opposed to the “deterrence” perspective, which legitimates possession, deployment and threats using nuclear weapons). The UNGA set up a working group to start talks next year in Geneva on new legal measures for nuclear disarmament, including a ban treaty.

As we have explained several times over the past year in these Bulletins, we believe the diplomatic effort toward a treaty banning the development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons is the only practical and realistic multilateral nuclear disarmament diplomacy we have seen since 1995. Such a treaty would be simple, exquisitely flexible and powerful, universally compatible with other efforts, yet entirely voluntary. It should be tabled without delay. The 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik talks between Reagan and Gorbachev (October 11-12, 1986) would be a propitious moment.

4. “What is to be done”

Please consider these actions, which range from the seemingly small to the plainly awesome:

  • Writing letters to editors about issues discussed in these Bulletins and letters; commenting on newspaper articles (so others read your comments); convening discussions and letter-writing get-togethers;
  • Hosting house meetings with (or for) Study Group;
  • Volunteering in our Albuquerque office on a regular basis, which will enable other volunteers as well;
  • Fundraising, in various interesting flavors ranging from person-to-person outreach, to hosting events, to recruiting customers for Positive Energy Solar (at $500 each for the Study Group).  In wealthier circles – which is to say, influential circles, since the U.S. is now an oligarchy – political outreach is almost identical with fundraising;
  • Using social media to distribute our bulletins, Facebook and blog posts and tweets to your friends and contacts, add perspectives, and to organize in your own place and way; and finally
  • We may have some distance-working opportunities for skilled graphic artists, investigators, and analysts. Ideally we would have one more staff person or experienced volunteer in the office before opening this door even a crack, but we do already know experienced and/or talented people who might not realize we could use their help.  Call (505-265-1200) or write.

We have other specific projects in mind but won’t mention them here until one or more committed volunteers who are able to coordinate some of these projects steps forward.  We have too many high-value projects already.

Setting aside the Study Group’s own identified volunteer opportunities for now, I would like to highlight two other political activities that rise to the top of our list of recommendations for the New Year.

First, we very much want our members to work toward increasing the number of full-time independent, activists based in communities based on non-pecuniary values, especially in the churches.  It is critical.  As we wrote back in April,

Churches can solve such [practical resource] problems far more easily [than issue-oriented nonprofits], and as we have previously written, I think that every church which can afford to pay a pastor can also afford to support a full-time climate/energy worker supported by a committee of people with free housing, free food, free social and spiritual support, a stipend or low salary, and so on.  Such a person would amplify the moral effectiveness, by which I mean the political effectiveness, of the church a hundredfold.  Pious homilies and petitions mean about zero.  It takes boots on the ground, as the other side says.

What is essential is to get beyond the constraints of liberalism as well as the politically-correct fads of today, and to learn and gain experience, and to learn to respect reality.  All this will happen if the commitment is strong enough.

As matters stand, there is no social infrastructure, not much experience, not much independence from the political parties and from foundation philanthropy, and so on, which means there is no social movement, no media and political traction to speak of, and very little effectiveness.

What stands in the way, more often than not, is thinking the situation, at every level and in every way, is better than it is[, which leads to grossly inadequate, merely “hopeful” strategies].

We can help with this and will do so if you ask.  But the leadership has to come from members.

Second, we all need to simplify, first and foremost to expand the space in which we can act, both politically as well as practically in our own lives, and also to boycott the destruction inherent in our consumerist culture.

As Chuck McCune of McCune Solar Works puts it, we need to “boycott ecocide.” Even as we work with all our might for political and policy change, we cannot wait and we should not participate in needless destruction.  Our political system may never respond, let alone sufficiently.  Our own household transformation is a powerful testimony, provided we understand (and shout from the rooftops) that private initiatives won’t be enough, and act accordingly.

In all this, we will need to bring our friends along with us.

For more on “what is to be done” please see the next post on Forget the Rest, coming this afternoon.

5. Internships available

We don’t have much money but we do have a little money, and we have housing, food, and transportation, and a supportive community.  We can offer the chance to help make a real difference.  For details and how to apply see the announcement on our home page, to be posted soon.

6. Feinstein opposes the proposed new nuclear cruise missile; what about Udall?

On December 15 Senator Markey released a group letter opposing the development of the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) weapon, a proposed stealthy air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) to be fitted with a nuclear warhead.  The letter was signed by Democratic senators Boxer, Franken, Leahy, Markey, Merkley, Sanders, Wyden – and most importantly, by Senator Feinstein.

Senator Feinstein is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which funds the Department of Energy (DOE) and the nuclear weapons programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  There are now 9 Republicans and 8 Democrats on this subcommittee.

Previously, on October 15, former defense secretary William Perry and very recent former assistant secretary of defense Andrew Weber published an important opinion piece in the Washington Post opposing LRSO.  These individuals’ views carry weight on this topic.  For his part, Perry had led development of nuclear cruise missiles during the Cold War.  And by virtue of his position Andrew Weber was, until 2014, staff director for the Nuclear Weapons Council, the senior body overseeing all aspects of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

As Perry and Weber point out, more than 1,000 nuclear-tipped LRSOs are planned, as we were told by reliable administration sources as well.  Only one (1) warhead or bomb per heavy bomber is counted under New START; currently 76 B-52Hs can each carry up to 20 air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), with 44 of these bombers currently assigned nuclear roles.  LRSOs are also to be carried by B-2s, of which there are 20 (16 assigned to nuclear roles).  The proposed 80-100 new Long Range Strike Bombers (LRSBs) now under development would also deliver LRSOs.  (For references and general background see the United States chapter in Assuring Destruction Forever, 2015 edition.)

So, essentially, neither present-day ALCMs nor any future LRSOs are counted under New START.  LRSO is, as one official said, a “breakout weapon” that dramatically increases the number of nuclear warheads that can be placed on Russian and Chinese targets, with little warning and low detectability.  Even the stealthiest bomber has many times the radar cross section of a cruise missile.  A bomber flies (much) higher and more visibly also, and announces its presence when the first bomb explodes.

LRSO and the other proposed new nuclear weapons are all about trying to gain “advantage” in nuclear war – by forward basing, or greater stealth, or greater numbers (deployed and reserve, both), or shorter flight times, or more accurate delivery, or all of the above.  Anti-ballistic missile defense systems of dubious effectiveness are being deployed to degrade enemy response.

Of course there will be no “advantage” or “acceptable damage” in nuclear war, a reality which is escaping the notice of nuclear war planners in the Pentagon and the military today.

Lots of countries have nuclear-capable cruise missiles or are building them.  There are export models.  Some can be launched from what appear to be standard shipping containers on merchant ships, from trucks or trains, from small ships, in addition to aircraft.  Some cruise missiles are hypersonic; some maneuver; some are stealthy.  There is no real defense.  These aspects of the problem are worthy of much more detailed discussion, but not now.

The immediate, narrow question for New Mexicans is whether we will let our congressional delegation authorize and fund this new, war-fighting nuclear weapon.  Tom Udall takes credit for siding with Republicans and helping push the new B61-12 precision-guided nuclear bomb through Senator Feinstein’s subcommittee, over Democratic objections.  (Some of you may want to see this test video we obtained from Sandia National Laboratories, not otherwise published).  Will Udall do the same with the LRSO warhead, then?  So far, he has.

Will Senator Heinrich, with his seat on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, vote to authorize this warhead?  He has so far.

And what about the first so-called “Interoperable Warhead” (IW-1), supposedly for both Navy submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and Air Force ICBMs, but which isn’t really very interoperable and which the Navy doesn’t really want?  Will Tom Udall support IW-1 too?  Will Martin Heinrich?  Both have so far.  This too is cryptically a breakout program and an infrastructure-building program.  It has nothing directly to do with maintaining ICBM warheads in the 2030s (as if we needed any).

If the entirely unnecessary LRSO and IW-1 were to die in a sudden fit of government rationality, what would NNSA do, actually?  A great deal less than planned.  NNSA and DOE might then find funds to dismantle surplus bombs, tear down NNSA’s inventory of empty, contaminated buildings and clean up its sites, for starters.

But make no mistake: there will be no $2.2 billion (B) per year laboratory in Los Alamos, or $1.5 B lab (approximately) in Livermore, without a steady flow of new warheads and bombs.

Logically, there is no evading the fact that the nation does not need two heavily-redundant full-sized physics laboratories, as big as they were (but costing much more in constant dollars) during the Cold War.

7. Important McClatchy series on sick nuclear workers

We have collected the stories in the excellent recent McClatchy series on the hazards and illnesses faced by nuclear weapons workers here, along with some background by Bob Alvarez.  Bob played a big role both in bringing these safety problems to light as well as shepherding compensation legislation (EEOICPA) through Congress.  Prior to this, Bob, as a long-time staff member for Senator Glenn, played a significant role in setting up the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB).

We bring this up because since its inception the DNFSB has been a highly professional and well-run organization which has been fairly effective in limiting accidents and exposures across the warhead complex, despite its small size and lack of regulatory power.  Unfortunately the safety challenges of the warhead complex are very far from solved, and the purely advisory DNFSB has been under withering fire for several years from contractor lobbyists and nuclear hawks in Congress who believe worker and public safety have been overemphasized.

The general results of this pushback are predictable.  There will be more accidents and more exposures.

In solidarity,
Greg Mello, for the Study Group

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