minuteman_III.jpg (18753 bytes)Nuclear missileers are ever-ready

by Nathan Hodge & Sharon Weinberger

No job is quite like that of modern nuclear missileers — Air Force officers whose sole purpose is to sit 65 feet underground, living in a 162-square-foot missile launch capsule, and wait for orders from the president of the United States to turn the keys that launch their missiles toward enemy targets.

We came to F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, home of the 90th Space Wing, to watch the demonstration of a missile launch. Since rehearsing a launch in an active capsule is — for obvious reasons — not done, missileers must practice the procedures leading up to the key turn in a simulator facility. We came here for an answer to one question: “How do missileers feel about the key turn, the crucial task they will perform only once, if at all?”

There was a moment of silence, and then Lt. Melanie Stricklan and Capt. Shawn Lee casually unhooked their chair restraints in the simulator and turned around. “The first several months, you get all excited, nervous, but then you get used to it,” Lee told us. Stricklan disagreed. “I’ve been doing this for two years,” she said cheerfully, “and it makes me anxious every time.”

The two young officers struck us as serious but levelheaded — exactly the type of people you would want in control of those keys. Unlike the weapons designers at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, known for dark humor and mindful of their morbid power, the missileers tended not to joke about their duties in front of outsiders.

That the missileers would look at their job very differently than other members of the nuclear weapons world is not such a surprise. But that they look at it the same way missileers looked at it 20 years ago is somewhat shocking. Sixteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union, young missileers are still going to work every day, rehearsing the end of the world. The world has changed; the world of the missileers has not.

Without an enemy like the Soviet Union, we were curious how young Air Force officers could still justify sitting underground waiting for Armageddon. Stricklan said, “The Soviet Union may not be the highest threat, but deterrence applies to rogue nations.” Lee said he would feel comfortable executing a lawful order. “America is not going to be an aggressive nation,” he said. “We would not just nuke someone.”

Dr. Bruce Blair, a former missileer who is president of the World Security Institute, an expert on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, and author of numerous books and articles on security issues, was far more cynical when we interviewed him, calling the missileers “lost in the twilight zone.” Blair has periodically returned to the ICBM bases, including Warren, to interview the young missileers. “You go out in the field, nothing has changed. The same kind of rationale is instilled in the crews about deterrence.”

We were sitting that morning in an austere auditorium, listening to the daily briefing by Col. Michael Fortney, 90th Operations Group commander. This is the same briefing that the 319th Missile Squadron and other missileers get every single morning before they head off for what could, on any day, be the day they launch their missiles. One topic was the newly introduced three-day alert, in which three crew members go to the launch facility together for three days, rotating periodically to allow one person to go aboveground to rest. Three-day alerts — not popular with the missileers — are largely a cost-saving measure, sparing the base multiple trips to change out crews. Missileers cumulatively drive millions of miles each year to get from base to launch facilities.

Following the briefing, we piled into a government SUV with our traveling companions: two local television journalists, two public affairs officers and another Air Force escort, Maj. Jared Granstrom. It was approximately 100 miles from the base to Echo One, a Missile Alert Facility (MAF), and for most of the journey we traveled on I-80, until we approached the Wyoming state line. We exited at Pine Bluffs and drove through Main Street. Our final turnoff to Echo One was so easy to miss that the first time around we drove right past it and had to circle back. We then drove a few miles, turning on and off numbered county roads until we finally approached a long gravel roadway. The SUV slowed to 10 miles per hour as we approached a gate and what appeared to be an ordinary ranch house, save for the imposing satellite dish sticking out of the top.

Security, as we soon learned, started at the gate. Though we had driven down public roads to the very end, the land surrounding the facilities belonged to private ranchers, and the government’s domain didn’t begin until 25 feet outside the gate. When we had stopped along the way to allow the broadcast journalists to film outside the perimeter of an actual missile silo, we could see there was just a fence protecting it from the surrounding ranch land. The proximity of the ranches to the missiles lends itself to an eerie image of what the start of a nuclear war might actually look like. Perhaps the first living thing to see the missiles flying would be a cow grazing impassively near the silo fence.

Security duty at the silos and launch facilities is generally an uneventful job. Protesters, when they come, are usually peaceful. One notable exception was in 2006, when a trio of antinuke protesters dressed as clowns spawned such cute headlines as “Krusty Versus Minuteman III.” The clown attack was spearheaded by Carl Kabat, a Roman Catholic priest in his 70s; he and two veterans cut their way through the chain-link fence and managed, according to their claims, to smash the lock to the entry hatch using a “sledgehammer and household hammers.”

After a guard appeared and inspected our identification, we entered the MAF, beginning with a tour topside to get a sense of how the crew spent its time. From the inside, the building looks something akin to a college dormitory with all the usual trappings, meaning the largest and most modern item is a large-screen television in the common room. A dining area adjacent to the living quarters offers cafeteria-style seating; farther down, a narrow hall leads to a series of bedrooms where the security staff and others sleep in shifts, along with a cramped office for the facility manager, a sort of superintendent of the missile world.

After another security check, we were allowed to enter the underground part of the facilities. As the elevator descended, we were given rules to follow: Keep your hands off the equipment; don’t touch switches or valves; stay away from high-pressure hoses; and watch your heads. We arrived at the bottom and entered the subterranean world of the missileers — not at the capsule but inside a sepulchral cavern that housed an aging environmental system to keep cool, fresh air flowing into the capsule, and diesel generators for emergency powerbackup.

To our right was the missile capsule, separated by a set of 12-ton blast doors. The capsule is often compared to a yolk suspended in an egg, an apt analogy. Four 1,200-pound cylindrical shock absorbers sit under the capsule, which is also suspended from the ceiling. In the event of a nuclear blast, the capsule might shake up and down like a yolk in an egg, but the shell will remain intact. Or so goes the theory.

As we stepped inside the capsule, there was something strangely familiar about the scene. It was the image of the iconic Cold War-era thriller WarGames — the movie that opens with two missileers being given the order to launch their missiles.

Once inside, we were introduced to Capt. Joseph Reveteriano and Capt. Jason Martin, the missileers on alert that day at Echo One. They were seated in front of a console with an incomprehensible array of push buttons, hardwired telephones, and flickering computer screens. A collection of black and red binders marked “Secret” and “Top Secret” was parked atop the console. Perhaps the most prominent reminder of what the missileers were doing was not the simple lockbox that held “the keys,” but the digital clock lit up in red against a black background and flashing Zulu time (the military designation for Greenwich mean time) — a seeming miniature version of a doomsday clock.

Each MAF is connected to 10 Minuteman III missiles (as in launch photo). Multiple MAFs are linked to the same missile field — part of a redundant system meant to protect against a disabling first strike. Launching a missile requires the consent or “vote” of two MAFs. Each missile capsule has a vote that is cast when the two missileers simultaneously turn their keys. It requires two votes — i.e., four people in two separate capsules — to initiate a missile launch. The missileers can only launch the missiles with the correct codes — codes that come directly from the president. The testament to the success of this system, they told us, was that in more than four decades, there had never been an incident that could have led to an illicit launch.

Inside the capsule, we chatted with the captains about their lives and jobs. When we asked the missileers about their thoughts on pulling alert duty in the post-Cold War era, we got a jumble of explanations. We realized that at least for the two missileers at Echo One that day, thinking about the job didn’t extend very much beyond the day-to-day duties. And those duties, over the years since the end of the Cold War, have changed very little.

Though we heard missileers say they hoped they would never have to turn the key, the stated presumption was that their jobs would always be necessary. There was always someone to be deterred.

The hair-trigger alert is the main reason for having missileers. And in 2008, the need to keep missileers sitting deep underground manning nuclear-tipped missiles on hair-trigger alert is becoming increasingly anachronistic.

Back in 2005, Gen. Lance Lord, then the head of U.S. Air Force Space Command, boasted that there were 9,000 Air Force personnel who were safeguarding an ever-shrinking stockpile of nuclear weapons. “As the wing commander at F. E. Warren,” he said, “routinely I was asked, ‘How does winning the Cold War change your mission?’ It doesn’t.”

It is hard to imagine that keeping young and highly trained Air Force personnel locked underground is really the best use of resources. If nothing else, it strikes us as terribly unimaginative. Nuclear deterrence did not always exist, and it seems somehow odd to think that it always will.

According to at least one poll, most Americans now believe the chances of an all-out nuclear war are remote. But for the squadron’s wing commander, Col. Michael Morgan, the fact that the missileers are not really at the forefront of most Americans’ minds is, if anything, a good thing. “These are strategic nuclear weapons,” he said. “The message that we have is not for the American people; the message that we have is for our potential adversaries. And what we do speaks loud and clear to the folks overseas.”

It was clear to us that the missileers were all trying to hang on to deterrence as the rationale to do their jobs. For Morgan, as for the missileers, deterrence is a philosophical question best left to Washington and the politicians. “It’s our job as professional military officers to salute smartly and carry out the desires of our duly elected civilian officials,” he told us.

Superficially, it would be easy to consider the missileers mindless robots who simply follow orders to turn the switch. In the training capsule, we asked Lee and Stricklan what would happen after the missiles launched. That, after all, is something that couldn’t really be rehearsed. “After?” Lee replied, looking a bit perplexed.

The MAFs are meant to survive a nuclear attack — at least long enough for the missileers to turn the key. They are not intended for any sort of long-term survival. There is just a few days’ worth of food at the MAF and no medical care, let alone long-term life support. As Bruce Blair recalled of his days as a missileer, the post Armageddon plan was for them to report to a local National Guard bureau. “Our instructions were you hang out till you’ve launched the last missile. Then you dig yourself out and you walk to Helena, Montana,” he told us. In other words, he was ordered to walk 200 miles “through smoking, irradiated ruins of a state, where you would basically die of radiation poisoning within an hour after leaving the silo.” His post-launch orders were, as he put it, “a joke.”

Yet the missileers belowground had at least a better chance than the crew topside. So what, we asked, would the crew do? The facilities were built to withstand a nuclear blast, though even that was somewhat doubtful; so, presuming they survived the initial thermonuclear onslaught, what would come next? Very little thought had been given to that. Like the bomber pilots who were presumed to be flying their nuclear payloads to a certain death over the Soviet Union, few had really thought about the “day after” for a missileer. Their duties ended with the key turn.

Capt. Lee’s answer was not really about himself; it was about the men and women topside, who would be completely unprotected in the event of a nuclear strike. “As an officer, I would make the choice to bring my men down,” he said solemnly. But Maj. Granstrom, our escort, frowned slightly and shook his head. The cook and the facility manager could come down, but not the security crew, he insisted. “Security forces would stay up to the bitter end,” he said, “to protect any unlaunched missiles.”

That is the paradox of deterrence. For deterrence to work, the missileers must be able to follow orders that seem absurd. What sort of officer, knowing the end was near, would leave the men and women under his command above ground, condemned to a certain death in the name of a principle — deterrence — that hadn’t worked? The logic of Granstrom’s answer was clear; it was the same logic that guided deterrence, which meant following the prescribed steps to the very end, however pointless they might be at the time of execution.

Nathan Hodge is a writer for Jane’s Defence Weekly. Sharon Weinberger is a senior reporter for Wired’s national security blog and the author of Imaginary Weapons (2006). This article, edited here, is from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2008, and is drawn from their new book, A Nuclear Family Vacation.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Two top Air Force leaders ousted

The Air Force’s senior civilian official and its highest-ranking general were ousted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on June 5 following an official inquiry into the mishandling of nuclear weapons and components, an episode that Mr. Gates called an indication of systemic problems. Air Force secretary, Michael W. Wynne, and the service’s chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, were forced to resign after the inquiry found “a pattern of poor performance” in securing sensitive military components, Mr. Gates said at a Pentagon briefing. So deep and serious are the problems, Mr. Gates said, that he has asked a former defense secretary, James R. Schlesinger, to head “a senior-level task force” to recommend improvements in the safekeeping of nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles and other sensitive items.Most troubling, a senior Pentagon official said in advance of the briefing, was that little had been done to improve the security of the nuclear weapons infrastructure after it was disclosed last year that the Air Force unknowingly let a B-52 bomber fly across the United States carrying six nuclear-armed cruise missiles. (See PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007.)

Never before has a defense secretary ousted both a service secretary and a service chief, according to senior Pentagon officials. But in March 2007, Mr. Gates also fired the Army secretary and the two-star general in charge of Walter Reed Army Medical Center after disclosures of shoddy conditions at the service’s premier medical facility for wounded soldiers.

“Our policy is clear,” Mr. Gates said. “We will ensure the complete physical control of nuclear weapons, and we will properly handle the associated components at all times. It is a tremendous responsibility, and one we must — and will — never take lightly.”

The errors in handling nuclear weapons put the Bush administration in a difficult position, as it is attempting to prevent the technology for nuclear weapons from spreading to nations that do not already have them and has criticized Russia for not sufficiently safeguarding its nuclear stockpile.

– edited from The New York Times, June 6, 2008
PeaceMeal, May/June 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

The bureaucracy of deterrence
To remake U.S. nuclear weapons policy, the next president will need to overcome entrenched interests.

Much as critics of the Bush administration may wish that January 20, 2009 would automatically change U.S. diplomacy and reignite nuclear disarmament efforts, national policy is not so easily remade. Current attitudes have deeper roots, and ushering in a new president will not in itself bring about cutbacks to the nation’s nuclear arsenal or improvements in strategy for its use.

Among the many factors working against fundamental change is the inherent resilience of bureaucratic culture. Large agencies tend to defend familiar, longstanding ways of doing business, resisting even urgently needed change. This is especially so when a president prioritizes other matters, defers too much toward certain agencies, or neglects the demands involved with executing such initiatives. Only sustained, painstaking effort on the part of the new president and senior appointees — no matter how heartfelt their aspiration for nuclear weapons reform — can hope to surmount bureaucratic impediments to business as usual.

Bureaucratic institutions have two intrinsic shortcomings: they shroud themselves in administrative secrecy, defying public oversight and accountability, and they find it exceedingly difficult to shift course, even when the political context changes.

Secrecy and resistance to change are particular hallmarks of the agencies responsible for executing U.S. nuclear weapon policy. For decades, the Strategic Air Command, charged with operational criteria for the use of nuclear forces to achieve deterrence, remained largely immune from political oversight or participation.

Since the earliest days of the nuclear age, nuclear weapons have commonly been intended only for deterring aggression. Political and military authorities have both accepted that deterrence only works if matched by the ability and willingness to wage nuclear war. But given the cataclysmic effects from even a limited nuclear strike on U.S. soil, the political concept of “riding out” an attack has long been overshadowed by the military doctrine of launching prompt, massive attacks before an enemy’s weapons have reached their targets.

Evidence of the discrepancy between political and military conceptions of nuclear deterrence is particularly evident in the Oval Office. One of the first tasks for all new presidents is to learn about the “nuclear football.” This briefcase, carried by a presidential aide at all times, instructs the president how to release the launch codes delegating the authority to initiate nuclear strikes [see PeaceMeal, March/April 2008]. But few presidents take the time to learn the technical intricacies of targeting, and most of them lack the expertise about nuclear war plans needed to make a decision of this magnitude.

Compounding this lack of expertise in nuclear strategy, a president also has little time to make a decision — fewer than 30 minutes from the time Washington receives reliable warning of an impending strategic attack. Notwithstanding the geopolitical changes since the end of the Cold War, there has been no official move to abandon the high-alert status of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Almost a century ago, German sociologist Max Weber observed that a “fully established bureaucracy is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy.” While concentrating power in the hands of career officials bolsters the efficiency of the organization, it also buffers the organization against political and popular oversight, allowing the institution’s interest to overrule that of the larger society it was created to serve.

Only the top leadership of an institution has much chance of instituting change. That said, the need to exercise genuine authority and deflate potentially fatal resistance requires leaders to understand the inner workings of the institutions they hope to reform. Inserting political appointees gives presidents the opportunity to institute real change only if they take an active interest in setting strategic priorities, and if they stand behind their appointees when resistance coalesces in the ranks — as it will.

During the Clinton administration, the political appointees were unprepared for the opposition to reinventing U.S. nuclear weapon strategy waged by senior officers and career bureaucrats in the Defense Department, aided by conservatives in Congress. Nor did the president or his senior advisers intervene on behalf of the political appointees. Denied strong presidential support, many of Clinton’s foreign policy appointees turned to other challenges when the effort to do away with nuclear orthodoxy proved too arduous. They ceded the ground to military officers and career Pentagon officials.

Reshaping nuclear strategy is a particularly difficult undertaking because the Pentagon is so big and consequential. Along with the burgeoning military budgets in the last three decades, the Pentagon has gained in relative influence over other parts of the executive branch as a result of national security concerns and a succession of military interventions, including Afghanistan and Iraq today. With it’s dominant position, the Pentagon does not behave as a simple extension of presidential will. These realities are likely to endure as the United States prosecutes a global counterterrorist campaign that transcends the boundaries between war and peace.

The next U.S. president must remember that nuclear strategy is as important as foreign trade policy. George Bush Sr. was known for doing the heavy lifting needed to achieve foreign policy goals, especially if they were bold and potentially controversial. Bill Clinton, by contrast, was wary of engendering conflict with the military, the Pentagon, and Congress — and his wariness left subordinates to fight their battles alone, without enough political muscle to prevail.

Presidents need to demonstrate their commitment to specific, high-priority strategic outcomes, state that these outcomes are nonnegotiable, and be prepared to intervene personally when the process encounters trouble. Seasoned professionals, loyal to the president yet respected by careerists, stand a far better chance of defusing bureaucratic resistance than outsiders who come in seeking to impose aggressive and unfamiliar agendas. Staffing a new administration wisely at the outset could be decisive for later endeavors.

Finally, the president must realize that wholesale institutional change may be necessary to enable a new president to remake nuclear strategy and forces. Hiring, firing, promotions, and awards are some of the tools open to any administration, as are training and bureaucratic reorganization.

Incoming leadership must not assume it can impose its will on the Defense Department in matters of nuclear strategy. If anything, many in the Pentagon may be less inclined to accept significant alterations in the nuclear force posture now, when the strategic environment appears far more uncertain than it did when the Cold War ended. Additional nations have joined the nuclear weapons club and others appear poised to do so, tending to reinforce the conventional wisdom on the worth of nuclear arms.

Difficult work awaits a new president.

Condensed from an article by Janne E. Nolan & James R. Holmes in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2008. Nolan is a program director at the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and author of “An Elusive Consensus: Nuclear Weapons and American Security after the Cold War” (1999, Brookings). Holmes is an associate professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College.

– PeaceMeal, May/June 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

‘Nuclear Football’ still being passed around

The “Nuclear Football” (also called the President’s Emergency Satchel, “The Button” or just “The Football”) is a specially-outfitted, black briefcase used by the President of the United States to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. Designed to permit the President to make a nuclear-attack order while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room, it functions as a mobile link in the U.S. strategic defense system. While exact details about The Football are highly classified, several sources have provided information about the briefcase, its contents, and its operation.

The case itself is a metallic, possibly bullet-resistant, modified Zero Halliburton briefcase that is carried inside a black leather jacket. The entire package weighs approximately 40 pounds (18 kg). A small antenna for a secure satellite telephone protrudes from the bag near the handle. There are also a spare Football at the White House and a third one that remains close to the vice president.

The Nuclear Football functions as the primary “trigger” for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The Football is carried by one of a group of rotating White House military aides (or “carriers”) from each of the five service branches. The carrier is a commissioned officer in the U.S. military, who has undergone the nation’s most rigorous background check (Yankee White). These officers, who are armed, are required to keep The Football within ready access of the president at all times. Consequently, an aide, Football in hand, is always either standing or walking near the president or riding in Air Force One, Marine One, or the presidential motorcade with the president.

White House military aide is both a plum assignment and a burnout job, in the estimation of those who have done it. “You’re always kind of on edge,” recalls Robert “Buzz” Patterson, who carried The Football for President Clinton as an Air Force major and then lieutenant colonel. “I opened it up constantly just to refresh myself, to always be aware of what was in it, all the potential decisions the president could possibly make.” Occasionally, the aide is physically attached to the briefcase by a black cable.

According to experts, if the President must order the use of nuclear weapons, he would be taken aside by the carrier and the briefcase would be opened. At that point, the aide and the president would review the attack options in the “black book” and decide upon a plan, such as a single cruise missile or a large ICBM launch. Next, using the satellite telephone, the aide would make contact with the National Military Command Center or, in a post-first-strike situation, an airborne command-post plane. Before the order would be processed by the military, the president must positively identify himself by using a special code issued on a plastic card, nicknamed the “biscuit,” and provide a specific launch code. Once all the codes are verified, the military would issue appropriate attack orders.

The Football dates back to Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, but its current usage came about in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, when John F. Kennedy worried about the commander-in-chief’s ability to authorize a nuclear attack. During other presidencies, Jimmy Carter always carried the launch codes in his jacket, while Ronald Reagan preferred to keep the launch codes in his wallet. The Football’s constant presence near presidents has created plenty of odd juxtapositions — Reagan, for example, standing in Moscow’s Red Square with a military aide and black briefcase at the ready.

There is speculation the briefcase was opened during the attacks of September 11, 2001, because it contains information about maintaining the continuity of government and about communication and evacuation procedures during a national emergency. The Football played a major role in the 1999 movie Chain of Command and a minor role in various other fictional films and television dramas.

Football fumbles are rare but do happen. In 1999, President Bill Clinton left a NATO summit meeting in Washington DC in such haste that he left The Football and aide behind. The carrier then had to walk the half-mile back to the White House from the Reagan building where the summit was being held.

– compiled from Wikipedia, The Associated Press, Federation of American Scientists and BBC News
PeaceMeal, March/April 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Pre-emptive nuclear strike option needed, NATO told

In a bizarre example of Orwellian doublespeak, five of the West’s most senior military officers and strategists have issued a radical manifesto that calls for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack if necessary to halt the “imminent” spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. In a 150-page blueprint for reformulation of NATO military strategy and structures, the former armed forces chiefs from the United States, Britain, Germany, France and The Netherlands state: “The first use of nuclear weapons must remain in the quiver of escalation as the ultimate instrument to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Reflecting a paranoia-tinged view of an increasingly brutal world, the authors — General John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff and NATO’s ex-supreme commander in Europe, Field Marshal Peter Inge, ex-chief of the general staff and the defense staff in the U.K., General Klaus Naumann, Germany’s former top soldier and ex-chairman of NATO’s military committee, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, a former French chief of staff, and General Henk van den Breemen, a former Dutch chief of staff — paint an alarming picture of the threats and challenges confronting the West in the post-9/11 world. The five commanders argue that the West’s values and way of life are under threat and that the West is struggling to summon the will to defend them.

The key threats identified are:

• Political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism.

• The “dark side” of globalization, meaning international terrorism, organized crime and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

• Climate change and energy security, entailing a competition for resources and potential “environmental” migration on a mass scale.

• The weakening of the nation state as well as of organizations such as the U.N., NATO and the E.U.

Gen. Naumann delivered a blistering attack on his own country’s performance in Afghanistan. By insisting on “special rules” for its forces in Afghanistan, namely, not conducting counter-insurgency operations, he charged the government in Berlin was contributing to “the dissolution of NATO.”

In an op-ed published online by Information Clearing House, Paul Craig Roberts, former-assistant secretary of the treasury during the Reagan administration, replied sarcastically to the manifesto’s lop-sided view of evil-doing in the world:

“Who, what is threatening the West’s values and way of life? Political fanaticism, religious fundamentalism, and the imminent spread of nuclear weapons, answer the five asylum escapees.

“By political fanaticism, do they mean the neoconservatives who believe that the future of humanity depends on the U.S. establishing its hegemony over the world? By religious fundamentalism, do they mean ‘rapture evangelicals’ agitating for Armageddon or Christian and Israeli Zionists demanding a nuclear attack on Iran? By spread of nuclear weapons, do they mean Israel’s undeclared and illegal possession of several hundred nuclear weapons?

“No. The paranoid military leaders see all the fanaticism, religious and otherwise, and all the threats to humanity as residing outside Western civilization (Israel is inside). The ‘increasingly brutal world,’ of which the leaders warn, is ‘over there.’ Only Muslims are fanatics. All us white guys are rational and sane.

“There is nothing brutal about the U.S./NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, or the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, or the Israeli ethnic cleansing of the West Bank, or the genocide Israel hopes to commit against Palestinians in Gaza.

“All of this, as well as America’s bombing of Somalia, America’s torture dungeons, show trials of ‘detainees,’ and overthrow of elected governments and installation of puppet rulers, is the West’s necessary response to keep the brutal world at bay. ...

“Unable to impose its will on countries it has invaded with conventional arms, the West’s military leaders are now prepared to force compliance with the moral world’s will by threatening to nuke those who resist.”

For the West to prevail and preserve its position of dominance in the global power structure, the five generals call for an overhaul of NATO decision-making methods, a new “directorate” of U.S., European and NATO leaders to respond rapidly to crises, and an end to European Union “obstruction” of and rivalry with NATO — that is, in effect, an end to civilian control of the military.

Among the most radical changes demanded are:

• A shift from consensus decision-making in NATO bodies to majority voting, meaning an end to national vetoes.

• The abolition of national caveats in NATO operations of the kind that affect the campaign in Afghanistan.

• No role in decision-making on NATO operations for alliance members who are not taking part in the operations.

• The use of force without U.N. Security Council authorization when “immediate action is needed to protect large numbers of human beings.”

Written following discussions with active commanders and policymakers, many of whom are unable or unwilling to publicly air their views, the manifesto was presented to the Pentagon and to NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in mid-January. The proposals are likely to be discussed at a NATO summit in Bucharest in April.

Gen. Naumann suggested the threat of nuclear attack was a counsel of desperation: “Proliferation is spreading and we have not too many options to stop it. We don’t know how to deal with this.”

Certainly not by living up to the nuclear powers legal obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to disarm! Ignoring the upsurge in support for abolition of nuclear weapons — even among former Cold War hawks, the militaristic manifesto fatalistically declares there is “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear [weapons]-free world.”

– edited from The Guardian (U.K.), Jan. 22, 2008 and Information Clearing House
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

nuke_flt_map.png (64692 bytes)Nuclear weapons mistakenly flown over U.S.

A B-52 bomber mistakenly carried six thermonuclear warheads on Advanced Cruise Missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on August 30. The nuclear-armed ACMs were mounted on pylons under the bomber’s wings during the flight of about 1500 miles over multiple states (see map). The missiles were being transported as part of a Defense Department effort to decommission 400 ACMs, but the nuclear warheads should have been removed at Minot before the ACMs were transported. The mistake wasn’t discovered until well after the bomber landed at Barksdale.

The episode, serious enough to trigger a rare “Bent Spear” nuclear incident report that raced through the chain of command to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Bush, provoked new questions inside and outside the Pentagon about the adequacy of U.S. nuclear weapons safeguards while the military’s attention and resources are devoted to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Bent Spear” events are ranked second in seriousness only to “Broken Arrow” incidents, which involve the loss, destruction or accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon.

The Air Combat Command immediately launched an investigation and ordered a command-wide stand down to review procedures. The Munitions Squadron commander was relieved of his duties and the crews involved were decertified from handling munitions pending corrective actions.

Advanced Cruise Missiles carry a W80-1 warhead with a yield of 5 to 150 kilotons — up to 10 Hiroshima atomic bombs — and are specifically designed for delivery by B-52 bombers. Once the missiles were erroneously certified as unarmed, a requirement for unique security precautions when nuclear warheads are moved — such as the presence of specially armed security police, the approval of a senior base commander and a special tracking system — evaporated. The warheads were unaccounted for during the flight between the two bases.

At no time was there any risk of a nuclear detonation, even if the B-52 — which was not certified to carry nuclear weapons — crashed on its way to Barksdale, according to Steve Fetter, a former Defense Department official who worked on nuclear weapons policy in 1993-94. A crash could ignite the high explosives associated with the warhead and possibly disperse the highly-toxic plutonium, but the warheads’ elaborate safeguards would prevent a nuclear detonation from occurring, he said.

Between July 1961 and January 1968, the Air Force maintained a dozen bombers loaded with nuclear weapons in the air at all times during the “Chrome Dome” missions of Dr. Strangelove fame. Those missions were scrapped after a B-52 carrying four thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs crashed on the ice off Thule Air Base in Greenland during an emergency landing. (The bombs didn’t explode, but their plutonium was dispersed at the crash site.) The accident, which followed another crash in Spain in 1966 and several other incidents, led to the decision to ground all nuclear-armed aircraft, a policy that has stood for nearly 40 years.

For the twenty-five years that followed the Greenland incident, bombers continued to be loaded with nuclear weapons, but were kept on alert on the ground with flight crews ready to take off within minutes. The ground alert ended in September 1991 when the bombers were taken off nuclear alert and the nuclear weapons ordered to be removed from the aircraft and kept in nearby storage facilities.

One factor that contributed to the error at Minot is that nuclear-armed missiles and unarmed missiles were stored in the same bunker. That error was followed by failure of accounting and command procedures at every turn, resulting in complete breakdown of the elaborate nuclear-weapon safeguard system developed during the Cold War.

“Nothing like this has ever been reported before and we have been assured for decades that it was impossible,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. Rep. Markey is a senior member of the Homeland Security committee and co-chair of the House task force on nonproliferation.

But, as noted by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of Atomic Scientists, the really important implication is beyond the immediate: The United States is in the beginning of a transition to a deep integration of nuclear and conventional capabilities. If the B-52 incident tells us that the military’s command and control system cannot ensure with 100% certainty which weapons are nuclear and which ones are not, imagine the implications of the wrong weapon being used in a crisis or war: “Sorry Mr. President, we thought it was conventional.”

– compiled from Military Times, NukesofHazard.blogspot.com, Washington Post and Associated Press
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Los Alamos certifies plutonium pit

On June 7th, Los Alamos National Laboratory finished production of the first certified plutonium pit for a nuclear weapon produced in the last 18 years. The pit will be assembled into a W-88 nuclear warhead fitted for a Trident submarine at the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas. The United States has not made a plutonium pit since 1989, when the former plutonium pit factory at Rocky Flats, Colorado was shut down due to massive environmental contamination.

In 1996, the Department of Energy re-established a pit-manufacturing facility at Los Alamos. The first pit was produced in 2003. Since then, the lab has been developing a certification process, which was finalized last year. The National Nuclear Security Agency plans to build 10 new certified pits per year for new nuclear weapons.

The Los Alamos lab went as far as to invite Congressional delegates and dignitaries to a July 2 celebration of their first certified pit. Jay Coghlan, the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, stated: “Los Alamos should prioritize real national security threats like global climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, instead of encouraging proliferation through new nuclear weapons production.”

– edited from Albuquerque Journal, June 8, 2007
PeaceMeal, July/August 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

New warhead design goes to Livermore Lab

The first new U.S. H-bomb in two decades, the “Reliable Replacement Warhead,” will be designed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The decision announced March 2 marked the biggest step yet toward a highly controversial plan for replacement of the fully tested U.S. nuclear arsenal with weapons redesigned for greater shelf-life. It also marks another big step in the Bush administration’s rejection of the U.S. commitment in the Non-Proliferation Treaty to nuclear disarmament.

For the first of the new warheads — designated RRW1 — officials of the National Nuclear Security Administration chose LLNL’s conservative design over a more novel design proposed by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The new warhead is intended to replace the most numerous nuclear warhead in the U.S. arsenal, the W76, which rides atop ballistic missiles deployed on submarines in the Pacific and Atlantic.

The surprise choice of a single laboratory reversed a tentative decision, reported in January, to combine elements of the Livermore and Los Alamos designs. In a behind-the-scenes debate during the intervening two months, nuclear experts inside and outside the government faulted the hybrid approach as unusual and technically risky, with some calling it a “Frankenbomb.”

NNSA officials said the hybrid had been rejected after senior members of the Navy, which will manage the W-76 replacement, worried that members of Congress would perceive it as more likely to require explosive testing. The Livermore design can be certified without requiring underground nuclear testing. However, several features of the highly innovative Los Alamos design will be developed in parallel with the Livermore effort. As they mature, the features may be introduced into the RRW design as it progresses.

Bruce Goodwin, the nuclear bomb designer who heads the weapons program at Livermore, said he and his team were “honored” by the selection. The Livermore scientists and engineers will spend the next eight to 12 months refining their design from a large tome of secret blueprints and specifications into a full-blown study of engineering schedules and manufacturing costs. If approved at two or more stages by Congress, taking the design through prototyping to mass production would take at least six years and cost more than $700 million, by one congressional estimate.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., suggested that pursuing the new warheads “could serve to encourage the very proliferation we are trying to prevent” in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. “There is a long history of this administration seeking to reopen the nuclear door, and I am 100 percent opposed to this,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana, who chairs the House energy and water appropriations committee, said in a statement: “Although a lot of time and energy went in[to] determining the winning design for a new nuclear warhead, there appears to have been little thought given to the question of why the United States needs to build new nuclear warheads at this time.”

“This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a group in Washington DC. “There is an urgent need to reduce these weapons, not expand them. This will keep the Chinese, the Russians and others on guard to improve their own stockpiles.”

The main problem that critics have with replacing the existing U.S. arsenal is that nothing appears to be wrong with it. Last November, an outside panel of experts reviewing studies by the weapons labs reported that the most sensitive components of the weapons, their plutonium fission cores, last at least 85 years and in most cases more than a century, much longer than most experts suspected.

But weapons lab executives and NNSA officials say that at least one component of the bombs is aging faster than anyone can replace — the designers themselves. The RRWs are intended to help train a new generation of weapons scientists and engineers — that is, to perpetuate the nuclear arsenal rather than eliminate it.

– edited from Tri-Valley (Cal.) Herald, New York Times, NNSA News
PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)