Scale back U.S. nuclear weapons and stop a new arms race

Gael Tarleton and Joe Cirincione

In late March, Washington Democratic U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray wrote to President Obama urging him to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by one-third. It was part of a larger proposal on reducing the risk of nuclear weapons they sent to the president with four of their Senate colleagues, including Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

A fine idea, but what does it have to do with the state of Washington? More than you might think.

If Washington state were a sovereign nation, it would be the third largest nuclear-weapon state in the world.

Naval Base Kitsap is home to more than half of the U.S. Navy’s ballistic-missile submarine force. There are some 1,350 nuclear weapons based there. Each one is six to 30 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Kitsap plays an important role in the state’s economy, with some 14,000 civilian and 13,000 military positions. That is a lot of jobs and an important reason why many officials support the base and support building new weapons for the fleet.

But there are other important factors we must weigh, including moral ones. Pope Francis says, “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations.” The Pope condemns the indiscriminate nature of these weapons, their potential for mass- killing and says we must all reject any strategy based on nuclear weapons, including deterrence of attack from other nations.

Defense experts worry that our building more weapons would stimulate arms programs in other nations. “We are now on the verge of a new nuclear arms race,” warned former Secretary of Defense William Perry. “We are drifting back to a Cold War mentality.” Here is his worry: The Pentagon is planning to spend $1 trillion on new nuclear bombers, missiles and a fleet of 12 new nuclear missile submarines in the late 2020s. Other nations would struggle to keep pace.

There is another problem: The Navy cannot afford to build the nuclear fleet it has designed. In fact, the Navy would need to cut 32 other ships to pay for the nuclear subs, the Congressional Research Service calculates.

These conventional ships are needed around the world every day to protect our nation and serve our troops deployed in war zones. They launch strikes against the Islamic State, patrol the South China Sea and interdict pirates around the Horn of Africa.

Our National Guard depends on these ships to respond to the call to active duty. Organizations providing humanitarian relief efforts around the world use them to carry food, medical facilities and equipment.

Do we ignore these pressing national security risks and push for more nuclear weapons? There may be a middle ground: Keep the nuclear fleet, but reduce its numbers.

“We’re holding far more nuclear weapons than are necessary, and the cost is undermining other national security priorities. It’s time we take a long look at how we can responsibly reduce our stockpile,” wrote Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California recently.

Feinstein, Cantwell and Murray are in good company: The Joint Chiefs of Staff have already concluded that we can cut our nuclear force by a third and still have an effective deterrent. Some, including Perry, say we could safely eliminate all our land-based missiles. We could consider modestly reducing the sea-based force to eight submarines (half or more based at Kitsap). With that number, we could still keep 1,000 warheads at sea, more than enough for any conceivable military mission. Kitsap would continue to have a mission and the thousands of jobs that come with it.

If Washington’s political and business leaders support respon-sible reductions in the nuclear force and developing other vital defense missions for the base, they could provide a model for the rest of the nation on how to adjust a Cold War legacy to the security needs of the 21st century.

State Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, is a former senior defense intelligence analyst and holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s national-security studies program. She is a member of the board of directors of Ploughshares Fund. Joe Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. Their op-ed appeared in The Seattle Times, May 3, 2016, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, May/June 2016.

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U.S. modernization of nuclear weapons increases possible use in war

As North Korea dug tunnels at its nuclear test site last fall, watched by American spy satellites, the Obama administration was preparing a test of its own in the Nevada desert. A fighter jet took off with a mock version of the nation’s first precision-guided nuclear bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, it was designed with problems like North Korea in mind. Its computer brain and four maneuverable tail fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites. And its explosive yield can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.

In short, while the North Koreans have been thinking big — claiming to have built a hydrogen bomb, a boast that experts dismiss as wildly exaggerated — the Energy Department and the Pentagon have been readying a line of weapons that head in the opposite direction. This build-it-smaller approach has set off a philosophical clash among those in Washington who think about the unthinkable.

The debate has deep implications for military strategy and federal spending. The three-decade program of upgrades to eight factories and laboratories, along with construction of new bombers, submarines and land-based missiles, is estimated to cost up to $1 trillion.

The B61 Model 12, the bomb flight-tested in Nevada, is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of a nuclear arsenal revitalization. As a group, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise.

President Obama’s lieutenants argue that modernizing existing weapons can produce a smaller and more reliable arsenal while making their use less likely because of the threat they can pose. The changes, they say, are improvements rather than wholesale redesigns, fulfilling Mr. Obama’s pledge to make no new nukes.

But critics, including a number of former Obama administration officials, look at the same set of facts and see a very different future. The explosive innards of the revitalized weapons may not be entirely new, they argue, but the smaller yields and better targeting can make the arms more tempting to use — even to use first, rather than in retaliation.

Gen. James E. Cartwright, a retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was among Mr. Obama’s most influential nuclear strategists, said he backed the upgrades because precise targeting allowed the United States to hold fewer weapons. But “what going smaller does,” he acknowledged, “is to make [use of] the weapon more thinkable.”

Already there are hints of a new arms race. Russia called the B61-12 tests “irresponsible” and “openly provocative.” China is said to be especially worried about plans for a nuclear-tipped cruise missile. And North Korea defended its pursuit of a hydrogen bomb by describing the “ever-growing nuclear threat” from the United States.

The more immediate problem for the White House is that many of its alumni have raised questions about the modernization push and associated missed opportunities for arms control.

“It’s unaffordable and unneeded,” said Andrew C. Weber, a former assistant secretary of defense and former director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, an interagency body that oversees the nation’s arsenal. He cited in particular the advanced cruise missile, estimated to cost up to $30 billion for roughly 1,000 weapons.

Early in his tenure, Mr. Obama invested a lot of political capital in nuclear arms reductions. In Prague in 2009, he pledged in a landmark speech that he would take concrete steps toward a nuclear-weapon-free world and “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.” The Nobel committee cited the pledge that year in awarding him the Peace Prize.

A modest arms reduction treaty with Russia seemed like the first step. Then, in 2010, the administration released a sweeping plan that Mr. Obama declared “will not develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions or new capabilities.”

But inside the administration, some early enthusiasts for Mr. Obama’s vision began to worry that it was being turned on its head. In late 2013, the first of the former insiders spoke out. Philip E. Coyle III and Steve Fetter, who had recently left national security posts, helped write an 80-page critique of the nuclear plan by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group that made its name during the Cold War by arguing for arms reductions.

American allies and adversaries, the report warned, may see the modernization “as violating the administration’s pledge not to develop or deploy” new warheads. The report, which urged a more cautious approach, cited a finding by federal advisory scientists that simply refurbishing weapons in their existing configurations could keep them in service for decades.

But Mr. Coyle, a former head of Pentagon weapons testing, argued that the administration was planning for too big an arsenal. “They got the math wrong in terms of how many weapons we need, how many varieties we need, and whether we need a surge capacity” for the crash production of nuclear weapons.

The insider critiques soon focused on individual weapons, starting with the B61-12. The administration’s plan was to merge four old B61 models into a single version that greatly reduced their range of destructive power. It would have a “dial-a-yield” feature whose lowest setting was only 2 percent as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

The plan seemed reasonable, critics said, until attention fell on the bomb’s new tail section and steerable fins. The Federation of American Scientists, a Washington research group, argued that the high accuracy and low destructive settings meant military commanders might press to use the bomb in an attack, knowing the radioactive fallout and collateral damage would be limited.

In a recent interview in his office at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, General Cartwright agreed that the overall modernization plan might change how military commanders looked at the risks of using nuclear weapons. "What if I bring real precision to these weapons?" he asked. "Does it make them more usable? It could be."

In a recent report to Congress, the Energy Department, responsible for upgrading the warheads, said this was the fastest way to reduce the nuclear stockpile, promoting the effort as "Modernize to Downsize." Shades of Ronald Reagan's "build up to build down" gobbledygook!

Meanwhile, other veterans of the Obama administration ask what happened. "I think there's a universal sense of frustration," said Ellen O. Tauscher, a former under secretary of state for arms control. She said many who joined the administration with high expectations for arms reductions now feel disillusioned. "Somebody has to get serious," she added. "We're spending billions of dollars on a status quo that doesn't make us any safer."

 President Obama's rhetoric in his Prague speech has not been carried out by his executive actions. It's not only that he hasn't "walked the talk"; he's now walking in the opposite direction. Instead of working for a world free of nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama is preparing for World War III. And he's preparing for it to be a nuclear war.

– edited from an article by William J. Broad and David E. Sanger in The New York Times, January 11, 2016
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

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‘Doomsday Clock’ reflects grave threat to world, say scientists

Doomsday Clock - 3 min to midnight.GIF (3061 bytes)STANFORD, Calif. — Rising tension between Russia and the U.S., North Korea’s recent nuclear test, and a lack of aggressive steps to address climate change are putting the world under grave threat, scientists behind a “Doomsday Clock” that measures the likelihood of a global cataclysm said January 26. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the minute hand on the metaphorical clock remained at three minutes-to-midnight.

“Unless we change the way we think, humanity remains in serious danger,” said Lawrence Krauss, chair of the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors. Krauss said the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris climate accord were good news. But the good news was offset by nuclear threats, including tension between nuclear-armed states India and Pakistan, and uncertainty that the Paris accord will lead to concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California Gov. Jerry Brown joined former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry for a discussion at Stanford University after the unveiling of the clock. Perry raised concerns about rhetoric from Russia about the use of nuclear weapons and said the threat of nuclear disaster was greater today than during the Cold War. Shultz said the U.S. needs to engage Russia and China.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons. The clock was created two years later.

The decision to move or leave the clock alone is made by the Bulletin’s science and security board, which includes physicists and environmental scientists from around the world, in consultation with the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes more than a dozen Nobel laureates.

The closest the clock has come to midnight was two minutes away in 1953, when the Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb that followed a U.S. hydrogen bomb test.

– edited from an article by Sudhin Thanawala, The Associated Press, January 26, 2016
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

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New B61-12 nuclear bomb has expanded capability

The capability of the new B61-12 nuclear bomb has expanded from a simple life-extension of an existing bomb to the first U.S. guided nuclear gravity bomb, to a nuclear earth-penetrator with increased accuracy. A Sandia National Laboratories video of an October 2015 drop test shows the B61-12 penetrating completely underground. This has significant implications for the types of targets that can be destroyed with the bomb.A nuclear weapon that detonates after penetrating the earth more efficiently transmits its explosive energy to the ground, thus is more effective at destroying deeply buried targets for a given nuclear yield. A detonation above ground, in contrast, results in a larger fraction of the explosive energy bouncing off the surface.

Two findings of the 2005 National Research Council’s study Effects of Earth-Penetrator and other Weapons are key: “The yield required of a nuclear weapon to destroy a hard and deeply buried target is reduced by a factor of 15 to 25 by enhanced ground-shock coupling if the weapon is detonated a few meters below the surface”; and: “Nuclear earth-penetrator weapons (EPWs) with a depth of penetration of 3 meters capture most of the advantage associated with the coupling of ground shock.”

Given that the length of the B61-12 is about three-and-a-half meters and that the Sandia video shows the bomb disappearing completely beneath the surface of the Nevada desert, it appears the B61-12 will be able to achieve enhanced ground-shock coupling against underground targets in soil.

The bomb is designed to have four selectable explosive yields: 0.3 kilotons (kt), 1.5 kt, 10 kt and 50 kt. Therefore, given the NRC’s findings, the maximum destructive potential of the B61-12 against underground targets is equivalent to the capability of a surface-burst weapon with a yield of 750 kt to 1.25 mt (megatons).

Even at the lowest yield setting of only 0.3 kt, the ground shock coupling of a B61-12 exploding a few meters underground would be equivalent to a surface-burst weapon with a yield of 4.5 kt to 7.5 kt.

What makes the B61-12 unique is that its capability is enhanced by the increased accuracy provided by the new guided tail-fin assembly. The combination of increased accuracy with earth-penetration and low-yield options provides for unique targeting capabilities. Moreover, while the existing B61-11 can only be delivered by the B-2 strategic bomber, the B61-12 will be integrated on virtually all nuclear-capable U.S. and NATO aircraft: B-2, LRS-B (next-generation long-range bomber), F-35A, F-16, F-15E, and PA-200 Tornado.

The video images indicate that the drop-test, dummy weapon impacted well within a 30-meter diameter circle. That indicates an accuracy three times better than existing non-guided gravity bombs. That increased accuracy and earth-penetration capability will allow strike planners to chose lower selectable yields than are needed with the accuracy of current nuclear bombs to destroy the same targets. Selecting lower yields would reduce the radioactive fallout from an attack, a feature that would make a B61-12 attack more attractive to military planners.

We believe this constitutes a new military capability that is in conflict with the Obama administration’s stated policy not to develop new capabilities for nuclear weapons. Such a capability begs the question of which targets in which countries are envisioned for B61-12 missions, and under what circumstances could use of such a weapon be ordered by the President?

Moreover, the significant improvements being made to non-nuclear earth-penetrators beg the question as to why it is necessary to enhance the B61 gravity bomb in the first place.

Inevitably, the most important capabilities for nuclear deterrent forces are stability, control and safety — daily operational procedures embodying restraint, and strong channels of communication between nuclear weapon states, with safeguards against accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

This area needs a lot of work right now as US-Russian relations continue to fray, already triggering calls from some analysts to further enhance nuclear weapons.

The Sandia video of the B61-12 slipping into the earth like a hot knife into butter doesn’t improve the situation.

– edited from an article by Hans M. Kristensen and Matthew McKinzie, Federation of American Scientists, January 14, 2016
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016

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More bucks for the bang
Nuclear weapons are the largest single expense in the Energy Department budget.

Robert Alvarez

When it comes to managing the eight facilities in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex — three national laboratories, four production plants, and the Nevada National Security Site — Parkinson’s Law is very much alive and well. As illustrated in this year’s 513-page budget request for the Energy Department, “Work expands itself to fill the time available.”

Sorting through the document’s minutiae, it becomes obvious that the Obama Administration would rather kick the weapons complex can down the road than downsize an ever-more hazardous and unneeded nuclear weapons infrastructure, eliminate redundant bureaucracy, or stop the hoarding of excess weapons and their components — all of which actions would also go a long way toward cutting costs and protecting the public.

In 1999, Congress created the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), a “semi-autonomous” entity within the Energy Department that was intended specifically to address longstanding, major problems in management of the nuclear stockpile. But the new agency actually made things worse, adding a redundant bureaucracy to weapons complex management. As a result, problems — from safety and security lapses to soaring costs — have continued.

The problems of the weapons complex are not limited to excess bureaucracy. Even though the nuclear arsenal has shrunk dramatically over the past 25 years, current spending on the nuclear weapons complex rivals if not exceeds such spending during the Cold War. Nuclear weapons spending now takes up about a third of the Energy Department’s total $29.9 billion budget request. By the 2020 fiscal year, the NNSA projects a total of $62 billion will be needed to maintain the nuclear stockpile.

This is just a down payment, however, on the overall cost of a strategic “vision” shared by the Defense and Energy depart-ments. That vision would reduce the number of warhead types in the stockpile to three interoperable ballistic missile warheads and two air-delivered warheads, down from the current level of seven warhead types. According to the NNSA, it will take 40 to 50 years and some hundreds of billions of dollars to achieve this vision.

The ballooning cost of nuclear weapons is dramatically underscored by a simple comparison: the average annual cost per nuclear warhead in 1985, and that same cost today. Thirty years ago, the United States maintained a nuclear stockpile estimated at 23,368 warheads with an annual per unit cost of $354,000 (in 2014 dollars), according to calculations based on data contained in the 1998 book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940. In 2015, the United States has an estimated 7,300 nuclear weapons, but the average annual per-unit cost is about $1.8 million—a 500 percent increase in per-warhead cost. The old axiom of nuclear weapons providing “more bang for the buck” has been turned on its head; the United States now pays “more bucks for the bang.”

A major factor driving increased costs for the U.S. nuclear arsenal is an oversized nuclear weapons production infrastructure made up of a large number of contaminated excess facilities. The cost of fixing this problem, the Energy Department said in 2011, was about $10 billion. Since then, the costs of downsizing have increased, as the number of excess contaminated facilities identified by the Energy Department’s inspector general has now grown by more than 50 percent. According to a January 2015 IG’s report, these facilities “continue to degrade and pose significant risks to workers and surrounding communities. Almost 50 percent of these facilities are more than 50 years old and are becoming dangerous.”

In a time-honored tradition, the Energy Department and NNSA are responding to the inspector general’s findings by forming a working group to study the Y-12 problem, something that was studied in detail more than 25 years ago by the National Research Council.

Neglect has also led to the hoarding of spare non-nuclear parts of nuclear warheads at several facilities, many of which are decades old and will never again be needed. According to an April 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office, about 1.7 million spare parts for nuclear weapons have been stored for 25 years or more at the Pantex Plant in Texas and the Kansas City Plant in Missouri. “We observed several components covered in dust that appeared not to have been touched or moved in years, if not decades,” the GAO said. Nearly a half million of those parts are from weapons no longer in the active stockpile, including some weapons built more than 50 years ago.

Thousands of excess intact thermonuclear components, known as canned sub-assemblies (CSAs) and containing tons of highly enriched uranium, are stockpiled at the Oak Ridge Y-12 plant. The GAO reported that the NNSA decisions to retain the CSAs have been “driven by national security considerations and not by Y-12 workload considerations.” As I have written, the justifications for holding onto intact CSAs have stretched the boundary of imagination and have included their “potential use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.”

In the late 1980s, Senator John Glenn of Ohio helped lead the effort to deal with the environmental and health legacy of the nuclear arms race. “What good is it to protect ourselves with nuclear weapons,” he would often ask, “if we poison our people in the process?” Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be missing from the Obama administration and Congress.

Robert Alvarez is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. He served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department's secretary and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999. His article is edited from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 23, 2015 and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2015.

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Generals call on United States and Russia to end nuclear weapons hair-trigger alert

America and Russia should end the Cold War practice of keeping their nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, according to an elite panel of former U.S. generals and international former foreign ministers. The proposal is being put forward by the Global Zero Commission, a group of 300 world leaders founded in 2008 dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

“The measures we call for would control crisis escalation and reduce the many risks of deliberate or unintentional use of nuclear weapons, including from cyber,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, former U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This is in the national interest of the United States and all countries. The first step is to eliminate launch-on-warning and then for the United States and Russia to reach an urgent, priority agreement that walks them back from their current high-alert posture,” Gen. Cartwright added.

Speaking at the start of the United Nations nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty review conference, the group said its proposal had taken on renewed urgency in the light of “heightened tensions between the United States and Russia” and the fear of a broader escalation. “In the United States, we keep hundreds of nuclear missiles armed, targeted, fueled and ready to fire instantly upon receiving a short burst of computer signals,” added Dr. Bruce Blair, the nuclear scientist who co-founded Global Zero.

The United States and Russia both have approximately 4,500 warheads stockpiled, of which some 1,800 are on hair-trigger alert and ready for immediate use. “In an era of rapidly expanding cyber warfare capabilities, this ‘hair-trigger’ is a dangerous posture that runs risks of mistaken and unauthorized launch,” Blair said.

The Obama administration is engaged in an extensive and expensive program of upgrading the United States nuclear arsenal, on the heels of a raft of recent scandals involving maintenance issues and poor discipline and drug usage among officers responsible for maintaining the “hair-trigger” alerts.

– edited from The Telegraph (U.K.), April 30, 2015
PeaceMeal, May/June 2015

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Los Alamos lab contractor loses $57 million over nuclear waste accident

WASHINGTON — The contractor managing the nuclear weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, N.M., was slapped with a $57-million reduction in its fees for 2014, largely because of a nuclear waste accident last year that spread radioactive contam-ination. The contractor, Los Alamos National Security, saw its fee reduced 90 percent because of the accident, in which a 55-gallon drum packaged with plutonium waste from bomb production erupted due to a chemical reaction after being placed in a 2,150-foot underground dump in the eastern New Mexico desert.

The Department of Energy determined that the contractor had a “first-degree performance failure” and cut its fee to $6.25 million — compared with the $63.4 million that the contractor could have earned if it had met all of its 2014 contract incentives.

The Energy Department also reduced the duration of the management contract by one year for the consortium, which was selected in 2007 to help restore order to the lab’s operations after more than a decade of security lapses, management errors and accounting scandals. The consortium includes San Francisco- based Bechtel Corp. and URS Corp. and the University of California.

“This was supposed to be one of the top research laboratories in the nation, but they lost classified documents, couldn’t manage their plutonium inventories, and failed to control costs on major projects,” said Peter Stockton, a senior investigator for the Project on Government Oversight and a former adviser to the office of the Secretary of Energy. “The new management team was supposed to fix all of those problems, but it looks like it’s the same old story out there.”

The accident with the 55-gallon drum occurred last February at a facility near Carlsbad, N.M., known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). It is likely to cause a shutdown of at least 18 months and possibly several years. The exact cause of the chemical reaction is still under investigation, but Energy Department officials say a packaging error at Los Alamos caused a reaction inside the drum.

The radioactive material went airborne, contaminating a ventilation shaft that went to the surface. The release gave low-level doses of radiation to 21 workers. The cost of the accident, including likely delays in cleanup projects across the nation, will approach $1 billion, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.

While watchdog groups applauded the tough sanctions, some nuclear weapons scientists said it was an overreaction. “It was a mistake by an individual — a terrible mistake — and Washington now wants to punish a lot of people,” said James Conca, an expert on nuclear waste management. “Denying Los Alamos National Lab 90 percent of their profit doesn’t fix anything,” he said. “The amount of radiation that was released was trivial.”

– edited from Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2015
PeaceMeal, Jan/February 2015

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Los Alamos lab employee fired after publishing critique of nuclear weapons

James_Doyle.jpg (21520 bytes)James Doyle’s ordeal began in February 2013, when his supervisor stopped by his desk at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and told him that senior managers wanted copies of all his publications. The 55-year-old political scientist asked the reason for the request, but Doyle said officials refused to tell him who wanted to see the publications or why.

Later that day, he said, two members of a Security Inquiries Team abruptly arrived with a metal briefcase for secure documents and pulled out an article he published a few days earlier on the website of a London NGO. They claimed that the article, a critique of the political theories of nuclear deterrence and a defense of President Obama’s call for a nuclear weapons-free future, contained classified information. The assertion astonished Doyle, since the laboratory’s security authorities had already reviewed the article and declared it unclassified.

Doyle subsequently learned that laboratory officials classified his article retroactively after hearing complaints from a Republican staff member of the House Armed Services Committee. It was the start of a series of events in which Doyle had his pay docked and his security clearance withdrawn.

Los Alamos — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — is one of two U.S. nuclear weapons labs. Doyle worked in the lab’s division on nonproliferation, monitoring global nuclear arms reduction programs. His article titled “Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons?” appeared in the February 2013 issue of Survival, which is published by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. The article states that “the world must reject the myths and expose the risks of the ideology of nuclear deterrence if it is to meet the challenges of the Twenty-first Century.”

Doyle filed a complaint of retaliation with the National Nuclear Security Administration in November 2013. His claim was denied and the Office of Hearings and Appeals upheld the denial of his claim in June.

In July Doyle was fired after 17 years on the job. Officially a contractor, he said he was told that he was being let go as part of a program of layoffs at Los Alamos. But he says he believes the sudden firing was instead part of a politically-inspired campaign of retribution for his refusal to stay on message and support the lab’s central mission, namely its continued development and production of nuclear weapons.

An appeal to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to review Doyle’s firing was also denied, but Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Frank Klotz requested an inquiry by the DOE Inspector General into the firing. The request for IG review was disclosed in a September 15 letter to Doyle’s attorney, Mark Zaid, from Poli Mamolejos, Director of the DOE Office of Hearings and Appeals. In the letter, Mamolejos wrote that DOE’s “senior leadership takes the issue you raise seriously, and will not tolerate retaliation or dismissals of employees or contractors for the views expressed in scholarly publications.”

Matthew Bunn, a former White House official under President Clinton and now a nonproliferation expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said, “Nobody would go after this article on classification grounds unless they were pursuing a political agenda, and it is amazing to attack someone politically for writing an article in support of a policy of the president of the United States.”

– edited from the Albuquerque Journal, The Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press
Peacemeal Nov/December 2014

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Five alarming facts about nuclear weapons today

russwellenb&w.jpg Russ Wellen

In a piece titled “Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?” in the May issue of Arms Control Today, Hans Kristensen reports that “all of the world’s nuclear-weapon states are busy modernizing their arsenals and continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons.”

Bear in mind that it’s been 46 years since the five nuclear-weapons states that signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with states without nuclear weapons, agreed to work toward nuclear disarmament.

Kristensen writes that “none of [the nuclear-armed states] appears willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.”

In the course of his piece, Kristensen reports on a number of characteristics of nuclear weapons of which most are not aware — facts that should alarm us for reasons other than the potential humanitarian consequences of a future nuclear strike.

1. “…although the numerical nuclear arms race between East and West is over, a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Due to treaties such as New START, the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the two major nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, is declining. However, those weapons still in existence are being reconfigured for use in perpetuity.

2. “All told, over the next decade, according to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States plans to spend $355 billion on the maintenance and modernization of its nuclear enterprise, an increase of $142 billion from the $213 billion the Obama administration projected in 2011.”

To many American policy planners, money is no object for a deterrent that ostensibly guarantees that another world war will never start. But is there no limit to the cost we’ll bear?

One of Kristensen’s least fun facts:

3. “According to available information, it appears that the nuclear enterprise will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 30 years.”

That is a lot of money for sophisticated technology that basically just sits on a shelf.

But what if these weapons were actually used? In that case, it becomes even more pricey for a weapons system that, when actually used by a state, potentially guarantees the destruction of that state as well as the state it’s attacking.

Or, best case scenario, the state that initiates the first strike survives, but is stuck with the bill for trying to rebuild itself and provide aid to those citizens left alive in the wake of a nuclear exchange.

4. While these “sums are enormous by any standard, and some programs may be curtailed by fiscal realities. … [n]evertheless, they indicate a commitment to a scale of nuclear modernization that appears to be at odds with … [an] administration [that] entered office with a strong arms control and disarmament agenda [and which] may ironically end up being remembered more for its commitment to prolonging and modernizing the traditional nuclear arsenal.”

And last: 5. “This modernization plan is broader and more expensive than the Bush administration’s plan and appears to prioritize nuclear capabilities over conventional ones.”

Russ Wellen edits the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points for the Institute of Policy Studies. He has written about disarmament for a variety of publications including Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, AlterNet, Asia Times Online, Truthout and the Journal of Psychohistory. His article is from Foreign Policy in Focus, May 27, 2014, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, July/August 2014.

(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 missiles keep having trouble because they’re old

The Air Force asserts with pride that the nation’s land-based Minuteman 3 nuclear missile force, designed and built during the Cold War, is safe and secure. None has ever been used in combat or launched accidentally. But now more than 40 years old, the missiles have long exceeded their original 10-year life expectancy.

Even as the Minuteman 3 has been updated over the years and remains ready for launch on short notice, the items that support it are showing their age: time-worn command posts, corroded launch silos, failing support equipment, and an emergency- response helicopter fleet so antiquated that a replacement was deemed “critical” years ago.

That partly explains why missile corps morale has sagged and discipline has sometimes faltered, as revealed in a series of leadership, training, disciplinary and other problems in the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force that has prompted worry at the highest levels of the Pentagon.

The airmen and women who operate, maintain and guard the Minuteman 3 force, known as “Missileers,” are junior officers — lieutenants and captains, typically ages 22 to 27. Two Missileers operate an underground launch control center responsible for 10 missiles on 24-hour “alert” shifts. They came to recognize a gap between the Air Force’s claim that the nuclear mission is “Job No. 1" and its willingness to invest in it.

“One of the reasons for the low morale is that the nuclear forces feel unimportant, and they are often treated as such, very openly,” says Michelle Spencer, a defense consultant in Alabama who led a nuclear forces study for the Air Force published in 2012. Spencer’s study found that Air Force leaders were “cynical about the nuclear mission, its future and its true — versus publicly stated — priority to the Air Force.”

An independent advisory group, in a report to the Pentagon last year, minced no words. It said, “If the practice continues to be to demand that the troops compensate for manpower and skill shortfalls, operate in inferior facilities, and perform with failing support equipment, there is high risk of failure” to meet the demands of the mission.

When Deborah Lee James became Secretary of the Air Force, its top civilian official, in December, she quickly made her way to each of the three ICBM bases and came away with a conviction that rhetoric was not matched by resources. “One thing I discovered is we didn’t always put our money where our mouth is when it comes to saying this is the No. 1 mission,” she said.

The fixes will require money — and a lot more. They will take more people and a major attitude adjustment. Secretary James said the Air Force will find $50 million in this year’s budget to make urgent fixes and will invest an additional $350 million in improvements over the coming five years. Even that, she said, is unlikely to be enough and more funds will be sought.

“I happen to think the top thing that really drives an airman is feeling like they’re making a difference ... protecting America,” James said in June. Missileers ought to feel that way, she said, but she is not convinced they do. “And so, over time, we’ve got to change that around.”

Lt. Col. Brian Young, deputy commander of the 91st Maintenance Group at Minot, said he senses a turning point as top brass reach out to enlisted airmen and non-commissioned officers to solicit ideas about how to fix the force. “This feels completely different than any initiative I’ve been associated with in my 22 years” in the Air Force, he said.

The ICBM force is divided among three Air Force bases — Malmstrom in Montana, F.E. Warren in Wyoming and Minot in North Dakota. Each base operates 150 missiles. Each of the 450 missiles — armed with a single thermonuclear warhead with an explosive yield of 350 kilotons, that is, equivalent to 350,000 tons of TNT— is based in its own underground silo “hardened” with concrete to withstand an enemy nuclear strike. The silos are linked by communications cables to a launch control center, also underground. Because the missiles are meant to be ready for combat on short notice, the launch capsules are manned without interruption 365 days a year.

The Obama administration has decided to take 50 of the 450 Minuteman 3 missiles off active duty by February 2018, but is committed to preserving their role as part of the “triad” of strategic nuclear forces, along with bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The Air Force is in the early stages of planning a series of further upgrades to keep the weapon system functioning for at least another 40 years.

– edited from The Associated Press, July 8, 2014
PeaceMeal, July/August 2014

(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.)