Rubio Reiterates Support for Nuclear Weapons “Modernization”

Marco_Rubio_(24556513751) Wikicommons photo by Gage Skidmore

On February 7 in Bedford, New Hampshire, I asked Senator Marco Rubio if he would stand up against the military contractors making billions of dollars from the Pentagon’s massive increase of spending on nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, Rubio responded by echoing his earlier statement endorsing the Pentagon’s plans, stating that the U.S. needs to “modernize” its nuclear forces in order to keep pace with Russia and China.

In defense of maintaining the U.S. deterrent, Rubio commented that any nation that believes it can win a nuclear war will start one. Has he considered that this possibility may apply to the U.S. as we continue to develop ever more sophisticated warheads and delivery vehicles? Many analysts believe that because the new B-61-12 warhead has higher accuracy and lower yield than other warheads, military planners will be more likely to use it.

Rubio also talked about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, citing North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and India. But he failed to explain how boosting U.S. nuclear spending would slow down proliferation. He ignored the fact that, as possessors of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, the U.S. and Russia have a responsibility under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Only when this happens can other powers be persuaded to abandon their nuclear ambitions.

Rubio also called for Pentagon procurement reform and endorsed a missile defense shield.

Kasich Denies Missiles on Hair Trigger Alert

Kasich 3-30-15 photo by AZA

Five days after telling bird dog John Raby that he would take our nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert, Governor John Kasich back-tracked and said he didn’t believe the missiles were even on hair-trigger alert.

His uninformed reversal came at a public forum in Concord on February 7. I had asked him whether he supported de-alerting the nuclear missiles, 450 of which are based in silos in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. (The number will come down to 400 under the New Start treaty.) Each missile has a warhead of 300 or 335 kilotons. Despite the fact that just 5 days earlier he had told bird dog John Raby that “Of course” he would de-alert the missiles, this time Kasich said he didn’t believe they were even on hair-trigger alert.

Kasich is wrong. A fact sheet from the Union of Concerned Scientists states: “The United States and Russia keep their [land-based] missiles on hair-trigger alert so they can be launched within minutes of a decision to do so, in response to warning of an incoming attack.” Global Zero published an in-depth report on de-alerting last year. Kasich should read both sources.

Kasich should also know that keeping the weapons on hair-trigger alert increases the chances they will be launched due to false alerts of incoming missiles, equipment failures, crew error, or cyber-attack. This has become even more urgent in light of recent friction between the U.S. and Russia.

Kasich got it right the first time. Of course the missiles should be de-alerted.

Kasich made a number of other comments in his response to my question. He cautioned against bellicose threats, but at the same time said he would send arms to Ukraine. He advocated co-operating with China regarding the North Korean nuclear threat. And he called for Pentagon reform, citing President Eisenhower’s warnings about the military-industrial complex.

Bernie Opposes Nuclear Weapons Modernization!

Bernie_Sanders_ Photo by Phil Roeder CC 2.0

(Photo by Phil Roeder, CC 2.0)

On January 9 in Des Moines, Iowa, Bernie Sanders spoke out against the $1 trillion plan to “modernize” U.S. nuclear weapons.  Sanders made his statement in response to a question by Rebecca Aguilar at the Latino Roundtable. As far as I know, this was the first time any presidential candidate has made a definitive statement opposing modernization. So congratulations to Bernie and Rebecca.

For reports on other times candidates have been asked about nuclear weapons, go to AFSC’s Governing Under the Influence website here.

Don’t forget there’s just a few weeks left till the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.  If you are inspired to go out to ask candidates your own question about nuclear weapons, see AFSC’s calendar here.

Nuclear Weapons and the Primary

Published today in the Concord Monitor

Hydrogen bomb Ivy Mike - Public Domain US Dept of Energy

The New Hampshire primary season is full of surprises. As a voter, I’ve asked thirteen presidential candidates about nuclear weapons. Responses have been disappointing in general, and even candidates with good instincts don’t seem to know much. So as a progressive, I was astounded when some of the most informed and enlightened discussion of nuclear weapons this primary season occurred at a recent forum sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute in Manchester.

Depending on how you count, the U.S. and Russia have nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons between them. Stockpiles are much lower than during the Cold War but still far too high. Recent tensions between Russia and the U.S. have again raised the specter of accidental or intentional nuclear war. And refusal of the big powers to negotiate elimination of these weapons has encouraged continued proliferation.

The results of even a limited nuclear exchange could kill hundreds of millions, due not just to immediate casualties but also to famine caused by climate impacts.  And physicists have estimated that an exchange of about 2,000 warheads each by the U.S. and Russia “would likely eliminate the majority of the human population” through a combination of direct and indirect effects.

Unfortunately, with rare bi-partisan cooperation, the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the Department of Energy advocate massive new investment in the nuclear weapons triad. (The triad, if you missed Donald Trump’s gaffe in the December debate, is the three-legged system the U.S. maintains to deliver nuclear weapons – ICBM missiles, bombers, and submarines.) The new plan, benignly labeled nuclear weapons “modernization,” would have us spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to rebuild all three legs of the triad, as well as introducing destabilizing new warheads.

The panelists at the Koch forum, titled “Keeping America Safe: National Security in the 21st Century,” were Andrew Bacevich, a scholar; Stephen Kinzer, a journalist; Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute; and William Ruger of the Koch Institute. The moderator was John Stossel from the Fox Business Network. Cato? Koch? Fox? Quite cast.

After initial discussion in which panelists criticized U.S. global interventionism, I stuck my hand up and asked about nuclear weapons.

Kinzer, a former NY Times foreign correspondent who now teaches at Brown, responded. “I think that this is a real danger for the world. Not like an ISIS thing. I think we really have in recent years moved a lot closer to a danger of real nuclear conflict. And part of it has to do with the United States. It also has to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. And there is still an intense desire in Washington to strengthen this option. We’re not thinking about how we can reduce it.”

Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato, spoke next, referring to a paper he co-authored a couple of years back. “Even if you believe in a nuclear deterrent of some sort, as a principle, that nuclear deterrent does not require very, very large numbers of warheads. Most countries that have chosen to develop nuclear weapons for deterrence have not chosen to develop thousands of warheads. And you don’t need a triad. As a historian looking back on it, it’s not clear to me that we ever needed a triad, actually. It sort of grew up through bureaucratic competition and the race for dollars.”

“The answer to your question,” Bacevich stated with the authority befitting a professor emeritus of international relations and history, “Is that we should move to a minimalist nuclear posture which would suffice to deter a nuclear attack against the United States, recognizing that nuclear weapons have no use other than that. And we should realize that with the advances in precision conventional munitions, if we need to destroy something, or we need to kill something, the means are available to do that without resorting to nuclear weapons.”

I’m a nuclear abolitionist myself, so I don’t share the panelists’ endorsement of a deterrent. But I appreciate their view that our nuclear weapons should be greatly reduced. Most important, I’m grateful for an intelligent, informed discussion of nuclear weapons during the primary season.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by the Koch Institute forum. Living in New Hampshire has taught me that there are smart, principled people all across the spectrum. The presidents who have cut the most nuclear weapons so far are not Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Retired generals and prominent leaders of both parties have spoken out against our nuclear weapons policies.

My friends and I will trudge to town halls and coffee shops in New Hampshire and Iowa till February to ask candidates about nuclear weapons. We hope other voters will join the chorus. Whether you are left, center, or right, there’s a question you can ask.

· Do you oppose plans to spend a trillion dollars on an entire new generation of nuclear weapons systems that will enrich military contractors and set off a new global arms race?

· Do you believe it’s so important to invest in modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad that you would do so at the expense of cybersecurity, conventional forces, diplomatic initiatives, and domestic priorities?

· Do you support taking our ICBM nuclear missiles, which are susceptible to false alarms, equipment failure and cyber threats, off hair-trigger alert?

Voters in New Hampshire and Iowa have just a few weeks left till we turn back into pumpkins. Let’s use the time well.

Judy Elliott is a voter from Canterbury, N.H.

(Note: The entire forum was posted on Youtube by the Charles Koch Institute, with the part on nuclear weapons 47 ½ minutes into the recording.)

The New Hampshire primary season is full of surprises. As a voter, I’ve asked thirteen presidential candidates about nuclear weapons. Responses have been disappointing in general, and even candidates with good instincts don’t seem to know much. So as a progressive, I was astounded when some of the most informed and enlightened discussion of nuclear weapons this primary season occurred at a recent forum sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute in Manchester.

Depending on how you count, the U.S. and Russia have nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons between them. Stockpiles are much lower than during the Cold War but still far too high. Recent tensions between Russia and the U.S. have again raised the specter of accidental or intentional nuclear war. And refusal of the big powers to negotiate elimination of these weapons has encouraged continued proliferation.

The results of even a limited nuclear exchange could kill hundreds of millions, due not just to immediate casualties but also to famine caused by climate impacts.  And physicists have estimated that an exchange of about 2,000 warheads each by the U.S. and Russia “would likely eliminate the majority of the human population” through a combination of direct and indirect effects.

Unfortunately, with rare bi-partisan cooperation, the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the Department of Energy advocate massive new investment in the nuclear weapons triad. (The triad, if you missed Donald Trump’s gaffe in the December debate, is the three-legged system the U.S. maintains to deliver nuclear weapons – ICBM missiles, bombers, and submarines.) The new plan, benignly labeled nuclear weapons “modernization,” would have us spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to rebuild all three legs of the triad, as well as introducing destabilizing new warheads.

The panelists at the Koch forum, titled “Keeping America Safe: National Security in the 21st Century,” were Andrew Bacevich, a scholar; Stephen Kinzer, a journalist; Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute; and William Ruger of the Koch Institute. The moderator was John Stossel from the Fox Business Network. Cato? Koch? Fox? Quite cast.

After initial discussion in which panelists criticized U.S. global interventionism, I stuck my hand up and asked about nuclear weapons.

Kinzer, a former NY Times foreign correspondent who now teaches at Brown, responded. “I think that this is a real danger for the world. Not like an ISIS thing. I think we really have in recent years moved a lot closer to a danger of real nuclear conflict. And part of it has to do with the United States. It also has to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. And there is still an intense desire in Washington to strengthen this option. We’re not thinking about how we can reduce it.”

Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato, spoke next, referring to a paper he co-authored a couple of years back. “Even if you believe in a nuclear deterrent of some sort, as a principle, that nuclear deterrent does not require very, very large numbers of warheads. Most countries that have chosen to develop nuclear weapons for deterrence have not chosen to develop thousands of warheads. And you don’t need a triad. As a historian looking back on it, it’s not clear to me that we ever needed a triad, actually. It sort of grew up through bureaucratic competition and the race for dollars.”

“The answer to your question,” Bacevich stated with the authority befitting a professor emeritus of international relations and history, “Is that we should move to a minimalist nuclear posture which would suffice to deter a nuclear attack against the United States, recognizing that nuclear weapons have no use other than that. And we should realize that with the advances in precision conventional munitions, if we need to destroy something, or we need to kill something, the means are available to do that without resorting to nuclear weapons.”

I’m a nuclear abolitionist myself, so I don’t share the panelists’ endorsement of a deterrent. But I appreciate their view that our nuclear weapons should be greatly reduced. Most important, I’m grateful for an intelligent, informed discussion of nuclear weapons during the primary season.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by the Koch Institute forum. Living in New Hampshire has taught me that there are smart, principled people all across the spectrum. The presidents who have cut the most nuclear weapons so far are not Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Retired generals and prominent leaders of both parties have spoken out against our nuclear weapons policies.

My friends and I will trudge to town halls and coffee shops in New Hampshire and Iowa till February to ask candidates about nuclear weapons. We hope other voters will join the chorus. Whether you are left, center, or right, there’s a question you can ask.

· Do you oppose plans to spend a trillion dollars on an entire new generation of nuclear weapons systems that will enrich military contractors and set off a new global arms race?

· Do you believe it’s so important to invest in modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad that you would do so at the expense of cybersecurity, conventional forces, diplomatic initiatives, and domestic priorities?

· Do you support taking our ICBM nuclear missiles, which are susceptible to false alarms, equipment failure and cyber threats, off hair-trigger alert?

Voters in New Hampshire and Iowa have just a few weeks left till we turn back into pumpkins. Let’s use the time well.

(Note: The entire forum was posted on Youtube by the Charles Koch Institute, with the part on nuclear weapons 47 ½ minutes into the recording.)

Paul Endorses Negotiated Nuclear Arms Reductions

Rand Paul & Judy 1-4-16On January 5, I attended a Rand Paul town hall in Laconia, New Hampshire.  He had a few things to say about nuclear weapons.   Here is an excerpt from his initial remarks, plus our exchange during the question-and-answer period.

From Rand’s initial remarks We had a debate over the nuclear triad, or a question. The nuclear triad says we launch missiles from the sea, from submarines, from the land – intercontinental ballistic missiles – we have the ability to, and also from planes. So air, land, and sea.

Trump had no idea what they were talking about. This wasn’t the first time he had been asked the question. He was asked the same question a month before and did not learn in a month’s time what the triad was. It’s not a real complicated thing but still he had no idea what it was. About a week after the debate they asked him again and his spokesman responded this way, said “Yeah, sure we know about the nuclear triad and our main problem is we have not been eager enough to use it.” Think of what he [sic] just said. “We haven’t been eager enough to use our nuclear weapons.”

Now nuclear weapons, I’m not saying we could live in a world without them. But for most people that’ve been watching the world and war and the Cold War, they were seen as a deterrent. They were seen as something that we could match the Russians with and we hoped never have to use them. And we kind of grew to a period of time, over decades, where we kind of both kind of decided that it would be sort of destroying the world … [Audio garbled]

Listen to what he [Trump] is saying. And tell your friends what he’s saying because this is the person who will be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. I think Dave [DeVoy, who introduced Paul] had it right. You want someone temperate, you want someone with judgment, you want someone with commitment.

Judy Elliott’s Question  I’m really glad that you brought up nuclear weapons. As you know, the Pentagon and the nuclear weapons labs are beginning a massive new spending emphasis on nuclear weapons, shifting funds into nuclear weapons, hundreds of billions of dollars.

In terms of fighting terrorism, those weapons are not going to do us a bit of good. We already have a good deterrent. And yet, we’re going to have more submarines than we need from Grumman, we’re going to have more missiles than we need from Lockheed, and more warheads than we need from Lockheed, and have more bombers than we need from Boeing. [Oops, see correction below.]

I don’t think it makes us any safer. And yet funds are being shifted into nuclear weapons from other parts of the Pentagon budget. I want to know, do you support this?

Paul: Do I support expanding the nuclear arsenal?

Judy: Yes.

Paul: You know, I think we have to decide what we need. Is some of it outdated that we’re not going to keep? Is some of it out there that [there] needs to be upkeep, and there has to be some modernization? I think we have, as far as overall numbers, probably more than we need to blow up the world many times over.

I do think that it’s better, if you’re going to adjust your nuclear arsenal, to do it in conjunction with the other major superpowers. That’s one thing Reagan did. So, some people who didn’t like Reagan thought, “Oh, he was too reckless in all this.” He turned out to be, I think, a very reasonable Commander-in-Chief in the sense that he continued to discuss with Gorbachev, eventually negotiated reductions.

So I’d be willing to say yes, let’s have open lines of communication with the other superpowers and see if we can reduce it. I do think there still is a deterrent value, not only to the other major superpowers, but ultimately even to a rogue nation, that there is some idea of deterrence. And you hope that there is some rationality on the other side. We figured the Russians, after a while we decided, were rational enough not to want their country destroyed and we were the same, and the counterbalance worked.

It doesn’t mean that you need a hundred times what you need. So I am willing to look at that and figure out if there are ways that we can negotiate a reduction in it. But I would not say absolutely I would not do anything to modernize it, because I think they have to work. So you have to decide that. But I am open to looking at the cost and how we can always conserve.

Judy: I do have a white paper for you on that.

Paul: Yeah, we’ll take it.

………………

Notes from Judy:

1. I gave a staffer the Arms Control Association’s 2014 paper “Unaffordable Arsenal” http://www.armscontrol.org/files/The-Unaffordable-Arsenal-2014.pdf to a Paul staffer.

2. Embarrassing to say, I misidentified major contractors for the nuclear modernization plan. I was correct that Lockheed makes missiles and runs Sandia Labs, which works on nuclear warheads. But the new submarines will be built by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls. The major contractor for the new bomber will be Northrup-Grumman. I’ll get it right next time.

Will O’Malley Support De-Alerting Nuclear Weapons?

Martin O'Malley Concord 7-8-15

Hillary isn’t the only candidate I’ve asked about de-alerting nuclear weapons recently.  Here’s an exchange with Martin O’Malley on December 20 at the Hopkinton, NH, town hall.

Judy: I want to ask you about the nuclear weapons triad, and I assume that you know what it is. These are really frightening times, with a lot of increasing international tension. And for me the most terrifying leg of the nuclear triad is the missiles. The United States and Russia still have hundreds of missiles pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert. It’s a system that is very susceptible, the missiles especially, to false alerts, false alarms, accidents, and now cyber-attacks. And it’s terrifying to realize that we are still, after… so long after the Cold War still in significant danger of accidental nuclear war. And a lot of retired generals will say this. So, I want to ask you a really specific question. It’s that have you seen the plans, such as General Cartwright’s plan, for de-alerting the nuclear missiles, and would you support that plan?

O’Malley: No, I have not seen, I have not seen the plan.

Judy: Um… (Gives a folder to Gov. O’Malley and crowd laughs.) There’s also a report there on accidents with nuclear missiles

O’Malley (taking the folder): I have now seen the plan, and I’ll read it in the car. Look, I’m on a constant learning curve and I think all of us are in the midst of the Republican [inaudible]. So, here’s my take on it. I believe that … I have read some other pieces, been involved in conversations. There is a little-known entity called the Council of Governors created by an act of Congress whose job it is to meet regularly with the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security. And President Obama appointed me to be the Democratic co-chair of that. So I think we typically talk not about the nuclear triad but we do talk a lot about preparedness and we do talk about force and shape of force and maintenance and those things. I believe that we probably can, probably can save money even in the course of modernizing our nuclear deterrents. I think we can lead by example and restart the effort to reduce the numbers of these nuclear warheads that are still all over the earth.

I have visited North Com out there in Colorado and I have seen … Anybody remember, anybody here old enough to remember Dr. Strangelove, and the big board? I’ve seen the big board. [Laughter] So I’ve been there and I’ve seen … I’ve had some knowledge of these things. And the cyber threat which unfortunately we didn’t talk about last night. We talked more about the really goofy … you know, whatever … voter file hacking. I mean, just maddening. I mean, the same day in the newspaper there was a report about the cyber breach that happened in the federal government. And I think that we haven’t begun to fully understand what the potential threat might be to our nuclear arsenal side of things. So thank you for bringing that. And let me read up on what you’ve given me.

Judy: And there was, a lot of people think that there was a cyber-attack on the missile system last … within the last year and you can read about it. [I found out later I was wrong about when this happened.  It occurred in 2010.]

O’Malley: And that’s in there as well?

Judy: I believe so. If not, I’ll get the information to you.

O’Malley: What was your name again?

Judy: My name is Judy Elliott. I’m from Canterbury.

O’Malley: Judy, good to see you again.

As far as I know, O’Malley hasn’t made a public statement yet on de-alerting.

Materials I gave to him:

Jeb on Revolving Door, Nuclear Weapons

Governor_of_Florida_Jeb_Bush_at_FITN_2015_in_NH_by_Michael_Vadon_05

Still catching up after a busy month with the NH primary.   Here’s some of what Jeb Bush had to say December 19 in Windham.

From Jeb Bush’s Introductory Remarks on Lobbying Reform

We need to make sure that lobbyists don’t control everything. If you finish your term of service as an elected official you shouldn’t go out the back door [and] start lobbying the people that you were serving with the day before. There should be a six year ban on elected officials lobbying.

We ought to make sure there is total transparency, to make sure that if people have problems, that their government is the servant, rather than the master.

From the Q & A Period:

Judy: I was really impressed to hear about your proposal for a six-year ban on lobbying. And some of the people who rake in the most from lobbying are retired congressional staffers and also people who work at the Pentagon, both military and civilian. So I’d really like to know if you would extend that six-year ban to those people also.

Jeb Bush: That’s a good question. I’d have to look at the impact of that. But there should total transparency. So if you’re meeting with a lobbyist and you’re a staffer on a committee of great importance or you’re a big dog inside the Department of Defense and you’re being lobbied, there should be 24-hour notice. It should put be on the Internet. There should be complete transparency about this. Then people can make up their mind whether it’s appropriate or not. Then I think across the board, an open government, more transparent government is what we need. This president promised the most transparent government in American history, and we haven’t gotten it. We’ve gotten the exact opposite. So the best way to deal with the transparency issues is to open it up.

It could be that staffers, you know, that’s a revolving door as well. And it does make sense to look at it.

The other thing we need to do at the level of the Defense Department is make sure there’s more than three contractors. We’ve created such a confusing, convoluted procurement system, and it’s been lobbied up beyond belief, that you have the big defense contractors, and the cost is higher. They’re aggregators in effect. All the other parts of the operation they subcontract out. They use their influence to be able to get these contracts. There’s all sorts of legal costs associated with it. The warfighters don’t get the equipment necessary at the scene that they should. So one of the other elements is to embrace procurement reform, so that we have more contractors and it’s based on merits rather than influence.

Man in audience: Thank you, Governor. I was stationed at a nuclear missile site in Germany back in the Seventies. So I was a little astounded to hear …

Bush: … about the nuclear triad.

Man: Yeah, … a guy standing on the stage debating with you had no idea what the nuclear triad was. And when consistently asked over and again what he would do to modernize it, he had no answer. Could you fill him in, could you give us an answer?

Yes, it was breathtaking. I mean, it was breathtaking. I don’t know how else to describe it. I mean my face probably, my jaw dropped down. The triad is air, land, and sea launch capabilities to create a deterrent effect that has been extraordinarily effective since the World War II era and has brought stability to the world.

Trump’s advisor, communications director, this morning, I believe, said, “Hey, it’s not understanding the triad, that’s not the big deal. It is making sure you have a president who will use nuclear weapons.”

No. No. No. Fifteen yard penalty, loss of down. That’s not what the objective is. I mean, think about it. This is not a serious man with a serious proposal.

And we’ve allowed for the triad to languish, in a sense. We haven’t invested in modernizing it. And it’s both dangerous, not to do that, and we need to make sure that we have this deterrent situation. Which means that we need to …. Our submarine capability, which is perhaps, if I was answering the question, I’d would have said that’s probably the place where we need the greatest emphasis. Because the Ohio-class submarines need to be modernized. It needs to be done now. We can’t wait any longer. So across the board, all of the legs of our deterrent effect is important. But to have a president who does not understand the sober, somber responsibilities of having access to the nuclear codes. I mean, well, you wouldn’t, you must have, like, spit up your Diet Coke. (Laughter.)

This is the point. This is the point. Look, people in NH are going to have the chance to decide this election in many ways. And the Trump phenomenon is one to be respected. He’s appealed to people’s [inaudible] … for legitimate reasons people are angry.

But people in New Hampshire are going to have to ask themselves the question. Do they really want a guy, who doesn’t, you know, he may have thought that the nuclear triad was a tripod or something, a new kind of a camera or something. I don’t know. But do you really want someone who is entertaining, but is not a commander-in-chief, to be President of the United States?