Rubio Reiterates Support for Nuclear Weapons “Modernization”

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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.

Jeb on Revolving Door, Nuclear Weapons

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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?

Santorum Supports Nuclear Test Resumption

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November 12 at the NH State House, former Senator Rick Santorum reiterated his support for resumption of nuclear testing. He made his comments to me while exiting the building after registering for the New Hampshire primary. This follows similar remarks by Santorum to GUI bird dog Will Thomas last July 29 and me on August 3.

The US conducted its last nuclear test in 1992. President Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1998, but Congress refused to ratify it. The CTBT has not yet been ratified. Fortunately, since 1999 the US and all other nuclear powers except North Korea have abided by the CTBT.

Ratification is still important. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), the treaty “would make it nearly impossible for any non-nuclear countries to develop a thermonuclear weapon and place limitations on countries that already possess nuclear weapon capabilities. The treaty is a vital step toward the goal of nuclear non-proliferation.” Recently, Secretary of State Kerry suggested that it‘s time for the US to finally ratify the CTBT.

Santorum’s call to resume testing is a dangerous step backward. He justified it by claiming testing is needed to assure the reliability of our nuclear stockpile. Santorum apparently believes that to protect itself, the US needs to be assured of its continued ability to incinerate the human race.

Leaving aside the twisted logic of the nuclear age, Santorum is just plain wrong about the need for testing to assure reliability of the current stockpile. The national nuclear lab at Los Alamos certifies the reliability of nuclear weapons annually, based on methods known as “science based stockpile stewardship.” According to PSR, “Since 1999, computing power has vastly exceeded the performance goals that the Energy Department established as necessary for stockpile stewardship. It is now possible to successfully maintain the [existing] U.S. nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing.”

Santorum made his comments when I asked about his endorsement of the $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program, now underway with the support of both the Obama administration and Congress. The modernization program includes new nuclear weapons as well as replacement or rebuilding of the entire triad of delivery vehicles – bombers, submarines, and ICBMs. Proponents have not overtly said that modernization will require testing. But it may be part of the hidden agenda. According to the Ploughshares Fund, modernization “could require explosive testing of new models, which would violate the CTBT and encourage other states to test.” One more reason to oppose nuclear weapons modernization and push for CTBT ratification.

Asking Hillary About Nuclear Weapons

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Finally! I’ve spent a couple of months trying to ask Hillary Clinton about nuclear weapons. At a September 17 town hall event in Concord, New Hampshire, I finally got to do it. Here’s how it went:

Judy: There has been a lot of talk about Iran but I am so worried about U.S. nuclear weapons also. We have almost 5,000 nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert. Now there’s a plan to build … [spend] a trillion more dollars for new warheads, new planes, a whole new fleet of submarines. It’s going to make the weapons makers a whole lot of money, but I am personally terrified of nuclear annihilation. Do you support this renewed spending?

Clinton: One of the highest goals of the Obama Administration was to try to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. And we did get a treaty with Russia that was limited but at least it continued the process. Trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons – we have a long way to go, and we’re just going to have to figure out how to manage it. One of the reasons why I supported the Iran deal [was] because it put a lid on one more country with nuclear weapons at least for a number of years.

In the crowd afterwards, Arnie Alpert spoke to Clinton and pointed out that the nuclear weapons modernization plan contradicts nonproliferation goals. She replied that a trillion dollars was ridiculous and the money could be used for other needs.

I wasn’t the only voter last night to ask Clinton about military policy. Dwight Haynes, a retired Methodist minister, started off the evening’s questions.

Dwight: I’m Dwight Haines and in 1950, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in Valley Forge, I had the privilege to meet … Dwight Eisenhower. … And … after that event I heard him speak against the growing military- industrial complex. As I listened last night [to the Republican debate] … it seems to me the Republicans are determined to put more and more money into defense, regardless of what else happens. So I’m wondering, as president, would you be willing to set some kind of limits on how much we put into the defense piece of the pie? Also, will you make sure that corporations that sell weapons systems don’t influence our politics?

Clinton: Two good questions. I’m a great admirer of President Eisenhower… I think he was very far-sighted when he gave that speech about the necessity for us to be careful about the military-industrial complex, as he called it. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we have always had two conflicting imperatives. We need to have a strong defense, everybody agrees with that. But how we do it and how much it costs is subject to debate. And I think we are overdue for a very thorough debate in our country about what we need and how we are willing to pay for it. Because I think some of the decisions that have been made, because of the sequester, which just cut without regard for the effectiveness of the program or the impact of it being eliminated, was much too blunt an instrument. I think we should have a high-level commission of really well-respected people from different walks of life, who have not lived their life completely in the military-industrial world, really taking a hard look, the same way we have had to in the past look at closing bases. A system was put in place where there could be somewhat less influence from Congressional politics, and I’d like to see such a commission come up with recommendations. Because what I hear all the time, that I saw as a senator – I served on the Armed Services Committee – [and] what I saw as Secretary of State is that very often the leadership of the Defense Department wants to eliminate certain spending, or wants to change it, maybe put it somewhere else where they think it’ll do more good, and … they’re stopped by Congress. So what I’m looking for is a way of avoiding that.

Clinton was not the first candidate I’ve asked about nuclear weapons (see earlier posts), but she’s among those I most wanted to hear from. She’s a front-runner and she has a lot of foreign policy experience. It was great to hear her positive comments on nuclear abolition and restraining the arms budget. But I wish she’d be more specific.

A little background. President Obama endorsed nuclear weapons abolition during his first campaign. He reaffirmed that goal in a speech in Prague in 2009. Initial progress was exciting. The President negotiated the New Start treaty in 2010, limiting deployed warheads to 1,550 each for the United States and Russia. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review endorsed “a multilateral effort to limit, reduce, and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.” The NPR also said the United States would not develop any new nuclear weapons.

In a June 2013 speech in Berlin, President Obama went further, suggesting that the two powers negotiate an additional one-third reduction of deployed nuclear weapons.

Apparently even deeper reductions were discussed by American policy-makers. Journalist Marc Herman reported that computer modelling at the National Defense University showed that reductions to 500 nuclear weapons for each side would provide both countries with a “minimal deterrent” sufficient to prevent a first strike from the other.[1] While it wouldn’t be nuclear abolition, such reductions would represent genuine progress.

But recently progress has stalled and a frightening new arms race is heating up.

Part of the reason, as explained by James Carroll, is that “[in] order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain. He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast ‘modernization’ of the US nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than a trillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants … twelve new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants… a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would … both be outfitted with next-generation missiles.” Modernization, under the guise of “life extension” for existing weapons, also involves creation of upgraded warheads, contrary to intentions stated in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

This is why we need to know whether Clinton opposes nuclear weapons modernization. The problem is not just the immense expense, using money that, as she told Arnie, is needed elsewhere. (Bernie Sanders said something similar at a forum in Portsmouth last May, but like Clinton was vague about his exact stance.) Even if nuclear weapons modernization were without cost, the program represents a frightening about-face from Obama’s early progress towards nuclear abolition.

Once the Pentagon is invested in the new weapons systems, as is already happening, the new arms race will be hard to reverse. And of course, defense contractors will reap hundreds of billions of dollars building the new weapons. Their profit motives will continue to drive spending on nuclear weapons.

So here are questions we should ask Clinton and the other candidates:

· How can the United States comply with Article 6 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? Article 6 states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

· If you become president, will you stop the nuclear weapons modernization program?

· Will you commit to reduce the United States’ military stockpile to 1000 nuclear weapons in your first term, and 500 in your second term?

According James Carroll, “[If] a commander-in-chief were to order nuclear reductions into the hundreds, the result might actually be a transformation of the American political conscience. In the process, the global dream of a nuclear-free world could be resuscitated and the commitment of non-nuclear states (including Iran) to refrain from nuclear-weapons development could be rescued. Most crucially, there would no longer be any rationale for the large-scale reinvention of the American nuclear arsenal, a deadly project this nation is even now preparing to launch.

Let’s make sure that the candidates address these issues.  The more of us who get out and talk to them, the better.


[1] In 2009, a report by the Federation of American Scientists also said that reductions to “initially 1,000 warheads, and later a few hundred warheads, are more than adequate to serve as a deterrent against anyone unwise enough to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.”

Rick Santorum on Nuclear Weapons Modernization

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Olivia Zink and I attended WMUR’s “Conversation with the Candidate” with Rick Santorum on Monday, August 3.

Following the taped portion of the show, Olivia questioned Senator Santorum about the influence of the for-profit nuclear weapons labs. Using the example of Lockheed’s illegal lobbying to extend its contract to run Sandia National Labs, Olivia said that the labs have used their influence to advocate for the $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program.

Senator Santorum asserted that we need to modernize nuclear weapons because, since we stopped nuclear testing, there is no assurance that they will work. Apparently he feels that this makes them ineffective as a deterrent. He said he was unhappy that the US stopped testing nuclear weapons. I countered that we don’t need to upgrade nuclear weapons to make sure they work. Rather, they can be maintained by replacing aging parts with similar parts, rather than upgrading the weapons.

I said, “[US nuclear weapons] are reliable if they can just be maintained, but what the nuclear weapons labs and some of the weapons manufacturers are doing, which is very profitable for them, is to use the maintenance of those weapons as a guise to design and build new nuclear weapons. Same with the submarines, the bombers, and the missiles. It is a trillion dollar program, it’s going to cost the tax payers a lot of money, and we don’t need it.”

At that point host Josh McElveen intervened and said that Senator Santorum had to leave. Too bad, it’s very difficult to actually engage candidates on this issue.

The issue is important. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) originally intended to replace aging parts on nuclear weapons are now being used to upgrade those weapons, in effect creating new nuclear weapons. This violates commitments in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

If you’d like an in-depth look at these issues, see “Transforming the US Strategic Posture & Weapons Complex for a Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World,” especially Chapter 5. Primary author was Dr. Robert Civiak of Lebanon, NH.

Walker: Iran Justifies US Nuclear Spending

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Presidential candidate Scott Walker uses Iran’s potential nuclear capacity as a justification for expanded spending on US nuclear weapons. Apparently the immense stockpile we have now isn’t strong enough for him.

Walker made his remarks on July 16, in response to a question I asked on WMUR’s “Conversation with the Candidate.” Yet despite his apparent concerns about Iran developing a nuclear weapon, two days later Walker said he would terminate the new Iranian nuclear agreement immediately after his inauguration. Walker also suggested he would be ready to take military action right away. (See Huffington Post including video commentary 7-20-15.)

While the US has thousands of nuclear warheads and fleets of bombers, subs, and missiles to deliver them, Iran has yet to build a single nuclear weapon.

Walker’s approach is not unique, unfortunately. On June 24 in Hooksett, NH, candidate George Pataki said he was more worried about Iran’s nuclear capabilities than about spending plans to upgrade the US stockpile. (See earlier report.)

Here’s a transcript of our exchange on WMUR. It was aired July 17. You can view it at http://bit.ly/1RNnztl .  Please get out and talk to the candidates.  It’s important.

Judy: Governor, the U.S. still has almost 5000 nuclear weapons in its military stockpile, and many are on hair-trigger alert. And now the Obama Administration and the Pentagon plan to spend $1 trillion more on nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. It’s going to be very profitable for the private weapons labs and for the Pentagon contractors. Do you support this plan?

Governor Walker: Well, I think overall we have to have the capacity to defend ourselves. And unlike when I came of age during the Cold War when we thought it was the old Soviet Union, today it’s not just places like Russia and China and elsewhere that [are] kind of a mixed bag. Increasingly, even with this recent deal proposed with Iran, I’m very concerned about their capacity to look at intercontinental ballistic missiles and their capacity there. I’m worried about what that could mean for the future, not just for Israel and others in the region, but potentially what it could mean for the United States. And on behalf of all of the children in this country I want to make sure that they are safe and sound for generations to come.

Judy: So do you support the plan?

Governor Walker: Well, I’m not necessarily supporting the Obama plan. I do believe though we need to have a nuclear triad which includes all three legs. And I think part of it goes beyond just what you asked about. I think we need to have a replacement for the Ohio-based nuclear submarines that are part of what kept us safe for so many years and we’ll be going forward.