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Why Canada Should Sign the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

In Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 31, 2017 at 1:44 am

By Douglas Roche, Special to the Globe and Mail, July 29, 2017 http://tinyurl.com/yd65caa7

Douglas Roche is a former senator and a former Canadian ambassador for disarmament and honourary citizen of Hiroshima.

I was 16 when the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August, 1945. It was only years later, when I visited Japan as a member of Parliament, that I realized the unspeakable horror and scale of destruction possible in the new nuclear age.

That experience changed my life as I began to understand that the threat to use the immense killing power of modern nuclear weapons challenges all human rights. Through the years, the movement to abolish nuclear weapons ebbed and flowed, and few people thought the elimination of all 15,000 nuclear weapons was a practical political goal.

But new hope emerged July 7, when 122 countries – 63 per cent of all countries – adopted at the United Nations a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The new treaty prohibits the development, testing, production, manufacturing and possession of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have been unconditionally stigmatized as standing outside international humanitarian law.

The treaty was achieved through the work of leading states – such as Ireland, Austria and Mexico – working in collaboration with highly informed members of civil society. They recognized the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of any use of nuclear weapons, which would pose grave implications for the environment, the global economy, the health of current and future generations and for human survival itself.

When 50 countries have ratified it, the new treaty will enter into force and all the signatory states will be committed to “measures for the verified, time-bound and irreversible elimination of nuclear-weapon programmes.”

The UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, has hailed the “historic adoption” of the treaty as “a beacon of hope for all those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

However, the road ahead will be difficult because the nuclear-weapons states oppose the new treaty, just as they have refused to honour their legal obligations under the longstanding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to negotiate “in good faith” the elimination of nuclear weapons. A statement issued by the United States, Britain and France – the three Western nuclear-weapons states – arrogantly said they “do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to [the new treaty].”

Thus, world opinion is split between those who believe the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence (“mutual assured destruction”) is necessary to preserve peace and those who hold that nuclear weapons, with their immense destructive power, are the major threat to peace.

The majority of countries now agree that the faulty doctrine of nuclear deterrence must be replaced with a sincere desire to build a global security architecture without nuclear weapons. This is a struggle of titanic proportions.

It is dismaying that the Government of Canada, the first country in the world to declare it would not develop nuclear weapons, took a stand in Parliament opposing the new treaty as “premature.” How can it be “premature” to ban nuclear weapons after seven decades of their existence?

The real reason for Canada’s opposition is because the U.S. government instructed its partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to resist on the grounds that the treaty “delegitimizes the concept of nuclear deterrence.” That is exactly the aim of the treaty advocates, who maintain that the measure is a head-on rejection of nuclear hegemony.

The new treaty also shores up the non-proliferation treaty, which is continually being weakened by the major powers’ refusal to abide by its obligation to negotiate the elimination of nuclear arsenals. Prohibiting nuclear weapons is an essential step toward their elimination. Thus, the Government of Canada should sign and ratify the new prohibition treaty as a concrete step toward the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

The government must face the fact that NATO nuclear policies are a huge obstacle to achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world. Canada once tried to get NATO to change these policies; it should try again. It will not be easy to challenge the NATO doctrine, but it must be done because it is right to do so. It is wrong for NATO to maintain the nuclear weapons doctrine when most of the world wants to prohibit such instruments of evil.

As an old man now looking back in the distance to the horrors of Hiroshima, I never want to lose my sense of hope that an enlightened humanity can fight back against the shrill voices of fear still clamouring for the false security of nuclear weapons.

The Republican leadership’s strategy for repealing Obamacare has depended on secrecy.

In Democracy, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on July 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

New York Times, July 26, 2017, David Leonhardt. Op-Ed Columnist

No hearings. Little public debate. Few town-hall meetings. Rushed votes. And, in a depressing spectacle yesterday, a Senate vote to move a bill forward even though neither the senators themselves nor their constituents know which bill is actually under consideration.

“I have covered every health bill in Congress since 1986,” Julie Rovner, the chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, tweeted this week. “There has NEVER been anything this nuts before in terms of process. Never.”

Let’s be clear about what could happen now: More than 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance. Millions more could see the quality of their insurance deteriorate. If this happens, people would ultimately be denied medical care or receive worse care as a result. A Times editorial has more details.

Is there anything that concerned citizens can do? Yes, there is.

“The next 24 hours are critical. The public blowback must be immediate and overwhelming,” Topher Spiro, a former Congressional aide who opposes the various bills, wrote yesterday.

Remember: The strategy for passing the bill depends on secrecy. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and their allies understand that their plans are deeply unpopular. So the best way to prevent them from taking health coverage from people is to call attention to their efforts. On Tuesday night, one Obamacare replacement bill had already failed.

Spiro suggested that people with Democratic senators call them to urge them to fight as hard as possible, by filibustering and offering unlimited amendments. Locking in the tentative no votes from Republican senators Lisa Murkowski (of Alaska) and Susan Collins (of Maine) is also critical.
Meanwhile, people who live in Ohio, Nevada, West Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana and Utah are represented by Republican senators who could provide the swing vote.

Senate leadership wants to pass a bill this week, Marianna Sotomayor of NBC reported. One worrisome possibility, as Senator Chris Murphy noted, is the Senate passing a bare-bones bill, under the guise of fixing it during so-called conference negotiations with the House. That would almost certainly lead to massive losses in insurance coverage.

If you were ever tempted to get involved in politics, now would be a good time — to make a phone call or urge friends and relatives to do so. And if you’re a United States senator who is tempted to put Americans’ well-being above partisan loyalty, now would be a really good time.

New nuclear ‘pit’ production at LANL is unnecessary

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics, Workplace exposure on July 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

By Jay Coghlan, Albuquerque Journal, July 21, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Center for Public Integrity recently published a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos lab that captured a lot of national attention.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons. The articles were largely based on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s annual contractor Performance Evaluation Reports. Those reports are publicly available only because Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued for them in 2012.

The former plutonium pit production site, the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, was shut down by a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes. A special grand jury indicted both Department of Energy (DOE) officials and the contractor, but a federal judge quashed the indictments at the urging of the local federal attorney general. It was only by sheer luck that a major plutonium fire on Mother’s Day 1969 didn’t contaminate Denver with highly carcinogenic plutonium.

I specifically recall senior DOE officials promising New Mexicans 20 years ago that serious lessons were learned from Rocky Flats and that re-established plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) would always be safe. Since then, the lab has spent billions of taxpayers’ money on plutonium pit production but, as the recent articles document, LANL still can’t do it safely.

As the articles reported, a serious nuclear criticality accident was narrowly averted in July 2011, which resulted in the three-year shutdown of LANL’s main plutonium facility. Nevertheless, according to the fiscal year 2011 LANL Performance Evaluation Report, the lab contractor was paid $50 million in pure profit for that year.

In 2014, a radioactive waste barrel improperly prepared by LANL ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), shutting down that multi-billion-dollar facility for nearly three years. Radioactive waste disposal at WIPP will remain constrained for years, raising the question of where future LANL bomb-making wastes will go.

Congress has required the Los Alamos lab to quadruple plutonium pit production, regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. The requirement was drafted by professional staff on the House Armed Services Committee, one of whom was originally from the Sandia nuclear weapons lab.

That the existing stockpile doesn’t need pit production is demonstrated by the fact that none has been scheduled since 2011 when LANL finished up the production run that was stopped when Rocky Flats was shut down.

At NukeWatch’s request, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) required an independent study of the lifetimes of pits. The expert conclusion was that plutonium pits last at least a century, more than double government estimates (the oldest pits in the stockpile are now around 45 years old). Moreover, there are some 20,000 existing plutonium pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

Future plutonium pit production is for a new so-called “Interoperable Warhead” that is supposed to function both as a land-based ICBM and a sub-launched nuclear warhead. The nuclear weapons labs are pushing this $13 billion make-work project that the Navy doesn’t want.

Ironically, new-design pits for the Interoperable Warhead may hurt national security because they cannot be tested in a full-scale nuclear weapons test or, alternatively, testing them would have severe international proliferation consequences.

Given all this, why expand plutonium pit production when apparently it can’t be done safely and may decrease, not increase, our national security? One strong reason is the huge contractor profits to be had under the $1 trillion-plus “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile and production complex started under Obama, which Trump promises to expand. Far from just “modernization,” existing nuclear weapons are being given new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government.

The directors of the Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs in truth wear two hats – the first as lab directors, the second as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations running the labs. This inherent conflict of interest skews U.S. nuclear weapons policy and should be brought to an end.

The New Mexico congressional delegation kowtows to the nuclear weapons industry in our state. I specifically call upon Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to certify within this calendar year that future plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab will be safe, or otherwise end their support for it.

Jay Coghlan is the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

 

OREPA, NukeWatch, NRDC file lawsuit against new nuclear bomb plant

In Democracy, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics on July 21, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Our lawsuit against the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) over the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) is important for many reasons. First, despite the fact that 122 countries just passed a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the UPF is the tip of the spear for the U.S.’ planned one trillion dollar-plus make over of its nuclear arsenal, delivery systems and productions plants. Those production plants are expected to be operational until ~2080, modifying existing nuclear weapons while endowing them with new military capabilities.
Our lawsuit seeks to compel NNSA compliance with the law, when the National Environmental Policy Act requires supplemental public review when major federal proposals are substantially changed. The UPF is also an issue of good governance and proper use of taxpayers dollars, since it has had constant cost overruns and a half-billion dollar design mistake for which no contractor was held accountable.
Finally, our lawsuit against this new bomb plant near Oak Ridge, TN will hopefully benefit New Mexicans by reminding NNSA to conduct legally required public review for new or upgraded plutonium facilities at the Los Alamos Lab.

****

For immediate release, July 20, 2017:

Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and The Natural Resources Defense Council File Lawsuit Against New Nuclear Bomb Plant

Washington, DC – Today, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a federal lawsuit to stop construction of the problem-plagued Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) until legally required environmental review is completed. The UPF, located at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Y-12 production plant near Oak Ridge, TN, is slated to produce new thermonuclear weapons components until the year 2080. The UPF is the tip of the spear for the U.S.’s planned one trillion dollar-plus make over of its nuclear weapons arsenal, delivery systems, and production plants.

“The story of this new bomb plant is a long tale of outrageous waste and mismanagement, false starts and re-dos, a federal agency that refuses to meet its legal obligation to engage the public, and a Senator that is bent on protecting this piece of prime nuclear pork for his home state,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of OREPA. “But the short version is this: when the NNSA made dramatic changes to the UPF, and admitted that it intends to continue to operate dangerous, already contaminated facilities for another twenty or thirty years, they ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act. Our complaint demands that the NNSA complete a supplemental environmental impact statement on the latest iteration of its flawed plans.”

The NNSA first issued a formal “Record of Decision” to build the UPF in 2011. Within a year, the agency had to admit it had made a half-billion dollar mistake because the designed footprint of the bomb plant was not big enough to hold all of the required equipment and safety features. The American taxpayer had to eat that half billion dollars, as the NNSA held no contractor responsible for it. The agency’s parent organization, the Department of Energy, has been on the Government Accountability Office’s High Risk List for project mismanagement and chronic cost overruns for 26 consecutive years.

More recently, the House FY 2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations report noted that the NNSA had to reprogram $403 million out of the UPF’s $1.4 billion contingency fund to address “unforeseen issues” before ground is even broken. Both the NNSA and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-TN, chair of Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee) have repeatedly claimed that UPF construction will not exceed $6.5 billion. That declared budget cap seems increasingly uncertain, which could have serious negative political consequences for the troubled facility.

The UPF started with an original estimated price tag of between $600 million to $1 billion in 2006. In December 2013 an independent cost assessment by the Department of Defense pegged the UPF at more than $19 billion, which stopped the project dead in its tracks and compelled NNSA to develop a new approach. The agency commissioned a “Red Team” to perform a quick, secret study, whose recommendation was eventually adopted. In July 2016, the NNSA published an Amended Record of Decision in the Federal Register describing its new plan.

“It was a dramatic change,” commented Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “Instead of consolidating all enriched uranium operations into one big, new UPF, NNSA decided to build multiple smaller but integrated buildings, only one of which would be designed to modern seismic standards. More importantly, the agency declared it would continue to indefinitely use deteriorating, already contaminated facilities for dangerous highly enriched uranium operations, while admitting that the buildings can not meet current environmental and seismic standards.”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires a federal agency to revisit any environmental analysis when its plan undergoes significant changes that might impact the environment, or when new information comes to light. It also requires public involvement throughout the process. “NEPA’s fundamental purposes are to ensure that agencies take a hard look at consequences before taking action and to ensure that the public has a voice in agency decisions,” said William Lawton, an attorney working on the case at Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, LLP. “Here, the NNSA has chosen to save money by continuing to rely on outdated, deteriorating buildings that run a very real risk of collapsing and releasing nuclear contamination in the event of an earthquake. The agency is putting the public at risk, and the public has a right to make sure that the government has taken the legally required hard look at those serious risks.”

“Since 2011, despite our repeated efforts to get information, including filing Freedom of Information Act requests, visiting DOE offices, asking officials for information and writing hundreds of letters, we have been shut out of the process completely,” noted OREPA’s Hutchison. “When we saw the final document, admitting that they were going to continue to use dangerous risky facilities without bringing them up to code, we realized why the NNSA was so determined not to make its plan public.”

Coghlan noted that the NNSA faced a similar scenario several years ago at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico when plans for a huge new plutonium pit fabrication facility were substantially changed. “We told NNSA they had to complete more public review, and the agency wisely decided to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement,” he said. “The proposed changes to the UPF are even more dramatic, and we are invoking that precedent to demand that NNSA follow the law.”

# # #

The complaint is available at https://nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/UPFcomplaint.pdf

 

The Oak Ridge Environmental and Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Natural Resources Defense Council have engaged the well-respected public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein and Eubanks, LLP, located in Washington, DC, to represent them in the litigation.

The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance is an 1,800 member grassroots public interest group that has focused on nuclear weapons and environmental issues at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Nuclear Reservation since 1988.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico had been watchdogging Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities in New Mexico and across the NNSA’s nuclear weapons complex since 1999.

The Natural Resources Defense Council combines the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

 

Jay Coghlan, Executive Director
Scott Kovac, Research Director

You can make a donation online at Nukewatch.org, or you can send a check to Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, 903 W. Alameda #325, Santa Fe NM 87501
Please make checks out to “SRIC” (the Southwest Research and Information Center), our longtime trusted fiscal agent. All donations are tax deductible.

To stay current on the issues see our popular website http://www.nukewatch.org

 

Nuclear power for your home and business

In Climate change, Environment, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on July 20, 2017 at 8:36 am

Dear friends –

Regardless of any other public and career commitments each of us may have, it is now essential for everyone who is, or could be, involved in the public sphere to address themselves in one way or another to the global climate crisis.

We will review the reasons for this in the next Bulletin, if they are not already clear. In a letter to local members earlier this year we said,
Today, our long inaction in the face of converging environmental and social disasters requires us to consider our lives and actions…All that we are and do, and would do, must be weighed sub specie Terrae – from the perspective of Earth…[T]he biggest story and struggle of our time and our greatest, most salient struggles, lie in the nexus of climate, energy, economics, and environment. These connected crises have now thoroughly converged…We now need to anchor all our politics, including nuclear disarmament politics, in the work of saving our only home and the creatures in it, who have come this long way with us and made us who we are. This is not just “another issue.” It is the master predicament that we and our children are facing. (1/7/17)
One small part of our collective response deserves highlighting first, and all by itself for clarity’s sake, because it is so straightforward and has so many personal, political, and economic advantages (micro and macro – both).

I am talking about nuclear power. Fusion power, that long-sought miracle of energy abundance. For your home and business or those of your friends. From the sun.

As Los Alamos gadfly and peace activist Ed Grothus used to say, the reactor location is ideal, at 93 million miles away; the power output is essentially infinite; and the distribution is universal.

Solar energy is almost perfectly accessible – almost too good to be true, and much better than almost any alternative. Google’s Sunroof algorithms estimate that just our city, Albuquerque, has 188,000 roofs that are suitable for photovoltaic installations (93% of the total), with a combined potential capacity of 3.5 gigawatts. This is more than one-third of the total summer generation capacity in the whole state (8.4 GW). (About one quarter of NM’s electricity is exported). That’s just Albuquerque roofs. It does not include parking lots (many of which would benefit from solar shade structures), or all the suitable vacant land within and around the city, which together would dwarf the solar potential of the roofs alone.

The marginal cost of a solar kilowatt-hour is, once a solar generation facility is installed, zero. Nuclear-generated electricity finally is, in that sense, “too cheap to meter.” The cost is really a capital investment, not an operating expense, and a big hunk of it makes jobs and builds skills in your community.

We here at the Los Alamos Study Group are laser-focused on the political and social changes we can foster that will help save the planet and strengthen our communities. Especially now that it is cheap, and especially here in sunny New Mexico, solar energy is an enabling technology.

Solar energy is a core part of the Gandhian “constructive program” in our time and place. He emphasized that constructive program far more than nonviolent resistance. That program, and the radical simplicity that was and is a necessary part of it, is a face of the active nonviolence we need.

We need a lot of renewable energy – distributed renewable energy, with associated ownership, skills, and renewed community institutions – quickly. For some people and institutions, it will be a “gateway” (as in, “gateway drug,” but in a positive sense) to other transitions, personal and political.

In general, and of course with exceptions, we do not see the ephemeral, convenient protests that are habitual on the political left as being at all politically effective. (Long-term protests and true nonviolent resistance are quite another matter.) Organizing people to boycott as much planetary ecocide as possible – necessarily starting with one’s own household and business – would be far more effective than showing up for the typical protest.

Of course constructive action alone is not enough. Renewable energy, even 100% renewable energy, is not enough in itself to save the climate and halt the Sixth Great Extinction. We also need effective resistance. We need radical simplicity and connection with others.

But renewable energy is necessary; it is necessary now; it is necessary on a large scale; and it is necessary that it not be controlled by a few. The process of making this happen is politically potent and fruitful across the whole range of our converging crises.

Let me be very clear. We are asking you to consider adding solar generating capacity on your home or business. We think it is politically important.

As we said last year (Bulletin 226), the Study Group has chosen to have a financial “confluence of interest” in this transition, because we believe strongly in it. It is program and fundraising, both. We are working with two employee-owned New Mexico companies:
Positive Energy: very high efficiency, long-life, hassle-free solar guaranteed installations, including all permitting and paperwork. “Smart,” long-life, battery systems. $100 to LASG for any consultation (which are free to customers); an additional $400 with system installation.
McCune Solar Works: ultra-long life, low-cost PV modules and systems; systems tailored for renters; long-life, non-toxic battery systems; much more. Free consultations. $500 to the Study Group with system installation.
If you don’t live in New Mexico, that’s fine. We still want you to think about solar energy, for all the above reasons.
If you rent, there are ways of approaching the solar energy proposition that may work for you and your landlord.

More than this, we are asking you to become climate and solar “ambassadors,” educating and connecting with others about our climate crisis and undertaking to produce a concerted response in your own circles, which will include renewable energy, especially solar energy.

Some of you have very small electric bills, which is great. There are now cheap, small solar systems with easy-to-wire AC output, which may have demonstration value for others as well as yourself.

The federal investment tax credit is still 30% until the end of 2019. The credit applies to any necessary new roofing and to carports, parking lot structures, etc. Nonprofits and churches can create LLCs to benefit from these credits.

As a result of our summer climate and solar ambassador program, we know a little bit about this industry. Talk to one of us (at 505-265-1200) if you have questions, but we will want to connect you with the real pros, who can best analyze your situation in detail.

Greg and Trish, for the Los Alamos Study Group

Activists cut fences, occupy nuclear weapons bunker in protest of U.S. nukes in Germany

In Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on July 20, 2017 at 2:59 am

Nuke Resister, July 17, 2017

An international group of five peace activists got far inside the Büchel Air Base in Büchel, Germany, after nightfall on Monday, July 17, 2017, and for the first time in a 21-year-long series of protests against the deployment of U.S. B61 thermonuclear bombs there, climbed on top of one large bunker used for nuclear weapons. After cutting through two exterior fences and two more fences surrounding the large earth-covered bunkers, the five spent more than one hour unnoticed sitting on the bunker. No notice of the group was taken until after two of them climbed down to write “DISARM” on the bunker’s metal front door, setting off an alarm. Surrounded by vehicles and guards searching on foot with flashlights, the five eventually alerted guards to their presence by singing, causing the guards to look up. The internationals were eventually taken into custody more than two hours after entering the base.

The five – Steve Baggarly, 52, of Virginia; Susan Crane, 73, of California; John LaForge, 61, and Bonnie Urfer, 65, both of Wisconsin; and Gerd Buentzly, 67, of Germany – said in a statement titled All Nuclear Weapons are Illegal and Immoral: “We are nonviolent and have entered Büchel Air Base to condemn the nuclear weapons deployed here. We ask Germany to either disarm the weapons or send them back to the United States for disarming,” it said in part.
An hour after being detained, searched and photographed, the five were released through the base’s main entrance.The action came at the end of an “international week” at the base organized by “Nonviolent Action to Abolish Nukes” (GAAA). The effort was part of a 20-week-long series of actions – “Twenty Weeks for Twenty Bombs” – that began March 26, 2017 organized by a 50-group coalition campaign, “Büchel is Everywhere, Nuclear Weapons Free Now!” Three other nonviolent direct actions took place during the week, one of which succeeded in its demand to see the base commander. Oberstleutnant Gregor Schlemmer actually appeared at the site of a highway blockade and agreed to received a copy of the newly-adopted U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons from activist Sister Ardeth Platte, OP of Baltimore, Maryland.
More than 60 people from around the globe – Russia, China, Mexico, Germany, Britain, the United States, The Netherlands, France and Belgium – participated.

Activists from the United States came to Büchel to highlight the plans for modernization of the B61. Ralph Hutchison, from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where a new thermonuclear core for the “B61-Model12” will be manufactured, said: “It is important that we show this is a global movement. The resistance to nuclear weapons is not limited to one country. The new B61-12 program will cost more than $12 billion, and when production starts sometime after 2020, Büchel is scheduled to get new nuclear bombs.”
“The idea that nuclear weapons provide security is a fiction believed by millions,” said John LaForge, of Nukewatch in Wisconsin, which organized the 11-person delegation from the U.S. “Tonight we showed that the image of a secure nuclear weapons facility is also a fiction,” he said.
“Everyone’s children and everyone’s grandchildren have a right to a nuclear weapons free world. All of creation calls us to life, to disarmament, to a world of justice – for the poor, the Earth, and the children,” read the statement, released in both German and English.

Susan Crane, a Plowshares activist from the Redwood City, California Catholic Worker, said, “The Commander of the Base, Oberstleutnant Schlemmer, came to meet us at 3:00 a.m. and told us what we did was very dangerous and we might have been shot. We believe the greater danger comes from the nuclear bombs that are deployed at the Base.”

Büchel is Everywhere, Nuclear Weapons Free Now! continues until August 9, 2017 and will close with a commemoration of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan.

Testing Fate: The Implications of Resumed Nuclear Weapons Testing

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 18, 2017 at 9:51 pm

By Joseph Rodgers, July 17, 2017

From 1945 to 1992, the United States conducted 1,032 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, under the ocean and below ground. These tests took their toll on the environment and communities downwind from test sites, with certain radioactive materials, such as Strontium-90, still measurable in our bodies.

In the quarter century since the last explosive nuclear test, cold war realities like “duck and cover” have faded from the public consciousness. To today’s young professionals, they seem quaint icons of a bygone era. However, while there is no technical requirement for a U.S. nuclear test, this 20th century pursuit is getting new consideration in the current administration. We would be well advised to examine the geopolitical context and the risks that would accompany any U.S. return to testing.

This past May, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) embarked on another review cycle to assess its status and implementation. During these negotiations in Vienna, the vast majority of states expressed strong support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The verification regime created by the CTBT is one of the strongest in the world, involving over 321 International Monitoring Stations (IMS) and 16 laboratories that continually search for signs of nuclear testing. This sophisticated system of sensors has a variety of applications outside of the nuclear realm, ranging from tracking whale migration in the Indian Ocean to detecting asteroid impacts.

The United States signed the CTBT in 1996, but Congress has yet to ratify the treaty. Despite signing the CTBT, there is a small, yet growing, number of nuclear weapons aficionados in the United States calling for the resumption of a nuclear weapons test readiness posture and even the commencement of explosive testing itself. Testing nuclear weapons, and even allocating substantial money to test readiness, would undercut United States and international security.

North Korea remains the only country to have tested a nuclear weapon since 1998. The international community has strongly condemned North Korean testing as a violation of the testing taboo. If the United States resumes testing, we will lose a significant amount of international political leverage against the regime in Pyongyang.

There are other reasons why United States resumption of nuclear weapons testing would be a dangerous geopolitical move. Testing by the United States would almost certainly light an international fuse, triggering other states with nuclear weapons to resume testing. Russia is making substantial infrastructure investments at their old Novaya Zemlya testing facility, and could be expected to detonate a test soon after the United States does. China would likely follow. Additionally, India and Pakistan have collectively completed five nuclear weapons tests and would see new opportunities in renewed global testing. Of all the nuclear states, India and Pakistan have the most scientific knowledge to gain from a resumption of testing. A recommencement of nuclear testing would result in widespread environmental damage and a more dangerous, less politically stable world.

Arguments for renewed nuclear weapons testing by certain nuclear weapons experts, such as former Sandia National Lab President C. Paul Robinson, are appearing because the United States is planning to spend one trillion dollars modernizing every aspect of its nuclear arsenal.

This costly modernization project is aimed at enhancing nuclear weapons capabilities. For example, the B61-12 gravity bomb received a new guided tail kit, making the bomb more accurate. The W76-1/Mk4A warheads on the Trident II Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile received new arming, fuzing and firing mechanisms, dubbed “super fuzes”, significantly increasing their ability to destroy hardened targets. The Long Range Standoff Air Launched Cruise Missile is slated to receive new stealth capabilities.

Wholly new concepts are being considered, including warheads with launch “interoperability” from multiple platforms. The farther away the stockpile moves from pedigreed (certified) weapons into uncharted novelty designs, the louder the voices to resume explosive nuclear weapons testing will become. Instead, if a particular design change would introduce a significant uncertainty about its explosive reliability, that should be a “stop” sign, not a “blow it up to see what happens” signal.

Testing is unnecessary for the prudent maintenance of the modern United States nuclear arsenal. The existing Stockpile Stewardship program uses supercomputers that model nuclear explosions based off of the data collected from our 1,032 previous nuclear weapons tests. While our stockpile does not necessitate nuclear weapons testing, a resumption of testing would galvanize other states’ nuclear weapons programs.

If testing does recommence, the Nevada Test Site, where the majority of nuclear weapons detonated on United States soil occurred, is the facility most likely to be used. Nevada citizens should stand against nuclear weapons testing in their communities. Nuclear weapons testing should become a political third rail. Testing in Nevada would cause ecological devastation and carry an enormous economic cost. With Las Vegas just 80 miles away from the Nevada Test Site, tourism to Nevada would certainly decline.

Resuming nuclear weapons testing is politically untenable, internationally destabilizing, and environmentally catastrophic. Modernization of nuclear weapons by introducing novel design elements is provocative and is already contributing to an arms race. Testing will accelerate the nuclear dangers without commensurate benefit to the United States and will make our nation and the world less safe.

Joseph Rodgers is a Master’s Candidate in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS). Rodgers also serves as a Nuclear Policy Analyst at Tri-Valley CAREs, based in Livermore, California and as a Research Assistant at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at MIIS.

 

After the nuclear weapons ban treaty: A new disarmament politics

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 18, 2017 at 8:28 am

By Zia Mian, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 7, 2017

A treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons was adopted by an overwhelming vote and met with loud cheers this week at the United Nations. More than 70 years in the making, the treaty offers widely agreed principles, commitments, and mechanisms for ending the nuclear weapons age. Getting here was not easy, and achieving nuclear disarmament will still be a long struggle. But the new treaty creates space and means for a creative new disarmament politics based on law and ethics and democracy that go beyond well-trodden debates on the dangers and costs of nuclear weapons and traditional practices of arms control based on step-by-step reductions that limit only the size of arsenals.

Having achieved their goal of negotiating a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and aiming explicitly at their elimination, officials from more than 120 countries and countless peace activists who have been engaged in the talks now need to take up the political challenge of having the treaty quickly and widely adopted and owned by publics and governments around the world. The treaty will open for signature on September 20. The treaty adopted this week requires 50 states to formally join before it enters into force. This should occur soon. In the vote at the United Nations, 122 states voted in favor, and only the Netherlands, which hosts nuclear weapons belonging to the United States, voted against.

The treaty is in many ways an attempt to reaffirm—and hold humanity to—the highest universal ideals of a world of peace and justice based on law. It exposes the fundamental contradiction between nuclear weapons and the existing international system. The treaty opens with the simple declaration that the countries adopting it are “[d]etermined to contribute to the realization of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

Signed on June 26, 1945 in San Francisco, the charter says, in Article 1.1 that “[t]he purposes of the United Nations are: To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

Given this purpose, it should be no surprise that the United Nations has always struggled with the question of nuclear weapons and has been the primary forum for international demands to eliminate these weapons, which more than any other human instrument constitute a threat to international peace and security. This struggle began in the very first meeting of the United Nations, on January 24, 1946, when the newly formed General Assembly took up as its first order of business the need for specific proposals “for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.” This historic demand is recalled in the preamble to the new nuclear weapons ban treaty.

In framing the obligations of states under the treaty, and by implication the conduct of all states, the preamble makes a case that nuclear weapons are in fundamental conflict with basic humanitarian sensibilities and international law. If the treaty is to ultimately be successful, this view will have to become the common sense of the world.

The treaty’s foundational claims are that “any use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular the principles and rules of international humanitarian law,” and that “any use of nuclear weapons would also be abhorrent to the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.” Put simply, any use of nuclear weapons would by any reasonable measure be illegal and immoral, and so they should have no place in national policies or human affairs.

On this foundation are built the core obligations of the treaty—which must now become common knowledge. Article I of the treaty states that each state party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices, directly or indirectly.
Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly.
Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party.
Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party.
Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
These obligations break new ground. The prohibition on threatening to use nuclear weapons, for example, sets up a fundamental challenge to all policies based on nuclear deterrence. From now on, deterrence advocates are on the wrong side of the law, as understood and accepted by the majority of countries in the world.

The treaty also requires that nuclear weapons, weapon programs, and weapon facilities be eliminated, in agreed verifiable, irreversible, time-bound plans. It requires any treaty signatory that has nuclear weapons to “immediately remove them from operational status and destroy them, as soon as possible but not later than a deadline to be determined by the first meeting of states parties, in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan for the verified and irreversible elimination of that State Party’s nuclear-weapon programme, including the elimination or irreversible conversion of all nuclear-weapons-related facilities.”

There are no such disarmament plans, but ban treaty states can now begin to outline them together in their regular conference of parties. And, as George Perkovich has argued, “nuclear-armed states will not credibly meet their disarmament obligations unless and until they seriously define what a feasible, comprehensive, verifiable, and enforceable nuclear disarmament regime would entail.” The goal must be for these processes to converge.

The challenge of nuclear disarmament politics going forward will be getting publics and policy makers in nuclear weapon states (and their allies) to set aside their long held, deeply institutionalized sense of nuclear superiority and moral exceptionalism and accept the treaty’s humanitarian imperative, its lawfulness, and the obligations that follow. The nine countries with nuclear weapons all stayed away from the talks, and some of them will work hard to prevent the treaty gaining ground. The key to long-term progress will be the United States, which more than any other country has set the global nuclear agenda since it made the first nuclear weapons and remains the only country ever to have used them in war. It is also the country most responsible for the existing international system.

In a potentially powerful obligation, the ban requires the states that sign up to make membership of the treaty part of their political engagement with the nuclear weapon states. Article 12 of the treaty mandates that states practice disarmament diplomacy and more. It declares that “[e]ach State Party shall encourage States not party to this Treaty to ratify, accept, approve or accede to the Treaty, with the goal of universal adherence of all States to the Treaty.” This will require new kinds of official and public engagement with weapons states and opens the door for new kinds of transnational citizen diplomacy on disarmament. A key step in the new disarmament politics must be discussion of the forms that this encouragement can take, and what role citizens of ban treaty states and of nuclear weapon states can and should play in this effort.

But persuading nuclear weapons countries to join the treaty will not be easy. It will require that governments and citizens use new forms of international politics that the treaty empowers.

For example, politically charged demands for nuclear disarmament—perhaps avoided as too sensitive a topic in the past—can now be brought up as a matter of course when presidents and prime ministers from ban treaty states meet with their counterparts in nuclear weapon states. Along with trade and investment and tourism and sports delegations, ban treaty countries can now sponsor disarmament delegations, to explain why they signed the treaty—and why weapon states should do the same. Along with these types of engagement, of course, there can also be sanctions and boycotts. The ban treaty permits a politics of nuclear naming and shaming, shunning and divestment. These tools are well established when it comes to human rights and war crimes; they can be applied with new force to nuclear weapon sites, institutions, officials, and employees.

Peace activists must prepare for ban treaty states to triangulate, to balance interests in their relations with the weapon states. Most of the countries that sign up for the ban will see nuclear weapons issues as only one item on a larger agenda. The diplomats who negotiated the treaty work within national political systems, in which disarmament demands will have to compete with urgent needs for aid and trade and good political relations with nuclear weapon states, who are among the richest and most powerful countries in the world.

If they are to prevail, the ban treaty states will need to hold together and expand their coalition and keep working with civil society groups. Together they will need to present unified demands—at the General Assembly and in other international forums—that weapon states join the treaty. They can hold joint Article 12 summits and support campaigns in the weapon states to focus attention and build support for the treaty.

Ban treaty states could seek to further embed the treaty’s prohibitions into international law by seeking an amendment to the statute of the International Criminal Court to make the use of nuclear weapons a war crime. The court’s statute permits such an amendment if it relates to “weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict, provided that such weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare are the subject of a comprehensive prohibition.” The ban treaty is a comprehensive prohibition, and many ban states are signatories of the International Criminal Court statute and could build a majority in support of such an amendment.

Above all, to be taken seriously by the nuclear-weapon states, the growing community of ban treaty states and peace activists worldwide must be willing to continue to be bold and take political risks, as they did in getting the treaty. They must put at the heart of their relationship with the weapon states the treaty’s acknowledgment of “the ethical imperatives for nuclear disarmament and the urgency of achieving and maintaining a nuclear-weapon-free world, which is a global public good of the highest order, serving both national and collective security interests.” Having prohibited nuclear weapons as an ethical imperative, there is now no way back.

 

Income Inequality Will Survive the Nuclear Apocalypse. The class responsible for the lucrative rush to war can literally buy its way out of annihilation, thanks to the boom in luxury bunkers.

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Politics, War on July 16, 2017 at 3:12 am

By John Carl Baker, Terravos.com, July 14, 2017

A decommissioned nuclear bunker “deep inside a granite mountain” in Switzerland has been put up for sale, according to the Financial Times. Fully hardened against an electromagnetic pulse, the 15,000-square-foot military facility sleeps 1,500 people and features “vehicular tunnels, reservoirs and ‘limitless’ digital bandwidth”—and though the price is secret, the amount is surely obscene. “Your casual nuclear bunker enthusiast,” Judith Evans writes, “need not apply: potential purchasers must demonstrate the capacity to spend £25m before they can receive any further information, including any details of the bunker’s location.” Presumably that knowledge must be closely guarded from the irradiated hordes of our dystopian future.

Such reports have become increasingly common of late: “Armageddon architecture: upmarket bunkers for the worried wealthy.” “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich.” “Billionaire Bunkers: How the 1% are Preparing for the Apocalypse.” “Bunker Sales Spike as Some Prepare for Worst Amid Uncertainty.” Flush with cash and nervous about societal instability or even civilizational collapse, the wealthy are increasingly investing in a form of apocalypse insurance: posh shelters where they can ride out the coming calamity, whatever that happens to be. While this trend has obvious appeal, given Americans’ overlapping fascinations with wealth, real estate, and Armageddon, it also illuminates the intersection of two seemingly distinct problems plaguing society: economic inequality and the threat of nuclear war.

Today, nuclear tensions are rising along with profits, but the class responsible for this lucrative rush to war has little reason to fear. It can literally buy its way out of annihilation.

The most famous owner of a bomb shelter today is none other than Donald Trump, whose private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, has three of them. They were added by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post during the Korean War, but Trump decided to use them for storage—and his butler’s office—after purchasing the Palm Beach estate in 1985. Those shelters are relics of the Cold War, but renovated and newly built bunkers have become popular with Trump’s compatriots in the upper crust. Which is only fitting, since he’s partly responsible for the boom: As the Independent reported earlier this year, “Americans [are] building doomsday bunkers in ‘record numbers’ since Donald Trump’s election.”

Back in January, The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos published an extended profile of these new elite preppers:

Survivalism, the practice of preparing for a crackup of civilization, tends to evoke a certain picture: the woodsman in the tinfoil hat, the hysteric with the hoard of beans, the religious doomsayer. But in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters, taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

Tellingly, fear of a new October Revolution is driving many of these rich paranoiacs to purchase swank subterranean bunkers or beachfront property in New Zealand. But they’re well prepared for nuclear war, too, and are certainly in a better position to survive than the rest of us in the 99 percent.

Surviving the nukepocalypse in style, while the world burns above, does not come cheap. The Survival Condo Project charges $4.5 million for a two-level penthouse bunker; if you need to economize, there are half-floor units for a reasonable $1.5 million. (The entire compound—a former Atlas missile silo—is currently sold out, but the company is already developing a second location.) CEO Larry Hall claims his compound can support 75 people living entirely off the grid for 5 years—and in theory, could “function indefinitely” through hydroponics and underground fish farming.

But what about jealous outsiders? What if a roving band of mutant proletarians suddenly shows up at the front door? They’re prepared for that, too: The facility has a well-stocked armory, a sniper post, and, per their website, “a military grade security system that includes visible spectrum cameras, infrared cameras, proximity sensors, microphones, trip sensors, passive detectors, as well as confidential defensive systems both automated and manually operated.” If the wretched of the scorched earth miraculously make it through all of that, they will then face walls up to nine feet thick, plus a series of blast doors “designed to withstand sizeable explosives.” Now that’s a gated community.

Hall isn’t the only developer designing ruling class refuges. The Rising S Company of Murchison, Texas, has an entire series of luxury bunkers, the cheapest of which (“The Venetian”) goes more than $3 million and includes a four-car garage, a gym, and a greenhouse; “The Aristocrat,” which costs more than $8 million, features a bowling alley, swimming pool, game room, home theater, sauna, and gun range. There’s also Vivos, whose planned Europa One facility in Germany advertises “life assurance” and accommodations “comparable to a mega-yacht.” In the event of an impending catastrophe, Europa One members will take their private planes to a nearby airport, where they and their staff will be whisked away by helicopter to the underground compound. Vivos promises that once Europa One has been placed in lockdown, its members will be “safely secured from the general public.”

It’s true that life underground after nuclear war would be a step down from the utopian existence currently lived by the super rich. But it would be immeasurably better than the hellscape populated by those left above, who would face radiation sickness, climatic disruption, virulent plagues, mass starvation, and the complete collapse of law and order. There would be no comparison between the catastrophe above and the plush if somewhat claustrophobic life of the wealthy below. The post-apocalyptic divide would be an extreme, almost absurdist example of inequality—a bit like Fiddler’s Green in George Romero’s Land of the Dead—but also a fairly logical extension of the present state of affairs.

Eight men currently own as much wealth as half of all people on Earth. In the United States, economic inequality is currently at levels comparable only to the 1920s. Productivity and compensation have completely diverged, the former continuing to trend steadily upward while the latter has been effectively stagnant for decades. Even the economic gains of the so-called recovery have gone overwhelmingly to the rich—and if Trump and the Republicans get their way with health care and tax reform, things will get even worse.

While working people struggle, the wealthy are pampered by society—materially, legally, even emotionally. As Vox’ Matt Yglesias pointed out recently, these conditions essentially gave us Trump, whose infantile behavior is as much a product of national policy decisions as his own peculiar psychology. To a large extent, the rich have already segregated themselves into a world free from the complications and suffering of everyday life, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when private airport terminals give way to heavily fortified doomsday bunkers.

It has been a longtime trend in arms control and nuclear disarmament discourse to heavily imply that nuclear war will be the “great equalizer,” impacting all of humanity across the board. This claim is usually employed to depoliticize an admittedly controversial issue and make disarmament seem like simple common sense. Nuclear weapons, after all, don’t function like traditional weaponry and are effectively indiscriminate tools of mass slaughter. Since a nuclear explosion would not distinguish between combatants and civilians, doesn’t that imply universal impact? And wouldn’t a nuclear war result in the end of human civilization? Doesn’t everyone, therefore, have a stake in preventing it?

At a purely abstract level, this argument has some validity. Nuclear war would be an unparalleled catastrophe, and it is clearly better for all concerned if the missiles remain in their silos. But neither the rhetorical notion of a “shared stake” nor the arbitrary effects of the bomb equate to universal impact in the real world, which is defined by truly staggering levels of economic inequality. As long as the wealthy possess considerable resources and can invest their surplus wealth in “life assurance,” nuclear war will never impact everyone equally. The inequalities of our world will not vanish after the flash of a nuclear weapon. They will simply become more extreme.

More disturbingly, the narrative of universal impact posits a harmony of interests that may not actually exist. If the wealthy choose to invest in individual survival rather than collective prevention, which side are they on exactly? The thriving market for luxurious mansion-shelters and calamity-proof island real estate comes at the same time the U.S. is embarking on a $1.2 trillion “modernization” of its entire nuclear arsenal. With plutocrats buying up bunkers and defense contractors lining up to produce the next generation of nuclear weapons, it’s difficult not to think of C. Wright Mills’ famous line: “The immediate cause of World War III is the preparation for it.”

We live in very grim times, but if we get out of our silos, as it were, we might even be able to cooperatively push back against the apocalyptic tide. “If I had a billion dollars, I wouldn’t buy a bunker,” Elli Kaplan, a tech CEO, told Osnos of The New Yorker. “I would reinvest in civil society and civil innovation. My view is you figure out even smarter ways to make sure that something terrible doesn’t happen.” Kaplan’s point is couched in the business-friendly language of neoliberal thought leaders, but his basic argument stands. Economic justice—redistribution and reinvestment—would lower the risk of nuclear war because the two issues are inextricably linked. And since “The Aristocrat” is slightly outside my budget, I’d say it’s about time we brought them together.

Nuclear Bunkers Won’t Protect You From What’s Happening in the White House. It’s time to stop hiding from the crises we’ve created.

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 14, 2017 at 11:51 pm

By William J. Astore, The Nation, July 14, 2017

Has there ever been a nation as dedicated to preparing for doomsday as the United States? If that’s a thought that hasn’t crossed your mind, maybe it’s because you didn’t spend part of your life inside Cheyenne Mountain. That’s a tale I’ll get to soon, but first let me mention America’s “doomsday planes.”

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

Last month, troubling news emerged from US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that two of those aircraft, also known as E-4B National Airborne Operations Centers, were temporarily disabled by a tornado, leaving only two of them operational. And that, not surprisingly, caught my attention. Maybe you don’t have the world’s end on your mind, not with Donald Trump’s tweets coming fast and furious, but I do. It’s a kind of occupational hazard for me. As a young officer in the US Air Force in the waning years of the Cold War, the end of the world was very much on my mind. So think of this piece as the manifestation of a disturbing and recurring memory.

In any case, the reason for those doomsday planes is simple enough: In a national emergency, nuclear or otherwise, at least one E-4B will always be airborne, presumably above the fray and the fallout, ensuring what the military calls “command and control connectivity.” The E-4B and its crew of up to 112 stand ready, as STRATCOM puts it, to enable America’s leaders to “employ” its “global strike forces” because… well, “peace is our profession.” Yes, STRATCOM still references that old SAC motto from the glory days of former Strategic Air Commander Curtis LeMay who was so memorably satirized by director Stanley Kubrick in his nuclear disaster film, Dr. Strangelove.

The Pentagon reassuringly noted that, despite those two disabled planes, the E-4B’s mission—including perhaps the implementation of a devastating nuclear strike or counter-strike that might kill tens of millions and even cause a “nuclear winter” (a global nightmare leading to a billion deaths or more)—could be accomplished with just two of them operational. Still, relieved as I was to hear that, it did get me thinking about the other 190 or so nations on this planet. Do any of them have even one “doomsday” plane to launch? And if not, how will they coordinate, no less survive, the doomsday the US government is so willing to contemplate and ready to fund?

When it comes to nuclear weapons and what once was called “thinking about the unthinkable,” no other nation has as varied, accurate, powerful, deadly, or (again a word from the past) “survivable” an arsenal as the United States. Put bluntly, the nation that is most capable of inflicting a genuine doomsday scenario on the world is also the one best prepared to ride out such an event (whatever that may turn out to mean). In this sense, America truly is the exceptional nation on planet Earth. It’s exceptional in the combination of its triad of nuclear weapons, its holy trinity of sorts—nuclear-missile-carrying Trident submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers still flown by pilots—in the thoroughness of its Armageddon plans, and especially in the propagation of a lockdown, shelter-in-place mentality that fits such thinking to a T.

MY LOCKDOWN, SHELTER-IN-PLACE, COLD WAR MOMENT
Once upon a time, I thought I was exceptional, or at least exceptionally well protected. My job as an Air Force software engineer granted me regular access to the innards of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, America’s nuclear command center. In the 1960s, the complex had been tunneled out of granite at the southern edge of the Front Range of mountains, dominated by Pike’s Peak, near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I can still remember military exercises in which the mountain would be “buttoned up.” That meant the command center’s huge blast doors—think of bank vault doors on steroids—would be swung shut, isolating the post from the outside world. I don’t recall hearing the word “lockdown” in those days (perhaps because back then it was a term generally applied to prisons), but that was certainly our reality. We sheltered in place in that mountain redoubt, the most literal possible version of a Fortress USA. We were then cut off (we hoped) from the titanic blasts and radioactive fallout that would accompany any nuclear attack, most likely by that Evil Empire, the Soviet Union. In a sense, we were a version of a doomsday plane, even if our mountain couldn’t be sent aloft.

My tour of duty lasted three years (1985–88), the specifics of which I’ve mostly forgotten. But what you don’t forget—believe me, you can’t—is the odd feeling of having 2,000 feet of granite towering over you; of seeing buildings mounted on huge springs intended to dampen the shock and swaying caused by a nuclear detonation; of looking at those huge blast doors that cut you and the command center off from the rest of humanity (and nature, too), theoretically allowing us the option both of orchestrating and surviving doomsday.

I sometimes think the decision in the 1960s to bury a command center for nuclear war under megatons of solid granite was America’s original lockdown moment. Then I remember the craze for building small, personal, backyard bomb shelters in the 1950s. There was a memorable Twilight Zone episode from 1961 in which neighbors fight bitterly over who will take refuge in just such a shelter as the threat of nuclear war looms. Indeed, the idea of a mountain of a bomb shelter to keep out nuclear war was no more anomalous in those years than Donald Trump’s “big, fat, beautiful wall” to keep out Mexicans is today. Both capture a certain era of fear, whether of exploding nukes or rampaging immigrants, and an approach to that fear—controlling it by locking it out and us in—that was folly then and is folly now.

Eventually decommissioned, Cheyenne Mountain lives on as a manifestation of an American bunker mentality in the age of doomsday that’s suddenly back in vogue. Or rather what’s in vogue now is not the militarized mountain I remember, which was dark, dank, and depressing, or those crude, tiny, private backyard nuclear shelters of the 1950s, but a craze that fits a 1% era with a bizarre billionaire as president. A new urge is growing among the ultra-wealthy for what are, in essence, privatized mini-Cheyenne Mountains for the super-rich. Think: billionaire bunkers with all the perks of “home,” including a pet kennel, a gun safe, and a small gym, as well as “12-and-a-half-foot ceilings, sumptuous black leather couches, wall art featuring cheerful Parisian street scenes, towering faux ferns, and plush carpets.” Surviving doomsday never looked so good.

And who can blame the richest among us for planning to outlast doomsday or a Trumpocalypse in the style to which they are already accustomed? With the world’s “doomsday clock” ticking ever closer to midnight, seeking (high-priced) shelter from the storm has a certain logic to it. If it’s not full-scale nuclear war that beckons, then perhaps major climate catastrophe and social collapse. As Naomi Klein recently put it at The Intercept, “high-end survivalists” from Silicon Valley to Wall Street are “buying space in custom-built underground bunkers in Kansas (protected by heavily armed mercenaries) and building escape homes on high ground in New Zealand.” I don’t normally pity the Kiwis, but I will if legions of doomsday-fleeing uber-rich start hunkering down there like so many jealous dragons guarding what’s left of their gold.

THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY CARD: DON’T LEAVE HOME
Remember those old American Express card commercials with the tag line “Don’t leave home without it”? If America’s Department of Homeland Security had its own card, its tag would be: “Don’t leave home.”

Consider the words of retired General John Kelly, the head of that department, who recently suggested that if Americans knew what he knew about the nasty terror threats facing this country, they’d “never leave the house.” General Kelly, a big bad Marine, is a man who—one would think—does not frighten easily. It’s unclear, however, whether he considers it best for us to “shelter in place” just for now (until he sends the all-clear signal) or for all eternity.

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One thing is clear, however: Islamic terrorism, an exceedingly modest danger to Americans, has in these years become the excuse for the endless construction and funding of an increasingly powerful national security state (the Department of Homeland Security included), complete with a global surveillance system for the ages. And with that, of course, goes the urge to demobilize the American people and put them in an eternal lockdown mode, while the warrior pros go about the business of keeping them “safe” and “secure.”

I have a few questions for General Kelly: Is closing our personal blast doors the answer to keeping our enemies and especially our fears at bay? What does security really mean? With respect to nuclear Armageddon, should the rich among us indeed start building personal bomb shelters again, while our government continues to perfect our nuclear arsenal by endlessly updating and “modernizing” it? (Think: smart nukes and next generation delivery systems.) Or should we work toward locking down and in the end eliminating our doomsday weaponry? With respect to both terrorism and immigration, should we really hunker down in Homeland USA, slamming shut our Trumpian blast door with Mexico (actually long under construction) and our immigration system, or should we be working to reduce the tensions of poverty and violence that generate both desperate immigrants and terrorist acts?

President Trump and “his” generals are plainly in favor of you and yours just hunkering down, even as they continue to lash out militarily around the globe. The result so far: the worst of both worlds—a fortress America mentality of fear and passivity domestically and a kinetic, manic urge to surge, weapons in hand, across significant parts of the planet.

Call it a passive-aggressive policy. We the people are told to remain passive, huddling in our respective home bunkers, sheltering in place, even as America’s finest aggressively strike out at those we fear most. The common denominator of such a project is fear—a fear that breeds compliance at home and passivity before uniformed, if often uninformed, experts, even as it generates repetitive, seemingly endless, violence abroad. In short, it’s the doomsday mentality applied every day in every way.

RETURNING TO CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN
Thirty years ago, as a young Air Force officer, Cheyenne Mountain played a memorable role in my life. In 1988 I left that mountain redoubt behind, though I carried with me a small slab of granite from it with a souvenir pen attached. Today, with greying hair and my very own time machine (my memories), I find myself returning regularly to Cheyenne Mountain, thinking over where we went wrong as a country in allowing a doomsday-lockdown mentality to get such a hold on us.

Amazingly, Barack Obama, the president who made high-minded pleas to put an end to nuclear weapons (and won a Nobel Prize for them), pleas supported by hard-headed realists like former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, gave his approval to a trillion-dollar renovation of America’s nuclear triad before leaving office. That military-industrial boondoggle will now be carried forward by the Trump administration. Though revealing complete ignorance about America’s nuclear triad during the 2016 election campaign, President Trump has nevertheless boasted that the United States will always be “at the top of the pack” when it comes to doomsday weaponry. And whether with Iran or North Korea, he foolishly favors policies that rattle the nuclear saber.

In addition, recent reports indicate that America’s nuclear arsenal may be less than secure. In fact, as of this March, inspection results for nuclear weapons safety and security, which had been shared freely with the American public, are now classified in what the Associated Press calls a “lockdown of information.” Naturally, the Pentagon claims greater secrecy is needed to protect us against terrorism, but it serves another purpose: shielding incompetence and failing grades. Given the US military’s nightmarish history of major accidents with nuclear weapons, more secrecy and less accountability doesn’t exactly inspire greater confidence.

Today the Cheyenne complex sits deactivated, buried inside its mountain, awaiting fresh purpose. And I have one. Let’s bring our collective fears there, America. Let’s bury them under all that granite. Let’s close the blast doors behind us as we walk out of that dark tunnel toward the light. For sheltering in place shouldn’t be the American way. Nor should we lock ourselves down for life. It would be so much better to lock down instead what should be truly unthinkable: doomsday itself, the mass murder of ourselves and the destruction of our planet.

_____

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He has taught at the Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, and now teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.