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It’s Official: Nuclear Power Can’t Compete With Renewables

In Climate change, Cost, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on August 6, 2017 at 1:38 am

Nuclear News,August 4, 2017, By Paul Brown, EcoWatch

Nuclear power now is really losing the race against renewables
The nuclear revival the global industry has been hoping for took another hammer blow this week when two reactors under construction in South Carolina were abandoned, only 40 percent complete.
The plan had been to build two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors to lead the nuclear revival in the U.S., but cost overruns and delays dogged the project and will have the opposite effect. This is a further humiliation for Westinghouse, the U.S. nuclear giant that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy because of the costs associated with this new design. Hopes that a new generation of reactors could be built in the U.S. and sold to the rest of the world rested on the success of this project, and it has spectacularly failed.
By this week, construction had already cost $9 billion, almost the entire original budget, with years of building still to go. The reactors were originally scheduled to begin producing power in 2018, but this had been put back to 2021. Cost overruns had meant the final cost could be $25 billion. Around 5,000 construction workers have lost their jobs.
Changing context
The two owners of the project who had taken control after the Westinghouse bankruptcy, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper, announced they would halt construction rather than saddle customers with additional costs……..
Nuclear power did find favor in some quarters in the U.S. because it was regarded as a low carbon source of electricity. But President Trump is trying to dismantle legislation that would have helped the industry get credit for this.
The repercussions of the decision to abandon the building of the South Carolina reactors will be felt across the Atlantic in the UK, where three reactors of the same design were due to be built in Cumbria in the northwest of England. NuGen, the UK company that planned to build them, is, like Westinghouse, a subsidiary of the Japanese giant Toshiba. It was already reviewing its plans to build them before this week’s news broke.
Officially this is still the position, but it seems unlikely that the company would gamble on trying to build reactors of a design that could not be completed successfully in the U.S.
All big nuclear companies have new designs being constructed on home turf. Their plan has been to demonstrate how well they work and then export them. But this is currently not working anywhere, most spectacularly in Europe, where the French giant EDF is in deep trouble with its flagship design, the even larger 1,600 megawatt pressurized water reactor.
Rapid delay
Prototypes under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France are, like the AP 1000, years late and over budget.
Construction has started on two more at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England, but already, within weeks of the first concrete being poured, a delay has been announced.
Although the British Government still supports the project, it has already been questioned by the UK National Audit Office, which polices government finances. The NAO said consumers will be paying far too much for the electricity even if the project is finished on time, which on the industry’s past record seems extremely unlikely.
With renewables providing more and more cheap power in Europe and across the world, it seems unlikely that any of the new generation of large nuclear plants will ever be able to compete.
Phase-out planned
Japan, still suffering from the after effects of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, is unlikely to be able to resuscitate its nuclear industry, and South Korea, with arguably the most successful nuclear construction record, has a new government which wants to phase out the industry.
Only China and Russia, where what is really happening in their nuclear industries is a closely guarded secret, remain as likely exporters of new nuclear stations.
Both countries offer to supply fuel to countries which buy their reactor models. As well as building them, they offer as part of the package to get rid of the spent fuel and waste, so any country that buys nuclear power from China and Russia is effectively tied to them for a generation or more.
So for Russia and China, selling nuclear power stations is a political decision to extend their influence rather than an economic one—and it could be an expensive option for all concerned. From a purely economic perspective, however, it appears the nuclear industry is reaching the end of the road.

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.

Why Single-Payer Health Care Saves Money

In Cost, Democracy, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on July 10, 2017 at 12:38 am

By Robert H. Frank, New York Times, July 7, 2017

Lingering uncertainty about the fate of the Affordable Care Act has spurred the California legislature to consider adoption of a statewide single-payer health care system.

Sometimes described as Medicare for all, single-payer is a system in which a public agency handles health care financing while the delivery of care remains largely in private hands.

Discussions of the California measure have stalled, however, in the wake of preliminary estimates pegging the cost of the program as greater than the entire state government budget. Similar cost concerns derailed single-payer proposals in Colorado and Vermont.

Voters need to understand that this cost objection is specious. That’s because, as experience in many countries has demonstrated, the total cost of providing health coverage under the single-payer approach is actually substantially lower than under the current system in the United States. It is a bedrock economic principle that if we can find a way to do something more efficiently, it’s possible for everyone to come out ahead.
By analogy, suppose that your state’s government took over road maintenance from the county governments within it, in the process reducing total maintenance costs by 30 percent. Your state taxes would obviously have to go up under this arrangement.

But if roads would be as well maintained as before, would that be a reason to oppose the move? Clearly not, since the resulting cost savings would reduce your county taxes by more than your state taxes went up. Likewise, it makes no sense to oppose single-payer on the grounds that it would require additional tax revenue. In each case, the resulting gains in efficiency would leave you with greater effective purchasing power than before.

Total costs are lower under single-payer systems for several reasons. One is that administrative costs average only about 2 percent of total expenses under a single-payer program like Medicare, less than one-sixth the corresponding percentage for many private insurers. Single-payer systems also spend virtually nothing on competitive advertising, which can account for more than 15 percent of total expenses for private insurers.

The most important source of cost savings under single-payer is that large government entities are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with service providers. In 2012, for example, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery was more than $73,000 in the United States but less than $23,000 in France.

Despite this evidence, respected commentators continue to cite costs as a reason to doubt that single-payer can succeed in the United States. A recent Washington Post editorial, for example, ominously predicted that budget realities would dampen enthusiasm for single-payer, noting that the per capita expenditures under existing single-payer programs in the United States were much higher than those in other countries.

But this comparison is misleading. In most other countries, single-payer covers the whole population, most of which has only minimal health needs. In contrast, single-payer components of the United States system disproportionately cover population subgroups with the heaviest medical needs: older people (Medicare), the poor and disabled (Medicaid) and returned service personnel (Department of Veterans Affairs).
In short, the evidence is clear that single-payer delivers quality care at significantly lower cost than the current American hybrid system. It thus makes no sense to reject single-payer on the grounds that it would require higher tax revenues. That’s true, of course, but it’s an irrelevant objection.

In addition to being far cheaper, single-payer would also defuse the powerful political objections to the Affordable Care Act’s participation mandate. Polls consistently show that large majorities want people with pre-existing conditions to be able to obtain health coverage at affordable rates. But that goal cannot be achieved unless healthy people are required to join the insured pool. Officials in the Obama administration tried, largely in vain, to explain why the program’s insurance exchanges would collapse in the absence of the participation mandate.

But the logic of the underlying argument is actually very simple. Most people seem able to grasp it if you ask them what would happen if the government required companies to sell fire insurance at affordable rates to people whose houses had already burned down.

No home insurer could remain in business if each policy it sold required it to replace a house costing several hundred thousand dollars. Similarly, no health insurer could remain in business if each of its policy holders generated many thousands of dollars in health care reimbursements each month.

That’s why the lack of a mandate in the alternative plans under consideration means that millions of people with pre-existing conditions will become uninsurable if repeal efforts are successful. An underappreciated advantage of the single-payer approach is that it sidesteps the mandate objection by paying to cover everyone out of tax revenue.

Of course, having to pay taxes is itself a mandate of a sort, but it’s one the electorate has largely come to terms with. Apart from fringe groups that denounce all taxation as theft, most people understand that our entire system would collapse if tax payments were purely voluntary.

The Affordable Care Act is an inefficient system that was adopted only because its architects believed, plausibly, that the more efficient single-payer approach would not be politically achievable in 2009. But single-payer now enjoys significantly higher support than it did then, and is actually strongly favored by voters in some states.

Solid majorities nationwide now favor expansion of the existing single-payer elements of our current system, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid cuts proposed in Congress have been roundly criticized. Perhaps it’s time to go further: Individual states and, eventually, the entire country, can save money and improve services by embracing single-payer health care.

Robert H. Frank is an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Follow him on Twitter at @econnaturalist.

Viking Economics: Review

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Politics, Public Health, Race, War on June 8, 2017 at 9:17 am

Review of George Lakey’s Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right – and How We Can, Too (2016)

By LeRoy Moore, June 2017

In  January 1979 I met George Lakey at a two-week nonviolence workshop of the Movement for a New Society in Philadelphia. Lakey is a Quaker who for many years taught at Swarthmore College. Author of many books, the latest is Viking Economics. He writes on this topic because we in the U.S. can learn much from the Scandinavian countries about revamping our economy, strengthening democracy, abolishing poverty and creating a society which is fair and just for all.

At the turn of the 20th century the Scandinavian countries were marked by economic hardship, lack of jobs, low wages, long working hours, no security, no health care and education only for those who could pay for it. In the 1970s, when Lakey visited Norway, he found full employment, scant poverty, an efficient infrastructure, plus free health care, education and retirement benefits for all its citizens. His book is a history of what happened, with pointers on how the U.S. might follow their example.

The biggest recent change in the economy of the U.S. and Britain was the 1980s move of Reagan and Thatcher to free corporations to make money that purportedly would trickle down to benefit everyone. This “neoliberal gospel” rapidly spread across the world. By the end of the 20th century it was practiced in the U.S. not only by virtually all Republicans but also by many Democrats, like Bill Clinton. “Too often,” Lakey says, “governments have implemented support measures without charging those responsible for the problems properly,” resulting in “privatization of profits and socialization of costs.”

After the global economic collapse of 2008 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged austerity, “bailing out the owning class at the expense of the majority of the people.” Iceland countered this with its own strategy: “Increase taxes on the rich, reduce taxes on the working class, force banks to write off mortgages for households under water.” The IMF, referring to health care as a “luxury good,” urged the Icelandic government to cut its health-care funding. Challenging the IMF, ordinary Icelanders refused “to accept responsibility for the frenzied behavior of their bankers.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, said, “Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net.” Iceland was the hero of the 2008 economic crisis. It survived better than any other nation.

Norway’s story is quite distinct. Late in the 19th century its workers union created the Labor Party that admitted only union members. They rejected the Marxist idea of collectivizing agriculture in favor of protecting family farms. After the Russian revolution of 1917, they joined the Communist International at Lenin’s invitation. By the 1930s the country was highly polarized, as evidenced by Vidkun Quisling’s founding a pro-Nazi political party with a uniformed paramilitary wing that attacked striking workers for their employers. This spurred an increase of conscientious objection which in time led to the Labor Party’s “completely socialist society” that laid the foundation for what Lakey found in Norway in the 1970s. A U.S. economist wrote, “The three things we Americans worry about – education, retirement and medical expenses – are things the Norwegians don’t worry about.”

Researcher Markus Jantti wondered about the chance for upward mobility for young people. How could those from families in the bottom fifth of earners leap to the top fifth. He found that both males and females in Norway, Denmark and Sweden had a much better chance of making this leap than their counterparts in the UK and USA. In Lakey’s words, “It turns out that freedom (shown by mobility and innovation) and equality are not necessarily opposed. In fact, . . .equality supports freedom.” In the Nordic economic design, “the more equality, the more freedom.”

Scandinavian countries had powerful trade unions at just the time unions were being weakened and destroyed in the U.S., England and other countries. They also had far more cooperatives, including banks. “Co-op banks,” says Lakey, “are financially more stable and less likely to fail than shareholder-owned institutions, . . . since they aren’t driven by a need to make profits for investors and huge bonuses for managers.” There are co-ops in all realms: industry, agriculture, dairy, housing, utilities, as well as wholesale and retail operations, and more.

The Nordic countries have virtually wiped out poverty. How did they do this? When it comes to work and poverty, these countries are refreshingly different. In Norway, “jobs, free training and support are available, and working is important for self-respect and the economic productivity of the country. In short, the government’s policy is full employment.” Single parents are encouraged “to hold jobs by having free or affordable childcare available at the work site or near the home.” In addition, “all babies can be born in birth centers and hospitals without regard to income, and all moms and dads can take time off from work with pay to care for the young ones. All parents have access to day care. All parents, whatever their means, get a family allowance for children below the age of 18. . . . Education is free for all. . . . Public transportation is subsidized for all.”

Scandinavians rejected the welfare state and replaced it with “universal services” – “a cooperative system for meeting needs that most people have at various points in their lives.” Instead of regarding the poor as needy, they treat everyone as equal. All work, and all benefit. How they treat crime is important. Rather than punish those who have done wrong, they rehabilitate them, so they can rejoin the community and become taxpayers as soon as possible. The best way to eliminate crime is to give the criminal a job. A study showed “a high association between employment and staying out of trouble.”

Getting everyone to work actually reduces the hours that an individual works. Norwegians work the least number of hours of all the countries of Europe. They are entitled to 25 vacation days every year. There is gender equity. Fathers get a paid leave to care for children. Parents receive a total of 52 weeks of parental leave with full pay. A new mother “has the right to two hours of break time each day to permit breast-feeding.” Also, “either parent has the right to stay home with sick children at least twenty days per year.”

Health care is available to everyone, paid for by the community, not the individual. Lakey says the “so-called ‘market efficiency’” of the U.S. “is actually ‘market wastefulness’ So wasteful in fact that despite the Affordable Care Act (so-called ‘Obama Care’) tens of millions of Americans don’t get covered at all, and countless others who are insured still don’t get the treatment they need.”

Of course, quality health care, free education, good housing, convenient transportation, etc. are expensive. Taxes are high in the Nordic countries. But for them “it’s a truism that paying high taxes results in getting high value.” They seek equality by reducing taxes of the working and middle classes and increasing taxes on the rich – the opposite of what the IMF recommends and what often happens in the U.S. British researchers found that “inequality highly correlates with negative statistics in physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, violence, teenage pregnancy, and child well-being.”

To again consider violence, Norway experienced a terrorist attack in 2011, when Anders Breivik massacred 69 young people of the Workers’ Youth League and injured 110 more. Labor Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, in a speech the next day, said “the proper response to the violence was ‘more democracy, more openness.’” At the memorial service he quoted a girl in the Youth League: “If one man can show so much hate, think how much love we could show, standing together.”

Lakey’s final chapter focuses on the U.S. He thinks the reason we don’t have universal health care is “because special interests prevented the majority from getting what it was ready for.” He says so much of the U.S. government is out of touch with ordinary citizens. The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United decision . . . opened the floodgates for billions of dollars to enter the electoral system.” But the problem is deeper. An AARP study found that where there are differences “the economic elite – and not the majority—almost always got their way. . . . (T)he majority does not rule – at least in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

“It is obvious,” Lakey says, “that the United States is falling in international ratings of equality and freedom and that the policies of both parties are dominated by the economic elite.” But he sees hope in our history of social change by nonviolent means, our growing experience with worker-owned cooperatives, our increased positive appraisal of socialism, and our increasing awareness of the Nordic alternative (to which his book contributes much).

“Change,” he says, “requires hard work. . . . Movements need organizers, communicators, advocates, funders, nurturers, musicians and artists, nonviolent warriors, and ‘foot soldiers,’ as well as visionary designers. All those were present in the Nordic movements that challenged a thousand years of poverty and oppression, took the offensive, and built democracy.”

Nuclear Weapons: Who Pays, Who Profits?

In Cost, Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on May 15, 2017 at 3:02 am

Introduction: Trump and Nuclear Weapons — Rhetoric Versus Reality
In an interview with Reuters conducted a month after he took office, Donald Trump asserted that the U.S. had “fallen behind on nuclear capability” and that he wanted the United States to be at the “top of the pack” on nuclear weapons once again.
As usual, Trump had not done his homework before speaking out on a crucial, life-and-death question. The United States is already at the “top of the pack” in nuclear capacity, with nearly 6,800 nuclear warheads, including 4,000 in the active stockpile. That’s a huge number when you consider that independent experts have determined that 300 or so nuclear weapons are a sufficient number to deter any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. We have thirteen times that in our active stockpile, and more than five times that amount deployed and ready to fire at any given moment.
So the United States is already at the “top of the pack” in nuclear weapons — so high, in fact, that our huge arsenal is more likely to spur a nuclear arms race than it is to protect us from a nuclear war.
In the same Reuters interview, Trump described the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty as “just another bad deal the country made,” comparing it to the multilateral agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, which Trump has repeatedly disparaged despite the fact that he has shown no indication that he knows what the agreement entails.
This knee-jerk opposition to any agreement that Trump himself has not negotiated is dangerously short-sighted. New START cuts deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads by one-third, and it includes a detailed monitoring and inspections regime to make sure both sides keep their word.
The Iran nuclear deal has already resulted in a 98% reduction in Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the disabling of a plutonium factory that could have produced bomb-making materials, and a regime of regular international inspections.
Solid agreements like New START and the Iran nuclear deal take a great deal of time and effort to negotiate. Throwing them away on a whim would be the height of recklessness.
Trump’s Twisted Budget Priorities
The issue of whether to buy a whole new generation of nuclear warheads and nuclear delivery vehicles will be debated against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, which calls for a $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending and comparable reductions in spending on diplomacy and domestic needs.
Even before Trump’s proposed increase, Pentagon spending is at historically high levels. At roughly $600 billion per year now, Pentagon and related spending is higher than the peak of the Reagan military buildup, and larger than the combined military budgets of the next eight largest spenders in the world combined, most of them U.S. allies. So the Pentagon may have problems, but a lack of funds isn’t one of them.
Trump’s proposed increase alone is a huge sum by global standards. At $54 billion, the Trump increase is almost as large as the entire military budget of France, and larger than the total military budgets of the United Kingdom, Germany, or Japan. And it’s only $12 billion less than Russia’s whole military budget.
The Trump increase is also a huge sum compared to the domestic programs that are on the chopping block to pay for the $54 billion in increased Pentagon funding. When Trump’s budget blueprint was first taking form, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney announced a “hit list” of eight programs or agencies that would be zeroed out in the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal. The list included the National Endowment for the Humanities; the National Endowment for the Arts; Legal Services; Americorps; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the U.S. Institute for Peace; and Planned Parenthood. Gutting all of these agencies and programs combined would save $3 billion per year — that’s one-half of one percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget, before the proposed Trump add-ons. The $3 billion for all of those programs is also less than one-eighth of the $25 billion the Pentagon wastes on bureaucratic overhead every year.
And of course the budget director’s hit list is just a small part of the larger assault on spending for diplomacy and domestic needs that is part of the Trump budget blueprint. The Environmental Protection Agency is slated for a 31% cut; the State Department budget is proposed to be cut by 29%; and support for humanitarian aid through the United Nations — mostly refugee and food assistance at a time of massive refugee flows and near famine in parts of Africa and the Middle East — could be cut by up to 50%.
Three block grant programs that provide services like heating aid to low income households, homeless housing and services, ands support for Meals on Wheels programs are scheduled to be eliminated altogether, at a cost of $8 billion. The $8 billion cost of those programs is less than the cost of one new ballistic missile firing submarine — and the Pentagon wants us to pay for twelve of them.
The Pentagon’s $1 Trillion Nuclear Buildup: What Are We Buying?
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies has done a report on the “trillion dollar triad” — the plan to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles, complete with new warheads to go with them, at a cost of roughly $1 trillion over three decades.
Here are the major components of that proposed $1 trillion nuclear weapons buildup:
— New nuclear warhead facilities, and new nuclear warheads, $350 billion, spent through the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA);
— 12 new ballistic missile submarines at over $8 billion each, or roughly $100 billion in total
— 100 B-21 bombers for up to $1 billion each, or $100 billion total
— Hundreds of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), at a cost of up to $120 billion
— A new nuclear-armed cruise missile, at a cost of up to $20 billion for the whole program
Things could change — fewer systems could be bought, and the $1 trillion price tag could go down. Or, as usually happens, the original estimates could go up as a result of the cost overruns that are almost inevitable in any major weapons program.
Who Profits from Spending on Nuclear Weapons?
A handful of companies will be the main beneficiaries of the Pentagon’s nuclear weapons spending binge.
B-21 Bomber: Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor; the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies will build the engines; and BAE Systems, a global defense firm based primarily in the UK and the United States, is a major subcontractor.
Ballistic Missile Submarine: General Dynamics will be the prime contractor, with major assistance from Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.
ICBM and nuclear-armed cruise missile: Contracts have not been awarded yet for these systems, but bidders will include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Raytheon.
Nuclear warheads: The biggest beneficiaries of spending on nuclear warheads are the contractors that run major facilities for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), including Honeywell, which runs the Sandia nuclear weapons engineering laboratory in New Mexico, and a consortium that includes the University of California and Becthel, which run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories.
The best list of major nuclear weapons producers is maintained by Don’t Bank on the Bomb, a campaign that presses banks to withdraw support for companies involved in developing or producing nuclear weapons. Their web site profiles over two dozen major nuclear weapons supplying companies.
Opportunity Costs: What Can We Buy With $1 Trillion?
Not only is it unnecessary to embark on a three decade, $1 trillion effort to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, but it’s dangerous. As noted above, a tiny fraction of the existing U.S. stockpile is enough to dissuade any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. Anything beyond that just encourages other countries to modernize and expand their own arsenals. And the more nuclear weapons there are the more likely one will be used. In fact, the only guaranteed protection against nuclear weapons is to get rid of them all. That’s a daunting challenge, but as a first step we have to stop building new nuclear weapons at a time when the United States and the other nuclear weapons states possess vast nuclear overkill.
The ultimate cost of the trillion dollar buildup is the risk it poses to the future of life on earth.
There are also huge opportunity costs associated with spending vast sums on nuclear weapons we don’t need. The Future of Life Institute has created an online tool that lets you choose alternative ways to spend that trillion dollars. I tried it, and I found out we could buy the following things instead of wasting a trillion dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapons:
— 100 Million School Lunches: $235 million
— 10,000 High School Science Teachers for one year: $553 million
— Salvage and Protect All Superfund Toxic Waste Sites for one year: $681 million
— Provide Federal Funding for Planned Parenthood for one year: $528 million
— Health Insurance for 1 Million Families for one year: $16.8 billion
— End Homelessness for one year: $20 billion
— Fix All Deficient Bridges in the U.S.: $71 billion
All of the above investments represent only about 10 percent of the $1 trillion the Pentagon wants to spend on nuclear weapons over the next three decades.
There is one option offered by the Future of Life Institute tool that would put a serious dent in the $1 trillion spending total:
— Burn a $1 Million Pile of Cash Every Hour for Thirty Years: $262 Billion
Burning piles of cash would be a waste of money, to be sure, but it would be a far better, and far safer, use of the funds than spending them on extending a nuclear arms race that puts us all at risk.
This article is adapted from a presentation made by William D. Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, at a conference on “Reducing the Threat of Nuclear War” that was held at MIT on May 6th, 2017.

Climate Change as Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation

In Climate change, Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on April 23, 2017 at 12:17 am

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N.” Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives.

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.

Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%. It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen’s food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference. This is complicity in mass extermination.

Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. “That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” he told reporters. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.” In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen — or has ignored — equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don’t merit White House sympathy.

Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017? It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism. It’s a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.

Here’s the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like — one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?

Famine, Drought, and Climate Change

First, though, let’s consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces — Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen — interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.

In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent.” Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an “overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas” on that continent. With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising — precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.

It’s seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty. Such things happen with or without climate change. Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you’re in a new climate era.

It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn’t this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?

History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society — warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like — will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage. “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict,” points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.’s World Food Program. “Climate is an added stress factor.” In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.

The Selective Impact of Climate Change

In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe — that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it’s certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don’t for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably. It won’t even be a complicated equation. As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society — the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge — will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.

As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America — home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.

Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight. In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades.

Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way. As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones. If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the “Okies” from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today’s climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or “informal settlements,” as they’re euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew. Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change. As the latest IPCC report noted, “Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects.”

The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. “The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events,” the IPCC indicated in 2014. “Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks.” It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).

Inaction Equals Annihilation

In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.

And you don’t need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era — some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.

Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios — the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas — will become everyday reality.

In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible. If the world’s response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.

In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change — to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power — means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what — not to mince words — is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?

And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot — as many of us are — more is needed. Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

THE U.S.-RUSSIA NUCLEAR ARMS RACE IS OVER, AND RUSSIA HAS WON

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on April 12, 2017 at 9:53 pm

By Scott Ritter, Newsweek, 4-12-17

This article first appeared on The Washington Spectator.

In October 26, 2016, amid the hubbub of a rancorous American presidential election that dominated the headlines, an event took place in Russia that escaped the attention of those not otherwise involved in monitoring the esoteric world of strategic weapons research and development.

This event, a test of a ballistic missile carrying a payload known as “Object 4202,” fundamentally changed the landscape of arms control, built as it is on the dual pillars of nuclear deterrence and missile defense.

“Object 4202” was a new kind of weapon, a hypersonic warhead capable of speeds 15 times the speed of sound, and capable of evading any anti-missile system the United States has today, or may develop and deploy for decades to come. While the October 26 test used an older RS-26 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as the launch vehicle, “Object 4202” will ultimately be carried on a newer ICBM, the RS-28.

The RS-28 is itself a wonder of modern technology, capable of flying in excess of five times the speed of sound, altering its trajectory to confuse anti-missile radars, and delivering 15 independently targetable nuclear warheads (each one 10 times as powerful as the bombs the United States dropped on Japan at the end of World War II) or three “Object 4202” hypersonic warheads, which destroy their targets through kinetic energy (i.e., through impact).

A nuclear warhead-armed RS-28 would take about 30 minutes to reach the United States from a silo in central Russia; its warheads would be capable of destroying an area about the size of Texas.

Armed with the “Object 4202” hypersonic warheads, each of which is capable of destroying an American missile silo, the time would be cut down to 12 minutes or less. The RS-28 ICBM, scheduled to become operational in 2018, assures Russia the ability to annihilate the United States in retaliation for any American first strike, while providing Russia a silo-killing first-strike capability of its own.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has relied on the threat of massive nuclear retaliation as the foundation of its nuclear deterrence strategy, grounded in the notion of “mutually assured destruction,” where any nuclear strike by one side would result in a devastating response by the other, thereby reducing the chance of nuclear war.

The glue that held this theory of mutual nuclear suicide together was the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty, where the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to limitations on the deployment of anti-missile defenses. An effective ABM capability gave a nation the theoretical ability to “win” a nuclear war by launching a debilitating first strike, and then destroying in-flight any missiles that survived. Limiting ABM defenses curtailed an arms race by reducing the impetus to develop new weapons capable of breaching an opponent’s defenses.

The ABM treaty provided a foundation of strategic stability, built on the precepts of “mutually assured destruction,” that enabled both the United States and the Soviet Union to enter into meaningful arms reduction agreements, including the ground-breaking Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991. (Ironically, it was President Ronald Reagan’s insistence in 1986 on continuing the research on the “Star Wars” anti-missile system that precluded the possibility of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.)

This trend toward nuclear disarmament continued in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with President Bill Clinton signing a new START 2 treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993. START 2 eliminated the deployment of multiple warheads on ICBMs, further stabilizing the strategic balance between the two nations.

The START 2 treaty never entered into force. In 2002, George W. Bush’s administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty, citing the need to develop defenses against missile launches from so-called “rogue states,” like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. In doing so Bush unhinged the foundation upon which U.S.-Russian strategic arms control was built.

A new arms reduction treaty, signed in 2003, stripped away on-site, inspection-based verification, and did nothing to limit the deployment of ICBMs armed with multiple warheads. While the “New START Treaty,” signed by the Obama administration in 2010, brought back limited on-site inspections, there was no prohibition against ICBMs with multiple warheads.

Moreover, the Obama administration continued to develop and deploy anti-missile defenses, both in the United States and in Europe, resurrecting in Russia Cold War-era concerns that the Americans would leverage this new ABM capability to subject Russia to nuclear blackmail, threatening a nuclear strike for which Russia would have no response. The RS-28 missile system, inclusive of “Object 4202,” can trace its origin to American deployment of ABMs.

These concerns were on display on December 22, 2016, when President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech that made the recent Russian developments public. “We need to strengthen the military potential of [Russia’s] strategic nuclear forces,” Putin said, “especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.”

This speech would have more than likely been buried by the American media save for one person—President-elect Donald Trump, who on the same day as Putin’s speech tweeted a reply: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The president-in-waiting then doubled down on this line of thinking, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program the following morning, “Let it be an arms race! We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The Russian response was surprisingly muted. Russia, Putin said the following day, was not seeking a new arms race, but only to improve its capabilities in the face of American deployments of anti-missile defenses. Russia was now strong enough to repulse any aggressor, Putin said.

“As for Donald Trump, there is nothing new about it; during his election campaign he said the U.S. needs to bolster its nuclear capabilities and its armed forces in general,” the Russian president noted.

During the campaign, candidate Trump had been infamously unfamiliar with the basics of American nuclear strategy. At a primary debate, after the moderator underscored the age of America’s nuclear arsenal (“The B-52s [a nuclear-capable bomber] are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out”), Trump was asked, “What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” The best the future president could come up with was, “I think…I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

There is no doubt that Trump received a more detailed briefing on America’s nuclear capability upon being elected. The aging American nuclear arsenal, he would have learned, is a critical national security issue. A new stealth bomber is in development, as is a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. And the Obama administration had initiated a process for producing and deploying a new ground-launched ICBM that would cost the American public $1 trillion over the course of the next decade.

This perceived weakness, combined with Putin’s public pronouncement of Russian strength, apparently was enough to set the president-elect off on his tweeting and morning talk show rant.

A few days shy of his inauguration, Trump seemed to have a change of heart. In a wide-ranging interview with British journalists, Trump noted that, “They have sanctions on Russia—let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia.” What deal was Trump suggesting? “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit.”

(The Times of London speculated that the first foreign policy trip President Trump would embark on would be a nuclear disarmament summit with President Putin; a Trump spokesperson rejected this as “false news.”)

While President Putin, in a January 28 phone call with President Trump, was warm to the idea of nuclear disarmament talks with a Trump administration, the Russians overall were dismissive of a deal that traded disarmament for the lifting of sanctions.

An offer to engage in nuclear arms control talks, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov noted, would be furthered by first reviewing the issue of U.S. sanctions against Russia. But there could not be any direct linkage between the two.

The Russian foreign minister also noted that the agenda for any such negotiations should include hypersonic weapons, U.S. missile defenses, space weapons and nuclear testing—in short, a broad range of interconnected issues that the new Trump administration appears ill-equipped to handle at this juncture.

Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, has been silent on U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament. And James Mattis, the new secretary of defense and the one Trump Cabinet official who has opined publicly about disarmament issues, appears supportive of fielding a new land-based ICBM, thereby closing the door on the possibility of trading those weapons in exchange for similarly deep cuts by Russia. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis noted that these missiles would be “a cost-imposing strategy on an adversary,” noting that “any enemy that wants to take us on is going to have to commit two, three, four weapons to make sure they take each one out.”

James Mattis would do well to speak to the men and women who operate America’s land-based ICBM force today. The Cold War is over, and these missiles no longer stand on the frontline of American defense. If the best reasoning for the continued deployment of land-based ICBMs is that they serve as a sump for a potential enemy attack, then there is no real justification for their existence, now or in the future.

President Trump reportedly told President Putin, during their January 28 conversation, that the current arms control treaty, up for renegotiation in 2018, was one-sided in favor of the Russians. With all due respect to Trump, his American-centric view of the Obama-era arms agreement is moot; the U.S.-Russian arms race is over, and Russia has won.

The RS-28 missile will be operational next year; the new American land-based ICBM won’t be operational for another decade. Russia is on the verge of deploying a hypersonic, missile silo-killing weapon that undermines the secretary of defense’s thin justification for a new land-based ICBM.

Every missile system Russia deploys, or will deploy, is capable of defeating America’s missile defense systems, including what is currently deployed and what is envisioned for the future. And Russia is on the verge of completing the deployment of its own anti-missile shield, one that will seal off its air space to bombers, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, negating in totality America’s nuclear triad.

There is a deal to be made with Russia, and it doesn’t involve trading the lifting of sanctions for nuclear arms cuts. President Trump would do well to accept Sergei Lavrov’s proposed disarmament agenda, and expand it to include a new ABM treaty and a new disarmament treaty that not only reduces the numbers of weapons on both sides, but also would include the elimination of multiple warheads on all missiles, land-based and submarine launched.
Effective arms control negotiations must include an appreciation of history, a realistic assessment of the present and the ability to project into the future. At this juncture, the Trump administration has not demonstrated the level of competence needed to successfully conclude such a complex negotiation.

The first step, however, is to embrace disarmament as a positive goal. While President Trump has shown a limited understanding of the nuclear triad, his recognition that nuclear weapons should be “way down and reduced very substantially” is a step in the right direction.

Former Marine intelligence officer Scott Ritter served on the staff of General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War and as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998.

Stratcom Chief Says $1 Trillion for Nukes Is ‘Affordable’: Says Nukes Are the Most Critical Thing the Pentagon Does

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, War on April 4, 2017 at 9:15 am

by Jason Ditz, April 02, 2017

US Strategic Command chief Gen. John Hyten continues to argue in favor of massive spending on nuclear weapons upgrades, insisting that despite the $1 trillion estimates the cost is “affordable,” and that “deterrence will always be cheaper than war.”

Hyten also faulted the idea of getting an estimate before starting the spending at all, saying getting the estimate first is “just a crazy way to build things,” and that he thinks the US should be able to build this massive arsenal “for an affordable price,” insisting it is “the most critical thing that we do in the military.”

Though early estimates on the nuclear weapons upgrade started at several hundred billion dollars, more recent estimates have shown that it was likely to be much larger than that, with most recent figures in excess of a trillion dollars over the next 30 years.

While in Hyten’s estimation that’s “affordable,” it’s not at all clear where it would fit in President Trump’s budget, which is already planning large military spending increases to buy more warships and planes, and is struggling to cut domestic spending to pay for that without having to find more for the nuclear program.

Why Trump’s budget may be ‘devastating’ to his supporters

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Politics on March 18, 2017 at 11:29 am

Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky said his poor, rural district – which voted 80 percent in favor of Trump – would be hit harder than anywhere else in the country.

Francine Kiefer, Staff writer | @kieferf
MARCH 17, 2017 WASHINGTON —President Trump’s “skinny” budget proposal would make deep cuts in many government programs in the name of pruning the federal bureaucracy. But in doing so it might disproportionately (and surprisingly) affect a particular demographic sector of America: Trump voters.

“It’s unacceptable,” says Rep. Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky, whose district voted about 80 percent in favor of Trump. “The president’s biggest support came from the rural and poor areas like mine…. And that area is going to be hit harder than anywhere else in the country quite frankly.”

That’s due to the plan’s focus on non-defense, discretionary spending – everything Uncle Sam does outside the Pentagon and mammoth entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

It includes many programs that are important to rural, lower-income areas that went big for Trump last November, such as subsidies for regional airports, funds to clean up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, and support for regional economic development.

It’s possible these proposed reductions wouldn’t hurt Trump much in his political heartland. Many of his voters view the president not as appropriator-in-chief, but as an agent of change who’ll bring heartache to Washington’s powers that be, whatever the consequences.
Trump’s biggest executive actions, explained
It’s also possible the cuts would hurt Trump. At the least, they’ve already driven a wedge between the White House and many Republican members of Congress. These lawmakers often get the credit or blame for federal efforts in their districts. While they support Trump’s aim to increase military spending while cutting elsewhere, their first loyalty is to constituents.

$69 billion in proposed cuts

Overall, the Trump budget proposal would cut funding for non-defense discretionary spending by $15 billion in fiscal 2017 (despite the fact that year has already begun) and by $54 billion in fiscal 2018. All of this money would be shifted to military spending.

Two departments outside the Pentagon, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, would get increases. All other non-defense discretionary programs would be cut by more than 15 percent of current levels on average, according to an analysis by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Many of these areas have already borne significant cuts over the past seven years, due to the tight caps that the 2011 Budget Control Act placed on non-defense discretionary program funding,” writes CBPP director Robert Greenstein in a statement on the Trump budget.

At least 19 federal agencies would be zeroed out under the Trump budget. These include the Appalachian Regional Commission, founded to help promote development in an impoverished part of the US; the Delta Regional Authority, another economic development group; the US Trade and Development Agency, which promotes US exports; and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is a main means of support for rural public TV and radio stations.

Job training programs, worker safety efforts, and federal housing and energy assistance would also face deep cuts, according to CBPP.

‘Devastating’ to Trump voters

Representative Rogers, a former chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, represents one of the most impoverished regions in the nation – eastern Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia’s coal country. The Trump budget proposal would be “devastating” to his district, he says in an interview with the Monitor.

Funding for two key regional groups that recruit businesses and jobs and help retrain laid-off miners for other work would be zeroed out under the president’s budget. Those programs are making a difference he says.

Nor is the Kentucky lawmaker alone. Some other GOP members shared his reaction. Take Rep. John Moolenaar, a former Dow Jones chemist who now represents a big swath of Michigan’s mitten.

Representative Moolenaar, a Republican, is unhappy about Trump’s proposal to eliminate almost all of the $300 million federal funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. He vows to fight to ensure that cut won’t happen. The lakes are a “national treasure” that hold 80 percent of the US supply of fresh surface water, he says.

“We need to fund that,” he says. He adds that other Appropriations Committee members agree with him.

These Republicans and others say they agree with Trump’s general thrust of increasing military preparedness while restraining domestic spending. But they take issue with these specific reductions.

Moolenaar feels that voters are more interested in Trump’s agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and keeping jobs in America than they are in the specifics of the budget proposal.

Not that Trump’s budget will pass intact, or even largely intact. As these members point out, Congress controls the purse strings. Much will change before the House and Senate cast final budget votes.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balert (R) of Florida, who is a member of the House Appropriations committee, told reporters: “It’s not the real thing,” speaking of the president’s budget. The budget process is lengthy, this appropriator points out.

Senators Reject Call for New Nuclear Weapons, Ending Nuclear Testing Ban

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics on March 15, 2017 at 8:58 am

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined with 12 Senate colleagues demanding the Defense and Energy departments reject a recent Pentagon report that called for new “limited-use” nuclear weapons and suggested ending the nuclear testing ban.

“There is no such thing as a limited nuclear war, and the United States should be seeking to raise the threshold for nuclear use, not blur that threshold by building additional so-called low-yield weapons,” wrote the senators.

Full text of the letter is available below.

March 14, 2017

The Honorable James Mattis
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

The Honorable Rick Perry
Secretary of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, DC 20585

Dear Secretary Mattis and Secretary Perry:

We write today in opposition to two nuclear weapons-related recommendations outlined in the Defense Science Board’s most recent report, “Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration.” The report encourages the Departments of Defense and Energy to build new nuclear weapons and questioned their ability to maintain our nuclear warheads in the absence of testing, which we wholly reject.

Specifically, the Defense Science Board recommends “a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use.” We strongly believe that there is no such thing as the limited use of nuclear weapons or limited nuclear war. In fact, the Board’s recommendation reminds us of an effort by the Bush Administration to build a new nuclear weapon specifically designed to destroy deeply buried enemy targets. That program, named the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or a nuclear “bunker buster,” was halted by the leadership of former Republican Congressman David Hobson in 2005.

The only role of nuclear weapons is to deter their use by others and we are aware of no evidence demonstrating that new nuclear weapons are needed to preserve or enhance deterrence. Our nation’s security is better protected by investments in advanced conventional weapons, not new nuclear weapons.

We also fundamentally disagree with the Board’s belief in the utility of limited nuclear use. There is no such thing as a limited nuclear war, and the United States should be seeking to raise the threshold for nuclear use, not blur that threshold by building additional so-called low-yield weapons. We strongly agree with Deputy Secretary Work’s testimony last year when he stated: “anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

Additionally, as you know, U.S. nuclear capabilities are already highly credible, flexible, and lethal. The arsenal includes lower-yield weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, including the B61 gravity bomb, which is being modernized at an estimated cost of as much as $10 billion.

Finally, we do not believe it is an “open question,” as the board claims, whether the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program and associated nuclear warhead life extension programs can maintain our confidence in the long-term reliability of our nuclear deterrent. The Department of Energy has for decades supported the capacity of the scientists and supercomputers at the National Laboratories to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear stockpile without conducting nuclear tests. This program of subcritical experimentation has worked, and has taught us more about our stockpile than explosive testing would have.

Additionally, in 2015, the three nuclear weapons lab directors reported that the country was in a better position to maintain the nuclear arsenal than it was during the era of test explosions, which ended more than 20 years ago. We strongly believe that the United States does not need to resume nuclear testing, which will only encourage others to do the same. Instead, we should seek to reinforce the global norm against nuclear weapons testing.

As you know, the United States is already planning to undertake a trillion-dollar nuclear sustainment and recapitalization program that includes investments in refurbished nuclear weapons and their associated delivery systems and supporting infrastructure. Successfully executing this program while simultaneously modernizing our conventional forces presents an enormous challenge.

While we appreciate the work of the Defense Science Board, we strongly disagree with the wisdom or need to develop new nuclear weapons or resume nuclear testing. For 71 years the United States has led the world in opposition to the use of nuclear weapons, leadership that would be called into question should the United States develop new, so-called low-yield nuclear weapons. As you prepare to lead the Trump administration’s review of U.S. nuclear policy and posture, we urge you not to act on the Board’s recommendations.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Edward J. Markey
United States Senator

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Patrick Leahy
United States Senator

Ron Wyden
United States Senator

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator

Al Franken
United States Senator

Tammy Baldwin
United States Senator

Jeffrey Merkley
United States Senator

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

Brian Schatz
United States Senator

Chris Van Hollen
United States Senator

Kamala D. Harris
United States Senator