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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

America: It’s Going to Be a Wild Ride

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Peace, Nuclear Policy, Justice, War on January 22, 2017 at 10:12 am

I watahed Donald Trump’s inaugural speech yesterday with three other housemates and none of us were impressed. He’s living in another age – I see Trump trying to hang on to the long passed time of American military supremacy and economic domination. One last gasp before the US empire crashes under the weight of its own hypocrisy and contradictions.

He said a few things that were decent but one must question them as pure political rhetoric as just a quick review of his cabinet appointments (full of corporate operatives) strongly undercuts his claims that he will return the power to the people that the ‘elites in Washington’ have unfairly taken from them.

Trump blames other nations (especially China) for ‘stealing our jobs’ but we all know that it was the absolute greed of the corporations that drove them to close production plants across America and move jobs to places overseas where labor was cheaper and environmental regulations were virtually non-existent. Just look at the air quality in India and China for example. Now in order to ‘bring those jobs home’ Trump, and the right-wing dominated Congress, want to finish turning the US into a third-world dictatorship where ‘regulations on the job creators’ are a thing of the past.

Trump will likely finish off what little good will might still exist toward America around the globe. The inevitable collapse of the US imperial project will now accelerate.

Obama often fooled many people overseas (and at home) with his slick talk and friendly demeanor – even while he was dropping bombs on Libya as he did just the day before Trump took his oath of office. Donald Trump won’t be able to pull off that magic trick so easily.

I believe the key organizing strategy in the coming four years on an international level will be to utterly reject US leadership on virtually every issue – from climate change to NATO and beyond. The world must isolate the US as a reactionary and undemocratic rogue state. Protests around the world should not just focus on Trump but on the US imperial project that is now totally committed to global domination for the benefit of corporate interests. Concern for the people of the world or the environment is off the table in Washington. Democracy is a meaningless word now.

The people of the world must demand that their leaders completely reject the US as a role model or a voice of reason.

This corporate take over of the US government runs far deeper than Trump. He is not an aberration from the norm – Trump represents the norm in Washington. We are now ruled by Christian fundamentalism (the American Taliban), an economic expansion ideology that has no concern for the planet, and a military ethic that carries with it strong Puritan evangelical strains. Greatness only means domination – of everything.

For those of us living here in America we must not restrict our protests to calling out Trump. We must recognize how the Democrats regularly collaborate with the right-wing reactionary corporate forces. Just days ago in the US Senate 12 Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a bill that would have allowed American citizens to purchase cheaper medicines from Canada. The Democrats support swung the vote to satisfy the interests
of big pharma. In the US we must see that we don’t have a legislative solution to our problems as the corporations have the government under lock down and they have the key$.

Public protest and non-violent civil resistance in the tradition of Gandhi, ML King, and Dorothy Day are where we must move now – collectively as a nation.

In Washington we now have the classic definition of fascism – the wedding of government and corporations. It would have been the same story if Hillary Clinton had been elected. She would have been more ‘sophisticated’ and not come across quite as brash and impolite as Trump does. That would have been enough for many Americans – to them it is no problem that we rule the world just as long as we do it with a reassuring smile. Trump has broken that mold.

Folks had better hang on because this is going to be a wild ride. Victory will not come to those who think that building support for their single-issue agenda is the way out of this dark moment. The old business model of every organization fending for itself won’t work any more.

Only by connecting all the dots and working to build a broad and unified movement across the nation – linked with our friends internationally – can we put the brakes on this fall over the cliff that the new corporate government in Washington is pushing us toward.

We need to create a unified positive vision such as converting the military industrial complex to build solar, wind turbines, commuter rail systems and more. This would serve the interests of labor, environmental groups, the unemployed, and the peace movement. A win-win for all.

Bruce K. Gagnon
Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 0401,

Backgrounder: 10 key quotes from Xi’s speech at UN Office at Geneva

In Climate change, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health, War on January 20, 2017 at 3:53 am

GENEVA, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech here on Wednesday at the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Here are 10 key quotes from the 50-minute address, which elaborates on China’s solution to current global challenges: building a “community of shared future for mankind” that features all-win cooperation and sharing:

1. The essence of sovereign equality is that the sovereignty and dignity of all countries, whether big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, must be respected, their internal affairs allow no interference and they have the right to independently choose their social system and development path.

2. Nuclear weapons, the Sword of Damocles that hangs over mankind, should be completely prohibited and thoroughly destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons.

3. No country in the world can enjoy absolute security. A country cannot have security while others are in turmoil, as threats facing other countries may haunt itself also. When neighbors are in trouble, instead of tightening his own fences, one should extend a helping hand to them.

4. Fighting terrorism is the shared responsibility of all countries. In fighting terror, we should not just treat the symptoms, but remove its root causes.

5. China has decided to provide an additional 200 million yuan of humanitarian assistance for refugees and the displaced of Syria.

6. As terrorism and refugee crises are closely linked to geopolitical conflicts, resolving conflicts provides the fundamental solution to such problems. Parties directly involved should return to the negotiating table, and other parties should work to facilitate talks for peace, and we should all respect the role the U.N. plays as the main channel for mediation.

7. Trade protectionism and self-isolation will benefit no one.

8. The Paris Agreement is a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavor is not derailed.

9. Swiss army knife embodies Swiss craftsmanship. When I first got one, I was amazed that it has so many functions. I cannot help thinking how wonderful it would be if an exquisite Swiss army knife could be made for our world. When there is a problem, we can use one of the tools on the knife to fix it. I believe that with unremitting efforts of the international community, such a knife can be made.

10. China’s development has been possible because of the world, and China has contributed to the world’s development. We will continue to pursue a win-win strategy of opening-up, share our development opportunities with other countries and welcome them aboard the fast train of China’s development.

Related:

Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind

Speech by H.E. Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

At the United Nations Office at Geneva

Geneva, 18 January 2017

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – U.S. Fish & Wildlife: Save Money, Prevent Harm

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Public Health, Radiation Standards, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on January 16, 2017 at 2:58 am

By LeRoy Moore, PhD  Boulder Daily Camera, Friday, January 6, 2017

Perry Backus, writing in the November 5, 2016, Montana Standard, says that due to lack of funds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “is proposing a dramatic reorganization of its National Wildlife Refuge system in Montana and seven other states that would result in significant staff and program cuts.” Colorado is among those states.

As things now stand a great deal of taxpayer money will be spent to open the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Not only will funds be spent now but also long into the future. FWS should not spend limited funds on trails, access gates, tour guides, a visitor center and parking areas. The Department of Energy (DOE) evidently intends to pay for the visitor center. But if it is not built, FWS will have no ongoing costs for staff and maintenance of the facility. On December 6 FWS invited the public to a meeting to discuss trails on the Refuge. They paid $76,000 to the person who led this meeting. But when we arrived, they did not allow the public to speak. They wasted their money and our time. They would save money if they canceled such meetings. Local governments have insisted that if trails are built at the Refuge, sampling must be done to show whether on not it would be safe for people to use them. Keeping the Refuge closed will curtail this expense. It will also protect the public health.

Of about 600 National Wildlife Refuges, Rocky Flats is the only one occupying the site of a former nuclear weapons plant. It is also the only Refuge that surrounds an active Superfund site, where exposure to radioactive plutonium-239 was – and is – the greatest danger. With a half-life of 24,110 years, it will be hazardous for a quarter-million years. Some plutonium in the environment of the DOE Superfund site will end up on the Refuge. FWS admitted in a 2003 letter to then-Rep. Bob Beauprez that it already had. The problem is ongoing. Burrowing animals that dig down to as much as 16 feet will bring particles to the surface where they can be blown onto the Refuge by wind and readily inhaled, the worst way to be exposed to plutonium. Once inside the body, the plutonium lodges in a specific location and for the rest of one’s life bombards nearby cells with radioactive particles. The result may be cancer, a compromised immune system, or genetic harm to offspring.

EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment know plutonium is in the soil on the Refuge, but they say it is “safe.” What they mean is that plutonium in Refuge soil is at levels that meet exposure standards set for the Rocky Flats cleanup. Unfortunately, these standards are not sufficiently protective. In the most extensive study to date of the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, the National Academy of Sciences in 2006 concluded that any exposure may be damaging. In a 1997 study Columbia University scientists found that a single plutonium particle taken into the body can be harmful, possibly fatal.

Given this danger, if the Refuge is opened to the public some people will inevitably be harmed, especially children, of all creatures the most vulnerable. Even if the Wildlife Refuge remains closed to the public, wildlife may be harmed. The carcasses of deer roadkill around Rocky Flats have been found to contain plutonium, but we don’t know the actual effect of this exposure. In an article published in 1998, ecologist Shawn Smallwood said he “found it remarkable that no genetic studies of wildlife had been done at Rocky Flats or at other nuclear sites.” Genetic specialist Diethard Tautz says that genetic effects of radiation exposure on a given species of wildlife may not be readily apparent in the individuals of that species until the passage of several generations. He calls this a “genetic uncertainty problem.” FWS would perform a valuable service if it allowed researchers to study the genetic effects of exposure to toxins among wildlife at the Rocky Flats Refuge. Because of the need for such study, grants should be available to researchers.

Please join others in signing the petition, Keep the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Closed: Save Money, Prevent Harm. To sign the petition, go to: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/keep-rocky-flats-wildlife

 

LeRoy Moore is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The Return of Civil Disobedience

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, War on January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

By Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker

01 January 17

The sixties produced a conviction that “democracy is in the streets.” The Trump era may echo that.

n December 6th, less than a month after the election, Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in New York to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award, for his decades of public service, used the occasion to urge Americans not to despair. “I remind people, ’68 was really a bad year,” he said, and “America didn’t break.” He added, “It’s as bad now, but I’m hopeful.” And bad it was. The man for whom Biden’s award was named was assassinated in 1968. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. Riots erupted in more than a hundred cities, and violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. The year closed with the hairbreadth victory of a law-and-order Presidential nominee whose Southern strategy of racial politicking remade the electoral map. Whatever innocence had survived the tumult of the five years since the murder of John F. Kennedy was gone.

It was telling that Biden had to sift through nearly a half century of history to find a precedent for the current malaise among liberals and progressives, but the comparison was not entirely fitting. Throughout Richard Nixon’s Presidency, Democrats maintained majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The efforts of the antiwar movement to end American involvement in Vietnam had stalled, but Nixon’s first years in office saw the enactment of several progressive measures, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act, as well as the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2016, the Republicans won the White House, maintained control of both chambers of Congress, and secured the ability to create a conservative Supreme Court majority that could last a generation or more. Donald Trump, a man with minimal restraint, has been awarded maximal power.

Last summer, the A.C.L.U. issued a report highlighting the ways in which Trump’s proposals on a number of issues would violate the Bill of Rights. After his victory, the A.C.L.U.’s home page featured an image of him with the caption “See You in Court.” In November, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal ballots cast. This was not just a window into the conspiratorial and fantasist mind-set of the President-elect but a looming threat to voting rights. Ten days after the election, the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund released a statement opposing the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, as Attorney General, based on his record of hostility to voting rights and on the fact that he’d once brought unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud against civil-rights activists. But, with a Republican majority that has mostly shown compliance with Trump, despite his contempt for the norms of democracy, the fear is that he will achieve much of what he wants. Even if he accomplishes only half, the landscape of American politics and policy will be radically altered. This prospect has recalled another phenomenon of the nineteen-sixties: the conviction that “democracy is in the streets.”

Movements are born in the moments when abstract principles become concrete concerns. MoveOn arose in response to what was perceived as the Republican congressional overreach that resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. The Occupy movement was a backlash to the financial crisis. The message of Black Lives Matter was inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Occupy’s version of anti-corporate populism helped to create the climate in which Senator Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign could not only exist but essentially shape the Democratic Party platform. Black Lives Matter brought national attention to local instances of police brutality, prompting the Obama Administration to launch the Task Force on 21st Century Policing and helping defeat prosecutors in Chicago and Cleveland, who had sought reëlection after initially failing to bring charges against police officers accused of using excessive force.

Last July, when the Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, anxious that the pipeline would threaten their water supply, started an online petition and filed a lawsuit to halt construction. Thousands of activists, including members of Black Lives Matter, and two thousand military veterans went to Standing Rock, to protest on the Sioux’s behalf; last month, they endured rubber bullets and water hoses fired in freezing temperatures. On December 4th, the Army Corps announced that it would look for an alternate route. But, since Rick Perry, Trump’s choice for Energy Secretary, sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline (and in which Trump, until recently, owned stock), protesters are settling in for a long winter.

In that context, the waves of protests in Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in the days after the election look less like spontaneous outrage and more like a preview of what the next four years may hold. Unlike the specific protests that emerged during the Obama Administration, the post-election demonstrations have been directed at the general state of American democracy. Two hundred thousand women are expected to assemble in front of the Capitol, on January 21st, the day after the Inauguration, for the Women’s March on Washington. Born of one woman’s invitation to forty friends, the event is meant as a rejoinder to the fact that a candidate with a troubling history regarding women’s rights—one who actually bragged about committing sexual assault—has made it to the White House.

The first Inauguration of George W. Bush, in 2001, saw mass protests driven by the sentiment that the election had been stolen. The protests that greet Trump will, in all probability, exceed them: some twenty other groups have also applied for march permits. Given his history with African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, unionized labor, environmentalists, and people with disabilities, it is not hard to imagine that there will be many more to come. The Congress is unlikely to check the new President, but democracy may thrive in the states, the courts, the next elections, and, lest the lessons of the sixties be forgotten, the streets.

Obama’s last chance to reduce the risk of nuclear disaster

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on January 11, 2017 at 11:01 pm

By Joe Cirincione, 1-10-17

It’s time to take our nuclear arsenal off high alert.

Before President Barack Obama leaves the White House, he could close a particularly dangerous door he left open – and fulfill a campaign pledge.

Obama will give his farewell address Tuesday and there is no indication that he will say anything of significance on nuclear policy. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden will give a speech in Washington announcing some modest changes to our nuclear posture. Biden will almost certainly be drowned out by the surge of nomination hearings, Senate budget votes and President-elect Donald Trump’s expected press conference that same day.

Unlike Trump, neither man is prone to big statements and bold actions. In these last weeks, both are hesitant to do something on national security that would “box in” the new president.

Here’s why they should.

As soon as Trump is sworn into office on January 20, a military officer will start to follow him everywhere he goes. He will sit just outside the Oval Office while Trump works and just outside his bedroom while Trump sleeps and tweets. He will travel with him to Mar-a-Lago, and up to Trump Tower. When he gets into an elevator, the officer will squeeze in beside him.

This officer carries a briefcase with the command codes to America’s nuclear arsenal. It is the most efficient instrument of mass death ever invented.

The president is the only one allowed to use the commands in the briefcase, the only one with the unfettered ability to launch one or one thousand nuclear warheads whenever he pleases. Four minutes after he gives the order, the missiles will fly. No one can stop him, short of a full-scale mutiny. Once launched, the missiles cannot be recalled.

This nuclear posture is called high alert, or launch-on-warning, or, more commonly, hair-trigger alert. It is a vestige of the Cold War. Nuclear commanders wanted the ability to launch their land-based missiles before an enemy salvo could destroy them. For decades, experts have warned that this was a dangerous practice, subject to false alarms, mistakes, misunderstanding and human error.

Of the some 4,500 nuclear warheads in our active nuclear stockpile, about 1,000 are kept on hair-trigger alert. Each is many times the size of the bombs we dropped on Japan. Together, they can explode the equivalent of 22,000 Hiroshima’s on cities all over the planet. In just 30 minutes, they could destroy all that human civilization has created over the millennia.

There is no military reason for this overkill capability. The thousands of other nuclear weapons on our subs and bombers are not vulnerable to surprise attack. Even if all our silo-based missiles were destroyed or rendered inoperable, we would still have more than enough weapons to deter an attack or respond to one.

A previously classified study by the Department of Defense (DOD) concluded that even if Russia launched a “decapitating” first strike – a scenario DOD said “will most likely not occur” – we had the assured ability to retaliate against scores of high-value Russian targets, precisely because we have so many weapons securely based on submarines at sea.

Obama knows this system is crazy. While running for the presidency in 2008, he said this posture was “a dangerous relic of the Cold War” and promised to “address this dangerous situation.”

Bush, too, knew it was crazy. In 2000, he called it “another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation” and pledged to end the “unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.”

Once in office, however, Bush did not change this obsolete posture. Neither did Obama. Both ran into the formidable bureaucratic resistance that comes from the people with vested financial, political or institutional interest in keeping the force just the way it is. Many of the very people they appointed to implement needed reforms sided with the nuclear bureaucracy to stop them.

Here is the really bad news: Russia keeps an equally large force on high alert – and their early warning systems have deteriorated so badly that in 1995 they mistook a Norwegian weather rocket for a US submarine-launched nuclear missile and almost launched their weapons in response. We came within five minutes of the end of the world.

The entire system is insane. “These current alert levels…are sustained by a circular (though flawed) logic, whereby US nuclear forces are maintained on alert because Russian nuclear forces are on alert, and vice versa for Russian forces,” nuclear experts Hans Kristensen and Matthew McKinzie wrote several years ago. “Put another way, if nuclear forces were not on alert, there would be no requirement to keep nuclear forces on alert.”

This alert status is the main reason so many security and political leaders felt, as Sen. Marco Rubio said, we simply could not give “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.” Obama, himself, has repeatedly and publically expressed his lack of confidence in Trump’s temperament and fitness for the presidency. POLITICO reported January 3, “President Barack Obama still doesn’t think Donald can handle the nuclear codes or safely protect America from attack – he just doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.”

He doesn’t have to talk about it. With the stroke of a pen, Obama can take our nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert before he leaves office. He can close the door to an impetuous, ill-considered nuclear war. Scores of leading nuclear scientists wrote to him last June asking him to do so. The foundation I lead, Ploughshares Fund, just launched a new public petition to do it now, before the end of his term. We will present the petition to the President on January 10.

Yes, Obama’s far-right critics will denounce him. Yes, Cold War hawks in both parties will criticize him. But the majority of the American public will cheer the news and many in the military will breath a sigh of relief.

Our petition has garnered almost 90,000 signatures within a few days. It is one of the most popular petitions about nuclear weapons on Change.org. The most popular is a plea to abolish nuclear weapons. But it took that group two years to get 200,000 signatures. We reached our goal in two weeks.

Still, why bother with an executive order, even if it would be popular? Trump could theoretically reverse it once in the Oval Office. But this will be hard to do politically. It would be seen as raising tensions; he would have to explain what justified putting our nuclear missiles on high alert.

More importantly, Trump may not approve of this nuclear posture at all.

One of the core issues in Trump’s foreign policy has been his desire for improved relations with Russia. If Obama doesn’t take nuclear missile off Cold War alert, Trump likely will. It would be a logical part of reducing tensions between the two nations, lowering global nuclear risks, and marking a dramatic beginning to the Trump Era. And it is completely within a president’s authority to do so. No Congressional approval is needed.

Trump could still launch nuclear weapons in an emergency, but it would take hours or days. This gives time for consultations, deliberation, time to check mistakes and blunt the impulses of the moment. More time doesn’t weaken our national security; it strengthens it.

As we argue in our petition, “Taking this critical step would bring profound security benefits for all Americans by reducing the risk of nuclear disaster.” While it won’t cut any weapons, it will make us all substantially safer.

When president, Trump will still get the keys to the arsenal, but Obama should at least lock the nuclear door before he leaves.

Joe Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

WORLD WAR THREE, BY MISTAKE

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 24, 2016 at 11:01 am

By Eric Schlosser, The New Yorker, December 23, 2016

Harsh political rhetoric, combined with the vulnerability of the nuclear command-and-control system, has made the risk of global catastrophe greater than ever.
On June 3, 1980, at about two-thirty in the morning, computers at the National Military Command Center, beneath the Pentagon, at the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command (norad), deep within Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and at Site R, the Pentagon’s alternate command post center hidden inside Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, issued an urgent warning: the Soviet Union had just launched a nuclear attack on the United States. The Soviets had recently invaded Afghanistan, and the animosity between the two superpowers was greater than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

U.S. Air Force ballistic-missile crews removed their launch keys from the safes, bomber crews ran to their planes, fighter planes took off to search the skies, and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared to order every airborne commercial airliner to land.

President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asleep in Washington, D.C., when the phone rang. His military aide, General William Odom, was calling to inform him that two hundred and twenty missiles launched from Soviet submarines were heading toward the United States. Brzezinski told Odom to get confirmation of the attack. A retaliatory strike would have to be ordered quickly; Washington might be destroyed within minutes. Odom called back and offered a correction: twenty-two hundred Soviet missiles had been launched.

Brzezinski decided not to wake up his wife, preferring that she die in her sleep. As he prepared to call Carter and recommend an American counterattack, the phone rang for a third time. Odom apologized—it was a false alarm. An investigation later found that a defective computer chip in a communications device at norad headquarters had generated the erroneous warning. The chip cost forty-six cents.

schlosser-onnuclearwarfarebyaccident2
The NORAD headquarters, in Colorado Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL CHELSEY / GETTY
A similar false alarm had occurred the previous year, when someone mistakenly inserted a training tape, featuring a highly realistic simulation of an all-out Soviet attack, into one of norad’s computers. During the Cold War, false alarms were also triggered by the moon rising over Norway, the launch of a weather rocket from Norway, a solar storm, sunlight reflecting off high-altitude clouds, and a faulty A.T. & T. telephone switch in Black Forest, Colorado.

My book “Command and Control” explores how the systems devised to govern the use of nuclear weapons, like all complex technological systems, are inherently flawed. They are designed, built, installed, maintained, and operated by human beings. But the failure of a nuclear command-and-control system can have consequences far more serious than the crash of an online dating site from too much traffic or flight delays caused by a software glitch. Millions of people, perhaps hundreds of millions, could be annihilated inadvertently. “Command and Control” focusses on near-catastrophic errors and accidents in the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union that ended in 1991. The danger never went away. Today, the odds of a nuclear war being started by mistake are low—and yet the risk is growing, as the United States and Russia drift toward a new cold war. The other day, Senator John McCain called Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, “a thug, a bully, and a murderer,” adding that anyone who “describes him as anything else is lying.” Other members of Congress have attacked Putin for trying to influence the Presidential election. On Thursday, Putin warned that Russia would “strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” and President-elect Donald Trump has responded with a vow to expand America’s nuclear arsenal. “Let it be an arms race,” Trump told one of the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

The harsh rhetoric on both sides increases the danger of miscalculations and mistakes, as do other factors. Close encounters between the military aircraft of the United States and Russia have become routine, creating the potential for an unintended conflict. Many of the nuclear-weapon systems on both sides are aging and obsolete. The personnel who operate those systems often suffer from poor morale and poor training. None of their senior officers has firsthand experience making decisions during an actual nuclear crisis. And today’s command-and-control systems must contend with threats that barely existed during the Cold War: malware, spyware, worms, bugs, viruses, corrupted firmware, logic bombs, Trojan horses, and all the other modern tools of cyber warfare. The greatest danger is posed not by any technological innovation but by a dilemma that has haunted nuclear strategy since the first detonation of an atomic bomb: How do you prevent a nuclear attack while preserving the ability to launch one?

“The pattern of the use of atomic weapons was set at Hiroshima,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, said in November, 1945, just a few months after the Japanese city’s destruction. “They are weapons of aggression, of surprise, and of terror.” Nuclear weapons made annihilation vastly more efficient. A single bomb could now destroy a target whose elimination had once required thousands of bombs. During an aerial attack, you could shoot down ninety-nine per cent of the enemy’s bombers—and the plane that you missed could obliterate an entire city. A war between two countries with nuclear weapons, like a Wild West shoot-out, might be won by whoever fired first. And a surprise attack might provide the only hope of national survival—especially for the country with an inferior nuclear arsenal.

During the same month that Oppenheimer made his remarks, Bernard Brodie, a political scientist at Yale University, proposed a theory of nuclear deterrence that has largely guided American policy ever since. Brodie argued that the threat of retaliation offered the only effective defense against a nuclear attack. “We must do what we can to reduce the advantage that might accrue to the enemy if he hit first,” Brodie wrote, after the Soviet Union had obtained its own nuclear weapons. Despite all the money spent on building nuclear weapons and delivery systems, their usefulness would be mainly psychological. “What deters is not the capabilities and intentions we have, but the capabilities and intentions the enemy thinks we have,” a classified Pentagon report explained. “The mission is persuasion.”

The fear of a surprise attack and the necessity for retaliation soon dominated the strategic thinking of the Cold War. Every year, technological advances compressed time and added more urgency to decision-making. At a top-secret briefing in 1961, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was told that a Soviet surprise attack on just five targets—the Pentagon, the White House, Camp David, Site R, and High Point, a bunker inside Mount Weather, Virginia—had a good chance of wiping out the civilian leadership of the United States. By striking an additional nine targets, as part of a “decapitation” attack, the Soviet Union could kill America’s military leadership as well. The Soviets might be able to destroy America’s nuclear command-and-control system with only thirty-five missiles. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Kennedy Administration sought ways to maintain Presidential control over nuclear weapons. The Pentagon deployed airborne command posts, better communications and early-warning systems, Minuteman missiles that could be quickly launched, and a large fleet of ballistic-missile submarines.

Many of these elements were put to the test during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a series of misperceptions, miscalculations, and command-and-control problems almost started an accidental nuclear war—despite the determination of both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to avoid one. In perhaps the most dangerous incident, the captain of a Soviet submarine mistakenly believed that his vessel was under attack by U.S. warships and ordered the firing of a torpedo armed with a nuclear warhead. His order was blocked by a fellow officer. Had the torpedo been fired, the United States would have retaliated with nuclear weapons. At the height of the crisis, while leaving the White House on a beautiful fall evening, McNamara had a strong feeling of dread—and for good reason: “I feared I might never live to see another Saturday night.”

Today, the United States has four hundred and forty Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, sitting in underground silos scattered across the plains of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. The missiles are kept on alert, at all times, ready to take off within two minutes, as a means of escaping a surprise attack. Each missile carries a nuclear warhead that may be as much as thirty times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The Minuteman III was first deployed in 1970 and scheduled for retirement in the early nineteen-eighties. The age of the weapon system is beginning to show. Most of the launch complexes were built during the Kennedy Administration, to house an earlier version of the Minuteman, and some of the complexes are prone to flooding. The command centers feel like a time capsule of late-twentieth-century technology. During a recent visit to a decommissioned Minuteman site, I was curious to see the big computer still used to receive Emergency Action Messages—launch orders from the President—via landline. The computer is an I.B.M. Series/1, a state-of-the-art machine in 1976, when it was introduced. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” a report by the Government Accountability Office said last May, with some understatement, about a computer that relies on eight-inch floppy disks. You can buy a smartphone with about a thousand times the memory.

The personnel who command, operate, and maintain the Minuteman III have also become grounds for concern. In 2013, the two-star general in charge of the entire Minuteman force was removed from duty after going on a drunken bender during a visit to Russia, behaving inappropriately with young Russian women, asking repeatedly if he could sing with a Beatles cover band at a Mexican restaurant in Moscow, and insulting his military hosts. The following year, almost a hundred Minuteman launch officers were disciplined for cheating on their proficiency exams. In 2015, three launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, in Montana, were dismissed for using illegal drugs, including ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines. That same year, a launch officer at Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for heading a violent street gang, distributing drugs, sexually assaulting a girl under the age of sixteen, and using psilocybin, a powerful hallucinogen. As the job title implies, launch officers are entrusted with the keys for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Minuteman III is a relic of the Cold War not only in design but also in its strategic purpose. The locations of the silos, chosen more than half a century ago, make the missile useful only for striking targets inside Russia. The silos aren’t hardened enough to survive a nuclear detonation, and their coördinates are well known, so the Minuteman III is extremely vulnerable to attack. The President would be under great pressure, at the outset of a war with Russia, to “use them or lose them.” The missiles now have two principal roles in America’s nuclear-war plans: they can be launched as part of a first strike, or they can be launched when early-warning satellites have determined that Russian warheads are heading toward the United States. After being launched, a Minuteman III cannot be remotely disabled, disarmed, or called back. From the very beginning of the Minuteman program, the Air Force has successfully fought against adding a command-destruct mechanism, fearing that an adversary might somehow gain control of it and destroy all the missiles mid-flight. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” an Air Force officer told “60 Minutes” a few years ago.

The dangers of “launch-on-warning” have been recognized since the idea was first proposed, during the Eisenhower Administration. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara advised Kennedy that the United States should never use its nuclear weapons until a nuclear detonation had occurred on American soil, and could be attributed to an enemy attack. The first Minuteman missiles had already become a great source of stress for McNamara. The control system of the original model had a design flaw: small fluctuations in the electricity entering the command center could mimic the series of pulses required by the launch switch. An entire squadron of fifty missiles might be launched accidentally without anyone turning a key. “I was scared shitless,” an engineer who worked on the system later confessed. “The technology was not to be trusted.” McNamara insisted that the control system be redesigned, at great expense. The destruction of fifty Soviet cities because of a mechanical glitch, a classified history of the Minuteman program later noted, would be “an accident for which a later apology might be inadequate.”

The launch-on-warning policy became controversial during the nineteen-seventies, once it was publicly known. The hundreds of missiles based on American submarines, almost impossible to find in the depths of the ocean, seemed more than adequate to deter a Soviet attack. During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in 1979, Fred Iklé, a conservative Republican who later became a top Pentagon official during the Reagan Administration, said, “If any witness should come here and tell you that a totally reliable and safe launch-on-warning posture can be designed and implemented, that man is a fool.” The Pentagon repeatedly denied that launch-on-warning was American policy, claiming that it was simply one of many options for the President to consider. A recent memoir, “Uncommon Cause,” written by General George Lee Butler, reveals that the Pentagon was not telling the truth. Butler was the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for all of America’s nuclear weapons, during the Administration of President George H. W. Bush.

According to Butler and Franklin Miller, a former director of strategic-forces policy at the Pentagon, launch-on-warning was an essential part of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (siop), the nation’s nuclear-war plan. Land-based missiles like the Minuteman III were aimed at some of the most important targets in the Soviet Union, including its anti-aircraft sites. If the Minuteman missiles were destroyed before liftoff, the siop would go awry, and American bombers might be shot down before reaching their targets. In order to prevail in a nuclear war, the siop had become dependent on getting Minuteman missiles off the ground immediately. Butler’s immersion in the details of the nuclear command-and-control system left him dismayed. “With the possible exception of the Soviet nuclear war plan, [the siop] was the single most absurd and irresponsible document I had ever reviewed in my life,” Butler concluded. “We escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” The siop called for the destruction of twelve thousand targets within the Soviet Union. Moscow would be struck by four hundred nuclear weapons; Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, by about forty.

After the end of the Cold War, a Russian surprise attack became extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, hundreds of Minuteman III missiles remained on alert. The Cold War strategy endured because, in theory, it deterred a Russian attack on the missiles. McNamara called the policy “insane,” arguing that “there’s no military requirement for it.” George W. Bush, while running for President in 2000, criticized launch-on-warning, citing the “unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” Barack Obama, while running for President in 2008, promised to take Minuteman missiles off alert, warning that policies like launch-on-warning “increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.” Twenty scientists who have won the Nobel Prize, as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists, have expressed strong opposition to retaining a launch-on-warning capability. It has also been opposed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and former Senator Sam Nunn. And yet the Minuteman III missiles still sit in their silos today, armed with warheads, ready to go.

William J. Perry, who served as Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration, not only opposes keeping Minuteman III missiles on alert but advocates getting rid of them entirely. “These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Perry wrote in the Times, this September. For many reasons, he thinks the risk of a nuclear catastrophe is greater today than it was during the Cold War. While serving as an Under-Secretary of Defense in 1980, Perry also received a late-night call about an impending Soviet attack, a false alarm that still haunts him. “A catastrophic nuclear war could have started by accident.”

Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman launch officer, heads the anti-nuclear group Global Zero, teaches at Princeton University, and campaigns against a launch-on-warning policy. Blair has described the stresses that the warning of a Russian attack would put on America’s command-and-control system. American early-warning satellites would detect Russian missiles within three minutes of their launch. Officers at norad would confer for an additional three minutes, checking sensors to decide if an attack was actually occurring. The Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack System collects data from at least two independent information sources, relying on different physical principles, such as ground-based radar and satellite-based infrared sensors. If the norad officials thought that the warning was legitimate, the President of the United States would be contacted. He or she would remove the Black Book from a briefcase carried by a military aide. The Black Book describes nuclear retaliatory options, presented in cartoon-like illustrations that can be quickly understood.

Missiles launched from Russia would give the President about twenty minutes to make a decision, after consultation with the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. The President might have as few as five minutes, if missiles had been launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic. A decision to retaliate at once, to launch Minuteman missiles before they could be destroyed, runs the risk of killing millions of people by mistake. A decision to wait—to make sure that the attack is for real, to take no action until Russian warheads began to detonate in the United States—runs the risk losing the ability of the command-and-control system to order a retaliation. In that desperate situation, with the fate of the world in the balance, the temperament of the President would be less important than the quality of the information being offered by the system. Could you trust the sensors?

At about one-thirty in the morning, on October 23, 2010, fifty Minuteman III missiles deployed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, in Wyoming, suddenly went offline. Launch officers could no longer communicate with their missiles. The letters “LFDN” appeared on their computer screens: Launch Facility Down. Every so often, an underground control center would lose contact with missiles, briefly. It wasn’t a big deal. But having an entire squadron go down at once—and remain offline—was a highly unusual event. For almost an hour, officers tried to regain communication with the missiles. When it was reëstablished, remotely, by computer—the control centers are miles away from the missiles—closed-circuit-television images from the silos showed that the fifty missiles were still down there. As a precaution, Air Force security officers were dispatched to all the silos in the early-morning hours.

The Air Force denied that someone had hacked into the computer network and disabled the missiles. A subsequent investigation found that a circuit card, improperly installed in a weapon-systems processor, had been dislodged by routine vibration and heat. The misalignment of the circuit card sent messages to the missiles in the wrong timing sequence. The Minuteman III’s complicated launch procedures were designed to allow the missiles to be fired even if some command centers were destroyed, and to prevent rogue officers from firing them without proper authorization. As a result, the fifty missiles in each squadron are connected by coaxial cable to ten control centers, assuring redundancy and enabling one center to veto another’s launch decision. Throughout the day, at designated times, each control center sends a signal to the missiles, checks their status, and receives a reply. By disrupting the time sequence, the misaligned circuit board created a cacophony of signals and blocked all communication with the missiles. The system jammed itself.

Although the Air Force publicly dismissed the threat of a cyberattack on the nuclear command-and-control system, the incident raised alarm within the Pentagon about the system’s vulnerability. A malfunction that occurred by accident might also be caused deliberately. Those concerns were reinforced by a Defense Science Board report in January, 2013. It found that the Pentagon’s computer networks had been “built on inherently insecure architectures that are composed of, and increasingly using, foreign parts.” Red teams employed by the board were able to disrupt Pentagon systems with “relative ease,” using tools available on the Internet. “The complexity of modern software and hardware makes it difficult, if not impossible, to develop components without flaws or to detect malicious insertions,” the report concluded.

In a recent paper for the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Andrew Futter, an associate professor at the University of Leicester, suggested that a nuclear command-and-control system might be hacked to gather intelligence about the system, to shut down the system, to spoof it, mislead it, or cause it to take some sort of action—like launching a missile. And, he wrote, there are a variety of ways it might be done.

During the Cold War, as part of an espionage effort known as Project gunman, Soviet agents managed to tamper with the comb-support bars in sixteen I.B.M. Selectric typewriters at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the U.S. Mission in Leningrad. Between 1976 and 1984, every keystroke from those typewriters was transmitted by radio to nearby Soviet listening posts. The tampering was so ingenious that it took twenty-five engineers at the National Security Agency (N.S.A.), working six days a week for several months, with X-ray equipment, to figure out how it was done. Today’s integrated circuits contain billions of transistors. As the Defense Science Board notes in its report, a “subversive” chip “could destroy the processor and disable the system by simply shunting power to ground, change the processor output to incorrect results for specified inputs, or allow information leakage to the attackers.” A subversive chip would look identical to a normal one.

The cybersecurity of the Minuteman III, aging and yet still on alert, is also questionable. About five thousand miles of underground cable link the control centers to the missiles, as part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System. The cable mainly traverses privately owned land. “One of the difficult parts about fixing missile cable is . . . that the wires are no longer in production,” a newsletter at Minot Air Force Base explained a few years ago. The wires are copper, like old-fashioned telephone lines, surrounded by pressurized air, so that attempts to tamper with the cable can be detected. But in the early nineteen-seventies, during Operation Ivy Bells, the United States attached recording devices to similar underwater cable used by the Soviet Navy, tapping into it without piercing it. The mission was accomplished using divers and a submarine, at a depth of four hundred feet, in the Sea of Okhotsk. Digging up part of the Hardened Intersite Cable System in the middle of the night, three to eight feet under a farmer’s back yard in Wyoming, would be less challenging. (The Air Force declined to comment on the specific vulnerabilities of the Minuteman III.)

Even if the hardware were pristine, malware could be inserted into the system. During Operation Orchard, in September, 2007, Israel may have hacked into Syria’s early-warning system—either shutting it down completely or spoofing it into displaying clear skies—as Israeli fighters entered Syrian airspace, bombed a nuclear reactor, and flew home undetected. In 2012, the Stuxnet computer worm infiltrated computers running Microsoft Windows at nuclear sites in Iran, collected information about the industrial process there, and then issued instructions that destroyed hundreds of centrifuges enriching uranium. A similar worm could surreptitiously enter a nuclear command-and-control system, lie dormant for years, and then create havoc.

Strict precautions have been taken to thwart a cyberattack on the U.S. nuclear command-and-control system. Every line of nuclear code has been scrutinized for errors and bugs. The system is “air-gapped,” meaning that its networks are closed: someone can’t just go onto the Internet and tap into a computer at a Minuteman III control center. At least, that’s the theory. Russia, China, and North Korea have sophisticated cyber-warfare programs and techniques. General James Cartwright—the former head of the U.S. Strategic Command who recently pleaded guilty to leaking information about Stuxnet—thinks that it’s reasonable to believe the system has already been penetrated. “You’ve either been hacked, and you’re not admitting it, or you’re being hacked and don’t know it,” Cartwright said last year.

If communications between Minuteman control centers and their missiles are interrupted, the missiles can still be launched by ultra-high-frequency radio signals transmitted by special military aircraft. The ability to launch missiles by radio serves as a backup to the control centers—and also creates an entry point into the network that could be exploited in a cyberattack. The messages sent within the nuclear command-and-control system are highly encrypted. Launch codes are split in two, and no single person is allowed to know both parts. But the complete code is stored in computers—where it could be obtained or corrupted by an insider.

Some of America’s most secret secrets were recently hacked and stolen by a couple of private contractors working inside the N.S.A., Edward Snowden and Harold T. Martin III, both employees of Booz Allen Hamilton. The N.S.A. is responsible for generating and encrypting the nuclear launch codes. And the security of the nuclear command-and-control system is being assured not only by government officials but also by the employees of private firms, including software engineers who work for Boeing, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Lord Des Browne, a former U.K. Minister of Defense, is concerned that even ballistic-missile submarines may be compromised by malware. Browne is now the vice-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to reduce the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction, where he heads a task force examining the risk of cyberattacks on nuclear command-and-control systems. Browne thinks that the cyber threat is being cavalierly dismissed by many in power. The Royal Navy’s decision to save money by using Windows for Submarines, a version of Windows XP, as the operating system for its ballistic-missile subs seems especially shortsighted. Windows XP was discontinued six years ago, and Microsoft warned that any computer running it after April, 2014, “should not be considered protected as there will be no security updates.” Each of the U.K. subs has eight missiles carrying a total of forty nuclear weapons. “It is shocking to think that my home computer is probably running a newer version of Windows than the U.K.’s military submarines,” Brown said.

In 2013, General C. Robert Kehler, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the risk of cyberattacks on the nuclear command-and-control system. He expressed confidence that the U.S. system was secure. When Senator Bill Nelson asked if somebody could hack into the Russian or Chinese systems and launch a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear warhead, Kehler replied, “Senator, I don’t know . . . I do not know.”

After the debacle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union became much more reluctant to provoke a nuclear confrontation with the United States. Its politburo was a committee of conservative old men. Russia’s leadership is quite different today. The current mix of nationalism, xenophobia, and vehement anti-Americanism in Moscow is a far cry from the more staid and secular ideology guiding the Soviet Union in the nineteen-eighties. During the past few years, threats about the use of nuclear weapons have become commonplace in Moscow. Dmitry Kiselyov, a popular newscaster and the Kremlin’s leading propagandist, reminded viewers in 2014 that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive dust.” The Kremlin has acknowledged the development of a nuclear torpedo that can travel more than six thousand miles underwater before devastating a coastal city. It has also boasted about a fearsome new missile design. Nicknamed “Satan 2” and deployed with up to sixteen nuclear warheads, the missile will be “capable of wiping out parts of the earth the size of Texas or France,” an official news agency claimed.

The bellicose pronouncements in Moscow suggest that Russia is becoming a superpower again, modernizing its nuclear arsenal and seeking supremacy over the United States. In fact, Russia’s arsenal is more inferior today and more vulnerable to a surprise attack than it was forty years ago. The Kremlin’s recent propaganda brings to mind some of Nikita Khrushchev’s claims from 1959: “Now we have such a stock of missiles, such an amount of atomic and hydrogen warheads, that if they attack us we could raze our potential enemies off the face of the earth.” The Soviet Union did not have a single intercontinental ballistic missile when Khrushchev made those remarks.

At the moment, Russia has newer land-based missiles than the United States does, but it also has about a hundred fewer. During the Cold War, Russia possessed hundreds of mobile missiles that were hard to spot from satellites; today, it has only a hundred and fifty, which are rarely moved from their bases and more readily detected by satellite. Russia’s ten ballistic-missile submarines now spend most of their time in port, where they are sitting ducks. An American surprise attack on Russian nuclear forces may have the best chance of success since the days of the Kennedy Administration. During the Cold War, as many as five warheads were targeted at each enemy missile to assure its destruction. In an age of cyber warfare, those missiles could be immobilized with just a few keystrokes. The United States Cyber Command—which reports to the U.S. Strategic Command—has been assigned the mission of using “cyber operations to disrupt an adversary’s command and control networks, military-related critical infrastructure, and weapons capabilities.”

Russia’s greatest strategic vulnerability is the lack of a sophisticated and effective early-warning system. The Soviet Union had almost a dozen satellites in orbit that could detect a large-scale American attack. The system began to deteriorate in 1996, when an early-warning satellite had to be retired. Others soon fell out of orbit, and Russia’s last functional early-warning satellite went out of service two years ago. Until a new network of satellites can be placed in orbit, the country must depend on ground-based radar units. Unlike the United States, Russia no longer has two separate means of validating an attack warning. At best, the radar units can spot warheads only minutes before they land. Pavel Podvig, a senior fellow at the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, believes that Russia does not have a launch-on-warning policy—because its early-warning system is so limited.

According to Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear-policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, the deficiencies in Russia’s command-and-control system feed the country’s long-standing fears of encirclement by enemies ready to strike. During the twentieth century, Russia was attacked with little warning by both Germany and Japan. “I think the Russian leadership is terrified of a decapitation strike,” Lewis told me recently. “Perhaps some of that is paranoia, but, on the other hand, the United States opened Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003, by striking Dora Farm—a failed decapitation strike against Saddam Hussein.” Russia’s fierce opposition to an American missile-defense system in Europe is driven by fear of the role it could play in a surprise attack. During a crisis, Russia’s inability to launch on warning could raise the pressure on a Russian leader to launch without any warning. The logic of a first strike still prevails. As John Steinbruner, a renowned nuclear theorist, explained more than thirty years ago, shooting first “offers some small chance that complete decapitation will occur and no retaliation will follow. . . . [It] is probably the only imaginable route to decisive victory in nuclear war.”

Vladimir Putin now wields more power over Russia’s nuclear forces than any leader since Khrushchev. Putin has displayed great boldness and a willingness to take risks in foreign affairs. A surprise attack on the United States, given its nuclear superiority and largely invulnerable ballistic-missile submarines, would probably be suicidal. And yet the alternative might appear worse. Putin has described an important lesson he learned as a young man in Leningrad: “When a fight is inevitable, you have to hit first.”

For the past nine years, I’ve been immersed in the minutiae of nuclear command and control, trying to understand the actual level of risk. Of all the people whom I’ve met in the nuclear realm, Sidney Drell was one of the most brilliant and impressive. Drell died this week, at the age of ninety. A theoretical physicist with expertise in quantum field theory and quantum chromodynamics, he was for many years the deputy director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator and received the National Medal of Science from Obama, in 2013. Drell was one of the founding members of jason—a group of civilian scientists that advises the government on important technological matters—and for fifty-six years possessed a Q clearance, granting him access to the highest level of classified information. Drell participated in top-secret discussions about nuclear strategy for decades, headed a panel that investigated nuclear-weapon safety for the U.S. Congress in 1990, and worked on technical issues for jason until the end of his life. A few months ago, when I asked for his opinion about launch-on-warning, Drell said, “It’s insane, the worst thing I can think of. You can’t have a worse idea.”

Drell was an undergraduate at Princeton University when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed. Given all the close calls and mistakes in the seventy-one years since then, he considered it a miracle that no other cities have been destroyed by a nuclear weapon—“it is so far beyond my normal optimism.” The prospect of a new cold war—and the return of military strategies that advocate using nuclear weapons on the battlefield—deeply unnerved him. Once the first nuclear weapon detonates, nothing might prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control. “We have no experience in stopping a nuclear war,” he said.

During the recent Presidential campaign, the emotional stability of the Commander-in-Chief became an issue, with some arguing that a calm disposition might mean the difference between peace on Earth and a nuclear apocalypse. The President of the United States has the sole power to order the use of nuclear weapons, without any legal obligation to consult members of Congress or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ideally, the President would never be short-tempered, impulsive, or clinically depressed. But the mood of the Commander-in-Chief may be irrelevant in a nuclear crisis, given the current technological constraints. Can any human being reliably make the correct decision, within six minutes, with hundreds of millions of lives at stake?

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin confront a stark choice: begin another nuclear-arms race or reduce the threat of nuclear war. Trump now has a unique opportunity to pursue the latter, despite the bluster and posturing on both sides. His admiration for Putin, regardless of its merits, could provide the basis for meaningful discussions about how to minimize nuclear risks. Last year, General James Mattis, the former Marine chosen by Trump to serve as Secretary of Defense, called for a fundamental reappraisal of American nuclear strategy and questioned the need for land-based missiles. During Senate testimony, Mattis suggested that getting rid of such missiles would “reduce the false-alarm danger.” Contrary to expectations, Republican Presidents have proved much more successful than their Democratic counterparts at nuclear disarmament. President George H. W. Bush cut the size of the American arsenal in half, as did his son, President George W. Bush. And President Ronald Reagan came close to negotiating a treaty with the Soviet Union that would have completely abolished nuclear weapons.

Every technology embodies the values of the age in which it was created. When the atomic bomb was being developed in the mid-nineteen-forties, the destruction of cities and the deliberate targeting of civilians was just another military tactic. It was championed as a means to victory. The Geneva Conventions later classified those practices as war crimes—and yet nuclear weapons have no other real use. They threaten and endanger noncombatants for the sake of deterrence. Conventional weapons can now be employed to destroy every kind of military target, and twenty-first-century warfare puts an emphasis on precision strikes, cyberweapons, and minimizing civilian casualties. As a technology, nuclear weapons have become obsolete. What worries me most isn’t the possibility of a cyberattack, a technical glitch, or a misunderstanding starting a nuclear war sometime next week. My greatest concern is the lack of public awareness about this existential threat, the absence of a vigorous public debate about the nuclear-war plans of Russia and the United States, the silent consent to the roughly fifteen thousand nuclear weapons in the world. These machines have been carefully and ingeniously designed to kill us. Complacency increases the odds that, some day, they will. The “Titanic Effect” is a term used by software designers to explain how things can quietly go wrong in a complex technological system: the safer you assume the system to be, the more dangerous it is becoming.

Eric Schlosser is the author of “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” from 2013, and the producer of the documentary “Command and Control,” from 2016.

By striking a single word, Congress shakes up U.S. nuclear defense doctrine and opens door to space arms race

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, War on December 22, 2016 at 11:35 pm

By David Willman, Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2016

By removing a single word from legislation governing the military, Congress has laid the groundwork for both a major shift in U.S. nuclear defense doctrine and a costly effort to field space-based weaponry.

Experts say the changes, approved by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, could aggravate tensions with Russia and China and prompt a renewed nuclear arms race. The bill awaits action by President Obama. The White House has not said what he will do.

For decades, America’s defense against nuclear attack has rested on twin pillars: The nation’s homeland missile defense system is designed to thwart a small-scale, or “limited,” attack by the likes of North Korea or Iran. As for the threat of a large-scale strike by China or Russia, the prospect of massive U.S. retaliation is supposed to deter both from ever launching missiles.

Central to this strategy was a one-word qualifier – “limited” — used to define the mission of the homeland defense system. The language was carefully crafted to avoid reigniting an arms race among the superpowers.
Now, with virtually no public debate, bipartisan majorities in Congress have removed the word “limited” from the nation’s missile defense policy. They did so in giving final approval over the last month to the year-end defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act.
A related provision of the law calls for the Pentagon to start “research, development, test and evaluation” of space-based systems for missile defense.

A space-based defense program would hinge on annual congressional appropriations and decisions by the incoming Trump administration.

Yet both proponents and opponents say the policy changes have momentous implications.

“These amendments were historic in nature — given the paradigm shift forward that they represent,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced and shepherded the amendments in the House.

Leading defense scientists said the idea that a space-based system could provide security against nuclear attack is a fantasy.

“It defies the laws of physics and is not based on science of any kind,” said L. David Montague, a retired president of missile systems for Lockheed Corp. and co-chair of a National Academy of Sciences panel that studied missile defense technologies at the request of Congress.

“Even if we darken the sky with hundreds or thousands of satellites and interceptors, there’s no way to ensure against a dedicated attack,” Montague said in an interview. “So it’s an opportunity to waste a prodigious amount of money.”

He called the provisions passed by Congress “insanity, pure and simple.”

The National Academy study, released in 2012, concluded that even a bare-bones space-based missile defense system would cost about $200 billion to put in place, and hundreds of billions to operate in subsequent years.

Franks, asked whether the country could afford it, replied: “What is national security worth? It’s priceless.”

Philip E. Coyle III, a former assistant secretary of Defense who headed the Pentagon office responsible for testing and evaluating weapon systems, described the notion of a space-based nuclear shield as “a sham.”

“To do this would cost just gazillions and gazillions,” Coyle said. “The technology isn’t at hand — nor is the money. It’s unfortunate from my point of view that the Congress doesn’t see that.”

He added: “Both Russia and China will use it as an excuse to do something that they want to do.”

The word “limited” has guided U.S. policy since the National Missile Defense Act of 1999. The qualifier reflects, in part, the reality that intercepting and destroying incoming warheads is supremely difficult, and that it would be impractical to field enough interceptors to counter a large-scale attack. Any such system, by its very nature, would be limited.

The current homeland anti-missile system — the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD — relies on interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Ft. Greely, Alaska. In flight tests, the system, which has cost taxpayers more than $40 billion, has managed to destroy mock enemy warheads only about half the time.

Military officials estimate that, in the event of an attack, the U.S. would have to fire four or five interceptors for every incoming warhead. As a result, the system’s arsenal of 34 operational interceptors could be rapidly depleted.

The 1999 law “threaded the needle between defending against a potential North Korean or Iranian threat and not rocking the boat too much with Russia and China,’’ said Laura Grego, a physicist who led a recent study of GMD for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“So just trashing that without a real substantive discussion is, I think, shameful,” Grego said.

Franks said in an interview that he drew inspiration from President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative of the 1980s, which was intended to use lasers and other space-based weaponry to render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.” Known as “Star Wars,” the initiative cost taxpayers $30 billion, but no system was ever deployed.

Franks said that by striking the word “limited” from the homeland defense system’s mission, and at the same time pursuing a space-based system, the U.S. is on a path to better safeguard its security. He said the new approach would protect both U.S. territory and surveillance satellites.

“I hope that the day will come when we could have solid-state lasers in space that can defeat any missile attack,” said Franks, who represents suburbs north and west of Phoenix. “That day is a long ways off. But fortunately, it’s a little closer, and a little more certain, with the passage of these amendments.”

The new policy he championed says America “should maintain and improve a robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat.”

Franks suggested that Americans have no reason to fear a space-based arms race with China or Russia. He also said he had been surprised by the absence of Democratic opposition to his proposals.

The first of his amendments — to eliminate “limited” from U.S. policy — was approved in April by the House Armed Services Committee with no debate and without a recorded roll-call vote.

At a committee hearing May 17, a senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, offered mild protest.

“I think it was a mistake to mandate a poorly thought out, unaffordable and unrealistic missile defense policy, including plans for a space-based missile deterrent,” Cooper said.

But neither Cooper nor any other House Democrat sought to overturn the provisions, and he was among those who voted to pass the overall bill the next day.

“I’m a little stunned that we didn’t get more profile on it,” Franks said. “That’s fine with me, because that may have made my job easier.”

Franks’ Republican partner on the legislation, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, enjoyed a similarly smooth path.

Deliberations of the Senate Armed Services Committee were closed, forestalling public debate. The legislation was approved by a roll call vote of 16-10, with two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tim Kaine of Virginia, the party’s eventual vice presidential nominee, joining the Republican majority.

In June, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sought to restore “limited,” saying that the change in U.S. policy would create “the impetus for a new arms race” with Russia and China. Markey offered an amendment on the Senate floor but could not muster enough support to bring it to vote.

The same month, the Obama administration criticized the changes in the Senate bill, saying it “strongly objects” to removing “limited” and to placing anti-missile weaponry in space. The statement stopped short of threatening a veto.

The policy changes were greeted with opposition from another quarter as well. At a congressional hearing in April, Franks pressed Vice Adm. James D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, for his stance on expanding U.S. capability into space.

Syring pushed back.

“I have serious concerns about the technical feasibility of the interceptors in space and I have serious concerns about the long-term affordability of a program like that,” he said.

A first look at a 21st century disarmament movement

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 19, 2016 at 11:49 pm

John Carl Baker, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 16, 3016

John Carl Baker is a Mellon-ACLS Public Fellow at the Ploughshares Fund, where he works as political engagement strategist. Baker holds a doctorate in cultural studies, and his work focuses on disarmament movements, late Cold War culture, and critical theory. His current book project examines the intersection between the nuclear freeze movement and the transition to neoliberalism in the United States.
With Donald Trump set to ascend to the presidency, many in the disarmament and nonproliferation community are deeply concerned and searching for a path forward. The comparisons to the election of Ronald Reagan are not perfect, but they do contain at least one kernel of truth. Just as in the early 1980s, those who seek to eliminate nuclear risk today feel left out in the cold—and they are understandably frightened. Much like Reagan’s loose talk about nuclear war, the thought of Trump’s finger on the button sends chills down the spines of experts and laypeople alike.

It is not surprising then that some are floating the possibility of a revived disarmament movement as a counterbalance to the incoming Trump administration, which seems primed to continue and perhaps even accelerate the modernization of the US nuclear arsenal. Here in the Bulletin, Frank von Hippel recently wondered whether a millennial-led “general citizen uprising” against Trump’s policies might include a disarmament component. This is certainly a possibility. But if the “new generation of nuclear disarmament activists” he foresees actually emerges, what might it look like when compared to, say, the nuclear freeze movement of the Reagan era?

In my view, a 21st century disarmament movement will be–and should be–distinct from the freeze in three main ways. It will be intersectional, it will be digital, and it will be confrontational.

The nuclear freeze movement accomplished a great deal in its brief existence. It challenged the Reagan administration to temper its rhetoric and engage with the Soviets. Along with other peace movements around the globe, it helped bring the world back from the brink of nuclear war. These achievements made the joint weapons reductions of the late Cold War possible, and for that we owe the freeze movement a debt of gratitude. But the movement was not without its faults. It presented the freeze policy as a common denominator around which everyone from dissident Republicans to radical leftists could rally and consciously cultivated a public image that was politically moderate and middle class. In theory the freeze movement was a big tent that welcomed all comers, but in practice it tended to be white, affluent, and strangely cordoned off from other activist causes.

A contemporary movement will not be nearly as exclusionary and single-issue oriented. While there are clearly targeted forms of activism today—against police violence, economic inequality, and climate change, to name just a few—no sharp line exists between them, and they are constantly making connections with one another. Black Lives Matter activists point out the links between economic inequality and over-policing, while environmental advocates discuss the disproportionate impact of climate upheavals on people of color and the poor.

Social movements today are foundationally intersectional, and a new disarmament movement will be too. It may emphasize the trade-off between social spending and defense spending, or criticize the orientalist quality of much nonproliferation discourse. It may note the racist and environmentally destructive history of nuclear testing, or draw attention to male domination of the national security sphere. A new movement will face the exclusionary qualities of disarmament activism head-on and replace them with a firm emphasis on diversity and cross-issue collaboration. A revived disarmament movement will acknowledge that its goal cannot take primacy over other struggles but can come to fruition in and through them. Much like the other new social movements, it will see itself as one element in an overarching global push for democracy, civil rights, and economic justice.

Media forms have historically played a significant role in promoting the disarmament cause. In the Reagan era, films about nuclear war proliferated, and activists seized upon them as a way of galvanizing the public against the arms race. These texts were “mass media” in the truest sense of the term. They were delivered instantaneously to huge audiences, who experienced them collectively, whether in the movie theater or the family living room. On one evening in 1983, a stunning 100 million people watched the TV movie The Day After, which portrayed the impact of a nuclear war on a Midwestern community in the United States. In the weeks before and after the film was broadcast, it spurred a nationwide discussion on the dangers of nuclear weapons. The film kept the freeze issue in the public eye and presented an enormous organizing opportunity, which activists were more than happy to exploit.

Mass media are still with us, of course, but a 21st century disarmament movement will likely take a more decentralized, digital approach to media engagement and popular mobilization. Social media has already played an enormous role in organizing new social movements (particularly Black Lives Matter), and a new disarmament movement would no doubt follow suit. Indeed, organizations like the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) are already using digital media forms as a cornerstone of their activism. During the recent UN First Committee session, ICAN and its coalition used Twitter to engage in instantaneous critiques of the nuclear-armed states, calling them out for their hypocrisy and underhandedness in trying to scuttle the ban treaty. They did this not only through expert analysis, but also through appropriately biting humor—sometimes delivered via internet memes. Mainstream US media have been remarkably uninterested in the UN ban treaty discussions, but through digital platforms like Twitter, groups like ICAN are disseminating the latest news, pushing back against the claims of the nuclear-armed states and encouraging newcomers to get involved in the issue. Their success at the international level may provide a model media strategy for a new US movement.

The third and most distinctive quality of a 21st century disarmament movement is that it will be confrontational, a major departure from the freeze in both tactics and strategy. From its inception, the freeze movement defined itself in opposition to radical politics and unilateral disarmament, hence its emphasis on bilateralism, verifiability, and traditional civic participation. It’s true that the freeze engaged in public demonstrations and protest marches (most notably the June 1982 Central Park rally of 750,000 people), but its primary form of political engagement was the ballot box. It eschewed most forms of direct action in favor of state and local ballot initiatives calling for the institution of a bilateral freeze on the testing, deployment, and production for nuclear weapons. These initiatives clearly expressed opposition to the status quo but were non-binding; the hope was that Congress would take up the issue, which it eventually did, with mixed results. The point here is that the freeze movement sought a kind of accommodation with the powers-that-be. This was evident in the policy itself, designed to be non-threatening and bipartisan, and in the freeze’s inoffensive, even patriotic model of political participation: localized voting, public education, grassroots legislative pressure.

Today’s social movements, while not antagonistic to voting and, say, writing your congressperson, do not regard these activities as the end-all-be-all of political participation. They place a much stronger emphasis on protest in its varying forms: rowdy demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience, the reclamation of public space.

The 21st century is the time of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Fight for $15, and it seems likely that a renewed disarmament activism will take a cue from these movements’ confrontational tactics. Today, the dominant style of protest does not passively ask to be heard, but demands it, by actively challenging an injustice at its source. There is of course a long history of peaceful direct action in the disarmament movement, and activists may revive this tradition in the coming years. The US nuclear weapons complex, spread out over multiple sites across the country, certainly provides ample opportunity for disruptive—but peaceful—protest. Thinking intersectionally, though, activists may focus their ire on the defense corporations of the “nuclear enterprise,” who receive billions from the federal government at a time when many Americans feel economically left behind. So far, inequality activists have not stressed the trade-off between defense spending and social spending. But with the US set to spend $1 trillion modernizing its nuclear arsenal, and Trump adding numerous critics of social welfare programs to his administration, there is significant potential for cross-issue mobilization.

The freeze movement was reluctant to make broader political connections and engage in direct action for fear of being tarred as unserious and left wing. Whether this choice was correct in the early 1980s is open for debate. But today, a raucous intersectionality–digitally savvy but materially focused–seems absolutely essential for preventing a new arms race. This 21st century movement will look radically different from the freeze. Its form will pose a challenge not only to Donald Trump and nuclear modernization but to those of us in the arms control community who sometimes value subdued professionalism over committed action. Still, we should welcome it. A renewed movement will give a much-needed injection of youthful excitement to the issue of nuclear arms control and will help turn the slow drip of progress over the past 30 years into a flood of momentous change. It happened before, and it can happen again.

If nuclear war broke out, where’s the safest place on Earth?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on December 17, 2016 at 3:49 am

By Dr. Becky Alexis Martin and Thom Davies, The Guardian, December 15, 2016

The recent death of Fidel Castro – a man synonymous with the threat of nuclear war and the Cuban Missile Crisis – has reminded us how much the world has changed since the end of the Cold War.

We are safer now than perhaps any time in our history. Let’s take the cheery topic of violent death, for example. In most of the world, murder rates are falling along with other violent crimes. A recent UN study reported that homicide rates in North America, Europe and Asia have been declining for last 15 years, and wars have also become less deadly when compared to conflicts in the 20th century. Even contemporary atrocities in the Middle East do not compare to the industrial genocide of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. Research by the Early Warning Project for example, has shown a clear decline in mass killings in wars and conflicts since 1992.
Despite gruesome on-going conflicts, as a planet we are arguably living in the most peaceful time in human history. On the surface, that goes for nuclear threats too. Nuclear bunkers have been turned into nightclubs, civil defence has become an interesting historical curiosity, and the five countries of the “nuclear club” have successfully adhered to major international treaties that ban making and testing nuclear weapons for over two decades.

A mutually-assured obsession
Recently however, the atomic landscape has begun to shift. North Korea has undertaken a series of nuclear tests, including its fifth and largest detonation in September 2016, and the UN Security Council will soon be implementing sanctions, which could have wide-reaching consequences. Although the vast majority of UN member states voted in favour of a ban on nuclear weapons, there are increased tensions between NATO and Russia, continuing volatility between India and Pakistan, and new nuclear nightmares and geopolitical scenarios that never existed during the halcyon days of the Cold War.

Ex-Pentagon chief William Perry claimed this year that nuclear destruction is a bigger risk today than during the 70s and 80s. The shock election of Donald Trump, described by US military officers as ‘easily baited and quick to lash out’, has also revived our atomic anxiety. With Donald soon to be in sole command of 7,000 nuclear warheads, are we one step closer to nuclear annihilation?

Being the cheerful optimists that we are, we decided to explore how attitudes have changed towards nuclear deterrence, the current emotional geopolitics attached to nuclear weapons, and to consider what would happen in the basically impossible scenario that an instantaneous and multilateral nuclear war occurs in 2017.
Emotional geopolitics
So what is it about nuclear weapons that provoke such a strong emotional response? One only has to look at the debates over Trident renewal this year to see how nuclear issues can still incite such passion, anger and hostility. Global society has constructed a norm against the use of nuclear arms, but like any human construction, it can be repurposed. The idea that nuclear weapons have a unique psychological effect emerged following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2. Since then, nuclear things have possessed an exceptional political power, and atomic bombs became the ultimate taboo weapon.

When the British Government published its infamous September Dossier in 2002 to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, they drew upon the powerful stigma of nuclear weapons, by including an atomic threat among a long list of – now debunked – reasons to invade. Though other weapons of war can be equally damaging, they do not hold the same emotional stigma as ‘The Bomb’. Even gas – rightly stigmatized after WW1 – has recently been deployed against civilians in Syria with little military backlash. It is doubtful that Obama’s weak response to this outrage would have been so anodyne (remember the ‘red line’, anyone?) if the Syrian Army had used tactical nukes.

But what would happen if there was a nuclear war today? We thought there was one way to find out – by modelling a simultaneous and multilateral contemporary nuclear apocalypse, to look at the safe places that emerge, and consider the meaning of it. We modelled one possible scenario for January 20th 2017, which just happens to be Donald Trump’s inauguration date.

We looked at the current international nuclear stockpile of the ten nuclear states for guidance, and considered the likelihood of conflict with other nations, to create a ranking of risk trajectories. Combining this with numerical weather prediction data enabled us to gain an approximate idea of what could happen if we had an all-out nuclear war. The modelled output of our crude atomic plaything produced fallout across the world, which would eventually plunge us into a nuclear winter.

So where is the safest place?
Our computer modelling shows that should atomic annihilation be on the cards, one of the safest places to live would be Antarctica. Not only is this sub-zero continent miles from anywhere, it was also the sight of the world’s first nuclear arms agreement in 1959. The Antarctic Treaty banned the detonation of all nuclear weapons and dedicated this frozen landscape as a space for peaceful research. But who’d want to live there? It wouldn’t be the first time polar regions have been used as nuclear hideouts: in perhaps the coolest mission of the Cold War, codenamed ‘Project Iceworm’, a huge nuclear base was secretly buried deep within the Arctic Circle. Known as “the city under the ice”, this vast bunker, which is now full of abandoned toxic waste and radioactive coolant, will soon be disentombed from its frozen lair as the icecaps continue to melt. So if Antarctica doesn’t take your fancy, where else?

Another option would be Easter Island in the South Pacific, over 2000 miles from South America. While spending time here as the rest of the world burns, you could check out the massive mysterious statues, known as Mo‘ai. These monoliths were carved by ancient Polynesians who cut down all the trees on the island in order to move these giant stone figures. Sadly, as Jared Diamond writes in his book ‘Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive’, this deforestation turned the isolated island into an ecological ruin. What better place to ponder the hamstrung future of mankind than an island that encapsulates our ability to kill ourselves through damaging our environment?

 
If Easter Island’s barren landscape sounds too depressing, why not try the archipelagos of Kiribati or the Marshall Islands? These remote and sunny island chains come complete with tropical beaches and are surrounded by 750,000 square miles of ocean. Once the home to much of the historical nuclear weapons testing, it is somehow poignant that sites that were previously peppered with fallout could be the safest places on earth during our hypothetical nuclear apocalypse.

Whist we have geologically defined our atomic Anthropocene by our nuclear weapons testing, the future of humanity and the fabric of the planet is now being tested and moulded by pollution and climate change. Perhaps now it is time to reconsider the emotional connections that we have designated to nuclear weapons, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We need to think ourselves beyond the psychology of atomic apocalypse, if humanity is to survive.

Dr Becky Alexis-Martin is based at the University of Southampton, Dr Thom Davies is based at the University of Warwick.

Trump taps former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head Energy Department he once vowed to abolish

In Climate change, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on December 14, 2016 at 2:27 am

By Juliet Ellperin and Steven Mufson, Washington Post, December 13, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rick Perry to head the Energy Department, said two people familiar with the decision, seeking to put the former Texas governor in control of an agency whose name he forgot amid a presidential debate even as he vowed to abolish it.

Perry, who ran for president in the past two election cycles, is likely to shift the department away from renewable energy and toward fossil fuels, whose production he championed while serving as governor for 14 years.

The Energy Department was central to the 2011 gaffe that helped end his first presidential bid. After declaring that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies during a primary debate in Michigan, Perry froze after mentioning the commerce and education departments. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Later during the debate, Perry offered: “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago.”

Speaking to reporters once the event was over, he said, “The bottom line is I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles, and that’s what this campaign is really going to be about.”

[What Rick Perry’s wink says about his own art of the deal]

Despite its name, most of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to maintaining the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads and to cleaning up nuclear waste at sites left by military weapons programs. The department runs the nation’s national laboratories, sets appliance standards, and hands out grants and loan guarantees for everything from basic research to solar cells to capturing carbon dioxide from coal combustion.

Four years after his first Oval Office bid, the former governor sought it once again in the big GOP field that included Trump. Perry touted the high rate of job growth and the low tax rate his state enjoyed under his leadership. At one point, he dismissed Trump’s campaign as a “barking carnival act.”

The child of a cotton farmer and county commissioner from West Texas, Perry immersed himself in politics from a young age. He was elected as a Democrat to the state legislature, but switched to the GOP when he ran for Texas agriculture commissioner.
As governor, he recruited out-of-state firms to Texas. In 2013, he starred in an ad that aired in California in which he declared that companies should visit his home state “and see why our low taxes, sensible regulations and fair legal system are just the thing to get your business moving. To Texas.”

Salo Zelermyer, who served as a senior counsel at the Energy Department’s general counsel’s office under President George W. Bush and is now a partner at the Bracewell law firm, said Perry has proven “it is indeed possible to successfully balance appropriate environmental regulations with domestic energy production and use.”

“During his time in office, Perry embodied the type of ‘all of the above’ approach to U.S. energy production that many have advocated on both sides of the aisle,” Zelermyer added. “Rick Perry’s Texas was not only a world leader in oil and gas production; it was also a global leader in wind power and renewable energy investment. This approach is a big reason Texas experienced such enormous job growth during Perry’s tenure.”

But environmentalists take a dim view of Perry. The former government has repeatedly questioned scientific findings that human activity is helping drive climate change. In 2011 during a presidential debate, he compared the minority of scientists who challenged this assumption to 17th-century astronomer Galileo, who was persecuted by the Catholic Church after suggesting that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the reverse.

“The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense,” Perry said at the time. “Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”

In his 2010 book, “Fed Up!” Perry described the science showing that climate change was underway and caused by humans as a “contrived phony mess,” writing that those who embraced this idea “know that we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time.”
“Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult, and now even moderate Democrats aren’t buying it,” he added, referring to the former vice president, who met with Trump recently to discuss climate change.

Later, during the 2012 presidential campaign, said, “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”

In fact, the top 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1998, and 2016 is expected to be the hottest year since formal record-keeping began in 1880. The 2014 summary report for policymakers by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was endorsed by officials from nearly 200 countries, stated, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic [human caused] emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history..”

“There is no doubt that Rick Perry is completely unfit to run an agency he sought to eliminate — and couldn’t even name. Perry is a climate change denier, opposes renewable energy even as it has boomed in Texas, and doesn’t even believe CO2 is a pollutant,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement. “Not only that, he is deep in the pocket of Big Polluters, who have contributed over $2.5 million to his presidential campaigns, a disturbing sign that they expected him to protect their profits in office, not do what’s best for the American people.”

Wind power did expand under Perry during his tenure in Texas, and he supported the construction of transmission lines nearly a decade ago that helped bring wind-generated electricity to market.

It started with 116 megawatts of installed wind power when he took office, according to the World Resources Institute, and now ranks as the nation’s No. 1 wind producer with 18,000 megawatts. But during a 2015 Iowa Agricultural Summit in Des Moines, the former governor said he opposed extending the federal tax credit for wind power. “I do if a state wants to do it,” he said. “I don’t at the federal level. I think all of these need to be looked at, whether it’s oil and gas, whether it’s the wind side, whether it’s the [Renewable Fuel Standard program] — I think all of them need to be put on the table, prove whether or not these are in fact in the best interest of this country.”
Referring to renewable sources, Jennifer Layke, the World Resource Institute energy program director, said: “The Department of Energy leads essential programs that drive innovation and fill important gaps to get new technologies off the ground. These are vital to keep the U.S. at the frontier of energy technology. In recent years, the Department of Energy has given U.S. businesses a significant boost to accelerate the development of battery storage, solar panels and electric vehicles. These programs must continue.”

[DOE leaders refuse to identify specific climate change employees for Trump transition team]

If confirmed, Perry would walk into an agency where many career civil servants are likely to be wary of him, not only because of his past pledge to abolish the department. Employees there are already on edge, given the fact that Trump’s transition team gave a questionnaire to DOE officials asking that they identify which employees have worked on either international climate negotiations or domestic initiatives to cut carbon.

Current DOE leaders have declined to provide any individual names of employees to Trump transition team members.

Dan Balz contributed to this report.