Stockpile Stewardship

William Gillespie

Their size, their power, has no theoretical limit. They are Biblical in their anger. They are clearly the worst thing that has ever happened to the planet, and they are mass-produced, and inexpensive. In a way, their most extraordinary single characteristic is that they are manmade. They distort all life and subvert all freedoms. Somehow, they give us no choice. Not a soul on earth wants them, but here they all are."

- Martin Amis.

Nuclear weapons are the worst thing that has ever happened. In addition to their terrifying power — their potential, through radioactive fallout and nuclear winter, to effectively erase all life from the planet — they do unquantifiable damage to our ability to imagine a better world and work toward it. In the words of Danielle Chynoweth: "nuclear weapons destroy meaning." Growing up during the cold war has left many of us unable to imagine any future whatsoever.

The Cold War is now over but the American arms race accelerates. There are no countries that pose a military threat to America, yet the "defense" budget is higher than ever and growing. Among the horrors this money will bring is a program potential to develop newer and deadlier nuclear weapons. Decades ahead of the fastest tortoise, the American rabbit sprints on toward a finish line that is the end of everything.

This November, Germany put forth a proposal that all NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries agree to use nuclear weapons only to respond to the use of nuclear weapons, never to use them first. The United States flatly rejected this proposal. Defense Secretary William Cohen did not feel that such a policy would provide sufficient deterrence to the other nations of the world.

In response to criticism of the American rejection of the German proposal, Defense Secretary Cohen stated: "we think that the ambiguity involved [in whether the U.S. will fire nuclear missiles] … contributes to our own security keeping any potential adversary who might use chemical or biologics unsure what our response might be." This casual remark by Cohen would make it appear that the U.S. has no intention of honoring the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty , which forbids the five nuclear powers who have signed it from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

According to "Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," an internal study by the U.S. military’s Strategic Command, which is responsible for our strategic nuclear arsenal, the U.S. military should strive for an "irrational and vindictive demeanor" against adversaries. The 1995 study claims that "it hurts to portray ourselves as too rational and clear-headed."

If you were locked in a room with Defense Secretary Cohen, each of you with a loaded handgun, and Cohen declared that he was willing to shoot you first, and he was being deliberately ambiguous about his intentions, and he was displaying an irrational and vindictive demeanor… would you feel inclined to put down your weapon?

We are the most threatening military power to ever have existed, and by refusing to make a commitment to disarmament, a commitment to decelerate military spending (our current budget exceeds that at the height of the Cold War), or a commitment to end the development of new weapons, we are sending a clear message to potential enemies. That message says that, like us, the other nations of the world need to commit themselves to stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

The arms race will never end unless the United States ends it.

This year, India, followed closely by Pakistan, tested nuclear weapons and joined the growing list of nuclear powers. If the United States had made a stronger effort to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India and Pakistan might have decided not to test their weapons. But, after more than a year of deliberation, the Senate still has not ratified the treaty. And why not? We are not testing bombs - our last nuclear test was in 1992. We have no need to test our existing weapons - our nuclear arsenal was certified as safe and reliable in February of this year. And, since we have 12,000 nuclear weapons in a state of readiness — enough nuclear force to destroy the earth many times over (and there is no foreseeable need for America to destroy other planets) — we have no need to develop new weapons. The Cold War is over. This is peacetime.

No, it’s not.

The Department of Energy’s Stockpile Stewardship Management Program (SSMP) intends to spend $ 4.5 billion a year for the next ten years. Despite some official reports that the program’s purpose is to ensure the safety and the eventual dismantling of our current nuclear arsenal, in actuality this money will go to the development of newer and even deadlier nuclear weapons. According to Keith Easthouse, this is "enough money every year to hire 150,000 teachers, build 3,200 miles of interstate highway or give a $300 tax rebate to every welfare family in the country." Certainly it is enough to improve life in this country. Instead, it is going to be used to endanger, not defend, our lives and those of our grandchildren. We are putting our grandchildren’s lives in danger, by provoking a continued arms race, destabilizing international relations, developing weapons of mass destruction that could be used against us, and creating new nuclear facilities in our country.

One of the facilities under construction is the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The National Ignition Facility’s stated purpose, according to its own website, mentions nothing about the development of new weaponry. They claim that the facility will support U.S. nuclear nonproliferation goals and aid the safe dismantling of nuclear weapons; respond to nuclear weapon accidents, emergencies, and crises; and (for only $1.2 billion) help reduce defense costs by reducing and consolidating weapons manufacturing plants and other related facilities.

However, the facility has more to do with developing new weapons than it does with disarmament. A study conducted by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) concluded that "nuclear safety is a smokescreen behind which a permanent nuclear design establishment is to be maintained." In order to comply, for the time being, with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Department of Energy (DOE) wants to develop facilities that will allow virtual testing of existing, modified, and potentially new nuclear devices, such as the "cold fusion" bomb. This will involve the use of supercomputers more powerful than any currently in existence, as well as powerful lasers, to simulate the detonation of nuclear devices without using a nuclear chain reaction.

This work is highly speculative. All this virtual testing is likely to lead to questions that can only be answered by resuming normal testing, and exploding these new weapons to see if they work. According to a study prepared by the DOE Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, "NIF cannot proof-test any nuclear device and therefore cannot act as a replacement for full-up nuclear testing in the stockpiling of any nuclear weapons" Chillingly, on February 12, Secretary of Energy Federico Peña stated that President Clinton is prepared to withdraw from the CTBT and resume testing should it ever become necessary. Peña said: "…I want to make one thing absolutely clear. If, in the future, Secretary Cohen and I, or our successors, ever had to inform the President that we could no longer certify the safety and reliability of a nuclear weapon type with high confidence ... in that circumstance, the President would be prepared to withdraw from the treaty in order to conduct whatever testing might be required."

There is no more significant military threat than the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, we are at this point less threatened by a nuclear missile from another country than we are by a nuclear bomb in a briefcase or a van. How will our nuclear weapons defend us against terrorists - foreign or domestic - who are inside our country’s borders? In the light of Clinton’s botched attempt to neutralize a terrorist by bombing a medicine factory in Africa, I maintain that terrorism cannot be combated, only exacerbated, through the use of missiles. By investing in more advanced weapons, we will destroy any hope of multilateral disarmament, we will encourage the global spread of nuclear weaponry, and we will assist this spread by using our country’s superlative technical resources toward the development of newer and more dangerous technologies - technologies that, without the backing of our government’s funds and ability to command resources, might not otherwise even come into existence. Ever. What if the Manhattan Project had never happened? What if there were never nuclear weapons?

In a letter to President Clinton, Hans Bethe, one of the original Manhattan Project physicists, states it clearly: "Since any new types of weapons would, in time, spread to others and present a threat to us, it is logical for us not to pioneer further in this field." India almost certainly relied in many ways on American weapons research to develop their own thermonuclear device. Hundreds of Indian scientists have worked in the Los Alamos laboratories. IBM sold India an extremely powerful IBM SP2 supercomputer, which is suspected to be used for weapons development. Research into deadlier nuclear devices may lead to those devices being used against us someday.

And, even if it somehow proves possible to build reliable nuclear bombs without exploding them, and even if the existence of more powerful weapons deters their use, they are still far from environmentally safe. The National Ignition Facility’s research will involve plutonium, uranium and lithium hydride. There are also plans to develop a plutonium core ("pit") production plant at the Los Alamos labs.

It is insane to spend billions of dollars to continue an arms race which, if it is not stopped now, will not stop until there is a nuclear confrontation, so that everyone can see for themselves the pointlessness of defending our country so that our grandchildren might be born here with three heads. Why is this happening? Who profits? What American could possibly profit? What human?

Well, Intel, IBM, and Silicon Graphics/Cray profit, and, embarrassingly enough, the University of Illinois and, by extension, all of Champaign-Urbana profit. The University of Illinois has been selected as one of five American universities to participate in the Academic Strategic Alliances Program (ASAP). This means that our own "Center for Simulation of Advanced Rockets," in collaboration with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) will receive about 20 million dollars a year to pursue a part of this research. This is an honor, and will bring more prestige to our excellent and deserving university, as well as more (tax) money into the community. Quoth Chancellor Aiken: "I believe that multidisciplinary research and training partnerships embodied in the DOE Academic Strategic Alliance Program and our [Illinois'] proposed Center are critical to the development of national defense policy and preparedness, and we are excited about the prospects of working in this enterprise."

This is also a tremendous opportunity for a handful of local scientists. But it may also force some of them into a moral decision they are not ready for. It is likely, according to the DOE Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, that "the DOE expects to identify and steer recruits to the nuclear weapons laboratories who can be induced to devote a significant fraction of their professional careers to the design and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction." Training the next generation of nuclear weapons specialists is, after all, one of the SSMP’s stated goals.

Is it worth it? Do you want to have missiles aimed at you? Do you want your city to be remembered by the handful of humans who have survived the nuclear holocaust? Do you want to hang out in cafes with nuclear weapons specialists?

I say: let’s not have anything to do with it. Nuclear weapons are the worst thing that has ever happened. The only thing worse than nuclear weapons will be worse nuclear weapons.

It is time for the United States, as the world’s military leader, to become the world’s moral leader as well, and give up all research into currently nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and to work toward elimination of those we currently have. Nuclear weapons are dangerous. In the words of physicist Hans Bethe, in his letter to President Clinton: "After all, the big secret about the atomic bomb was that it COULD be done. Why should taxpayers pay to learn new such secrets -- secrets that will eventually leak even and especially if we do not plan, ourselves, to implement the secrets?"

Let’s assume a rational and forgiving demeanor, and stop the Stockpile Stewardship program before it starts.

Newspoetry at Spineless Books