"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Friday, October 30, 2009

It Takes a Village to Run a Trident Submarine.


I hope you will excuse my butchering of the old adage, "It takes a village to raise a child." It also takes a village to run the ever so complex, and deadly, Trident submarines that patrol the seven seas, deterring other nations' desire to let loose their nuclear weapons on our peaceful shores. The U.S. has, over the years, integrated women into the armed forces in ever increasing roles, and one of the last bastions of strictly manly, seagoing military careers, the submarine service, may end up opening its hatches to women.

Feminists Need Not Apply. A posting on the Halibut Hangar spoke of the Navy's top brass stating their public support for integrating women into the submarine service, and the article made the point that you don't "have to be a feminist to" live the underwater life. No mam! You can, however, be lots of other things; just read below:

"...a woman does not have to be a feminist to be a great submariner or enjoy submarines, as Donnelly [Vice Admiral, Commander, Submarine Force] implies. You can just be a brilliant female engineer; weapons officer; navigator; sonar operator; linguist; intelligence officer; radioman; computer or network specialist; electronics technician; communications technician; doctor or medical practitioner; reactor operator; electrician; machinist; missile technician; torpedoman; diver; etc."

Yes Virginia, it takes a veritable village to prepare for the unspeakable, to work aboard a silent, stealthy, machine of mass destruction, prepared to unleash the most terrible destructive force the world will hopefully never experience. And you too, Virginia, will one day be able to be part of this village of mass destruction. Perhaps you will be a weapons officer. Just think; you receive and authenticate the order to launch. Just then, the feminine imperative kicks in - you are a giver of life, not a taker. How can you insert that key, turn it, and push the launch button(s). Hmmmmm... Perhaps it's time for a philosophical conversation with the commander. "Do we really want to do this???"

Of course, that's just my dream - that women will fill all the positions relating to launching nuclear weapons around the world. And when the orders to launch come down the chain-of-command, they will all swallow their launch keys and say, "Ooops; I just don't know what got into me." It will be the women who understand that we are all part of one vast global village, and that nuclear weapons threaten the entire village, even in a limited nuclear war.

Call me naive, but wouldn't it be better if the village residents got jobs that did something constructive for the village, rather than preparing for its demise?



Monday, October 26, 2009

Point. Click. Kill.


"Point. Click. Kill." That is part of the title of a article in the online Popular Science that gives a brief look at the U.S. Air Force's "frantic" drive to keep up with its newest star, the unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone. Drones are the hottest thing to hit the skies since the Wright Brothers took their first brief flight in Kitty Hawk, and based on the frenzy of work being conducted by just about every aerospace defense company to create its own drone, they are here to stay. Everybody wants a piece of this pie, and it's huge!

Aside from the nuts and bolts of drones called Reapers and Predators, it really all comes down to seduction. We have become seduced by everything about war - the mythology, the violence, the patriotism, and don't forget the toys. Of course, when I say "we", I do not mean the innocent Afghan civilians blown to bits by the Hellfire missiles fired from drones. I refer to we the war making people of the United States, and particularly its military-industrial complex, who just can't seem to get enough of the technology of death.

This video produced for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory gives a clear picture of just how enamored the U.S. military is of everything technological. Between the lines of this carefully scripted propaganda piece is the truth - that we are prisoners of the madness of a self fulfilling prophecy created by our military-industrial complex. It is a monster not unlike the giant human-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors..."FEED MEEEEEEEE!" And we continue to feed it our tax dollars, while starving the rest of the economy. Click here to see the numbers.

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Ehrhard, an expert on drones (according to the Popular Science article) epitomized war's (and its technology's) seduction when he said, "They [drones] give you a capability that you never had, and when you couple it with a lethal system, guess what? It's magic." We have made such extraordinary strides in the technology with which we conduct war, and yet we pay no attention (beyond lip service) to the prevention of war, and most definitely not to our motives for going to war.

I wonder how we would feel if we were the ones on the receiving end, if drones were buzzing around the skies of the U.S. watching for suspicious activities, ready to let loose their missiles at the push of a button by people in trailers thousands of miles away. How would we feel not knowing whether or not our families might be blown to bits while we were at work. How different it is to be on the receiving end, eh?

Ah, the magic. Point. Click. Kill. From 7000 miles away.

No Peace in that,


Thanks to Bruce Gagnon; I found the YouTube video about the Air Force Research Laboratory posted on his blog, Organizing Notes.

P.S. - There is a full (feature) article on unmanned aerial vehicles in the September issue of Popular Science; more cheer leading for drones.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

De-Alert Dammit!!!


Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall people have been calling on the United States and Russia to ratchet down the level of alert status for their nuclear weapons, thereby decreasing the possibility of an accidental launch of nukes due to itchy trigger finger syndrome or in the midst of any number of possible international crises. For the most part, those with the power to influence and make that decision have spent their time arguing over whether having nuclear weapons ready to launch in very short order (also known as "high alert status") should be called "hair-trigger alert".

Call it what you will; we MUST get beyond the rhetoric that serves to obfuscate the subject to such a degree that we might never take this critical step to avoid the unspeakable. There is absolutely no reason for any nuclear power to have its weapons ready to launch on warning; U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) can be launched in as little as 4 minutes once the missile launch crews receive their orders, and once they are one their way there is no turning back.

President Obama initially pledged to take the nukes off high alert status. Here is what the White House Website had to say about it early on (this statement subsequently disappeared into thin air and Obama seems to have changed his tune):

“The United States and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. Barack Obama believes that we should take our nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert – something that George W. Bush promised to do when he was campaigning for president in 2000. Maintaining this Cold War stance today is unnecessary and increases the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch. As president, Obama will work with Russia to find common ground and bring significantly more weapons off hair-trigger alert.”

Now President Obama "has asked four countries to postpone a resolution at the United Nations calling for reducing the alert-level of nuclear weapons" (FAS Strategic Security Blog). What's up with that??? It seems that the President's idealism has clashed (once again) with the deeply entrenched U.S. nuclear weapons establishment. Whatever their motives, they are simply putting the U.S. and the rest of the world at greater risk, and this is unconscionable.

I have just read an informative study that goes beyond the rhetoric and provides background and practical steps the nuclear powers can take to lower the operational readiness of their nuclear weapons. An intriguing aspect of the study is its emphasis on de-alerting as not just a technical fix, but a strategic step in the discussion about deemphasizing the military role of nuclear weapons. The study looks at de-alerting from the perspectives of not only the nuclear weapons states, but also the non-nuclear weapons states. Read Reframing Nuclear De-Alert: Decreasing the Operational Readiness of U.S. and Russian Arsenals.

Then click here to send President Obama a message reminding him to keep his pledge to work with the Russians to get nuclear weapons off high alert status, hair-trigger alert, or whatever you want to call it!!! This is one of the most basic (and initial) steps the U.S. and Russia can take towards a world without nuclear weapons, and both nations must take it NOW!

And don't forget to ask everyone else to send that message to the President! The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is coming up, and this is a key issue for the NPT. The time is NOW!



Read Obama Asks UN De-Alerting Resolution to Wait at the Federation of American Scientists Strategic Security Blog (posted October 16, 2009).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 7th - A Malignant Silence


Yesterday was the anniversary of the day (October 7, 2001) the United States brought President Bush's perpetual War On Terror to Afghanistan. And once the first bomb was dropped and the first soldier set foot on Afghan soil, we were locked in, stuck in the place of no return. As Arundahti Roy said in 2001, "once America goes off to war, it can't very well return without having fought one. If it doesn't find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic and a justification of its own, and we'll lose sight of why it's being fought in the first place."

Eight years later, and while folks in Washington, D.C. consider how many more troops to send over to country about which we still understand so little, people in the U.S., by and large, go about business as usual; there is little public conversation (or action) about stopping the war. Of course, our nation is not a shambles due to the long presence of foreign invaders, and incessant military actions, including aerial bombings and missile attacks, that have destroyed environment and infrastructure, and killed and maimed countless civilians.

Much of that death and destruction has been perpetrated by (very) long distance; military personnel (and perhaps the occasional private contractor) sitting in trailers in places like Las Vegas, Nevada, operate unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones), their signals transmitted by military satellites. We are conducting war using space technology and, as Bruce Gagnon of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, "Death at a distance is still blood on our hands."

A small band of dedicated peacemakers from Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action bannered and leafleted yesterday outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Tacoma, Washington to remind others that we must Keep Space for Peace. Judging by the overall lack of enthusiasm for our message, I would guess that most people would rather not be bothered by such things as space weapons and perpetual war, as long as they are used/waged somewhere else. Nevertheless, there were some who were receptive to the message. At any rate, our spirits were high as we spread the message of peace and nonviolence to anyone willing to listen.

Join us as we call for peace - peace in space as well as peace on Earth. Check out my previous post where you can send a message to Congress asking them to call on President Obama to negotiate a new space treaty to prevent an arms race in space. Each of us can help break the silence by being another voice for peace. Speaking out for peace is the only way to cure the malignancy of silence.



Note: Photo of members of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action bannering in front of U.S. District Courthouse, Tacoma, Washington on October 7, 2009 taken by Leonard Eiger.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Keep Space for Peace!

Hey kids! Looking for a really cool job doing pretty much what you've been doing all these years - playing video games? Well, Uncle Sam wants you! After spending millions training pilots to fly really big, heavy, expensive jets and then sending them overseas, your United States government finally got smart. We realized that we could spend a whole lot less on pilot training AND even less on aircraft (both acquisition and operation). The upshot of the whole thing is that you can fly these cool remote controlled aircraft right from the comfort of your air-conditioned trailer each day, and then head home, crack open a beer and watch the latest reality show from the comfort of your own home. No more being away from home for months at a time in some hot desert; leave that to the grunts. And the best part is it doesn't even seem like work. Yes, it's just like playing those video games you are so used to.

Okay, so that's not exactly how the military recruiters are signing up the new generation of pilots to control drones (in Afghanistan) from exotic places like Creech Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. But it isn't all that far from the truth. The battlefield of the future is here today, and relies heavily on space - picture a swath of military satellites orbiting the Earth - to do everything from communications and targeting to controlling the remote controlled aircraft known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones. What is really scary about drones is we are setting the stage for fighting wars quite literally from halfway around the globe. Will this make it easier for governments (like the U.S.) to start and continue wars? If Iraq and Afghanistan are examples, then we had better watch out! This is certainly a Pandora's Box, the likes of which we have never before seen.

Space is, as Captain Kirk of Star Trek called it, the final frontier. And if the Pentagon has anything to say about it, that frontier will belong solely to the United States, lock, stock and satellites. The current U.S. National Space Policy, an extension of the policy started by President Clinton in 1996 and expanded by the Bush Administration, says that, "“In this new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not. Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.”

That pretty much sets the tone, doesn't it??? While the National Space Policy does not explicitly endorse placing weapons in space or fighting in, through or from space, the U.S. is definitely using space (via satellites) to control drones as well as locate and destroy targets. The stage is being set, and it is creating a veritable feeding frenzy among defense contractors such as General Atomics, which can't create new ideas for drones fast enough to keep up with the Pentagon's destructive desires. This is, as with everything else "defensive", a full employment policy for defense contractors.

The old notion that space would be an arena for international cooperation ( lest we forget the token International Space Station) is being quickly replaced by a new era of competition (thanks to U.S. military efforts), and it is likely to become something rivaling the Cold War should we not put on the brakes right now. The Obama administration must work to negotiate a United Nations treaty to prevent an arms race in space.

This week is the International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space. Learn more about keeping space for peace at the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. You can also learn more at Reaching Critical Will's Outer Space Page and at the PAROS Working Group.

Bruce Gagnon at the Global Network has a sample letter to Congress calling on them to urge President Obama to negotiate a new space treaty to prevent an arms race in space. Click here to find Congressional contact information. Join me in asking Congress to Keep Space for Peace.



Read the 2006 U.S. National Space Policy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More Nukes - It's the Pits!


For all the talk coming from The White House, if you want to know where the U.S. is really (and always has been) headed, just listen to the talk coming from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Of course the name alone should make us all shudder. Since when was there really any security in anything nuclear???

The NNSA is pushing ahead with its plans for "Complex Modernization", a program initiated by our previous President; you know, the one who said "nucular." The program would expand two existing nuclear bomb production facilities to essentially build new plutonium pits and other bomb parts out of enriched uranium. You may remember previous names for this plan; first there was Complex 2030, and then it was Complex Transformation. Heaven knows what they will come up with next.

Although the NNSA speaks of the plan in terms of "transforming... the complex into smaller and more efficient operations while maintaining the capabilities NNSA needs to perform its national security missions", what it really means is that NNSA wants to keep building bombs.

Los Alamos National Laboratories would be building the new plutonium pits (up to 80 per year), while the Y-12 facility in Oad Ridge, Tennessee would be engaged in enriched uranium processing. A fundamental question surrounding all this planning is how this will affect current disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. Will these pits be simply replacing "aging" pits in currently deployed warheads, or are we talking brand new weapons???

Everybody is currently waiting anxously to see whether they get the thumbs up or thumbs down regarding the go ahead for Complex Modernization. That will depend on the recommendations of the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). I suspect that the NPR will promote Complex Modernization; there seems to be strong support, primarily from the military side, for getting the biggest bang for our buck.

And therein lies the rub; just how long can those pits (even though plutonium has a very long half life, it still loses its original properties over time) sit in warheads before they will just fizzle (or at least lose a megaton or two in yield) when detonated. That very question brought the brightest minds in the U.S. weapons complex together in 2006 to determine the lifespan of plutonium pits in the U.S. arsenal. Their findings, which were peer reviewed by the JASONS, were that the plutonium in most nuclear weapons would be "reliable" for at least 100 years, and that "the majority of plutonium pits for most nuclear weapons types have minimum lifetimes of at least 85 years." Hmmmm...

The vast majority of U.S. deployed nuclear warheads are cruising the seven seas in Trident submarine launch tubes waiting patiently to unleash their hellish fury. The Trident D-5 missile was first deployed in 1990. The relatively young warheads on these missiles coupled with the fact that sea-based missiles are currently the "centerpiece" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal would counter any argument for a need to build new pits. We simply do not need them; the warheads of the U.S. premier "deterrent" force (Trident) are so new that you can almost still smell the fresh paint!

Tell President Obama that we have plenty of nuclear weapons (too many in fact), and that if we can't do away with all of them long before they reach their "use by" dates, the world will be in deep trouble. Now is the time to act decisively for disarmament and non-proliferation. And while you are at it, tell your members of Congress.

Email President Obama at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.

Find your Congressional contact info at http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.



Friday, October 2, 2009

Israel's Nukes - Mum's (still) the Word.


I barely got out that last post (in which I discussed the hypocrisy of lecturing Iran about its nuclear intentions while not even acknowledging Israel's sophisticated nuclear weapons program) and now it's official; the U.S. President, Barak Obama, just as with every President before him, "does not intend to press Israel to give international monitors access to its nuclear weapons" (source: Global Security Newswire (GSN), Friday, October 2, 2009).

The agreement or "understanding", which allegedly began with U.S. President Richard Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier in 1969, essentially says that the U.S. will look the other way so long as Israel doesn't do anything to flaunt its nuclear muscle (such as testing a weapon or having one of those big parades for which the Soviet Union was famous).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems confident that President Obama will continue the treatment of the past 40 years, and that this "understanding" will continue as official/unofficial U.S. policy (albeit very quiet policy). It would seem self-evident that international treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which the U.S. is a signatory, would supercede any such "understanding", and that the President of the United States, having sworn to uphold the Constitution, would honor such treaties.

That President Nixon entered into such an "understanding" with Golda Meier would itself have been unconstitutional (assuming he did not have the consent of Congress), considering that the Constitution prohibits the President alone to commit the United States to any agreements with other nations.

The GSN article quoted a Senate staff member as saying that "the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel's nuclear program." Aside from the fact that the President's entire non-proliferation agenda could end up in the trash can should he not deal with the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons, the President is bound by the Constitution to uphold the NPT, and therefore must deal directly and openly with Israel as a nuclear power (whether declared or undeclared).

I am calling on President Obama to uphold the Constitution and the spirit of the NPT, and asking him to publicly recognize the illegality of the 40 year-old "understanding" between Nixon and Meier. At the same time, I am thanking him for his leadership that past presidents have not demonstrated. I hope you will join me. Continuing the folly of the past 40 years will only serve to weaken global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. You can send the President an email by clicking here.



Reference: U.S. Not Seeking Disclosure of Israeli Nuclear Arsenal, Global Security Newswire, Friday, October 2, 2009

Photo: President Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meier meeting in Washington in 1973. Photo from Getty Images.