Saturday, February 11, 2017

Puget Sound’s ticking nuclear time bomb

Editor's Note: This is a guest editorial by Glen Milner, a member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. It was originally published at on January 10, 2017. 
In September of 1980, routine maintenance work on a U.S. Air Force Titan II missile near Damascus, Arkansas, became a life-and-death crisis. The trouble started when a 21-year-old airman accidentally dropped a socket from his wrench, which then fell 70 feet and pierced the missile’s side, releasing a rush of explosive fuel.
The W53 warhead on the Titan II missile at Damascus was the most powerful weapon in the U.S. arsenal at the time and was equal to three times the firepower of all the bombs used in World War II, including the two atomic bombs. The initial explosion catapulted the 740-ton silo door away from the missile silo and ejected the second stage and the nuclear warhead. Once clear of the silo, the second stage exploded. The warhead safety devices performed as designed and it did not explode.

This scene, which is described in horrifying detail in Eric Schlosser’s 2014 book, “Command and Control,” is now the centerpiece of a PBS American Experience documentary of the same name. The film aired on on KCTS 9 public television (Crosscut’s sister organization) January 10. If you missed it, you can stream it, and find bonus videos and articles, on the PBS website here.  
Command and Control” shows what can happen when the weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us, and it speaks directly to Puget Sound citizens: Locally, we face a similar threat in Hood Canal with the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
An accident at Bangor involving nuclear weapons occurred in November 2003when a ladder penetrated a nuclear nose cone during a routine missile offloading at the Explosives Handling Wharf. All missile-handling operations at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) were stopped for nine weeks until Bangor could be recertified for handling nuclear weapons. Three top commanders were fired but the public was never informed until information was leaked to the media in March 2004.
The Navy never publicly admitted that the 2003 accident occurred. The Navy failed to report the accident at the time to county or state authorities. Public responses from governmental officials were generally in the form of surprise and disappointment.
A major danger at Bangor is the possibility of an accident involving Trident rocket motor propellant while loading and unloading the nuclear-equipped D-5missiles at the Explosives Handling Wharf. Trident propellant is more volatile than TNT and is capable of detonating upon impact. Propellant in one missile has the explosive force equal to 155,000 pounds of TNT. An accident at the Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor could result in an explosion equal to 3.7 million pounds of TNT involving up to 24 D-5 missiles on one SSBN submarine.

The result of such an explosion likely would not cause a nuclear detonation. Instead, plutonium from the approximately 108 nuclear warheads on one submarine could be spread by the wind.
There is no weapons system in the U.S. arsenal with the operational risks of a Trident submarine. Consider the nuclear reactor on each submarine; the complexity of 25,000 parts in just one D-5 missile; and routine loading operations for explosive missiles and warheads on the Hood Canal waterfront.
Robert Kenner, director of “Command and Control,” states, “Opinions range widely on whether we should have nuclear weapons, but while we have them we can all agree that safety should be paramount. Given how devastating the consequences of an accident could be, we must strive for the lowest possible probability.
“After an accident, everyone will be asking why we didn’t do something,” he adds. “We need to be asking these questions before it’s too late.”
Watching the documentary may help viewers decide whether nuclear weapons are worth the risk.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Leonard Eiger talks about nuclear weapons on Speak Up, Speak Out!

NO To NEW TRIDENT Campaign Coordinator Leonard Eiger was recently interviewed by Ginny Wolff on Speak Up, Speak Out! on KSVR – FM about the work of Ground Zero Center for Non-Violent Action since 1977 to protest the Trident submarines (and their nuclear weapons) based at the Bangor Naval Base in Silverdale, Washington.

They discussed the history of Ground Zero, the bigger picture of U.S. foreign policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons, ongoing international tension, and the agreement between Congress and the Obama administration to spend a trillion dollars over 30 years to rebuild the entire U.S. arsenal of nuclear weapons.

You can also click here to listen to this Speak Up, Speak Out! interview.
The interview ends with a simple message listeners can deliver to President Obama. After listening, you can click here to send your message to the President. You can find more important action alerts by clicking here.
Thanks to KSVR and Speak Up, Speak Out! for covering important issues you won’t hear in the mainstream/corporate media.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

From Trinity to Trident: Moving Back from the Brink

On July 16, 1945 the first experimental atomic bomb was exploded at the site known as Trinity at Alamogordo, New Mexico in the desert called Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) . It marked the beginning of a journey toward what could someday be the ultimate manifestation of death.

The rest is history (and some of it particularly horrific history); and that history is still being written each day as many nations (led by the model of the United States) continue to rely on nuclear weapons while others seek to develop them. Then there are those nations (most of the non-nuclear weapons nations) that are rightly calling for an end to this madness.

The United Sates should be leading the world toward disarmament and abolition, but instead we continue to utilize the archaic and flawed rhetoric of "strategic nuclear deterrence" and "national security," and have found a host of new enemies since losing the original justifications for our Cold War enemy the Soviet Union. That being said, we are, in fact, re-igniting that Cold War relationship (now with Russia) so many years later. As a result we are re-building the infrastructure that made Trinity - and over the years tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and the systems designed to deliver them to their targets - possible.

Billions have been, and continue to be, spent on the US nuclear weapons complex. These huge investments represent, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the resources necessary to "to transform a Cold War nuclear weapons complex into a 21st Century nuclear security enterprise." There seems to be no end in sight!

The government is in the early stages of planning for a new nuclear-capable bomber, and proponents of the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) cruise missile are pushing hard to get it approved by Congress. The Air Force is pushing ahead for funding of a new generation of land-based (Intercontinental Ballistic) missiles, as evidenced by the White House's fiscal year 2017 (FY 2017) budget request.

Then there is Trident (the Ohio class submarines), what the U.S. Navy calls “the nation’s most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability.” Not only is Trident "survivable and enduring," but it is a significant weapon system of mass destruction and ironically, should Trident ever fire its Trident missiles in anything other than one of the many tests conducted by the Navy, the conflagration that follows will threaten the very survival of humanity.

With 24 Trident missiles, each missile carrying up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, and each warhead having an explosive yield of as much as 475 kilotons, just one Trident submarine is capable of incinerating much of any continent and rendering the land uninhabitable for anyone unfortunate to survive the initial blast, heat and radiation effects. The U.S. has 14 Trident subs outfitted for the Trident II D5 missile. Research has concluded that even a small scale, regional nuclear war would result in a nuclear famine of massive proportions.

Advocates of US nuclear modernization point to Russia's and China's modernization efforts to justify the need for new and improved US nuclear weapon systems. In reality, the US has led Russia and China into what is rapidly becoming a new nuclear arms race. As for ballistic missile submarines, the Russian program languished for years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and. Since then the US has added a newer and more capable missile (the Trident II D5), introduced an improved version of the W76 (100 kiloton) warhead, and increased Trident's presence in the Pacific (roughly 60 percent of all Trident patrols are in the Pacific).

With the US currently well into the research and development phase of planning for a new generation of ballistic missile submarines, the SSBN(X), it should be no wonder that Russia is responding. Although Russia stopped building new SSBNs at the end of the Cold War, it has been catching up (slowly) and is currently working to achieve parity, and has been building a new SSBN class (Borei) that has been deploying to the Pacific.   As Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists states it, "Russia is following the examples of the United States and China, both of which have significantly modernized their SSBN forces operating in the Pacific region over the past decade and a half."

All of this, 71 years after the sun rose twice over the New Mexico desert, is moving humanity closer, once again, toward the brink. Rather than lead the way toward a nuclear weapons-free world, President Obama has been leading what will become (should subsequent presidents continue to fund it) "the biggest U.S. buildup of nuclear arms since Ronald Reagan left the White House." Although word is out in just the past week that President Obama may take steps in his final days in The White House to implement nuclear policy changes, this still remains to be seen.

President Obama should take a number of immediate and practical steps to reduce the risk of either accidental or intentional nuclear war.  Beyond that, he should should heed the lessons to be learned from the relationship developed between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (that likely brought the Cuban Missile Crisis to a peaceful resolution) and begin a conversation with President Putin to not only ease tensions, but to begin a meaningful path toward mutual security and disarmament.

It is no understatement to say that the fate of humanity rests in the hands of the nuclear-armed nations, particularly the US and Russia. Should the Presidents of the two largest nuclear-armed begin to show the other nations a path toward abolition, we can begin to move further back from the brink. And then we can begin to have the serious conversation about scrapping Trident (and all nuclear weapons) and ensuring that the sun will never again rise twice some day.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Shoot First, Don't Ask Questions!

Editor's Note:    Here is a wonderful Earth Day perspective on nuclear weapons, with a focus on Trident, written by Linda Pentz Gunter.  As Linda says, "Threatening to fire off nuclear missiles to deter a nuclear attack is about as psychopathic as you can get." What might be even more psychopathic is that Trident is not only a second-strike weapon system, but also (by its very design) a first-strike weapon system as well.

Linda is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear. "Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear (from the Beyond Nuclear website)."


Thought for Earth Day: whether it's badgers or Trident missiles, shooting solves nothing

Why do we humans resort to shooting, whenever a challenging problem confronts us? Whether it's culling badgers to protect hedgehogs, or renewing the Trident missile threat with expensive upgrades, our species seems determined to upset the balance of nature and harmony on Earth by shooting first - and never asking the questions at all.

Threatening to fire off nuclear missiles to deter a nuclear attack is plain psychopathic. Shooting badgers to preserve hedgehogs is just poor science. But either way, if we really want to 'protect and survive', we need to stop all the shooting.

I was recently reminded that hedgehogs climb trees. They do this, apparently, to take naps in presumably vacant birds' nests.

Having been raised on a steady diet of hedgehogs as milkmen (Little Grey Rabbit) or laundresses (Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle,) this tidbit had escaped my memory. I found it when revisiting an old book from childhood: Oddities of Animal Life.

Badgers, meanwhile, are early pioneers of OCD, so obsessive are they about hygiene.

They change their bedding so often, piling the old material outside the set that, according to Oddities, "by the end of the summer, so much old bedding has been turned out that the pile outside the front door will have grown into a huge mound." But they also like to eat hedgehogs.

So Fuzzypeg must be pitted against Brock. Badgers, those connoisseurs of cleanliness, have already been punished as the filthy purveyors of disease in cattle. With hedgehog numbers dwindling, the urchin gourmands must pay again with their lives. The solution to saving hedgehogs is to shoot badgers.

None of this is particularly surprising. For while Nature seems to stay in balance quite nicely thank you - allowing badgers their fair share of hedgehogs to no ill effect - it is disrupted only when humans interfere. And the human answer, from time immemorial, to any problem you can't solve is to shoot it.

When 'controlling' the sick will mean shooting them

In 1980, an article was published in The Guardian, written by Dr. John Gleisner, a founder of the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. The headline read ominously: "When 'controlling' the sick will mean shooting them."

Gleisner had attended a civil defence glee fest about the 'survivability' of nuclear war, held at Imperial College. There, Gleisner reported, the audience of medical professionals was told that the banned BBC film, The War Game, was "a nonsense which we should get out of our minds."

But then things got sinister. There was, Gleisner wrote, an "underlying theme which stressed the need for pretraining in order to get 'hardened.'" Obviously there would be many sick and injured people after a nuclear attack whom the diminished numbers of medical personnel would not be able to treat. They would need to toughen up.

"Home OffIce speakers made it clear that these people will be 'controlled,' and that training programmes in 'local control' are to be stepped up", Gleisner wrote. "They did not enlarge on 'control', but, like looters, it seems that they must be shot."

Gleisner, a psychiatrist, was well positioned to recognize madness

Gleisner, a psychiatrist from Manchester, was well positioned to recognize madness when he saw it. And the Civil Defence program in Britain was most certainly mad, with the Home Office's infamous booklet, Protect and Survive, its ultimate insanity.

Civil Defence briefings to county councillors included such insights as: "Animals which had died from radiation poisoning would be edible if they were bled first." For desperate survivors of a nuclear holocaust, this presumably would have included badgers and hedgehogs.

Cruise Missiles were even madder, taking the concept of shooting' to its ultimate obscenity. It was Gleisner again, along with his wife who, in 1980, mortgaged their house to fund the booking of a train from Manchester to London to bring people to the first big demonstration against Cruise missiles.

Shooting off Cruise Missiles naturally led to more shooting - the shooting down of nuclear missiles. Or at least the belief that we could shoot down - or intercept - nuclear weapons headed our way.

Obama talks proliferation prevention while his Navy orders new Trident subs

This nuclear ping pong was made popular by US President Reagan and his silly Star Wars program, more properly known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. It still goes on today, largely between US based submarines and Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the site of 67 US atomic tests during the Cold War.

The Kwajalein base is appropriately named the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Site. (Ironically, Kwajalein is now home to the atomic refugees from Bikini and Rongelap atolls.)

Which brings us to Trident. As recently as last November, the US fired two consecutive unarmed Trident II (D5) missiles at Kwajalein. A military spokesperson told the LA Times that Trident II "is a centerpiece of the US military's ability to deter a nuclear attack, and an ongoing effort to modernize the weapon is a top priority."

And yet just this month, we have President Obama, at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, restating his conviction that "the entire premise of American foreign policy as it relates to nuclear weapons for the last 70 years has been focused on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons." Except, perhaps, in the United States.

The US Navy is planning to replace its Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, and is seeking $773.1 million in advance procurement funding and $1,091.1 million in research and development funding for that purpose. This would pay for 14 new submarines, each of which would carry 24 Trident II missiles, according to a report prepared for Congress by the Congressional Research Service.

Each of those Trident missiles would in turn carry eight warheads with yields as high as 36 Hiroshima bombs. The US Navy considers these nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to represent "a survivable system for carrying out a retaliatory nuclear attack", the CRS report noted.

And so the insanity continues: this idea that we can fight, win and survive a nuclear war. As Gleisner wrote, in such an environment, "'survival of the fittest' becomes 'survival of the most psychopathic.'"

Threatening to fire off nuclear missiles to deter a nuclear attack is about as psychopathic as you can get. Shooting badgers to preserve hedgehogs is just poor science. But either way, if we really want to 'protect and survive', we need to stop all the shooting.

Only then, when we agree there is room for us all, can we start to restore true balance and harmony on Planet Earth.

This opinion piece originally appeared in The Ecologist:

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trident is Vulnerable*

*Editor's Note: Paul Ingram, Executive Director, British American Security Information Council (BASIC), wrote this article about potential threats to the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system. The questions and concerns raised by Ingram also apply to the US OHIO Class (Trident) nuclear weapons system, and we should be paying close attention to the reports and briefings being issued by BASIC.


A debate is now raging over BASIC's exposure of the threat emerging technologies present to the future viability of Trident submarines. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) states they do not believe it is a problem, and that even if it were submarines would still be the best, most stealthy platform for nuclear missiles. The confidence implied in the MoD's public line is unjustified, and must surely cover up a deep concern held by strategists for the future viability of its most expensive weapon system. For if submarines are easily detectable, then they are the very last place the UK should choose to put its nuclear deterrent.

In response to BASIC's questions over the future viability of a nuclear deterrent based upon Trident submarines, MoD's latest factsheet (published 26 February) states:
We believe it is unlikely there will be any radical technological breakthrough which might diminish the current advantages of the submarine over potential anti-submarine systems. In any event, we judge that a submarine will remain by far the least vulnerable of all the platform options.
In a Parliamentary Answer on 7 March, Philip Dunne assures the House, 'We are confident that our submarine fleet remains safe and secure,' after explaining that MoD tracks these technologies.

To state that there is no problem is heroic, in the face of the evidence. Echoing what former Defence Secretary Des Browne has said, the principal justification for renewing the Trident system is the future uncertainty of the strategic environment, yet we are being asked to believe there is a strong certainty that our systems will not be transparent and vulnerable throughout its operational life, up to half a century from now.

BASIC's latest briefing last week by David Hambling, illustrates how developing sensors operating with extraordinary computing capabilities, based upon a large number of relatively cheap drones operating in a massive network could take away the stealth of submarines before the Successor class launches in 20 years' time. It is often claimed that it is as difficult to find a submarine in the sea as it is a needle in a haystack. Both are achievable with the right equipment. A needle can be extracted with a very powerful magnet.

The ocean is, of course, massive, but efforts to detect submarines have until now depended upon a small number of sensors based upon large platforms (aircraft, frigates, hunter-killer submarines) patrolling over huge distances. We stand on the advent of a new era where more effective and far smaller sensors can be based on a very large number of automated platforms in or over the sea in constant real-time communication with each other.

Contrary to the image invoked by MoD, we are not talking about some unpredictable, surprise breakthrough. The development of drone technology has accelerated in recent years, so that drones exist today that can travel for many months without refuelling, that can hunt submarines under the surface using a variety of sensors at some range (thousands of metres), and that can communicate with each other. They cannot and will not for the foreseeable future travel at the speed of a nuclear submarine, but that is unnecessary as these drones operate as a pack. The technology needs to mature. The cost needs to come down somewhat. But both these are foreseeable in the next two decades.

Some have responded that in these games of cat and mouse, submarine contractors will simply improve their countermeasures or tactics. But this underestimates the nature of the impact from these developments that effectively bring a hitherto inconceivable level of transparency to the oceans in a relatively short time. Submarines inevitably leave a variety of signatures, and cannot be covered up with the addition of more efficient acoustic tiles, or even some theoretical acoustic cloaking device.

The consequence of this to the manned submarine is far bigger than implied in the second sentence of the MoD factsheet, claiming that even with ocean transparency, submarines would remain the least vulnerable platforms. The submarine's advantage over other platforms is its stealth and the fact that it moves. Take away its stealth and its vulnerabilities become very significant - indeed, the submarine becomes one of the most vulnerable of all options.

Submarines are generally slower than surface ships, and once located and tracked, they are highly vulnerable to attack by missiles capable of hitting targets underwater, or the fast-moving air-launched drone torpedoes under development. An adversary could track the submarine throughout its patrol and hold it at risk, and take it out at the most convenient or critical moment. The UK nuclear posture is based upon a single submarine on patrol, though one can assume that there would be two out in times of crisis. If an adversary were capable of holding those British patrolling submarines at risk, there would be a major incentive to take them out pre-emptively, before the submarine commander would consider launching its nuclear-tipped missiles. In this environment, submarine-based missiles lose their critical stabilising second-strike ability, and contribute to deeply dangerous crisis instability in a similar manner to land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that need to be launched on warning in a use-them-or-lose-them posture. Perhaps it's worse...

Attacking ICBMs or aircraft based on the homeland currently involves massive missile or aircraft strikes, involving explicit attacks on the target country that would invite a proportional response on the state perpetrating the attack. An attack on a submarine in international waters would neutralise it and kill a hundred combatants: an act of war, but would it merit a disproportionate nuclear response against cities? In any case the UK would require an ally to launch such a nuclear response on its behalf because its own capability would be lost, unless there were a second submarine on patrol. A second submarine could be held at risk in the same manner as the first.

What about alternatives? Of course they all have their drawbacks. Surface ships are just as vulnerable as submarines. Land-based ballistic missiles have no stealth at all and also require a launch-on-warning posture in crisis situations. Aircraft are also vulnerable to first strikes and need to be rapidly scrambled into the air if there is a warning of in-coming missiles. They can also be shot down en route to their targets. But where these systems have significant advantage over submarines is in the possibility of spreading the assets over several sites, requiring multiple hits. If the systems are dual-capable there is greater chance of investing in sufficient numbers of aircraft and deploying them in a coordinated attack that nuclear deterrence would be achieved at far lower cost. Or it may be time to consider leaving the nuclear game, acknowledging that Britain does need an independent capability, and instead invest in other capabilities that genuinely contribute to European stability.

Until recently opinions on the debate over Trident renewal was largely determined by security, moral, diplomatic or economic concerns. The viability of the systems involved was taken for granted. But this is no longer a responsible response to the emerging evidence that submarines may not only be the most expensive and sophisticated platforms for nuclear delivery systems, they may become the most vulnerable. Reassurances without evidence from institutions or politicians heavily committed to the renewal project hold little credibility in the face of clear and emerging technologies that could not only undermine the advantage of the submarine, but leave us with an expensive and destabilising system. We need to reopen the Trident Alternatives Review and do a better job this time.

End Note: This article first appeared on the Huffington Post website on 9 March 2016:, and can also be found at BASIC's website.

Paul Ingram, Executive Director of the British American Security Information Council has been with BASIC since 2002 and been executive director since 2007. Paul has authored a number of BASIC's reports and briefings covering a variety of nuclear and non-nuclear issues.

Click here to read the most recent BASIC Parliamentary Briefing document: A Primer on Trident’s Cyber Vulnerabilities, by Aleem Datoo & Paul Ingram

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Three minutes to midnight no time to rebuild Trident missiles (Op-Ed)

Editor’s Note: Dr. David Hall is a longtime, active member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action. Ground Zero has resisted the Trident nuclear weapon system for near 40 years. Hall has been a constant voice for abolishing Trident over the years, and continues to speak out against the government’s plans to build a new generation of ballistic missile submarines to replace the current Trident fleet. This guest commentary was first published in Saturday's Everett Herald newspaper.


Three minutes to midnight no time to rebuild Trident missiles

Guest commentary in The Herald of Everett, Washington, January 30, 2016, By David C. Hall

A year ago the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock to 3 minutes to midnight, responding to “entirely insufficient” global efforts to check nuclear weaponry and global warming or to address the risks inherent to both. “Midnight” means the end of 2.4 million years of human civilization. This week the organization kept the clock at 3 minutes to midnight, sending “an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world's attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.”

I am a psychiatrist who has served severely stressed children and families for decades while haunted by what I learned as an intern about the horrors of atomic bombs on Japan. Everything I work for and my father, uncles and grandfathers served for in the World Wars goes for nothing if we ever allow nuclear weapons to be used again. This is especially true now that these weapons are seven to 30 times more powerful, nuclear nations keep their launchers on hair-trigger alert, and the climatological threshold for nuclear famine is in the hundreds of nuclear weapons.
Dr. David Hall

There are still 15,000 weapons in nine arsenals. Global warming left unchecked will desicate some of us and drown others, making millions of refugees. Nuclear war could incinerate millions in a flash and starve out billions by blocking out the sun. The scientists with BAS are asking us to squarely face these potentialities.

Current modernization plans for U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons come at a time when Russia is economically strapped while facing pressure on its western border, like the pressures America faced during the Cuban Missile Crisis with Soviet nuclear weapons 90 miles away.

Planned for 2020 are twenty U.S. B61-12 nuclear dial-a-bombs ( delivering 0.3 to 340 kilotons of destruction) for deployment on German fighter bombers, and Russian nuclear-armed drone submarines capable of traveling 6,200 miles underwater to evade U.S. missile defenses.

Most troubling to me locally is “modernization” (rebuilding) of the Trident nuclear submarine fleet that is based on Hood Canal. What's missing in the current conversation? Each Trident warship is designed with the capacity to end civilized life on Earth. Each of the 12 new Tridents now planned for replacing the current fleet will be built to launch within minutes on presidential command 128 hydrogen bombs carried in packs of eight on 16 missiles with a 7,000 mile-range and pinpoint accuracy.

The W-76 warhead is built to explode with 100,000 tons of dynamite equivalent (100 kilotons); the W-88 warhead, 455,000 tons (455 kilotons). The Hiroshima atomic bomb that killed outright about 100,000 human beings exploded with about 12 kilotons. That was an ugly time that we as a human community have fortunately managed to grow beyond. We no longer have Hitler, Hirohito, Stalin or Mao Tse-tung. Germany, Japan, Russia and China are vastly different countries. Germany and Japan are allies. Russia fought al Qaida with us in Afghanistan and is fighting ISIS. China is a major tradingpartner.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, holds a key vote on rebuilding Trident and has yet to speak out. He's hearing “deterrence” from military contractors and military advisers who fail to tally U.S. provocations, but reap contracts returning 1,000 to 1 on their political investments.

Our adversaries see us with ever expanding conventional and nuclear military capabilities. Nuclear weapons help them, not us, level the military playing field. America is fueling a new nuclear arms race. Trident warships are first-strike weapons of mass murder. Horrible idea, immoral jobs. We can (and must) do better. Mr. Larsen?

David C. Hall, M.D., lives on Lopez Island and works in Anacortes. Past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, he currently leads the state chapter's nuclear abolition task force.

Source URL (originally published in The Everett Herald):

Friday, November 13, 2015

Trident: The Harsh Reality Beyond the Bright Lights in the Skies

If you live on the west coast of North America, stretching from Northern California to Mexico, you might have seen a wild light show on November 7th and November 9th. If you did, have no fear and definitely do not listen to any conspiracy theorists; there were no aliens involved. It was just two separate test launches of the Trident II D5 submarine launched ballistic missile.

But really; these are significant events! The US Navy launched the two test flights from the OHIO-Class "Trident" ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) USS Kentucky, which was submerged off of Point Mugu, Southern California. The missile traveled from its launch site to the US Ballistic Missile Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands where it very likely plashed down in the precise location intended; it has been said that the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles carried on the D5 missile can hit a target the size of a baseball diamond with extraordinary accuracy.

One of the two Trident missile test launches earlier this month (photo: US Navy)
The Kentucky finished its mid-life overhaul and nuclear refueling in April 2015, and as part of its subsequent shakedown before being pressed back into service its crew conducted the test launches to ensure the proper functioning of its missile launch systems as well as the reliability of the Trident missile itself. The Kentucky is based at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the Navy's West Coast home port for eight of the nation's fourteen Trident submarines.

Just one of these Trident submarines, each carrying up to 24 missiles, each missile currently carrying an estimated four warheads on independently targetable reentry vehicles, is capable of incinerating an entire large continent.

A mammoth Trident ballistic missile submarine on patrol
These two test launches marked the 156th and 157th successful test launches since the missile's initial deployment in 1990. The missiles are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Sunnyvale, California.

It is clear that, as Popular Mechanics stated it, the US is definitely "flexing its nuclear muscles" in a clear message to Russia that we've still got the nukes, and we're ready to use them. And Trident is king when it comes to US nukes; currently accounting for roughly 70% of deployed nuclear weapons in the US arsenal.

The Navy most likely timed the two Trident test launches with the intention of creating a public spectacle in order to ensure maximum visibility to other nations, particularly Russia. Ironically, the Russians have been keeping tabs on Trident (and other US nuclear weapon systems for some time since the fall of the Berlin Wall).

Had the US decreased reliance on Trident, a relic of the Cold War standoff between the US and then Soviet Union, following the end of the Cold War, things might now look much different on the global nuclear front. China has been building up a ballistic missile submarine fleet and the associated weapons. And of course, Russia has started building new SSBNs and is upgrading older SSBNs, and is developing a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (the Bulava).

A new Cold War is rapidly growing and heating up. Both the US and Russia have been throwing salvos of nuclear rhetoric at each other, and at this rate it might not be long before it starts looking much like it did back in the day when the two superpowers were locked in the deadly game of Mutually Assured Destruction. Dark days indeed!

The irony of all this is that we were handed an extraordinary "peace dividend" with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Had the US ramped back its nuclear weapons deployments back then, taking both land-based missiles and the Trident submarines off alert status, it would have sent a clear message that there was no need to threaten each other with extinction anymore.

Yet, in the case of Trident, the US had invested in a new missile, the Trident II D5, which was first deployed in 1990, just prior to the end of the Cold War. Neither the Navy nor Lockheed Martin were keen to mothball the new missiles or the crown jewel of the nation's nuclear triad (the Trident submarine). So Trident quietly continued to deploy, running silent and deep, essentially unnoticed here at home (although not by the Russians nor other nations).

And now the US Navy is hard at work, along with its partners in the shipbuilding sector, to develop a successor to the OHIO-Class (New Trident), scheduled to begin construction in 2021 and begin entering service in 2031.

The principal rationale given for the new submarines is the need to maintain the nation's "strategic nuclear deterrent." The principal irony of all this is that nuclear deterrence has failed a number of times (e.g. Cuban Missile Crisis), and it has only been by the miracle of human intervention that the world was saved from what would have certainly been the end of civilization (as we know it).

While "experts" have argued for the strategic deterrence doctrine during the strange days of the Cold War, we now live in an even stranger new world in which we have very unstable non-state actors (that might acquire a nuclear weapon) as well as states that quite possibly do not stand the test of "stability" required for deterrence to work.

Add to that the fact the probability that  leaders of stable nation states might act irrationally under times of great duress, and the argument for deterrence crumbles. Deterrence must be 100% infallible in order to be relied upon, and that is absolutely impossible in the real world. One failure could literally bring about the deaths of billions of people.

Trident was designed at the height of the Cold War, with at least one specific purpose - to present a guaranteed second strike capability (the ability to respond to a nuclear attack) to hold the Soviet Union at bay. The design of the Trident missile also presented an unstated purpose - to present a first strike (preemptive surprise attack) capability as well. Trident was only designed to hold the Soviet Union hostage to the inevitability of Mutually Assured Destruction, in which both nations would have waged full-scale nuclear war, obliterating each other's nations, murdering each other's populations, and resulting in "nuclear darkness," which would have resulted in the subsequent deaths by starvation of much of the rest of the world's population.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has recently been fanning the flames by accusing "Russia of endangering world order, citing its incursions in Ukraine and loose talk about nuclear weapons." In the article in The Economic Times Carter was also quoted as saying that, "Most disturbing, Moscow's nuclear saber-rattling raises questions about Russian leaders' commitment to strategic stability, their respect for norms against the use of nuclear weapons, and whether they respect the profound caution nuclear-age leaders showed with regard to the brandishing of nuclear weapons." Carter also referred to China in his remarks, but saved the strong stuff for Russia.

Ash Carter; Lecturing the world, while missing the "plank in our own eye."
The Economic Times nailed it with this statement: "The backdrop to Carter's remarks is the reality that after more than two decades of dominating great-power relations, the United States is seeing Russia reassert itself and China expand its military influence beyond its own shores." Therein lies the rub; The Cold War never really ended for the US. We have, ever since the fall of the Wall, had only one purpose - to maintain global hegemony through our military power.

I guess the lessons of parenthood have been lost on our nation's "leaders" (and the Military-Industrial Complex that controls them) - we can have influence on others, yet we cannot control them (in the long run at least). And yet we continue to try to exert control through our military, and nuclear weapons are the ultimate form of control by the threat of their use. It is coming back to haunt us.

The quest for nuclear weapons, and particularly Trident, has been (as one of my colleagues has called it) a Faustian bargain. Indeed, it is a deal with the Devil, and one where we cannot come out ahead. Scrapping Trident must be at the forefront of any efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, and reducing deployments and taking its weapons off alert status would be a major first step in showing good faith (while not unilaterally giving up anything of substance).

Will we, before it is too late, see the folly of our ways, realizing that it is futile to continue trying to maintain an empire the likes of which even the British never could have imagined? Will we come to see the futility of holding on to the fantasy of nuclear deterrence? Will we come to grips with the fact that nuclear weapons offer no security, and will most certainly (as any expert in probability and statistics will gladly explain) lead to either accidental or intentional nuclear war, with horrific consequences to humankind?

If only President Obama would find the convictions he left behind in Prague and sit down with President Putin to begin the necessary dialogue to begin the process of ramping back tensions between our two nations and begin the most important process of leading the world toward disarmament. Would that not be the legacy for which future generations would honor him?