Are Obama's disarmament initiatives just a cover for the nuclear-industrial complex?

Looking gift horsemen in the mouth.

THE DEPROLIFERATOR — Many of us hoped for more from the Nuclear Posture Review (of government policy on nuclear weapons) — such as that it stand up like a man instead of continue to work from the crouch. Still, as with the new START treaty, it may not be transformational, but it is transitional. As Jeffrey Lewis, these days one of the media’s automatic go-to guys (and deservedly) when it comes to nuclear weapons, writes about the details, “none of that will matter a year from now. I suspect we will look back at this period — the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, the signing of the Prague Treaty, the Nuclear Security Summit and the NPT Review conference — and say that this was a pivot point, the moment when we began talking about nuclear weapons on terms that are different from those of the Cold War.”

But just because we’re talking about nukes in terms different from those of the Cold War doesn’t mean that there aren’t many of us who aren’t on good terms with the new NPR. Let’s begin by reviewing one of the circumstances that helped pave the way for President Obama to negotiate the new START, revise the NPR, and arouse hopes for an international security meeting this month and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that has just begun.

We’re speaking about the celebrated series of Wall Street Journal op-eds written by the “Four Horsemen.” (Yeah, I know — kind of silly when groups of four people are reflexively termed “horsemen” or “gang of.” Still, the of-the-Apocalypse implication comes at the expense of the reputations of at least three of them.) They, of course, were Henry Kissinger; another former secretary of state, George Schultz; a secretary of defense, William Perry; and long-time senator and chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, Sam Nunn. Their first op-ed, which appeared in January of 2007, with its call for the gradual abolition of nuclear weapons, caught many by surprise. Heck, they were even willing to eventually throw the baby — deterrence — out with the bathwater. Disarmament, they claimed, was “consistent with America’s moral heritage.”

The aging equestrians renewed their call in January of 2008 when they presented a soon to be oft-quoted analogy: “In some respects, the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is like the top of a very tall mountain. … We must chart a course to higher ground where the mountaintop becomes more visible.”

But as Darwin Bondgraham, Nicholas Robinson, and Will Parrish wrote of the four horsemen in a blockbuster article for Z Magazine in 2009:

The novelty of such a hawkish [aside from Nunn, noted for his co-authorship of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program — ­­RW] and bipartisan coalition. . . promoting the goal of nuclear disarmament, has curiously been spared critical reflection by long-time anti-nuclear activists. Indeed, many of the more established arms control, disarmament, and peace organizations. . . have fallen over themselves with eagerness to cite the WSJ essay and the supposedly new political terrain it maps out.

Indeed, the third 4-H op-ed, “How to Protect Our Nuclear Deterrent,” published after the Z piece, finally gave the disarmament community pause. Shortly afterwards, the same trio wrote of the Four Horsemen that they:

. . . have gone so far as to call for a surge in nuclear weapons spending at the national laboratories. The Four Horsemen endorse the view of a recent Congressional committee on nuclear weapons policy. . . which concluded that “investments are urgently needed. . . in the laboratories’ budgets for the science, technology, and engineering programs that support and underwrite the nation’s nuclear deterrent.”

In fact, they maintain:

With their direct links to the corporations that manage the weapons labs. . . the Four Horsemen are the chief negotiators working through public forums to limit the extent of arms control treaties and extract the biggest pro-nuclear lab concessions. [The] technocratic corps of [the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories] have long been known as powerful bulwarks against international treaties that limit nuclear arms development.

Or, as Jonathan Schell, less than thrilled by the new START, wrote in the Nation: “If this trend continues, it is entirely possible that the ultimate mockery will occur: nuclear arsenals will march forward into the future under a banner that reads Ban the Bomb.”

Kindly Keep Your Thoughts About Conspiracy Theories to Yourself

Meanwhile, what about those “direct links to the corporations that manage the weapons labs”?

Rather than allowing a neat policy process carried out at the executive level to determine the future of the nuclear weapons complex, forces with financial. . . stakes in nuclear weaponry, working through think tanks like [the Hoover Institute], or corporate entities like Bechtel and the University of California, are actively attempting to lock in a de-facto set of policies by building a new research, design, and production infrastructure that will ensure nuclear weapons are a centerpiece of the US military empire far into the future.

The crux of their argument:

Their ability to accomplish this is dependent on [in part] the illusion, strongly held among arms controllers. . . that the future will ultimately be shaped by what the Nuclear Posture Review says, and whether. . . nonproliferation treaties result in reducing arsenal counts.

In other words, we’re watching the wrong hand in the shell game — the political instead of the economic. What’s with the Hoover Institution, the University of California, and Bechtel then? In their their first article, the authors write:

For roughly four decades, this influential right-wing think tank has enjoyed a little-known, but fateful. . . affiliation with. . . . the University of California [which] has managed the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons laboratories since their inceptions in the mid-20th century. … In 2003 [after, among other things] a series of revelations concerning security violations and managerial corruption at the labs. . . the U.S. Department of Energy. . . put the lucrative management contracts up for bid. … In response, the UC formed a limited liability corporation (LLC) with the Bechtel Corporation [and later] Lawrence Livermore.

Hoover’s Board of Trustees includes current Bechtel CEO Riley Bechtel and aforementioned horse-person William Perry is a senior fellow at Hoover. George Schultz, president of Bechtel for eight years before he became secretary of state, is now a senior fellow at Hoover.

In their second article, the authors quote a retired Livermore physicist to the effect that “the new ‘nuclear weapons-zero’ evangelism at the Hoover Institution is another in a long line of carefully crafted excuses to keep open the pipeline from the U.S. Treasury to the nuclear weapons intelligentsia subsidy, and particularly its California contingent.”

The Strategic Defense Initiative, itself hatched at Hoover, was an early attempt at what the authors call “anti-nuclear nuclearism” designed to, “disempower the movement for nuclear abolition by seizing the moral high ground from under them, while simultaneously providing huge long-term flows of funding to Los Alamos and Livermore Labs. … These practical agendas are more or less obscured behind the rhetorical agenda of disarmament.”

For example:

A litmus test for the sincerity of the four horsemen’s desire to pursue nuclear abolition occurred shortly after publication of their initial op-ed. Since 2005, the directors at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore had been promoting a program called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), which they hoped would take the place of Stockpile Stewardship as the raison d’etre of the nuclear weapons complex. Under the rubric of “replacing” existing nuclear warheads and enabling a quantitative reduction in the U.S. arsenal, the labs sought to develop a new model nuclear weapon, receive billions of dollars in funding for production infrastructure, and train cadres of weapons scientists for future careers in the nuclear enterprise.

Also enmeshed in the Bechtel-UC web, they write, is, “none other than Obama’s own undersecretary of Arms Control and International Security. . . Ellen Tauscher. … During her tenure in Congress, Tauscher represented California’s conservative 10th Congressional District which includes the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory [and] Lockheed Martin’s Sandia Lab campus in Livermore. … When all is said and done, her role as a US Rep. and now State Department official is to boost nuclear weapons spending at the labs.” Procure pork, that is.

To reiterate, thus far, they write that “statements of politicians and elder statesmen about a world free of nuclear weapons. … has served to fix the attention of disarmament and antiwar activists on abstract levels of policy declaration and international negotiation. This has unfortunately blinded them to the political deal-making process at hand.”

In other words, disarmament advocates give more weight to the political than the porcine at their own risk.

First posted at the Faster Times.

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