Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bad Faith: Disarmament Rhetoric vs. Reality

Greg Mello and I just came back from the UN in New York. I believe that our LASG panel with the help of Francine Lindberg from Taos contributed significantly to framing the discussions at the NPT hearings (Nuclear Non Prolifration Treaty), and I am glad I went. Meanwhile another boardmember of LASG, Shigeko Sasamori, attended all the meetings featuring the Hibakusha, the people like her that survived the bombing of Hirosima and Nagasaki, and who provide the most authentic critique of the NWS (Nuclear Weapon States). 
I have lots of thoughts about what is happening now at the NPT, and I intent to write about this soon on this blog. For now I leave you with an excellent review by Ray Acheson of our panel discussion last monday. She was able to magically produce a daily newsletter about all the NPT proceedings at the UN .... hats off to her!! This is what she had to say:

At an event organized by the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) entitled “Bad Faith: Disarmament rhetoric vs. reality—How hypocritical “disarmament" initiatives are enabling militarism abroad and at home,” LASG executive director Greg Mello outlined some of the key challenges to concrete disarmament today; board member Willem Malten looked at  proposals to build a new nuclear weapons facility in New Mexico, and Francine Lindberg looked at how  the reality of the US nuclear military complex affects ordinary citizens and the future of the country. 

Looking at new START and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in concert with the Obama administration budget request for nuclear weapon funding and plans for construction of new weapons facilities, Mello argued that there is no disarmament going on in the United States today and that none is being contemplated. He argued that new START is a “status quo force protection treaty” rather than a disarmament treaty and that it only has value in stabilizing the relationship between the US and Russia. Meanwhile, the NPR keeps the role of nuclear forces in US policy unchanged. At the same time, the Obama administration has offered a nuclear weapons budget increase beyond the budget 
of former President George W. Bush and has plans to build a new nuclear weapons facility—but this is not enough to satisfy the US Senators who want something in exchange for any potential ratification of new START. According to Mello, Senator Kyl, the loudest opposition to Obama’s “disarmament” initiatives, says that he would need an assurance of $15 billion more this decade for him to feel secure that Obama can carry out his promises of nuclear weapon buildings and programmes. 

Meanwhile, there has been little public outcry about the Obama administration undermining concrete measures for a world without nuclear weapons. Mello argued that the administration’s disarmament rhetoric has been a very effective form of propaganda, wherein the left-end of the political spectrum has become defined by NGOs who repeat what Obama says and support his initiatives without question. Mello called for a serious discussion about the role of civil society in promoting nuclear disarmament, noting that the rhetoric in the United States has allowed people to give up on substantive change.

Willem Malten focused on the proposed nuclear weapon facility for the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico, known as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR). He noted that the starting price for the facility was $300 million, but after consultations with its corporate sponsors such as Bechtel, which would provide the 24,000 trucks of cement needed for the project, the price has skyrocketed to $4.2 billion or more. He noted that this is six times the cost of the Golden Gate bridge and that it is more expensive than any other project in New Mexico other than 
the highway. Arguing that the construction of this facility is a real and symbolic provocation that will undermine global efforts toward disarmament and non-proliferation, Malten explained that CMRR would allow for pit production with a maximum capacity of 200 pits per year, thus undermining any political or diplomatic advantage that may come from dismantling other parts of the US arsenal. He also noted that with such high costs, all of the money New Mexico desperately needs for education and renewable energy will wind up in the pit of the CMRR. 

Francine Lindberg followed on this message, explaining how the nuclear military machinery in New Mexico is devouring the state’s economy. Arguing that deterrence and national security are clever marketing terms designed to fool the fearful, she called on US citizens and the international community to criticize the US nuclear military complex for using tax money on weapons of mass destruction whose use can never be justified. 

During the Q&A, activists from Norway, Germany, Sweden, and the UK spoke about how the Obama rhetoric has affected their ability to push for concrete nuclear disarmament. In Norway, one participant argued that it has become difficult to talk about any other peace or disarmament issue than what is on the Obama agenda. In Germany, however, another participant said there have been good critiques of  US rhetoric versus the reality of its actions, while in the UK, where work at the nuclear weapon labs is closely tied to the US labs, people are paying attention to the connections and the challenges therein. 

More information about the CMRR can be found on the Los Alamos Study Group’s websites: