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2010, The Year for Re-Building the Movement for Nuclear Disarmament

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2010, the Year for Re-building the Movement for Nuclear Disarmament

--By Lisa Putkey, Scoville Fellow, Peace Action Education Fund
and Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund

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2010 is the year to set the roadmap for nuclear disarmament as an international community, and the US is integral to progress. 2010 marks 65 years since the birth of the atomic bomb in New Mexico and 65 years since the United States atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nearly two decades have passed since the Cold War and yet the nuclear arms race continues. This May the world will come together in New York for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference (NPT RevCon in United Nations parlance), which aims to bring about a nuclear weapons-free world. Despite President Obama's lofty rhetoric on nuclear disarmament, his administration has requested billions for new nuclear bomb-making facilities. It is now up to the American public to create the groundswell necessary to derail nuclear funding and get the US to accelerate steps toward abolishing nuclear arms.

The United States enters 2010 with approximately 9,400 nuclear weapons. Of these, 4,200 are retired and awaiting dismantlement. 2,500 are in reserve, and 2,700 nuclear weapons are deployed and operational around the world on US military bases and submarines , many on hair-trigger alert, meaning that within minutes they can obliterate entire populations*. Not only does the United States have superior weapons, but U.S. delivery vehicles and missile technology bring nearly the entire Earth within range of a U.S. nuclear attack.

President Obama came into office with many promises of change and even won the Nobel Peace Prize at least partly for his stated aspirations for a nuclear weapons-free world. In his Prague speech last spring Obama acknowledged that "as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act" and take the lead on nuclear disarmament. He has set an agenda of non-proliferation and disarmament that includes hosting a Nuclear Security Summit in April, aimed at securing loose fissile materials, the negotiation of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (START expired on Dec 5), and the Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), among other measures.

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In response to Obama's agenda for a nuclear-free world, many in Congress seek to condition further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal on funding for new nuclear warhead production. On December 15, 2009, 40 Republican Senators and one Independent sent a letter to President Obama stating, ""we don't believe further reductions [in our nuclear arsenal] can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent." By "modernization" they mean increased funding to our nuclear arsenal to make sure it continues to be the best of the best. The nuclear weapons laboratories, contractors and the nuclear bureaucracies in the Pentagon and Energy Department where the nearly $60 billion in annual funding for nuclear weapons resides all have a vested interest in keeping the nuclear weapons policy status-quo and are addicted to new toys and capital-intensive projects.

There was fear that Republican Senators would only jump on board with the ratification of a new START and CTBT if it came with a compromise of heavy investment in the nuclear weapons complex and the "modernization" of the nuclear stockpile. In 1996 a similar compromise was made of "Stockpile Stewardship" investment into the nuclear complex in return for Senate ratification of the CTBT, only, the CTBT never passed, and the US nuclear complex was flooded with funding to ensure "safety and reliability." The National Nuclear Security Administration, the branch of the Department of Energy (DOE) charged with maintenance of the nuclear weapons stockpile, has been pushing hard for increased resources, particularly for the multi-billion dollar construction of three new facilities: a new plutonium pit (the core of a nuke) production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a new uranium reprocessing facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and a non-nuclear bomb component plant in Kansas City, Missouri, that will quadruple our production capabilities from twenty new nuclear warheads per year to eighty.

The fears of such a compromise were stoked by the Obama Administration's February 1 budget proposal, which shoveled heaps of pork to complex modernization, no doubt to the delight of the nuclear priesthood. The budget proposes increasing funding to the nuclear weapons activities budget by more than $600 million, funds the three new bomb-making facilities with over $500 million in FY 2011 alone (with total construction costs estimated to reach nearly $7 billion), cuts funding for warhead dismantlement from $96.1M to $58M requested for FY11, and cuts defense environmental cleanup by $54 million. (However, earlier this week there were media reports that the Administration might decide to accelerate warhead dismantlement, out of concern that little progress is being made on the New START agreement and the feeling that some concrete progress on disarmament needs to be moving before the May Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations.)

The nation is suffering mass unemployment, lack of healthcare, and schools are closing across the country, yet somehow we manage to increase the military budget, escalate an unjust war in Afghanistan, and invest in the future of weapons of mass destruction. In late February, Vice President Biden gave a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, DC claiming that the modernization of our nuclear facilities is necessary and compatible with the president's desire to move toward a world without nuclear arms.

Instead of spending $7 billion on facilities to upgrade nuclear weapons, that money would be more wisely spent on increasing the rate of dismantling the U.S. stockpile and investing in environmental clean-up from nuclear sites. Reducing our nuclear arsenal makes Americans safer and sends the right message to the rest of the world.

This May the Non-Proliferation Treaty will be reviewed at the United Nations in New York City and there has been speculation globally that this treaty regime is on the verge of collapse due to lack of political will, particularly from the nuclear weapons states not doing their part to disarm. The big elephant in the UN conference rooms at the 2005 NPT RevCon was that the Bush- appointed U.S. delegates halted all progress on disarmament by pointing fingers at Iran, a country with no nuclear weapons, while they themselves represented the nation with the most destructive nuclear capabilities. The US consistently plays off the fear of "terrorists" and "rogue states" to shift the focus from nuclear disarmament at home to non-proliferation abroad, a convenient technique to distract from the fact that it is spending more than ever before on its nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons. Obviously pursuing enhanced capacity to build new nuclear weapons sends the wrong message on disarmament and non-proliferation to the international community.

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It is therefore crucial that the Obama Administration build up its credibility leading up to the NPT Review Conference. One sure way of doing this would be releasing a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that parts with Cold War thinking and is reflective of Obama's vision for a nuclear free world. The NPR's release has been delayed since December, supposedly because of disagreements in the national security bureaucracy over a few key issues on future nuclear weapons policy. While the media has reported that Obama, Biden and others are unhappy with "business as usual", or at best small, incremental changes in US nuclear weapons policy coming from DOD, DOE and the weapons laboratories, it appears the NPR will fall far short of a transformational shift in US nuclear policy that some had expected from this Administration.

The other key development prior to the NPT RevCon would be conclusion of the "New START" treaty with Russia, to cut deployed strategic warheads to between 1,500 to 1,675 for each country. US and Russian negotiators appear to be laboring to finish the negotiations before the NPT RevCon, which would undoubtedly gain goodwill at the conference, even though the cuts are rather modest, about one-fourth of the US and Russian deployed strategic arsenals. US Senate ratification of the treaty appears likely, though far from certain, later this year. The CTBT will most likely not be brought up for consideration by the Senate this year, and if that is the case, it could face a tougher road next year and beyond with a presumed smaller Democratic majority (as of now there is no known Republican support for CTBT ratification in the Senate).

Also, US pursuit of missile defenses is understandably a concern for Russia (McClatchy newspapers reported this week that New START talks have stalled over Russian concerns over US missile defenses), complicating the picture for future arms reduction talks. Looking ahead, the huge US conventional military superiority will make Russia and China wary of further nuclear weapons reductions.

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Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, the country's largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members nationwide. He has been a peace and social justice activist for 25 years.

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