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Divine Strake: An Infernal Mistake

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On January 10, 2007 the Salt Lake Tribune called upon the Governor and congressional delegation to demand answers from Defense Threat Reduction Agency. There have been many media stories focusing on the concerns of downwinders, and about how far the danger could extend. To date, the health concerns and demands for public comment have extended only to the states of Nevada, Utah and Idaho. But the demand for public participation on the environmental assessment and for reassurances on the safety of the test misses two key points.

While concerns about the possible dispersal of radioactive soil are, to a large extent, local issues, issues of national security and defense posture are not NIMBY (Not in my backyard) issues. There is wide agreement among weapons experts, such as at the Federation of American Scientists, that this test will be used to develop metrics for the deployment of new tactical nuclear weapons. Indeed, the initial budget stated that the intent of the test was "to improve the warfighter's confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage."

At the same time that the NEPA process is being followed for this test, the Department of Energy is considering proposals to revamp the existing nuclear arsenal with a proposal called the Reliable Replacement Warhead. This is part of a larger plan called the Complex 2030, which would revamp the entire US weapons complex, allowing for a new generation of nuclear weapons. By the terms of the Non-proliferation Treaty, which the US uses like a club over the heads of Iran and North Korea, the US and other nuclear weapons states are obligated to drawing down their arsenals towards eventual abolition. Mohammad ElBaradei of the IAEA has recently restated that this is the essential goal of the NPT. What message is sent to the rest of the world when the US not only does not draw down its nuclear force, but actively (with Complex 2030) and subtly (with Divine Strake) moves forward with plans to upgrade its nuclear capacity. Already, other nations are following suit; 8 nations are testing ICBMs, 2 are upgrading their nuclear submarine fleets, and currently non-nuclear states such as the Arab States are claiming their need for nuclear "power." In today's climate of international tension, this test is provocative and ill-advised.

What is also not a local concern is the rule of law. The US considers itself subject to not only its own laws, but the treaties it signs with other nations, including the Charter of the United Nations. The US criticizes nations such as North Korea and Iran as acting outside the "community of nations" for its alleged violations of UN resolutions and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Yet the US regularly violates UN resolutions as well as supports other countries who violate them, such as Israel, and violates the Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as supports other countries who violate it (or refuse to sign it), such as Israel, India and Pakistan. In addition, the US violates its own laws, particularly the treaties it signs with native peoples. The Nevada Test site sits on land that by the terms of the Treaty of Ruby Valley of 1863 is part of the Western Shoshone Nation. The US seized this land to create the Nevada Test Site, citing that "gradual encroachment" by non-Western Shoshone settlers meant that the Western Shoshone no longer held title to this land, and the US government seized it, essentially through eminent domain. A drive through this country will show you that no such encroachment has taken place. If this degree of gradual encroachment is lawful grounds for land seizure, then Mexico should be able to annex much of the southwestern US.

The Western Shoshone have sought peaceful redress of their land claims for years, and have been denied any audience within the US. Finally, they went to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In March of 2006, the UN CERD committee declared that the US should "cease," "freeze" and "stop" its activities on Western Shoshone land, including extractive industries, the activities at the Nevada Test Site, and the development of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Facility. To date, the US has not complied with this directive, nor has it prepared a compliance report. This issue is largely below the radar for most Americans, because the US media does not cover it. The international media does, including Belgian, Spanish and Italian media. If Al-Jazeera finds this issue important enough to give it front page coverage with photos, shouldn't Americans be concerned?

Are we a nation of laws? If we are, then we must adhere to our own laws, including arms reduction treaties, UN resolutions and our treaties with native peoples. This is not a local issue. People all over the United States must step forward and demand the cancellation of this test, as a small, but initial step towards returning to the rule of law.
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Eileen is a mother, progressive activist, artist and poet in the Greater Seattle area.

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