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Modernisation of US Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons are not like custard powder.  The customer does not use them up and then need to come back to buy some more. So if you make nuclear weapons and all your customers have them, what do you do? This is just one problem raised by campaigners from the Los Alamos Study Group during a recent visit to Scotland. 




Greg and Trish Mello took the opportunity to visit Scotland while they were in Europe. Normally they are found in New Mexico where they live next to the laboratories and factories which research, develop and build nuclear weapons, not just for the US, but also for us.  Greg and Trish, and their colleagues, work hard to challenge and expose this work, creating delays and cancellations.

During their visit to Scotland they spoke at two public meetings, addressed the Cross Party Parliamentary Group on nuclear weapons at Holyrood, visited Faslane Peace Camp and toured they area around Faslane Naval Base.

At Holyrood they presented a briefing to Scottish Parliament members on modernisation of US nuclear weapons, some dangers and opportunities ahead, and also the value and promise of a ban treaty. About a dozen activists and six MSPs attended (Christian Ballard, Patrick Harvie, Bill Kidd, Kevin Stewart, Sandra White and Jean Urquhart)

Thanks to the custard powder model above nuclear weapon modernisation is continuous and unending. However, it has skewed New Mexico's economy, for example, there is a bigger gap between rich and poor than in other states. This industry is linked with other issues of economic and social development. Broadly speaking, it is bad for climate protection and social uplift. There is also a link between the increased militarization of society and the modernization of nuclear weapons.

The US has committed to spending $355 billion over the next ten years on modernisation of nuclear weapons. Although this plan is contested by military and other parties ever increasing funding is planned until 2038. This programme is supported by the responsible handling of budget holders, and submarine procurement. It may be threatened by senior staff management problems (e.g. incidents of drunkenness and gambling). Where long delays occur (for whatever reason) this usually leads to cancellation.

Greg highlighted the importance of a global ban, describing a prospective treaty as 'effective and realistic'. The ban would be on the possession, manufacture, transport and use of nuclear weapons.   The process is distinct from that of Nuclear Disarmament driven by nuclear weapons states. The achievement of a ban does not require the sympathy or participation of those states. The discussion begins from the point of view and needs of the majority states, the ones which have no nuclear weapons. The movement for the ban is not only independent from the US, which has a lot to gain from keeping nuclear weapons, it also has other distinguishing factors. The leadership is very young and internationally based. Despite having one clear objective (a ban) and it is anchored on other social goals and has links to other issues. As a result the ban   feels imminent and it has become a mainstream issue. Both of these are a change in the anti-nuclear movement. (Incidentally the NPT includes a statement that non-nuclear states should also work towards disarmament.)

Greg also reminded us that here has been disarmament under president Obama, despite the Prague speech , though rationalization and cost saving has been presented as disarmament. There is no overall plan to disarm and, as he put it, ‘there are still plenty of weapons to destroy all life on earth’. 

During the meeting at parliament Greg took the opportunity to ask Scotland and the Scottish Parliament was asked to distinguish themselves from the militarism of the US. We also heard that the Austrian government will be in touch with our First Minister following the statement of support Nicola Sturgeon sent to Vienna. We are encouraged to support the process and not allow it to be derailed by the US.

And how do the nuclear weapons laboratories solve the custard powder problem (their product is not used up so there is no demand for any more)? There is an enormous nuclear weapons complex at Los Alamos with thousands of workers, what are they doing? They work very slowly and invent new nuclear weapons to keep themselves in work. 

Veronika Tudhope
January 2015


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