Medea Benjamin Marcy Winograd – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 28 May 2021 02:20:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A small GOP-dominated Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Coalition is waging a frightening campaign for nuclear rearmament Fri, 28 May 2021 04:01:33 +0000

Meet the Senate nuke caucus, busting the budget and making the world less safe

These lawmakers represent states with a direct interest in pouring billions into modernizing and building new weapons.

(Responsible Statecraft) – Democrats might control the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government right now, but a small Republican-dominated Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Coalition exercises outsized influence in a frightening campaign for nuclear rearmament.

The coalition, comprising six senators from states that house, develop, or test underground land-based nuclear weapons, is pushing a wasteful and dangerous $1.7 trillion, decades-long plan to produce new nuclear weapons, some with warheads 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

While the 1980s witnessed the nuclear freeze and a mass movement to demand nuclear disarmament between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the 1990s gave birth to the missile caucus, the Congressional engine careening the U.S. into a renewed nuclear arms race.

All but one of the members of this caucus is a Republican from a deep red state — including North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and South Dakota — that didn’t vote for Joe Biden. Members of the Senate ICBM Coalition are Co-Chairs John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.); John Barrasso (R-Wyo.); Steve Daines (R-Mont); Mike Lee (R-Utah); and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

The lone Democrat, Tester, a third-generation farmer and former elementary school music teacher, wields a critical gavel as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, a committee that will write the appropriations bill for military expenditures. Tester told the D.C.-based Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance this year that he was committed to keeping new nuclear weapons production “on track.”

If the ICBM Coalition and the weapons lobby have their way, the United States will brandish a new nuclear arsenal in order to, in their view, replace aging and outdated nuclear weapons ill-suited to meet the challenges of a renewed Cold War. Critics charge that the development and production of new nuclear weapons violates the spirit and letter of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), signed by the United States and Soviet Union in 1968.

In addition to violating a treaty joined by 191 nations, U.S. production of new nuclear weapons is likely to escalate the arms race, sabotage future arms control negotiations with Russia or China and encourage non-nuclear nations to enrich weapons-grade uranium.

Although it was the Trump administration that in 2020 awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion sole-source contract to build new land-based nuclear missiles called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), it is the Biden administration that is slated to include, as part of its record high $753 billion military budget, $30 billion or more for the GBSD. This would be a down payment on the estimated $264 billion cost to replace all 400 underground Minuteman III missiles in North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and Colorado, from 2029 through 2075.

The GBSD is part of a euphemistically labeled “nuclear modernization” program proposing, in addition to new ICBMs, new ballistic missile submarines outfitted with low-yield, five-kiloton tactical nuclear weapons, as opposed to larger 100-kiloton “strategic” nuclear weapons meant for a global nuclear showdown. The Trump administration’s 2018 nuclear posture review reasoned these “more usable” tactical nuclear weapons would keep the Russians and Chinese in check. Critics argue that these smaller, shorter-range tactical nuclear weapons blur the distinction between conventional and nuclear war, making these weapons more likely to be employed under the misguided assumption that a nuclear war can be limited.

The push for rearmament, including a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb with two-stage radiation implosion and long-range strike bomber, comes amid concern the Biden administration’s heated anti-China rhetoric could plunge us into a nuclear war. Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg recently released classified documents that revealed U.S. military leaders penned plans in 1958 to execute a first nuclear strike against China in a dispute over Taiwan’s sovereignty. According to the documents, Pentagon officials were willing to risk a million deaths in the event the Soviet Union fired back with nuclear weapons. In releasing the classified material and purposefully risking prosecution, Ellsberg told the New York Times, “I do not believe the participants were more stupid or thoughtless than those in between or in the current cabinet.”

With Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Republicans and Tester cheerleading for the GBSD, a missile caucus lobbyist might think the American people would prefer to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on new ICBMs and nearly two-trillion dollars on the entire nuclear escalation package than investing in Medicare for All or clean water in Flint, Michigan. A 2020 University of Maryland poll revealed, however, that 61 percent of Americans–including both Democratic and Republican majorities–support phasing out the United States’s 400 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Knowing this, why would Biden and Democratic politicians carry out the mission of the small Republican-dominated missile caucus and its chums in the profitable weapons industry? Northrop Grumman, with a net worth of $50 billion, promises nuclear rearmament will create 10,000 jobs, but compare that number to the 3-million employed under FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps that planted 3-billion trees.

The answer to why the missile caucus is so influential is: money. And lots of it.

ICBM weapons contractors contributed more than $15 million from 2012-2020 to members of the Senate and House Armed Services and Appropriations committees and subcommittees, according to the Arms Control Association. Steven Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, notes these contractors even buy influence among members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), last year donating $376,650 to Democrat Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee; $148,135 to Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) and $63,086 to Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), all of whom belong to the CPC.

While Biden may fear appearing “soft” on defense if he retreats from relaunching our nuclear program, progressives are preparing for a fierce debate. GBSD opponents include an impressive diplomatic team: William Perry, former Secretary of Defense; Daniel Ellsberg, author, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner; and William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy.

Hartung, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex,recommends nixing the ICBMs entirely. “Because of their extreme vulnerability to attack, ICBMs are kept on high alert status, leaving the president a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them on warning of an impending attack,” he says.

There is no law of gravity that compels the current president or Congress to continue funding this drive for nuclear rearmament.

Via Responsible Statecraft. Reprinted with authors’ and RS’s permission.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Immoral & Illegal”: US & UK Move to Expand Nuclear Arsenals, Defying Global Disarmament Treaties”

Congress’s ‘Squad’ want the Left to Unite as a Bloc to Downsize Biden’s Military Budget Tue, 04 May 2021 04:02:11 +0000 Code Pink) – Imagine this scenario:

A month before the vote on the federal budget, progressives in Congress declared, “We’ve studied President Biden’s proposed $753 billion military budget, an increase of $13 billion from Trump’s already inflated budget, and we can’t, in good conscience, support this.”

Now that would be a show stopper, particularly if they added, “So we have decided to stand united, arm in arm, as a bloc of NO votes on any federal budget resolution that fails to reduce military spending by 10-30 percent. We stand united against a federal budget resolution that includes upwards of $30 billion for new nuclear weapons slated to ultimately cost nearly $2 trillion. We stand united in demanding the $50 billion earmarked to maintain all 800 overseas bases, including the new one under construction in Henoko, Okinawa, be reduced by a third because it’s time we scaled back on plans for global domination.”

“Ditto,” they say, “for the billions the President wants for the arms-escalating US Space Force, one of Trump’s worst ideas, right up there with hydroxychloroquine to cure COVID-19, and, no, we don’t want to escalate our troop deployments for a military confrontation with China in the South China Sea. It’s time to ‘right-size’ the military budget and demilitarize our foreign policy.”

Progressives uniting as a bloc to resist out-of-control military spending would be a no-nonsense exercise of raw power reminiscent of how the right-wing Freedom Caucus challenged the traditional Republicans in the House in 2015. Without progressives on board, President Biden may not be able to secure enough votes to pass a federal budget that would then green light the reconciliation process needed for his broad domestic agenda.

For years, progressives in Congress have complained about the bloated military budget. In 2020, 93 members in the House and 23 in the Senate voted to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% and invest those funds instead in critical human needs. A House Spending Reduction Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, emerged with 22 members on board.

Meet the members of the House Defense Spending Reduction Caucus:

Barbara Lee (CA-13); Mark Pocan (WI-2); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12); Ilhan Omar (MN-5); Raùl Grijalva (AZ-3); Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11); Jan Schakowsky(IL-9); Pramila Jayapal (WA-7); Jared Huffman (CA-2); Alan Lowenthal (CA-47); James P. McGovern (MA-2); Peter Welch (VT-at large); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Frank Pallone, Jr (NJ-6).; Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); Ro Khanna (CA-17); Lori Trahan (MA-3); Steve Cohen (TN-9); Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Anna Eshoo (CA-18).

We also have the Progressive Caucus, the largest Caucus in Congress with almost 100 members in the House and Senate. Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is all for cutting military spending. “We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to afford food, rent, and bills. But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into a bloated Pentagon budget,” she said. “Don’t increase defense spending. Cut it—and invest that money into our communities.”

Now is the time for these congresspeople to turn their talk into action.

Consider the context. President Biden urgently wants to move forward on his American Families Plan rolled out in his recent State of the Union address. The plan would tax the rich to invest $1.8 trillion over the next ten years in universal preschool, two years of tuition-free community college, expanded healthcare coverage and paid family medical leave.

President Biden, in the spirit of FDR, also wants to put America back to work in a $2-trillion infrastructure program that will begin to fix our decades-old broken bridges, crumbling sewer systems and rusting water pipes. This could be his legacy, a light Green New Deal to transition workers out of the dying fossil fuel industry.

But Biden won’t get his infrastructure program and American Families Plan with higher taxes on the rich, almost 40% on income for corporations and those earning $400,000 or more a year, without Congress first passing a budget resolution that includes a top line for military and non-military spending. Both the budget resolution and reconciliation bill that would follow are filibuster proof and only require a simple majority in the House and Senate to pass.


Maybe not.

To flex their muscles, Republicans may refuse to vote for a budget resolution crafted by the Democratic Party that would open the door to big spending on public goods, such as pre-kindergarten and expanded health care coverage. That means Biden would need every Democrat in the House and Senate on board to approve his budget resolution for military and non-military spending.

So how’s it looking?

In the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin from West VA, a state that went for Trump over Biden more than two-to-one, wants to scale back Biden’s infrastructure proposal, but hasn’t sworn to vote down a budget resolution. As for Senator Bernie Sanders, the much-loved progressive, ordinarily he might balk at a record high military budget, but if the budget resolution ushers in a reconciliation bill that lowers the age of Medicare eligibility to 60 or 55, the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee may hold his fire.

That leaves anti-war activists wondering if Senator Elizabeth Warren, a critic of the Pentagon budget and “nuclear modernization,” would consider stepping up as the lone holdout in the Senate, refusing to vote for a budget that includes billions for new nuclear weapons. Perhaps with a push from outraged constituents in Massachusetts, Warren could be convinced to take this bold stand. Another potential hold out could be California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who co-chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the committee that oversees the

budgeting for nuclear weapons. In 2014, Feinstein described the US nuclear arsenal program as “unnecessarily and unsustainably large.”

Over in the House, Biden needs at least 218 of the 222 Democrats to vote for the budget resolution expected to hit the floor in June or July, but what if he couldn’t get to 218? What if at least five members of the House voted no—or even just threatened to vote no—because the top line for military spending was too high and the budget included new “money pit” nuclear land-based missiles to replace 450 Minute Man missiles.

The polls show most Democrats oppose “nuclear modernization”—a euphemism for a plan that is anything but modern given that 50 countries have signed on to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons making nuclear weapons illegal and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires the US pursue nuclear disarmament to avoid a catastrophic accident or intentional atomic holocaust.

Now is the time for progressive congressional luminaries such as the Squad’s AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley to unite with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, as well as Barbara Lee, Mark Pocan and others in the House Spending Reduction Caucus to put their feet down and stand as a bloc against a bloated military budget.

Will they have the courage to unite behind such a cause? Would they be willing to play hardball and gum up the works on the way to Biden’s progressive domestic agenda?

Odds improve if constituents barrage them with phone calls, emails, and visible protests. Tell them that in the time of a pandemic, it makes no sense to approve a military budget that is 90 times the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tell that that the billions saved from “right sizing” the Pentagon could provide critical funds for addressing the climate crisis. Tell them that just as we support putting an end to our endless wars, so, too, we support putting an end to our endless cycle of exponential military spending.

Call your representative, especially If you live in a congressional district represented by one of the members of the Progressive Caucus or the House Spending Reduction Caucus. Don’t wait for marching orders from someone else. No time to wait. In the quiet of the COVID hour, our Congress toils away on appropriations bills and a budget resolution. The showdown is coming soon.

Get organized. Ask for meetings with your representatives or their foreign policy staffers. Be fierce; be relentless. Channel the grit of a Pentagon lobbyist.

This is the moment to demand a substantial cut in military spending that defunds new nuclear weapons.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. @MedeaBenjamin

Marcy Winograd, Coordinator, CODEPINK Congress, also co-chairs the foreign policy team for Progressive Democrats of America. In 2020, she was a DNC delegate for Bernie Sanders.



Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Cut the Defense Budget: Rep. Khanna on Bloated Pentagon Spending, Ending War in Yemen, UAE Arms Deal”