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The Folly of Mindless Science


In 2000, I traveled to India, invited to speak at the organizing meeting of the Indian Coalition for Nuclear and Disarmament and Peace.  About 600 organizations, including some 80 from Pakistan gathered in New Delhi to strategize for nuclear disarmament.   India had quietly acquired the bomb and performed one nuclear test at Pokhran in 1974 but it was in 1998 that all hell broke out, with India exploding five underground tests, swiftly followed by six in Pakistan.

The trigger for this outbreak of nuclear testing in Asia was the refusal of the US Clinton Administration, under the pressure of the US nuclear weapons scientists,  to negotiate a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that precluded laboratory testing and “sub-critical” tests, where plutonium could be blown up underground with chemicals without causing a chain reaction—hence defined as a non-nuclear test by the US and the nuclear club.  India warned the nuclear powers at the Commission on Disarmament(CD) where the CTBT was being negotiated, that it opposed the CTBT because it contained discriminatory “loopholes … exploited by some countries to continue their testing activity, using more sophisticated and advanced techniques”, and it would never agree to consensus on the treaty unless the ability to continue high-tech laboratory  testing and computer-driven nuclear experiments was foreclosed.

In an unprecedented move of colonial hubris, Australia, led by Ambassador Richard Butler, brought the treaty to the UN for approval over India’s objections, the first time in the history of that body that the UN General Assembly was asked to endorse a treaty that had not received consensus to go forward in the negotiating body at the CD.  I spoke to Ambassador Butler at a UN reception where the wine was flowing a bit liberally. I asked him what he was going to do about India’s objection.  He informed me that he had been visiting with Clinton’s National Security Advisor in Washington, Sandy Berger, and Berger said, “We’re going to screw India! We’re going to screw India!”, repeated twice by Butler, for emphasis.   Unsurprisingly, India and Pakistan soon tested overtly, not wanting to be left behind in the technology race for new improved nuclear weapons which was characterized blasphemously by the US in biblical terms, as its “stockpile stewardship” program to protect the ‘safety and reliability” of the arsenal.

  • As for the “safety and reliability” of the nuclear arsenal, in the late 1980s, during the heady days of perestroika and glasnost, when there was talk of a nuclear testing moratorium, initially instituted in the Soviet Union after coal miners and other activists marched and protested the enormous health threats from Russian testing in Kazakhstan,  a debate in Congress resulted in an annotated Congressional record indicating that since 1950 there were 32 airplane crashes carrying nuclear weapons and not one of them ever went off!  Two spewed some plutonium around Palomares, Spain and Thule, Greenland that had to be “cleaned up”, but there was no catastrophic nuclear explosion.  There are still some bombs unaccounted for including an airplane still missing which crashed off the coast of Georgia  How much more “safer and reliable” would the weapons have to be?  Fortunately, General Lee Butler, taking command of the nuclear arsenal stopped the insanity in 1992 and ruled that the planes carrying nuclear weapons would be grounded instead of being in the air 24/7 keeping us “safe” and “deterring” the Soviet Union.  What could they have been thinking?   Sadly, there has been no corresponding move to ratchet down the lunacy that endangers our planet at every moment from some 1500 deployed nuclear weapons mounted on missiles poised to fire against Russian missiles, similarly cocked, in minutes.
  • Even before “stockpile stewardship”, I remember attending a meeting with the mad scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of Dr. Strangelove, and sitting in a circle to discuss the aftermath of nuclear policy in the shadow of the crumbled wall in Berlin.  The scientists were earnestly discussing the need for AGEX (Above Ground Experiments), to keep their nuclear mind-muscles alive and limber, which eventually morphed into the diabolically named “stockpile stewardship” program.  Today, that misbegotten program is funded to the tune of $84 billion over the next ten years, with another $100 billion budgeted for new “delivery” systems—missiles, submarine, airplanes—as if the Cold War had never ended!
  • At the Delhi conference, Dr. Amulya Reddy, a nuclear physicist gave an electrifying talk on the responsibility of science and its moral failures, explaining how shocked he was to find documents describing how the German scientists carefully calculated, with extraordinary accuracy and scientific precision, the amount of poison gas required per person to kill the Jews who were routinely marched to the Nazi “showers” in the concentration camps.  And at a workshop on the role of science, there was an extraordinary conversation with Indian and Pakistani scientists who pondered whether scientists have lost their moral compass because the system of higher education produced the growth of the scientific institute, isolating scientists from the arts and humanities.  They examined whether these separated tracks of learning, denying scientists the opportunity to intermingle with colleagues engaged in those issues, while narrowly concentrating on their scientific disciplines, had stunted their intellectual and moral growth and led them to forget their humanity.
  • Now scientists are pushing whatever boundaries might have existed to open a whole new avenue of terror and danger for the world.  In a profound disregard for the consequences of their actions, US scientists are enabling a new arms race with Russia and China as the military-industrial-academic-Congressional complex plants US missiles in Eastern Europe and beefs up military bases in the Pacific.  This despite efforts by Russia and China to forestall this new arms race by calling for a treaty to ban weapons in space, supported by every nation in the world except the US which blocks any forward progress for negotiations.
  • The US has recently admitted to cyber warfare, targeting uranium enrichment equipment in Iran with a killer virus to set back the Iranian program to build their own bomb in the basement, while at home, we are talking of massive subsidies to the uranium enrichment factory in Paducah Kentucky.  It is hard to believe how screwy this new venture into cyber warfare is in terms of providing security to the “homeland”.   After all, cyber terror is not nuclear warfare.   Any country, or even scores of various groups of individuals, can master the technology undetected, and wreak catastrophic havoc on the myriads of civilian computer-dependent systems, local, national, and global.  Similarly, the recent expansion of drone warfare, assassinating innocent civilians together with suspected “terrorists” in eight countries, at last count, with the President of the US acting as judge, jury and executioner, is the application of misbegotten science in a recipe for endless illegal war.   Just as the US was the first to use the atomic bomb, opening the door to the disturbing and uncontrollable nuclear proliferation we witness today, it is again opening the door, taking the lead in a new global arms race in cyber warfare and drone technology.   Despite Russia’s suggestion that there be a treaty against cyber war, the US is resisting negotiations, indicating their continued arrogance and disregard of what must be manifestly apparent to any rational thinking person.  There can be no reasonable expectation that scientists can keep the dark fruits of their lethal discoveries from proliferating around the world.   It is just so 20th century, hierarchical and left-brained to imagine that there will not be others to follow their evil example, or that they can somehow control an outbreak of the same destructive technology to others who may not wish them well.

Can there be any doubt that scientists driving US policy are out of touch with reality?  Officials talk about “risk assessment” as though the dreadful disastrous events at Chernobyl and Fukushima are capable of being weighed on a scale of risks and benefits. Scientists are constantly refining their nuclear weapons and designing new threats to the fate of the Earth.  After the horrendous devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surely everyone with half a brain knows these catastrophic bombs are completely unusable and yet we’re pouring all these billions of dollars into perpetuating the weapons labs, as hunger and homelessness increase in the US and our infrastructure is crumbling. The high priests of Science are not including the Earth in their calculations and the enormous havoc they are wreaking on our air, water, soil, our biosphere. They’re thinking with the wrong half of their brains—without integrating the intuitive part of thinking that would curb their aggressive tendencies which engender such deadly, irreversible possibilities.   They are engaged in creating  the worst possible inventions with a Pandora’s box of lethal consequences that may plague the earth for eternity. Still, they continue on. Scientists are holding our planet hostage while they tinker in their laboratories without regard to the risks they are creating for the very future of life on Earth.”

Alice Slater is the NY Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and serves on the Advisory Council of the Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons and Power in Space




Alice Slater is a founder of Abolition 2000, which works for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. 

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