The outlines of a far-right Republican foreign policy are emerging. This week in the Washington Times the heads of conservative think tanks, as well as former Attorney General Ed Meese now of Heritage, penned an oped – it was actually more like 10 disconnected far-right talking points – intended to provide an easy script for far right candidates on foreign policy. Pat Barry deconstructs their “peace through strength” tag line, but what jumped out at me was the priority given to nuclear testing. It is their second talking point:
2. A robust defense posture including a safe, reliable, effective nuclear deterrent, which requires its modernization and testing
That’s right, after nearly two decades of not testing nuclear weapons, these six far-right influencers want the GOP to start blowing up nuclear weapons again. Think these six wingers are just shouting on the sidelines? Think again. Jon Kyl, the second ranking Senate Republican, is fully on board with nuclear testing. He even wrote an oped in the Wall Street Journal last fall arguing why we need nuclear testing.
The far right’s reasoning is that in order to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal, we must build new nuclear weapons, and if we build new nuclear weapons we must explosively test them. But this is way off base. We can modernize our nuclear arsenal without building brand new nuclear weapons from scratch. This is exactly what we are doing and studies have shown that it’s effective. The US nuclear arsenal is in fine shape and as long as the US continues to adequately fund programs that maintain the nuclear arsenal (the Obama administration has dramatically increased funding), we have zero need to build new nuclear weapons and zero need to test existing ones. Yet the right is not only opposed to cutting nuclear weapons, they actually want to build more. If you build more, you need to test them.
And for those thinking nuclear testing is safe and reliable, the LA Times reported last November on “Nevada’s hidden ocean of radiation.” It noted that:
Over 41 years, the federal government detonated 921 nuclear warheads underground at the Nevada Test Site, 75 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Each explosion deposited a toxic load of radioactivity into the ground and, in some cases, directly into aquifers… In a study for Nye County, where the nuclear test site lies, Buqo estimated that the underground tests polluted 1.6 trillion gallons of water. That is as much water as Nevada is allowed to withdraw from the Colorado River in 16 years — enough to fill a lake 300 miles long, a mile wide and 25 feet deep.
The US has not explosively tested a nuclear weapon since 1992. We have a moratorium on testing as do Russia, China, UK, and France and in the last decade there have been just two nuclear tests (both by North Korea). The Obama administration has pledged to push for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would bring into force a world wide ban on nuclear testing. Yet the right is vehemently opposed to the treaty. Instead, of ratifying a test ban which would make it much more difficult for countries to develop nuclear weapons, the right wants to put the US in the same company with North Korea as the only country in the 21st century to test a nuclear weapon.
Testing nuclear weapons is militarily and scientifically unnecessary. Doing so will only destroy US credibility internationally, prompt other countries to resume testing and developing nuclear weapons, and lead to further ecological disaster. Should the right-wing take control post November, Nevadans opposed to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository may soon be getting not just a nuclear waste dump in their backyard but nuclear explosions.