By Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, February 9, 2023
The US Air Force announced that a test launch of a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a mock warhead will take place late between 11:01 p.m. Thursday and 5:01 a.m. Friday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
There will be no international outcry over the planned test launch of the missile that, under normal operational deployment, would carry a thermonuclear warhead. There will be little or no discussion anywhere by the news media about the test and its implications regarding international efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons and move the world towards disarmament.
So what will happen sometime during the upcoming wee hours?
Countdown… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…
With a monstrous roar, and leaving a trail of smoke, the missile will launch out of its silo using its first stage rocket motor. About 60 seconds after launch the first stage burns out and falls away, and the second stage motor ignites. In another 60 seconds the third stage motor ignites and pulls away, sending the rocket out of the atmosphere. In about another 60 seconds the Post Boost Vehicle separates from the third stage and maneuvers to get ready to deploy the reentry vehicle or RV.
Next the RV separates from the Post Boost Vehicle and re-enters the atmosphere, making its way to its target. The euphemistically named RVs are what contain the thermonuclear warheads that are capable of incinerating entire cities (and beyond) and instantly killing (at least) hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, causing untold suffering (both short and long term) to the survivors, and reducing the land to a smoldering, radioactive ruin.
Since this is a test the RV is loaded with a “dummy” warhead as it hurtles toward the test target in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, approximately 4200 miles from the launch site.
And that’s all folks. No fanfare, no big news stories. Just the usual news release from the U.S. government. As a previous news release stated, “The test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies.”
Approximately 400 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are on 24/7 hair-trigger alert in silos in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. They carry thermonuclear warheads at least eight times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
So what are the realities of these ICBMs, and why should we be concerned?
- They are located in fixed silos, making them easy targets for attack;
- There is an incentive to “use them first or lose them” (see item 1 above);
- The high-alert status of these weapons could lead to accidental nuclear war (think itchy trigger finger);
- The U.S. government consistently criticizes other countries for conducting missile tests;
- These tests have a negative effect on the target country (the Marshallese people have suffered for decades from previous nuclear weapons testing as well as current missile testing);
- Testing these missiles encourages other countries to develop and test their own missiles and nuclear weapons.
As people in this country begin thinking about preparing their taxes, perhaps this is a good time to ask where our hard-earned money would be better spent – testing weapons designed to kill millions of people (and quite probably end life on Earth) or supporting programs that support life. After spending trillions on nuclear weapons, isn’t it time to say ENOUGH? These land-based missiles should be decommissioned immediately (and that is just a start)!
Following his arrest for protesting a Vandenberg ICBM test launch in 2012, then President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, David Krieger, stated, “Current US nuclear weapons policy is illegal, immoral and runs a high risk of resulting in nuclear catastrophe. We cannot wait until there is a nuclear war before we act to rid the world of these weapons of mass annihilation. The US should be the leader in this effort, rather than an obstacle to its realization. It is up to the court of public opinion to assure that the US asserts this leadership. The time to act is now.” (Read Putting US Nuclear Weapons Policies on Trial in the Court of Public Opinion)
Daniel Ellsberg (famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times), who was also arrested in 2012, said, “We were protesting a rehearsal of a holocaust… Every minuteman missile is a portable Auschwitz.” Citing his knowledge as a former nuclear strategist, Ellsberg revealed that smoke from cities destroyed in a nuclear exchange between Russia and the US would deprive the world of 70 percent of its sunlight and cause a 10-year famine that would kill most life on the planet.
It is unconscionable that Humanity’s fate lies in the hands of people who have the arrogance to believe they can control the very tools of annihilation that they covet as tools of foreign policy. It is not a question of whether or not nuclear weapons will ever be used, but WHEN, either by accident or intention. The only way to prevent the unthinkable is to rid the world of these horrific tools of our own destruction.
Ultimately abolition is the answer, and a practical starting point would be the decommissioning and dismantling of all ICBMs (the most unstable leg of the nuclear triad). With the current fleet of fourteen OHIO Class “Trident” ballistic missile submarines, approximately ten of which are likely at sea at any given time, the US would have a stable and reliable nuclear force with a massive amount of nuclear firepower.
The recent Washington Post expose about lymphomas and other cancers affecting Minuteman missile control officers shows that even when land-based missiles are in the ground, they can cause harm to those around them. The Post article focused on a missile control officer from Colorado Springs who died from lymphoma. Even those in Space Command and Global Strike Command who oversee missile fields in Montana, Missouri, and Wyoming/Colorado, agree that the missiles present a threat. The so-called nuclear triad does not represent a coherent program of deterrence any longer, so why is the nuclear triad necessary? The time to decommission land-based missiles is NOW.
Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission
Thank you for this most recent wake up call about decommissioning land based minuteman nukes, likewise for the bomber leg of the so called “triad”, the arrogance of those bombers is painfully evident. How dare anyone in their right mind even think that nukes are anything but death and destruction, “peace through strength” is indeed the peace of a graveyard (Neruda). The military industrial government complex continues to do the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome; that is the definition of insanity. Our mother Earth cannot stand anymore of this peace through strength, time to stop this insanity and lead the planet to real peace through love: Love will get you further than brawn anytime. Jimmy Carter would agree.