Daniel Ellsberg says ICBM abolition would reduce the risk of a near-extinction event
Daniel Ellsberg is 90, but nothing about him has dulled or dimmed, least of all his vast and inside knowledge of the nuclear weapons complex and its unthinkable threat. Beyond Nuclear was proud to join him in signing this statement, demanding the abolition of all U.S. land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and even prouder (and humbled) to follow him on a January 12 edition of Dennis Bernstein’s Pacifica Radio show — Flashpoints.
By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
More than 60 U.S. organizations issued a joint statement on January 12, 2022 calling for the total elimination of the country’s land-based nuclear missiles, warning that the weapons are both an enormous waste of money and—most crucially—an existential threat to humankind.
Organized by the advocacy groups RootsAction and Just Foreign Policy, the statement argues that intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are “uniquely dangerous, greatly increasing the chances that a false alarm or miscalculation will result in nuclear war.”
“Nuclear weapons could destroy civilization and inflict catastrophic damage on the world’s ecosystems.”
“There is no more important step the United States could take to reduce the chances of a global nuclear holocaust than to eliminate its ICBMs,” continues the statement, which was signed by Beyond the Bomb, Global Zero, Justice Democrats, CodePink, and dozens of other anti-war groups.
“Everything is at stake,” the groups warn. “Nuclear weapons could destroy civilization and inflict catastrophic damage on the world’s ecosystems with ‘nuclear winter,’ inducing mass starvation while virtually ending agriculture. That is the overarching context for the need to shut down the 400 ICBMs now in underground silos that are scattered across five states—Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.”
The statement comes just two weeks after President Joe Biden signed into law a sprawling military policy bill that allocates billions of dollars to research, development, and missile procurement for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, an initiative that is expected to replace the current Minuteman III ICBMs in the coming years.
Ahead of the $778 billion legislation’s passage, some progressive lawmakers—most prominently Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—called for a pause in GBSD development, a demand that went unheeded.
Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary whistleblower and longtime proponent of nuclear disarmament, told Common Dreams in an email that “most of the so-called ‘defense’ budget is legislative pork.”
“But some of it—in particular, the maintenance and proposed replacement to the current ICBM program—is toxic pork,” he added. “It’s not just unnecessary, it’s positively dangerous, to our own security and that of the rest of the world.”
“We should have gotten rid of our silo-based ICBMs no less than half a century ago.”
Before leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, Ellsberg specialized in nuclear weapons and operational planning for a possible nuclear war during his time as a consultant to the Defense Department, an experience he recounts in his 2017 book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.
“We should have gotten rid of our silo-based ICBMs no less than half a century ago, when they had become totally vulnerable to attack,” Ellsberg told Common Dreams. “Ever since then, deterrence of a nuclear attack should have been based solely on our invulnerable submarine-launched missile force, which is itself far larger than that function requires or should permit.”
Echoing the anti-war coalition’s fear that a potential “false alarm” could spark nuclear catastrophe, Ellsberg noted that “the survival in wartime of hundreds of land-based missiles depends on their being launched, irrevocably (unlike bombers), on electronic and infrared warning before attacking missiles might arrive.
“Such a warning, however convincing, may be false; and that has actually happened, more times than our public has ever become aware,” he said. “No other strategic weapons besides ground-based ICBMs challenge a national leader to decide, absurdly within minutes, whether ‘to use them or lose them.’ They should not exist.
“No other specific, concrete American action would go so far immediately to reduce the real risk of a false alarm in a crisis causing the near-extinction of humanity,” Ellsberg concluded.
In a statement, RootsAction national director Norman Solomon lamented that recent public discussion surrounding U.S. nuclear weapons policy “has been almost entirely limited to the narrow question of whether to build a new ICBM system or stick with the existing Minuteman III missiles for decades longer.
“That’s like arguing over whether to refurbish the deck chairs on the nuclear Titanic,” said Solomon. “Both options retain the same unique dangers of nuclear war that ICBMs involve. It’s time to really widen the ICBM debate, and this joint statement from U.S. organizations is a vital step in that direction.”
This article, by Jake Johnson, originally appeared on Common Dreams, whose content is available in the commons for republication.
Headline photo of unarmed ICBM launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, public domain photograph from defenseimagery.mil/Wikimedia Commons.