The 15th Annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit, held once again at the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Va., Feb. 13–15. For three days the rooms are filled with a multitude of companies and government agencies from around the country connected to the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and National Nuclear Security Administration that make up our nuclear weapons industry, and its terribly secretive renewed Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) race.
What is termed the “Enterprise” is in full-out sales and confidence-building mode. It is here the relationships for securing contracts through the next 5 to 35 years are solidified.
One aged reporter who once covered the industry in the 1980s confides his shock after a dizzying day of presentations: “How did you know these gatherings were going on? I just found out last week! Can’t believe this, I mean, this is a new unbridled arms race! These people in there are totally convinced this is the only way to go.” Looking at only two of us with our sign, he asks, “Why aren’t more people in the streets? Where is the movement pushing back?”
I suggest that the papers he had worked for in mainstream media long ago stopped informing our citizens of such gatherings. The overwhelming industry costs, the beyond catastrophic realities are not newsworthy, nor are reports on the real solutions our hard-earned international treaties put forth.
Like most Americans, he did not know until I mentioned it that President Barack Obama in 2010 signed all the official Presidential Directives to renew and refurbish the industry. “Obama?!” And instead of reaping the benefits of the Cold War finally ending, who knew we got Dick Cheney’s preemptive “Global Strike” stratetgy? Not the public.
In 2011, for a documentary, I was unable to obtain even one interview from inside the industry. Surprisingly, in Arlington, I got to enter and mingle on the summit floor. I was trepidacious about beginning one-on-one conversations cold, but once begun, the currents flowed that might steer this Titanic away from the iceberg that is upon us. Don Quixotes all of us?
Once I was inside, my main goal for the summit’s first day to listen and learn more about the systems, products, and services being offered and the people behind them. They were selling their area of expertise, often mind-blowing skillsets and knowledge bases. I tried to carefully posit a greater, more accurate “strength” toward security, and then offered a handout filled with further information, links, and quotes from some of abolition’s great lights, one of my favorites by the former head of Strategic Command (all our nuclear weapons), four-star General Lee Butler that utterly and directly dispels the myth of “deterrence.”
Attendees were a bit puzzled that I wasn’t with a company connected to the summit, but I continued to share my purpose, seeing that we desperately need their dedication and skillset to begin turning toward the critical needs before us today: sustainability, good jobs supporting our environment, food, water, air, housing, healthcare, education, infrastructure … you know the issue. Some were relieved that I was all for science and space exploration, but first, for the precious earth!
Most of them were respectful, decent, even friendly people. Although they were very focused on their one product, they responded with genuine interest, and some questioning. Many confidently related with some pride that “peace through [military] strength” and their efforts were essential for “the safety and security of a free world,” with nuclear weapons being the pinnacle of such strength. Most didn’t seem to have given any thought to the inevitable absolute horror of this course. Most exhibitors were too young to remember that the vast majority of citizens had voted with their feet to end this madness, and that there was no transparency or democratic process in the decision to use our treasure to fund it all.
Inevitably the confounding old Cold War rhetoric arose, painting China and Russia as vile enemies that we can not trust to honor any agreements. The third Chinese “spy balloon” had just been shot down, charts of Chinese nuclear weapons capabilities were on display. President Putin’s nuclear threat and invasion of Ukraine were repeated constantly. After acknowledging the harsh realities and the horrific sufferings of war, I’d offer, “Eventually, Russia, China and the USA truly need to move toward being allies, if we are to live on a sustainable planet, resolve our common challenges and grave threats. If our children and grandchildren are going to survive, we need all our skills together.” Interesting facial responses to this, but most were genuinely respectful.
I reminded myself constantly that the orders to build these devices and support this industry come not from these before me, but from our representatives, the U.S. Congress. The people here see themselves as doing the nation’s work, and yes, are all much too well compensated for it.
Naturally, I’d let them know we had a most worthy instrument, The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, now international law, to help guide this needed transformation, despite its being dismissed by our mainstream media. Only a few had heard of it, and of those, few knew particulars
Laser beamed on their one aspect of the industry, several with competitors present vying for the same contract, many met in the dozens of closed-door side rooms for private company presentations/briefings. There were open “networking breakfasts” lunches and evening cocktail parties and several daily general gatherings in the large Hyatt Ballroom focused on the latest in pit production, delivery platforms, command-and-control infrastructure and communications, warhead modernization, STRATCOM reports, reports from the heads of all our labs, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Sandia, etc. Presentations on increasing efficiency in product and organization, best practices, and cited pathways to “success.” After all, we are leading and “winning.” Exactly what we think we are winning made no sense to anyone on the nuclear abolition team.
There were exhibitors displaying highly specialized metal nose cones and delivery vehicle parts. Designers of fabrics that claim to protect from radioactivity, cybersecurity “experts,” nuclear waste management specialists, triad infrastructure architects, specialists in improving uranium refining, nuclear physicists and engineers specializing in all materials and their “enhanced delivery” of precision warhead targeting and interception by “safety” umbrellas, inter-agency communication specialists, and those through it all maintaining secure communications. My presence seemed harmless enough to this security. I think of all our very brave colleagues who’ve risked life to enter the kill zones of these most highly sealed-off omnicidal compounds to render witness of the crime against humanity.
Amazon, a “Gold Sponsor” of the summit, had an exhibit: “We have established good relations with the CIA, but we need to get better integrated with the NNSA. This is new to us. That’s why we’re here.”
In this very clearly white male-oriented world, there was also a presentation on the essential hiring of more “diversity” for the future. One enticing statement read they “offer specialized worth to employees by valuing their entire career life cycle–creating stable careers…” Ah, such security.
An impressive scientist confided, “I personally told Colin (Secretary of State Powell) there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq. It was sad. He was strong-armed, and never regained trust.”
The revolving door is astoundingly evident here, and the boundaries of government, military, with private companies is quite indistinguishable. Those with Navy, Air Force, and other triad experience are now running these private companies or working as their specialized “experts in technical and professional innovation. support and security.” One “private” company proudly advertising that 70% of “our expertise” hold all the necessary security clearances within the government!
Indeed, on the main stage the leaders and directors of America’s Nuclear Triad, Brigadier General Ty Newman, U.S. Air Force, and Rear Admiral Scott Pappano, U.S. Navy, would give attendees a rousing pep talk and wrap, uplifting the stellar advancements in our “backbone of deterrence,” the “modernizing the air-based leg of the triad, including the B-21 bomber, upgrades to B-52s and the role of F-35s plus the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) missile, the land-based leg with Sentinel and new ICBMs, and the sea-based leg with the Columbia Class submarine and its associated Trident II D5 missiles.”
One nuclear physicist who was a regular attendee of past summits admitted some changes, “This year feels watered down. Some of the summits back in the day borderlined on breaching top secret material.” The top corporate contractors of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing seemed so unconcerned about the flow of resources and stability of their contracts, they actually skipped presenting or sponsoring this year’s summit, as did Harvard and several other key research universities.
Former General Lloyd Austin, who retired to become Raytheon’s CEO, was easily confirmed by our Congress to become our current Secretary of Defense under President Biden. In his hearings, General/CEO Austin guaranteed to our representatives that the Triad would get his full support to obtain all that it needed. What seems illegal goes unchallenged.
Along with the DOE, National Security Administration, and Budget Office, the regular old nuclear weapon corps were very present: General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls, Bechtel, Flour, Honeywell, Aerospace, SAIC, etc., and a number of universities.
Recognizing the spokesperson for the NNSA at the 2011 Summit, I introduced myself and said, “You are in my film!” “Really?” “And I never paid you.” We laughed, shook hands. He took my card and flyer. “We really need your expertise to help to move this ship toward a different course.” It was time for him to take the stage, but he gave a puzzled glance and graciously said, “Thank you. I’ll watch the film.”
Initially I was feeling quite isolated and alone with this mission, if not for the dedicated efforts and presence of Catholic Worker Steve Baggarly, a solid ally who drove several hours and fasted for this witness, “where two are gathered.” We decided to arrive again early for the second day, this time to hand out flyers for as long as we could get away with it. We were joined by Sr. Carol and Timmon Wallis, PhD, of NuclearBan.US, author of Warheads to Windmills. Nuclearban.us designed their own much more professional-looking brochure intended to also turn the industry on its head.
My quick opening line was reduced to, “We’re asking you to please support Rep. McGovern’s H. Res. 77, we need you’re help to turn things around.” On the handout was the link to Res. 77, which calls on Congress to support the goals of the TPNW, along with the direct link to the TPNW. It also notes Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill, Nuclear Weapon Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act, and mentions Amalgamated Bank, which has policies disallowing lending to or use of its assets by any company involved in armaments of any kind. Divestment is part of our fight. The flyer also included a link to Veterans for Peace, which is sailing the historic 1958 Golden Rule Peace Boat around the country, educating about the TPNW and peace efforts.
This quote was included in the handout:
“For all my years as a nuclear strategist, operational commander and public spokesman, I explained, justified, and sustained America’s massive nuclear arsenal as a function, a necessity and a consequence of deterrence … . Now with the evidence more clear, the risks more sharply defined and the costs more fully understood, … if I could strike one word from the lexicon of the nuclear weapons enterprise, it would be ‘deterrence.’ Because it’s easy. It’s lazy. It’s using rhetoric for a replacement of really rigorous thinking about what is exactly implied by your actions. I would force people to actually describe what it is they think they are doing in very detailed terms. I participated in the elaboration of basing schemes that borders on the comical, and force levels that in retrospect defied reason. I was responsible for war plans … some to the point of complete absurdity … and through every corridor, in every impassioned plea, in every fevered debate rang the rallying cry, deterrence, deterrence, deterrence. As a nation we have no greater responsibility than to bring the nuclear era to a close.”–Four-Star General Lee Butler, former Commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
Within 25 minutes we were surrounded by hotel security and managers asking us to leave the premises immediately. They then claimed even the sidewalks outside the hotel were private and we could not remain there. Steve went and got his mighty signs stashed nearby, which said it all. The police were called to the scene, and, after we spoke to them, told the Hyatt management to the management’s dismay, “They are being respectful and protest is allowed in this country. I don’t know about the sidewalk.” He turned to us, “You can stand here in the street then.” So we did, from 8 am to 5 pm, directly across from the Hyatt’s entrance.
There was a stir inside, and many participants came out to take pictures of the signs. Several came over to speak with us. All were civil, and some took more information, Steve Baggarly’s exceptional pamphlet Nuclear Weapons, or Us, and my handout.
One sponsoring summit delegate came to give us chocolate, saying at first he disagreed, but appreciated the respectful presence and dialogue. A Hyatt employee came out with a few bottles of water for us. When I said, “Be careful, your bosses are upset with us here,” he defiantly quipped, “This is America! I believe in what you’re doing.” Another employee walked by, bowed slightly and quietly said, “You are saving me and my family’s life too, thank you so much.”
Ask your representative to sign H. Res. 77, sponsored by Rep. James McGovern, supporting the goals of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons! Ask your senator to call for the same in the Senate. Thank all the nations ratifying the TPNW. Ask your representative to observe the Ban Treaty’s Meeting of States this November in New York City at the United Nations. They are welcome to learn, and think deeper.
Knowing the horror of war was pushing ahead and with it an increasing, completely unnecessary risk of nuclear annihilation, there was ever-present sense of unity with the citizens of the world who are pleading and advocating another way. There were many thumbs up and waves from passing vehicles. Thinking of those who have young children/grandchildren, including a good number I got to speak with on this Summit floor, we felt there was nowhere else to be on this day celebrating the love in our hearts and in our lives, round the world, Valentine’s Day.
Anthony Donovan is a hospice nurse who lives in the East Village. He is has been a political campaigner and activist from the age of 12, ending up in jail three times for nonviolent civil disobedience against the Vietnam War. Donovan is the producer of several documentaries, including Dialogues: A More Effective Path to Deal with Global Terrorism (2004), and Good Thinking, Those Who’ve Tried To Halt Nuclear Weapons (2015). His long time passion remains the abolition of nuclear weapons. He is an associate member of New York City Veterans For Peace. For his 9/11 story and work around facing “terrorism” see anthonydonovan.com.