A history of resistance to the Trident nuclear weapons system
An interview with Glen Milner of Ground Zero
Marco Rosaire Rossi
For decades Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action (www.gzcenter.org) has been at the forefront of the peace movement in Washington state. Ground Zero is responsible for raising public awareness on the dangers of nuclear war, and how the Trident fleet—located in Bangor, Washington is, quite literally, ground zero for a US nuclear strike. Glen Milner—a researcher with the organization—answered a few questions on the history of Ground Zero, the Trident facility, and the current state of nuclear weapons politics in the United States.
MRCR: What is the group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action about and why did it form?
GM: Ground Zero formed to resist nuclear weapons, and specifically the Trident nuclear weapons system. And the person who brought everyone’s attention to this, primarily, is Bob Aldridge. In the seventies he worked for Lockheed Martin. He was a missile designer, and he was working on the Trident, and after a while he began to realize that it was an extremely accurate weapon. I believe that he coined the phrase “first strike” in one of his books that was written on Trident. Bob Aldridge quit his job at Lockheed and began to look for people to work with him to bring public attention on this issue, that the government was building a missile system that was really beyond mutual assured destruction. It was beyond that. They [the government] were developing the capability to fight and win a nuclear war.
MRCR: Why is the Trident Facility so important and why should people know about it?
GM: Well, this one is essentially the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the United States and it may be the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. They’re down to about a thousand nuclear warheads either stored or deployed at the base. The weapon system is active, probably at any time there are at least three submarines—and possibly four submarines—that are at sea, on alert, ready for a signal to launch. So the weapons are still on hair-trigger alert and the Trident System has more than half of the US nuclear arsenal. Also what we are seeing here, and this is heartbreaking for me, is this shift of military forces to the Pacific. I have never seen any coherent discussion of this other than to control China and the Pacific region. So, this base is one of the most important bases to the US military. Hopefully this nuclear weapons system will be never used.
MRCR: In the history of having demonstrations at Trident, how many people would you say have engaged in civil disobedience?
GM: You know that is a very good question. In earlier times I think there were some demonstrations involving as many as a thousand. Recently it is pretty common to have ten arrested at a demonstration. There might be thirty people arrested each year there for the three demonstrations, but thousands of people have been arrested at Ground Zero events. It is really interesting. For many, I think involvement with Ground Zero is a defining point in their lives. You meet people who were arrested years ago and they are always really proud they were able to do that and be a part of it. My hope is that people can stay in the movement and stay with it.
MRCR: Why do you think the numbers have dwindled so much over the decades?
GM: Well, in the eighties we thought we were going to have a nuclear war. People were scared to death. The issue was discussed on many popular TV shows. You would have Donahue where he would have experts on nuclear weapons actually debating each other. There was a lot more discussion. We were spending a lot of money on nuclear weapons and people were afraid. And why aren’t they now? Well, Obama was able to get the New START Treaty approved in 2010. The senate signed it. And in order to get that from the Republicans he pledged something like a $180 billion dollars over 10 years for rebuilding our nuclear weapons program. The major thing is—I’m afraid to say—that for governments around the world we are seeing more power in the hands of fewer people. Our government is a perfect example. There are other governments that are like this, where if you speak out you are punished like Snowden or Manning. Our options are fewer in terms of political leaders and so many things are already decided, and it is kind of frightening. People should be frightened, but they are not, and that is why the numbers are down.
MRCR: Could you explain what the New START Treaty is?
GM: The New START Treaty limits the nuclear launch vehicles to a certain number—it’s around seven hundred—and it limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads to one thousand five hundred and fifty. It is basically cutting down the warheads, not a lot. And it would basically have the same inspections that we normally have with the Russians.
MRCR: You say “not a lot.” How drastic are these cuts?
GM: Well, basically we are at a little over seventeen hundred deployed nuclear warheads right now. From what I have read recently it might be dropping only two hundred warheads. I have read that since July of last year Obama’s security advisors and his military advisors have actually determined that we could cut another thirty percent of the nuclear warheads down to roughly a thousand or eleven hundred.
I have been watching that very, very closely, and my understanding is that even the Pentagon believes they do not need fifteen hundred and fifty warheads. They can go down to a much lower number and it would not harm our military force at all. I read that Obama might sign a statement last July in 2012, which would set the number of deployed warheads at a lower level, then I read he was going to sign at the end of the month in this July, and now it looks like he has missed the opportunity. It looks as if we are almost back in a new cold war with the Russians. I doubt that Obama is in a position now where he can make unilateral cuts without negotiations. He now would need to educate the public about the reasons to cut these weapons.
MRCR: You mentioned that we might be headed towards a new cold war with Russia. Could you elaborate on that?
GM: Everyone should listen to everyone else, especially when they are your opponent. And we don’t listen to the Russians. I think our stated reasons for a missile defense system in Poland and other European nations are completely bogus. The Russians raise this issue over and over. They don’t like this missile defense. Our claim—and how can they believe this—is that this system is to stop Iranian missiles and to stop North Korean missiles. That is just insane. The Iranians don’t even have nuclear weapons, and I don’t know if either one of them would have missiles that would go that far. So, we don’t listen to the Russians, and maybe we don’t listen to them because we know that the Russians can’t reach an agreement with us, that they can’t work with us as long as we are still actively trying to contain them. It is possible that this whole missile system is to stop any retaliation. If we start a nuclear strike, and the missile defense system works, then we could possibly prevent a retaliatory nuclear strike from Russia. They would have no way of responding. The whole thing is crazy, but if you think about it in military terms then that is one of the big sticking points.
MRCR: How do you respond to critics that say the United States really can’t cut back on its nuclear arsenal unless Russia is willing to cut back on its, and Russia tends to be very obstinate on negotiating these treaties?
GM: I don’t think the Russians are. They are stubborn on the US missile defense system. Our weapons systems are far better than the Russians. The Russians might have only one ballistic missile submarine at sea at any given time. My sense is that the US is probably the most obstinate country in the world these days, and the least likely to cooperate.
MRCR: Why do you think that is the case? Why would policymakers in the United States be so reluctant to reduce our nuclear arsenal?
GM: Because we have the power. Nuclear weapons give a country political power, it gives them military power. That is why these other countries want to have nuclear weapons, so they don’t end up like Iraq. I think the reason why we are reluctant is because we have more military capabilities than anyone else, and of course our political system is set up for corporations to dictate what we are doing in this country. That is part of the reason that we don’t have treaties with Russia. It is because the corporations—like Lockheed Martin—they want to build a missile defense, they want to continue to build nuclear weapons, they want to build a $715 million explosives handling wharf at Bangor that they don’t need. Those types of things are all over the place, it’s all over the United States.
MRCR: How do you think Obama has been on this issue? There is a lot of talk of that he has been forward looking on nuclear weapons. He made a speech in the Czech Republic that he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons throughout the world. How much of that is rhetoric and how much of that translates into policy?
GM: That is a hard question for me because I take it personally. I take it personally because I was so hopeful so it’s hard for me to look at it objectively. I’m heartbroken by him. I don’t see much, I don’t see much change. I believe that he wanted the New START Treaty, but he had to give so much away [to get it passed]. What I think is really terrible is that he could have made a presidential directive or decision and cut thirty percent of the arsenal. He would have taken a lot of heat for it, of course from the right. He would have had to explain why we could do it and why there was no reason to continue to keep this large of an arsenal. I’m just really disappointed in him.
MRCR: How do you think Obama has compared with Bush on this issue?
GM: He is much better. There is a difference between these people for sure. There is a difference between these administrations and there is a difference between the political parties. But, I’m still very, very disappointed in what Obama has done. I was hopeful.
MRCR: In what ways do you think Obama is much better than Bush?
GM: Let me put it this way. Obama would cut nuclear weapons if it wasn’t so difficult for him to do. If it was an easier process he would do it. He doesn’t really have the will to take the heat and take the chances for doing it. He would get it from all sides. He would get it from the military. He would get it from corporations. He would get it from the right. A lot of people would go after him if he declared a thirty percent cut in warheads. He would have to be an educator. He would have to make his case. He should explain the problems and explain why we don’t need them. But he is much better than Bush. Bush was never interested in cutting nuclear weapons. Although, the Republicans have been much better at cutting nuclear weapons than the Democrats.
MRCR: Is there any final statement that you want people to walk away with?
GM: Be hopeful. There are other people who have said this before. Larry Wittner, who is a professor, author, and historian on anti-nuclear weapons activities since 1945, said if people knew how effective public demonstrations were they would be out in the streets every day. When I look back on Hiroshima, I am grateful that there hasn’t been another one, another Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s been sixty-eight years and we have had horrible wars since then of course, but no use of a nuclear bomb. It’s the activists. It’s the activists, the anti-nuclear movement that has prevented that. Ever since the bomb was dropped people have struggled to try to stop it, and control it, and to a certain point they have.
Marco Rosaire Rossi is a graduate of the University for Peace in Costa Rica and a resident of Olympia.