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From the Media — Notes and Matters Arising

Disarmament brings responsibilities.

Olivia Ward, “Defence cuts leave victims out in cold”, Toronto Star, June 30:

Over the next five years, Ottawa is cutting $2.74 billion from its defense budget. But it has not yet come to terms with the prickly problem of conversion from military to civilian projects, helping jobless people and threadbare regions find a new economic base. As military contracts are cancelled and 14 bases across the country closed or scaled down, no strategy exists to help those affected.

As Seymour Melman (“The Demilitarized Society”) has stressed, if governments are to avoid subjecting many of their citizens who are involved in the arms industry and the armed services from quite needless hardships as they reduce the size of their military-industrial complexes — or even disarm — they must be prepared to face their social and economic responsibilities to those people who could lose their jobs. And this is no easy matter. Even if the public money that is currently being spent on armaments and armies will be available to put it into peaceful industry to help create jobs for those displaced, there may, for years to come, be the need to spend large sums on retraining people in these occupations for their new jobs. People who are willing to work and if necessary be retrained deserve and should expect this consideration from their community, as represented by the government.

The Future of the ABM Treaty

Ashton Carter of Harvard University (and trained originally as a theoretical physicist at Oxford) has recently reviewed the ABM Treaty, its weaknesses, loopholes and possible abuses from the US standpoint (“Testing weapons in space”, Scientific American, July 1989). He points out that:

Four modes of testing a space weapon are treated differently by the ABM Treaty, in spite of the fact that they can — to a certain extent — be made to replicate the same test conditions. In a “full-up” ABM test … a weapon in stable orbit intercepts a strategic ballistic missile in flight. In a “lofted mode” test …the intercepting weapon is launched on a suborbital flight; it is technically not “based” in space. In an ASAT-mode test …both weapon and target are placed in orbit. In an air-defense-mode test the weapon is aimed at an aircraft in flight or an instrumented target on the ground. The traditional reading of the ABM Treaty forbids the testing of any type of weapon in a full-up mode but does not restrict lofted-mode tests if the weapon is launched from an agreed ABM test range. Weapon testing in space in the ASAT and air-defense modes are also allowed as they do not exceed an unspecified threshold beyond which they are regarded as “ABM capable.”

Ashton Carter lays out “three approaches to negotiating an agreement to limit the testing of ABM-related weapons in space (that) differ in the strictness of the limits.” The first of these would “clarify the traditional interpretation of the ABM Treaty” — i.e. attempt to make it harder to find ways around the rules as originally intended. The second approach would be to “negotiate a more restrictive regime,” which, in addition to the already established basic rules, would forbid all lofted-mode weapon tests, all ASAT-mode tests against thrusting (and perhaps non-thrusting) targets and all airdefense-mode tests, would announce and describe tests of space weapons before they occur, allow prelaunch inspection of specified payloads related to space weapons, and ban nuclear reators in space except those in pre-inspected civilian spacecraft.

The third approach would be to “negotiate a more permissive regime” — meaning principally that the US and USSR would:

  1. Determine which types of tests are prohibited in space except at an orbital test range.

  2. Agree to certain measures that facilitate monitoring of activities at an orbital test range.

  3. Agree that all test targets are to be launched along customary ICBM and SLBM test ranges or agreed ABM test ranges.

  4. Agree to forbid tests of components of deployed space-based ASAT or air-defense systems in a full-up ABM mode.

  5. Determine the threshold at which space-based ASAT and air-defense systems attain an ABM capability or create a base for rapidly establishing an ABM defense. Agree to ban deployment of systems exceeding the threshold.

  6. Agree to limit heavy-lift launch capability in order to preclude the rapid deployment of a space-based ABM system.

  7. Prepare unilateral countermeasures as needed to ensure effectiveness of offensive-missile force, given the increased risk of breakout and leak-out associated with a permissive weapon-testing regime.

This is a chilling article, and it of course presupposes that “the US and the USSR will probably continue to find it in their national security interest to keep the ABM Treaty intact.” And the author concludes that: “It is probably more important to clarify the line between permitted and prohibited ABM-related activities than to draw it at a certain place.”

To the less technically sophisticated, and more peace-oriented reader, the overview, evaluations and proposals of this article, no matter now great their ingenuity, look like a particularly tortuous script for the theatre of the absurd, or a map of hell. They represent one more exercise in the pursuit of the endless spiral of mounting furies, which any future holds for humanity that is not based on national and international disarmament as our central dynamic.

Rising Sun?

From John W. Dower (“Japan’s New Military Edge”, The Nation, July 3): “…Japan is (or is about to become) the third largest military spender in the world, with a defense budget that exceeds that of any of the United States’ NATO allies and is bigger than the combined defense outlays of the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean). There are …Americans who applaud this and even ask for more.” However …

“Former Defense Secretary Harold Brown now warns that unfavorable global conditions could prompt Japan to embark on a substantially independent military course, as it did in the 1930s — only this time with nuclear weapons in its arsenal.” “Technology is the key to U.S. strategic superiority over numerically superior Soviet forces; electronics are the key to modern military technology; development of leading-edge military systems now depends in large part or spin-on know-how; Japan now holds the lead in an extremely wide range of these dual-use technologies, and is moving rapidly toward domination in others.”

Thus, the tenor of this article is that, because of its progressive capture of technological mastery, Japan will end up with potential military dominance, not only capable of building and wholly servicing all manner of advanced military equipment (even in the aerospace area which at present is cited as the single high-tech area where the US still leads the world), but may also become the major, or sole, supplier of many key high-tech components for US military equipment, including aircraft. The author (Joseph Naiman, Professor of History and Japanese Studies at the University of California, San Diego) concludes that “Japan is the new player who can change the rules and is not about to go away, and who, in all probability, has not yet decided how it will play.” For all concerned, uncomfortable times.

Power for spacecraft …and for SDI

“A modern satellite uses less energy than an electric fire. Future space missions and the weapons of Star Wars will need the generating capacity of a small power station,” according to Jeff Hecht (“Hungry for power in space”, New Scientist, July 8, 1989). Solar panels are the expected means of generating power for the operations of orbiting communications satellites of the future as being researched by NASA. But the vulnerability of solar panels to attack is leading SDI Organization investigators to turn to nuclear power for its weapons, and NASA is also getting more interested in radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) and nuclear reactors to drive space vehicles over solar system distances, because photovoltaic technology has not so far devised a solar cell with a conversion efficiency (sunlight to electricity) of more than 31 percent. RTGs have already powered 21 NASA spacecraft including those on Apollo lunar missions and the Galileo probe to Jupiter and Ulysses (bound for the sun) are powered by RTGs.

Nuclear reactors are much more powerful, but are hazardous — e.g. those in the reconnaissance satellites Cosmos 956 in 1973, which “scattered radioactive debris over northwest Canada as it came down, while Cosmos 1402 completely dispersed during re-entry.” Now, new and much more powerful systems are being planned for SDIO and NASA use.

Chemical power (e.g., burning hydrogen and oxygen to drive a turbine which converts the energy into electricity through an alternator or direct-current generator) may be more attractive, but has associated engineering problems (effluent damage to spacecraft) which may limit its use.

Nuclear bomb configurations to generate x-ray lasers as weapons or space vehicles are under consideration by SDIO — though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty signed by the US and USSR. “bans the deployment of nuclear weapons in space, and the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 prohibits testing weapons in space.” Fortunately (!) it seems that there may be “serious technical problems with the bomb-driven, x-ray programme.”

However, as already noted, the SP-100 (the space probe bound for Jupiter) is fueled with plutonium-238 in an RGT which “will generate 25 times as much thermal power as the first-generation Soviet reactors, and will operate for seven years rather than for three months, so it will contain far more products that are highly radioactive.” Also, dead reactors will add to already-existing space junk and collisions “could scatter highly radioactive debris into orbits occupied by missions carrying people as well as cargo.”

There are a dauntingly high number of projects planned, being researched, or under way whose “success” will add enormously to a variety of threats to human beings. The threats range all the way from “accidental” re-entry of radioactive satellite or space station debris (e.g. Cosmos), to pollution of the atmosphere by plutonium, and the escalation and eventual employment of high tech weapons systems.

Disarm …

The Martians are Coming!

Frederick Turner (“Life on Mars”, Harper’s, August), asks how “as the Cold War ebbs” … “are we to employ the beautiful and terrible heroic spirit of humankind, ready for suffering and sacrifice, when we no longer have war and nationalist myth to spend it on? How are we to use those billions of dollars and rubles, which employ millions of workers and serve as a fiscal and technological flywheel, to keep the economy going? Garden Mars! The enormous scale and expense of such a project can, in this light, be seen as one of its advantages.”

First, Frederick Turner (Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas) might care to read Seymour Melman’s “The Demilitarized Society” (reviewed in the last number of Science for Peace Bulletin). In that work, the “flywheel” notion of the fiscal and technological function of the military and arms industries is disposed of — exposed, in fact, as the huge detriment and burden to productivity and wealth it really is.

Anyway …the author, at great and grandiloquent poetic length proposes to use ecological and genetic engineering to conquer, settle, indeed “garden” Mars. And sees this as a challenge of unprecedented inspiration. Heaven forfend that he have his way and that all we can do as we abandon war, will be to spew our goods, our services, and our best brains into the void of Martian conquest, destroying much of our second world in the name of progress. Let us stay in our own celestial sandbox, clean it up, and learn to play the games of civilization.

Blocks to Arms Control

From “A farewell to arms” by Hella Pick (Manchester Guardian Weekly, August 13), regarding “unexpected progress at conventional forces negotiations and movement on strategic weapons”:

“The Russians are …finding that Mr. James Baker, the new US Secretary of State, lacks the detailed knowledge of arms control (of) his predecessor, Mr. George Schultz, and that he does not yet have enough enthusiasm for this highly specialised form of diplomacy.”


“Many Third World countries continue to regard chemical weapons as the ‘poor man’s nuclear arsenal’, and are reluctant to give them up. Officially, only the US and the Soviet Union acknowledge their chemical weapons capability. That leaves out …Israel, Iraq, China, and South Africa, which refuse to make any disclosures and, in some cases, have not even joined negotiations. Yet an effective …ban is near impossible without world-wide compliance.”

Chemical Arms

Chemical weapons — “the poor man’s nuclear bombs” — rank behind nuclear weapons in terms of perceived global threat. But they are nevertheless terrible weapons, could become even more fiendish than they are today, and, worst of all, are relatively cheap and easy to make, while their manufacture may be very hard to detect. An Associated Press dispatch (“Twelve States may harbor chemical arms”, Globe and Mail, September 26) notes that only the US and the USSR acknowledge ownership of chemical weapons, though up to a dozen states — including Libya and Iran — are thought to possess them, or have the means to make them.

Thus, “delegates to the 40-nation Conference on Disarmament ended their meeting in Geneva last month without any clear idea of when it would be possible to conclude a global ban on chemical weapons.” Their sticking point is “how to monitor the production of chemical weapons which … can be made in factories like those that make fertilizers.”

Thus, Libya is accused by the US of building a chemical arms plant at Rabta, which Muammar Gadhafi claims will be a pharmaceutical plant.

Although the US and USSR have agreed to exchange information on their stockpiles of chemical weapons there is, as yet, no indication of the size of the stockpiles. Although the US is scheduled to destroy 90 percent of its older weapons, it began in 1987 to produce “binary” weapons, or two toxic chemicals that become lethal when mixed. This means simplicity and safety in storage, but no reduction in lethality when combined in a suitable carrier (bomb, missile).

This problem was highlighted in remarks by Viktor Karpov (“Soviets endorse further, faster cut in chemical arms”, Globe and Mail, September 27) who said: “It will not be sufficient only to get rid of old weapons if the United States is going to produce new chemical weapons.”

However, US President George Bush told the UN General Assembly that the US would, in the first eight years of a chemical weapons treaty, be prepared to destroy 98 percent of its arsenal if the Soviet Union “joins the ban”. And, the US would destroy all its chemical arms within ten years of the signing of the treaty by all nations capable of making the weapons.

One cannot help wondering, if chemical weapons are so horrifically hard to detect and monitor, whether one could ever be sure that every nation capable of making chemical arms had signed the treaty. Of course, that might prove a useful “escape clause” for some to avoid a total elimination when we were some years closer to the ten years, post-treaty limit referred to above!

The End of Star Wars?

If Strategic Defence Initiative were destined to become an actual weapons system, launched into orbit, rich with the space-based sensors, mirrors and missiles required, then Congress should be pumping in around $10 billion a year at this point in the program.

In reality, however, many on Capitol Hill predict the SCI account will dwindle over the next few years to around $3 billion annually, maybe less.

Given that the various elements of ‘strategic defense’ projects totalled around $750 million before SDI, such a sum amounts to a little more than a fat research program.

What happened? Why is this program dying?

The key reason is: Ronald Reagan left town.

With the possible exception of Caspar Weinberger, his loyal defence secretary, Reagan was the only official in town who really believed that SDI could provide an ‘astrodome’ shield that would, as he once put it, render nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.”

Even Vice-president Dan Quayle, once SDI’s chief senate cheerleader, recently confessed that the astrodome idea was “political jargon”.

Bush, Quayle and top military men still say they want SDI — but as a system to protect missile sites, air bases, submarine ports and other military targets from a nuclear attack. The idea of defending the Free World is gone.

This is from Fred Kaplan (“Star Wars just a glimmer of former glory”, Toronto Star, Oct. 8). Can it be true? Can the United States, a country of 240 million, the world’s most powerful, scientifically and technically advanced country, and a democracy, really have had its arms budget so profoundly influenced by the whim of one man, who lacked all scientific and technical knowledge, and whose dream of “Star Wars” was, from the start, the subject of endless criticism and condemnation by the great majority of independent scientists and thinkers within the US? Well … yes. But what does this say to us who stand to gain or lose so much when our fates and those of so many others can be determined by so few — and frequently such ignorant — political figures. What is the origin of the magic authority wielded by such a few “maximum leaders” in the world? At what point will individual, independent human beings make the effort to put as much enthusiasm and interest into understanding the true nature of their political fates as they put into watching sport, listening to music, or going to movies? When will we cease to “trust” these leaders and instead inform ourselves sufficiently about the circumstances of our own societies and those of the global community that we shall be able and determined to “instruct” them as to the merit or error of their intentions on “our” behalf?

The Galileo Mission

There is a story in today’s Globe and Mail (October 11) headed “Death threat from space” by Karl Grossman. The lurid title embellishes a straightforward enough account of the possible global horrors that could result if — tomorrow is the date — “the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration goes ahead with the launch of a shuttle carrying a space probe containing lethal plutonium.” (By the time you read this, the probe will undoubtedly have long been launched.) The probe, part of the “Galileo” mission will be sent to explore Jupiter. The first problem would be if a launching mishap occurred — “a Challenger-like-explosion” with release of plutonium into the atmosphere when, it has been argued, “in a worst-case scenario, the plutonium would escape and thousands to tens of thousands of people would die.” But wait: assuming the probe clears the atmosphere, it will come back to 185 miles above Earth’s surface at 30,000 miles an hour in a slingshot manoeuvre that will have taken it round Venus. If the probe falls and disintegrates as it nears the earth in 1992, and if all 49.25 pounds of plutonium it contains were released, this would result in “more than the combined plutonium radioactivity return to earth in the fallout from all the nuclear weapons testing of the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom” according to Dr. John Gofman, professor emeritus of Medical Physics at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Gofman has calculated that test fallout has caused 950,000 lung cancer deaths and refers to the Galileo mission of “one of man’s modern lunacies.” What’s it for? Well, Grossman claims that “Use of nuclear power in space …provides a market for (General Electric), which for years has been hard-pressed to sell its nuclear plants. It fits the nuclear-power oriented agenda of the US Department of Energy and the national nuclear laboratories created as part of the wartime Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.” But, in addition, “Galileo and next year’s plutonium probe mission to the sun … are expected to prepare people for the planned launching of substantial amounts of military nuclear devices in the 1990s. Items slated to go out include GE-built SP-100 space reactors to power the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars.”

So … a failure for the organizations like Science for Peace in this country, the USA and elsewhere that are dedicated to seeing the end of the arms race and the beginning of global security. For, let us remember, space shuttles really do explode within the earth’s atmosphere. And rocket launches really do go out of control and crash back to earth with their payloads. So if we sent up enough payloads we can be statistically certain that some of them will return to us unbidden. So, there! Modern lunacies? Precisely. But if the arms race, rhetoric aside, really can be stopped, perhaps these particular forms of lunacy will at last be curtailed.

Test Ban Treaties and the Yellowknife Geophysical Laboratory

Peace scientists everywhere will recognize the value of the greatly improved seismic detection facilities opened in September at the Yellowknife Geophysical Laboratory as a means of detecting underground nuclear explosions as well as countless seismic events of natural origin. The Federal Energy Minister, Jake Epp, has named this facility, and others like it, “Tools for peace and development” (“Modernized seismic observatory praised as tool for arms control”, Globe and Mail, October 12). Scientists of the Group of Scientific Experts which is part of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament were among scientists from more than 20 nations who gathered at Yellowknife to discuss the new facility’s significance for nuclear arms control.

The new facility includes an array of 19 seismometers, a new control centre and an instant communication link to Ottawa via satellite. Some $3.5 million has been spent by the federal government through External Affairs and Energy, Mines and Resources in these improvements to a facility begun in 1962. Dennis Monsees of EMR, who is in charge of the seismometers, was quoted as saying that “If we have an 80 percent detection rate now, the new equipment should give a 99 percent detection rate.”

Scientists present at Yellowknife discussed the implications of this improved system in the verification of nuclear test-ban treaties. “A comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty has not yet been signed by the super powers, but the scientists believe the establishment of a reliable system to verify compliance will be an important development.” The Yellowknife facility will be one of the most advanced of such systems. This is an excellent contribution to the cause of peace, of which one wishes the government would make many more.

Economics of Weaponry

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith, to the conference on “Ethical Choices in the Age of Pervasive Technology” at the University of Guelph, October 26, 1989 (item in Globe and Mail, November 1, entitled “Military defeat means economic victory”):

“I would urge … a greatly reduced technological commitment as regards weaponry and defence. In the American case, such a commitment draws technical and capital resources from civilian and other public use. The Pentagon, it has been estimated, now pays the salaries of about one-third of all U.S. engineers and scientists. The availability for civilian use of these resources and associated capital has played a large role in the economic success of Japan and the German Federal Republic since the Second World War. Their economic success can be traced in no small part to the military constraints that were the result of losing a war. Military defeat was the prelude to economic victory.

I would urge further that all modern governments have an organization that maintains an eclectic and systematic surveillance of the industrial economy. This should be in constant search for unexploited technological opportunity, and it should command the financial resources that, directly or indirectly, should be committed thereto. This should not be a purely scholarly exercise of surveillance …It should be a major department of government disposing serious revenues in areas of possible useful and competitive technological development or in defence against socially damaging development. It should have a long view of the future; it should thus be a counter to the most damaging of recent public and private tendencies, which is to sacrifice future problems and prospects to short-run comfort …

Immediately urgent also is the need for the state to devise ways and means for dealing with the social consequences of economic development. This, more than incidentally, is a task that cannot be accomplished without effective co-operation between the affected lands. Since we share the same planet, there must be shared responsibility and action for its preservation.”

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