As part of a record $3.8 trillion budget proposal, the Obama administration is asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $7 billion over the next five years. Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The proposal includes large funding increases for a new plutonium production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We speak with Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama proposed a record $3.8 trillion budget for 2011 on Monday. The budget would boost war spending while trimming domestic expenditures. As part of the budget proposal, the Obama administration is asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $7 billion over the next five years.
Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The Obama administration argues the boost in spending is needed to ensure that US warheads remain secure and work as designed as the arsenal shrinks and ages. Part of the proposal includes large funding increases for a new plutonium production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
We go now to New Mexico to speak with Jay Coghlan. He’s the executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. He’s joining us from the State Capitol building in Santa Fe.
Jay, welcome to Democracy Now! Respond to the budget and to the President’s policies on nuclear weapons.
JAY COGHLAN: Where to begin? As you know, on April 5th last year, the President, President Obama, made a historic speech in Prague dedicating this country to the long-term national security goal of abolishing nuclear weapons. Well, the budget that was released just yesterday is a big, big step backwards. Just this coming year, it’s raising the nuclear weapons budget for the Department of Energy ten percent. But most particularly, it’s quadrupling, in some cases, the funding for new production facilities.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read for you a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, who penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Friday called “The President’s Nuclear Vision.” In it, Biden writes, “For as long as nuclear weapons are required to defend our country and our allies, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. The president’s Prague vision is central to this administration’s efforts to protect the American people — and that is why we are increasing investments in our nuclear arsenal and infrastructure in this year’s budget and beyond.”
Vice President Biden went on to write, quote, “No nation can secure itself by disarming unilaterally, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, all nations remain ever on the brink of destruction. As President Obama said in Prague,” he said, “‘We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.’”
Your response, Jay Coghlan?
JAY COGHLAN: Well, of course, we cannot disarm unilaterally. I myself would not want to do that. But what’s essentially happening is that the Democrats — that is to say, Biden and Obama — are basically being rolled by the seven to eight Republicans in the Senate that are needed for treaty ratifications. We have a new bilateral arms control treaty with Russia on deck and a long sought-for comprehensive test ban treaty.
The labs themselves, the nuclear weapons laboratories — that being Los Alamos near me right now, also Sandia just south of me in Albuquerque, and Lawrence Livermore in California — they’re using this opportunity, just as they did a decade ago, the last time that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was on the Senate floor for ratification. They’re using this opportunity to extract more taxpayer funding for their weapons programs, and they are not going to let go of eventually producing new design weapons in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: All forty Republican senators, as well as Joseph Lieberman, implied in a letter to Obama last month that they would block ratification of the new treaty with Russia unless he funds a, quote, “modern” warhead and new facilities at the Los Alamos National Lab, where you’re near right now in New Mexico, and the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Jay?
JAY COGHLAN: You’re absolutely right. They’re playing muscle, and they’re rolling Obama and Biden. The Democrats are now surrendering. The executive administration is now surrendering to that demand. Of course, at the time, a month ago, as you said, it was forty Republicans that wrote to Obama, essentially demanded a modern warhead and modernization. Now, of course, it’s forty-one Republicans plus Lieberman.
Now, I’ve got to have some sympathy for the administration. They’re truly between a rock and a hard place. And we’re just three months out from a review conference for the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime, that being the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that’s going to begin on May 3rd. And within the framework of this treaty, first signed in 1970 by the US and the other weapons powers, first of all, there’s a pledge to eventually disarm. But how are we — how is the US now going to walk in with a straight face, walk into the UN, and claim that it’s leading towards a world free of nuclear weapons, when in fact we are starting up a plutonium facility in Los Alamos, a uranium facility in Tennessee, but also a major new production plant in Kansas City for all of the non-nuclear components that go into a weapon?
So, basically, the US is revitalizing its nuclear weapons production base. And again, the laboratories, mark my words, and as the Republicans already wrote, they’re calling for or attempting to demand a, quote, “modern” warhead, that means new designs.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting talking to you, Jay Coghlan, in the capital, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. New Mexico, if it were to secede from the United States, would be the third largest nuclear power, is that right? The United States, Russia and New Mexico.
JAY COGHLAN: Of course, the numbers of warheads are highly classified, as they should be. But, yes, it’s believed that just a few miles east of the runways of the Albuquerque International Airport, there is indeed a repository that has up to perhaps 3,000 warheads.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask how nuclear power fits into this story. President Obama’s budget also proposes a tripling of federal loan guarantees to help private companies build new nuclear power plants. You know, they haven’t been built in decades here in this country because of the anti-nuclear movement. The administration is asking to approve $54 billion in loan guarantees, up from $18 billion. Last week President Obama promoted nuclear energy in his State of the Union address.
JAY COGHLAN: Well, my response to that is I’d actually like to see the free market work in the commercial sector of nuclear energy. As what you just stated, these massive — proposed massive loans is essentially taxpayer-subsidized corporate welfare for the nuclear energy utilities. Again, let’s have a little free market capitalism and have that energy sector rise and fall, rise or fall, on its own power. Strip away the subsidies, and let’s see if it survives. I would contend that a dollar put into nuclear energy is a dollar robbed from true solutions, the real renewable energies that New Mexico, in particular, could be leading in.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the Nobel Committee cited President Obama’s pledge to abolish nuclear weapons as one of the reasons they gave him the Peace Prize last year. Jay Coghlan, what do you make of his latest proposals? We have thirty seconds.
JAY COGHLAN: I still hope that Mr. Obama can genuinely win that award. He’s taking major steps backwards. He’s going to have to show some guts. He needs to show some principle. He needs to show a steady hand, and he’s got to play real politics. But the fact is, is that our existing stockpile is safe and reliable now. The labs attempt to introduce new designs in the future will only undermine our confidence in the reliability of that stockpile.
AMY GOODMAN: Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, speaking to us from the [Roundhouse] in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the state legislature.