Decommission US Land-Based Nuclear Missiles NOW!


Leonard Eiger | Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action – TRANSCEND Media Service

10 Feb 2023 – The US Air Force conducted a test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) late yesterday night from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

There has not been any international outcry over the launch of the missile that, under normal operational deployment, would carry a thermonuclear warhead. There will be little or no discussion anywhere by the news media about the test and its implications regarding international efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons and move the world towards disarmament.

In the official announcement General Thomas A. Bussiere, leader of Air Force Global Strike Command said that “A test launch displays the heart of our deterrence mission on the world’s stage, assuring our nation and its allies that our weapons are capable and our Airmen are ready and willing to defend peace across the globe at a moment’s notice.”

Yes, all the world’s a stage in this nuclear tragicomedy in which we are assured that our nuclear weapons “defend peace across the globe at a moments notice.” When translated from nuclear doublespeak that phrase means “ready to launch 400 (yes, four hundred!!!) ICBMs that are on hair trigger alert, each loaded with a single 350 kiloton W78 thermonuclear warhead, which would be more than enough nuclear firepower to reduce Russia to a smoldering, radioactive wasteland (while our nation would suffer the same fate).

So what happened late last night at Vandenberg Air Force Base and why should we be concerned?

Countdown… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

With a monstrous roar, and leaving a trail of smoke, the missile launched out of its silo using its first stage rocket motor. About 60 seconds after launch the first stage burned out and fell away, and the second stage motor ignited. In another 60 seconds the third stage motor ignited and pulled away, sending the rocket out of the atmosphere. In about another 60 seconds the Post Boost Vehicle separated from the third stage and maneuvered to get ready to deploy the reentry vehicle or RV.

Next the RV separated from the Post Boost Vehicle and re-entered the atmosphere, hurtling toward its target. The euphemistically named RVs are what contain the thermonuclear warheads that would incinerate entire cities and instantly kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, causing untold suffering (both short and long term) to the survivors, and reduce the land to a smoldering, radioactive ruin.

Since this was a test the RV was loaded with a “dummy” warhead as it hurtled toward the test target in Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, approximately 4200 miles from the launch site. The Marshall Islands represent a shameful chapter of US Cold-War nuclear weapons testing that caused massive radioactive contamination and suffering to the Marshallese people that continues to this day.

As for last night’s Vandenberg test launch, that’s all folks. No fanfare, no big news stories. Just the usual news release from the U.S. government that is being parroted by the news media. As a news release from a previous test launch stated, “The test demonstrates that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies.” Yes, more doublespeak!

Approximately 400 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles are on 24/7 hair-trigger alert in silos in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. They carry thermonuclear warheads at least eight times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. And, they are the most vulnerable leg of our nation’s nuclear triad – consisting of the ICBMs, bombers and ballistic missile submarines.

So what are the realities of these ICBMs, and why should we be concerned?

  1. They are located in fixed silos spread across America’s heartland, making them easy targets for attack;
  2. There is an incentive to “use them first or lose them” (see item 1 above);
  3. The high-alert status of these weapons could lead to accidental nuclear war (think itchy trigger finger);
  4. The U.S. government consistently criticizes other countries for conducting missile tests, while we conduct many of them for both land-based and submarine-launch missiles;
  5. These tests have a negative effect on the target country (the Marshallese people have suffered for decades from previous nuclear weapons testing as well as current missile testing);
  6. Testing these missiles encourages other countries to develop and test their own missiles and nuclear weapons.

As we in this country begin thinking about preparing our taxes, perhaps this is a good time to ask where our hard-earned money would be better spent – testing weapons designed (and ready) to kill millions of people (and quite probably end life on Earth) or supporting programs that support life. After spending trillions on nuclear weapons, isn’t it time to say ENOUGH? These land-based missiles should be decommissioned immediately (and that is just a start)!

Following his arrest for protesting a Vandenberg ICBM test launch in 2012, then President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, David Krieger, stated, “Current US nuclear weapons policy is illegal, immoral and runs a high risk of resulting in nuclear catastrophe. We cannot wait until there is a nuclear war before we act to rid the world of these weapons of mass annihilation. The US should be the leader in this effort, rather than an obstacle to its realization. It is up to the court of public opinion to assure that the US asserts this leadership. The time to act is now.” (Read Putting US Nuclear Weapons Policies on Trial in the Court of Public Opinion)

Daniel Ellsberg (famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times), who was also arrested in 2012, said, “We were protesting a rehearsal of a holocaust… Every minuteman missile is a portable Auschwitz.” Citing his knowledge as a former nuclear strategist, Ellsberg revealed that smoke from cities destroyed in a nuclear exchange between Russia and the US would deprive the world of 70 percent of its sunlight and cause a 10-year famine that would kill most life on the planet.

It is unconscionable that Humanity’s fate lies in the hands of people who have the arrogance to believe they can control the very tools of annihilation that they covet as tools of foreign policy. It is not a question of whether or not nuclear weapons will ever be used, but WHEN, either by accident or intention. The only way to prevent the unthinkable is to rid the world of these horrific tools of our own destruction.

Ultimately abolition is the answer, and a practical starting point would be the decommissioning and dismantling of all ICBMs (the most unstable leg of the nuclear triad). With the current fleet of fourteen OHIO Class “Trident” ballistic missile submarines, approximately ten of which are likely at sea at any given time, the US would have a stable and reliable nuclear force with a massive amount of nuclear firepower – a more than adequate “deterrent,” assuming one believes in that mythical construct.

Of course, so long as we continue to rely on the false security of nuclear weapons – continually modernizing existing weapons and building new weapons systems – other nations will follow suit, as we are now seeing with a number of non-nuclear nations questioning whether or not they should build their own nuclear weapons. The United States, as the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons against another, bears the responsibility to lead the world towards total and complete nuclear disarmament. There is no security in nuclear weapons.

Whether or not we, as human beings, are capable of making the radical paradigm shift that will allow us take the calculated risks necessary to move the world away from the risk of nuclear annihilation, is questionable. Yet there is no question that should we not move in that direction, these horrific weapons WILL one day be used, resulting in what Martin Luther King, Jr. once called, “ an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not envision.” We must strive for the alternative vision!

So let’s begin by decommissioning Land-Based Missiles (ICBMs), which would immediately reduce the risk of nuclear war while showing good faith in bringing the other nuclear-armed nations to the table to begin good faith negotiations toward total nuclear disarmament (as is our responsibility under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Future generations, depending on the path we forge, will either thank us or, in the case of the survivors of a nuclear holocaust, curse us. May we make the right choice for the sake of all humanity.


Leonard Eiger is an activist and coordinates communications and outreach for Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action ( Ground Zero offers the opportunity to explore the meaning and practice of nonviolence, while witnessing to and resisting all nuclear weapons. The US Navy’s Trident ballistic missile submarine base, adjacent to Ground Zero, represents the largest deployed concentration of nuclear weapons in the United States.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Feb 2023.

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