Groups demand nuclear missile program to be replaced with economic plan for ICBM communities

By: - January 12, 2022 6:13 am

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile accelerates toward a test range near Guam in 2015 after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The ICBM was the second fired for testing and evaluation purposes in the course of a week, with both Malmstrom and F. E. Warren AFBs sending crews and randomly selected missiles to Vandenberg AFB to launch the missiles in conjunction with the 30th Space Wing and 576th Flight Test Squadron which oversee the launch facilities and operational tests, respectively. (U.S. Air Force photo by Joe Davila)

More than 60 regional and national organization are calling on Congress and President Joe Biden to end the ground-based nuclear defense program, part of which is housed in Montana, while also calling for a federal spending plan that would overhaul or transform the affected military communities.

Until now, organizer Norman Solomon said the debate about the missiles has taken one of two paths, either calling for the elimination of the nuclear arms altogether or replacing them with a newer, next-generation of missiles. Instead, the organizations are calling for the elimination of the missiles in places like Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota, but not without funding a long-term economic plan that doesn’t leave communities like Great Falls without its primary economic engine.

The groups say just having more than 400 missiles in the ground, spread throughout interior states like Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska increases the chance of an accidental nuclear war. Moreover, Solomon said that because those weapons are stationery, they’re of limited value in case of an attack.

“ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) certainly waste billions of dollars, but what makes them unique is the threat that they pose to all of humanity,” said a statement signed by the group.

Solomon said what makes this appeal different is that it simultaneously calls for some economic plan to help the missile communities to transform, not just a demand to stop the missile program.

“Closure of those ICBM facilities should be accompanied by major public investment to subsidize transition costs and provide well-paying jobs that are productive for the long-term economic prosperity of affected communities,” the statement reads in part.

“That part gets lost in Washington,” Solomon said.

He said the notion of shuttering the program and replacing it with something equally viable should appeal to Montanans who may be offended by the theory behind why the nuclear arms were put in the ground in the first place – the so-called “nuclear sponge” theory. That notion holds that in the event of a nuclear attack, America’s enemies would have to target the ground-based missiles in places like Montana first, allowing the land to be a sponge to absorb the attacks, rather than missiles sent to more urban coastal areas.

However, while the other two parts of the United States’ nuclear arsenal include submarines and airplanes, those can be moved around, making it almost impossible for them to be detected or neutralized. Those other two defense systems in the air and in the sea, Solomon said, are plenty sufficient in case of a nuclear war. He said that having ground missiles that are always just minutes away from being launched is a liability with far too great of risk.

“The debate between a new (defense missile system) and updating the Minutemen III in some ways is ridiculous because the debate makes no difference to the safety of the world,” Solomon said. “I wish (Sen.) Jon Tester would channel his inner Mike Mansfield and cut the spigot on these just like Mansfield stopped the spending in Vietnam.”

This is the statement signed by more than 60 groups.

A Call to Eliminate ICBMs

Intercontinental ballistic missiles are uniquely dangerous, greatly increasing the chances that a false alarm or miscalculation will result in nuclear war. There is no more important step the United States could take to reduce the chances of a global nuclear holocaust than to eliminate its ICBMs.

As former Defense Secretary William Perry has explained, “If our sensors indicate that enemy missiles are en route to the United States, the president would have to consider launching ICBMs before the enemy missiles could destroy them; once they are launched, they cannot be recalled. The president would have less than 30 minutes to make that terrible decision.” And Secretary Perry wrote: “First and foremost, the United States can safely phase out its land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, a key facet of Cold War nuclear policy. Retiring the ICBMs would save considerable costs, but it isn’t only budgets that would benefit. These missiles are some of the most dangerous weapons in the world. They could even trigger an accidental nuclear war.”

Rather than being any kind of deterrent, ICBMs are the opposite — a foreseeable catalyst for nuclear attack. ICBMs certainly waste billions of dollars, but what makes them unique is the threat that they pose to all of humanity.

The people of the United States support huge expenditures when they believe the spending protects them and their loved ones. But ICBMs actually make us less safe. By discarding all of its ICBMs and thereby eliminating the basis for U.S. “launch on warning,” the U.S. would make the whole world safer — whether or not Russia and China chose to follow suit.

Everything is at stake. Nuclear weapons could destroy civilization and inflict catastrophic damage on the world’s ecosystems with “nuclear winter,” inducing mass starvation while virtually ending agriculture. That is the overarching context for the need to shut down the 400 ICBMs now in underground silos that are scattered across five states — Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Closure of those ICBM facilities should be accompanied by major public investment to subsidize transition costs and provide well-paying jobs that are productive for the long-term economic prosperity of affected communities.

Even without ICBMs, the formidable U.S. nuclear threat would remain. The United States would have nuclear forces capable of deterring a nuclear attack by any conceivable adversary: forces deployed either on aircraft, which are recallable, or on submarines that remain virtually invulnerable, and thus not subject to the “use them or lose them” dilemma that the ground-based ICBMs inherently present in a crisis.

The United States should pursue every diplomatic avenue to comply with its obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament. At the same time, whatever the status of negotiations, the elimination of the U.S. government’s ICBMs would be a breakthrough for sanity and a step away from a nuclear precipice that would destroy all that we know and love.

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction,” Martin Luther King Jr. said as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Nearly 60 years later, the United States must eliminate its ICBMs to reverse that downward spiral.


Action Corps
Alaska Peace Center
American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord
Arab American Action Network
Arizona Chapter, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Back from the Brink Coalition
Backbone Campaign
Baltimore Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter, Veterans For Peace
Beyond Nuclear
Beyond the Bomb
Black Alliance for Peace
Blue America
Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security
Center for Citizen Initiatives
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Chicago Area Peace Action
Code Pink
Demand Progress
Environmentalists Against War
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
Global Zero
Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility
Historians for Peace and Democracy
Jewish Voice for Peace Action
Just Foreign Policy
Justice Democrats
Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
Linus Pauling Chapter, Veterans For Peace
Los Alamos Study Group
Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility
Massachusetts Peace Action
Muslim Delegates and Allies
No More Bombs
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility
Our Revolution
Pax Christi USA
Peace Action
People for Bernie Sanders
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Prevent Nuclear War Maryland
Progressive Democrats of America
San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility
Santa Fe Chapter, Veterans For Peace
Spokane Chapter, Veterans For Peace
U.S. Palestinian Community Network
United for Peace and Justice
Veterans For Peace
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
Western North Carolina Physicians for Social Responsibility
Western States Legal Foundation
Whatcom Peace and Justice Center
Win Without War
Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy
World Beyond War
Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
Youth Against Nuclear Weapons



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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.