Clinton Shows a Dovish Side on Nukes

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton, who has carved out a reputation as a war hawk, has quietly voiced opposition to a $1 trillion plan to modernize America’s nuclear arsenal, including a nuke-tipped cruise missile, notes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Whoever is hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails just did her a big favor, at least with anti-war critics: One newly released message reveals her skepticism about wasteful and dangerous spending on new nuclear weapons in the name of “modernization.” It’s a refreshing change from her usual hawkish stand on national security.

An email leaked to the conservative Washington Free Beacon includes an audio file of Clinton’s remarks at a private fundraiser in McLean, Virginia, last February. Asked by a former senior Pentagon official about her willingness to cancel plans for a next-generation nuclear cruise missile program, she replied, “I certainly would be inclined to do that.”

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire on July 12, 2016. (Photo from cloud2013 Flickr)

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire on July 12, 2016. (Photo from cloud2013 Flickr)

“The last thing we need are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear armed,” Clinton added.

Current Air Force plans call for spending upward of $30 billion on the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile program to acquire 1,000 such weapons. The Air Force says it will begin awarding contracts as early as next summer for the stealthy missiles, which will be launched from bombers more than 2,000 kilometers from their targets.

The LRSO program, in turn, is part of the Obama administration’s grandiose plan to spend more than $1 trillion over the next three decades on new land, sea, and air-launched nuclear weapons. That plan calls for building 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, 100 long-range strategic bombers armed with a new class of bombs, and at least 400 silo-based ballistic missiles, in addition to the new cruise missiles.

While nearly every aspect of the administration’s plan has garnered criticism, including the sheer improbability of finding enough funds to pay for such an extravagant “all of the above” program, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter delivered a resounding defense during a recent speech at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, B-52 bombers, and several hundred nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Offering more rhetoric than substance, Carter insisted that failure to rebuild every leg of America’s nuclear force “would mean losing confidence in our ability to deter, which we can’t afford in today’s volatile security environment.”

Senators Object

Carter’s speech was a belated reply to a letter from 10 prominent progressive senators, including Bernie Sanders, asking President Obama to reconsider his nuclear modernization program. “In particular,” they wrote, echoing Clinton’s own concerns, “we urge you to cancel plans to spend at least $20 billion on a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff weapon, which would provide an unnecessary capability that could increase the risk of nuclear war.”

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

The Pentagon, headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department, as viewed with the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., in the background. (Defense Department photo)

Experts in the arms control community backed them up. “The Air Force does not need a costly new and more capable nuclear-armed cruise missile,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, “especially if the new long-range penetrating bomber is truly penetrating. We are seeing a return to the days of nuclear excess and overkill.”

Even more authoritative criticism of the LRSO program came from former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who guided development of the current generation of air-launched cruise missiles, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Andy Weber, who oversaw all nuclear weapons programs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2014.

They warned that the missiles are not just a waste of money, but could actually put our national security at risk.

“Because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants, cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon,” Perry and Weber observed. Canceling the new cruise missile program, they declared, “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least” and “could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

British Defense Secretary and Conservative Party politician Philip Hammond offered a similar view in 2013: “A cruise-based deterrent would carry significant risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation. At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead. Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension. So, the cruise option would carry enormous financial, technical and strategic risk.”

Nuclear War ‘Flexibility’

To such criticisms, the Pentagon has argued chillingly that the new cruise missiles will give the United States greater “flexibility” in fighting a nuclear war — contrary to President Reagan’s common-sense dictum that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

A U.S. government photograph of Operation Redwing's Apache nuclear explosion on July 9, 1956.

A U.S. government photograph of Operation Redwing’s Apache nuclear explosion on July 9, 1956.

Clinton has made few firm pledges about nuclear weapons policy, but she told supporters at the private fundraiser that “This is going to be a big issue. It’s not just the nuclear-tipped cruise missile. There’s a lot of other money we’re talking about to go into refurbishing and modernization.”

That event was not the first or only place she has raised questions about the current direction of America’s nuclear policy. At a town hall meeting in September 2015, Clinton expressed admiration for President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning about the military-industrial complex and ridiculed the idea of spending a trillion dollars on new nuclear programs.

This January, in Iowa, Clinton told an activist that the Obama administration’s current plan for nuclear modernization “doesn’t make sense to me.”

Clinton also takes great pride in her role in negotiating a 2011 nuclear agreement with Russia, which limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads that each side can deploy.

To be sure, history gives little reason for optimism that Clinton would follow through as president on her concerns.

President Obama’s transformation from an eloquent advocate of a nuclear-free world to a supporter of unprecedented nuclear spending suggests that the military-industrial complex remains a powerful force.

Still, it’s encouraging to know that Clinton isn’t a hard-wired hawk, and that at least a few generals and defense lobbyists may be losing sleep over the uncertain future of their prized weapons systems.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.

16 comments for “Clinton Shows a Dovish Side on Nukes

  1. Evangelista
    October 4, 2016 at 21:36

    If/when the International Commercial Elite have established their Global Commercial Empire, with production facilities, administration facilities, assembly facilities and so forth around the world, in different sections of different nations commercially subservient to the controlling Master Elites, then the Master Elite will need nuclear-armed cruise missiles for ‘deterrent’ purposes. To ‘deter’ rebellions and uprisings, strikes and work-stoppages, protests against conditions and for social improvements and rights.

    Then, when, for example, Chinese, in an industrial manufacturing region stop working to protest overwhelming pollution, skies roiling black and rivers running brown, dead from bank to bank downstream, a nuclear cruise missile from afar can target a ‘disposable’ section, to send a deterrent message, one which the residues of radiation will ‘permit’ to reverberate through a number of generations, sending the ‘message’ far and wide and down through time. And around the world, to other areas, where the ‘workers’ will have the example to contemplate as they decide whether or not to ‘complain’.

    In less polluted regions, where elite-payed mercenaries may feel ‘safe’ to enter in person, ‘tactical’ nuclear devices, such as ‘depleted uranium’ munitions, made by “diluting” plutonium to a below chain-reacting matrix, such as the United States is today insisting is ‘sufficient’ for decommissioning nuclear stockpile isotopes scheduled per treaties for destruction (even though diluting does not destroy) will be usable for smaller area and more ‘precision’ excisions of trouble-making locals…

    Some may think the ‘more precise’ diluted plutonium solution will be sufficient for the Empire’s needs, and so may oppose the more radical, and potentially more radicalizing, nuclear cruise missile addition. Or that they may be added later, if unexpectedly high ‘unrest’ rates indicate larger scales of populations devastations needed.

    On the other hand, if we underclasses are able to break the Empire, to recover nations and regions to the people who live in them, who used to own them, before the Elite chicaned ownerships from them to their corporations, no such deterring would be necessary, and insurrection deterring arms would not be necessary, and, for security, would be better done without.

  2. Brad Benson
    October 3, 2016 at 19:53

    Hillary Clinton is a liar and a WAR CRIMINAL. Nothing she says has any credibility.

  3. Lisa
    October 3, 2016 at 03:46

    These threats made by Hillary during the election campaign don’t sound dovish at all. Naturally, this is just campaign rhetoric, to appeal to the audience. But she is actually threatening, as president, to attack Russia by military (even nuclear) means because Russia has hacked into DNC systems (a claim never proved).
    How much more hawkish can one be?

  4. Truthster
    October 3, 2016 at 01:07

    Is this just a ploy to get the antiwar vote which Hillary needs so badly now that her lead is slipping?
    Nah. Good thing Mr. Marshall did not even consider it. Hillary could never be that devious.
    BUT in fact she has made no clear promise to kill the “modernization” which with her modus operandi is virtually a promise she won’t kill it.

  5. Realist
    October 2, 2016 at 20:07

    These are not defensive weapons. They are not meant as a deterrence. No one is trying to conquer the United States, nor does any other country come close to having the means to do so. In the best possible scenario, these weapons are intended to intimidate every other country on the planet to bow to America’s will on every issue. These weapons are actually detrimental to our country’s future, and not only because another nuclear power might actually decide to fight back rather than go to their knees before a American emperor. That would destroy our civilisation. But the cost of these damned devices alone will destroy our economy. We are already told we cannot afford infrastructure, education or affordable medical care because our revenues don’t come close to matching our expenditures. This drunken spending on crap that we dare not use if we don’t want our species to become extinct will surely put every American, except the few very rich, squarely in the poor house. We will become what we always castigated the Soviet Union for being, a world class military basically parasitizing its civilian population. Actually, we are doing that already, this will simply finish killing off the host.

  6. October 2, 2016 at 19:20

    im assuming that Shillary has other places for that level of money to go…makes good rhetoric for those who are against this program…but Shillary hasnt seen a war she didnt like…as stated above.”We will get the Hillary wars”….soon…

  7. Dwight
    October 2, 2016 at 19:09

    This nuclear plan should obviously be a key question for the remaining Trump-Clinton debates.

    As Chuck Spinney said here, this plan is likely to end up costing $2-3 trillion dollars.

  8. elmerfudzie
    October 2, 2016 at 18:35

    Who really knows what Hilary is actually thinking these days? …What Americans and EU members tend to forget is this, nukes can arrive on their soil in small smuggled packages. They can be detonated for an almost infinite number of reasons. I shall endeavor to elaborate, since time is of the essence now!!.. A nuclear devise, produced in the late 1950’s nicknamed Davy Crockett (M-388 round or Mk-54) warhead weighed about 51 lb with a yield equivalent to somewhere between 10 and 20 tons of TNT; see reference: A more vivid translation of this number is: enough hard radiation to kill everyone within a quarter mile ’round the point of detonation. Since the time of Mk-54, newer more compact weapons have been developed that require as little as twelve pounds of 95% pure PU232 plus beryllium shroud encapsulating the core thus maximizing fast neutron energy use towards augmenting this yield up to 1-2 KT. The strength of this small weapon is then (again) doubly augmented using (in a physicists vernacular, the Teller-Ulam design)..adding Lithium-6 deuteride, formula 6Li2H or 6LiD, thus creating a thermonuclear devise, from what once was just atomic fission devise like the Davy Crocket. We can take for granted that our Soviet (now Russian) scientific counterparts have moved their weapons development programs in much the same direction-that is, smaller-compact design with a bigger bang. I can say this because of documented statements released by former Russian Secretary of the Security Council (2001-2), Alexander Lebed and his opinions are supported by former GRU member, Stanislav Lunev’s open discussion of equivalent Soviet era atomic munitions RA-115. Seventy years have now passed since creating the first generation (suitcase like nukes) and it’s a safe bet to assume the worlds citizenry have been kept in the dark about just how advanced these devises have now become. Their mere existence contradicts all future efforts towards financing and developing hyper-sonic weapons, or applying AI into theater actual war head decision making and so on…the bombs are here guys! Hey! You! U. of C. Berkeley boys! don’t be shy, out with it, there’s NOOO time left! tell the public, tell them NOW! before we waste billions of dollars and kill that many innocent lives in the process!!! Finally I say, Lieutenant General Alexander Ivanovich Lebed, I pray that you rest in peace, hero! Just as the deep state snuffed Senator Paul Wellstone in his plane, those same (global) forces did the same thing to you in your helicopter, cowards!

  9. Mark Thomason
    October 2, 2016 at 13:48

    Long range extreme stealth stand off weapons are the coming thing, to strike without putting an aircraft in danger.

    Those of course can also be called cruise missiles.

    However, it derives from the desire to make precision guided weapons more useful against difficult targets, rather than an alternative strategic strike system. Still, in practice it amounts to much the same thing.

    Hillary is a hawk. Whatever she says about defense spending, she’ll go for the ability to bomb from outside harm’s way. Bombing is her default option. That has been clear for any willing to see at least since she lobbied hard for Bill to bomb in the Balkans.

    We will get The Hillary Wars. We will also get anything that will help her fight them, everywhere. That includes long range strandoff precision guided weapons.

    • Chris Chuba
      October 2, 2016 at 17:43

      It’s only a deterrent if it is a second strike weapon. I keep hearing people say that our bombers are vulnerable to a first strike so what IS the point of this weapon? I am not intrinsically against modernization but it needs to be focused on preserving second strike capability otherwise the Russians have a right to suspect our intentions.

      I am actually, okay with keeping about 40 tactical nukes as an ‘option’ to use in a lunatic scenario to strike a few facilities in Iran or N. Korea just in case, not that I want to but that would not threaten Russia or China. Currently, we have hundreds of B61’s which is excessive.

  10. Annie
    October 2, 2016 at 12:52

    One could only wish that Killary if elected would become more dovish, but what a presidential candidate says has become meaningless. One only has to consider our peace prize president who chose to listen to Clinton on invading Libya. His continuing drone warfare has killed innocent civilians in many countries, while he continues to supply the Saudi’s with weapons to fight their unspeakable war in Yemen. And of course his role in the underhanded war America fights in Syria. He hasn’t even given us that transparent government he so ardently spoke of, and treated those who did harshly.

  11. Zachary Smith
    October 2, 2016 at 11:39

    Hillary saying something which is actually sensible really surprises me. Large chunks of the Defense Establishment oppose this long range standoff weapon.

    But the key sentence in Mr. Marshall’s essay is near the bottom:

    To be sure, history gives little reason for optimism that Clinton would follow through as president on her concerns.

    The woman has zero credibility with me because she flip-flops and directly lies about everything. Her ‘ethics’ are totally situational – she says what needs to be said to help her election prospects at any particular moment.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 2, 2016 at 12:59

      Hillary talks dovish only until the Clinton Foundation gets a huge donation from the nuclear arms industry.

  12. John Doe II
    October 2, 2016 at 10:07

    How could a Congress that stands in opposition to spending a couple million dollars to replace Lead emitting pipes in underserved cities readily approve a Trillion Dollar expense for “modern” nukes ?

    mental defect? or devaluation of human life?

    • Marko
      October 2, 2016 at 12:14


    • Realist
      October 2, 2016 at 23:40

      I’m not a believer in any supernatural forces, but damn, it’s almost like these people get possessed by some demonic force once they are elected to power. Or, maybe space aliens replace their bodies with “pod people” as part of a grand plan to conquer the earth. I’m really hard put to explain the lemming like march to the self-extermination of our species. Even if every newly elected congressman got an orientation session at the point of a gun, you’d think there’d be a few resistors. Seemingly not.

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