“Let’s try to imagine what $9.4 billion could do for New Mexicans in one year: hire hundreds of new teachers, help protect us against increasing wildfire threats, secure precious water resources, provide medical care for the poor, and clean up contamination from past nuclear weapons production. Instead, it is going to nuclear weapons forever, even as the chances of potential nuclear war are increasing and we already have global overkill many times over.”
BY JOHN C. WESTER “MY VIEW” SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN | santafenewmexiacn.com
I was stunned to read in a recent article (“LANL would get over $1B bump in proposed budget,” April 20) that Los Alamos National Lab would get more than a $1 billion increase in its proposed budget, ensuring the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2023 spending in the Land of Enchantment would exceed New Mexico’s entire state budget by nearly a billion dollars ($9.4 billion vs. $8.5 billion).
Out of that, over 70 percent would go for programs that seek to indefinitely preserve existing nuclear weapons and build new plutonium “pit” bomb cores for new-design nuclear weapons. Further, much of the remaining money supports those nuclear weapons programs, such as $450 million for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the dump for future radioactive wastes from expanded pit production.
My archdiocese is named Santa Fe for the “Holy Faith” of St. Francis, patron saint of the environment and tireless promoter of peace. Pope Francis took his papal name from that revered saint and has explicitly called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Yet ironically, two of the nation’s three nuclear weapons labs (Los Alamos and Sandia) are located within the archdiocese.
That is why 40 percent of DOE’s national nuclear weapons budget of $16.5 billion will be spent in New Mexico alone, double that of any other state. In addition, New Mexico has the largest repository of nuclear warheads in the U.S., with up to 2,500 warheads held in reserve at Kirtland Air Force Base just south of the Albuquerque airport.
The New Mexican congressional delegation has always supported the nuclear weapons industry in the name of jobs, jobs, jobs. This needs to be critically examined and questioned, both morally and practically. Why is it that New Mexico consistently ranks near the bottom of all 50 states in key socio-economic indicators? Does the nuclear weapons industry benefit New Mexicans as a whole? The facts indicate no.
For example, during the nearly 80 years that the nuclear weapons industry has been in the Land of Enchantment, Census Bureau data shows New Mexico slipped in per capita income from 37th in 1959 to 49th in 2019.
Last year, in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of best states to live in, New Mexico was third from the bottom (and dead last in education). According to the New Mexico Human Services Department, we have the highest percentage of seniors living in poverty and the second-highest rate of overall poverty, suicide and food insecurity among children. The Land of Enchantment was recently ranked 49th among all states in overall child well-being. Not coincidentally, New Mexico’s population is 63 percent people of color who disproportionally bear the negative impacts of poverty.
Let’s try to imagine what $9.4 billion could do for New Mexicans in one year: hire hundreds of new teachers, help protect us against increasing wildfire threats, secure precious water resources, provide medical care for the poor, and clean up contamination from past nuclear weapons production. Instead, it is going to nuclear weapons forever, even as the chances of potential nuclear war are increasing and we already have global overkill many times over.
The Vatican itself has evolved from conditionally accepting nuclear weapons as necessary for “deterrence” to now declaring even their possession as immoral. This is because nuclear weapons indiscriminately kill everybody, and the nuclear powers have made zero progress toward the disarmament they promised to pursue in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, they are going backward with Russia’s current nuclear saber-rattling and our nation’s $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons “modernization” program. In truth, neither country ever had just “deterrence.” Instead, both spent enormous sums on nuclear warfighting capabilities, which is why we have thousands of nuclear weapons instead of just the few hundred needed for deterrence.
Given today’s increased dangers, I quote former President Ronald Reagan: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then, would it not be better to do away with them entirely?” Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara said of the Cuban missile crisis: “Rationality will not save us. … It was luck that prevented nuclear war.”
Let’s not count on our luck holding out — let’s abolish nuclear weapons as both President Reagan and Pope Francis have directed us toward. In turn, New Mexicans should direct their congressional representatives to lead us toward that promised land while encouraging life-affirming jobs instead.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester is archbishop of Santa Fe.