BY JOHN C. WESTER
Archbishop of Santa Fe
I was stunned to read in the recent article Los Alamos National Lab would get over a $1B bump in proposed budget and that the Department of Energy’s FY 2023 spending in the Land of Enchantment will exceed New Mexico’s entire state budget by nearly a billion dollars ($9.4 billion vs. $8.5 billion). Out of that, over 70% will be 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% of the 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 US, with up to 2,500 warheads held in reserve at the Kirtland AFB just south of the Albuquerque Airport.
The New Mexican Congressional delegation has always historically 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 really 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 show that New Mexico slipped in per capita income from 37th in 1959 to 49th in 2019. Last year US News and World Report gave New Mexico a best-state-to-live-in ranking of third from the bottom (and dead last in education). According to the NM 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% 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 NonProliferation Treaty. In fact, they are going backward with Russia’s current nuclear saber-rattling and the US’ $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons “modernization” program. But in truth, neither country ever had just “deterrence.” Instead, they spent enormous sums on nuclear warfighting capabilities, which is why we have thousands of nuclear weapons instead of just the few hundred needed for only deterrence.
Given today’s increased dangers, I quote President 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?” 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 towards. In turn, New Mexicans should direct their congressional representatives to lead us toward that promised land while encouraging life-affirming jobs instead.