The University of New Mexico (UNM), Women in International Security and Sandia National Laboratories recently held a panel discussion about nuclear weapons policy at UNM. The panel focused on the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program (RRW). Although presented as a forum for discussion between the public and experts, it ended up being quite different.
The RRW program is central to United States nuclear weapons policy. It is intended to modernize and increase the efficiency of the nuclear stockpile by redesigning the components of existing nuclear weapons. The new designs will cater to post Cold War threats and may include low yield nuclear weapons. At the forum, speaker Susan Stoner discussed the eventual need for resumption of nuclear testing in order to certify that the replacement warheads work.
Central to the RRW program is the development of a responsive infrastructure, which would continuously dismantle and rebuild the warheads based on new component designs. NNSA states that the new infrastructure would facilitate reduction in the total number of warheads by ensuring the capability to quickly increase production rates should the United States decide to do so.
Sandia has been unwilling to discuss their work on the RRW program and nuclear weapons with the public. Citizen Action, an Albuquerque based NGO, has been working to facilitate this type of forum for a long time but had consistently been refused in the past. Sue Dayton, of Citizen Action, was surprised that officials from Sandia were willing to speak with the public at all about RRW.
Despite the fact that they were willing to present at the forum, the speakers were not comfortable. The presenters hesitancy was used to justify inflexibility towards the public by the organizers. At meetings preceding the forum the organizers refused to include a disarmament expert on the panel. At the forum, Andrew Ross, a UNM Professor and one of the organizers, told one member of the public that they were not allowed to film the presentations because the speakers had not been asked in advance. The public was told that they were not allowed to hold signs or speak out of turn. The room was too small for the number of people in attendance and many were forced to stand crowded in the back.
These restrictions led to conflict between the public and security at the event. Bob Anderson, of Stop the War Machine, was arrested after speaking out of turn demanding a balanced panel and questioning the morality of the RRW program.
Activists appreciate the gesture towards dialog. In the future, however, the organizers must provide enough space, must hear and implement the public’s concerns both before and during the forum and must arrange for a professional mediator to facilitate the dialogue.
Kalliroi Matsakis, of CCNS, said, "an open and full discussion about nuclear weapons in this country is essential. The forum left me shocked at our inability to communicate with the speakers. If unsolicited questions lead to hostility and arrests at a university-sponsored public forum, then what hope do we have for peaceful negotiations and collaborative efforts on an international scale?"