February 13, 2016
Inside the Military-Industrial Complex
Posted on Oct 10, 2007
James Harris and Josh Scheer
Scheer: Don’t worry, the country made that mistake about four years ago.
Coyle: People worry about North Korea and Iran, but neither country has missiles that could reach the United States.
Scheer: And another question I have, is this a fear factor kind of thing? ... Nuclear weapons are a fearful subject, nobody want a nuclear bomb to go off in this country, but also a fear that other countries will develop missile shields on their own, or they’ll weaponize space. ... How much does fear play in preventing a nuclear bomb?
Coyle: I think it’s very important, I think there are many members of Congress who genuinely fear what North Korea or Iran might be able to do some day. And it’s very hard to pass that up. The fear of something is a stronger motivator sometimes than the thing itself.
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Harris: Many people say that drafting policy and even acting on policy in response to fear is a very bad thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
Coyle: Well, indeed. You get irrational if you get too frightened by something, you become irrational. Unfortunately, 9/11 was such a horrible event that it just scared Americans out of their wits. When you let that happen you run into the situation where you make irrational choices.
Scheer: It would scare people but we look at, say, a 9/11 or we look at what those terrorists could do, that’s what I was saying about the dirty bomb, we’re fighting a war against people who had box cutters and kicked in [airplane] doors ... do you really think, are they going to be able to get nuclear materials within the next 30 years?
Coyle: Well, that’s of course a very important question, and we certainly hope not. The United States has a program to try to better secure nuclear materials, not only here in the United States but in Russia and elsewhere around the world. Recently the U.S. government secured some highly enriched uranium that was in a research reactor in Vietnam. Successful effort. So that effort to try to secure nuclear materials all around the world is an important part of dealing with the threat that terrorists might get ahold of such materials.
Scheer: ... Is what the Europeans are saying with the new missile shield that if you put something like that up, it may encourage a country to build nuclear weapons and that the greatest thing would be to try to take them all off the market? Would that be a better way of doing it? Taking nuclear weapons, nonproliferation, and using a different type of weapon. ...
Coyle: Well, the new missile shield that the United States is proposing to deploy in Poland and in the Czech Republic is supposedly to defend against missiles from Iran either attacking Europe or the United States. But the system supposed for Poland and the Czech Republic have no demonstrated capability to actually defend Europe, let alone the United States, under realistic operational conditions. Just the same, there are people in Europe who think that just putting it there, whether it would work or not, would help to deter Iran if Iran really believed that it worked.
Scheer: And now I want to get off missile defense—I don’t know if James wants to come back to it—because I know that another subject that you’re obviously an expert on is universities and working with the Livermore Labs. I want to know how much does the defense budget pie is say, from, two universities for research or through the DOE to the Livermore Labs, how much money are we giving to say these universities to do military-type research?
Coyle: Well, it’s quite a small part of the total. For example, I think the nuclear weapons budget of the United States, for everything it does with the military and every place else, is on the order of 20 billion, and at a place like Lawrence Livermore, their weapons budget is probably only a half a billion. They have other programs in energy and in the environment and biology and medicine and so forth. But they’re not weapons programs.
Scheer: And when you worked there, did they ever ask you to hold back findings because there [was] a lot of secrecy when you were working at the labs?
Coyle: Well, they did not ever ask me to hold back any findings, no. Obviously some of the weapons work is classified, but not even all of the nuclear weapons work is classified. The lab puts out a regular newspaper and a magazine and other things that describe its research. So except for the things which actually need to be classified, that’s where the secrecy is.
Scheer: It has always interested me when I read anything about, not the labs, I’m getting more to the university side with, say, UC Berkeley doing things like roboflies and smart dust, and there was an ABC report I think from this June about gay bombs and arming sharks and things like that. Are those programs, are they expected to work in the next 20 years? Are they giving them a lot of the money? Are they giving them a lot of thought? Or was it just something that, say, smart dust sounds interesting, so we’ll give a little bit of money? What’s your take on that?
Coyle: Well, the Defense Department does fund some pretty far-out ideas. But again the amount of spending is quite low compared to, say, the war in Iraq or other things we might discuss. And yes, small pieces of it go to ideas that don’t pan out. But that’s part of the research and development process.
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