So-Called "Depleted" Uranium Weapons Poison the Homeland

The story of the thoughtless manufacture and widespread use in war of highly radioactive depleted uranium illustrates how a zero-sum attitude in foreign policy impacts domestic policy.

Do foreign policy chickens come home to roost? Consider the interlocking dynamics of mistreatment of foreign populations and mistreatment of the U.S. population generated by a foreign policy based primarily on the zero-sum use of force rather than the search for positive-sum solutions. A company produces a weapon of mass destruction designed to poison not just enemy soldiers during a battle but the very ground and air where it is used and all civilians who ever go to that location in the future…for tens of thousands of years. During manufacturing back in the good old U.S. of A., that same process of poisoning poisons the American workers manufacturing it and, of course, the surrounding environment. More, both the corporation and the U.S. government collude to prevent the workers from receiving justice. Irresponsible, short-sighted foreign policy that accepts collateral damage to foreigners generates irresponsible, short-sighted domestic policy that accepts the collateral damage of Americans.

Alliant manufactured over 16 million medium and large caliber depleted uranium munitions. The suburban Minneapolis site where Alliant made DU munitions is now a “superfund site” and the local community is fighting the company and the Pentagon over clean-up responsibilities.

In Iraq, U.S. troops fire DU weaponry from the Abrams battle tank, A-10 Warthog and other systems.A toxic and radioactive substance, DU– otherwise known as Uranium 238– is a byproduct of enriched uranium, the fissile material in nuclear weapons. It is pyrophoric and burns spontaneously on impact. That, along with its extreme density, makes DU munitions the Pentagon’s ideal choice for penetrating enemy tank armor or reinforced bunkers.

When a DU shell hits its target, it burns, losing anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of its mass and dispersing a fine toxic radioactive dust that can be carried long distances by winds or absorbed into the soil and groundwater. According to a military spokesman, in the first year of the war in Iraq, the U.S. Army and Air Force fired 127 tons of DU munitions. Soldiers and civilians in the war zones and those who live near testing ranges like the one in Socorro, New Mexico where open air testing of DU was conducted for more than 20 years, have suffered the short and long term health effects of ingesting radioactive dust, such as kidney problems, birth defects, cancers and death. [Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.]

The cost to the U.S. of its war of choice against Iraq in 2003 has been calculated by Nobel Prize laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz to be between three and five trillion dollars. How much more will the poisoning of Socorro and Minneapolis add to that cost?

One of the more subtle casualties of this foreign policy-domestic policy linkage is the government transparency upon which democracy stands:

The Pentagon has traditionally been tight-lipped about DU: Official figures on the amount used were not released for years after the 1991 Gulf War and Bosnia conflicts, and nearly a year after the 1999 Kosovo campaign. No US official contacted could provide DU use estimates from the latest war in Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor 5/15/03.]

This anti-transparency attitude that views the American people as the enemy extends to collusion with the industrial half of the military-industrial complex:

The DoD continues to deny any problem or responsibility of DU exposure by civilians or soldiers.  ATK refuses to release medical studies of Depleted Uranium production workers at TCAAP. [Alliant Action.]

The attitude that “no one is responsible” is one of the most dangerous cracks in the structure of democracy.

As for what the Pentagon really thinks about its uranium-laced weaponry:

Six American vehicles struck with DU “friendly fire” in 1991 were deemed to be too contaminated to take home, and were buried in Saudi Arabia. Of 16 more brought back to a purpose-built facility in South Carolina, six had to be buried in a low-level radioactive waste dump.

While eager to use the weapons and quick to deny that these weapons cause collateral damage, the Pentagon is evidently not proud of its behavior.

Domestic-Foreign Policy Linkages.
If a state adopts a bullying attitude toward foreign adversaries, can it maintain a kindly, sympathetic attitude toward the weak in its own society? The history of the U.S. over the last decade suggests the following Reinforcement Hypothesis:

H1 = If either domestic policy or foreign policy in a democracy becomes markedly skewed, a similar tendency will be reinforced in the other.

For example, a bias in favor of the use of force rather than compromise in foreign policy will promote the use of force (perhaps economic power, perhaps outright police force) in domestic affairs. Similarly, as concern for domestic civil rights intensifies, foreign policy is also likely to give more weight to the rights of foreign societies. Whether or not the Reinforcing Hypothesis is true is unknown, but it is sufficiently intuitive to merit study, especially considering that it is consistent with trends in the U.S. over the last decade.
The processes by which such a linkage might play out are likely to be varied because it may occur across a wide range of link types (of which only two–the propensity to use force and sympathy for the views of others–are spelled out in the diagram. In the case of the U.S., as foreign policy increasingly focused on military force rather than diplomatic skill or generosity domestic policy increasingly focused on freeing the uber-rich from constraints. As the U.S. military was freed to use its power against overseas adversaries, the uber-rich were freed to use their power to take resources from the middle class for their own further enrichment. To interpret this as mere coincidence is intuitively illogical.

Reinforcement Hypothesis

U.S. foreign and financial policy during the first decade of the 21st century illustrates the logic of the Reinforcement Hypothesis. This hypothesis views domestic and foreign policy as two components of a single system, a seemingly obvious statement but one whose implications tend to be overlooked. The impact of the nature of foreign policy upon the nature of domestic policy in particular is ignored by both politicians and voters, both of whom typically make judgments about the propriety of each in isolation. In the short term, a war of aggression may indeed offer benefits; the potential for the act of aggression to harm the moral fiber of the aggressor society tends to be overlooked. As illustrated in the diagram, the Reinforcement Hypothesis contends that a decision to conduct foreign policy with a bias toward the elite will generate a positive feedback loop creating a bias toward conducting domestic policy in favor of the elite as well, and this in turn will further promote an elite bias in foreign policy.

More abstractly, the Reinforcement Hypothesis holds that zero-sum foreign policy generates zero-sum domestic policy and vice versa. Similarly, positive-sum policy in one arena creates a tendency toward positive-sum policy in the other arena. As the “Domestic and Foreign Policy Reinforcement” chart illustrates, reliance on force (typically military) or exploitation in foreign policy encourages an attitude on the part of a regime that foments reliance on force or exploitation (typically financial) in domestic policy. A classic foreign policy example is the refusal to talk to opponents until they submit, combined with the use of threats (rhetoric and encirclement by military bases) to gain such submission. Domestic policy may be implemented, especially in democracies, somewhat more gently with increasingly severe police action to obstruct civil rights and financial policies that steal from the poor to enrich the rich.
In the context of demanding one-sided international benefits for the U.S. (as the only superpower, certainly the “elite” of global states), a habit of relying on force for short-term gain at the expense of the weak made it easier to conduct domestic financial policy in the same manner. The similarities between Washington’s intense focus on the military at the expense of diplomacy/compromise/sympathy for the weak of the world and Washington’s intense financial policy focus, especially but not only during and after 2008 on bailing out the rich while millions lost homes and jobs is striking.
Consider the alternative: if post-9/11 foreign policy had focused on police action against terrorists combined with a campaign to offer the Muslim world a fair hearing for its grievances followed by genuine reform of the international political system, would the marginalization of the American homeowner and the American worker have been so easy? Would an administration willing to address sympathetically the concerns of Muslims be inclined to engage in a consistent policy of favoring the domestic rich at the expense of the poor?
War and the Garrison State. The pretense, to take one now-infamous example from recent history, that a foreign war can be fought without impacting the aggressor’s domestic society, is the kind of nonsense that comes from a failure to understand the meaning of complexity. Borrowing the funds for war from overseas to avoid raising taxes up front obviously only puts the burden of paying for the war on future generations. Hiring expensive mercenaries to supplement or replace citizen soldiers to make war appear “free” is just another clear deception that thinking citizens should immediately see through.
Other interactions, however, are more subtle. To what degree may such practices change the values of the aggressor society from democratic, open-minded, sympathetic, and moderate to prejudiced and extremist as the price of war becomes increasingly concealed? How can democracy survive in the arms of an increasingly powerful garrison state that requires constant war to justify its continued existence and builds a constituency of war profiteers who personally benefit from its existence? As power steadily shifts into the hands of war industrialists and extremist politicians who get elected by waving the bloody flag, screaming “Emergency!”, who will defend the allocation of resources for domestic needs? Who will defend the right to speak out against endless war? Who will point out the moral linkages between the acceptance of collateral damage (e.g., tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians) in foreign policy and collateral damage (e.g., millions of unemployed workers so discouraged that they drop out of the workforce)?


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