By Jim Haber, NDE Coordinator
The Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) was formed in 1984 to stop nuclear bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). It developed out of the six-week “Lenten Desert Experience” first organized by a Franciscan community in 1982. Making the journey to the desert became a significant spiritual as well as political act. Prayerful, persistent civil disobedience coupled with open, respectful communication has remained a hallmark of NDE actions. Avoiding hostility and violence has allowed priests, women religious, parents, children and Western Shoshone elders to participate.
NDE supports Western Shoshone rights to their ancestral lands which include the NTS, and who’s legal claim with the United States dates back to the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. Raising awareness of indigenous rights and issues was an important development for NDE and the anti-nuclear testing movement world-wide. Pressure from NDE and other groups was
instrumental in the passage of the 1992 federal ban on full-scale nuclear tests. Both China and Russia have closed their nuclear test sites, but not the US. Over 1000 nuclear bombs were exploded at the NTS, the most bombed place on Earth.
Traveling the 65 miles from Las Vegas to the NTS, one passes Creech Air Force Base. An increasing focus for NDE, Creech is the headquarters for the air force’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) squadron. Once in the air, control of a “drone” (as they’re also called), its cameras and arsenal is transferred to a crew at Creech (or another, similar base). The Predator and Reaper drones are implicated in a rapidly increasing number of air strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq with many civilian casualties. Drone attacks from bases in Pakistan, attacking Pakistan itself, are destabilizing that country. Reports indicate that over 10 civilians are killed for every intended target, turning people against the US who had been supportive or neutral. NDE is also looking at other sites in the region that need attention. General Atomics, manufacturer of the Predator series of armed UAVs is based in San Diego with flight test facilities in Palmdale, CA. Crews control and train on the UAVs at March AFB near Riverside, CA, about 3 hours from Vegas.
In April, NDE was the major organizer of a 10 day vigil at Creech. It was the first large demonstration against the drones in the US. NDE’s annual Sacred Peace Walk, covering the 65 miles from Las Vegas to the Test Site joined forces with the vigilers. 14 people were arrested after entering the base to converse with the drone pilots and sensor operators. At the last minute, the district attorney dropped the charges. More actions are planned with monthly vigils at the base and monthly vigils on the Strip in Las Vegas (where more people are). Groups are encouraged to come to the desert, to feel the power of the land, to see that it isn't a wasteland, and to stop the desecration of this sacred beauty by the military. Codepink is coming out from the San Francisco area in July. More are welcome at
NDE continues to focus on abolishing nuclear weapons even while organizing vigils at Creech. One is the site of ACUTE US militarism, projecting violence globally 24 hours a day. The NTS represents CHRONIC militarism and our country's longstanding willingness to threaten and attack civilians. Both must end. Healing of people and land must increase. NDE’s August Desert Witness includes actions at Creech, the NTS and educational events in Las Vegas, all in commemoration of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as a cry against all targeting of civilians.
"Anti-nuclear nuclearists," who include people like Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, argue that we need to update our nuclear weapons and delivery systems because they are older than they were designed to last. Their vision of fewer, smaller, more precise nukes would violate the mandate of the NPT which requires that the nuclear weapons states develop disarmament, not “leaner and meaner” nukes.
A longstanding proponent of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), NDE is wary of its new advocates. The 1000+ detonations carried out at the NTS, all the sub-critical tests carried out there, plus advanced super-computer modeling, the U.S. is secure in its ability to modernize without more full-scale tests. Ratifying the CTBT should be about moving towards nuclear disarmament, not maintaining a relative monopoly of nuclear weapons.
Programs like “Stockpile Stewardship”, “Complex Transformation” and the doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” make questionable our government’s commitment to peace. Even when Congress deletes funding for such initiatives, new requests quickly follow. The US is developing new nuclear bombs and missiles; shares nuclear weapons technology with non-signitories to the NPT, and threatens first use of nuclear weapons. Hence, every US conflict threatens to go nuclear. Our ultimate hope lies in the abolition of nuclear weapons (starting with the most armed states first), and of the institution of war itself.
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