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New coalition defends U.S. nuclear complex

WASHINGTON – Defenders of the U.S. nuclear weapons mission have launched a national coalition, led by Albuquerque business leader Sherman McCorkle, aimed at raising awareness and protecting budgets in the nuclear weapons complex.

The Strategic Deterrent Coalition bills itself as nonprofit and non-partisan and funded by donations. Nearly two dozen politicians and ex-military and nuclear weapons officials, including Linton Brooks, a former director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, and former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, have endorsed the organization.

McCorkle, chairman of the Sandia Science and Technology Park in Albuquerque, is the coalition’s chairman and one of four directors, who hail from New Mexico, Louisiana, Georgia and Missouri. The coalition’s website says it aims to “inform decision makers and thought leaders on how America’s nuclear weapons contribute to our strategic position … why it works, why it must be maintained, and how it contributes to global stability.”

However, the website – at www.sdc-usa.org – also says the group is not a registered lobbying organization and will not “lobby or engage in substantial legislative activities.”

The Strategic Deterrent Coalition’s inception comes at a time of tight federal budgets that threaten to crimp nuclear weapons spending at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico and other nuclear installations around the United States.

“America must avoid the tendency to understate the complexity and perishability of nuclear weapon systems and the specialized facilities, personnel and expertise needed to properly sustain nuclear deterrence,” says a position paper posted on the coalition’s website. “Maintaining the evolved Triad still requires special expertise, facilities and equipment.”

McCorkle, who founded the Kirtland Partnership Committee to help protect Kirtland Air Force Base from a Base Realignment and Closure Commission review in 1996, said the nuclear coalition is similar in nature but different in scope. The Kirtland Partnership Committee focused specifically on Kirtland. The Strategic Deterrent Coalition’s goal is to protect the nuclear triad, which includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and nuclear capable long-range bombers.

“It’s to support the nuclear deterrent in all of its aspects,” McCorkle said in a Journal interview.

“There was no national coalition to support the entire nuclear deterrent, so we ended up with various community organizations doing everything piecemeal,” McCorkle said.

The coalition, based in Albuquerque, also hopes to protect the federal government’s nuclear investment in New Mexico.

“Los Alamos, Sandia and the (Kirtland) Air Force Weapons Center represent 25,000 jobs in New Mexico and … they are some of the highest wage jobs we have,” McCorkle said. “Of course, I want to diversify the economy – everyone does – but not by reducing the number of people who work at the labs or at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.”

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