Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Nuclear Blow-Back on Bush Administration’s New Generation Weapons Plan

Posted by K.E. White on April 24, 2007

Concerns are mounting on the Bush administration’s proposal a funding a new nuclear warhead design. The debate pits arms control advocates against a Bush White House that has shown an appetite to revise arms control policies—leaving the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and signaling support for nuclear ‘bunker buster’ weapons.

U.S. nuclear weapons currently carry W76 warheads, which after two decades need eventual replacement. But replacement plans—referred to as the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)—may also bring new nuclear offensive capabilities, bringing worries of a great WMD proliferation, and a new arms race among nuclear weapons states.

The American Association for the Advancement in Science recently aired these concerns by bringing together nuclear weapons experts today. The Associated Press reports:

The Bush administration has yet to make the case for building a new generation of replacement warheads and “the role of nuclear weapons” in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, a panel of nuclear weapons experts said Tuesday.

Development of the new warhead, the first in two decades, could have “international impacts” if critics view it as a new weapon rather than a replacement for the current aging stockpile, said the scientists, including three former directors of the government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories.

Some countries could see the warhead “as contrary to both the spirit and letter” of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty “unless explicit and credible efforts to counter such assertions are made,” said the panel, which was convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to study the warhead plan.

Today’s International Herald Tribune reports on the event also:

Development of the new warhead, the first in two decades, could have “international impacts” if critics view it as a new weapon rather than a replacement for the current aging stockpile, said the scientists, including three former directors of the government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories.

….

The scientists also said in a report that it is impossible to estimate the cost of warhead modernization plan, or assure that Energy Department claims of cost savings will ever be achieved. Proponents of the program may be “overselling” the eventual benefits, the report said

 

Sunday’s Washington Post reported on Congressional opposition to the RRW plan. The report reveals two interesting aspects of this nuclear debate: 1) the warheads are not needed for at least 50 years and 2) the administration opaqueness when it comes to detailing the plan and justifying it.

Yet even with these worrisome aspects, it seems there is a potential deal in the works: link RRW approval to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

WaPo’s report:

Experts inside and outside the government questioned moving forward with a new warhead as old ones are being refurbished and before developing bipartisan agreement on how many warheads would be needed at the end of what could be a 30-year process. Several, including former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), suggested linking production of a new warhead with U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a move the Bush administration has opposed.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the nuclear weapons complex, said at a hearing Wednesday on the RRW program that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have “not been forthcoming” about their views on the issue.

Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the nuclear complex, said at a hearing late last month that the program is proceeding “although the administration has not announced any effort to begin a policy process to reassess our nuclear weapons policy and the future nuclear stockpile required to support that policy.” He also noted that the Pentagon‘s Defense Science Board reported last year that there has been virtually no high-level, long-term articulation of U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

Former defense secretary William J. Perry, also appearing at the hearing, said current nuclear policies were developed for the Cold War and are “really not appropriate to the world we live in today.” A new nuclear plan is “long overdue” and should be shared with the appropriate congressional committees, he said. It should include “not only issues about what numbers we need,” Perry said, “but on what a future trajectory of those numbers in our forces should be and what kind of R&D is needed to support it.”

Perry said there are two “valid” arguments being made in support of the RRW program — that it would maintain the capabilities of U.S. weapons designers and provide a new warhead that “cannot be detonated by a terror group, even if they were able to get their hands on it.”

However, he said, development of the RRW program “will substantially undermine our ability to lead the international community in the fight against proliferation, which we are already in danger of losing.” Noting that present U.S. nuclear weapons will retain their capabilities for 50 to 100 years, he said the program could be deferred “for many years.”

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One Response to “Nuclear Blow-Back on Bush Administration’s New Generation Weapons Plan”

  1. Plotinus said

    Welcome back. I’ve missed your always timely and informative blogs. The only case I see for building a new generation of nuclear weapons is to reengage in cold war tactics. This plan is definitely counter to the Nuclear Profiferation Treaty and should be trashed.

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