Proliferation Press

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

Two Viewpoints on the Reliable Replacement Warhead

Posted by K.E. White on September 12, 2007

The White House supports a plan to put produce new warheads of America’s aging nuclear weapons. Opponents argue that the warheads are unnecessary and could spur a new arms race. Proponents argue that the new warheads are safer, and will maintain the credibility of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Below are two opposing views on the issue.

Wade Boese, writing for Arms Control Today, argues against the need for the RRW program, voicing support for more discussion over America’s nuclear posture between Congress and the White House:

The Senate has yet to pass its version of the energy and water appropriations bill, but the panel with the lead on the measure cut $22 million of the NNSA request. In a July 9 report explaining its action, the committee noted it was “divided” on the RRW program but thought there needed to be more “vigorous analysis” of how the program fit into long-term U.S. nuclear plans. When the Senate passes a final bill, any differences between it and the House version will need to be worked out by lawmakers from each chamber.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), an RRW opponent, charged that the secretaries’ claims “do not stand up to scrutiny.” In an Aug. 1 speech introducing a bill for new nuclear policy and posture reviews, she noted that existing warheads have been annually certified as safe and reliable and recent studies showed that the core of most nuclear warheads had minimum life spans longer than previously thought—85 years or more. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

Feinstein criticized the administration as “rushing” to develop RRW systems without a clear picture of future U.S. nuclear needs. She speculated that the report revealed “the administration is clearly getting nervous” about the program’s funding.

But Linton Brooks makes an equally passionate case for the RRW within the Wall Street Journal:

The RRW will also facilitate further reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. U.S. accomplishments in this area have already been substantial, if largely overlooked. Whole classes of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles — short-range and intermediate range nuclear missiles — have been eliminated.

Moreover, the RRW will give us greater confidence in the reliability of our weapons. This increased confidence will reduce the need for large numbers of spare warheads and allow us to take the U.S. stockpile to still lower levels, consistent with our international obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Finally, the RRW will allow us to deploy weapons that are safer to make and to store for people and the environment and also less susceptible to theft or misuse by terrorists. For example, the new warhead will not use beryllium, a poisonous metal used in the current weapons. Moreover, anti-theft measures have improved dramatically over the decades and will be implemented in the new warhead, preventing unauthorized use.

In sum, the new warhead will make nuclear testing less likely, facilitate further reductions in our arsenal, and help to ensure that the weapons we do deploy are as safe and secure as possible. The RRW is thus entirely consistent with U.S. nonproliferation objectives. It deserves the support of the nonproliferation community, the national-security community and all Americans.

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