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Archive for the ‘Reliable Replacement Warhead’ Category

Blog-On-Blog: Strategic Security Blog Tackles RRW and More

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

The Strategic Security Blog offers this very insightful entry on the Reliable Replacement Warhead. The post explores the shortfalls of the Bush administration backed proposals for creating a new warhead for America’s nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the comments—and the speedy answers—are definitely worth the scroll down.

I want to highlight this reply to a comment that 1) that sees the RRW as necessary for WMD deterrence and 2) strike down any notion of an American ‘first strike’ capability:

The argument that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter attack by chemical and biological weapons assumes some equivalence. This is an unfortunate consequence of the wildly overused and misleading term “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which lumps all all of them together. A contagious disease could have worldwide effect comparable to a nuclear attack but is not a useful battlefield weapon. Other biological and chemical weapons are not in the same class as nuclear weapons. And the assumption that nuclear weapons are needed to deter chemical or other unconventional attack is unsupported. One could make exactly the same argument about any form of attack, whether conventional military or roadside bombs; if the US were attacked by any means it could reply with nuclear weapons, but we don’t. We don’t always need nuclear weapons to deter even nuclear attack. If N. Korea used a nuclear weapon against the US or its allies, I am confident we would destroy and probably occupy the country. We might or might not use nuclear weapons during that process but whether we do or not is hardly relevant to N. Korean deterrence calculations. The commenter rejects a minimal deterrent doctrine. During the Cold War, the US needed to maintain a nuclear arsenal to (among other things) deter conventional attack against NATO. Today, with conventional superiority, any use of nuclear weapons works against US interests so the only use of nuclear weapons that contributes to US security is to try to deter their use.

Concerning first strike capabilities: The commenter lists the weapons we have retired, which is not the right measure. We have to look at what US weapons remain compared to the targets. Remaining US weapons are formidable and are on constant alert. I know of no other mission that could justify US nuclear force posture. The commenter may wish to consult a recent paper in International Security. It is true that Russia still has the huge SS-18s but these are considered beyond their life span and are being steadily replaced but, again, even if the Russians had a disarming first strike capability (which they do not) does not mean that the US does not have such a capability. The comment on damage limitation seems to suggest a distinction between a first strike capability and a disarming first strike capability.

Posted in Federation of American Scientists, Ivan Oelrich, Reliable Replacement Warhead, RRW, Strategic Security Blog | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Linton Brooks, Nuclear, Reliable Replacement Warhead, Wade Boese | Leave a Comment »

Proliferation Press News Round Up: Is Gordon Strong-Arming Another Term? Also Notes British RRW Research and Gordon’s Nuclear Push Against Iran

Posted by K.E. White on September 4, 2007

There are trade-offs in every form of government. While American voters may complain about overkill, British voters may just suffer from just the opposite. The current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, refuses to debate with his chief rival and may have a “snap poll” (i.e. call a quick election, since polls indicate a Labor bounce).

From the Associated Press, via the International Herald Tribune:

Britain will not get live televised debates between party leaders battling to win the next election, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday — but it may still have a snap poll.

Brown — once an advocate of U.S.-style TV tussles — rejected calls to spar on air with opposition Conservative Party chief David Cameron, but declined to kill off rumors he is planning a surprise election.

His governing Labour Party has had a spate of poll leads over its rivals in recent weeks, sparking speculation Brown will call a national election to capitalize on his popularity. But Brown refused to set out his plans at a Downing Street news conference.

“I’m getting on with the business of governing,” he said. “There is a time and a place to discuss elections. This is not the time.”

Brown does not need to call an election before mid-2010, but opposition parties are on alert for a possible poll later this year or early next year.

Meanwhile Brown in making some nuclear-charged diplomatic moves:

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterated Tuesday that London will support a new UN resolution against Iran if Tehran does not curb its nuclear programme.

Speaking two days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had achieved a key target in its atomic drive, Brown said there was evidence that international pressure was working.

“It is still my belief that the process we have started…which could of course lead to a third UN resolution…is the right process,” he told his monthly press conference in London.

British scientists are also working on a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. From the Hindu News Service:

London, Sept. 4 (PTI): British scientists are secretly working on the design of a revamped nuclear warhead at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, a short drive from here, a leading daily reported today.

“The new device, designated the High Surety Warhead, is the British version of the Reliable Replacement Warhead programme which started more than two years ago at the US military’s California and New Mexico nuclear laboratories,” The Herald quoted sources as saying.

America’s RRW program has brought non-proliferation concerns. This CDI article rehashes the worries of Sam Nunn, former Senator and leading nonproliferation advocate. Boiled down, he worries that refurbishing America’s nuclear warheads is 1) not necessary, 2) could encourage other nuclear powers to upgrade their own stockpiles and 3) embolden nuclear rogue-states:

For example, at a House Energy and Water Appropriations hearing on March 29, 2007, former senator and long-time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn, summarized the situation this way: “On the RRW itself, if Congress gives a green light to this program in our current world environment, I believe that this will be misunderstood by our allies, exploited by our adversaries, complicate our work to prevent the spread and use of nuclear weapons … and make resolution of the Iran and North Korea challenges all the more difficult.”


In short, Nunn and other witnesses have questioned how the RRW might impact nuclear non-proliferation efforts worldwide.


As Nunn elaborated, “I will leave it to others who have full access to classified material to discuss whether there is an urgent and imperative case for an RRW program at this time, but I can only say that I have not seen it. I can see, however, that we will pay a very high price in terms of our overall national security if Congress gives the approval to go forward with this program.”

Posted in Gordon Brown, Iran, Reliable Replacement Warhead, RRW, Sam Nunn | Leave a Comment »

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.”

Posted in American Association for the Advancement for Science, Bush administration, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Congress, Pete Domenici, Peter Visclosky, Reliable Replacement Warhead, RRW, W76, William Perry | 1 Comment »