There It Goes Again: The Bush Administration's Latest Plan to Build New Nuclear Weapons

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Dr. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book is Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present (Stanford University Press).

The Bush administration's stubborn determination to prevail, whatever the costs, is evident not only in its reckless military venture in Iraq, but in its single-minded pursuit of new nuclear weapons.

The U.S. government, of course, is supposed to be divesting itself of its nuclear weapons under the provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which it signed in 1968.  As recently as the NPT review conference of 2000, the U.S. government joined other signers of the NPT in promising an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals."

Furthermore, when the Bush administration ignored these commitments and pressed Congress hard for funding to build new nuclear weapons—nuclear "bunker busters" and "mini-nukes"—Congress dug in and rejected them as totally unnecessary.  With some 10,000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, members of Congress, both Democrats and some Republicans, seemed to feel that enough was enough.

However, from the standpoint of the Bush administration, there are never enough nuclear weapons—at least in its arsenal.

And so, administration officials are now back with another U.S. nuclear weapons proposal:  to build the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).  "They've been running with RRW like you wouldn't believe," observed U.S. Representative David Hobson (Republican-Ohio).  Hobson ought to know for, until this January, he chaired the House subcommittee on water and energy appropriations, which oversees spending on nuclear weapons.

The alleged reason for building this newly-designed hydrogen bomb is to maintain the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile which, according to administration proponents of the RRW, is deteriorating and needs to be replaced.  But independent studies by scientific experts have shown that the stockpile will remain reliable for at least another fifty years.

Not surprisingly, the plan for the Reliable Replacement Warhead has drawn sharp criticism.  "This is a solution in search of a problem," remarked Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.  "There is an urgent need to reduce these weapons, not expand them."  Much the same thing has been said by members of Congress, who stress the provocative nature of the RRW.  Despite the fact that the contract for the nuclear weapon is slated to go to the Lawrence Livermore lab in her home state of California, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein is a leading critic.  "What worries me," she said, "is that the minute you begin to put more sophisticated warheads on the existing fleet, you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon.  And it's just a matter of time before other nations do the same thing."

Even more worrisome is the fact that the Reliable Replacement Warhead is just the tip of the nuclear iceberg.  This nuclear weapon is merely a component of a larger Bush administration plan to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.  Called Complex 2030 (and dubbed by disarmament groups like Peace Action "Bombplex 2030"), it calls for a massive reorganization and refurbishment of the nation's nuclear weapons program.  According to Thomas D'Agostino, the deputy administrator for programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration and a keen supporter of the proposal, Complex 2030 will "restore us to a level of capability comparable to what we had during the Cold War."

Like the Iraq War, this will be a very expensive program.  The Bush administration claims that Complex 2030 will cost roughly $150 billion.  But the Government Accountability Office considers this estimate far too low and has urged Congress to require that the Department of Energy provide an accurate accounting of the real costs.

Naturally, arms control and disarmament groups are horrified by Complex 2030.  Susan Gordon, director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, has remarked:  "At a time when the Non-Proliferation Treaty is in danger of unraveling, it is madness to be planning to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons program with new warheads and new military missions."

How warmly Congress will welcome the Bush administration's plan to upgrade and expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal is anyone's guess, but the odds are that it will receive a chilly reception—and not only from Democrats.

In addition, the plan will certainly be seized upon by the government of Iran.  Currently assailed by the Bush administration for allegedly building nuclear weapons and, thus, violating the NPT, it merely has to point to the RRW and Complex 2030 to reveal the administration's hypocrisy.

Indeed, if the Bush administration were really serious about blocking nuclear proliferation—rather than enhancing its own nuclear weapons supremacy—it would scrupulously abide by the provisions of the NPT.




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Oscar Chamberlain - 4/11/2007

An interesting article on possible new initiatives in "non-lethal" chemical warfare.
http://blog.wired.com/defense/2007/04/the_chemical_we.html

Some may see this as a piece with Bush's nuclear policy, and it may be. But "non-lethal" chemical warfare has additional complexitities. It is quite possible for someone to take a very different position on this as opposed to the development of new nuclear weapons.


Billy E Karlinsey - 4/9/2007


Two things I learn with my association with special weapons is: Safety and reliably. That was back in the 1960's. By doing a lot or reading and some between the lines, they the weapons developers have tried to improve the weapons for various reasons. In the late 50's and 60's they had weapons to 15 Meg Tons size to ensure target take out being delivered by aircraft. As they were replaced by missiles and the sized drop to 1 Meg Ton as the accurately improved. I believe now their now down to one-third Meg Ton. The older weapon had about 10 KG for the pit or 22.2 lbs., Times that lbs number by 50,000 US and Soviet weapons ready to fly you start to an idea of the fallout problem for the living as a few micro grams in the lungs and your lift expectancy drops to 20 years max. That why they call it mutual assured destruction. The last figures that seem to hold true they have 4000 to 5000 active pits still in stock and maybe 5000 to 7000 inactive stored. Active weapon for use is probably under 2000 now days. From what I can tell in the next 20 years the actives will drop to 400 pits and about the same for the Russians. I think at one time they thought they could take out the other side missiles and that why there so many weapons, today that not possible to do a preemptive attack, so the cities are the targets now. One last thing I'm speculating on they have or want to moved to encryption in the trigger chain so that a weapon can be duded in route if needed or armed so there no way weapons handlers could set it off or if a weapon was to fall into the wrong hands, except for having the material it would be a dude. Unless there is a world wide ban that is verifiable we well be holding enough to do a job required.


John W Bland - 4/9/2007

Same shit . . . different maniacs.