The current US proposal, embodied in the new Nuclear Posture Review, to increase US funding of Non-Proliferation efforts by 25%, looks like yet another bribe for states that do not want to give up their nuclear programs at least to pretend otherwise.
Combined with the long term erosion of America’s technological capabilities in critical areas such as large solid rocket engines, warhead guidance and critical nuclear component manufacturing, the administration has put this nation on a path towards effective unilateral nuclear disarmament. Future Congresses and future administrations will have to spend inordinate amounts of money and political capital to regain what is being lost.
Warnings such as “the commitment to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or non state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction ” sound empty when we see the administration’s ongoing efforts to embrace states such as Syria and Iran, whose support for terrorism and pursuit of WMD is all too obvious - especially after the President has stated, “We will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has long been shown to be a weak and occasionally dishonest organization, far more concerned with constraining American power than preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to dangerous countries like North Korea and Iran. As a UN organization, it could hardly be otherwise.
Putting together the pieces of the administration’s various policies, one comes to the conclusion that its main goal is not to disarm US enemies, but to cripple this nation’s long-term ability to arm itself with a powerful and usable nuclear force. Claims from the Defense Department and the Energy Department that they “...will sustain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal as long as nuclear weapons exist” is in serious contradiction with their stated policy of not developing new nuclear weapons, but instead relying on so-called “Life Extension Programs” (LEPs).
America’s older nuclear warheads have always needed to be refurbished; there is little new about the idea of LEPs. However if the warheads are to be kept in service for over forty years without significant capability upgrades, how can the President or Secretary Gates claim that a weapon, such as a Trident D-5 warhead designed in the 1970s and deployed in the 1980s, will still be ‘effective’ in 2027?
“Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met, and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.” This statement indicates that every critical engineering decision surrounding these systems will be subject to minute political control. One might hope that, with all the experienced nuclear scientists and engineers in the White House and Congress, the nation has nothing to worry about.
Without testing, however, and in spite of the ongoing project to develop ever more accurate computer models of nuclear explosions, the credibility, safety and reliability of the arsenal is already degrading.
One apparently unasked and unanswered question is “Will the LEPs improve the capability of US warheads to penetrate future enemy missile defenses?”
The British Labor Party, as part of its disastrous 1983 election manifesto, authored in part by the late Michael Foot, promised to give up all nuclear weapons -- no matter what any other nation did. It is also one of the reasons the document is remembered as the “longest political suicide note in history.” The idea, which was attractive to a a large proportion of that period’s British and European anti-nuclear citizenry, was that if the UK gave up its nuclear weapons, other nations would follow. The electorate was not fooled. It was obvious that such a policy would weaken NATO and strengthen the USSR.
Since then, there have been few open advocates of unilateral nuclear disarmament; instead, we have seen repeated attempts at defining what a global abolition of these weapons would look like. The current US administration has set this as a goal. It may be unrealistic, but as an aspiration it might even appear harmless enough.
Ridding the world of nuclear weapons by using arms control negotiations may be as unlikely as ridding the world of recreational drugs, or political corruption, but that has never stopped people who are convinced that their own unique virtue gives them the power to regulate the behavior of other individuals and even states. The latest agreement with Moscow is squarely in this tradition. The 30% reduction in warheads, while significant and damaging to overall US strength, may be the least important part of the administrations nuclear strategy.
If this new treaty is ratified, the US will be giving up real assets. America’s nuclear force has already been radically reduced from its Cold War levels; further reductions put us squarely on the path to becoming a mid-level nuclear power on a par with China or France.
The modernized Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, and the Navy’s Trident Submarine-launched Ballistic Missiles, that will be scrapped under this proposal are well maintained, secure systems. The Russians on the other hand will be giving up a roughly equal number of unmodernized, unreliable missiles that were increasingly useless.
Under the Nunn-Lugar program, the US has financed the dismantling of a large number of Soviet-era weapons, including a large number of their nuclear warheads. Under this proposed treaty the US will not only have paid hard cash to secure these weapons but will be giving up more than a third of its existing arsenal. We shall effectively be paying for the same thing twice.
Efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons -- especially the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- have, at best, slightly slowed global nuclear weapons development. India, Pakistan, and North Korea all showed that the NPT can be ignored, and that gaining nuclear power status is a winning move, both domestically and internationally.