Aug 29, 2007

Bombs Away, For Good

August 29, 2007; Page A15 - Wall Street Journal

Are the plans to upgrade our nuclear arsenal with a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) consistent with America's interests in opposing the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Some reasonable critics of the program have expressed doubts.

They are wrong: The RRW is fully consistent with U.S. nuclear nonproliferation objectives.

When judging this issue, consider the first and most basic question: Should the U.S. even have a nuclear deterrent? For the past 60 years, U.S. nuclear forces have strengthened our security as well as the security and stability of the international community. They have also helped prevent nuclear proliferation by extending our deterrent to protect allies, who therefore don't need to seek their own nuclear weapons. Japan's deep concern in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test shows that the need for extended deterrence remains strong.

But what about the size and shape of our deterrent? The RRW will replace many of the current, aging warheads deployed on Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It provides no new military capability, nor increases the arsenal's size or power.

Three further questions need to be considered regarding nonproliferation. Will the RRW make future nuclear testing more or less likely? Will it advance or hinder efforts to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal? Will it make the weapons we deploy safer and more secure?

Both the administration and Congress have made it clear the RRW is being pursued under the requirement that it will not need to be tested before being certified to become part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This reinforces our commitment to maintaining our moratorium on underground nuclear testing.

No one can, however, guarantee that as the older weapons in our current stockpile age further, they will not need to be tested to maintain confidence in their safety and reliability.

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.

The number of nuclear weapons dismantled this year will increase by over 50% compared to last year. The number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons will go from over 10,000 at the peak of the Cold War, to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. Because of decisions by the Bush administration, within five years, our nuclear arsenal will be at its lowest since the 1950s.

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.

Mr. Brooks negotiated the START I Treaty in 1991 and was a senior arms control and nonproliferation official in five agencies within the U.S. government. From 2002 to 2007 he was the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.


Anonymous said...

If you want to get rid of nuclear weapons, fine. Get rid of them, if you can. But don't feed everybody the line that a never-tested RRW is a better deterrent than an aging device of a design that has been tested. And how do you deal with an RRW as it ages?

Anonymous said...

"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."

How about a warhead that works?

The NNSA attempt to sell RRW has become a blatant sales pitch to the disarmament community. It is irresponsible and dangerous for us to be going down that path.

Anonymous said...

Its easier than saying we screwed up the W76.

Anonymous said...

Was not being able to perform periodic testing part of the design criteria for any of them? Was there ever any expectation that testing would someday be forbidden?

Anonymous said...

Linton is having flashbacks to sitting across the table from the Russkies. Probably wishful thinking.

Times have changed. Before anyone gives him $$$ for new production facilities or implementation of a new design there are two questions that have to be answered:

1) if NYC vaporized tomorrow morning would our intelligence agencies be able to give the Commander in Chief and Congress a 99.999% certain idea of who did it?
2) Would we have the national will to actually use one in a case like this?

If the answer(s) to either question is maybe, no, perhaps, sometimes,probably, sort of, or anything except yes, then there is not going to be funding for much of anything new. And there shouldn't be. Deterrence, in the cold-war sense, only works when your adversary is sane, and wants a better way of life. And like it or not, in the old days there wasn't time to do much thinking about your response--- ICBMs headed your way, push the button and hope for the best.

The people who are likely to be our biggest problem for the next 100 years or so, are crazy, and aspire to return to those carefree days of the 8th or 9th century(sorry, I didn't mean to generalize, it's only their moderates who are in favor of returning to 9th century). I'm not smart enough to know what we do about them, but I do know that what worked with the Russians is unlikely to give them a second thought.

Anonymous said...

Remember the Soviet philosophy. They told the terrorist countries that they would all be attacked if the Soviet Union was hit. No lawyers, judges, lawsuits, UN, etc. The result was all the Governments made damn sure none of the terrorists they sponsored went after the USSR.

Anonymous said...

The jihadist have one very tempting target. It's called Mecca, and we have the means to wipe it from the face of the Earth if an American city is ever vaporized by a jihadist bomb.

Anonymous said...

"Its easier than saying we screwed up the W76."

Who's "we" white man?

Anonymous said...

To the poster at 10:56AM:

What would you rather fly in?

Would you rather be on the maiden voyage
a brand new never flown Boeing 787?

Or would you rather fly in an old Boeing
727 that once flew; but has been sitting
in the Arizona dessert for the last 30 yrs?

I'd fly in the new Boeing 787!!

Anonymous said...

Poster 8:27 AM, comparing a complex Boeing airliner with its millions of parts to an atomic bomb is a faulty analogy. Our bombs are designed to be robust and need little mechanical repairs or maintenance. Planes need frequent repairs and maintenance to be consider air-worthy. Also, if an atomic bomb has a significant chance of being a dud, then the remedy is easy. Multiple bombs from our large inventory can be targeted on a single site to increase the odds that at least one will perform as required. That same strategy isn't possible with jet airliners filled with human passengers as their cargo.

Sorry, but you'll have to do better to justify the need for the RRW. No one in Congress is about to fall for these bogus analogies.

Anonymous said...

Poster at 12:29PM:

Evidently you don't understand that targeting multiple warheads at a given target is EXACTLY what the military does!!!

THAT'S the reason we have so many nuclear weapons!!!!

If you were familiar with the legislation, you would realize that part of the reason for the RRW is to LOWER the number of nuclear weapons in the stockpile by taking advantage of the increased reliability.

Check out the legislation by Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D) of CA; whose legislation would tie the RRW program to decreased stockpile and ratification of the CTBT:

' "As many of you know, I am strong believer in RRW, because I am a strong believer in you and the work that you do,....But if, as Bush administration and lab officials have promised, the new warheads can be deployed without live explosive testing, she said, "then ratifying the CTBT should be a central objective of our nation." '

A Boeing 747 has about 6 million parts, but nuclear weapons have THOUSANDS of parts.

Our bombs were NEVER designed with the idea that they would be in the stockpile as long as our current stockpile. Warheads were replaced as the military updated their delivery systems.

Nuclear weapons need maintenance too; they are called Life Extension Programs and may not be cost-effective in the future:

"And the Administration’s nuclear weapons experts tell us that in coming years the Life Extension Programs currently used to maintain our legacy weapons will no longer be cost-effective."