New Nukes or Not?

 In Nuclear Weapons

Secretary of Defense Gates is still pushing for new nuclear weapons. At an Air Force Association conference this Wednesday, Gates:

previewed findings of the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review by endorsing the need to sustain and modernize the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, including a new warhead design.

That appears to mean support for the reliable replacement warhead program proposed by former President George W. Bush but strongly opposed by arms control advocates and congressional Democrats.

The article continues with more from Gates:

Responding to a question from the audience, Gates said the preliminary nuclear review results showed the need for “large investments” in modernizing nuclear weapons production facilities and retaining weapons development expertise and, “in one or two cases, probably new designs that would be safer and more reliable.”

Bush’s own effort to develop new nuclear weapons was repeatedly blocked by Congress and a new warhead appeared to conflict with President Obama’s support for reducing the nuclear stockpile.

If Gates’ views win out in the development of the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, progress toward a nuclear weapons free world will become that much more difficult. Next week, the US will submit a resolution at a special U.N. Security Council meeting on disarmament and nonproliferation calling for nations that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to begin negotiations to reduce their nuclear stockpiles and to negotiate “a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, and calls on all other states to join in this endeavor.” I would love to hear Gates explain how countries will be motivated to work together on this if the US is modernizing its arsenal by building new nuclear weapons.

In an excellent OpEd in the San Jose Mercury News today called “Opinion: Obama can reach for transformative nuclear policy,” Steve Andreasen argues that now is the time for a transformative nuclear posture review and lays out some key changes to look for in the review due early next year.

But the Nuclear Posture Review will say much more, in particular with respect to these issues:

  • Declaratory policy. America has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to rule out a nuclear first strike. Today, advancing the idea that nuclear weapons are legitimate in only one role — preventing their use — may better serve U.S. interests.
  • “New” nuclear weapons. There is a broad consensus that as long as nuclear weapons exist, they should be safe, secure and reliable. But if we are on a path to a world free of nuclear weapons, production of new weapons would be a hard sell.
  • Nuclear force posture. The Cold War has been over for almost 20 years, but the U.S. and Russia still maintain hundreds of nuclear ballistic missiles on quick launch status. A policy to establish a global norm against launch-ready force postures would be a safer weigh station on the path to eliminating nuclear weapons.
  • Reductions beyond START follow-on. The outlines of a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty follow-on reached by Presidents Obama and Medvedev in Moscow are not transformative. Look for a commitment to seek further reductions.
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    Showing 3 comments
    • Mike Havenar

      A world without nuclear weapons should be our ultimate goal. But let us remember that a comet the size of the Pacific Ocean hit Jupiter last year, and that this sort of calamity could happen to our planet as well. We should retain some of these weapons aimed at outer space in the event of a large asteroid or comet on a collison course with Earth. It can happen here.

    • Splash

      A nuclear free world is not likely. The fact that both Russia and the US [not to mention China, India, Pakistan, North Korea GB, France and Israel] all have launch ready arsenals should tell us two things: 1 that the cold war was never really over and b) that neither the East nor the West trusts each other near enough to ever fully disarm.

      It is, at best, naive to think that any nuclear concessions, particularly those that are DEFENSIVE in nature would draw cooperation from the Russians, not to mention that any cooperation that we did get from Russia in the UN would be vetoed by China – and vise versa. Russia and China have a common interest – oppose America. Both have voted against us in the UN nearly 85% of the time as the UN appears to have one singular goal — cripple the US. We should dump the UN and move on. Otherwise we will only be made weaker and weaker and weaker just to show how cooperative we can be.

      Cooperation with your enemies is GENERALLY not a wise move. I am, however, fond of the utopian pipe dream of a nuclear FREE globe as I am fond of intergalactic travel at speeds faster than that of light.

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    • […] Sec. of Defense Gates has come out repeatedly arguing for new nuclear weapons like the Reliable Replacement Warhead, while Vice President Biden has opposed pursuing new nuclear weapons. More statements from the President and his personal involvement in the Nuclear Posture Review can help steer the review in a direction that actually puts the US firmly on a path toward a nuclear weapons free world. […]

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