Friday, November 30, 2007

UC Paper Publishes Anti-RRW Op-Ed

The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at my alma madder of the University of CaliforniaBerkeley, ran today an excellent op-ed by the Center’s Robert Gard, Leonor Tomero, and Achraf Farraj. The piece urges students and faculty to question UC’s role in the development of RRW. Golden Bears, unite!

When the Deterrent Becomes a Threat
Students and Faculty Should Question the UC Role in Development of a New Hydrogen Bomb

The University of California manages Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a facility leading the development of the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead, the first new hydrogen bomb designed by the United States in 20 years. Students and faculty at the University of California have a unique role to play in actively questioning this misguided U.S. nuclear weapons policy and UC’s involvement in its implementation.

The Cold War is over and the threat of an all-out nuclear war with Russia has greatly diminished. Despite the fact that the United States still has nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads, however, the Bush administration argues that new nuclear weapons are needed to ensure “long-term confidence in the future stockpile.” The administration’s original argument was that plutonium “pits,” the cores of existing nuclear weapons, were aging and becoming “unreliable”—thus explaining the “reliable” nickname.

This argument is misleading, and ignores recent findings. A 2006 report by JASON, a preeminent nuclear advisory group established by members of the World War II-era Manhattan Project, found that plutonium pits safely and reliably function for at least 90 years—over twice what had been estimated previously. Given the age of the oldest existing nuclear weapons in our stockpile, the U.S. nuclear deterrent is therefore guaranteed for at least another 50 years.

Other factors negate the need for new nuclear weapons. The safety and reliability of existing nuclear weapons is certified annually and closely monitored under life extension programs using computer-generated models. The weapons’ reliability is also based on more than 1,000 tests that took place over the years. In contrast, a recent JASON report found that more research, experiments and computer-simulations will be necessary before the safety and reliability of any new nuclear weapon can be confidently certified without resorting to nuclear testing.

Developing new nuclear weapons undermines our moral and diplomatic leadership in stemming the spread of nuclear weapons by making nuclear testing more likely and by undermining our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments. Many states without nuclear weapons that gave up the right to acquire these weapons have expressed concern that the United States is not living up to its end of the bargain to work toward the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

A resumption of nuclear testing would violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a mainstay of the non-proliferation regime, which the United States already has signed. Professor Sidney Drell, a prominent physicist and adviser to the government on nuclear weapons, has cautioned, “I can’t believe that an admiral or a general or a future president, who is putting the U.S. survival at stake, would accept an untested weapon if it didn’t have a test base.” In fact, there isn’t a single instance in which a class of nuclear weapons has been deployed without first being tested.

Developing new nuclear weapons would signal to the world that the United States, despite its overwhelming conventional military superiority, nevertheless believes it necessary to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. A recent study prepared for the Department of Defense observed that “The world sees us as shifting from nuclear weapons for deterrence and as a weapon of last resort to nuclear weapons for war fighting and first use.” This perception gives emerging world powers like China another reason to feel threatened by the United States and may embolden aspiring powers to seek their own nuclear weapons.

There are many problems facing the United States today, but the viability of its nuclear deterrent is not one of them. Building new nuclear weapons will not make us safer. It will do nothing to deter terrorists, it will not protect our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and it will not improve our relationships with other countries. It will only undermine efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, extend outdated Cold War-era thinking, shirk our international commitments, waste a lot of money and threaten our long-term security.

Robert Gard is a retired U.S. general and a senior military fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, where Leonor Tomero is director for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and UC San Diego student Achraf Farraj is a researcher.


Anonymous said...

"The University of California manages Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,"

Err, no it doesn't. Not anymore.

syoung said...

Err, yes it does. Still

Except now its as part of a consortium that includes Bechtel and three others.