Wednesday, March 19, 2008

STRATCOM and the Future of Nuclear Weapons

When Congress finally passed the FY 2008 Omnibus funding in December, they made their intentions towards the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program clear by completely cutting funding and mandating that the Administration conduct a Nuclear Posture Review before requesting any further developments for the project. Unfortunately, neither the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nor General Chilton of Strategic Command got the message.

At a recent House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing, General Chilton and his colleagues at NNSA ignored Congress's mandate and advocated for funding to research the RRW program. To make his case, Chilton reiterated NNSA's previous argument—that a new nuclear weapon design is needed to ensure a reliable nuclear deterrent. This argument ignores the findings by the scientific oversight group, the JASONS, which found that the current stockpile could reliably last far into the future. Their findings stated that the weapons in our stockpile had a shelf life of as much as 100 years or more.

General Chilton, however, went even further by stating that he would not be comfortable with the United States reducing its nuclear warhead stockpile below the Moscow Treaty stated levels (1700-2200 operationally deployed warheads). It is certainly within the scope of the commander of Strategic Command to suggest the best way to utilize the nuclear stockpile to complete his given mission. However, decisions that have such a global impact as the future of nuclear weapons transcend strategic thinking into the realm of international politics. This linking of RRW and stockpile reductions represents a desperate move on the part of nuclear weapons advocates to provide Congress with some rationale for backing at least initial research into the concept. They are attempting to create an artificial sense of urgency in order to twist the arms of conscientious appropriators.

Part of the problem with Chilton's argument is that he equates reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile with unilateral disarmament. While the U.S. has the responsibility to be a global leader in disarmament efforts, multilateral disarmament provides the key to worldwide disarmament efforts. Proposed reductions in the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile serve as leverage for negotiating reductions in the stockpiles of other nuclear powers.

Chilton's comment during the hearing that, “We are going to need a nuclear deterrent for this country for the remainder of this century, the 21st century,” exposes the fundamental difference between arms control advocates and members of the administration who cling to nuclear weapons for a false sense of security. Arms control advocates see nuclear weapons as a common danger to mankind that must be dealt with broadly in order to secure a safer future for all nations. This can be done through carefully calibrated multilateral measures that gradually reduce the danger of nuclear weapons until they can safely and verifiably be disarmed. Unfortunately, many administration members seem ready and willing to put all of us at risk of global catastrophe in the name of "safety".

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