R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity provided a first peek at the long-awaited internal review of the US nuclear weapons stockpile by the Obama Administration. According to the report, a proposed classified directive prepared for the President’s signature outlines reductions of strategic warheads approaching 1,000 warheads and contemplates negotiations with Russia to reach that threshold as well as address, for the first time, tactical nuclear weapons.
In response, the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance released this statement:
The good news is the Administration’s review is responding to the calls for further arms reductions. The bad news: the Administration is apparently only willing to take baby steps when these perilous times call for grown-up arms control measures.
OREPA calls on the President to think before he signs the directive. The very factors that support a decision to downsize the stockpile to 1,000 warheads through negotiations with Russia argue even more compellingly for even deeper cuts. By reducing the active and strategic stockpiles to 500 warheads each, the President would signal, without compromising US security, that we are on the road to a world free of nuclear weapons. He would re-establish US credibility in nonproliferation/arms control talks. He would, with matching reductions in production operations, save tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. With the exception of those who profit economically from producing weapons of mass destruction, deeper cuts are a win for everyone.
If there is a glimmer of light in this news, it is that the directive maintains the trajectory of nuclear weapons production capacity needs—as the stockpile grows smaller and smaller, there is less and less need for weapons production facilities. Certainly these stockpile numbers raise serious questions about the need for a Supersized Uranium Processing Facility with the capacity to produce 80 thermonuclear secondaries each year, or 800 new warheads in a decade. Instead, the US must invest in expanded capacity to dismantle and dispose of the weapons that will be retired from the stockpile.
Nuclear weapons cost money—billions of dollars each year—to produce and maintain. Every useless warhead we keep in the stockpile not only casts a shadow of terror over others, it represents a theft from those whose needs go unmet because there is “not enough money—” it is unconscionable for the government to continue to pour money down the nuclear weapons drain while denying health care to all its citizens and permitting 16,000,000 children—nearly 1 in 4—to live in poverty.
In signing the new START Treaty, President Obama declared it a first step toward deeper cuts in the stockpile. We’ve been waiting since then for action. Last May, a report authored by General James Cartright declared the US could reduce its active stockpile below the 1,000 threshold and virtually eliminate its strategic reserve (nearly 3,500 warheads) without diminishing US security. The Cartright report outlined a significant step toward US compliance with our obligation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to achieve nuclear disarmament.
If the President signs this directive, the United States will continue to maintain a grossly oversized nuclear stockpile, costing taxpayers billions of dollars over the next decade. Perhaps even more significantly, he will also be giving Iran and any other country that feels threatened by the US nuclear arsenal a justification for pursuing defensive nuclear capabilities. They can simply point to our stockpile and reject a “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” double standard.
The most troubling aspect of this directive is the failure to adopt a “deterrence only” stockpile. Maintaining a first strike capability and posture presents a grave threat to nuclear stability and shows the US is not yet prepared to give up Cold War thinking and enter the 21st century. As the Nonproliferation Treaty approaches its five-year review, this directive signals to the rest of the world that we do not intend to meet our obligation, shouldered forty-three years ago, to achieve disarmament.
8 February 2013