Sunday, December 15, 2013

US, UK Plan to Build New Nuclear Weapons

By Adil Rasheed
October 7, 2007

Just as the international community is trying to check the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the present US and UK governments are silently planning to build a new "family of modern nuclear weapons," in utter disregard of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Over the last seven years of the Bush administration, US nuclear policy seems to have changed from one of grudging compliance of its nuclear weapons control and non-proliferation commitments to a more aggressive, if not defiant, approach.

For one, the Bush Administration has backtracked on many of its non-proliferation commitments, and has even claimed that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) can only function if it allows the nuclear powers to maintain their nuclear weapons. The US has also not ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), backed nuclear programs of non-NPT nuclear states (like Israel and India), launched multi-billion dollar programs to do research on fusion-based and space-based nuclear weapons, and rejected the verification mechanisms of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

The Bush administration has also maintained the option of first-use against non-nuclear states and has initiated the process of developing new nuclear weapons under the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, on the grounds of reducing its "aging" nuclear stockpile.

Experts point out that as early as 2001; the US Nuclear Policy Statement looked upon nuclear weapons, not just as a means of deterrence but as part of US war-fighting strategy. In pursuance of this approach, the Bush administration has already initiated new strategic nuclear delivery systems including both missiles and bombers, a new Modern Pit Facility with the capacity to manufacture between 250 and 900 nuclear components annually.

The first practical step toward a major revision of US nuclear policy came in May 2003, when the US Senate scrapped the Spratt-Furse law of 1994. This provision had barred research and development into the making of the so-called "mini-nukes," so that nuclear weapons are not used indiscriminately in wars. After the annulment of the Spratt-Furse law, the Bush administration sought to launch the Advanced Concepts Initiative (ACI) and the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP).

The ACI program was aimed at designing new and modified warheads, having lower yields, specific radiation outputs, and other blast effects. The RNEP sought to increase the penetration of nuclear weapons deep into the ground before detonating. This was aimed at increasing the ability of "bunker-busting" weapons in destroying buried targets. The administration also sought funds for reducing the maximum time between a presidential order to conduct a nuclear test and the test itself to 18 months, shortening the earlier duration of 24 to 36 months. Congress passed these provisions and they became law by the end of 2003. However, in 2004, US Congress unexpectedly decided to curtail funding for all these initiatives, and wiped out the ACI and RNEP budgets. However, the Jane's Information Group suspects that RNEP project, though cancelled, may yet continue under a different name.

Undeterred by these setbacks at the US legislative level, the Bush administration approved a plan in October 2006 to completely revamp all US nuclear weapons facilities by 2030 (under the name "Complex 2030"), consolidate weapons-grade plutonium stocks, and build a new stockpile of around re-designed 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear warheads under the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. The RRWs are meant to gradually replace the existing 6,600 warheads and are planned to have a longevity till the end of this century. The cost of this "Complex 2030" plan has been estimated at about US$ 100-$150 billion.

The centerpiece of Complex 2030 is the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. Although the types of warheads to be built under the RRW program remain unclear, its aim is to design new nuclear weapons that are "highly reliable, easy, and safe to manufacture, monitor, and test." It is claimed that the program would help in rapidly adapting, repairing, or modifying existing weapons and in developing new weapons, according to changing needs of the military.

It is noteworthy that the United States has not developed a new nuclear weapon since 1988. However, on March 2, 2007, the US Department of Energy selected a new design for the first nuclear weapon to be produced after the Cold War under the RRW program. Supporters of the RRW program have raised doubts concerning the safety, security, and reliability of the "aging" US nuclear weapons stockpile, which under the "Stockpile Stewardship" program are inspected and certified annually.

Critics of the RRW program contend that one does not need to develop new nuclear weapons to carryout the promised cut down in US nuclear stockpile. This, the claim, is against the letter and spirit of the disarmament agreements. As for the argument on the reliability of the aging nukes, a leaked report of a secret federal panel "codenamed Jason" is said to have exposed this claim as false. As revealed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Jason found that the existing US nuclear stockpile was in good condition and still had a life of another century or more. Therefore, while the official version is that the RRWs are only intended to replace existing ¿aging¿ warheads, critics say they are new generation weapons to keep the US ahead in global nuclear dominance.

They contend that the RRW program is contrary to the provision of "general and complete disarmament" of atomic weapons sought by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the US has signed. Opponents of the RRW program also worry that that this program has the potential of damaging US national security, and that it would disrupt the global cooperation in nonproliferation that is vital to diplomacy with emerging nuclear powers such as Iran and North Korea. Moreover, the development of new designs, especially a hybrid design, may necessitate the testing of new warheads at some point in the future. A US explosive test would completely shatter the international moratorium and open the floodgates to tests by other states.

Fortunately, this year the US House of Representatives stripped away money for the RRW program from the Energy Department's upcoming budget, while the Senate agreed to only partially fund the program. However, a final budget has yet to be approved in Congress.

Meanwhile, Britain's Labor government has also accompanied the US in reactivating its nuclear weapons program. In December 2006, a White Paper spoke of plans to repair and renew Britain's nuclear arsenal, which mainly comprises the submarine-based Trident missiles. Then in March 2007, the British government won support for plans to renew its nuclear submarine system in the House of Commons. It has been reported that the government would spend between £15bn and £20bn on new submarines to carry the Trident missiles. The fleet will take an estimated 17 years to develop and build, and will last until 2050.

Around the same time, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that the Trident nuclear weapons are being secretly upgraded to increase their accuracy and ability to attack a wider range of targets. It claimed that the British Ministry of Defense had admitted that a new firing device, called the Arming, Fusing and Firing (AF&F) system, developed by the US is to be installed in Britain's nuclear weapons system by scientists at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire. The disclosure angered anti-nuclear campaigners, who called the AF&F an offensive weapon, and not a defensive deterrent.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the IAEA chief Mohammad El-Baradei, has been highly critical of the British push for more nuclear weapons. This was clear in his speech given at the London School of Economics, where he stated, "Britain cannot expect other countries to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons if it upgrades Trident. Other countries are told nuclear weapons are counter-productive because they do not protect your security. But, when they look to the big boys, what do they see?" he asked. "They see increasing reliance on nuclear weapons for security. They also see weapons being continually modernized."

Clearly, if the United States and Britain keep re-arming themselves with new nuclear weapons, it would rob them of the legitimacy to protest and take action against countries like Iran and North Korea, who are ambitiously pursuing their nuclear programs. It is for this simple reason that the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) calls upon the five officially recognized nuclear weapon states to move gradually towards complete and universal nuclear disarmament.;ECSSR_COOKIE=QWyZTgyZyhnDQyL4WgKkNbMQj6G0j802kz6Bbp9TnNqHTSh2JKRy!-908475106!-700593636?_nfpb=true&_nfls=false&_pageLabel=P12800666901383799889645&ftId=%2FFeatureTopic%2FAdil_Rasheed%2FFeatureTopic_0873.xml&_event=viewFeaturedTopic&categoryId=Military+Capabilities+%26+Arms+Race&lang=en

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