Friday, February 19, 2010

Nuke Control Issues Today

Early in February, 2010, the Obama Administration announced its intention to pump more $billions into the NW program; thus, approximately doubling what had been NNSA's expected NW budget for 2011. A commitment was also made to the continuation of these large increases into the foreseeable future. It has been speculated that these monies will constitute a quid-pro-quo for obtaining the support of key NW friendly senators when the CTBT is submitted for ratification, as well as for their help in gaining Senate approval of a new version of the recently defunct Start treaty. In the following, I wax on a bit about these, and related, matters.

First, a few comments on "Nuclear weapons at a crossroads as Obama enters office", from the Issues and Events section of the January 2009 issue of Physics Today:

1) The extent and type of modernization of the Russian and Chinese NW programs is still not widely known to the general public. However, the case of the USA is certainly different. In this regard,it seems clear that the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), that has engaged the DOE since ~1995, can be construed as a type of NW modernization program, albeit one largely accessible only to the USA; i.e., since, presumably, neither Russia nor China can compete successfully with the USA in the SSP arena! DOE's SSP includes the construction of ever larger and faster computer systems at LLNL, LANL, and SNL for the simulation of NW performance, as well as the construction of the NIF at LLNL, the DAHRT facility at LANL, and the sub-critical test facility at NTS. An integral part of the SSP has also been the design of the RRW, and NNSA's plans for modernization of the nation-wide NW complex.

2) Yes, the USA has yielded the "high ground", with respect to the control of NW's, since it failed to ratify the CTBT, but also since it elected not to abide by the strictures of the NPT's Article VI. In particular, the USA continues to behave as if the continued possession of NW's is a key element of its national defense policy. In this regard, the promotion of the SSP also appears as a key to the USA's ongoing NW modernization program.

3) While the subject of more funding for the national laboratories is being broached, it seems worthwhile to recall that, in the first year (2005-2006) of the for-profit LANS-LLC's new contract to manage LANL, the LANL Director and LANS-LLC CEO received a salary of ~$400K, plus a bonus of ~$1000K. Thus, the LANL Director's take-home pay effectively tripled; i.e., when compared to the previous Director's salary, which had been set by the not-for-profit UC. LANS-LLC also increased the number of middle managers at LANL while reducing the number of non-managerial staff. But, overall salary expenditures at LANL still increased. Descending farther down the pay scale,in June, 2005, ~300 senior LANL employees, almost all involved in NW work of one sort or other, were allowed by DOE to start collecting their full UC pensions while continuing to receive their full LANS-LLC salaries; i.e., an example of so-called double-dipping. Thus, for such LANL employees, after June 2005, personal income from NW work approximately doubled. (Although DOE initially appeared to resist the double-dipping, they quickly caved when NM's senior senator intervened.) In this way, NW work at LANL has become more remunerative for some employees, lucrative for the owners of LANS-LLC, and more costly for US tax-payers.

And now, a quick look at what some others have been saying about NW control:

Reducing the nuclear threat: The argument for public safety [EXCERPTS]
By Richard Rhodes /The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists /14 December 2009

Article Highlights:

1) Public health, a discipline that organizes science-based systems of surveillance and prevention, has been primarily responsible for controlling the effects of infectious disease.

2) A similar campaign around public safety could help end the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons.

3) Such a push would help create unity in common security and a fundamental transformation in relationships between nations.

In 1999, for the first time in human history, infectious diseases no longer ranked first among causes of death worldwide. Public health, a discipline which organizes science-based systems of surveillance and prevention, was primarily responsible for that millennial change in human mortality. One-half of all the increases in life expectancy in recorded history occurred within the twentieth century. Most of the
worldwide increase was accomplished in the first half of the century, and it was almost entirely the result of public health measures directed to primary prevention. Better nutrition, sewage treatment, water purification, the pasteurization of milk, and the immunization of children extended human life; i.e., not surgeons cutting or doctors dispensing pills.

Public health is medicine's greatest success story and a powerful model for a parallel discipline, which I propose to call public safety.

Where nuclear weapons--the largest-scale instruments of man-made death--are concerned, the elements of such public safety have already begun to appear: fissile materials control and accounting, cooperative threat reduction, security guarantees, nuclear arms control agreements and treaties, surveillance and inspection, sanctions, and forceful disarming if all else fails.

Reducing and finally eliminating the world's nuclear arsenals may be delayed. just as progress was stalled during the George W. Bush administration by those who argued that there were good nuclear powers and evil nuclear powers and who sought to disarm powers considered to be evil. But, nuclear weapons operate beyond good and evil. They destroy without discrimination and Whether one lives or dies is entirely a matter of
distance from ground zero. The complement of that destructiveness must then be unity in common security, just as it was with smallpox, and a fundamental transformation in relationships between nations.

The Obama disarmament paradox [EXCERPTS]
By Greg Mello /The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists /4 February 2010

Article Highlights:

1) The latest federal budget request includes a large increase in spending for nuclear weapons.

2) Such an increase contradicts President Obama's speech in Prague last April, during which he seemed to signal a commitment to significant nuclear disarmament.

3) Now it's a question of whether Congress will reject the Obama budget request--a strategy it used to keep President George W. Bush from pursuing new nuclear weapon programs.

Last April in Prague, President Barack Obama gave a speech that many have interpreted as a commitment to significant nuclear disarmament.

Now, however, the White House is requesting one of the larger increases in warhead spending history. If its request is fully funded, warhead spending would rise 10 percent in a single year, with further increases promised for the future. Los Alamos National Laboratory, the biggest target of the Obama largesse, would see a 22 percent budget increase, its largest since 1944. In particular, funding for a new plutonium "pit" factory complex there would more than double, signaling a commitment to produce new nuclear weapons a decade hence.

So how is the president's budget compatible with his disarmament vision?

The answer is simple: There is no evidence that Obama has, or ever had, any such vision. He said nothing to that effect in Prague. There, he merely spoke of his commitment "to seek . . . a world without nuclear weapons," a vague aspiration and hardly a novel one at that level of abstraction. He said that in the meantime the United States "will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and to guarantee that same defense to our allies."

Reducing the role of nuclear weapons [EXCERPTS]
By Joshua Pollack /The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists /30 October 2009

In his April 5, 2009 speech in Prague, President Barack Obama pledged to "take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons." In particular, he promised to "reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same." This was not merely an idealistic gesture. Bounding the role of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal will be essential to the administration's efforts to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

The most straightforward expression of a U.S. nuclear defensive policy--pure deterrence, with no element of coercion--would be 'no-first-use' guidance, deciding that nuclear weapons are only to be used in response to nuclear attack against the United States, its allies, or its forward-deployed forces."In principle, the Bush administration also sought to reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons. Nevertheless,
the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review found nuclear deterrence to be broadly applicable to a range of threats, including "large-scale conventional military force." Moreover, the review, whose list of potential adversaries included several without known nuclear arsenals, concluded that the "unique properties" of nuclear forces could enable the United States to "hold at risk classes of targets important to achieve
strategic and political objectives." This ambiguous formula was just as suggestive of coercion as of deterrence. The Bush administration also struggled to persuade other countries to follow its lead on nonproliferation, as evidenced by the failure of the 2005 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

This outcome wasn't entirely coincidental.

How Americans conceive the role of nuclear weapons illuminates the role of nonproliferation in the eyes of a skeptical world. If Washington considers its nuclear arsenal suitable for coercing potential adversaries, then stopping the spread of nuclear weapons becomes an adjunct to the already considerable power of the United States. If, on the other hand, nuclear weapons come to play a strictly defensive role
for the United States and its allies, then nonproliferation can be more readily appreciated as broadly in the common interest of humanity.

Given the prominence of the United States in the international system, the role of U.S. nuclear weapons will strongly influence the Obama administration's chances of finding support for strengthened nonproliferation measures at the May 2010 NPT Review Conference in New York. If U.S. nuclear weapons are flaunted as instruments of coercion and emblems of might, then the states that have failed to observe the NPT's rules--North Korea and Iran--are likely to receive more sympathy from the "non-aligned" camp than otherwise would be the case. Their illicit activities will seem like natural responses to an overweening superpower that behaves as if it were a dissatisfied actor.

But if it is known that U.S. nuclear weapons exist only for deterrence, then the U.S. case stands to receive the more understanding reception. Less is likely to be made of the failure of the recognized nuclear weapon states to move rapidly toward disarmament. As the de facto guarantor of security, prosperity, and the status quo across a globe-spanning network of alliances, the United States in particular could not be expected to drop its defenses while potential adversaries are seeking nuclear
weapon capabilities of their own.

The Obama administration's own Nuclear Posture Review, to be delivered before the NPT Review Conference, offers a timely opportunity to deliver on the president's promise to constrain the role of U.S. nuclear forces. The fulfillment of that pledge cannot rest too much on actual changes in force structure, since bureaucratic and political realities always weigh heavily upon formal review processes. (The inertia is compounded by the timing of U.S.-Russian nuclear diplomacy, which is currently focused on renewal of arms control mechanisms rather than seeking profound shifts in force posture.) Instead, the administration can alter the role of nuclear weapons by issuing a clear and authoritative definition of their purposes. We shouldn't consider this step merely a matter of "declaratory policy," as if it were solely for external
consumption; rather, it should be taken as a basic choice of defense policy, the point of departure for future guidance to planners.

Naturally, the most straightforward expression of a defensive policy--pure deterrence, with no element of coercion--would be "no-first-use" guidance, deciding that nuclear weapons are only to be used in response to nuclear attack against the United States, its allies, or its forward-deployed forces. The United States refrained from making no-first-use pledges during the Cold War because of the need to counteract Soviet conventional superiority. Subsequently, it adopted a policy of "calculated ambiguity," explained by the need to deter chemical or biological attacks with nuclear weapons. Despite the implausibility of such a disproportionate retaliatory threat, this concern remains the primary obstacle to a nuclear no-first-use policy. Even so, it does not prevent a deterrence-only policy.

If the Obama administration determines that conventional forces and defensive systems suffice to deter or neutralize chemical or biological attack, then it can readily adopt a nuclear no-first-use policy. Or, if the administration determines that nuclear weapons should continue to play a role in deterring chemical or
biological attack--notwithstanding their lack of credibility for this purpose--then it can take the advocates of calculated ambiguity at their word, establishing a policy of no first use of weapons of mass destruction. The appropriate statement could be issued as an Executive Order, giving it the force of policy.

Either nuclear no-first-use or the second-best alternative will face opposition from advocates of traditionalism in nuclear strategy, which prizes flexibility over all other considerations. But neither idea would face insurmountable obstacles. Certainly, if the role of nuclear weapons cannot be constrained by issuing an authoritative policy statement, then seemingly very little can be achieved in this area at all.

For a look at the current status of the world's nuclear forces consult the Federation of American Scientists web-site:

For non-proliferation issues consult the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

For short film clips of actual US nuclear weapons tests: