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Bush Plans Permanent U.S. Nuclear Advantage Under Moscow Treaty

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February 4, 2003 - The Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) projects indefinite retention of modern, diverse nuclear forces under the Moscow Treaty and beyond. In 2013, 22 years after the end of the Cold War, the president would still command a massive nuclear force consisting of:

  • 954 strategic launchers;
  • 3,000 "operational" strategic and "substrategic" nuclear weapons;
  • 2,100 "active reserve" nuclear weapons ready for re-deployment;
  • 4,900 intact but "inactive" reserve weapons (i.e. not ready for immediate deployment);
  • nuclear components for some 5,000 additional weapons;
  • an aggregate potential for 15,000 weapons (see Figure 1 below).

Under the Moscow Treaty, and consistent with President Bush's assertive U.S. nuclear posture, no part of either the U.S. or Russian nuclear force structure is required to be permanently or verifiably eliminated:

  • The Bush plan calls for MX silos to be retained, rather than destroyed as specified in the START II Treaty;

  • MX missile stages also will be retained, with no controls in the Moscow Treaty over future military use of analogous Russian land-based MIRVed missiles, which Russia is free to re-equip with MIRVs (Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicles);

  • The 500 W87 warheads (300 kt each) now mounted on 50 MX missiles simply will be shifted to a refurbished single-warhead variant of the Minuteman III ICBM;

  • The Minuteman III missile is being rebuilt and modernized at a cost of some $6 billion;

  • The Bush plan modernizes and extends the life of the submarine-launched ballistic missile force. From now to 2013, Pentagon will spend at least another $10.4 billion on the Trident II missile system, including an additional 115 Trident II missiles ($4.3 billion) and improved guidance systems and missile electronics ($4 billion).

  • The Bush plan takes five years -- until FY 2007 -- to shrink the deployed Trident ballistic missile submarine force from 18 to 14 vessels, but the four older subs will not be eliminated. They will be converted to carry Special Operations Forces and as many as 154 long-range conventionally armed cruise missiles per boat. Nothing in the treaty prohibits giving these cruise missiles a future theater or tactical nuclear role.

Following these gradual and modest reductions in deployed ICBM's (-9 percent) and Trident launchers (-22 percent), the Bush NPR states: "No additional strategic delivery platforms are scheduled to be eliminated from strategic service."

Deactivation and removal of 50 deployed MX/ Peacekeeper ICBMs began October 1 and is scheduled to be completed in three years. The NPR explains the leisurely pace by noting that MX elimination is phased to correspond with the introduction of comparably powerful and accurate Trident II (D-5) missiles into the Pacific sub fleet. The MX remaining during the elimination period will be kept on alert "to provide a necessary contribution to the U.S. portfolio of capabilities."

Retention of the hard-target killing "counter-force" capability epitomized by the MX (and Trident II) is puzzling, in view of President Bush's declaration that the United States is no longer targeting Russia with nuclear missiles. Why would costly nuclear systems be kept "on alert" without targets? Who, and what is being "deterred" by these alert missiles?

Before giving his or her advice and consent to ratification of the Moscow Treaty, every member of the Senate should have a clear understanding of the U.S. nuclear force structure to be retained under the treaty, and the evolving nuclear strategy and doctrine governing their deployment, alert status, targeting and potential use. It is apparent that few if any members of the Senate can lay claim to having such an understanding today, and yet, to approve this treaty without such knowledge would be a feckless dereliction of the Senate's constitutional responsibilities.

"Revitalizing" U.S. Nuclear Weapons

Under the Moscow Treaty, the Bush administration is planning to invest billions to "revitalize" the U.S. nuclear weapons research, development and testing complex. It wants to upgrade existing nuclear weapons, "surge" production of weapons, and develop and field entirely new weapons. It also wants to produce an arsenal with the capability of targeting and launching "preventive" nuclear strikes on mobile and "relocatable" systems, hard and deeply buried targets, and chemical and biological stocks.

Under the Moscow Treaty, U.S. nuclear weapons research and development will be sustained at Cold War levels:

  • Current Bush annual funding of $5.8 billion for nuclear "weapons activities" account is 45 percent higher than the Cold War average level (~ $4 billion/yr.).

  • Plans are underway to expand the Pantex nuclear weapon assembly plant capacity to 600 warheads per year, up from 350 warheads per year.

The Bush administration has testified its planned nuclear posture under the Moscow Treaty leaves little or no capacity available to dismantle any warheads that might be retired from nuclear stockpile:

  • The Pantex assembly-disassembly plant near Amarillo, Texas, is fully booked with "double-shift" warhead "refurbishments" for the foreseeable future.

  • On August 1, 2002, Everet Beckner, an official with the DOE's National Nuclear Safety Administration -- the stockpile stewardship program -- told the Senate Armed Services Committee: "Any plan to increase dismantlements prior to at least fiscal year 2014 would compete for resources with critical refurbishment or evaluation work."

Under the Moscow Treaty, the Bush administration is planning to build a new plutonium pit factory -- a "modern pit facility (MPF)" -- to deal with the "large-scale replacement" of plutonium components and "new production."

  • The MPF would cost $2 billion to $4 billion and have a modular expandable capacity of 125 to 450 pits per year.

  • A $1.7 billion modernization of Los Alamos pit production facilities has already started, and is designed to provide a capacity by 2007 for producing as many as 50 pits per year.
Because the Moscow Treaty fails to make significant verifiable cuts in nuclear warhead stockpiles, the Bush administration is planning to resume tritium boost-gas production for nuclear warheads in the fall of 2003:
  • In his August 1, 2002, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Everet Beckner of the National Nuclear Safety Administration said, "There will be no near-term reduction in the demand for tritium."

  • The National Nuclear Safety Administration will soon begin operating a new tritium extraction facility at the Savannah River Site "so that tritium can be delivered to the stockpile in advance of need."

This policy is unnecessary and wasteful. Because the tritium inventory decays at the rate of 5.5 percent per year, it makes no sense to produce it "in advance of need," just as it makes no sense to resume tritium production operations to replenish large numbers of warheads that could have been declared excess and permanently retired under a verifiable and legally binding Moscow Treaty.

The Bush administration is resurrecting nuclear weapon design teams to support the assertive U.S. nuclear posture it is planning to maintain under the Moscow Treaty. According to the Bush posture review, all DOE nuclear weapon laboratories are working on "advanced concepts," including blowing up hardened and deeply buried targets, creating "agent defeat weapons" to attack chemical and biological warfare sites, and reducing "collateral damage" with improved accuracy and reduced and variable bomb yields.

Administration Plans to Renew Nuclear Tests

Under the Moscow Treaty, the Bush administration is planning to maintain "enhanced readiness" to resume nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site, and senior officials contemplate the "need" to resume nuclear test explosions within the decade. According to the Bush nuclear posture review, the NNSA is embarked on a program to accomplish this by:

  • "replacing key underground-test-unique components"
  • "modernizing certain test diagnostic capabilities"
  • "augmenting key personnel and increasing their operational proficiency"
  • "conducting test-related exercises of appropriate fidelity," and
  • "decreasing the time required to show regulatory and safety compliance."

The Department of Defense is currently seeking a broad "review" of the "risks" in the Department of Energy's stockpile stewardship program under the prevailing test moratorium. The Bush nuclear posture review states: "Judgments about capability in a non-testing environment will become far more difficult... Each year the DoD and DOE will reassess the need to resume testing..."

On August 14, 2002, the Las Vegas Sun reported: "Underground nuclear testing could begin at the Nevada Test Site in the next decade... Dr. Dale Klein ... Rumsfeld's assistant for nuclear chemical and biological defense programs, said that the nation may need hard data to check the weapons: 'As time goes on there will likely have to be some tests performed beyond the small scale... We didn't think they would be in the stockpile this long.'"

Figure 1

Bush Plan for US Nuclear Forces, 2002-2012

Press Contact
Christopher Paine, NRDC senior analyst, 434-244-5013

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