|"Forget the Rest" blog|
Press Backgrounder, for immediate release 2/12/13
White House, Military Reportedly Seek Nuclear Arms Reductions
Budget Realities Compel Review of Nuclear Costs
Deep Cuts Inevitable; What, and When Uncertain
Contact: Greg Mello, 505-577-8563 (cell); 505-265-1200 (office) (normally best, less preferred tonight)
Albuquerque – Yesterday the New York Times reported that tonight’s State of the Union address will (rhetorically) “reinvigorate” President Obama’s objective of “drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world.”
Obviously the only country’s arsenal over which the President has any direct control is that of the United States.
If concrete proposals and actions to realize this objective are indeed forthcoming (which if actually pursued would be better characterized as “new” rather than “reinvigorated”) President Obama will be responding to a consensus – a unanimous view – established many months ago among his senior national security advisers and the military.
Not all warheads and bombs have assigned targets in U.S. war plans. The B61 tactical bombs (mods 3, 4, and 10) have no assigned targets. It is assumed that if hostilities were to develop with Russia that such a political development would take long enough for targets to be found for these bombs. Upgrading these bombs for European deployment (and the related B61-7 and B61-11 bombs) is currently expected to cost on the order of $10 billion.
Under New START, the U.S. and Russia are limited to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads by 2018, but that treaty counts each deployed bomber as “one warhead,” meaning that the actual number of warheads which could be deployed in 2018 is much greater – roughly 1,900. As of last May, the U.S. deployed about 1,950 strategic warheads and bombs, of which 1,722 were being counted under New START by November. The U.S. deploys roughly 400 tactical warheads and bombs, for a total of about 2,150 deployed warheads and bombs. In addition, the U.S. has roughly 2,800 warheads and bombs being maintained in reserve (the “hedge” arsenal), giving a total maintained arsenal (as of last May) of roughly 4,950 warheads and bombs. In addition, some 3,000 intact but unmaintained warheads and bombs await dismantlement. Several thousand key nuclear components (e.g. pits) are being stored for possible reuse.
How might these reductions occur? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) outlined four possible reduction scenarios yesterday, drawing upon a longer report published in December. The Arms Control Association has also offered proposed reductions on the same scale as those proposed, with representative cost savings.
Beyond the status quo
In our opinion the most authoritative, thoughtful, and detailed proposal for modernizing nuclear arms policy in recent years was tabled last year by the Global Zero organization, authored by Gen. (ret.) James Cartwright, a recent former STRATCOM commander and former Vice-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff along with four co-authors including Sen. Chuck Hagel, the current nominee for Secretary of Defense, under the overall guidance of Bruce Blair.
The authors note that such deep cuts would enable simplifications in National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs as well. Like the Study Group, these authors propose contingency plans instead of fixed investments in certain cases, e.g. expansion of pit production. According to its authors, this proposal would save up to $100 billion (B) over the next decade.
Delay, coupled with contingency planning (as opposed to contingency procurement – buying very expensive projects in case they might be needed), are very important generators of major cost savings. Indefinite delay of the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), a policy already chosen, is an example.
In a world where future costs are discounted to the present, delay saves money, other factors being equal.
…is already moving quietly…to explore whether he can scale back a 10-year, $80 billion program to modernize the country’s weapons laboratories.
The White House agreed to the spending on the weapons labs as the price of winning Republican votes on the new Start three years ago, but one senior defense official said late last year that “the environment of looking for cuts in the national security budget makes this an obvious target.”
According to one knowledgeable writer, whose story we have confirmed with parties directly involved, the NNSA laboratories have anticipated these cuts since 2009 and have taken a number of steps to set up compensatory funding mechanisms outside the direct control of Congress.
 Up to now, President Obama’s occasionally soaring but contradictory rhetoric, e.g. in Prague, 4/5/13 (“a world free of nuclear weapons…[but] perhaps not in my lifetime…we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons…[but] the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies…”) has not been followed by agreements or legislative proposals that limit nuclear arms in number or novelty, reduce their role in U.S. strategy, or lessen the fiscal resources devoted to them. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (pdf) was a fundamentally ambiguous document.
New START addressed only deployed, strategic weapons and used a counting rule that did not mandate arms reductions within that category. In principle, the number of warheads and bombs could actually rise under New START, as has been the case (slightly) in Russia. New START also permits qualitative improvements.
The President’s lack of action on disarmament is widely appreciated. Today’s Christian Science Monitor editorial board:
Hans Kristensen, Federation of American Scientists, analysis and comment of Nov. 30, 2013:
 In theory, presidential control is total. The Constitution gives the President, as Commander in Chief, the final word on U.S. armed forces, armaments, and deployments, including nuclear weapons. In practice, Congress, for example in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), attempts to circumscribe Presidential authority in this area, raising unresolved constitutional issues, e.g. § 1034, “Prevention of Asymmetry of Nuclear Weapon Stockpile Reductions.”
 Targeting U.S. nuclear weapons involves targeting millions of civilians directly and indirectly, as well as threatening omnicidal nuclear winter with even a “small” nuclear exchange if that exchange involves flammable cities. Since targeting is highly classified (in part because it is so shameful) and the resulting force structures are not known, it is not clear whether and to what degree the contemplated targeting changes are a shift from counterforce to countervalue targeting, and whether and how the myriad risks within, and of, nuclear war would be changed. All these are very big subjects. The long and short of it is that there is no reason to expect that a one-third diminishment of nuclear forces which does not substantially change existing deterrence policies would significantly change the risks, or effects, of nuclear war – for precisely that same reason. And of course the same humanitarian law issues would apply, the same risk of nuclear winter maintained.
 Los Alamos Study Group Press Advisory 3/31/05, “AP Poll Shows Americans Prefer Nuclear Disarmament to Alternatives by Large Margins; Findings Consistent with Prior Larger and More Detailed Poll; Americans Implicitly Condemn Current Nuclear Policies, Path Open to New Political Leadership on Issue.” Estimated stockpile size in Stephen Kull, et. al., “Americans on WMD Proliferation,” April 15, 2004, Program on International Policy Attitudes, University of Maryland, at http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/WMD/WMDreport_04_15_04.pdf (link expired).
 Hans Kristensen, FAS, “Trimming Nuclear Excess: Options for Further Reductions of U.S. and Russian Nuclear Forces,” pdf, December 2012.
 Arms Control Association, “Administration Poised to Trim Costly Nuclear Weapons Excess,” Feb. 8, 2013.
 The nuclear weapons enterprise in NNSA has experienced, and is continuing to experience, a rate of internal inflation that is much higher than society’s inflation rate, assuming its products and projects are delivered at all.
The causes are various but include mission inflation, the purchase of unnecessary “science,” an oligopolistic management and product delivery system in which a powerful vendor cartel – a virtual monopoly in the case of the physics labs – largely controls a weak, captive federal buyer, and the associated collapse of contractor accountability. The very factors which led to the aggrandizement of the enterprise and which are now deeply embedded in its institutions, ideologies, and in the political consensus that maintains it, are making it difficult to deliver projects without massive cost and schedule overruns.
It is far from clear that the NNSA nuclear weapons enterprise can continue under these conditions for another generation. There are simply too many systems to maintain and replace, too much extravagance and too much embedded complexity. The post-Cold-War nuclear weapons bubble is bursting.
 "Broken Promises, The White House, Special Interests and New START," Anonymous ("Dienekes"), Feb 5, 2013 (pdf).