Strategy and Planning
administration's policy on nuclear weapons was outlined in the 2002 Nuclear Posture
Review, a report commissioned by the president in response to a post-Cold War
world and published following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
the report from the office of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came out in 2002,
it presented a 20-year plan focused on phasing out larger weapons built during
the Cold War and developing a new generation of modernized forces and an infrastructure
designed to meet more modern nuclear threats.
These "modern" weapons, according
to the Defense Department report, would be a response to the modern threat of
"mobile" terrorists and states with increased access to weapons of mass destruction.
Among the states named in the report: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and
This reorganization of the nuclear infrastructure already has inspired
the upgrade of several of the country's weapons-making and testing facilities.
Plans are currently underway to restore the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, where nuclear
components are manufactured; the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico,
where plutonium used to fuse bombs is housed; and the Pantex Plant near Amarillo,
Texas, used for dismantling existing weapons.
"[T]he technology base and
production readiness infrastructures of both DOD and NNSA (National Nuclear Safety
Administration) must be modernized so that the United States will be able to adjust
to rapidly changing situations," the Posture Review said. "It is unlikely that
a reduced version of the Cold War nuclear arsenal will be precisely the nuclear
force that the United States will require in 2012 and beyond."
A key aspect
of the government's plan to modernize is the research and development of smaller,
strategic weapons designed to target underground sites where rouge nations or
terrorists might be able to hide a nuclear weapon.
"Today's nuclear arsenal
continues to reflect its Cold War origin, characterized by moderate delivery accuracy,
limited earth penetrator capability, high-yield warheads, silo and sea-based ballistic
missiles with multiple independent reentry vehicles, and limited retargeting capability,"
the report said.
"New capabilities must be developed to defeat emerging
threats such as hard and deeply buried targets to find and attack mobile and relocatable
targets, to defeat chemical or biological agents, and to improve accuracy and
limit collateral damage."
Bunker buster research
Though Congress has been slow to approve financing for a full-scale upgrade and
modernization of the country's nuclear weapons program, it has approved $15 million
for the departments of Defense and Energy to research one such weapon, the Robust
Nuclear Earth Penetrator, also known as the bunker buster.
The bunker buster
would be a low-yield, strategic warhead that could potentially deliver a nuclear
weapon to a precise, targeted area with little radioactive fallout. The new design
on an old bomb would burrow 10 feet into the ground before detonating.
theory behind this was that there should not be anything a potential adversary
could do that would put them out of reach of the United States," National Nuclear
Safety Administration chief Linton Brooks told the Online NewsHour.
to Brooks, development of the bunker buster has been halted due to lack of funding
"Congress, at least for now, has concluded that it was not
a good idea," Brooks said.
Supporters of the bunker buster's development
argue that the ease of use and precision of such a weapon could serve as a deterrent
to U.S. enemies.
"That's part of this argument by nuclear advocates," said
Robert Norris, a senior analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We
got stuck with these big old weapons; who's going to believe us. To better enhance
the power of intimidation, I need a weapon they believe I might use against them
and this will enhance the pressure on them."
Arms control advocates argue
that such a weapon, if fiscally and scientifically feasible, could foster proliferation
for the very same reasons the administration wants to build it to reduce proliferation.
and expanding the role of U.S. nuclear weapons not only violates accepted international
norms of nonproliferation behavior, but it invites countermoves by former adversaries
and would-be nuclear powers," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control
Association wrote in the group's December issue of Arms Control Today.
devastating power and collateral effects of the proposed new weapons also make
it clear that their use or threat of use is no more credible, necessary, or justifiable
than existing nuclear weapons."
Brooks, who oversees the country's military
nuclear development, argues the bunker buster is not a new weapon but a redesign
of an old one.
"We proposed the same bomb ... and put a new case on it so
that it would penetrate a few feet into rock. It's not a new weapon," he said.
also said the Bush administration is not undertaking new weapons development.
"We have sought to do some research and development, primarily to look
at safety and security and some have taken that as an indication that we're trying
to develop new weapons. There is no development of a new nuclear weapon underway
in the U.S. right now and as far as I know there are no plans for a new nuclear
Adhering to nonproliferation treaties
As the departments of Energy and Defense try to overcome funding pitfalls to move
forward with plans to reinvigorate the country's nuclear weapons program, however,
opponents say any move toward the design of new nuclear weapons would breach the
Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty signed by the United States in 1968.
The treaty calls for global nuclear non-proliferation
and disarmament and asks ratified countries to abstain from transferring or receiving
nuclear weapons. Article 6 of the treaty also asks nuclear weapons states to disarm
"in good faith."
"All of this, conflicts with Article 6 of the non-proliferation
treaty which is a treaty we signed which theoretically says we should be working
toward disarmament," Norris said. "All parties to the treaty should be working
toward general and complete disarmament. It's in good faith. And there's no good
But international obligations aside, it may be the cost of
building new weapons that remains the most difficult issue to overcome. Research
and development of the bunker buster was expected to cost $484 million over a
five-year period, according to a report from national defense specialist Jonathan
Medalia to Congress in March 2004.
In its 2005 budget request, the Bush
administration asked Congress to support a $4 million Department of Energy study
of the weapons.
"People don't realize that we're getting back into the nuclear
bomb business in a big way, and it's a very expensive business," Joseph Cirincione,
director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace, told the San Francisco Chronicle soon after the release of the Nuclear
Some members of Congress have worked to cut funding to President
Bush's proposed projects.
In November 2004, Ohio Republican Rep. David
Hobson, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water
Development, helped eliminate an additional $27 million requested by President
Bush to further develop the bunker buster, and $9 million to explore new weapons
and build the facilities to make them.
"We cannot advocate for nuclear nonproliferation
around the globe and pursue more useable nuclear weapons options at home," Hobson
said in an August speech to a group gathered for a post-Cold War nuclear symposium
sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment, according to The New York Times.
Though the United States is in the process of researching upgraded
weapons, the country has maintained a self-imposed suspension of nuclear testing
since 1992. Although the United States is a signatory of the Comprehensive Test
Ban Treaty, which calls for a moratorium on all nuclear testing worldwide, the
U.S Senate refused to ratify it in 1999 and President Bush has not re-submitted
the treaty for consideration. China has similarly signed, but not ratified the
treaty. North Korea, India and Pakistan have not even signed the pact.
Department of Defense has pointed to a need to keep open testing capabilities
in order to ensure "the safety and reliability" of its nuclear weapons. The department
also recommended a reduction in the time needed to test a nuclear weapon from
two-three years to 18 months.
"While the United States is making every effort
to maintain the stockpile without additional nuclear testing, this may not be
possible for the indefinite future. ... [T]he DOD and DOE will reassess the need
to resume nuclear testing and will make recommendations to the president," the
And, said Brooks, "the president has made it clear that
we have no plans to resume testing, we have no need to resume testing. But, if
we discover a problem that can only be resolved through testing, we want to be
able to have that capability."