The State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance recently published a fact sheet on “U.S. Nuclear Security Enterprise Infrastructure Modernization.” The name is true to the notion of language twisting outlined in Orwell’s 1984 novel, because the United States is currently engaged in sustainment rather than real nuclear modernization.
While the State Department touts the Administration’s commitment to U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure, a look at the proposed funding in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration tells a different story. During the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) debate in the Senate, the President certified that he would fund the Weapons Activities account at the levels outlined in the Updated 1251 Section Report to Congress in October 2010. If the President has his way, this account will be underfunded by about $4 billion compared to his own certification between FY 2013 and FY 2017.
The President’s certification that he intends to “accelerate, to the extent possible, the design and engineering phase of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building” at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has not even survived one year after New START entered into force. The Administration deferred the project by at least five years.
The State Department clearly puts value on the need to avoid “nuclear explosive testing.” This somewhat technical term also encompasses very low-scale yield-producing experiments that would have minimal impact on the environment or human health. In 1992, after the U.S. self-imposed a moratorium on all nuclear testing, directors of the National Nuclear Laboratories requested funding that would allow them to validate computer codes that allow the scientists and engineers to access changes in the stockpile and determine whether the weapons work as intended. These funds were never provided and so it is harder to assess how good the predictive computer codes are.
The ultimate goal of opponents to nuclear weapons testing is a desire to achieve a world without U.S. nuclear weapons. This ideology is consistent with the Obama Administration’s worldview, and is certainly shared by former Senator Chuck Hagel (R–NE), the President’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. Hagel is one of the co-authors of the unrealistic—and dangerous if implemented—report of the Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission.
Yet, U.S. nuclear weapons continue to serve important foreign policy and national security objectives. They deter attacks on the U.S. homeland and forward-deployed troops. They give the President options to employ the force with precision by holding at risk a spectrum of targets. They assure the more than 30 countries that rely on U.S. nuclear security guarantees. It is essential that the U.S. nuclear deterrent remains credible and that it is modernized, rather than just sustained.