Toward a Modern Nuclear Security Enterprise

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Nuclear Abolition News | IDN

By Ramesh Jaura
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – Transformation of the U.S. atomic weapons complex into “a modern, sustainable 21st century nuclear security enterprise” forms the nucleus of President Barack Obama’s agenda manifested in the new START Treaty, he and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev signed in Prague on April 8. [P | ARABIC | JAPANESE PDF - TEXT VERSION ]

The new nuclear security enterprise will cost the taxpayer $7.6 billion per year by fiscal year 2015. Additional $9.9 billion are expected to be spent on missile defense in 2011, almost $700 million more than in the fiscal year 2010.

A twenty-first century nuclear security enterprise is regarded not only critical to maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, but also essential to supporting a number of other nuclear security missions, including nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear counterterrorism, emergency response, and support to the intelligence agencies.

With this in view, the U.S. will invest in “revitalizing the intellectual infrastructure that serves as the foundation of our capabilities in addition to recapitalizing an outdated physical infrastructure,” according to a 67-page official briefing book released to coincide with the ‘Prague spring’.

The task to “maintain and enhance the safety, reliability and performance of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile,” in addition to broader nuclear security missions, enjoins by law on the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

“The President’s budget request for NNSA for fiscal year 2011 reflects the Administration’s commitment to the Nation’s nuclear deterrent and the Nuclear Security Enterprise that enables it. The President’s budget includes more than $7 billion for Weapons Activities and associated infrastructure, up 10 percent from fiscal year 2010,” the ‘New START Treaty U.S. Senate Briefing Book’ points out.

A joint product of the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, the publication spells out the budget request:

Increased funding for directed stockpile work by 25 percent to ensure the safety, security and effectiveness of the nuclear weapons stockpile, including:

- full production of the W76-1 to extend the life of the warhead for an additional 30 years;
- a life extension study for the B61 gravity bomb to extend its service life, enhance its safety and use control features, and ensure compatibility with modern aircraft;
- a study to explore future options to maintain the W78 warhead; and
- continued maintenance, surveillance and certification for all weapons systems.

The budget request also envisages increased funding for science, technology and engineering by more than 10 percent to ensure the ability to assess and certify the stockpile without underground nuclear testing utilizing advanced scientific capabilities, including the world’s fastest supercomputers, and stepwise development of the predictive framework capability.

The Obama administration plans to reinvest in the scientists, technicians and engineers “responsible for a successful stockpile stewardship and management program and recapitalization of the physical infrastructure, including major long-term construction projects to replace aging facilities that house essential capabilities for plutonium and uranium”.

Obama also plans to sustain and augment stockpile stewardship and management investments into the future, with funding for these programmes increasing steadily, to $7.6 billion per year by fiscal year 2015.

“Through these investments, NNSA’s Nuclear Security Enterprise will ensure a highly specialized and trained technical workforce, committed to maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent through safe and security operations and stewardship of the environment, while leveraging their capabilities to address cross-cutting national security mandates through scientific innovation,” states the briefing book.

BALLISTIC MISSILES

The briefing book vigorously points out that the New START Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programmes or current or planned U.S. long-range conventional strike capabilities.

“The United States is developing and fielding missile defenses to defend the United States, our forces abroad, and our allies and partners against the threat of ballistic missile attack,” the document informs and goes on to add:

“The New START Treaty contains no limits on our ability to continue developing and fielding missile defenses. But the Treaty does contain a statement in the preamble acknowledging the interrelationship of missile offense and missile defense, as President Obama and President Medvedev agreed in their Joint Statement of July 2009. This provision is not a binding obligation.”

The briefing book refers to an important point of disagreement between the U.S. and Russia that may at a later stage become a source of serious contention.

As was done in the case of START, Russia has made a unilateral statement regarding missile defenses. “Its statement is not legally binding and therefore does not constrain U.S. missile defense programs. In fact, we have also made a unilateral statement, making clear that nothing in the Treaty will limit current or planned U.S. missile defense programs. Such unilateral statements are documents associated with the Treaty, but are not part of the Treaty. These statements will not be subject to Senate advice and consent, though they will be shared with the Senate,” notes the briefing book.

The Treaty prohibits the conversion of ballistic missile defense interceptor launchers to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or submarine- launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and vice versa. However, according to the document, “this provision has no effect on our ability to develop and field missile defenses.”

The briefing book informs that the United States is currently building 14 Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) silos at Ft. Greely, Alaska. New construction of silo launchers for missile defence purposes at Ft. Greely, Vandenberg Air Force Base, or anywhere else is not limited by the New START Treaty.

“The five existing GBI silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base, which were converted from ICBM silos prior to treaty signature, are grandfathered under the Treaty, and thus are not constrained by the Treaty.”

Undeterred by any criticism, the document vows that the United States will continue to invest in improvements to both strategic and theater missile defences, both qualitatively and quantitatively, “as needed for our security and the security of our allies”. The Administration’s approach to sustaining and enhancing the ballistic missile defence programme is detailed in the February 2010 'Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report' and reflected in the FY 2011 $9.9 billion request for missile defence, almost $700 million more than FY 2010.

NUCLEAR FORCE STRUCTURE

The document further points out that the New START Treaty “ensures our own military the flexibility to deploy and maintain our forces – including bombers, submarines, and missiles – in ways that best meet U.S. national security interests”.

An early task for the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was to develop U.S. positions for the New START negotiations. The Treaty’s lower strategic force levels are based on analysis conducted in 2009, at the initial phase of the 2010 NPR process, which also considered how U.S. forces should be structured at the levels established by the new agreement. The NPR reached the following conclusions:

- Stable deterrence can be maintained while reducing U.S. strategic delivery vehicles by about 50 percent from the START I level and reducing deployed strategic warheads by about 30 percent from the 2002 Moscow Treaty level.

- Contributions by non-nuclear systems to U.S. deterrence and reassurance goals should be preserved by avoiding limitations on missile defenses and preserving options for using heavy bombers or long-range missile systems in conventional roles.

- During the ten-year duration of New START, the triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable heavy bombers will be maintained, keeping all 14 Ohio-class strategic submarines (SSBNs) in the force at least for the near term and “de-MIRVing” all Minuteman III ICBMs to a single warhead each to increase stability in a crisis.

The FY 2011 budget request includes funds to sustain the Triad, including: continuing the Minuteman III life extension program; developing new technologies to replace the current fleet of Ohio-class SSBNs, which begin to retire in the 2027 timeframe; and investing over $1 billion over the next five years to support upgrades to the B-2 stealth bomber.

The New START Treaty affirms the right of the United States to determine the composition and structure of its strategic offensive arms within the Treaty’s overall limits.

This will allow the U.S. to adjust its force structure over time as appropriate to the strategic circumstances. The Treaty limitations take effect seven years after the date the Treaty enters into force. (IDN-InDepthNews/09.04.2010)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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