There It Goes Again: The Bush Administration's Latest Plan to Build New Nuclear Weapons

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The Bush administration’s stubborn determination to prevail, whatever the costs, is evident not only in its reckless military venture in Iraq, but in its single-minded pursuit of new nuclear weapons.

The U.S. government, of course, is supposed to be divesting itself of its nuclear weapons under the provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which it signed in 1968. As recently as the NPT review conference of 2000, the U.S. government joined other signers of the NPT in promising an "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals."

Furthermore, when the Bush administration ignored these commitments and pressed Congress hard for funding to build new nuclear weapons — nuclear "bunker busters" and "mini-nukes" — Congress dug in and rejected them as totally unnecessary. With some 10,000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, members of Congress, both Democrats and some Republicans, seemed to feel that enough was enough.

However, from the standpoint of the Bush administration, there are never enough nuclear weapons — at least in its arsenal.

And so, administration officials are now back with another U.S. nuclear weapons proposal: to build the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). "They’ve been running with RRW like you wouldn’t believe," observed U.S. Representative David Hobson (Republican-Ohio). Hobson ought to know for, until this January, he chaired the House subcommittee on water and energy appropriations, which oversees spending on nuclear weapons.

The alleged reason for building this newly-designed hydrogen bomb is to maintain the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile which, according to administration proponents of the RRW, is deteriorating and needs to be replaced. But independent studies by scientific experts have shown that the stockpile will remain reliable for at least another fifty years.

Not surprisingly, the plan for the Reliable Replacement Warhead has drawn sharp criticism. "This is a solution in search of a problem," remarked Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "There is an urgent need to reduce these weapons, not expand them." Much the same thing has been said by members of Congress, who stress the provocative nature of the RRW. Despite the fact that the contract for the nuclear weapon is slated to go to the Lawrence Livermore lab in her home state of California, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein is a leading critic. "What worries me," she said, "is that the minute you begin to put more sophisticated warheads on the existing fleet, you are essentially creating a new nuclear weapon. And it’s just a matter of time before other nations do the same thing."

Even more worrisome is the fact that the Reliable Replacement Warhead is just the tip of the nuclear iceberg. This nuclear weapon is merely a component of a larger Bush administration plan to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Called Complex 2030 (and dubbed by disarmament groups like Peace Action "Bombplex 2030"), it calls for a massive reorganization and refurbishment of the nation’s nuclear weapons program. According to Thomas D’Agostino, the deputy administrator for programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration and a keen supporter of the proposal, Complex 2030 will "restore us to a level of capability comparable to what we had during the Cold War."

Like the Iraq War, this will be a very expensive program. The Bush administration claims that Complex 2030 will cost roughly $150 billion. But the Government Accountability Office considers this estimate far too low and has urged Congress to require that the Department of Energy provide an accurate accounting of the real costs.

Naturally, arms control and disarmament groups are horrified by Complex 2030. Susan Gordon, director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, has remarked: "At a time when the Non-Proliferation Treaty is in danger of unraveling, it is madness to be planning to rebuild the U.S. nuclear weapons program with new warheads and new military missions."

How warmly Congress will welcome the Bush administration’s plan to upgrade and expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal is anyone’s guess, but the odds are that it will receive a chilly reception — and not only from Democrats.

In addition, the plan will certainly be seized upon by the government of Iran. Currently assailed by the Bush administration for allegedly building nuclear weapons and, thus, violating the NPT, it merely has to point to the RRW and Complex 2030 to reveal the administration’s hypocrisy.

Indeed, if the Bush administration were really serious about blocking nuclear proliferation — rather than enhancing its own nuclear weapons supremacy — it would scrupulously abide by the provisions of the NPT.

Lawrence S. Wittner [send him mail] is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book is Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present (Stanford University Press).

This article originally appeared on the History News Network.

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