NUCLEAR WEAPONS PLANS:
A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT
TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2004
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN SPRATT (D-SC)
CHARLES V. PENA
DIRECTOR OF DEFENSE POLICY STUDIES,
FRANK N. VON HIPPEL
PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS
PROGRAM ON SCIENCE AND GLOBAL SECURITY,
WOODROW WILSON SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AND
DARYL G. KIMBALL
ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION
Federal News Service
NOTE: THIS IS AN EDITED TRANSCRIPT.
DARYL G. KIMBALL: Welcome to this morning's Arms Control Association Press Briefing on "The Bush Administration's Nuclear Weapons Plans," I am Daryl Kimball, executive Director of the Arms Control Association. ACA is a private, non-partisan organization devoted to supporting effective arms control and nonproliferation strategies to reduce and eliminate the dangers of weapons of mass destruction worldwide.
We have organized this briefing because we remain deeply concerned about the administration's costly and counterproductive campaign to research and develop new, more "usable" nuclear weapons, and its proposal for a new plutonium pit facility that would expand U.S. capabilities to build nuclear warheads in excess of reasonable and realistic requirements to maintain the existing stockpile.
We're pleased to have with us this morning three very knowledgeable and distinguished speakers who will provide us with their political, strategic, and scientific perspectives on these proposals: Congressman John Spratt; Charles Pena, Director of Defense Policy Studies at the CATO Institute, who will address new nuclear weapons; and Frank von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and former ACA Board Member, who will make a case against building a new Modern Pit Facility.
Before we hear from our panelists about their views on these issues, I want to underscore a couple reasons why we remain so concerned about current trends and are so disturbed by the rationale behind the proposals.
First, the current research phase on new nuclear weapons is just the beginning. Last year, in an effort to win support from wavering members of Congress, the administration claimed that it was only seeking money and authority to research new and modified nuclear weapons. Congress was barely persuaded and after much debate and maneuvering it lifted the 10-year old Spratt-Furse ban on new low-yield nuclear weapons research, but it decided that further weapons development work would require its explicit authorization.
Now, these assurances aside, the administration's intention to go further is becoming clearer and clearer. Not only are this year's budget requests higher than last year's-in the case of the Advanced Concepts initiative it's gone up from $6 million to $9 million; in the case of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, up from $15 million requested in '04 to $27 million in '05-but it has also laid out in its budget earlier this year a five-year schedule for the possible development of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator over five years that could cost up to $485 million and that's just the beginning of the costs.
The second reason why we're deeply concerned and troubled is that the administration's rationale for the new weapons is flawed and it contradicts our nation's top priority, stopping the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. As recently as last month in a report by the Departments of Energy, State, and Defense to Congress the administration claimed that new nuclear weapons and production capabilities are needed to enhance the United States' ability to deter aggression and, if necessary, defeat non-nuclear targets.
Though it claims that this research on new weapons is needed to maintain the credibility of the U.S. nuclear strike options, the report claims that such efforts will only slightly complicate U.S. efforts to slow proliferation worldwide. That's a real understatement if I've ever heard one. Not only would the proposed new weapons produce massive human, material, and political damage if used, but efforts to enhance the belief in the minds of adversaries that [the United States] might use nuclear weapons will only make it harder and harder to convince them to exercise nuclear restraint. Many members of Congress, including John Spratt who is here with us today, and many of our allies, and an increasing number of American citizens are deeply concerned about these trends and want to steer U.S. nuclear policy in a more sensible direction.
Before we begin, let me also just mention that in your packet there are a couple of very good statements from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California that was made on the floor of the Senate a few days ago and a press statement from Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher-another key leader on defense issues in the House-that was put together today for this event. And I'd also just remind you to take a look at the public remarks of Republican David Hobson of Ohio, a key appropriator who has raised some serious concerns about these proposals.
This year's debate in Congress is just beginning. This week the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin their markups of their respective defense authorization bill and the Appropriations Committees will follow soon after. And our first and next speaker, John Spratt, will be in the middle of the action. He is here to share his perspectives on the political dynamics on these subjects and his views on why he's sought to reign in some of these new nuclear weapons proposals. He is really a champion on many defense issues and a real leader on nonproliferation. He was one of the original cosponsors of the 1992 nuclear test moratorium legislation. He was the author, coauthor of the 1994 ban on research leading to development of new low-yield nuclear weapons. And I want to thank you, Congressman Spratt, for being here, for your leadership, and sharing your time with us today.
REP. JOHN SPRATT: Thank you for the opportunity. Good morning. Daryl, I'm grateful to you and to the Arms Control Association for a chance to share just a few thoughts on nuclear weapons policy and nonproliferation.
As-I think we'd all agree with this-horrific as the events of 9/11 were, we only shudder to imagine how much worse the carnage would have been had the terrorists used nuclear weapons of any kind. The Bush administration is not unaware of this risk. They talk about it often. Just last February the president said, "There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated. Yet this consensus means little unless it is translated into action. Every civilized nation has a stake in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction." I couldn't agree more.
But I was just talking with Frank von Hippel before this program and saying there's sort of a diffused threat around the world, throughout the globe, that we know is there but it's almost like the events before 9/11 in that we are not able to organize ourselves to systematically and methodically approach each significant element of this threat and eradicate it because it is so diffused, so broad, and so widespread. The president's sentiment is there but it is not backed up by resources. Out of a defense budget of $420 billion-up more than $100 billion in three years and that doesn't include funding for Afghanistan and Iraq-the United States spends all of $1.8 billion on nonproliferation programs.
The best-known programs are known as CTR, Cooperative Threat Reduction, better known as Nunn-Lugar. It allows the Department of Defense to assist the former Soviet Union with "safe and secure transportation, storage, and dismantlement of nuclear, chemical and other weapons in order to prevent these weapons from falling into the hands of the wrong parties." A lesser-known but probably more significant program is in the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy's programs have been singularly effective in safeguarding nuclear weapons and nuclear materials, in particular, because they're the one ingredient that the wannabe nuclear powers and terrorists don't have that they would love to get their hands on: highly enriched uranium, in one form or another, and plutonium.
Back in January of 2001, before 9/11, [Howard] Baker and Lloyd Cutler were appointed to a commission on threats that we need to be dealing with in the post-Cold War world, and they came back with this conclusion: "The most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is the danger that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable materials in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home." That was 2001. Despite Baker, Cutler, and others, the Energy and Defense Department programs have not seen notable increases since September the 11th. In fact, the president's budget request for Nunn-Lugar this year is $409.2 million; that's a $34.2 million decrease below the level prevailing in 2001 prior to September the 11th.
At the same time, the Department of Defense has enjoyed enormous increases in its budget for other priorities. Ballistic missile defense is a good example. It has more than doubled since President Clinton left office, since President Bush took office. Ballistic missile defense was $4.8 billion all told in 2001. This year the budget request is $10.2 billion; more than a 100 percent increase. This means we are spending six times more to deter a ballistic missile attack than to secure nuclear materials and nuclear know-how, the threat that a terrorist could use to great and malicious advantage to bring a variety of different nuclear weapons into this country. Whether they would be nuclear yields or just dirty bombs they would be all horrific devices.
The threat is there. When Lloyd Cutler and [Howard] Baker went out into the world three years ago to see what the emerging threats were they came back with this as the number one threat. There's no doubt that it's there. We've been told in multiple ways that it exists so why haven't we seen more commitment to doing something about the problem of proliferation? Well, I have to say I think while the Bush Administration formally acknowledges the threat and is basically committed to do what's been done in the past-to continue these programs-there's a lack of fervor for these programs in the upper echelons of the Bush Administration. In the famous words of [Charles-Maurice de] Talleyrand, it is "pas de zele," not much zeal.
Programs like the mixed oxide program are a good example. A facility is being built at the Savannah River plant. The purpose is to take plutonium and blend it down to be used in commercial reactors. We're to do it on a parallel track with the Russians and now we're sort of pulling back from MOX fuel. I'll think we'll probably go ahead with it. We're pulling back because the Russians haven't put up their share of the funding yet, but everybody knew the Russians would be laggard in bringing their money forward. In truth, the Europeans should be funding the project for their own security and we should be leaning upon them to do that. That's the least we can ask them to do.
Another good example: a joint data exchange center. It's a joint U.S.-Russian venture to share missile data and improve early warning of missile launches. It's a key sort of institution that we've been talking about for years in order to make strategic relations between both countries more stable. This initiative has fallen down simply because the administration hasn't made it a priority to work.
Keep in mind that our two countries control 95 percent of the world's weapons-grade fissile material [highly enriched uranium and plutonium].
There's no better way to protect Americans from weapons of mass destruction than to eliminate those weapons at their source, and look at the record already compiled by Nunn-Lugar and the nonproliferation programs at the Department of Energy: 6,000 warheads have been destroyed, 500 ICBMs, and 400 SLBMs. And that was some months ago. I don't have the current numbers. At least those numbers have been destroyed…So it's a proven system. We've got payoff to measure it but it still lacks zealous support.
What troubles me most is the attitude this administration seems to take. This administration seems to believe that the United States can move the world in one direction while we ourselves move in a different direction. We seem to believe that we can encourage, urge, impose upon other nations not to develop nuclear weapons, not to produce fissile materials, not to export missile and nuclear technology, and yet at the same time we can ourselves explore new concepts for nuclear weapons. We can develop tactical nuclear programs like the RNF, and we can shorten the lead time for the resumption of testing, all the while protesting that we're not going to start up testing any time soon.
Look at last year, for example. Granted, the dots are scattered all over the chart. There are no clear trend lines here but I think there are enough dots to begin to establish trend lines. There was no military requirement for it, but last year the administration was bent on repealing a restriction on the research and development of new nuclear weapons with yields below 5 kilotons. I was a coauthor of that ban, coauthor with [Congresswoman] Elizabeth Furse. We proposed it in the mid-1990s to ratchet in place the progress that the United States and Russia, the former U.S.S.R., had made in 1990 and 1991 in removing theater nuclear weapons, sea mines, land mines, artillery, small-yield nuclear weapons that would be used for tactical purposes, and therefore by definition, used-if they were used-early in a conflict.
We didn't want to see [the United States] backslide into all of those weapons again and so we simply but a backstop in the law: no research, no development on weapons of small yields below 5 kilotons. And that was symbolic. You could do the research on a 7-kiloton weapon. You could get around it. But this was one statement by Congress that we don't want to get back into that business. All sorts of artillery people told me-after the Army finally got rid of its last [nuclear artillery] round-I never wanted to pull the lanyard on one of those rounds anyway. But everybody had to have them. If anybody had them, everybody had to have them. And since they were tactical, they had to be distributed with forces in the field.
Well, notwithstanding that, the administration insisted that [the low-yield ban] was an impediment to research and development, that it actually threatened scientists in our labs so that they couldn't even think about weapons that had less than 5 kilotons without being potentially in violation of the law. We offered to straighten that out. We did straighten that out. We changed the language. That was not enough. And they said all along this is just an impediment. We want to clear the impediment. We don't have any intention of going back to the days when we had tactical nuclear weapons. Well, they won; we lost. The provision was repealed and barely was the law drawn on the books before the head of the NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) sent out a memo to all of the labs saying this is your opportunity, get cracking. This is your opportunity to think about new and smaller nuclear weapons. So despite their protestations, they were bent all along upon entering a new realm and taking us back to somewhere where we were years ago and were thankful to have moved beyond.
Last year, Rumsfeld went to great pains also to describe the nuclear earth penetrator-the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP)-as "just a study; nothing more, nothing less." Well, look at this year's budget. This year the budget justification documents reveal that this so-called study, originally budgeted at $45 million over three years, is now slated for more than a half billion dollars over the next five years and also slated to transition from conceptual studies to detailed engineering to the actual construction of a prototype. Department of Energy officials tell us that this transition would require congressional approval, of course. We'd have to put the money up and we'd have to authorize it. They're right, but that's small comfort given the direction we appear to be moving.
This administration is also moving forward with its so-called Advanced Concepts program, which it started last year to explore new weapons design. Details are sketchy but they would encompass new low-yield and high-yield weapons. The funding for this is modest. It's very modest, $9 million for FY '05 but look at RNEP. It was modest a year ago too. Now it's gone from $45 million to $500 over five years. This could follow the same funding path.
Testing. When we were at the height of the Cold War our stockpile was above 10,000 nuclear weapons. We conducted about 1,100 tests-more than anyone else in the world to the best of our knowledge-over four decades. It took about 18 months to plan from start to finish a new nuclear test on a new nuclear weapon. We now have a stockpile stewardship program in place in which we spend billions of dollars to avoid testing. It's a good program. It's working thus far.
So what's U.S. policy? We will not seek ratification, obviously, of the CTBT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. More than that, we are funding a program that will compress the timeframe from start to finish for testing of a nuclear weapon to 18 months again. Number one, it's expensive; number two, it diverts scientific talent away from a critical program, the stockpile stewardship program; and number three, it sends the wrong message to the world, namely that we are at least contemplating a resumption of testing.
So let me wrap up by asking, what can we do if we really are intent upon doing something about nuclear nonproliferation? First of all, we need to vigorously fund our nonproliferation programs. We've got some good programs in place. We've worked the kinks out of them. They are functional. We can and ought to strive to do what Baker-Cutler proposed and that is get the funding level up to $30 billion over 10 years. It's a lot of money but there's a lot of money in the defense budget. Furthermore, the elimination of states like Libya and Iraq as states of concern give us an opportunity for progress that we didn't have in the past. We've got an improved relationship with the former Soviet states. We should cut through the red tape and somebody should be put in charge of this program who is committed to it; fervently committed to it.
Secondly, we should make clear that our nuclear arsenal is a strategic deterrent. In this world of stealthy platforms and standoff precision-guided munitions, we don't see a need anymore for tactical or theater nuclear weapons, and we should back away from the development of those weapons, including the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which is destined to be a failure of a system probably anyway. I don't object, as a matter of prudence, to maintaining at least the ability to resume testing. Something could happen, I will admit, that might require us to do it. But I am skeptical that it's worth the cost of maintaining an 18-month lead-time, not just the dollar cost, but the talent cost and the opportunity cost as well. Twenty-four months is a lot less costly. More importantly, it puts a lot less strain on our engineers. That's something we can do right now and actually save money doing and reassure the world that our commitment is to stockpile stewardship and not to near term testing.
And finally, we should strive for prudent reductions in our strategic arsenal. The Moscow Treaty [also known as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty] was a step in the right direction, but we can accelerate the stand down to 1,700 to 2,000 deployable warheads. There's plenty of room there for us to work with the Russians. Some sort of confidence building measures between the two of our countries since we have other things to disagree about right now would be a good idea in and of itself.
These are just a few ideas. The defense authorization bill is coming up this week for markup in subcommittee, next week in full committee. We will have some amendments in that process to at least try to raise the overall level of nonproliferation funding, maybe to $2 billion instead of $1.8 billion. I can't tell you that it's likely to pass in committee. I doubt that it will, but we'll go back to the floor and if they give us an opportunity on the floor we'll try again. I think our chances are there.
Frankly, the defense bill is not the way it used to be. The way it used to be when Les Aspin was chairman of the committee was that we would go to the floor and spend two to three weeks. We would have dozens, scores of amendments. Now, a senior member-I'm the second-ranking Democrat on this committee-is lucky to get two or three amendments approved and made in order to be considered on the House floor. So we have to choose our weapons and our battles carefully because the Rules Committee won't give us the opportunity to take everything to the floor. In fact, what they typically do is they allow the most extreme amendments of all to come up and dare Democrats to vote for them. It's not a way to make good law. It's not a way to make good policy, but it's the way the House of Representatives is run right now, unfortunately.
And I hope that we will have an opportunity in committee and on the floor to at least at the margins improve the adequacy of funding for these key nonproliferation programs that have proven themselves to work and certainly are needed in the world today.
Thank you very much.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Congressman. We'll hear next from Chuck Pena, who is going to address the new nuclear weapons topic.
CHARLES V. PENA: Thank you and good morning. I was really pleased when Daryl called me and invited me to speak on this subject and this panel. If, for no other reason, it gets me out from under having to deal with the day-to-day issues of Iraq and the war on terrorism which tend to dominate my time.
For those of you who are familiar with the Cato Institute, you might think it's a little bit strange that I'm sharing a podium with the Arms Control Association. Cato's not necessarily known for being terribly supportive of treaties or arms control more generally. Certainly, we're not staunch opponents of it. We like to see what the outcome is before making a decision. But on the subject of mini-nukes, [Cato and the Arms Control Association] find ourselves in general agreement.
I'm going to speak to you today from a November report which is available on [the Cato] website called "Mini-Nuke and Preemptive Policy: A Dangerous Combination." And in my brief remarks what I want to do is outline why there is an interest in developing mini-nukes, what's driving it, what some of the arguments are for them, what some of the arguments are against them, and why on balance I believe that this would be a dangerous path for us to pursue.
The reason why there's all this interest in mini-nukes is pretty simple: it's called deeply buried and hardened targets. People like the Iraqis, the North Koreans realize that one way to protect their leadership targets, their weapons of mass destruction programs-if they've actually got them-is to bury them deep or bury them inside mountains, and that makes them very difficult to destroy with conventional weapons. And then the other half of the equation is that some of the progress that we've made with precision-guided munitions and earth-penetrating weapons makes it tantalizingly possible to use very low-yield nuclear weapons to destroy deeply-buried targets that we haven't been able to target before.
Even in the Iraq War, with all the munitions that we used, there were some underground facilities that we just could not get to. And, of course, nobody wants to use a large-yield surface-detonated nuclear weapon, which would be one way to try and deal with those kinds of targets. So you have this possibility that with a weapon that essentially you can put right on top of a target, penetrate 20, 30, 40, 50 [feet]-whatever technology will allow you to do-and then detonate that nuke underground, contain most of the explosion and most of the fallout. It then becomes a so-called safe, useable weapon, and that's what's driving the push more than anything else for mini-nukes.
The proponents argue that all of our potential adversaries are burying their targets and that even with the accomplishments we've made with conventional bunker busters that there are some targets that we're just never going to be able to hit with them. So the only way to go after them is with a nuclear bunker buster. And the reason they want to do that, they argue, is that would have a deterrent effect. In other words, if we have credible nuclear weapons that our adversaries know can hold at risk their most valued targets, their leadership, and their WMD, that this will deter hostile nations from taking actions against our interests.
They go on to argue that it would dissuade countries even from wanting to pursue weapons of mass destruction programs. In other words, the argument goes if a dictator or a leader of another country knows that if he pursues a WMD program, no matter how deeply buried and hardened he makes that program, that we have the ability to destroy it then, in theory, that person is dissuaded from pursuing those kinds of programs. And that is largely the argument why we need to be pursuing so-called mini-nukes.
Arms control advocates would argue otherwise. We don't need to and that, in fact, going down that path threatens arms control regimes and nonproliferation efforts. Certainly, if we had to resume testing, they would argue, that that undermines the nonproliferation treaty and so that makes the problem worse because once we start testing and developing new weapons then other countries are more likely to want to test and also develop their weapons. And so all the work that's gone into at least containing proliferation, as we know it today, would unravel.
Bruce Blair at the Center for Defense Information raises some other interesting criticisms of mini-nukes. One, he points out, is that the diehard nuclear planners really want these weapons to go after targets inside Russia and China. Of course, the first question is that supposedly we're not in an adversarial relationship with the Russians anymore, we're trying to draw down our nuclear arsenals, and hopefully eventually get to the point where we remove the programming codes at least so that our missiles aren't targeted at each on a day to day basis so why do we want to build a new weapon to go after the Russians? And I think the real answer is that there are a lot of people out there who are concerned about the Chinese as the next possible strategic challenger to the United States and there are many people out there who believe that mini-nukes might serve as an effective deterrent to the Chinese expansion of their nuclear arsenal.
Bruce also, even more skeptically, thinks that a big push for the mini-nukes is to keep the labs in business. If we're not developing new nuclear weapons and we're drawing down our strategic arsenals, what are the labs going to do? They have to have something to do, and as Congressman Spratt pointed out, the minute one ban was lifted [the administration] sent the memo out [to the labs] that said this is your opportunity to go at least do research on new types of weapons.
I think the strongest argument that can be made against mini-nukes is on technical grounds. I'm not a physicist but I've read a lot of work from physicists who have dealt with this issue. It's not a question of can you build a mini-nuke. The reality is we have a weapon that could conceivably be made into a mini-nuke. It's the B61-11 nuclear bunker buster. In theory, you can dial down the explosive power of the device to sub-kiloton level. We know how to build precision-guided munitions. It's fairly easy to take a dumb iron bomb, stick a tail fin on it and a GPS receiver and know that you can get inside 10 meters of your intended target. And we know how to build these steel-tipped earth-penetrating warheads.
So, in theory anyway, you could take B61-and it probably isn't too difficult to do the engineering modifications-and turn it into something that looks like a mini-nuke. The problem is you're still probably dealing with collateral damage, no matter how deeply buried you put the thing. There's still going to be a fairly sizable crater. If your adversaries are smart enough to locate all their facilities in urban areas, as opposed to out in the middle of the desert, you're not going to minimize collateral damage, that's for sure. You're still going to get collateral damage in the immediate blast vicinity. There is a concern, of course, about fallout and testing. Some of our early nuclear tests with very small yield weapons had fallout over sizable distances. So I think that's another potential concern.
So the claim that these are useable in terms of being a clean nuclear weapon that has little or no damage-in other words it looks more like a conventional weapon than a nuclear weapon-is overstated, but I would leave it to the scientists to confirm that. But all my conversations with physicists, even those who are at least mildly supportive of the concept of mini-nukes, acknowledge that there's no such thing as a clean nuclear weapon and anybody who tells you otherwise is fooling you.
Let me say what I think the real problem here is with mini-nukes. It's not the mini-nukes per se-although I think you could make a lot of good arguments why they might be a bad idea on the arms control and technical aspects of it-but what's most troubling to me is that you have an administration pushing for mini-nukes that has also now endorsed explicitly a doctrine of preemption. So if you combine mini-nukes with preemption what you've got is the possibility anyway that we would initiate the use of nuclear weapons for preemptive regime change, and that obviously opens up a whole Pandora's box.
What message does that send out to the rest of the world? What message does that actually send out to the rogue states that you are supposedly trying to deter? I would argue that if I'm Kim Jong-Il sitting in Pyongyang watching the United States move forward to develop mini-nukes that can take out my deeply buried targets, I want to go from the eight nuclear weapons that the intelligence estimates are now saying the North Koreans have to as many as I can possibly build as fast as I possibly can. I think what happens is contrary to the advocates who argue that mini-nukes would have a dissuasive effect. It would have the reverse. It would create an incentive for countries to want to develop their own deterrent capability because what else are they going to do? There is no other way to deter the United States short of nuclear weapons and even that, who knows, may not be enough.
And so I think the real concern with mini-nukes is not that they're thought to be more useable weapons, it's that they have no other use except to be used for regime change. My Op-Ed outlines a hypothetical: would we have used mini-nukes in Iraq and what would have been the outcome? And I try to point out in it what I think some of the real operational and other limitations would be of trying to use mini-nukes preemptively against a country that a) has not attacked you and b) is also not a nuclear power.
In my opinion, the value of nuclear weapons is as a deterrent against being struck by another country that might have such weapons or another country that might want to engage in catastrophic action. The notion that either our strategic arsenal or even mini-nukes can somehow deter all levels of conflict, all the way down to say Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990, I think is a stretch of how deterrents actually operate. At best it operates on a one on one level with a country that directly threatens you, but I don't think that we can take nuclear weapons and then try and use that to deter all levels of conflict. At best, I think they deter nuclear conflict and maybe the use of other types of weapons of mass destruction.
In the end, the argument against mini-nukes is largely that they will actually propel countries to want to accelerate their nuclear weapons programs. Now, I'm not sure that arms control and nonproliferation can contain that either because as long as we've got a policy of preemption-and we've got more than a policy, we now have one case of preemption-I think there are a lot of countries out there that just don't trust the United States anymore to act in a manner that is in their interests. There a lot of leaders of so-called rogue states, states of concern wondering whether they're next. The fact that we've done it once may be proof enough that they need to get nuclear weapons.
And so I think we have to actually live with the very real possibility that despite all of our arms control and nonproliferation efforts that countries like North Korea are going to say the only way that we can prevent regime change is to have nuclear weapons and no amount of mini-nukes and no amount of arms control may stop them from doing that because they have no other insurance policy.
Let me conclude just by reading the concluding paragraph of my report. I rarely read out stuff but I think this is worth noting, "Ultimately mini-nukes could undermine deterrence and make the United States less secure especially when combined a policy of preemptive regime change. If rogue states believe that the United States has a nuclear capability that it is willing to use preemptively leaders of those countries may feel that they have nothing to lose by striking first with whatever means they have and that might include whatever weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, radiological, that they might possess."
I think even more dangerously, if those countries do possess some forms of WMD and their leaders feel that we have essentially put them in the position of dead man walking, which I think mini-nukes would ultimately do, then the taboos and the barriers to nation-states dealing with terrorist organizations begin to break down because terrorist organizations may be the only way that those nation-states can find a way to strike at the United States. That leaves open the possibility, and in fact becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for the Bush administration, that so-called rogue states would, in fact, just hand over WMD to terrorists.
I think there are strong disincentives for rogue states to do that presently. I think the more we make it clear that we're interested in preemptive regime change and the easier we make it with the development of weapons such as mini-nukes then the more likely it is that rogue states will give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. And that is the very one thing missile defense and other things cannot defend against and that would be another terrorist attack here in the United States.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much. We'll move on to our last speaker, Frank von Hippel. And as he's coming up let me just mention that in your packets there is a fact sheet from the Arms Control Association based on an article last year from three leading weapons physicists on the technical realities of high- and low-yield bunker busters.
FRANK VON HIPPEL: Actually, I'm inspired to put a tag on Charles' talk and just summarize those technical realities on the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator because my colleague Rob Nelson, an astrophysicist at Princeton, has done a lot of work on this. It's just that materials aren't strong enough so that any earth penetrator could penetrate beyond tens of feet deep and certainly couldn't contain fallout.
It's also that you would need to have good intelligence to target a bunker. The enemy would have to have cooperated, not making it too deep; just a little bit too deep for a conventional weapon but not too deep for a nuclear weapon. The enemy would also have to cooperate by putting all the chemical and biological weapons agents in one room instead of stringing it out along tunnels because the radius of destruction of the nuclear weapons wouldn't be very great. And you would have to know within 10 feet or so exactly where the target was. Here, you need better intelligence than we have demonstrated that we have. I remind you that before we invaded Iraq, U.S. intelligence had identified 590 locations in Iraq where chemical and biological weapons were supposed to be stored. But that wasn't what I'm here for.
I'll be very brief because you have an article by Steve Fetter [physicist and professor, University of Maryland] and I that is in the next issue of Arms Control Today. In your press packets is an article called "Does the United States Need a New Plutonium-Pit Facility?" Steve and I have been working on the technical aspects of nuclear policy for many years, both inside and outside the government. I'll just walk you through very quickly the main points in this article.
Currently, the U.S. has about 15,000 plutonium pits. Plutonium pits are the fissile material cores of the trigger of nuclear weapons-the fission trigger. According to the Moscow Treaty, the United States has agreed with Russia to reduce to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic warheads in 2012.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) proposed a year ago that we should build a so-called modern pit facility to produce up to 450 pits a year on a single shift, operating 40 hours a week, to both replace the existing stockpile of pits as they age and also to make new designed pits for new types of warheads that might be dreamed up.
Now, this proposal has become controversial. It's actually been criticized from both sides of the aisle. The House Appropriations Committee last July described the size-the maximum size of 450 pits a year; enough for 450 new warheads a year-as being based on a default assumption that the U.S. would continue to have a stockpile and a weapons complex, such as we built up during the Cold War to fight the now defunct Soviet Union, that would still need more than 10,000 pits. The committee and the Congress therefore cut the budget for designing this facility and urged the NNSA to look at the possibility of making whatever pits we need in an existing facility at Los Alamos.
And, in fact, in January, given this opposition in the Congress, Linton Brooks, the administrator of NNSA, announced that the agency was going to pause to respond to concerns that some committees have raised about the scope and timing of this proposal-the proposed size and the urgency for building such a facility.
To give a sense of the timescale we're talking about, how long before we have to replace the pits in our existing stockpile? Well, the oldest pit in the so-called enduring stockpile-the stockpile of about 7,000 warheads that we plan to continue to keep-at the moment is 26 years old. According to the NNSA's proposal-the case for this modern pit facility-we can expect these pits to last at least 45 years. So it would be 20 years at least before the oldest pit would have to be replaced if that 45-year longevity estimate is correct. However, the NNSA is doing experiments to see whether in fact the pits might last much longer with so-called accelerated aging tests, which by 2006 will tell us whether we can expect these pits to last at a minimum 60 years. In which case that would push this off to 35 years from now before we would have to replace the first pit.
With regard to the size of the stockpile-the 2,200 strategic warheads that we've agreed to reduce to by 2012-we would also want to have spares and non-strategic warheads. The question is how many warheads would we want to keep in an inactive reserve, just in case? How many reserve pits would we want to keep and store, just in case? It would be hard to argue that we really need to reproduce today's stockpile of 15,000 pits.
Congressman Spratt and Charles Pena just told us very eloquently why we don't need new warheads if the purpose of our nuclear arsenal is just deterrence instead of some kind of tactical use for less than national survival. The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator as currently conceived would not require a new pit. That's the only new warhead that has been proposed. It would not require a new pit. It's proposed to use an existing so-called physics package from an existing warhead.
What could we do at the exiting plutonium facility at Los Alamos, which the House Appropriations Committee urged the NNSA to look at? Well, that facility, the so-called TA-55 facility, is a very large plutonium facility. Operating 40 hours a week, this Los Alamos facility could be tooled up to produce 80 pits a year by 2015 or 150 by 2020 if an additional ring were installed. But the NNSA, at the time that it proposed the new facility a year ago, said that would not be enough.
If you have the article out, there's a plot showing you how large a stockpile we could produce with the Los Alamos facility at 80 pits per year, with the augmented facility at 150 pits per year, and with the [new facility proposed by NNSA] up to 450 pits a year. I want to reemphasize that's just operating 40 hours a week. The timescale on this plot shows a maximum pit lifetime of 45 years, which is all that can be guaranteed now, or if it went up to 60. We have learned that we can just about guarantee 60 years after we've done the accelerated aging tests.
With the Los Alamos facility at a 45-year pit lifetime, we could replace by 2034, 1,800 pits at 80 a year, or 2,500 pits at 150 a year. For a 60-year pit lifetime we could replace by 2049, 3,000 pits at 80 a year or almost 5,000 pits at 150 a year. With the Moscow Treaty, we would not need more than 3,000 warheads in 2012, and now we're talking about 20, 40 years later. I would hope that we would need far fewer by then.
I would argue that we would only need 200 to 1,000 warheads. A colleague drew my attention to a national poll, in which the median response from the American public about what they thought we need is 100 warheads. So I'm a hawk compared to the median American. By the way, they also thought that we only have 200. This just illustrates that the numbers that we have today-and even the numbers we're projecting to go down to in 2012-are just unimaginable in terms of destructive power to the ordinary American and I think they are closer to the truth than the nuclear policymakers in Washington are.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Frank. We'll now take your questions and our panelists will respond as best they can. If you can just identify yourself, we will bring you a microphone so we can hear you. Yes, sir.
Q: Tony Batt of the Las Vegas Review Journal. I'd like to get a comment about a statement from the National Nuclear Security Administration flatly denying that they have any plans whatsoever to test a bunker buster at the Nevada test site. They say the technology already exists, the weapon has already been tested, and that there would be no necessity for tests at the test site. Do you find that a credible statement?
MR. KIMBALL: Well, let me take a shot, and maybe Frank or Chuck want to comment on it. As Frank von Hippel said, the warhead that is being modified as part of the RNEP is going to be the B61 or the B83, which have been well tested. So I would agree, and I think Frank would agree, that you don't need to test this physics package once again to see if it performs. Modified nuclear weapons probably don't need to be tested. However, it is possible that modifications might be made to existing packages that could lead the weapons labs to want to test. That is a very real possibility.
I would also note that other kinds of testing are scheduled to go on. According to this five-year budget plan that Congressman Spratt referred to, the Department of Energy would be beginning in fiscal '05 and moving into fiscal '06 subsystem testing of the package for the robust weapon. These are aerial gravity drops of the weapon to test its earth penetrating capability. This is a different kind of test they do plan to be conducting, not a nuclear test.
Do you have anything that you want to add on that, Chuck?
MR. PENA: Let me just add, there's a thing called plausible deniability. I think, the labs can say all they want about what they're not planning to do and they are absolutely right. In whatever current plans they've got on paper now they're not planning to do this. That doesn't mean that some number of years from now, if these programs move forward at the rate that the administration would like them to move forward, that there wouldn't be a test sometime in the future. But they can say right now, "we're not planning to do a test" because all they're doing right now are concept studies and research so testing isn't part of what they're doing.
So I would take that with a grain of salt when you are accelerating and expanding programs for new nuclear weapons. When labs say they don't plan to test I think they're telling the absolute truth but that doesn't mean that there's no test sometime down the road that they're not currently planning for.
MR. VON HIPPEL: I've been told off the record by a Defense Department official that the expectation is that the U.S. would resume testing in 2007 or 2008, but not necessarily RNEP. I asked why, and basically [the answer] was that the labs need more interesting work to do.
MR. KIMBALL: And as Congressman Spratt mentioned, there are several dots that you need to connect. I think you put it very well. I mean, the line is not entirely clear.
REP. SPRATT: There are a lot of suspicious dots on the chart. (Laughter.)
MR. KIMBALL: A lot of suspicious dots on the chart, yes. One other canary in the coalmine that many of us are looking at is the legal status of the United States' relationship to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. There was a report in the New York Times about two years ago that early in the Bush Administration they did consider ways in which they might be able to withdraw the U.S. signature on that treaty. If the U.S. resumed tests they would have to revoke the 1996 signature on that treaty also. So that's another thing to watch out for.
Other questions, please. Yes, sir.
Q: Dmitry Ponomarev, Embassy of Belarus. Thank you very much for this presentation, but you could allow me three short comments that might be regarded as questions?
MR. KIMBALL: Please, briefly, yes.
Q: First of all, as far as I know this Nunn-Lugar program concerning Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, [which have all] voluntarily refused from being nuclear is not carried out in a completely satisfactory way. It means only that I think it is in the interests of the United States and the world community to prove that going un-nuclear-to refuse from nuclear status-is rewarded much more, not only in the material but in the political way. This is one thing.
Another comment is about mini-nukes pushing rogue states to go nuclear. Let us remember that in Japan for some quite a period of time there is a going-on discussion, theoretically at least, about going nuclear. I understand that living in the shade of a probably nuclear North Korea is not a very happy thing, but in this interconnected world, if the United States is going mini-nuclear, wouldn't that be another push for Japan going down the nuclear road path? This, I think, would be very dangerous.
And, the third thing, I am not a specialist, I am not a physicist, I am completely humanitarian, but I think in the age of Internet it is impossible to keep even the closest-kept secrets. It means when and if the United States is beginning to develop mini-nuclear weapons, this technology might be easily transferred to the very rogue states and maybe to the very terrorist organizations these mini-nuke states are supposed to struggle against.
Thank you very much.
MR. KIMBALL: Thanks for your comments. I'll just leave those as observations and things to be concerned about. Are there others that have comments? Yes, here.
Q: I want to ask Congressman Spratt a question on the current sort of budget battles on the Hill because we're going through markup now both on the [Senate and House Armed Services Committees]. The big issue seems to me the deficit and projected expenses of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that the defense budget, if my numbers are right, is close to 50 percent now, maybe even greater, of discretionary spending in the overall federal budget.
In a lot of people's eyes we need good defenses, but expenses on nuclear weapons at the rate we're spending today, and particularly new R&D and BMD (ballistic missile defense) included, seems to be a complete mis-prioritization of military spending when troops don't have armored vests, Humvees, and armored back-fit (ph) kits, in Iraq. Is the pressure from the federal deficit and the budget battles now on the Hill going to put pressure on the defense budget this year to really reprioritize things. And would that result in cutbacks in nuclear weapons, BMD, and other such items?
REP. SPRATT: I think the changes will be mostly at the margins this year. A day of reckoning is coming. The defense budget has grown from $300 billion to $420 billion in a space of three or four years. The deficit will be $521 billion this year if OMB is correct, $478 if CBO is correct. The deficit for next year is likely to approach that if the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan is $60 billion to $70 billion, which seems to be the rate of expenditure that's occurring right now. So somewhere, sometime this has to be confronted. I don't think it'll be confronted this year for various reasons. It's a presidential election year. Democrats don't control the House, we don't control the Senate. We can offer amendments on the House floor and the Senate floor, more on the Senate floor. But I think [the changes] will be mostly at the margin, trying to maybe plus up nonproliferation CTR to $2 billion instead of $1.8 billion, trying to move around some money in the ballistic missile defense accounts from strategic missile interceptors to theater missile systems, such as PAC-3 and THAAD, where there is a clear identified threat.
We'll certainly go after the RNEP and I'd tell you we might have a fighting chance in that case. We've got some assistance from Republicans such as David Hobson who has shown a fresh and welcome independence as chairman of the Energy and Water Committee. But all of this is going to be at the margins rather than some major transformational change in the budget. That could be coming. If you remember in the 1980s, the Department of Defense was in its primacy. It trumped everything in the budget for about four years, and then Gramm-Rudman-Hollings came along and shifted the scales and all of a sudden the deficit became more important than defense.
Right now, defense has got more going for it than with the Soviet threat in the 1980s because of the 9/11 threat in this decade. I think that's probably the real engine that's driving all this expenditure. That, plus the ongoing war. But something can happen. I don't want to see it happen but something could happen fiscally and financially to the dollar, the world, the stock markets, and the equity markets, and we might decide that the deficit has to take precedence again. And it'll come, whether it's this year, next year, five years from now, I don't know. But we cannot sustain the path we're on, which is one accumulating, according to CBO, $5 trillion in additional debt over the next 10 years. We just simply can't get from here to there.
When that day comes there will be a lot of scrutiny given to just what you're talking about. The first place we should go is the strategic accounts and take a look at the spending there, which is close to Cold War levels, and ask ourselves if we need to be doing that in this world. We've got other systems, such as standoff, precision-guided stealthy platforms, that give us an alternative we didn't have 20 years ago.
MR. KIMBALL: Other questions. Yes, sir.
Q: I'm Mike Haylin with Chemical and Engineering News. I would appreciate the panel's comments on the recommendation by the Defense Science Board earlier this year that the primary focus of the stockpile stewardship program be shifted from its current focus of maintaining the present stockpile to developing what we're calling mini-nukes.
MR. KIMBALL: I think we might disagree with that recommendation. That's the simple answer. Do you have a more specific question about the DSB recommendations?
One of the things that I think is interesting about that, if I might just elaborate a little bit, is that while the Defense Science Board recommended in its report that the composition of the U.S. arsenal be reoriented toward smaller and more useable nuclear weapons, it also was critical of some of the current efforts in the stockpile stewardship program, which I think is good criticism. There's too much being invested in some of the stockpile life extension programs and so there could be some reorientation. But it's not that kind of reorientation that, I think, we would support. And that would be my quick response based on all the things that we've said this morning.
MR. VON HIPPEL: I think that sustaining the size of the stockpile that we have is a tremendous waste of money and that money could be used for other things, but not mini-nukes in my view.
MR. KIMBALL: Back to the previous question that was asked up here about the relationship between these issues and the defense budget; just to connect some of these dots here. We were just discussing the costs of research on new or modified nuclear weapons, which is now in the tens of millions of dollars. That's peanuts in this federal budget. Over the next five years, as Congressman Spratt said, the research could lead to development on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator into the half-billion dollar range. Then, the modern pit facility that Frank von Hippel was describing is a $2 billion to $4 billion facility that could cost somewhere around $300 million a year to operate. The additional costs of producing and inducting and testing new or modified nuclear weapons could cost additional billions of dollars. So, while not a decisive element in the larger defense budget, these things do add up and there are opportunity costs, especially with respect to the energy appropriations budget, where other national priorities are funded from.
Any final questions from the audience? If not, I want to thank you for your attendance and encourage you to continue taking a look at Arms Control Today. In June, you'll be seeing a new Arms Control Today. There's a flier outside that describes the redesign of our flagship journal, and if you're not a subscriber I would certainly encourage you to become one to stay on top of these issues here in Washington and elsewhere.