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Support Efforts to Cut Funding for New Nuclear Weapons Capabilities

For Immediate Release: September 16, 2003
Press Contact: Daryl Kimball (202) 463-8270

(Washington, D.C.): The Bush administration's do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do nuclear weapons proposals threaten to undermine global nonproliferation efforts and long-term U.S. security. Even as it rightly calls on other countries to foreswear nuclear weapons, it is proposing research that could lead to the development, production, and testing of a new class of nuclear bombs.

This week, Congress is debating and will likely vote on the administration's funding requests in the fiscal year 2004 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for research on "advanced nuclear concepts" and a "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator," as well as additional funds to enhance test site readiness and begin work on a new and excessive nuclear weapons "pit" fabrication facility. Congress should reject the advice of the Pentagon's modern day Dr. Strangeloves and support amendments that eliminate appropriations for research that could lead to the development, production, and testing of new nuclear weapons.

Why? The diplomatic and security costs of researching, developing, testing, and producing new types of nuclear weapons far outweigh any marginal benefits of such arms. Nuclear weapons provide no practical use in U.S. efforts to deny nuclear weapons to additional countries or non-state actors and will more likely encourage such states to believe that they should acquire nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack.

Nuclear Weapons-Big or Small-Are Weapons of Mass Destruction

Proponents of new nuclear capabilities advance the idea that underground targets can be more effectively destroyed by enhancing the earth penetrating capabilities of nuclear weapons, and that by reducing the weapons' explosive yields, collateral damage can be minimized to the point that they become "usable." However, the notion that a nuclear weapon could be developed to destroy a deeply buried target, yet cause little collateral damage, is highly misleading and dangerous.

Even a lower-yield, one-kiloton nuclear warhead (1/13 the size of the Hiroshima bomb) detonated at a depth of 20-50 feet would eject more than one million cubic feet of radioactive debris, forming a crater about the size of ground zero at the World Trade Center. The result would be a highly contaminated zone and atmospheric fallout that would endanger civilians, as well as U.S. military personnel who might be ordered into the area. The "robust" bunker-busting nuclear weapons now under study-the B61 and B83-are not small, but rather high-yield behemoths with yields exceeding 100 kilotons.

A nuclear weapon, however big or "small," is still a weapon of mass destruction. Politically and diplomatically, there is no such thing as a small nuclear weapon. Terror weapons should not be a U.S. foreign or military policy tool. Anyone who argues that we should think about or use nuclear weapons as if they were any other kind of weapon is out of touch with 21st century reality. So long as nuclear weapons exist, their role should be limited to deterring their use by others.

Is the Funding Only for "Research"?

Proponents of nuclear earth penetrators claim that these are merely research efforts that will not necessarily lead to the development of new weapons. This is disingenuous. In its May 20 "Statement of Administration Policy," the White House urged congressional support of its proposals for "critical research and development for low-yield nuclear weapons." (Emphasis added.) If the administration's proposals are merely for research, it should agree to legislative restrictions that prohibit the use of funds for the next phase: design engineering and development.

Reinforce, Not Undermine the Test Moratorium

New research and development leading to the production of nuclear warheads could lead to the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing to confirm the performance of new or modified weapons. The United States has not conducted a test explosion in over ten years. If it starts again, it would defy the global test moratorium and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and spark a dangerous new round of renewed nuclear testing by other countries, including Russia and China.

Although U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on August 7, 2003 that "The president has no intention of testing nuclear weapons" at this time, he also noted that "we can't rule it out forever." This pledge is hardly reassuring given the statements of other senior Bush officials. In an October 21, 2002 letter to the Nuclear Weapons Council, former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Edward Aldridge proposed that the nuclear weapons laboratories "readdress the value of a low yield testing program."

The fiscal year 2004 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill requests $25 million in additional funds to reduce the time necessary to resume nuclear testing to 18 months. Given that the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal remains safe and reliable, such a shift in test readiness posture is unwarranted, expensive, and could potentially provoke increased activity at Russian and Chinese test sites.

If not limited through legislation by Congress, proposals for research on new or modified types of nuclear weapons and enhanced nuclear test site readiness could lead to proposals for nuclear weapons development, production, and nuclear testing within the next two to three years.

As our nation tries to turn back the tide of nuclear proliferation worldwide, we cannot afford to take actions that unnecessarily suggest that nuclear weapons can or should be used as if they were just another kind of weapon in our arsenal. Now is the time for Congress to speak up and reject proposals that would increase, not decrease nuclear dangers.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.

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