For Immediate Release: May 7, 2004
Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107 Wade Boese, (202) 463-8270 x104
(Washington, D.C.): Bush administration plans to spend tens of millions of dollars this year exploring new types of nuclear weapons will frustrate and undercut U.S. efforts to prevent other countries from acquiring or building up nuclear weapons arsenals, according to two leading Congressional Democrats and non-government national security experts May 4.
Congressional committees began earlier this week to consider the Bush administration's fiscal year 2005 budget request, including $9 million to investigate new nuclear weapon concepts, such as low-yield warheads; $27 million to continue research on modifying high-yield warheads to destroy targets buried deep underground; and nearly $30 million for a new nuclear bomb-making facility. Administration intentions to continue and advance these programs are clear and will cost at least hundreds of millions more.
Speaking at a press conference sponsored by the nonpartisan Arms Control Association, Representative John Spratt (D-S.C.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, warned that the Bush administration proposals suggest, "This administration seems to believe that the United States can move the world in one direction while we ourselves move in a different direction."
"The challenges of nuclear proliferation, whether in Iran, North Korea, or in the recently uncovered Pakistani nuclear black market, will only be complicated if the United States pursues new nuclear weapons, sending the message that nuclear weapons are somehow desirable," added Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) in a statement prepared for the press conference.
Recommending that the United States should "back away from the development" of new types of nuclear weapons, Spratt indicated that money would be more wisely spent on nonproliferation programs designed to safeguard and secure nuclear weapons and related materials in Russia, other former Soviet states, and elsewhere. "There's no better way to protect Americans from weapons of mass destruction than to eliminate those weapons at their source," said Spratt.
Tauscher also urged Congress not to fund the proposed weapons research. "Rather than rush to develop weapons that may prompt a new arms race, Congress should curtail these steps and engage in a serious debate over the role of nuclear weapons in the United States' defense posture," she stated.
Bush administration officials claim that the current U.S. nuclear stockpile is antiquated. They argue that new types of nuclear weapons that are either less powerful or more capable of destroying deeply buried targets will better persuade terrorists and so-called rogue regimes of U.S. willingness to use nuclear arms and, therefore, deter such adversaries from attacking the United States or stockpiling dangerous weapons.
In a March report to Congress, the administration asserted the new weapons research would only "slightly complicate U.S. nonproliferation diplomacy."
"That's a real understatement if I've ever heard one," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. Kimball declared, "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."
Charles Peña, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute, agreed. The development of new types of U.S. nuclear weapons "will actually propel countries to want to accelerate their nuclear weapons programs," Peña stated at the May 4 briefing. He further contended that regimes fearing a preemptive U.S. nuclear attack might be more willing to pass chemical, biological, or nuclear arms to terrorists because they could conclude that was the only way to strike the United States.
Another factor against developing nuclear weapons designed to go after targets deep underground is that such warheads won't work, said Frank von Hippel, a physicist and former assistant director for national security in the White House. He explained that warhead materials are not strong enough to "penetrate beyond tens of feet deep."
The United States currently deploys nearly 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads on bombers, missiles, and submarines, but is planning to whittle that total down to less than 2,200 warheads by Dec. 31, 2012.
Yet, the administration is calling for construction of a new facility for building the explosive cores or plutonium pits of U.S. nuclear weapons. This facility would churn out up to 450 pits a year based on the assumption that the United States will need to maintain more than 10,000 pits.
Von Hippel, who recently co-authored an Arms Control Today article on the proposed pit facility, argued that it greatly exceeds realistic requirements for maintaining the U.S. stockpile. The facility could cost up to $4 billion to complete and $300 million annually to operate.
Kimball condemned the administration's pit facility plan, as well as its new nuclear weapons research proposals, as both "costly and counterproductive."
A full transcript of the May 4 briefing with Congressman Spratt is available online at http://www.armscontrol.org/events/May_2004PressConference.asp.
Dr. von Hippel's article, "Does the United States Need a New Plutonium-Pit Facility?," is also available online at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_05/FettervonHippel.asp.
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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.