For Immediate Release: February 7, 2005
Press Contact: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107
(Washington, D.C.): The Arms Control Association (ACA) and other leading nuclear security experts criticized the Bush administration's decision to renew its funding request for research on new, earth penetrating nuclear weapons, which Congress denied last year. The Department of Energy's fiscal year 2006 budget request includes $4 million for research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. It also envisions spending $14 million on the project in fiscal year 2007. The Department of Defense's fiscal year 2006 budget request also includes $4.5 million for work on the project, and it foresees spending $3.5 million in fiscal year 2007.
"The Bush administration is unnecessarily and unwisely provoking another showdown with Congress over its dangerous ambitions to develop new versions of high-yield earth-penetrating bunker busting nuclear weapons," charged Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of ACA, a non-partisan research and advocacy organization that has been in the forefront of the nongovernmental campaign opposing the project.
After narrowly approving funding requests for research on new weapons for fiscal years 2003 and 2004, Congress denied the administration's fiscal year 2005 request for $27.5 million to enhance the bunker-busting capability of an existing high-yield warhead and redirected the administration's $9 million request to investigate "advanced concepts," such as new low-yield warheads, to the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.
Earth-penetrating bunker busters would produce a high-yield blast too large to avoid dispersal of radioactive debris and fallout around the target, threatening civilians and military personnel. If new, smaller-yield nuclear weapons are used to destroy chemical or biological targets, the fallout would still be significant, and small errors in intelligence and targeting could disperse rather than destroy deadly material. Improvements in specialized conventional munitions offer significant and more practical capabilities without the risk of crossing the nuclear threshold.
"Members of Congress from both parties are opposed to the radical idea of new and 'more usable' nuclear weapons and understand that the pursuit of such weapons makes it harder to convince other states to exercise nuclear restraint,"
"While the Bush administration claims it has no plans to develop new or modified nuclear weapons, the research program could be the next step toward the creation of 'new nuclear weapons capabilities,' as called for in the Defense Department's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review," Kimball said.
"Now is the time to halt new nuclear weapons pursuits and for Congress to engage in a serious reevaluation of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense and security posture," Kimball suggested. "When and if they do, they should realize that nuclear weapons, so long as they exist, should be limited to deterring nuclear attack by another nation and should not be considered for battlefield use," said Kimball.
"The administration's fiscal year 2006 request for new nuclear weapons funding will also undermine efforts to strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the May 2005 Review Conference," Kimball said. The United States, as a nuclear-weapon state, is obligated under Article VI of the treaty to end the nuclear arms race and pursue nuclear disarmament.
"Maintaining and expanding the role of U.S. nuclear weapons not only violates accepted international norms of nonproliferation behavior, but it invites countermoves by former adversaries and would-be nuclear powers," Kimball charged. "Rather than pursue new nuclear weapons, the Energy Department should focus on its primary mission of maintaining the safety, security, and viability of the existing stockpile while rapidly dismantling excess weapons," he urged.
A report in the February 7, 2005 edition of The New York Times suggests that the Energy Department may try to use the Reliable Replacement Warhead program to build more reliable warheads to replace existing ones, though it may also be used to help field warheads with new military capabilities. The Energy Department requested $9 million in the latest budget request for this program.
"The Department of Energy should not misuse stockpile stewardship programs to develop replacement warheads with new military capabilities and that might require renewed nuclear testing," Kimball cautioned.