Press Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107
(Washington, D.C.): Last week as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference opened in New York, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher dismissed recommendations in a report by the independent Arms Control Association (ACA) that the United States could do more to cut its nuclear arsenal and reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons. He remarked, "I know the arms control gurus can debate these numbers all day long." Echoing statements and presentations by the U.S. NPT delegation, Boucher asserted that "we are indeed meeting our [Article VI] commitments under the [NPT] to reduce nuclear weapons."
A closer examination of the Bush administration's nuclear stockpile numbers and actions make it clear that the administration has failed to move beyond Cold War-era nuclear force structure and strategies. The administration's selective presentation of its record at the NPT conference also ignores the fact that it has taken actions contrary to U.S. disarmament commitments and obligations established by the NPT and the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences, undermining the credibility of U.S. leadership to strengthen the treaty.
Strategic Nuclear Reductions: U.S. representatives at the month-long NPT conference cite the May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia and the June 2004 decision to cut the total U.S. nuclear stockpile almost in half by 2012 as evidence of U.S. fulfillment of its Article VI nuclear disarmament obligations. Boucher defended current U.S. nuclear reductions and policies as "pretty impressive" and serving as "an example to others that these weapons are not necessary."
If fulfilled, these two commitments would leave the United States with an arsenal of approximately 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads and at least another 3,000 stored nuclear warheads by 2012. That is a step in the right direction, but an arsenal of more than 5,000 nuclear weapons more than 20 years after the Soviet Union's collapse is still excessive. Alas, the Bush administration's nuclear plan remains predicated on deterring and defeating Russia's military forces.
In an April ACA report, What Are Nuclear Weapons For? Recommendations for Restructuring U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces, Stanford physicist Sidney Drell and Ambassador James Goodby urge the Bush administration to commit to reducing the U.S. strategic nuclear stockpile faster and more deeply—to 1,000 warheads by 2010—and abandon research on new or modified types of nuclear weapons for new missions.
Dramatic Reductions? Despite its declared intentions, the Bush administration has yet to finalize its plan for reducing nuclear deployments and U.S. strategic reductions have slowed to a crawl. According to the State Department's own fact sheets, the number of U.S. "accountable" warheads under the 1991 START accord have only decreased by two in the last year to 5,966. This is larger than the 5,949 "accountable" warheads the United States declared in December 2001 as fulfilling its START obligations. "Accountable" warheads are calculated on counting rules that attribute a certain number of warheads to each specific type of deployed submarine, heavy bomber, and intercontinental ballistic missile.
The United States and Russia agreed under START to destroy delivery vehicles as a way to limit the amount of nuclear warheads that could be redeployed. In its May 2002 agreement with Russia, the Bush administration opposed such requirements, providing both sides with the flexibility to remove warheads from storage and return them to service. The administration also declined to pursue measures to mandate destruction of warheads even though the United States and Russia agreed to explore this goal in 1997.
Other vestiges of Cold War-era U.S. nuclear policy include the maintenance of thousands of nuclear warheads on high alert status, thus enabling their launch in a matter of minutes, as well as the stationing of over 400 tactical, or "battlefield," nuclear weapons at bases in six NATO countries in Europe. Some European leaders and lawmakers are calling for the removal of these obsolete remnants of the Cold War.
Reducing Nuclear Weapons Roles and Missions? In presentations and materials distributed at the NPT Review Conference, the U.S. delegation claims that the United States is not developing, testing, or producing any nuclear warheads and has not done so in more than a decade. This may be the case now, but the administration supports exploring new and modified nuclear weapons for new missions. This year, the administration requested $8.5 million for research on modifications of the high-yield B-83 bomb to test the feasibility of creating a new nuclear earth penetrator, and it has said another $14 million would be needed to complete the research.
The administration is also hawking a new program to replace existing warheads with new nuclear components and possibly new designs that it says would improve the reliability of the nuclear arsenal. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) chief Linton Brooks said the goal is to develop and produce a "small build" of the new warheads by 2012-2015 without resuming nuclear testing. He also claims the program does not aim to create new nuclear weapons capabilities. Yet, in a revealing comment last month, Brooks' deputy said "[T]hat's not the primary objective, but [it] would be a fortuitous associated event."
Test Ban Treaty Amnesia: When asked by a reporter about the administration's interpretation of its legal position as a signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Mr. Boucher said his memory did not go back that far. The record shows that following the Senate rejection of the treaty in October 1999 after a brief and highly partisan debate, the Clinton administration declared in November 1999 that the United States would continue to respect its obligations as a signatory to the treaty not to test, pending its entry into force.
The Bush administration says it has no plans at this time to resume nuclear testing, but it has refused to support the CTBT. According to the May 12, 2002 edition of The New York Times, officials at the Departments of Defense, Energy, and State, and at the National Security Council discussed whether President Bush should renounce the U.S. signature of the accord in late 2001.
Agreement on an agenda for the NPT conference has been blocked, in part, because of U.S. unwillingness to discuss the CTBT or past review conference commitments. A timeline titled Progress in Arms Control Disarmament and Nonproliferation distributed by the U.S. delegation at the conference fails to note the fact that President Bill Clinton was the first leader to sign the CTBT in September 1996 and it fails to note the occurrence of the 2000 NPT Review Conference and its outcomes.
The ACA report is available online at http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/USNW_2005_Drell-Goodby.pdf. For more information on U.S. nuclear weapons policies and the NPT, visit: http://www.armscontrol.org.
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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.