The Four Horsemen (a.k.a. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn) are back with another Wall Street Journal op-ed on the importance of eliminating the “threat to the world” posed by nuclear weapons. The bipartisan group of four senior statesmen notes that “as we work to reduce nuclear weaponry and to realize the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, we recognize the necessity to maintain the safety, security and reliability of our own weapons.”
Below are some comments in reaction…
• The op-ed is a reminder that steps to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, including reductions in the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, have strong bipartisan support and are consistent with U.S. national security interests. In an earlier op-ed the Four Horsemen called for further, verifiable reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles “as soon as possible” and the adoption of “a process for bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into effect.”
• The op-ed notes that “advances in the scientific understanding of nuclear explosions and obviated the need for underground nuclear explosive tests.”
• The op-ed reinforces the conclusions of the September 2009 JASON scientific advisory group report on the status of U.S. efforts to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The report concluded that “Lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs [Life Extension Programs] to date.”
• The op-ed states that “Departures from our existing stewardship strategies should be taken when they are essential to maintain a safe, secure and effective deterrent.” The Four Horsemen might have added that what we have learned about our nuclear weapons to date suggests that existing stewardship and life extension programs offer a technically sound procedure for the U.S. to maintain the reliability of the stockpile without changing the military characteristics of existing weapons or designing new nuclear warheads. The September 2009 JASON report and other independent estimates support this conclusion.
• The op-ed claims that new investments in the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure, particularly in science, technology, and engineering programs, are “urgently needed.” Many Republicans have argued for major investments in new nuclear weapons production facilities. Yet absent a compelling explanation for why existing capabilities are insufficient for U.S. needs, which the Four Horsemen (noticeably) do not provide, it doesn’t make sense to pursue new production facilities that could have enormous financial and environmental costs and undermine U.S. nonproliferation objectives.
What it Means
Early indications are that the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request will likely include increased funding for the type of investments in science, technology, and engineering programs called for by the Four Horsemen. A significant investment will also be made in the newly created Stockpile Management Program. There may also be funding for new production facilities. The Albuquerque Journal’s John Fleck reported last weekend that the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget for nuclear weapons programs will rise to $7 billion, up from $6.4 billion last year.
The Four Horsemen and the Obama administration have likely concluded that the price for 67 Senate votes for the START follow-on treaty and eventually the CTBT is increased funding to maintain our nuclear weapons (recall also that this is generally in keeping with the requirements of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act, which calls for a plan to enhance the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, modernize the nuclear weapons complex, and maintain the delivery vehicles, and an estimate of budget requirements to do so over a 10-year period). Yesterday’s election result in Massachusetts has probably only strengthened that view.
The key question (apart from whether this funding is necessary to sustain our deterrent) is whether in offering so much right now for New START the administration will have anything left to bargain with to gain the support of Republicans and the nuclear lab directors for the CTBT down the road.