The U.S. Just Promised Another Nuclear Decade

Sometime yesterday, possibly between your third helping of Artery-Clogger Side Dish X and the table talk's seventh awkward turn toward politics, the U.S. announced plans to retain its hoard of nuclear weapons "for many years to come.":http://www.siasat...

Sometime yesterday, possibly between your third helping of Artery-Clogger Side Dish X and the table talk’s seventh awkward turn toward politics, the U.S. announced plans to retain its hoard of nuclear weapons for many years to come. Never mind, then, that pesky international Chemical Weapons Convention, which impels signatory-states, including the U.S., to destroy their weapons of mass destruction by the end of April 2012 – America wants to hang onto its nukes for at least another decade.

The U.S. has always outpaced the rest of the world in the proliferation game, of course, even amid its continual overtures of non-proliferation. American nuke counts peaked in 1967 at 31,225 warheads. By the fall of the Berlin Wall, that number had commendably downsized to somewhere around 22,200. And to its credit, the U.S. has continued ratcheting down it stockpiles. The Pentagon says that the U.S. dismantled some 8,748 warheads between 1994 and 2009, with significant reductions between 2004 and 2007.

But even still, as of 2010 the U.S. boasted 5,113 warheads, a figure that included warheads operationally deployed, kept in active reserve and held in inactive storage. Moving forward, the federal government will pump billions of dollars into warhead maintenance and modernization. How it will foot this infusion, what with a staggering national debt and the Department of Defense already undergoing its own cuts, is unclear. Nevertheless, the Obama administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request, which includes FY2011 costs, calls for $6.3 billion in life-extension programs (LEPs) for three warhead models – the B61, W76, and W78 – in existing stockpiles.

Obama speaks at the U.N Security Council on non-proliferation, September 2009

The budget also outlines new cost estimates for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility and the Uranium Production Facility (UPF), two new nuclear weapons factories under construction at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, respectively. The CMRR and UPF are projected to cost a combined $10-12.3 billion. Both facilities are already over budget.

On top of all that, the administration has pledged to shell out “well over 100 billion dollars” toward modernizing just some of the U.S.’s nuclear delivery vehicles, namely ballistic missile submarines, land-based missiles, and both heavy- and fighter-bombers.

And what to do with all the retired warheads (there are likely about 3,500) collecting dust in all the nation’s shadowy storage bunkers? Not much, really. “The dismantling of retired warheads,” according to the Federation of American Scientists, “does not appear to be a priority for the Obama administration.” The annual dismantlement budget next year with be less than 2010 and comparable to that during the Bush years. At the planned rate, the FAS claims, warheads retired before FY2010 will be dismantled by 2022, about the time the U.S.’s newly self-imposed destruction deadline kicks in.

Later this month, the Conference on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is set to convene at The Hague, where the U.S.’s planned 10-year hoard, a flagrant brushing off the Chemical Weapons Convention timeline, will be addressed. According to CWC terms, countries in non-compliance are to be referred to the UN Security Council.

It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, sort of rationale the U.S. pulls out if and when it’s called before the UNSC. And while this sort of about-face isn’t anything new for the Americans – exceptionalists by nature – it’s still not clear just what compelled their call for 10 more years of WMD hoarding. Maybe it’s a reaction to the heat from China or Iran, both rising military and nuclear threats. Maybe it’s just force of habit, an unfortunate militarized knee-jerk that simply can’t let go of the weapons, safely and in no shows of force, when their time supposedly comes.

Either way, remember when Obama won the Nobel Prize for his vision for a nuke-free world? At least he gave away the prize money.


Reach this writer at brian@motherboard.tv.