ACTION ALERT: Tell the Democrats to 'Ban the Bomb!'
November 3, 2014
William J. Broad and David E. Sanger / The New York Times & Alice Slater / Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
A recent report by the Federation of American Scientists details how President Obama -- who has repeatedly called for "a world without nuclear weapons" -- now plans a massive and costly increase in the Pentagon's nuclear arsenal. History shows that Mr. Obama has reduced the size of the nation's atomic stockpile far less than did any of his three immediate predecessors, including Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Anti-nuclear campaigners are calling for letters to be sent to the White House
Which President Cut the Most Nukes?
William J. Broad / The New York Times
(November 1, 2014) -- Doves who once cheered President Obama for his antinuclear crusades and later fell silent as he backpedaled are now lining up to denounce him. A recent skewering by the Federation of American Scientists details how Mr. Obama, despite calling repeatedly for "a world without nuclear weapons," has reduced the size of the nation's atomic stockpile far less than did any of his three immediate predecessors, including both Presidents Bush.
Critics are calling out the president not only for modest cuts but also for spending more than previous administrations to modernize the remaining arms and for authorizing a new generation of weapon carriers. They call the upgrades an enormous waste of money, citing estimates that put the nation's costs over the next three decades at up to a trillion dollars.
Mr. Obama should "suspend plans to develop a new arsenal," Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a private group in San Francisco, wrote recently in an op-ed article in The Los Angeles Times. He argued that the move would save money and advance global security. "Unless something is done soon," he wrote, "we will buy thousands of new hydrogen bombs and mount them on hundreds of new missiles and planes."
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a Washington-based network of organizations, recently condemned the administration's plans as "the largest expansion of funding on nuclear weapons since the fall of the Soviet Union."
Some critics, while conceding short-term gains from Mr. Obama's cuts, say the benefits pale in comparison to the risks the administration runs in rebuilding bomb plants and modernizing arms. Some warn that the upgrades could allow a future president to rapidly expand the nation's atomic forces and have already set a bad example for other nations.
The Arms Control Association, a private group in Washington, recently issued a report, "The Unaffordable Arsenal," that argued that more cuts "could help induce other nuclear-armed states to exercise greater restraint."
For its part, the White House defends its record as sensible for the times, noting that previous cuts were easy after the collapse of Cold War tensions and that today Congress has fought major reductions. Indeed, it took the administration's backing of wide modernization to get Senate Republicans to ratify a modest 2010 arms treaty with Moscow. And officials have defended the weapon upgrades as paving the way for future arms cuts and have called the high costs unavoidable, since old arms require more extensive refurbishments.
For his part, Mr. Obama has declared that "we have more nuclear weapons than we need," implicitly faulting the continuing opposition to further cuts.
Even so, the transformation of cheerleaders into detractors marks a turning point for a vocal part of Mr. Obama's base. Early on, peace activists hailed the new president for making nuclear disarmament a centerpiece of American defense policy. Crowds cheered when, in an 2009 speech, he said the United States had a moral obligation to seek the "security of a world without nuclear weapons."
That October the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citing his antinuclear efforts, awarded Mr. Obama the Peace Prize.
Early this year, a report by the Monterey Institute of International Studies questioned the wisdom of the modernization push as well as the nation's ability to pay the bill.
And last month, the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, joined the fray with a report that compared Mr. Obama's record with that of all presidents who held office during the nuclear age. "It's a funny thing," Hans M. Kristensen, the report's author, wrote. "The administrations that talk the most about reducing nuclear weapons tend to reduce the least."
So far, he added, Mr. Obama has cut fewer warheads (in numbers, not percentages) than "any administration ever." Mr. Kristensen, director of the group's nuclear information project, noted that, in recent decades, "the biggest nuclear disarmers" have been Republicans, not Democrats.
The most aggressive? President George W. Bush, who during his two terms cut the nation's arsenal in half. His father, while serving a single term, came in a close second with reductions of 41 percent. Together, Mr. Kristensen noted, the two men cut "a staggering 14,801 warheads from the stockpile."
He said Mr. Obama's reductions to date total 507 arms, or about 10 percent of the stockpile when he entered office.
Mr. Kristensen conceded that Mr. Obama's policies of atomic modernization "in the long run" could result in more reductions. But these steps, he noted, would reduce the arsenal only "well after President Obama has left office."
During his presidency, Mr. Obama's public remarks on disarmament seem to have grown less frequent and urgent.
In 2009, he spoke to the United Nations of a historic "shared commitment" to the nuclear-free goal. Later that year, he spoke proudly at a Miami Beach fund-raiser of his "vision for reducing nuclear stockpiles."
Yet some of his recent comments seem almost wistful. Last year, addressing an audience in Berlin, Mr. Obama said that abolishing the weapons was important to pursue "no matter how distant that dream may be."
To applause, he added that the new arms treaty had already reduced warhead numbers to their "lowest levels since the 1950s." Yet a glance at the accompanying weapons chart shows that President Bush could have made a similar boast a decade ago.
William J. Broad is a science reporter for The New York Times.
ACTION ALERT: Prospects for Ramping up US Nuclear Arsenals
And History of US Reductions
Alice Slater / Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
(November 2, 2014) -- Congratulations to William Broad and the NY Times for finally informing the public about the extent of US nuclear folly in two articles in the last six weeks, which not only revealed the scope of US nuclear rearmament and the budget busting plans to spend one trillion dollars over the next thirty years for new nuclear bombs, labs, and delivery systems, as part of a deal Obama made with the military-industrial complex to achieve the modest cuts of the new START treaty with Russia, and which also reviewed US nuclear cuts since President Eisenhower.
The articles disclose the traditional beltway arms control community's unhappiness with Obama's empty rhetoric about a nuclear weapons free world in light of his new commitments to more and improved nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future at huge cost for a weapon that no country dare use willingly, knowing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from nuclear war.
Even without deliberate use, this past year nuclear-loaded missiles went missing, transported unknowingly from North Dakota to Louisiana, and our troops in the missiles silos responsible for command and control of the nuclear arsenal were found drunk and grossly negligent.
The prescription from the DC arms controllers, is that deeper cuts "could help induce other nuclear-armed states to exercise greater restraint." But what the world need now is not greater restraint, but US leadership for eliminating nuclear arsenals. Building a leaner, meaner US arsenal over 30 years will only signal other nuclear wannabes to get bombs of their own.
Instead of calling for deep cuts, the US should join the burgeoning humanitarian campaign meeting in Vienna this December to ban nuclear weapons, just as we have banned chemical and biological weapons, and then, after declaring them illegal, move immediate to negotiations for their total elimination under strict and effective international control.
The American Nuclear Stockpile …
Lyndon Johnson: 30,000
1960: PEAK PRODUCTION
6,340 warheads added, an average of about 121 per week. (Figures are for fiscal years.)
1992: LARGEST ANNUAL CUT
5,300 warheads, or about 101 per week. George H.W. Bush.
2011: TOP PACE FOR OBAMA
169 warheads cut, a bit more than three per week.
38 cut, fewer than one per week. 4,766 warheads remained as of Sept. 30.
Percent change in size of stockpile in each administration except Truman, which went from zero to 841 warheads.
[Democrats: +51, +5, -7, -22, -10 = 17%
Republicans: -5, -4, -41, -50 = 100%]
… and What It Costs (in 2014 dollars)
Despite fewer warheads, the program is getting more expensive. Annual budget for nuclear warhead research, development, testing, production and maintenance. Excludes other substantial costs: producing nuclear materials; design, testing, manufacture and operation of nuclear delivery systems.
Johnson: $7.8 billion
Reagan: $9.1 billion
Obama: $8.9 (projected)
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, NY, 446 E 86 St., New York NY 10028. 212-744-2005. 646-238-9000(mobile) www.wagingpeace.org www.abolition2000.org
US Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms
William J. Broad and David E. Sanger / The New York Times
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (September 21, 2014) -- A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America's atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.
It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.
This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for "a nuclear-free world" and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. The original idea was that modest rebuilding of the nation's crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal's reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads.
Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.
Supporters of arms control, as well as some of President Obama's closest advisers, say their hopes for the president's vision have turned to baffled disappointment as the modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself.
"A lot of it is hard to explain," said Sam Nunn, the former senator whose writings on nuclear disarmament deeply influenced Mr. Obama. "The president's vision was a significant change in direction. But the process has preserved the status quo."
With Russia on the warpath, China pressing its own territorial claims and Pakistan expanding its arsenal, the overall chances for Mr. Obama's legacy of disarmament look increasingly dim, analysts say. Congress has expressed less interest in atomic reductions than looking tough in Washington's escalating confrontation with Moscow.
"The most fundamental game changer is Putin's invasion of Ukraine," said Gary Samore, Mr. Obama's top nuclear adviser in his first term and now a scholar at Harvard. "That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible."
That suits hawks just fine. They see the investments as putting the United States in a stronger position if a new arms race breaks out. In fact, the renovated plants that Mr. Obama has approved for a smaller force of more precise, reliable weapons could, under a different president, let the arsenal expand rapidly.
Arms controllers say the White House has made some progress toward Mr. Obama's broader agenda. Mr. Nunn credits the president with improving nuclear security around the globe, persuading other leaders to sweep up loose nuclear materials that terrorists could seize.
In the end, however, budget realities may do more than nuclear philosophies to curb the atomic upgrades. "There isn't enough money," said Jeffrey Lewis, of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, an expert on the modernization effort. "You're going to get a train wreck."
While the Kansas City plant is considered a success -- it opened ahead of schedule and under budget -- other planned renovations are mired in delays and cost overruns. Even so, Congress can fight hard for projects that represent big-ticket items in important districts.
Skeptics say that the arsenal is already dependable and that the costly overhauls are aimed less at arms control than at seeking votes and attracting top talent, people who might otherwise gravitate to other fields.
But the Obama administration insists that the improvements to the nuclear arsenal are vital to making it smaller, more flexible and better able to fulfill Mr. Obama's original vision.
Daniel B. Poneman, the departing deputy secretary of energy, whose department runs the complex, said, "The whole design of the modernization enables us to make reductions."
A Farewell to Arms
In the fall of 2008, as Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency, a coalition of peace groups sued to halt work on a replacement bomb plant in Kansas City. They cited the prospect of a new administration that might, as one litigant put it, kill the project in "a few months."
The Kansas City plant, an initiative of the Bush years, seemed like a good target, since Mr. Obama had declared his support for nuclear disarmament.
The $700 million weapons plant survived. But in April 2009, the new president and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev, vowed to rapidly complete an arms treaty called New Start, and committed their nations "to achieving a nuclear-free world."
Five days later, Mr. Obama spoke in Prague to a cheering throng, saying the United States had a moral responsibility to seek the "security of a world without nuclear weapons."
"I'm not naïve," he added. "This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence."
That October, the Nobel committee, citing his disarmament efforts, announced it would award Mr. Obama the Peace Prize.
The accord with Moscow was hammered out quickly. The countries agreed to cut strategic arms by roughly 30 percent -- from 2,200 to 1,550 deployed weapons apiece -- over seven years. It was a modest step. The Russian arsenal was already declining, and today has dropped below the agreed number, military experts say.
Even so, to win Senate approval of the treaty, Mr. Obama struck a deal with Republicans in 2010 that would set the country's nuclear agenda for decades to come.
Republicans objected to the treaty unless the president agreed to an aggressive rehabilitation of American nuclear forces and manufacturing sites. Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, led the opposition. He likened the bomb complex to a rundown garage -- a description some in the administration considered accurate.
Under fire, the administration promised to add $14 billion over a decade for atomic renovations. Then Senator Kyl refused to conclude a deal.
Facing the possible defeat of his first major treaty, Mr. Obama and the floor manager for the effort, Senator John Kerry, now the secretary of state, set up a war room and made deals to widen Republican support. In late December, the five-week campaign paid off, although the 71-to-26 vote represented the smallest margin ever for the ratification of a nuclear pact between Washington and Moscow.
The Democrats were unanimous in favor, their ranks including six senators with atomic plants in their states. Among the Republicans joining the Democrats were Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both of Tennessee and both strong backers of modernization. ("We're glad to have the thousands of jobs," Mr. Alexander said recently in announcing financing for a new plant.)
Annual spending by the Department of Energy and the Atomic Energy Commission on nuclear weapons research, development, testing and production.
In open and classified reports to Congress, Mr. Obama laid out his atomic refurbishment plans, which the Congressional Budget Office now estimates will cost $355 billion dollars over the next decade. But that is just the start. The price tag will soar after 10 years as missiles, bombers and submarines made in the last century reach the end of their useful lives and replacements are built.
"That's where all the big money is," Ashton B. Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense, said last year. "By comparison, everything that we're doing now is cheap."
A Wave of Modernization
The money is flowing into a sprawling complex for making warheads that includes eight major plants and laboratories employing more than 40,000 people. Its oldest elements, some dating to 1943, have long struggled with fires, explosions and workplace injuries. This March, a concrete roof collapsed in Tennessee. More recently, chunks of ceiling clattered down a stairwell there, and employees were told to wear hard hats.
"It's deplorable," Representative Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee, said at an April hearing. Equipment, he added, "breaks down on a daily basis."
In some ways, the challenge is similar to what Detroit's auto industry faces: Does it make sense to pour money into old structures or build new ones that are more secure, are fully computerized and adhere to modern environmental standards?
And if the government chooses the latter course, how does it justify that investment if the president's avowed policy is to wean the world off nuclear arms?
The old bomb plant in Kansas City embodies the dilemma. It was built in World War II to produce aircraft engines and went nuclear in 1949, making the mechanical and electrical parts for warheads.
But a river flooded it repeatedly, and in the past year it was gradually shut down. Today, visitors see tacky furniture, old machinery and floors caked with mud.
Its replacement, eight miles south, sits on higher ground. Its five buildings hold 2,700 employees -- just like the old plant -- but officials say it uses half the energy, saving about $150 million annually. Everything is bright and modern, from the sleek lobby and cafeteria to the fitness center. Clean rooms for delicate manufacturing have tighter dust standards than hospital operating rooms.
It is called the National Security Campus, evoking a college rather than a factory for weapons that can pound cities into radioactive dust.
Rick L. Lavelock, a senior plant manager, said during a tour in July that employees had a "very great sense of mission" in keeping the arsenal safe and reliable.
Their main job now is extending the life of a nearly 40-year-old submarine warhead called the W-76. Drawing on thousands of parts, they seek to make it last 60 years -- three times as long as originally planned.
The warhead's new guts, a colorful assortment of electronic and mechanical parts, lay alongside a shiny nose cone on a metal table outside an assembly hall.
The last stop on the tour was a giant storage room. Mr. Lavelock said it covered 60,000 square feet -- bigger than a football field. Laughing, he likened it to the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" scene showing a vast federal warehouse that seemed to go on forever.
If the Kansas City plant is the crown jewel of the modernization effort, other projects are reminders of how many billions have yet to be spent, and how even facilities completed successfully can go awry.
At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic bomb, plans for a new complex to shape plutonium fuel emerged a decade ago with a $660 million price tag. But antinuclear groups kept publicizing embarrassing details, like the discovery of a geologic fault under the site. The estimated cost soared to $5.8 billion, and in 2012, the Obama administration suspended the project.
"In the current fiscal crisis," Charles F. McMillan, the director of Los Alamos, told a nuclear conference last year, building large facilities "may no longer be practical."
A different problem hit the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. A $550 million fortress was erected there to safeguard the nation's main supplies of highly enriched uranium, a bomb fuel considered relatively easy for terrorists to make into deadly weapons.
In 2012, an 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun, Megan Rice, and two accomplices cut through fences, splashed blood on the stronghold and sprayed its walls with peace slogans. The security breach set off major investigations, and the nun was sentenced to almost three years in prison.
Now, the site's woes have deepened. As Oak Ridge prepared for an even bigger upgrade -- replacing buildings that process uranium -- the price tag soared from $6.5 billion to $19 billion. This year, the Obama administration scuttled the current plan, and the lab is struggling to revise the blueprint.
Robert Alvarez, a policy adviser to the energy secretary during the Clinton administration, recently wrote in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that Oak Ridge was the "poster child" of a dysfunctional nuclear complex.
Across the nation, 21 major upgrades have been approved and 36 more proposed, according to the Government Accountability Office. In nearly two dozen reports over five years, the congressional investigators have described the modernization push as poorly managed and financially unaccountable.
They recently warned -- in typically understated language -- that the managers of the atomic complex had repeatedly omitted and underestimated billions of dollars in costs, leaving the plan with "less funding than will be needed."
The Military Deployments
The Obama administration says it sees no contradiction between rebuilding the nation's atomic complex and the president's vow to make the world less dependent on nuclear arms.
"While we still have weapons, the most important thing is to make sure they are safe, secure and reliable," said Mr. Poneman, the deputy energy secretary. The improvements, he said, have reassured allies. "It's important to our extended deterrent," he said, referring to the American nuclear umbrella over nations in Asia and the Middle East, which has instilled a sense of military security and kept many from building their own arsenals.
The administration has told the Pentagon to plan for 12 new missile submarines, up to 100 new bombers and 400 land-based missiles, either new or refurbished. Manufacturing costs for these forces, if approved, will peak between 2024 and 2029, according to a recent study by Dr. Lewis and colleagues at the Monterey Institute.
It estimated the total cost of the nuclear enterprise over the next three decades at roughly $900 billion to $1.1 trillion. Policy makers, the report said, "are only now beginning to appreciate the full scope of these procurement costs."
Nonetheless, lobbying for the new forces is heating up, with military officials often eager to show off dilapidated gear. In April, a "60 Minutes" segment featured a tour of aging missile silos. Officials pointed out antiquated phones, broken doors, a missile damaged from water leaks and an old computer that relied on enormous diskettes.
The looming crackup between trillion-dollar plans and tight budgets is starting to get Washington's attention. Modernization delays are multiplying and cost estimates are rising. Panels of experts are bluntly describing the current path as unacceptable.
A new generation of missiles, bombers and submarines "is unaffordable," a bipartisan, independent panel commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department declared in July. Its 10 experts, including former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, echoed other estimates in putting the cost at up to $1 trillion.
The overall investment, the panel said, "would likely come at the expense of needed improvements in conventional forces."
In August, the White House announced it was reviewing the atomic spending plans in preparation for next year's budget request to Congress, which will set federal spending for 2016.
"This is Obama's legacy budget," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the topic's political delicacy. "It's his last chance to make the hard choices and prioritize."
Already, the administration has delayed plans for the Navy's new submarines, the atomic certification of new bombers and a new generation of warheads meant to fit more than one delivery system. And debate is rising on whether to ax production of the air-launched cruise missile, a new nuclear weapon for bombers, its cost estimated at some $30 billion.
One of the most dramatic calls for reductions came from Chuck Hagel shortly before he became defense secretary last year. He signed a study, headed by retired Gen. James Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that proposed cutting the nuclear arsenal to 900 warheads and eliminating most of the 3,500 weapons in storage. The nation's military plan, the study concluded, "artificially sustains nuclear stockpiles that are much larger than required for deterrence today."
In a speech in Berlin last year, the president said he would cut the arsenal to roughly 1,000 weapons -- but only as part of a broader deal requiring Russian reductions. So far, the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has shown no interest, and Mr. Obama has made clear he will not cut weapons unilaterally. Unless either man changes his approach, the president's legacy will be one of modest nuclear cuts and a significantly modernized atomic complex.
"I could imagine Putin might well decide it's in his interest to seek more cuts," said Rose Gottemoeller, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and the country's top arms negotiator. "I don't discard the notion we could do it again."
Few of her colleagues are so optimistic. They predict that if Mr. Obama is to achieve the kind of vision he entered office with, he will have to act alone.
William J. Broad reported from Kansas City, Mo., and David E. Sanger from Washington.
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