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Nuclear Weapons Development

Mr. Chairperson, delegates, and non-governmental observers,

Last October, John Deutsch, recently retired Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency described the world we live in as a "Trident world."  He was referring to the fact that as we meet here today, between eight and eleven U.S. nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, carrying thousands of the most powerful, long-range nuclear weapons ever built, are patrolling the world's oceans, ready to strike targets around the globe within a matter of minutes -- a rate equal to that at the height of the Cold War.  The U.S. weapons laboratories are now working on upgrades to the Trident warheads and missiles - upgrades that may make a disabling first strike more feasible.  At the same time, the United States recently deployed the B61-11 earth penetrator bomb, a weapon modified -- without underground nuclear testing -- to significantly improve its

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1998 NPT Index

military capabilities.

Other states possessing nuclear weapons are also capable of launching attacks on short notice and are upgrading their strategic and tactical nuclear forces.  Russia, which re-introduced a first-use policy in 1993, is now considering options for re-deploying tactical nuclear weapons, in a partial reversal of the 1991 Bush-Gorbachev initiatives, and is also modernizing its long-range missiles and bombers.  China is reported to be upgrading its strategic forces.  France is developing a new-generation nuclear submarine and a new submarine-launched missile, and is also modernizing its air launched missile, to be carried by a new fighter-bomber. The United Kingdom is building its fourth Trident submarine, and may have manufactured as many as 150 warheads for the MIRVED missiles carried by the submarines.  This less visible, slow-motion arms race is occurring in a context where the declared nuclear weapon states appear to be expanding, rather than reducing, the military role of nuclear weapons.  Why?

Many important arguments were presented to the International Court of Justice during the historic hearings on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons in November 1995.  Among them was a statement by Mayor Takashi Hiraoka of Hiroshima, Japan, that provides a straightforward yet profound explanation for the situation we find ourselves in today -- nearly eight years after the end of the Cold War -- three years after the indefinite extension of the NPT -- and less than two years from the beginning of a new millennium.

"History is written by the victors," he explained. "Thus, the heinous massacre that was Hiroshima has been handed down to us as a perfectly justifiable act of war.  As a result, for over 50 years we have never directly confronted the full implications of this terrifying act for the future of the human race."

The denial of history continues into the present, as the nuclear weapon states claim to be complying with Article VI. The reality of their policies and programs is far different.

A comprehensive statement of the U.S. intention to replace every nuclear weapon in its "enduring" stockpile can be found in a passage from a current official United States planning document.  As stated in the newly-declassified version of the October 1997 Department of Energy (DOE) Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan: First Annual Update, known as the "Green Book":

"The requirement to maintain the capability to design and engineer new weapon systems to military requirements [was] stated in the DoD [Department of Defense] Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).  Nuclear weapons in the enduring stockpile will eventually be replaced. (New system development may be needed even to maintain today's military characteristics.) This work is anticipated to begin around 2010.  In the meantime, future national policies are supported for deterrence by retaining the ability to develop new nuclear options for emergent threats... Miniature, modular building blocks for nuclear weapon systems are being developed to reduce life-cycle cost, improve reliability, and adapt to future military infrastructure.  We are practicing weapon system engineering and demonstrating manufacturing expertise by proof-of-principle tests for new system concepts... In parallel, proof-of-principle flight tests will demonstrate alternative concepts to address new threats and will provide the technology for new approaches to deterrence, should the nation ever need them, as well as attract and retain new nuclear weapon system engineers."  (p. 7-34)

The proposition that rebuilding a huge nuclear weapons research, development, testing and production complex and planning to maintain it for decades to come is essential if the U.S. is to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and thus to meet its nonproliferation objectives has been asserted as an unquestionable axiom in every official American public discussion on the future of  nuclear weapons. What is behind this seemingly incongruous idea is a Faustian bargain*. The nuclear weapons laboratories and their allies in the military and Congress, it is hoped, will accept a ban on full-scale underground nuclear explosions (which on the surface appears to mark the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons) in exchange for a nuclear weapons research and testing program of Cold War proportions that will keep nuclear weapons in the arsenal, in the budget, and in the career paths of scientists well into the next century.  This upgraded nuclear weapons infrastructure will provide design capabilities greater than those available during the Cold War, and will encompass a test site capable of rapid resumption of full scale underground testing and a substantial nuclear warhead production capacity intended to allow rapid, flexible warhead prototyping and production, computer-integrated with a new suite of state-of-the-art experimental facilities at the weapons laboratories.  In addition to maintaining the existing arsenal, it is officially, and explicitly, intended to maintain the capability to design and develop new weapons.

In the U.S., nuclear weapons design will be advanced through simulations carried out using superfast computers costing hundreds of millions of dollars, coupled with archived data from more than 1000 past tests, and new diagnostic information obtained from inertial confinement fusion facilities, including the National Ignition Facility (NIF), pulsed power and chemical explosive driven pulsed power fusion experiments, above-ground hydrodynamic explosions, including at the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrotest Facility (DARHT), and subcritical "zero yield" underground tests. Over the next decade, the U.S. plans to invest $45 billion in the deceptively named "Stockpile Stewardship" program -- an amount well above the Cold War annual spending average for nuclear weapons research, development, testing, production and disassembly -- directly comparable activities.

Several of the declared nuclear weapons states have similar programs, and a high level of cooperation is taking place among them.  For example, the U.S. and Russia are conducting an extensive joint program of explosive pulsed-power experiments.  The U.S. is working closely with France in building the "Megajoule" laser, the French version of the NIF. France is investing  four hundred million francs in its own lab testing program, which also includes the "Airix" accelerator.  Airix, like its U.S. counterpart, the DARHT facility, will allow sophisticated flash x-ray images of hydrodynamic explosions to be produced, thus allowing physicists to see "inside" surrogate nuclear explosions.  A close relationship continues between the U.S. and British labs, even though joint underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site has stopped.  And nuclear cooperation between the British and French is growing.  Although we have little information about China, it reportedly has purchased U.S. computers to support its own "stewardship" program.

Such programs represent the antithesis of the NPT Article VI obligation to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and an early date and to nuclear disarmament," which was unambiguously reaffirmed by the nuclear weapon states in the Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament adopted in conjunction with the NPT extension decision taken in May 1995.  In fact, expanded laboratory-based experimental programs in the nuclear weapon states fundamentally are intended to ensure that nuclear disarmament does not occur as a consequence of the ban on full-scale underground nuclear tests.  Moreover, new nuclear weapons designs, modifications and improvements directly contravene the "cessation of the nuclear arms race" Article VI requirement and fly in the face of the April 1995 Declaration by France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States in connection with the NPT that "the nuclear arms race has ceased." (CD/1308, 7 April 1995)  In fact, the close interconnections between research, design and testing of thermonuclear weapons and other  forms of advanced weapons research have the potential to ignite an entirely  new arms race.

For example, research into inertial confinement fusion, coupled with other experiments, could lead to the development of pure fusion weapons -- a frightening prospect for many reasons, including that because they would not require fissile materials, they would entirely bypass the present non-proliferation regime focused on those materials.  Hans Bethe, a prominent Manhattan Project physicist, while not certain that such weapons can be developed, is concerned enough to call for the U.S. to stop working on fusion and other new types of nuclear weapons.  He explained, "it is our own splendid weapons laboratories that are, by far and without any question, the most likely to succeed in such nuclear inventions".  But even if such development does not occur, modifications and "improvements" of existing weapons types can have serious and destabilizing military consequences.

A May 1997 Department of Defense report discloses the existence of a "collaborative Navy/DOE effort to maintain the capability to jointly develop replacement nuclear warheads for the W76/Mk4 and W88/Mk5" sea-launched ballistic missile warheads carried on Trident submarines. There are strong indications that anticipated upgrades may allow improvement in accuracy for large portions of the submarine-launched ballistic missile force.  It was this kind of "upgrading" of nuclear forces that raised fears of a "first strike" during the Cold War and was a driving force in the arms race. And it appears that the U.S. military has sufficient confidence in its near-term "stockpile stewardship" capabilities to seriously consider developing and deploying these improved nuclear weapons designs without underground testing, while the US simultaneously proclaims that the CTBT will severely constrain the further development of nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapons states.

Already, the B61-11 bomb, developed using elements of the new "Stockpile Stewardship" program for nuclear weapons testing and production, vigorously flight-tested (25 times, most recently in Alaska in March 1998), has manifested continuing efforts by the world's leading nuclear power to upgrade both its nuclear warheads and the delivery systems which carry them.  Other U.S. nuclear weapons projects not previously mentioned here include an upgrade to ICBM warheads, upgrades to strategic bombs, nuclear glide bombs, and a nuclear warhead for theater defense missiles designed to intercept and incinerate biological and chemical warheads.

The 1997 Green Book provides information about "hedge" production plans and "demonstrations" that, if implemented, would allow U.S. nuclear weapons production to quickly increase to "cold war levels of building." (p. 6 - 18).  This involves massively expanded plutonium pit manufacturing capability, which will add to the 12,000 unused pits currently in storage, as well as the 12,000 in the current weapon arsenal.  In addition, the U.S. is preparing to resume production of  tritium, which was shut down in 1988 for safety reasons.  The current U.S. supply of tritium could supply a stockpile of 1,000 nuclear warheads for the next 50 years, and a smaller stockpile until the end of the 21st century.  Nonetheless, the DOE has declared its intent to operate new tritium supply facilities "well into the middle of the next century."

These new nuclear weapons research, development testing and production activities are not happening in a policy vacuum.  There is ample and growing evidence of a renewed commitment to reliance on nuclear weapons by the nuclear weapons states.  A new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD), while not made public, was the subject of extensive media reports in the U.S. at the end of 1997.  The first U.S. nuclear policy review since the 1995 NPT extension decision, it reaffirmed policies which have been at the center of the U.S. nuclear posture for decades.  Robert Bell, a special National Security assistant to the President, told the Washington Post, as reported on 7 December 1997, that the PDD re-commits the U.S. to policies of threatened first use and threatened massive retaliation, and that it affirms "that the U.S. will continue to rely on nuclear arms as a cornerstone of its national security for the 'indefinite future'."  There are other reports that the PDD contemplates nuclear retaliation against the use of chemical or biological arms, and publicly available Joint Chiefs of Staff documents indicate that the U.S. has not ruled out the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in such circumstances.  In reality, the PDD represents no less than a rejection of the basis upon which the NPT was extended in 1995, because it embraces reliance on nuclear arms for the indefinite future.

As mentioned before, Russia has adopted a first-use policy like that of the United States, and is seriously considering increased reliance on tactical nuclear weapons. Both France and the United Kingdom have announced policies of "sub-strategic" uses and threats in defense of "vital interests". China is the only bright spot, at least rhetorically, if not programmatically, in continuing to adhere to a policy of unconditional no first use and early conclusion of an abolition convention.

The Canberra Commission had it right in recognizing that the essential prerequisite for a solution to the nuclear problem is a true commitment by the nuclear weapon states to the elimination of their nuclear arsenals.  The anti-disarmament policies now pursued by those states evidence the opposite:  commitment to the indefinite maintenance and improvement of existing arsenals underpinning the expansion of laboratory capabilities, and continued reliance on nuclear weapons as core instruments of foreign policy.  We will know that the nuclear weapon states are on the right track when a commitment to comply with Article VI is demonstrated by measures such as the following:

  • full disclosure of national policies regarding the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons so that these policies can be subjected to public debate regarding their morality, wisdom, and compliance with Article VI and the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice;
  • renunciation of policies of threatened first use and threatened massive retaliation, and implementation of de-alerting measures to drastically reduce the nuclear threat;
  • the elimination of laboratory testing programs and capabilities that threaten to turn the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, once envisioned as a major step on the path towards disarmament, into the Partial Test Ban Treaty II, a technical exercise as the nuclear weapon states rush to put in
  • place the means to maintain and improve their arsenals for decades to come;
  • closure of nuclear test sites
  • adoption of national policies that prohibit the design, development, or production of new nuclear warhead types and modification and/or "repackaging" of existing warhead types to endow them with new military capabilities;
  • initiation of a multi-lateral process leading towards an abolition regime, including through establishment of an intersessional NPT working group to assist in the commencement of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention.

As Mayor Hiraoka explained, the history of the first fifty years of the nuclear age has been written by the nuclear weapon states. It's well past time to start writing a different history.  To do so we must start by understanding and acknowledging the reality that despite the CTBT and bilateral arms reductions, the nuclear weapon states are presently on a path intended to preserve and enhance, not diminish or still less eliminate, their nuclear monopoly.

  *Extensive additional information can be found in a report by the same name, released at this PrepCom, which is being provided to delegates along with this statement:  A Faustian Bargain: Why 'Stockpile Stewardship' Is Fundamentally Incompatible With The Process of Nuclear Disarmament, April 1998, by Andrew Lichterman and Jacqueline Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation, Oakland, California, USA.

Statement Coordinator:  Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation
1440 Broadway, Suite 500, Oakland, California USA 94612   Phone: + (510) 839-5877, Fax: + (510) 839-5397 E-mail: wslf@igc.org