The Pits Keep Marching On… Part II
“The U.S. military is hard at work on a dizzying array of pricey new guided munitions to match its trillion-dollar investment in stealth fighters, bombers and killer drones. Some are super smart. Others, super fast. A few are designed to be tiny. All of them have one purpose: to blow away the target, and only the target.” http://www.wired.com
“My favorite weapon in this list is the B61-12 GPS guided 50-kiloton mini-nuke bomb. If the idea of a mini-nuke striking somewhere in your country doesn’t make you surrender than [sic] you are probably hellbent on meeting those 72 virgins.” – Steve Gill
Despite official US policy of not making new nuclear weapons, writes Andrew Lichterman, in the new book, Assuring Destruction Forever [www.reachingcriticalwill.org], the nuclear complex “is being modernized to provide the capacity to maintain existing nuclear weapons and to build new ones into the middle of the twenty-first century” — like the B61-12 that so inspires Tennessee talk show head Steve Gill.
This bomb is intended for placement on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter according to William D. Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New American Foundation and author of the recent book, Prophets of War. Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.
“Despite US claims that its modernization programmes will add no new military capabilities, the new B61 bomb, if built, will allow the targeting of a wide range of targets with more accurate, lower yield nuclear weapons,” continues Lichterman [my itals].
Recall that “lower yield” means more useable:
He then quotes Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who writes that “delivery [of this warhead] from new stealthy F-35 aircraft will provide additional military advantages such as improved penetration and survivability,” adding that the B61 replacement will achieve many of the goals of the low-yield nuclear weapons initiatives that Congress had limited or refused to fund during the Clinton and Bush administrations. It will “reinvigorate a planning culture that sees nuclear weapons as useable, and potentially lower the nuclear threshold in a conflict.” (my italics)
Needless to say, these warheads will require plutonium pits – possibly new plutonium pits designed to fit the model.
Modernization will make use of what has been called Life Extension Programs (LEPs) as a cover for what amounts to new designs; an LEP “for the W78ICBM warhead is in the planning stages,” explains Lichterman, and “The LEP for the W88 SLBM warhead, the most modern nuclear weapon in the active stockpile, is expected to begin in the latter half of this decade. . . The W80 cruise missile warhead is slated to get its LEP in the 2020s . . . .”
More plutonium pits, baby.
All modern nuclear warheads require plutonium pits. Clearly the lab is going to make them come hell or high water, CMRR or no CMRR. This is what it’s all about: producing smaller, more reliable, more useable nuclear weapons. I can’t emphasize this enough. We are talking about enhanced capacity for nuclear attack.
The reason why US nuclear policy has taken this shape despite Obama’s commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament is that Congress has been unwilling to fund new weapons, which cannot be tested, and hence there have been no new weapons for 19 years. A significant cluster of Hawks, mostly Republican, and friendly military contractors like Lockheed Martin, are very worried about this situation, mumbling repeatedly about the deterioration of the arsenal; they ascribe to the view that without new weapons our national security will be jeopardized because other nuclear nations are upgrading their nuclear arsenals.
“Currently, all nations with nuclear weapons are modernizing their arsenals, delivery systems, and related infrastructure. These programs have serious implications for nuclear disarmament. By investing in the extension, upgrading, and reinforcement of their arsenals and capacities… these governments are investing in the future of nuclear weapons, not in the future of disarmament.” – Summary of paper by Ray Acheson, Executive Director of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, “Modernization of nuclear weapons: Aspiring to ‘indefinite retention’?” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Fear leads to more fear, and weapons lead to weapons. Yes, it’s the arms race all over again, with everyone feeling threatened by other nations’ nuclear weaponry and scurrying to make some of their own. And while the arsenals of countries like Pakistan and North Korea, to say nothing of Iran’s much talked about but nonexistent bomb, pose no threat to the US except in terms of regional dominance, Russia’s does.
Russia is understood to be modernizing its force because of US insistence on placing its weapons missile shield in Europe.
This is the rubric used to justify $850 billion assigned to the modernization of the nuclear complex over the next 10 years, which Republican Congressmen insisted Obama must support or they would not vote to ratify the New START with Russia (Arizona Senator John Kyl, who spearheaded this bargain, didn’t sign the Treaty anyway); and these are the weapons that require new plutonium pits.
Call it Mutually Assured Terror.
Needless to sat, these considerations have not been part of the discussion at LANL’s friendly hearings on the CMRR. Occasional allusions are made to “deterrence” and “national security”, but public discussion of the B61-12 or the W87 or W88 retrofits is not heard. The debate thus far has hinged mainly on earthquake danger and high cost, significant concerns, but not the main concern. Nor is this a subject that receives widespread attention in the media. Hence public awareness of the new arms race is slight. People have other problems, after all, like mortgages and jobs.
Writes William Hartung, in an article posted July8, 2012 at Tom’s Dispatch, “Beyond Nuclear Denial How a World-Ending Weapon Disappeared From Our Lives, But Not Our World”:
“. . . the only nuke that Americans regularly hear about is one that doesn’t exist: Iran’s. The nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons on missiles, planes, and submarines possessed by Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are barely mentioned in what passes for press coverage of the nuclear issue.”
Right here at the foot of the Hill on which these weapons are designed, there’s a disconnect between making plutonium pits, which most people oppose, and producing new nuclear weapons. That’s just the way the lab would like it to be. In fact, the lab would like things to return to their former secrecy. After the CMRR debacle, when LANL was compelled to listen to activists at hearings held twice a year for 7 years, there are already signs that the lab may be tightening its lips.
During the last of those hearings, held on September 26, Steve Fong, NNSA’s Project Manager, kept responding to questions with the unenlightening news that he “can’t talk about it” now that “the project is closed.”
And on October 1st, the New Mexico Community Foundation revealed that LANL has taken back the management of RACER, the community database which was mandated by a 2007 Settlement Agreement with New Mexico Environment Department to provide the public with information about lab activities that affect the life of the community. Perhaps the lab expects or knows that new staff at the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) appointed by our conservative governor will not press the issue.
After the CMRR debacle, it wouldn’t be surprising if LANL retreated back to its former secrecy. If so, that will make it even tougher for nuclear watchdog groups to bring the information to the public.
For Hartung, as for the rest of us, this is a very dangerous situation:
“The notion that Iran can’t be trusted with such a weapon obscures a larger point: given their power to destroy life on a monumental scale, no individual and no government can ultimately be trusted with the bomb.
“The only way to be safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them — not just the Iranian one that doesn’t yet exist, but all of them. It’s a daunting task. It’s also a subject that’s out of the news and off anyone’s agenda at the moment, but if it is ever to be achieved, we at least need to start talking about it. Soon.”
The public needs to evaluate how it wants to spend its tax money. In these belt-tightening times, should we pay for Medicare, education, “entitlement programs” that create a safety net for citizens, or do we prefer to buy more useable nuclear weapons?
I ask you.