Wednesday, September 06, 2006
How The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Has Hurt The World
In the September 4th edition of the Albuquerque Journal there's a brief article discussing the need to upgrade and modernize our nation's nuclear inventory.
In her outgoing remarks, Sandia National Laboratory Vice President Mim John stated that "Not only should we be concerned about (weapon) aging, but we are the only country left that's a declared nuclear power that's not modernizing and transforming its arsenal to meet the security challenges of the 21st century."
This article sheds light on something every democratic nation on earth should be concerned with. Currently the nuclear arsenal of the United States is the gold standard for deterrence and stability around the world. Just as the US dollar is backed by gold, the national security of our country is backed by our ability to retaliate against major attacks using nuclear weapons.
Because of the SALT II treaty signed with Russia in 1993, the current US arsenal is limited to 3,000 - 3,500 strategic nuclear weapons. As long as Russia adheres to similar numbers, such an arsenal should be sufficient enough to deter a large scale attack anywhere around the world. The problem with the arsenal is not quantity, but quality.
Along with Russia, the US signed a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty in 1996 to show the world that we were backing away from our Cold War posture of relying on nuclear weapons. By disassociating ourselves with nuclear weapons and testing we were reinforcing the idea that, as the lone superpower in the world, we really didn't like having these weapons and that we would some day be getting rid of them.
Little did the US leadership know that by promising not to test our nuclear weapons we were losing our ability to make sure they actually worked. Nuclear weapons are dependent on electronic components and systems that require constant testing and repair. A majority of the current warheads and their electronic components are based on late 1970s- early 1980s technology. To base the security of the free world on 30 year old circuitry that we could no longer validate through testing is suicide, yet our nation chose to do this on September 10th, 1996. For 10 years now we've been depending on computer simulations to validate our rapidly aging nuclear arsenal.
Fast-forward to 2006. Although we are in a protracted guerilla war with terrorists around the world, the US is now facing a resurgence of fascist dictators who are pouring vast amounts of resources into producing weapons of mass destruction, namely nuclear weapons. Iran, who has been quietly rebuilding their entire conventional military apparatus with Russian weapons systems, is currently enriching uranium to produce nuclear weapons. The only nation willing to deter Iran from using those weapons through the promise of assured destruction is the US, yet we are basing that deterrence on unreliable weaponry.
The scientists that are responsible for maintaining and verifying our nuclear weapons have developed a plan to modernize the arsenal. The first phase, called the Life Extension Program, involves a "large and expensive effort to retrofit existing Cold War weapons with newly redesigned components to extend their life." The second stage is an "effort to design a new nuclear explosive - the Reliable Replacement Warhead." The only thing keeping the scientists from initiating either phase to assure our nation's security is money.
Congress has yet to procure funds for this program out of fear that such actions would be perceived as unfriendly to the rest of the world. They are afraid that such a program might even provoke Iran and other rogue nations to speed up their own weapons programs. In other words, Congress feels that it's better to rely on an unreliable arsenal to deter nuclear proliferation that is already taking place. What will they say in a few years when Iran has a more modern arsenal than we do?
As with most dire security situations that exist in our country, this problem is not going to be solved until we are forced to respond because of an enemy attack. By then the program will be much more expensive and take three times as long to complete. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope that the aging weapons we might have to deploy to defend ourselves or our allies actually work. After all, nothing says 'we're finished' better than a nuclear weapon that doesn't go off.
The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996 has hurt the free world's ability deter and defend against the rising fascist states and their budding nuclear programs. Congress has the ability to at least modernize our arsenal, but as with most security issues they've failed to act.
posted by El Capitan at 9:21 AM