It’s Not Nuclear Weapons That Need “Modernization,” But New START

I’m aware that I’m committing arms-control heresy. But the new START treaty that Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed looks like more trouble than it’s worth. To begin with, as Ivan Oelrich and Hans Kristensen reported for the Federation of American Scientists back in June . . .

. . . while the treaty reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn’t actually reduce the number of warheads. A peculiar counting rule increases the importance of bombers: each bomber counts only as one nuclear bomb although the B-52 can carry 20 nuclear-armed cruise missiles. [Also] the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty.

Worse, to secure the eight Republican votes needed for ratification by the United States Senate (and in the interest of pork husbandry in general), the Obama administration is requesting $7 billion, a 10 percent increase, in funding for nuclear weapons “modernization” (as the defense world calls it) and stewardship. Typical of Republicans seeking funds for the nuclear-weapons industry is Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Speaking of work inside Y-12, the facility in his state, as it exists now, he said, “It’s like building a Corvette in a Model-T factory.”

As if that’s not bad enough, as Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group makes clear in a press release, on September 30, “Congress completed action on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government in the new fiscal year (FY), which begins today. The President signed the bill.”

What’s a continuing resolution? Here’s what it means in this instance (apologies for lack of link; can’t recall where I found this).

Due to the failure of the Democrat [sure sign it's from a conservative site! -- RW] Congress to enact a single Appropriations bill so far this year to provide funding for Federal Government programs and agencies, a CR will be necessary to continue government operations past the end of the fiscal year, which expire[d] on September 30th. These emergency appropriations last until December 3, by which time Congress must either pass appropriations bills or another CR.

Mello again: “This CR continues funding for federal agencies at the same level as [fiscal year] 2010, with very few exceptions.” Among them were some which, even though a CR is intended as essentially a holding pattern, actually received more money. “One of those rare exceptions was an emergency increase in nuclear weapons spending in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).” He continues (emphasis added):

According to historical data in [the Los Alamos] Study Group files, today’s increase [in the case of Los Alamos in New Mexico] is the largest annual increase, in both absolute and percentage terms, since the Manhattan Project. Annual nuclear weapons appropriations in New Mexico [just] increased by about $527 million . . . 84% of the $625 million net overall increase at all the [NNSA] sites.

But an emergency? Again, it’s to secure Republican vote for ratification by the Senate which, Mello explains, “the Administration hopes to accomplish prior to seating a new Congress, widely expected to contain fewer members of the President’s party.” But . . .

To pick this particular emergency priority over nearly all other objectives of government at this time speaks volumes about the priorities of Congress and this Administration. These are not the priorities that would put people to work, provide health care or education, protect the environment, or halt what most ordinary people understand to be a continuing economic decline, with no end in sight.

This is cynicism to the third power: First, calling it an emergency. Second, trading funding to the nuclear-weapons industry for START votes. Third and even worse, turning START into a front — or more to the point, an engine — for securing said funding.