Arms control organizations usually try to cut the Obama administration some slack on nuclear disarmament and accentuate the positive, such as the New START treaty, however minimal its disarmament measures. But the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) operates under no such constraints. Among the conclusions of its just-released SIPRI Yearbook 2011 (for purchase only): “continuing cuts in US and Russian nuclear forces are offset by long-term force modernization programmes.”
It’s a stretch to say that the New START cuts agreed by the USA and Russia are a genuine step towards nuclear disarmament when their planning for nuclear forces is done on a time scale that encompasses decades and when nuclear modernization is a major priority of their defence policies.
An example of modernization in the United States is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF), about which I frequently post, at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In November 2010, the White House estimated the budget for its construction at $3.7 to $5.8 billion. The function of the CMRR-NF is to support the manufacture of nuclear pits (the core of nuclear warheads, where the actual chain reaction occurs).
Bear in mind that not only are 14,000 pits that have been recovered from decommissioned warheads stored at Amarillo’s Pantex plant, where warheads are both assembled and disassembled, but Los Alamos studies on pit aging have shown they have lifetimes in excess of 100 years. That’s assuming that you believe we actually need nuclear warheads for national defense.
Commentators and arms control organization spend too much time debating the nuclear disarmament policies. But calling for rollbacks in nuclear weapons counts for little when a state such as the United States commit huge sums of money to ensure the continuation of the nuclear-industrial complex. American arms-control organizations can take a lesson from SIPRI and follow the money. Their failure to do so only raises questions about the sources of their own funding.