Last May the Obama administration promised $80 billion to the nuclear weapons establishment for “modernizing” the arsenal. Three large H-bomb laboratories will share about $10 billion annually to “upgrade” U.S. warheads, and they will get equal sums for the next 10 years. The funds are for a new $4.5 billion “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement” complex at Los Alamos, New Mexico; a new $3.5 billion “Uranium Processing Facility” at the Y-12 lab in Tennessee; and a couple billion more for a replacement “Kansas City Plant” in Missouri that will make nonnuclear parts for the warheads. With the buildup, the U.S. will be able to quadruple its current warhead production capacity from 20 to 80 per year, according to Nuclear Watch New Mexico.
This squandering of public money is part of the backstory to the New START Treaty, lauded as a warhead reduction agreement with Russia. The new treaty obligates each side to reduce the number of its city-busting or “strategic” nuclear warheads from 2,200 to 1,550. The Senate extorted the “modernization” funding from Obama in exchange for ratification of the treaty.
New Start does pledge the elimination of 30 land-based missiles, 34 heavy bombers, and 56 submarine-based missile tubes. On the Navy’s 14 giant Trident submarines (each is two football fields long) there will be 20 inter-continental ballistic missiles — down from 24 — but each missile can still carry eight warheads. This amounts to 2,240 weapons, well over the New Start Treaty’s supposed limit.
Warheads Hidden in Fine Print
The numbers fakery is possible because of the new treaty’s counting system which nullifies a lot of the supposed reductions. According to the Wall St. Journal’s Jonathan Weisman, “Quirks in the treaty’s counting rules mean that under one scenario, the U.S. could meet is new obligations by mothballing just 100 warheads.” Russia need remove only 190.
The treaty will count the actual number of warheads on land-based rockets (Minuteman III missiles) and on sea-based missiles, but “it will count each heavy bomber as a single warhead, even though they can carry far more,” according to the New York Times. The bizarre sleight-of-hand means that the new treaty counts 1,650 warheads, when there are actually 2,100.
According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, “A U.S. air base with 22 nuclear tasked B-52 bombers will only count as 22 weapons even though there may be hundreds of weapons on the base.” The counting rule will “hide” about 450 U.S. and 860 Russian warheads, or 1,310 altogether. The fraud means that the U.S. and Russia can deploy more city-busters under the new treaty than would have been allowed by the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
As if increased H-bomb production and hidden warheads weren’t cynical enough, the U.S. has about 3,000 nuclear weapons in storage, Russia about 1,000, and they can be brought to the firing line any time. Φ
John LaForge is Director of Nukewatch.