U.S. President Barack Obama deeply impressed the Japanese public with the speech he delivered in the world’s first atom-bombed city of Hiroshima on May 27. But on his home turf, he is clandestinely pushing a plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The plan, with its development cost estimated at $1 trillion over the next 30 years, is aimed at downsizing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and improving their mobility with new delivery systems and platforms.
When does Obama expect to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, which he called for again in Hiroshima?
In his speech, he said the world war “reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” labeling it “the start of our moral awakening.” He went on to say, “But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”
His speech was well-balanced. He impressed the people of Japan to some extent while deftly avoiding using words like “remorse” or “apology.” Behind a glamorous diplomatic show, however, a major revolution occurring only once in decades is taking place in the U.S. nuclear weapons scheme, without being noticed by most Americans, let alone Japanese.
Around May each year, the defense industry launches major campaigns to win new government contracts. The industry’s attention is directed especially to projects of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) as new development programs are launched for platforms and delivery means of nuclear weapons.
According to a Washington-based U.S. reporter covering defense-related matters, the major concepts in modernization of nuclear weapons are downsizing and improved reliability. The U.S. Defense Department argues that the smaller and more accurate nuclear arms are, the greater deterrent roles they play and is telling the president that those sophisticated weapons serve to bring about a world where there is little or no chance of nuclear arms being used, even though that would fall short of elimination of such weapons, according to the reporter. The president must have accepted the view, the reporter says.
Of the four categories of the development programs pursued by the Pentagon and the NNSA, the most controversial is modernization and downsizing of nuclear warheads, which constitutes the core of the whole scheme. In parallel with making warheads smaller, new models of platforms and nuclear weapons delivery systems will be introduced step by step in three fields: intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and submarines and strategic bombers.
In a nuclear posture review announced in 2010, the Obama administration pledged that the U.S. will not develop new nuclear warheads. To the Pentagon, the new development plan does not constitute developing “new nuclear warheads.”
Most of today’s U.S. nuclear weapons were developed during the Cold War and they receive checks annually under the NNSA’s program to extend their life span. But that is not enough to prevent the weapons from becoming obsolete.
This led the George W. Bush administration to push a new program to replace old nuclear warheads with reliable versions, which are “new” types of nuclear warheads beyond doubt. This program was ended after Obama pledged to work toward a world without nuclear weapons. But then the Pentagon redefined the life-span prolongation program, insisting that replacing old nuclear warheads with newer, reliable warheads is part of the plan and that the replacements should not be regarded as new weapons. Obama agreed with the Pentagon’s argument and the development of new nuclear warheads survived under the vague term of “refurbishing.”
According to the Arms Control Association (ACA), an American military think tank, the Pentagon and the NNSA are working on halving the types of U.S. nuclear warheads, which number 10 at present, and introducing the B61 Model 12 nuclear warhead as a replacement with the aim of sharply reducing the explosive force, the nuclear fallout and casualties. The New York Times has reported that the destructive force of the new model is a mere 2 percent of that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Smaller warheads require new means of delivery and platforms. Thus, the Pentagon is preparing new Minuteman III ICBMs costing an estimated $62 billion, SSBN-X submarines to replace the Ohio-class submarines costing an estimated $139 billion, and long-range “standoff” cruise missiles costing an estimated $25 billion. The ACA estimates that the total cost of the new development programs will come to $1 trillion.
There is no comprehensive name to cover all these development programs. Each is deliberated on separately by Congress and relevant government sections. Thus, the shape of the U.S. nuclear forces is undergoing changes without any information given to the public. That is the reason why the plan can be described as “clandestine.”
The most exhaustive comment on the issue came from Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work when he testified before the House Armed Services Committee in June last year.
He estimates that the “modernization and maintenance” programs will cost $1.8 billion annually from fiscal years 2021 to 2035. When expenses of the related facilities are added, the share of the nuclear weapons-related costs in the total defense budget is to rise from the present 3 percent to 7 percent. In other words, the Obama administration plans to make U.S. military forces far more dependent on nuclear arms than they are today.
Not only do these development programs run counter to Obama’s ideal of a world without nuclear weapons — downsizing the nuclear warheads will increase the chances of them being used, as stated on a PBS news program by James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Regardless of what Washington says to justify its nuclear modernization programs, Russia and China have objected to it, saying that it poses a major threat to them. Indeed, when a mock test flight of the Model 12 warhead was conducted, Russia condemned the U.S. for “preparing a new weapon.”
It is certain that if the U.S. continues to pursue the modernization of its nuclear arsenal, China and Russia will take countermeasures. The possibility is rising day by day that these superpowers will confront each other with light and compact nuclear weapons in the not-so-distant future — despite Obama’s speech in Hiroshima.
This is an abridged translation of an article from the June issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering political, social and economic scenes.
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