Nuclear Weapons Budgets Surge, Nonproliferation Slashed

March 5, 2014 | Edited by Lauren Mladenka and Geoff Wilson

Offsetting more nukes with less nonproliferation - “The Obama administration is asking Congress to fund a 7 percent increase in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons activities account in 2015, which funds much of the core work at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico,” reports John Fleck for the Albuquerque Journal. “The total budget request for the ‘weapons activities’ line item is $8.31 billion, up from $7.78 billion in the current fiscal year.”

--“Among the priorities, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters in a briefing this afternoon, is money to keep refurbishment of the B61 nuclear bomb ‘essentially on schedule’, but defers work on the W78/88 missile warhead. The funding hike for nuclear weapons work is being partially offset by a major cut in nuclear non-proliferation spending – money funding work to halt the spread of nuclear weapons elsewhere in the world and dispose of surplus nuclear weapons materials here at home.” Read the full report here.

Budget slashes key nonproliferation programs - “President Obama’s proposed budget slashes funding for key programs that prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands,” says a press release from the Fissile Materials Working Group. “Among the hard-hit programs in the budget released today is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which was cut by 30% from $442 million last year to $335.5 million in this year’s request. GTRI removes and disposes material from around the world that could be used by terrorists to make a dirty bomb or nuclear weapon. In March 2012, GTRI secured highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Ukraine, ensuring that state was free of all weapons-usable nuclear material before the recent turmoil.”

--“This budget is a step backwards in America’s best efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism and belies the administration’s claim that securing vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials is one of its tops national security priorities,” says Kingston Reif, the director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. “Since 2009, GTRI has removed or disposed of almost 3,000 kilograms of HEU and plutonium, bringing the lifetime program total to over 5,060 kilograms. That is enough to make more than 200 nuclear weapons.”

--Despite such progress, “The global stockpile of nuclear materials is [still] large enough to build more than 20,000 new weapons like the one that leveled Hiroshima and almost 80,000 like the one that destroyed Nagasaki. More than a hundred thefts and other incidents involving nuclear and radioactive material are reported to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) every year in regions ranging from Latin America and Europe, to Central Asia and Africa. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have repeatedly demonstrated interest in acquiring weapons-grade material.” Read the full press release here.

Tweet - @armscontrolnow: Rpt in Arms Control Today on #HINW14 mtg & next steps: "Mexico Hosts Meeting on Nuclear Effects”

MOX on “cold standby” - “The Obama administration is placing controversial plans to complete construction on a South Carolina facility that would convert nuclear weapon-usable plutonium into reactor fuel on hold as part of the fiscal 2015 budget plan it rolled out on Tuesday,” reports Douglas P. Guarino for Global Security Newswire. According to a summary of the DOE budget proposal, “A review of this approach has determined that the MOX fuel approach is significantly more expensive than planned and it is not viable within the FY 2015 funding levels… As a result, the MOX project will be placed in cold standby while an alternative approach is determined." Read the full report here.

Wasteful spending - “The details of the Pentagon’s new budget have just been released. The outline provided by Secretary of Defense Hagel last week already sends a mixed message about how his department plans to deal with an era of diminished resources and changing threats,” writes William Hartung in The Hill.

--The Pentagon needs to “stop clinging to Cold War weapons systems, like the nuclear triad of bombers, and land- and sea-based ballistic missiles. A study by the Monterey Institute estimates that modernizing and maintaining the triad could cost $1 trillion over the next three decades. That’s right up there with the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken by the Pentagon, at $1.5 trillion to buy and operate over its lifetime. The F-35’s missions are either increasingly irrelevant, like the ability to engage in aerial dogfights, or can be done more cheaply by other systems, from A-10s to upgraded F-16s and F-18s. At a minimum the program should be dramatically scaled back, at a savings of tens of billions of dollars over the next decade.” Full article here.

Kill vehicle upgrade - “The U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Tuesday mapped out plans to overhaul the ground-based U.S. missile defense system managed by Boeing Co and improve its reliability after several test failures in recent years,” reports Andrea Shalal for Reuters. The government is “requesting about $300 million in fiscal 2015 to redesign the Raytheon Co ‘kill vehicle’ that hits and destroys an enemy missile on contact, add a new long-range radar, and fund other measures to helping the system better identify, track and destroy potential enemy missiles.” Read the full article here.

QDR nuclear blub - “The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, as well as on our allies and partners. The United States will continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attack. However, nuclear forces continue to play a limited but critical role in the Nation’s strategy to address threats posed by states that possess nuclear weapons and states that are not in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations. Against such potential adversaries, our nuclear forces deter strategic attack on the homeland and provide the means for effective responses should deterrence fail. Our nuclear forces contribute to deterring aggression against U.S. and allied interests in multiple regions, assuring U.S. allies that our extended deterrence guarantees are credible, and demonstrating that we can defeat or counter aggression if deterrence fails. U.S. nuclear forces also help convince potential adversaries that they cannot successfully escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression against the United States or our allies and partners,” says the Pentagon’s new Quadrennial Defense Review.

--“The United States will continue to maintain safe, secure, and effective nuclear forces while reducing our strategic nuclear forces in accordance with the New START Treaty. We will pursue further negotiated reductions with Russia. In a new round of negotiated reductions, the United States would be prepared to reduce ceilings on deployed strategic warheads by as much as one-third below New START levels. The United States will also work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe.” Full QDR from the Department of Defense. (pdf)

Crimea and the legacy of nuclear weapons - “When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine found itself holding the world's third largest nuclear arsenal, including some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads that had been designed to attack the United States. Working in a trilateral dialogue with Ukrainian and Russian negotiators, American diplomats helped to broker a deal —the January 1994 Trilateral Statement — under which Ukraine agreed to transfer all of the strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for elimination and to dismantle all of the strategic delivery systems on its territory. Kiev did this on the condition that it receive security guarantees or assurances.”

--“The Budapest Memorandum thus was negotiated as a political agreement. It refers to assurances, not defined, but less than a military guarantee… What is taking place today in Crimea can only be described as a Russian military occupation… [and Russia’s] actions are in blatant violation of the Budapest Memorandum… As signatories, the United States and United Kingdom have an obligation to respond, even if they are not obligated to respond with military force.”

--“A strong response is important for settling Ukraine's current crisis. It also matters for the cause of nuclear nonproliferation. Security assurances were key to bringing Kiev to agree to get rid of its nuclear arms. If Washington and London do not stand by the Budapest Memorandum now, it would discredit the idea of such assurances. That would be unfortunate, as security assurances could play a role in defusing nuclear proliferation cases, such as Iran.” Read the full piece from Steven Pifer for CNN here.

Russia has bad timing - “Russia informed the United States in advance that it would carry out a launch Tuesday of an intercontinental ballistic missile, US officials said, downplaying the test amid tensions with Moscow… The test launch came at a moment of high tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine, where the Crimean peninsula has been put under de facto control by Kremlin-backed troops. But US officials declined to comment on the effect of the missile test on Russia's relations with Washington,” the AFP reports. Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council said that, “This was a previously notified and routine test launch of an ICBM, such advance notifications are intended to provide transparency, confidence, and predictability and to help both sides avoid misunderstandings." Read the full report here.

Diplomacy over war - “After more than a decade of thinking every problem is a nail we can hit with our military hammer, the United States is showing how diplomacy can work. Last month, a historic agreement between Iran and the US and its negotiating partners went into effect,” writes Dennis Mills in The Hill. “Despite that achievement, some members of Congress seem determined to sabotage negotiations,” though “none of them has offered up a persuasive rationale for piling on when we’re seeing diplomatic progress. The Iranian government has been clear that they’re prepared to walk if Congress takes action that demonstrates bad faith. There’s no reason to think they’re bluffing.”

--“There is no good alternative to negotiations, and Congress has to take responsibility for possibly jeopardizing talks and making a war far more likely. There will be no excuses or pretending they didn’t know the risk. Negotiating a long-term deal won’t be easy, but it’s far easier than another devastating war that our veterans and Iranian civilians will bear the burdens of years into the future,” Mills says. Full piece here.

Leave nuclear waste out back - “New Mexico has extended the time allowed for keeping atomic waste above ground after last month’s radioactive release at an underground repository,” Global Security Newswire reports. “The federally run Waste Isolation Pilot Plant remains closed following the February release of a small quantity of radiation from the subterranean dump. In the meantime, dozens of atomic waste-filled containers sent from other federal sites to the New Mexico repository for disposal are being left in the site's parking area and waste-handling facility.”

--“The WIPP facility, under its permit with the New Mexico government, is allowed to keep radioactive waste in the parking area for no more than a month and in the handling facility for no more than two months. However, since the repository remains closed, state environment officials are extending the two deadlines to give the U.S. Energy Department time to devise a plan for handling the nuclear waste in the future. The new thinking is based on the possibility that the underground portion of the facility might stay closed for more than three months, according to an administrative decision released on Monday.” Full story here.


--United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces: Hearing on on nuclear forces and policies in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2015 and the Future Years Defense Program. Wednesday, March 5, 2:30PM. R-222, Russell Senate Office Building.

--“Iran’s Nuclear Deal: The Road Ahead.” Discussion with Michael Adler and Reza Marashi March 5 from 12:00-1:00 at the Wilson Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 5th floor. RSVP here.

--“Iran Nuclear Deal: Breakthrough or Failure?” Discussion with Robert Einhorn, Karim Sadjadpour, and Bret Stephens, and Reuel Gerecht. March 11 from 5:00-7:00 at George Washington University, Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St. NW. RSVP here.

--“Nuclear Security and Japan’s Plutonium Path.” Discussion with Douglas Birch, Jeffrey Smith, Matthew Bunn, and Ambassador Nobuyasu Abe; moderated by Robert Einhorn. March 14 from 1:30-3:00 at Brookings, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. RSVP here.