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Bush Pushed for Nuclear Cuts, Rep. Says
WASHINGTON — The White House pressed the U.S. Defense and Energy departments for three years to produce a plan to significantly reduce the estimated 10,000-warhead nuclear weapons stockpile, a senior Republican legislator said yesterday. The classified Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Memorandum, indicating the planned size and composition of U.S. nuclear forces in future years, only came through this year, leading to the June delivery to Congress of a required report on the details of the document (see GSN, June 4).
“The president asked for this report in 2001 and it was sent up [to the White House] two or three times and was sent back because it wasn’t done correctly,” said House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio), whose panel helps oversee the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
The numbers of weapons to be retained were higher in earlier versions of the report, he said, adding that the final product “is a lot better, this is going in the right way.”
A senior White House official confirmed a key detail of Hobson’s account, saying, “The DoD sent over the memo in January and in February it went back when the president indicated that he had some questions and a desire to do more,” meaning deeper cuts.
The memorandum was returned to the White House in April, the official said.
Hobson has advocated sharp cuts to U.S. nuclear weapons forces, arguing the current arsenal is “sized to fight the Soviet Union” (see GSN, Aug. 12).
“After years of maintaining a nuclear stockpile sized for the Cold War, we are finally bringing the numbers down to a more realistic and responsible level,” he said.
He praised President George W. Bush for pressing for the reductions.
“The commitment that the president has made is good. … It may not be to the degree of where he wants to get right now, but it’s a lot better than where we are today,” he said.
Bush did have some help from Congress, though, which last year froze some money for nuclear weapons research and development until the report was delivered to Capitol Hill.
Hobson criticized the administration, though, for not releasing the report to the public, which he suggested might clear up some misconceptions about U.S. nuclear weapons plans.
“If they would ever put out the nuclear weapons stockpile report they [sent to Congress], I think it gives you a different perspective of a lot of the things that they’re doing. For some reason, they have chosen not to do that, but I think that’s a mistake,” he said.
The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration head Linton Brooks opaquely described the plan to reporters and in a publicly released letter to Congress in June, after sending the classified report to the Hill.
Brooks said he could not disclose specific reduction numbers, but said the plan is to cut the nuclear weapons stockpile “almost in half.” He did not discuss any types of weapons that would be retained or substituted into the stockpile.
An analysis by the nongovernmental Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that United States has about 10,000 nuclear weapons, and the new plan would cut that number to around 6,100, suggesting which types of weapons would probably be cut.
“For reasons of military security, those memoranda remain classified,” the White House official said.
Hobson, a former Air National Guardsman, suggested the Defense Department was reluctant to plan for steep cuts because of a natural inclination toward redundancy when it comes to security matters.
When “they’ve got to have one thing, they [prefer to] have nine other things to make sure that the one works. That’s a problem,” he said at a conference hosted by the National Academy of Sciences.
A Defense Department spokesperson in June referred all questions on the memorandum to the White House. The planned reductions also could have significant implications for Energy Department programs, according to Philip Coyle, the Pentagon’s former top testing official and a former associate director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
It could save money spent on the Y-12 weapons component plan at Oak Ridge Tenn., which he said, “needs more extensive facilities to remanufacture components for 10,000 weapons, than for only, say, 5,000, and those facilities are expensive,” said Coyle, now with the Center for Defense Information.
Plans for a Modern Pit Facility for plutonium pit production could also be scaled back, as “dealing with an aging stockpile of 10,000 weapons is more demanding than with, say, 5,000 weapons.”
While some might view these developments as positive, Coyle said, "Other people see it as bad news in that lower stockpile numbers could mean lower budgets for the nuclear weapons complex overall, with everybody in the complex including the labs losing."
Brooks, in his unclassified letter to Congress, wrote that the planned reductions would require increasing investments in the nuclear weapons complex to prevent an erosion of U.S. nuclear deterrence capabilities.
Such investments he wrote would include continued planning for a new plutonium parts production facility, funding nuclear weapons research and development to “retain critical skills and to provide the United States with means to respond to new, unexpected, or emerging threats in a timely manner,” and shortening the preparation time estimated for resuming nuclear testing.
Hobson yesterday argued that the nuclear weapons complex, with a $6.3 billion budget this fiscal year, does not need more money, but instead requires broad reforms to maintain the quality of U.S. nuclear deterrence.
Problems he identified “are not solved by additional funding for the nuclear weapons complex, but rather by holding people and organizations accountable for their performance.”
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