Thursday, April 17, 2014

US: The Era of Nuclear Neglect

by Peter Huessy

Looking at the most recent developments in Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, as well as North Korea, it would seem urgent that the U.S. end as soon as possible its era of nuclear neglect.

On March 24, 2014 the Energy Department's Inspector General [IG] determined that many of our nuclear laboratories had not been archiving with care designs used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

According to Inspector General Gregory Friedman, "Over the decades of nuclear weapons development, neither NNSA nor its sites treated the maintenance of original nuclear weapons... information as a priority.[1]

The IG also concluded that the Energy Department leadership concurred with its findings and had taken effective steps to remedy the problems identified.[2]

Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately not.

Just two days after the IG report was released, the House Armed Services Committee held a March 26 hearing on our nuclear enterprise with the former Commander of the US Strategic Command, Admiral Richard Mies (Ret) and Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin.

As co-chairman of the Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise, Augustine explained that "the absence of a widely accepted understanding of, and appreciation for, the role of nuclear weapons in the 21st century, [resulted in] well-documented and atrophied conditions of plans for our strategic deterrent's future..." [including those found by the IG report of March 24, 2104]. [3]

Co-chairman Mies specifically identified five "systemic disorders" which prevented an overarching "compelling national narrative" that could be cemented into place, representing a "widely accepted role for our nuclear deterrent".[4]

The five disorders, according to Admiral Mies, are: (1) the lack of attention to nuclear issues by our senior military and civilian leadership, (2) a flawed design for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) under which the nuclear enterprise is held, (3) an entrenched oversight bureaucracy in the Energy Department lacking a commitment to mission accomplishment, (4) an erosion in the management relationship between the NNSA and the Department of Energy and finally, (5) a lack of an affordable and doable program for the future of nuclear weapons.

The Admiral is correct.

One hopeful sign is that the Senate confirmed the new Administrator of NNSA, USAF Lt. Gen Frank Klotz (Ret) just last week. But recovery will take time.

In addition to the US having seriously neglected the sustainment and improvement of its nuclear deterrent enterprise for over two decades, equally serious is that the U.S. seems to have lost sight of some of the alarmingly real nuclear dangers America still faces.

Since 1972, for example, the U.S. and the Soviet Union -- and now Russia -- have concluded seven major nuclear arms agreements regulating or reducing the level of nuclear weapons. Now the U.S. is seeking another round of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts beyond the 2010 New Start Treaty.

But should there be other, more pressing, priorities -- such as, for instance finally dealing with the huge stockpile of thousands of Russian tactical nuclear weapons -- small, mobile, easily hidden, and not subject to any arms control agreement? Or China's nuclear proliferation record?

Former Secretary of the Air Force and national security adviser to President Reagan, Thomas C. Reed, warns that China has transferred nuclear technology to Pakistan; "catered to the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian ayatollah's," and has also been the lead supplier of WMD technology to the third world.[5]

Reed's warnings are confirmed in a new report. Recently declassified information shows that China gave Pakistan the nuclear weapons technology that led to the creation in Pakistan of the world's "Nukes 'R Us" nuclear-smuggling group, led by Abdul Qadeer Khan.[6] To date, of course, China's nuclear weapons enterprise remains shrouded in secrecy, as do its dealings in proliferation.

The U.S. is also therefore facing a nuclear-armed Pakistan and a potentially nuclear armed Iran -- both Islamic terror-sponsoring states.

Khushab plutonium production reactor, Pakistan. (Image source: Google)

George Lewis of the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies notes that we should also worry about "existing [nuclear] weapons getting into the wrong hands". Terrorists would probably not even have to steal a bomb. Iran might well surreptitiously give nuclear weapons to a specially trained terrorist cell in order to attack its declared #1 enemy, the "Great Satan," to minimize the ability of the U.S. to recognize the source of the attack. An electro-magnetic pulse [EMP] attack -- a nuclear weapon exploded at a high altitude that would release a short intense burst of energy, eliminating electronic activity in wide areas of the U.S. -- might also be at the top of the list.

Since the Iranian Revolution, Iran blew up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, an attack that until recently was blamed only on Libya. Iran also attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983; and according to a 2011 ruling by U.S. District Judge George Daniels, Iran has also been found complicit in the attacks of 9/11.

As for Pakistan, it is already in possession of a substantial nuclear stockpile, and created the Taliban, which gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda, which attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned on March 26, 2014, that "Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal and the largest concentration of terrorist groups" in the world.

The same day, at the Hague in the Netherlands, where the Nuclear Security Summit was held, 53 world leaders including those from China and Pakistan (but not Iran), made commitments to secure "dangerous nuclear materials" and prevent them from ending up in the hands of terrorists by "holding all states accountable to a common set of standards and best practices" and ensuring that the International Atomic Energy Administration's (IAEA) voluntary guidelines would be reflected in regulations.[7]

Sound good?

The problem is that even though Pakistan claims its nuclear weapons are secure, it remains outside the oversight of the UN's IAEA -- and both Iran and China's nuclear weapons programs remain as hidden as ever.

Looking at the most recent developments in Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea, it is would seem urgent that the U.S. end as soon as possible its era of nuclear neglect.

[1] "National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Nuclear Weapons Systems Configuration Management," Audit Report DOE/IG-0902, March 26, 2014.
[2] Ibid, p16
[3] Interim Report of the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise
[4] Ibid.
[5] "The Nuclear Express," by Thomas C. Reed and Danny B. Stillman, 2009.
[6] "China May Have Helped Pakistan Nuclear Weapons Design, Newly Declassified Intelligence Indicates", National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 423. April 23, 2013.
[7] NTI's "Global Dialogue on Nuclear Security Priorities", March 26, 2014

Peter Huessy


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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