Who is the Intended Audience of the Nuclear Posture Review?

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar North says:

    Quite so. It’s a modest change in our public and international stance but in terms of substantive policy it represents a very small change. For Obama the political calculus is quite positive. The step towards a less nuclear dominated world was a campaign promise and a pet cause of the left. They will appreciate the gestures and moves while Republicans will throw their conniption. For the center and most of the low info public I don’t see it being easy to rustle up much indignation unless Obama catastrophically loses the message game.Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I’m starting to think that Obama’s main goal these days is to take a lot of lumps now in exchange for a situation in which the GOP is completely marginalized a decade from now.Report

  3. Avatar Scott says:

    Actually the worst danger to US security comes from the Obama admin decision to not develop or test new nuclear weapon designs.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Scott says:

      @Scott,

      Very true, if we don’t keep working at developing new nukes, we will find ourselves with a plasma torpedo gap when we meet the Romulans.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Scott says:

      That may be true Scott but I don’t think there’s much of a nuclear arms race going on. None of the nuclear powers are doing much development and testing of new designs, it’s expensive and unpopular. If you’d restricted yourself to complaining about Obama’s failure to do much to maintain the current arsenal I’d be more sympathetic. But none of this is something that a future administration couldn’t fix in short order if there was even a remote need for it.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to North says:

        @North,

        “None of the nuclear powers are doing much development and testing of new designs…” Really, how do you know that is true?

        I suppose that if you can guarantee that other countries will stop developing weapons we can stop as well.Report

        • Avatar David Schaengold in reply to Scott says:

          @Scott, “None of the nuclear powers are doing much development and testing of new designs…”
          We do know that no one is currently doing live tests. It’s impossible for these tests not to be picked up by seismometers, and the CTBT organization maintains some two-hundred monitoring stations around the globe for the purpose of detecting them.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to David Schaengold says:

            @David Schaengold,

            There are these magic boxes called computers that allow you to design things and perform simulations. Also, for all those fancy sensors it has never been definitively determined what was being tested and who was doing the testing at the Vela Incident.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Scott says:

              Scott, they and we can and do run simulations all the time. But until you put rubber to the road and actually do live tests and attempts you have nothing but some intellectually interesting theory and once you try and do live work it’s expensive and very easy to detect both by physical detection and also by espionage 101. Have you any indications to cite to suggest that any of the current nuclear powers are hard at work developing and testing newer and higher yield nuclear bombs?
              Contrary to conservative hyperventilation and Hollywood fantasy nuclear weapon science is neither easy nor quick. Nor, for that matter, is it a field with a lot of growth potential. We’ve already got sufficient nuclear power to destroy the world dozens of times over. All you’re going to get with further research down that line is smaller more powerful bombs. The benefit of all that trouble and research is merely something that would do what the current arsenal does slightly better and more easily. Nuclear weapons are of severely limited value strategically and would be of virtually zero value to a state actor for use against the United States.
              Who is this big bad nuclear power that we’re racing against? China? They’d rather cut contracts for raw materials with third world countries and sell us happy meal toys. Mother Russia? Yeah because they have so much money and human resources to dump into nuclear weapons programs. They likely spend more money trying to figure out how to get rid of the derelict weapons that have currently have than they spend building new ones. Who else? England? France? Not exactly enemies. Koreas? The North Korea crackpot can’t reliably get a rocket into orbit and his nuclear bombs are probably around the size of a Jeep Cherokee, they have a long way to go before they’re in any danger of catching up with even current weapons standards.

              This is just another area of policy where if a conservative politician were doing it would be considered sober, practical and sensible by the bobble heads at the various rightwing opinion outlets. Even by their standards the fuss raised about this has remarkably flaccid. They should probably stick to their HCR is Communism lines. They have more pull with the electorate.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to North says:

                @North,

                You are the one that made the claim that “None of the nuclear powers are doing much development and testing of new designs…” If you can’t back up your statement with fact at least admit it.

                Not to mention, can you contradict yourself a bit more? On 4/10 at 6:23 you said, “But none of this is something that a future administration couldn’t fix in short order if there was even a remote need for it.” Then on 4/10 at 8:42 you wrote, “Contrary to conservative hyperventilation and Hollywood fantasy nuclear weapon science is neither easy nor quick.” So which is it?

                As for a good reason why the US needs to develop a new generation of nukes, take the W76 warhead which is the mainstay of the US Trident D-5 missiles. The warhead design is over 30 years old and there are serious questions about whether it would even function. See “A Fierce Debate on Atom Bombs From Cold War”

                http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/03/science/03nuke.htmlReport

              • Avatar North in reply to North says:

                Scott, one cannot prove a negative. In asserting that none of the world’s nuclear powers are doing significant development or testing I’m citing merely the absence of any indication that they are doing so. The ground isn’t shaking from nuclear detonation tests. There are not new large impressive nuclear weapon research facilities being erected in China or Russia or even France or Britain. You are, of course, welcome to don your tin foil hat and assert that all of these things are going on secretly but as I stated before there’s no sign of it and these kinds of things are very difficult to do on the down low.

                Now after the laughable hash you made of the discussion of legislative policy and reconciliation I probably shouldn’t be attributing great powers of reading comprehension upon you but what can I say, I’m charitable minded. The administration correction comment at 6:23 was in regards to maintenance and upkeep of existing nuclear assets; the latter comment at 8:42 was in regards to developing entirely new nuclear devices. Now if you can’t see the difference between doing regular maintenance on your SUV and designing an entirely new model of SUV I don’t think there’s much that can be done to illuminate the issue for you.

                The article you cited was also jam packed with interesting statistics. Like how your example W76 warhead was designed for annihilation of city sized military targets or how it was built small and lightweight to pack onto missiles to maintain superiority against the soviets. Where are the Soviets now Scott? Who are we racing against? If the American stockpile can be said to be sitting still, well that’s fine since our great nuclear rival has been merrily going backwards. Do the Chinese have devices as good as the Soviets? Maybe, but without live testing they’ll never know for sure and as far as anyone knows they’re not conducting live tests (they’re kind of hard to miss what with the way they make seismic detectors all over the continent jiggle and jump).

                And of course this is overlooking the entire practical question of motive which you avoided with characteristic conservative obliviousness. What precisely is the value to China or any of the other powers in developing more advanced nuclear weapons? It’s expensive and unpopular and these are lean times and it’s not like the US goes bandying around about our arsenal. The powers (especially the Chinese) generally like stability and the status quos, why would they want to rock the boat?Report

            • Avatar Jess Riedel in reply to Scott says:

              @Scott,

              I would just add to North’s response that the US is far and away the world leader in nuclear weapon simulation. (See, e.g., Los Alamos National Lab.) Given that we can be confident that no one is carrying out actual tests, the US will continue to have the most reliable stockpile even if we don’t develop new warheads.Report

  4. This is one of the most fully justified arguments I’ve seen at the League for a while.Report

  5. Avatar Scott says:

    North:

    If you you can’t prove a negative then why did you even make such a statement in the first place? If the W76 warheads don’t work properly it really doesn’t matter what type of target there were designed to destroy does it? The gov’t is trying to maintain and update the W76 warhead (like your SUV) but those new parts will be of little use if the fundamental design is flawed and won’t work. Warheads that may not work are of little deterrence value especially when they are on the subs which are regarded as the most important leg of the nuclear defense triad. I don’t know and don’t care what may be of value to the Chinese of new designs, they are irrelevant when discussing the US’ needs for new warhead designs and testing.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Scott says:

      Perhaps my initial statement was imprecisely worded but I stand by the general gist of it. Scott, if you wanna start claiming “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence” then you go right ahead. While you’re at it could you drop by Iraq and dig up Saddam’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction too. They’d really help with Bush Minor’s legacy.

      We could very easily replace the W76 warheads if they were defective (which incidentally a lot of the nuclear authority asserts stridently that they are not) with existing more reliable workhorse models of warheads that have already been developed and currently are out of use. No new weapons development is necessary. We have a brain trust of generations of nuclear advantage over any of the other nuclear powers. They will not be able to overtake that advantage without a huge investment of time and testing all of which would be extremely noticeable. Also we no longer exist in a world where our nuclear arsenal requires the endless layers of contingent capacity for mutually assured destruction that the cold war called for. Frankly from the articles description the W76’s sound like unnecessarily gussied up thoroughbred. We could replace it with, for example, the reliable replacement warhead in short order if we ever had reason to believe it couldn’t perform but as various administrations have pointed out the current arsenal including the W76 is backed up by thousands of historic live tests from the 50’s.Report

      • Avatar Scott in reply to North says:

        @North,

        “We could very easily replace the W76 warheads if they were defective (which incidentally a lot of the nuclear authority asserts stridently that they are not) with existing more reliable workhorse models of warheads that have already been developed and currently are out of use.”

        Really, which warhead would the US replace the W76 with? The only other warhead that currently is fitted on the Trident II D-5 is the W88 warhead and there are not enough of those to replace all the W76 warheads.

        “Frankly from the articles description the W76’s sound like unnecessarily gussied up thoroughbred.”

        Well considering the fact that the W76 warhead was being placed on a missile in a sub it had to be as small as possible and certain trade offs in the design had to be made. Those trade offs seem to be at the heart of the design problem.

        “We could replace it with, for example, the reliable replacement warhead in short order if we ever had reason to believe it couldn’t perform but as various administrations have pointed out the current arsenal including the W76 is backed up by thousands of historic live tests from the 50’s.”

        The reliable replacement warhead program is dead. President Obama’s 2009 Department of Energy budget called for development work on the Reliable Replacement Warhead project to cease. So I guess that is not feasible, especially now with Obama new prohibition on development. And as for the “thousands of tests,” the US has only 1,054 tests by official count and I don’t know how many of those live tests were of the W76 warhead. If you know the number, please share it.

        The newest warhead design is the W88 which is a mid-70’s design. Last time I checked, there has been quite a bit of technological advancement since them and so it be prudent to design a new warhead even if world peace occurs and everyone holds hands and sings.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Scott says:

          Yes, well budgets are tight and frankly there isn’t any burning need for new nuclear capacity since, as you seem to have implicitly conceded, there’s no indication that anyone else is trying to develop new advanced nuclear weapons (the primitive old atom burners that Iran and the Korean Crackpot are scrambling so hard to assemble certainly don’t count).

          Certainly Obama did shelve the RRW project but it could easily be reactivated if there was any need or we could simply crank out some more W88’s or similar ones of their breed and this is setting aside that none of the doomsayers I’ve read about the W76 justifies their assertions with much beyond theory mongering. Also perhaps we’re ignoring the question as to whether we have any strategic need to be able to pack 6-12 nuclear devices on top of a submarine missile any more?Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to North says:

            @North,

            You seem to miss the point. The fact that there is a serious questions about the design of W76 warhead is reason enough to design a new warhead,regardless of what Iran, North Korea or Mauritius is doing. Do you really think the gov’t would ever admit there was a problem with the W76 warhead? You make it sound as if Obama can waive his magic wand to start up production lines for warheads, production lines that simply do not exist anymore. You don’t just tell Clem and Bubba to go out back and make a few nukes. “At the end of the Cold War in 1991 the United States had an active arsenal of some 23,000 weapons of 26 major types. Since that time actual nuclear warhead production has been completely shut down in the U.S., although warhead modification, retrofit, and maintenance activities continue. Much of the original nuclear weapons manufacturing infrastructure has been dismantled, and the focus of the remaining nuclear infrastructure has shifted to maintaining and extending the life of the remaining weapons, as well as dismantling surplus weapons.”

            http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/Wpngall.html

            “Also perhaps we’re ignoring the question as to whether we have any strategic need to be able to pack 6-12 nuclear devices on top of a submarine missile any more?”

            I guess the number of warheads you need depends on how many targets we want to be able to hit at once. I would hate to think that we would have to let a viable target go b/c we don’t have enough warheads. That is what deterrence is about. The Trident 2 D5 was designed to carry 12 MIRVs but the recent SORT just sign by or dear leader cuts that down to 4 or 5 per missile further hobbling this country’s safest retaliatory capability.Report