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Wall Street Journal on Nukes: Ten Impossible Things Before Breakfast

The new START Treaty cutting US and Russian nuclear arsenals, set to be concluded later this month, enjoys broad, bipartisan support from national security experts in the US and from America's friends and allies around the world - but you'd never know that by reading the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Its January 5 editorial, "A False Nuclear Start," makes no fewer than four false assertions about the state of the US nuclear deterrent. My National Security Network colleague Kelsey Hartigan and I marshal the work of bipartisan commissions and top nuclear experts to establish the facts, because you don't really want amateurs setting nuclear weapons policy.

  • The US spends30 billion per year to keep our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and reliable; the National Defense Act of 2010 commits to maintaining this funding and to modernizing the nuclear weapons complex - which manages the weapons. The Act does not require, as the Journal asserts, modernizing the weapons themselves. The Administration has pledged that the defense budget to be released next month will fund fully our nuclear labs, science and engineering base, and our nuclear stockpile.
  • All of several recent bipartisan reports on the future of the US nuclear arsenal have concluded that the United States does not need new weapons or new nuclear capabilities.
  • The new treaty will provide intrusive verification measures to monitor treaty limits; where surveillance of a specific Russian facility has recently been dropped, this was done with the prior agreement of the Bush Administration.
  • The allies covered by our nuclear umbrella - Japan in particular - have expressed strong support, publicly and privately, for the treaty and for nuclear arms reductions.

WSJ Claim: The warning comes in a recent letter from 40 Republican Senators and Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman reminding the President of his legal responsibility under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 to present budget estimates for modernizing U.S. nuclear forces along with any new Start pact.

Fact: The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) already continually refurbishes US nuclear warheads. Every year, the Departments of Defense and Energy spend approximately $30 billion per year to ensure that the US nuclear arsenal is safe, secure, and reliable. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 commits the US to "modernizing "the nuclear weapons complex" and "infrastructure" (ie the labs, research and safety and security facilities) - not, as the Senators and the Journal assert, "weapons." [National Defense Authorization Act for 2010, p. 394.]

WSJ Claim: The Senators are following the suggestions of the important, but too little publicized, recommendations of last year's Perry-Schlesinger commission on the safety and operations of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The bipartisan report noted, among other things, that the U.S. needs new warheads and nuclear research facilities.

Fact: The Perry-Schlesinger report made over 100 recommendations, none of which called for "new warheads." Instead, the report states: As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States does not produce fissile materials and does not conduct nuclear explosive tests. Also the United States does not currently seek new weapons with new military characteristics. Within this framework, it should seek the possible benefits of improved safety, security, and reliability available to it.

A September 2009 report by the independent JASON group of science advisers validated our ability to maintain existing warheads --"JASON finds no evidence that accumulation of changes uncured from aging and LEPs [Life Extension Programs] have increased risk to certification of today's deployed nuclear warheads." The JASON report also noted that "Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs to date."

WSJ Claim: Another issue is verification. With Start's expiration December 5, Russia has pulled inspectors from a factory that's building the next generation of Russian ICBMs...If the U.S. is going to reduce its missile and warhead numbers, we need to know what the Russians have in their arsenal.

Fact: Negotiators in Geneva will ensure effective monitoring of the terms in the START follow-on agreement. The U.S. has known about Russia's plans to produce its new RS-24 road-mobile missile to replace its aging Cold War intercontinental ballistic missiles for years. It was the Bush administration that agreed in 2008 to suspend monitoring at Russia's Votkinsk missile facility at the end of 2009 because it viewed these measures as unnecessary. [Carnegie Endowment, 12/03/09.]

WSJ Claim: The stakes here aren't merely whether Mr. Obama can get his treaties ratified; they concern the credibility of the U.S. nuclear umbrella...Japan has already raised concerns...

Fact: The US and Japan released a joint statement on November 13, 2009 following President Obama's visit. The two governments reaffirmed their commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons while ensuring the national security of Japan and the US and its allies:

The Government of the United States continues to seek early conclusion of a START follow-on treaty through negotiations with the Russian Federation. The Government of Japan welcomes the progress made in the negotiations and expresses its expectation for early agreement. The Government of the United States and the Government of Japan call upon states that hold nuclear weapons to respect the principles of transparency, verifiability and irreversibility in the process of nuclear disarmament. The Government of the United States is committed to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy, and the Government of the United States and the Government of Japan urge other states that hold nuclear weapons to do the same.