Vernuccio’s View: Russian Nuclear Weapons Modernize while U.S. Arsenal Diminishes

The NATO summit just concluded has sounded the alarm about Russia’s dangerous actions in Europe. The Hague has handed down a decision against China’s aggression in the Pacific (South China Sea). Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons, and North Korea moves quickly ahead in expanding its nuclear arsenal.  Despite all this, President Obama seeks to unilaterally reduce America’s military.

Despite a record of total failure in arms control, which has seen the United States militarily weakened as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have dramatically increased their armed forces, President Obama, the Washington Post reports,  is preparing to push even further his unilateral cuts to American strength. He is doing so in the face of clear, overwhelming evidence that his policies have been disatrous for American national security and world peace.

International news sources are filled with clear indications of massive arms increases on the part of aggressive nations.  RT, the Russian news source, reports massive drills for nuclear and conventional war being carried out.

Russian nuclear weaponsA report from the Russian news source Sputnik, quoted in Spacewar describes an impending test fire of a new Russian missile, targeted to land near Hawaii. The new weapon, named Sarmat, is a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile which will replace the current SS-18 ICBM, providing increased range.

The move comes in stark contrast to the increasingly obsolescent U.S. nuclear deterrent, and to President Obama’s preferences for unilateral American reductions in nuclear weapons. Under the current White House, Moscow, for the first time, has a lead in strategic nuclear weaponry.  Russia also maintains a ten to one advantage in tactical atomic weapons.

Russia skipped a nuclear summit meeting earlier this year, as Putin appears determined to move ahead with increasing the size and capability of his nuclear weapons, even as the U.S. arsenal shrinks and remains mired in old technology. A Time Magazine study  noted:

“Over the course of Obama’s presidency, Russia has managed to negotiate deep cuts to the U.S. arsenal while substantially strengthening of its own. It has allegedly violated the treaty that limits the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe and, in the last few years, it has brought disarmament talks with the U.S. to a complete standstill for the first time since the 1960s. In its rhetoric, Moscow has also returned to a habit of nuclear threats, while in its military exercises, it has begun to practice for a nuclear strike, according to the NATO military alliance…Moscow is building a new generation of long-range nuclear bombers, truck-mounted ballistic missiles and nuclear-armed submarines. In the past two years, Russian officials and state-run media have routinely boasted about the fruits these efforts, often under giddy headlines like this gem from the Sputnik news agency: “Rail Phantom: Russia developing invisible death trains with nukes.”

Vladmir PutinPutin has made it clear he would not hesitate to introduce nuclear weapons into a potential conflict.

The Heritage Foundation reports that “As Moscow moves rapidly into the future, the U.S. is mired in the past.”  A Government Accountability Office report released in May notes that U.S. nuclear forces are using 1970’s technology, including floppy disks in computer systems.  Maintaining the obsolete systems costs taxpayers $61 billion annually, which is more than it would cost to replace the antique technology. The Pentagon hopes to incorporate modern technology by 2020.

“The U.S. has elected to maintain [old nuclear] weapons—based on designs from the 1970s—that were in the stockpile when the Cold War ended rather than develop new weapons…” [GAO]

“The National Nuclear Laboratories are beset by talent and recruitment challenges of their own. Thomas D’Agostino, former Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), stated that in about five years, the United States will not have a single active engineer who had “a key hand in the design of a warhead that’s in the existing stockpile and who was responsible for that particular design when it was tested back in the early 1990s.” This is a significant problem because for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, the U.S. will have to rely on the scientific judgment of people who were not directly involved in nuclear tests of weapons that they had designed and developed and were certifying. It is unclear how much of the existing inactive stockpile will go through the life extension program. Hence, our ability to reconstitute nuclear forces will probably decline with the passage of time.

“The uncertainty regarding the funding and direction of the nuclear weapons complex is one of the factors that complicate the National Laboratories’ efforts to attract and maintain young talent. The shift of focus away from the nuclear mission after the end of the Cold War caused the National Laboratories to lose their sense of purpose and to feel compelled to reorient their mission focus and change their relationship with the government. The NNSA was supposed to address these problems, but it has largely failed in this task, partly because “the relationship with the NNSA and the National security labs appears to be broken.”

“In 1999, the Commission on Maintaining U.S. Nuclear Weapons Expertise concluded that 34 percent of the employees supplying critical skills to the weapons program were more than 50 years old. The number increased to 40 percent in 2009. This is more than the average in the U.S. high-technology industry. In 2012, a number of employees of the Los Alamos National Laboratory were laid off in anticipation of a $300 million shortfall. The lack of resources is undermining the morale of the workforce.”

President Obama appears to under the mistaken impression that his unilateral nuclear de-emphasis is sending a message of peace. Thomas Karako, a senior fellow on the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quoted in, disagrees.

“Unilateral nuclear reductions would absolutely send the wrong message to Russia, China and other adversaries, by allowing them to think they could use and brandish nuclear weapons, It would also send the wrong message to our allies, Japan, South Korea, Poland, NATO, who all rely on the ultimate backstop of the United States as a support to their own defenses…”

Despite the utter failure of the Obama/Clinton unilateral cuts to U.S. nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama seems determine to continue his further unilateral reductions.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government, and the co-host of the Vernuccio/Novak Report radio program

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