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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release 2/14/03

Pentagon plans conference on how to develop, build new kinds of nuclear weapons for “small strikes” – and how to sell these ideas to Congress, American people 

The Study Group deserves no credit for unearthing this document.  We didn’t dig it up, and it was not given to us with the idea that we would publish it.  Quite the contrary.  We have come to believe, however, that it is our responsibility to make it availability in its entirety, to do so rapidly (e.g. before any war in Iraq) -- and to do so from a position outside Washington, DC in order to enhance the vitality and diversity of debate about U.S. nuclear weapons.

 

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-982-7747          

            On January 10, 2003, thirty-two senior nuclear weapons managers from U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, the uniformed military, the National Nuclear Stewardship Administration (NNSA), and the Office of the Secretary of Defense met in the Pentagon to discuss the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. 

            Minutes from this meeting have now become available.  These meetings show, in a degree that is rare in publicly-available documents, the bold sweep of nuclear weapons planning in the Bush Administration. 

            The January meeting was called by Dr. Dale Klein, Assistant to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense.  

            It may be of some importance that Dr. Klein, prior to his present job, was a vice-chancellor of the University of Texas, an institution widely considered to be a possible candidate to operate the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

            The purpose of the January meeting was to plan a secret conference, to be held at U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska – during “the week of August 4, 2003” if possible – to discuss what new nuclear weapons to build, how they might be tested, how these weapons might be mated to new delivery systems, and even how the process for granting authority to build small quantities of new nuclear weapons might be changed. 

            The minutes say the genesis of this meeting was an October 2002 memorandum from the Pete Aldridge, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (and Chairman of the three-person Nuclear Weapons Council).  Aldridge’s memo requested, inter alia, that the nuclear weapons laboratories examine the benefits of low-yield nuclear testing.  (See Aldridge memo in pdf format). 

            The upcoming conference would have four panels. 

            The first would deal with the stockpile stewardship program, especially topics dealing with the (now annual) certification of weapons and the potential role of nuclear testing in the certification process.  For example: “What are the anticipated limits of the extent to which improved understanding of weapon physics is [a] basis for confidence?... What is the role of nuclear testing in reducing risk in the stockpile…what would recommend a test?”

            The second panel would deal with the future U.S. nuclear arsenal – what kinds of new weapons should be in the arsenal, how these weapons should be matched to modernized delivery platforms, and the like.  Examples: “Strategy for selecting first ‘small builds;’ requirements for low-yield weapons, EPWs [earth-penetrating weapons], enhanced radiation weapons, agent defeat weapons…What forms of testing will these new designs require?…What is the testing strategy for weapons more likely to be used in small strikes?...Do we put GPS [global positioning system guidance] on all systems, or just a few?” and so on.

            The third panel would deal with the NNSA and DoD infrastructure, e.g. “Determine if the NNSA and DoD infrastructures are agile enough to support a ‘small build’ strategy.”

            The fourth panel would address nuclear strategy and policy, e.g. “Reexamine the policy issues of the various levels of testing,” andHow do we frame the explanation of emerging [sic] policy to show the deterrent value of reduced-collateral damage, precision, agent defeat, and penetrating nuclear capabilities in meeting our national security objectives?” (emphasis added).

            Topics left unassigned to any panel were:  “What should the policy and process be for granting authority to adapt and build small quantities,” and “Evaluate the DoD/NNSA requirements process.  Do we adequately identify requirements, and their priority in existing systems?”

            At least seven of the participants in the meeting are either currently working for the nuclear weapons laboratory contractors (Lockheed-Martin and the University of California) or have done so in the recent past, showing the now-familiar theme of contractor personnel working in policy-making settings which affect their institutions, as well as the centrality of nuclear laboratory management in developing nuclear weapons policy.

            Many of the ideas are not new.  For example, in his 1993 "State of the Nuclear Weapons Program" address, Dr. John Immele, then and now Associate Director for Nuclear Weapons Technology Programs at Los Alamos, and present at this meeting, said:

Virtual designs means knowing what is possible, exploring that for the country, and putting intellectual products on the shelf and hardware products on the shelf.  Perhaps we [Los Alamos National Laboratory?  The nuclear weapons complex?] will be asked to do small builds of special weapons in the future, as required by changing national security circumstances.

This “small builds” approach to quickly and quietly achieving novelty in the stockpile is prominent in these documents.

            It is impossible to overstate the challenge these plans pose to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the existing nuclear test moratorium, and U.S. compliance with Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1970 and is now binding law in the United States.

            Said Study Group director Mello, “These plans deserve outrage – first in the United States, and throughout the world.  It may or may not be obvious that if allowed to proceed further -- especially in the present jingoistic atmosphere now prevailing in Washington -- the process outlined here will be quite hard to stop.

            “We especially call upon members of congress to investigate the direction and management of the runaway “stockpile stewardship” program, now funded at levels equally the highest Cold War appropriations.”

            The Study Group would be delighted to work with anyone seeking to understand these programs further, with a view toward bringing them under democratic governance and compliance with treaty obligations.

***ENDS***


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