During his campaign for the presidency, Barack Obama promised to make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element of his administration’s nuclear policy. Now, in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2010, he has taken a significant step in that direction.
The new budget calls for eliminating development of the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program (RRW), a program the previous administration argued would add safer, more reliable nuclear warheads to the nation’s nuclear stockpile. RRW advocates claimed the only way to ensure the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal was to continue building new nuclear warheads and weapon systems. One advocate, Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, expressed concern that the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile is aging, and added that “time is not on our side” to modernize it.
Congress was not persuaded, and in each of the past two years, it refused to fund the program, in part because a group of independent scientists, the JASON Defense Advisory Group, concluded there was “no evidence” the existing stockpile of U.S. nuclear weapons would be unreliable for at least another century. The group also doubted that new warheads could be certified without resuming nuclear testing, something the United States, at the insistence of Congress, has not done since 1992. Obviously, if the existing nuclear...
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About the Author
Ronald E. Powaski, a retired professor of history at Cleveland State University, is the author of Return to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1981–1999 (Oxford University Press).