Hiroshima Memo: Obama’s budget dramatically increases funding for nuclear deterrence

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." The famous aphorism in the farewell address President Eisenhower made in January 1961 popped to mind. I thought of this when I learned that the Obama administration has proposed a dramatic increase in funding for nuclear weapons programs in the budget request for FY 2011 submitted to the U.S. Congress.

The large increase would be understandable if targeted for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security to ensure that nuclear weapons and radioactive materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists. Such measures are surely taken into account in the new budget.

However, why is a substantial increase necessary in the funding for renovating nuclear facilities, securing and nurturing human resources for nuclear programs, and developing further nuclear knowhow? This clearly contradicts the stance President Obama took in his speech last April in Prague, when he pledged that the United States would lead the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons research and development facilities argue that a reliable nuclear deterrent must be maintained while the country gradually reduces its nuclear arsenal. Toward this end, together with the conservative wing of Congress, they have lobbied for the increase in the nuclear weapons budget.

President Obama's proposal for the expanded budget is closely correlated with the conclusion and ratification of a treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) between the United States and Russia as well as the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), two top priorities for the Obama administration. To make these happen, the administration must win the support of Congress. In this view, the budget increase cannot be avoided. Some cast a critical eye on this move, though, as they see offering an increase without a guarantee of support for the treaties as "preemptive surrender to the nuclear hawks."

One example involves a plutonium pit production facility to be built at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, one of the three major nuclear development laboratories. Funding for the facility, pegged at $225 million, is more than double the amount requested for FY2010. Plutonium pits are needed for the detonation of H-bombs. When the facility goes into full operation in 2022 as scheduled, up to 80 nuclear pits can be produced annually.

With regard to the life span of plutonium pits, some nuclear physicists in the United States, who were involved in the development of nuclear weapons, say, "The plutonium pits can hold their detonating power for nearly 100 years without being replaced." If the United States still insists on producing plutonium pits in mass quantity, the suspicion that it may intend to develop newly designed bombs cannot be overlooked.

One of my acquaintances, who has been watching the activities of LANL for more than 20 years, stressed: "Behind the expanded budget surely lie strong special interests which want to protect and further advance their vested interests." He continued: "More funding for nuclear weapons programs will benefit researchers, corporations, politicians, military people and bureaucrats involved in nuclear weapons development."

Running LANL, as well as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, is a joint venture of California University and several companies, including Bechtel Corporation. One member of the board of directors of Los Alamos National Security is William Perry, the former secretary of defense.

Mr. Perry has played a leading role in several areas, including a review of U.S. nuclear strategy, and he demanded that the government substantially increase the funding for nuclear weapons laboratories, including LANL, to maintain nuclear deterrence.

During the former George W. Bush administration, Congress put a brake on increasing the budget for several projects including the development of low-yield earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. If Congress automatically approves the budget request this time, a great many non-nuclear nations and global citizens striving for nuclear disarmament and abolition, as well as the other nuclear powers and potential nuclear powers, will doubt the credibility of U.S. nuclear disarmament policy.

The slower the pace of nuclear disarmament in the nuclear weapon states, including the nuclear superpowers of the United States and Russia, the higher the possibility of further nuclear proliferation and nuclear use. President Obama should keep this fact firmly in mind.

(Originally published on March 11, 2010)

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U.S. plans major increase in nuclear budget (March 11, 2010)

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