APS/AAAS/CSIS Report Examines Nuclear Weapons Policy

By Ernie Tretkoff

Nuclear Weapons report cover
Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, securing and reducing global stockpiles of them and engaging Russia in a new strategic dialogue are pressing issues facing the next presidential administration, according to a jointly released report by APS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Titled Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century U.S. National Security, the report was developed following four workshops held last year. Three covered separate tracks: technical, military and international. Experts from the scientific, defense and diplomatic policy communities participated in the workshops. The fourth one combined results from the three tracks.

 “Renewed interest in U.S. nuclear policy was stimulated in the past year through a series of editorials by distinguished statesmen and by the appointment of a congressional commission to look into these matters,” said John Browne, an author of the report and former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“This report identifies a possible way to bring together disparate views regarding the appropriate role of U.S. nuclear weapons in our 21st-century defense strategy. We identify the opportunity to pursue a parallel approach that regains leadership in global nuclear nonproliferation through a series of initiatives while continuing to refurbish and update our nuclear stockpile and infrastructure as necessary without creating any new nuclear weapon capabilities,” said Browne.
“Such a ‘centrist’ approach as outlined by this paper has been lacking, causing our nuclear policy to drift for a decade or more.”

To re-establish the U.S. role as a leader in nonproliferation, the report seeks to identify a package of nuclear initiatives, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The U.S. should also address the challenge of expanding use of nuclear energy without increasing proliferation risks. Some possible initiatives toward addressing that challenge include creating an international fuel bank, developing advanced technical safeguards and closing a loophole in the nonproliferation treaty, the study states.

Opinions differed on the importance of nuclear weapons for security, but the study group participants generally agreed that the U.S. needs a credible nuclear deterrent.

Refurbishing and updating the nuclear stockpile and infrastructure as necessary without creating any new nuclear weapon capabilities could increase confidence in the reliability of our nuclear weapons, thereby making it possible to reduce the total inventory while maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent, the report states.

The report seeks to identify a “spectrum of options” to refurbish and update the stockpile, considering each system on an individual basis. There is no immediate need to commit to any particular program, the report states. The nuclear weapons laboratory directors continue to certify annually the current stockpile as safe, reliable and secure.

“In this approach, the president will be assured that our deterrent force is safe, secure and reliable as long as it is needed, regardless of its size. This would enable new efforts to engage other nations in reducing global arsenals and strengthening efforts against nuclear terrorism,” said Browne.

To maintain a credible nuclear deterrent, the U.S. also needs to sustain the necessary human capital, the report states, explaining that “expertise and competence is declining across the nuclear enterprise.” A broader mission for the nuclear weapons labs to include energy and nuclear security can help recruit scientists and engineers, the report states.

“The next step after the release of our report is to discuss these issues with appropriate audiences within the government, the defense and scientific communities, hopefully to stimulate action in the next administration,” said Browne.

Gray arrow  Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century U.S. National Security Format - PDF