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April 25, 2004 - Building a nifty nuclear bulldozer...

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Building a nifty nuclear bulldozer –  Don’t you just get shivers when you see the term ‘cognoscenti’ used in the opinion pages?



Fred Kaplan in SLATE.COM draws attention to a release from the Natural Resources Defense Council by one Christopher Paine.  Paine uses official budget documents to lay out how much money we’re spending these days on nuclear weapons and defense against incoming intercontinental nuclear missiles.  In short, we’re spending quite a lot.  (Paine’s report is here – in PDF format.) Kaplan wonders why.  Many of us wonder why.  Ah, in my NEWS WRAP in Just Above Sunset on February 1st you find a rant on that – which in turn points to this:

Pentagon seeks big hike for missile defense in $401 billion budget request
Pauline Jelinek, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 4:36 p.m.  January 30, 2004

Kaplan’s item this week on all this is here:
Our Hidden WMD Program
Why Bush is spending so much on nuclear weapons
Fred Kaplan – SLATE.COM - Posted Friday, April 23, 2004, at 3:41 PM PT

Kaplan points out Bush is requesting $6.8 billion more for next year for nuclear weapons and a total of $30 billion over the following four years.  This does not include his the actually-doesn’t-work-at-all missile-defense program.  He points out that this is simply for the maintenance, modernization, development, and production of nuclear bombs and warheads. 

What’s up with that?


There is no nuclear arms race going on now.  The world no longer offers many suitable nuclear targets.  President Bush is trying to persuade other nations --especially "rogue regimes" -- to forgo their nuclear ambitions.  Yet he is shoveling money to U.S.  nuclear weapons laboratories as if the Soviet Union still existed and the Cold War still raged. 

… The report raises anew a question that always springs to mind after a close look at the U.S.  military budget: What the hell is going on here? Specifically: Do we really need to be spending this kind of money on nuclear weapons? What role do nuclear weapons play in 21st-century military policy? How many weapons do we need, to deter what sort of attack or to hit what sorts of targets, with what level of confidence, for what strategic and tactical purposes?


Ah yes, good questions. 

Well, for one things there’s moving large amounts of dirt -


The one aspect of this reorientation that's attracted some attention is the development of a "robust nuclear earth-penetrator" (RNEP) -- a warhead that can burrow deep into the earth before exploding, in order to destroy underground bunkers.  The U.S.  Air Force currently has some non-nuclear earth-penetrators, but they can't burrow deeply enough or explode powerfully enough to destroy some known bunkers.  There's a legitimate debate over whether we would need to destroy such bunkers or whether it would be good enough to disable them—a feat that the conventional bunker-busters could accomplish.  There's a broader question still over whether an American president really would, or should, be the first to fire nuclear weapons in wartime, no matter how tempting the tactical advantage. 


And that’s still whole lot of money to move that dirt. 

Kaplan points out (and links to) a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, that points out when Bush started the RNEP program two years ago, it was labeled as strictly a research project.  Its budget was a mere $6.1 million in Fiscal Year 2003 and $7.1 million for FY 04.  Now the administration has posted a five-year plan for the program amounting, from FY 2005-09, to $485 million.  The FY05 budget alone earmarks $27.5 million to begin "development ground tests" on "candidate weapon designs."

Well, fine.  We’ll get a nifty nuclear bulldozer. 

But as they say on the games shows – BUT WAIT!  There’s more!


Paine's report cites other startlers that have eluded all notice outside the cognoscenti.  For instance, the Energy Department is building a massive $4 billion-$6 billion proton accelerator in order to produce more tritium, the heavy hydrogen isotope that boosts the explosive yield of a nuclear weapon.  (Tritium is the hydrogen that makes a hydrogen bomb.) Tritium does decay; eventually, it will have to be refurbished to ensure that, say, a 100-kiloton bomb really explodes with 100 kilotons of force.  But Paine calculates that the current U.S.  stockpile doesn't require any new tritium until at least 2012.  If the stockpile is reduced to the level required under the terms of the most recent strategic arms treaty, none is needed until 2022. 

Similar questions are raised about the Energy Department's plans to spend billions on new plutonium pits, high-energy fusion lasers, and supercomputer systems.


So what is all this about? (And don’t you get shivers when you see the term “cognoscenti” used in the opinion pages?)

In Kaplan’s view this whole business seems to be about building new nuclear weapons that are “more usable” in modern warfare while at the same time also making the old nuclear weapons more usable, too. 

Why? Does the administration see a different world than most others do, one where lots of nuclear weapons will be needed, and where we’ll use them, and others, its seems, will use them against us? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t the real deal? Trains blowing up in Madrid and airliners slamming into skyscrapers are minor annoyances? If so, shouldn’t they be telling us about this “other world” – as this is our money they’re spending?

A cynic might say this is just a not very subtle way to throw lots of money at aerospace corporations and contractors who are all Republican friends.  Executives work there, move into government, then they move back – it’s an “old boys” thing where everyone gets rich (or richer).  A paranoid person might wonder if the administration is getting into apocalyptic thinking a little too seriously.  An historically minded person might conclude that these are all old guys who got stuck in “cold war thinking” and are simply unable to see this new world of extremely low-budget but massively effective terrorism.  They don’t get it. 

Whatever.  We are doing this stuff.  And I suppose it doesn’t really matter why. 




Well, let’s also think about how we actually do spend our money.


See - Hollow Force

Has Iraq stretched the U.S. military to its breaking point?
Phillip Carter – SLATE.COM - Posted Friday, April 23, 2004, at 2:41 PM PT

Carter sets the stage:


With a festering insurgency claiming the lives of more than 120 soldiers just this month, the Pentagon is set to request up to 30,000 more troops for the occupation.  Senior Army leaders also said this week they will ask Congress for more money to make ends meet in Iraq and rebuild their drained force.  Asking for these things is one thing; getting them is another; deploying them still another.  Even if the order were cut right now, fresh divisions of troops would take months to get to overseas, meaning today's stretched force will have to put down the Iraqi revolt, restore security, and conduct the June 30 power handover without reinforcements.  The U.S. military remains the most lethal fighting force ever fielded, but one year in Iraq has chewed it up, creating global shortages of manpower, equipment, and spare parts that are not easily relieved.


Carter explains all this explaining that military officers often say that "amateurs study tactics—professionals study logistics."   Yes, planes have to be scheduled; trains have to be contracted and loaded; ships must be diverted and filled with military equipment.


… Just consider what it takes to move a single tank company from Fort Stewart to Fallujah.  Soldiers have to spend days inspecting and packing their vehicles before loading them onto trains that will take them to the port at Savannah, Ga.  The trains will be met by more soldiers at dockside, who will work with longshoremen and contractors to put the tanks on a ship.  Then the ship has to sail across to Kuwait, where it will be met by more troops and contractors.  Only then can they roll north to Iraq.  Moving one tank company costs a fortune and requires hundreds of people.  Now imagine you want to move an entire unit like the 3rd Infantry Division, with hundreds of tanks and thousands of other vehicles.  The size and complexity of the task is staggering.  It may cost as much as $1 billion to send a division to Iraq.  And it can't be done quickly.  Major bases in the United States have a finite "throughput" capacity, meaning that they can only squeeze so many pieces of equipment out the door on any given day.


Oh.  That stuff.  And Carter goes on to explain we’re kind of out of "pre-positioned" stocks ("pre-po" for short).  We can’t use what’s already over there.  There’s nothing there.  That’s all been used up.  He also points out that Army leaders told Congress that it would take years to restore the pre-po stocks.


The Army and GAO agree that it will cost $1.7 billion to reconstitute the Army's pre-po sets being used in Iraq, but only $700 million of that has been found so far. This expense was never built into any of the White House's regular or supplemental funding requests for Iraq.  Rebuilding these stocks, which are critical to the Army's ability to deploy overseas in a hurry, will have to wait in line with billions of dollars in other unfunded requirements, which, according to the Washington Post, include $132 million for bolt-on vehicle armor; $879 million for combat helmets, silk-weight underwear, boots, and other clothing; $21.5 million for M249 squad automatic weapons; and $27 million for ammunition magazines, night sights, and ammo packs.  Also unfunded: $956 million for repairing desert-damaged equipment and $102 million to replace equipment lost in combat.


And we’re using billions to build nuclear weapons?  Yep.


There is some irony in this.  Heading into the 2000 election, then-candidate George W. Bush blasted the Clinton administration's 1990s deployments to places like Bosnia and Kosovo, saying they depleted our military's readiness.  "Our military is low on parts, pay and morale.  If called on by the commander in chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir,' " said then-Gov. Bush, referring to the readiness of the 10th Mountain and 3rd Infantry divisions after their respective deployments to the Balkans.  Today, the same criticism is being leveled at the Bush administration, except that Iraq is having a much worse effect on military readiness than the Balkans deployments ever did.


This is not good. 


But we will have our nuclear arsenal – so, is seems, we are intentionally becoming much better prepared for some sort of Armageddon kind of war, not these terrorists-in-the-streets kind of wars.  So why would that be?  Does the Bush administration know something they’re not telling us?  Oh, probably not. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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