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The Military

A Case For Unilateral US Nuclear Warhead Reductions 211

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the someone-has-to-start dept.
Lasrick writes "Interesting read of the geopolitics between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to reducing nuclear warheads. Pavel Podvig is a physicist trained at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology who works on the Russian nuclear arsenal, US-Russian relations, and nonproliferation. His take here is essential to understanding what is happening between Washington and Moscow on nuclear weapons cuts." Reader auric_dude also sent in a link to a few other views on the issue.
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A Case For Unilateral US Nuclear Warhead Reductions

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01, 2013 @08:32PM (#44160851)

    Maintaining a nuclear arsenal is really pricy. They're full of dangerous things. They require LOTS of upkeep. You have to guard them. (They have the power to destroy the world after all) The infrastructure to maintain your active arsenal is massive and costs piles of money, which seems silly for something you hope to never use.

    Some say the nuclear arms race was as much as way to drain money out of the USSR until it collapsed as much as anything else. We're done with that, and I'm sure both sides are sick of throwing money in to a pit. You really only need to blow the world up once, if you're going to do it at all.

    I also hear that most nuclear material for peacetime power reactors comes from decommissioned nuclear warheads.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by tlambert (566799)

      Maintaining a nuclear arsenal is really pricy. They're full of dangerous things.

      Which is why it makes sense to leave them where they are. Decommissioning is even more pricey.

      They require LOTS of upkeep. You have to guard them. (They have the power to destroy the world after all) The infrastructure to maintain your active arsenal is massive and costs piles of money, which seems silly for something you hope to never use.

      Most of the cost is military. Personally, I think guarding holes in the desert is a much finer jobs program than bombing people in the Middle East. Safer for the people who get the make-work jobs, too.

      Some say the nuclear arms race was as much as way to drain money out of the USSR until it collapsed as much as anything else.

      Yeah, those people obviously don't work for the Brookings Institute, or the Sante Fe Institute, and so they have no understanding of the games theory basis that led to the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MA

      • by Zontar The Mindless (9002) <plasticfish.infoNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 01, 2013 @09:40PM (#44161203)

        Which is why it makes sense to leave them where they are. Decommissioning is even more pricey.

        There's a little thing called "shelf life". Nukes have one, too.

        • by tlambert (566799)

          Which is why it makes sense to leave them where they are. Decommissioning is even more pricey.

          There's a little thing called "shelf life". Nukes have one, too.

          ...after which they decommission themselves by becoming non-operational through the decay of the fissile materials. Which is what these people want. I'm not seeing the problem here that would require actively decommissioning the things.

      • by Arker (91948) on Monday July 01, 2013 @10:18PM (#44161411) Homepage

        "Which is why it makes sense to leave them where they are. Decommissioning is even more pricey"

        Not really. A one-time cost to decommission, defrayed by salvage, versus a large recurring expense.

        "Most of the cost is military. Personally, I think guarding holes in the desert is a much finer jobs program than bombing people in the Middle East."

        Cant say that I disagree on that. But nukes are extremely expensive toys and the maintanence cost is huge, and NOT mostly on personel. Just maintaining the nuclear arsenal accounts for around $18million a year currently and it's rising every year.

        These are very delicate, precision machines, and each and every one of them is a minimum of 20 years old, many much older than that. As time goes on they require more maintanence, and it becomes more expensive.

        I'm no naive hippy and I am ok with paying for deterrence. But it's clear we could cut our stock in half tomorrow with no reduction in deterrence. An arsenal that is capable of destroying the entire planet is in no way inferior to one that would be capable of destroying the planet a dozen times. It just costs less.

        What the US administration has been trying to do, however, is get the Russians to make some concessions in return for us reducing our stock. This just wasnt a great approach to take. It probably actually spooked the Russians, who wonder why we are so concerned about their arsenal, hmmm? And they have other reasons to resist. They have indicated they are not interested in bilateral agreements that were reasonable back in the cold war days. It's a multipolar world, there are many nuclear nations, not just two and their respective pack members. The Russians want negotiations that include all the other nuclear powers as well. And the US administration would probably find that very reasonable if it werent for Israel...

        At any rate we should cut stock for a number of reasons. It would soothe the Russian fears and might well lead to them reducing their own stock in response, but that's not the reason to do it, that's just some possible gravy.

        "If we were sick of throwing money into a pit, we wouldn't have approved TARP, TARP2, and we would have had some campaign promises kept, like closing Gitmo, and getting us out of our two major wars, instead of getting us into two new ones as well. That'd save a bunch of money right there."

        True that.

        • by khallow (566160)

          I'm no naive hippy and I am ok with paying for deterrence. But it's clear we could cut our stock in half tomorrow with no reduction in deterrence. An arsenal that is capable of destroying the entire planet is in no way inferior to one that would be capable of destroying the planet a dozen times. It just costs less.

          No such arsenal has ever existed that could do that once, much less a dozen times. Instead, I think that Russia's cited behavior (basically stonewalling to get Obama to unilaterally cut nukes) indicates that they think that they'll get a lot of mileage from further reductions in the US arsenal and similarly would lose a lot of capability from cutting their own arsenals.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Arker (91948)

            "No such arsenal has ever existed that could do that once, much less a dozen times."

            There are a little over 5,000 warheads in the US stockpile (as of 2010 wikipedia quoting reuters.) That's enough to hit every small city in the world, and most of them twice. Each is many, many times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The initial blast fatalities alone from a full scale launch would decimate any nation on earth, it would make things like hurricanes look like hangnails.

            The rur

            • by t4ng* (1092951) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @02:38AM (#44162711)

              In the early 1980's the BBC made a drama called "Threads" which had occasional narration interrupting the story to explain the science behind the effects of nuclear war. Anyone who thinks nuclear war is winnable, or that we've never had enough nukes to destroy the world should watch it... the entire thing.

              There are no lone-wolf heroes or other typical US movie industry bullcrap, just cold, stark, depressing realism. You can watch it for free on YouTube....

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MCbTvoNrAg [youtube.com]

            • by khallow (566160)
              Ok, so you mention the usual three problems of nuclear war, the tremendous initial blast effect, fallout, and nuclear winter. For people who aren't near a target, who shield themselves from the effects of fallout, and who happen to have a decent food supply to last through the nuclear winter (which pretty much describes most rural people in the developed world), then they survive.

              And only a small fraction of those weapons would need to be detonated to invoke a nuclear winter

              It's like you're providing the stereotype that I was complaining about all along. Again, what is the point of greatly exaggeratin

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          18 million sounds like peanuts. whats that, 20 patriot missiles?

          • by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:45AM (#44162951)

            18 million sounds like peanuts. whats that, 20 patriot missiles?

            6-9 Patriot missiles. Unit cost on a Patriot is 2-3 million, depending on ordinance load. Or 2 M1 Abrams main battle tanks. Or for the cost of a single F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, you could fund the entire program for over a decade.

            According to the GAO, the Pentagon spends more than that per year issuing visitor badges.

        • by tlambert (566799)

          "Which is why it makes sense to leave them where they are. Decommissioning is even more pricey"

          Not really. A one-time cost to decommission, defrayed by salvage, versus a large recurring expense.

          There's no salvage value; there's just nuclear material which can't be stored safely very close to similar nuclear material. It's not like the plutonium can be used in anything other than weapons or RTGs, and we only build RTGs for the space program. Given the critical mass for the Pu isotope used in most weapons, taking apart one weapon will fuel most of the RTG-using projects Nasa has planned out for the next 30 years. It's only the Russians who thought using RTGs for civil usage was a good idea (e.g.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Maintaining a nuclear arsenal is really pricy. They're full of dangerous things.

        Which is why it makes sense to leave them where they are. Decommissioning is even more pricey.

        And dealing with the decay that you let build up because you were too lazy to maintain them is more costly still. No, 'let them sit' is a stupid fucking idea. Far more cost effective and safe to reprocess them into reactor fuel.

        They require LOTS of upkeep. You have to guard them. (They have the power to destroy the world after all) The infrastructure to maintain your active arsenal is massive and costs piles of money, which seems silly for something you hope to never use.

        Most of the cost is military. Personally, I think guarding holes in the desert is a much finer jobs program than bombing people in the Middle East. Safer for the people who get the make-work jobs, too.

        You should probably try becoming part of this century before telling us about nuclear stockpiles. We don't have nukes sitting in holes in the desert anymore, which is why we don't need as many. We just launch them from subs that no one knows where they are so they can't be taken

      • instead of getting us into two new ones as well.

        Three.
        A certain three-letter club in Germany appears not amused at all, and their politicians who actually seem to represent them talk of US actions resembling those of a cold war.

        I would love to see IDS log stats from the US.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        Decommissioning is happening with the older ones whether you pretend it isn't or not, so bringing that up is misleading the readers. A cut in the number of warheads can be achieved by not making as many replacements.
    • by Virtucon (127420)

      It's a jobs program dumbass! We keep hundreds of scientists employed studying the decay and effectiveness of the warheads. A few of those scientists keep our Courts and Laywers in business along with all of the investigators and juries when they steal secrets for China. [cnn.com] Not to mention all of the investigative reporters that would be out of work if they didn't have something to write about. We put thousands of people to work in the military making sure that they're safe and handled properly. Not to menti

  • "Deployed" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 01, 2013 @08:39PM (#44160901)

    TFA consistently refers to a reduction in "deployed" warheads. For those who don't understand the nuance, there are still many more warheads not currently deployed. We call those "stockpiled" arms. A reduction in deployed warheads is pointless unless we talk about a global (no pun intended) reduction in arms. Why, you ask? Because we have stealth bombers and fighters with global reach. Those stockpiled weapons could be locked and loaded on our jets in short order if we wanted. Suddenly, they are now "deployed" warheads.

    The truth remains, until nuclear weapons stockpiles are reduced below MAD levels, reduction in arms is just for show. We'll always have enough in storage to kill each other a few times over, but that's not really what matters. What matters is that we are constantly trying to establish a dialog with people who don't like us rather than take a beligerant stance. That, more than anything else will result in reduced nuclear tensions.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463)

      A reduction in deployed warheads is pointless

      It is not pointless. A deployed warhead is more likely to be stolen by Al Queda, more likely to be involved in an accident, more likely to be launched by a rouge commander, and more likely to be used in a first strike. The first strike capability is particularly destabilizing, because our "enemies" then need to keep their own nukes on hair trigger alert, or build enough of them to ride out a first strike and still retaliate.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)

        It is not pointless. A deployed warhead is more likely to be stolen by Al Queda,

        al-Qaeda is more likely to steal a warhead attached to a plane sitting on a flight line or in a ready hangar or deployed in a nuclear sub 150 ft underwater than sitting in some warehouse? Really?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "constantly trying to establish a dialog with people who don't like us"

      Who is it that you think does not like you? I work with the Russians every day and know for sure that they have no animosity towards Americans although they do get seriously annoyed with the fact that most Americans seem to believe that they won WWII which is contrary to history. Most of it is more like sympathy as they see that America now has a level of propaganda that they had 30 years ago and that American people actually believe w

    • It's doubtful that Russia and the United States will discuss a reduction in deployed arms with such naivete that it can be bypassed by keeping the inactive warheads in fire-ready condition. A certain level of "stockpiled" warheads is necessary to support the level of "deployed" warheads due to testing, maintenance, and verification. A reduction in deployed warheads will eventually lead to a reduction in stockpiled arms once we built up the political will to dismantle the suckers.

      You're also incorrect when y

    • by mianne (965568)
      The problem with your assessment is that you, yourself, referred to "MAD levels". So within the Cold War "USA vs USSR" context, those stockpiled warheads are utterly useless. Say Russia launched all their nukes toward the US,; the US would retaliate by launching all its deployed nukes toward Russia. So within about 30 minutes or so, most of the world's urban populations will be wiped out in a radioactive firestorm. Okay, so then the CIA spooks within Russia report that most of the Kremlin is now speeding of
  • After all, just because the USSR no longer exists doesn't mean they still don't present a deadly threat to the existence of the Free World. Our troops in the Free Republic of Germany need to be properly armed and prepared to bravely defend us from the Red Armies of International Communism. Without constant vigilance, the Khmer Rouge could even gain the upper hand and threaten the Republic of Vietnam and the rest of SEATO.

    Needless to say, anyone who opposes these plans is an agent working under the direction

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Russia was an empire long before the tzar and his family got shot. The national character is not going to change much just because of a minor bit of regime change. If Putin weren't effectively president for life, optimism about the new Russia might be a little more warranted.

    • by murdocj (543661)

      jeez, time to lay off the Red Bull.

  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Monday July 01, 2013 @09:22PM (#44161119)

    "If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce."

    -- Winston S. Churchill

  • It never ceases to amaze and depress me that otherwise seemingly intelligent people are mortified by the big bag nuclear boogie man. There is nothing magical about these weapons. Just like every weapon since the wooden club they have strengths and weaknesses. For some objectives they are ideal, for others completely ineffective.

    Every one ever built detonated all at once is not remotely capable of destroying the planet or wiping out all human life. Just NO OK? You're 10 orders of magnitude short of th

    • by PPH (736903)

      And yet, we wet ourselves over the idea that Iran might build one. Oh noes! A Muslim bomb! In case anyone has been paying attention, they already have one. Over in Pakistan.

      What possession of "the bomb" does is give its owners a place at the big people's negotiating table. And that's a club we want to control the membership of very carefully. Even if it means killing tens of thousands of people with conventional weapons. Perhaps more than would be killed with a nuke.

      • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Monday July 01, 2013 @11:37PM (#44161855)

        Ayatollah Khomeini: "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let Iran burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world"

        There is a difference between rational countries having the bomb and countries run by Islamic fanatics having the bomb.

      • I love the notion that every single country is exactly the same, and the racist notion that you seem to have that all Muslims are the same. Pakistan and Iran are not the same country despite both being Muslim. Iran was run by a psycho who kept on talking about the elimination of countries. Now, that's not to say that Pakistan didn't proliferate nuclear technology or talk shit, but Iran was much more provocative than Pakistan, and you shouldn't just bundle them together because they're Muslim.

    • Being the loser in war has often resulted in old men dying. More often then not, of starvation.

      Nukes changed the cost/benefit ratio of war. Strategic bombing changed it, nukes made it clear there was no way to (make a profit/advance your cause) via total war. Even the pointy hairs in charge can see that.

  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Monday July 01, 2013 @10:36PM (#44161533)

    and you put down your rock and we try to kill each other like civilized people?
    It's not my fault being the biggest and strongest. I don't even exercise.

  • Until you realize that Russia is violating the treaty on medium range nuclear missiles. [washingtontimes.com] Treaties are only good as long as both sides agree to follow the rules.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday July 01, 2013 @11:34PM (#44161847) Journal
    It's cliche to say the article is not very good, but in this case it truly is missing a serious point:

    No plan to get rid of nuclear weapons can be complete without taking China (and others) into consideration. We are at the point that it's not just a standoff between Russia and the US, who both have been reducing their nuclear weapons. Other countries have been actively increasing them, and unless they join in the movement, Russia and the US leave themselves completely vulnerable if they don't maintain at least some nuclear weapons.

    I'm in favor of getting rid of nukes, but you can't assume it's just a game between Russia and the US, as this article does.
    • Agreed. This is what creates problems when warhead counts drop below a certain point. Assume the Chinese have about, say 400 warheads. The US and Russia reduce their warhead count to about 600 each. There is going to be a LOT of temptation for the Chinese to increase their arsenal up to the 600 warhead level in order to achieve parity, to help cement their global superpower status. Or if the number comes down further, to say 300 warheads for those three nations. Other nations that rely on nuclear dete
  • I find it amusing that - with an apparent straight face - Mr Krepon makes comments like "In his first term, Mr. Clinton midwifed the denuclearization of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, thereby strengthening the Nonproliferation Treaty and jump-starting the implementation of two Strategic Arms Reduction treaties negotiated by his predecessor, George H.W. Bush."

    No trace of acknowledgment there of why this was possible?

    For those born in the 21st century or for the dis-ingenues of the arms-control religion: th

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