Monday, July 03, 2017

They're Here to Stay But We All Knew That, Didn't We?

In the Beginning, well my beginning, there were but two nuclear powers and, even then, the Soviet's bomb only beat my arrival by a matter of days. Still, two it was. Britain followed in '52, France in 1960 and China joined the club in 1964.

Israel is believed to have assembled its first three nukes just prior to the Six Day War in 1967.  Since then India, Pakistan and North Korea have fielded nuclear warheads. South Africa had a nuke but dismantled it and sinned no more.

Even as the Club of Nukes kept expanding we peace-loving snowflakes stayed faithful to the dream of nuclear disarmament. That was a thing. It's even in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and everything. Yeah, sure.

A new report from SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, finds that the number of nukes is down to a mere 14,935 this year from a staggering 15,395 last year. Wow there's a relief. Except that progress on nukes these days isn't focused on gross numbers - how many times over we could extinguish life on Earth - but on modernization, especially delivery systems. There the focus is not only on better targeting but on means to defeat anti-ballistic missile defences.

"Despite the recent progress in international talks on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, long-term modernizations programs are under way in all nine states," said Shannon Kile, a senior researcher at SIPRI. "This suggests that none of these states will be prepared to give up their nuclear arsenals for the foreseeable future."

Notably, the US is expected to spend $400 billion (350 billion euros) between 2017 and 2026 to maintain and comprehensively update its nuclear forces, according to the report. SIPRI cited estimates that Washington may spend up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize its nuclear weapons program.

"The projected increases in US spending are not unexpected," said SIPRI Associate Senior Fellow Hans Kristensen. "The current US administration is continuing the ambitious nuclear modernizations plans set out by President Barack Obama."

The Hill recently warned that hardliners at the Pentagon have been trying to entice their man/baby president to authorize development of "mini-nukes" for limited war purposes and to resume open weapons testing.

As for Trump, since he became president-elect he's been musing about a renewed nuclear arms race, seeming to relish the challenge.

DONALD TRUMP’S DECLARATION on Thursday that “if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack,” flew in the face of decades of U.S. efforts to negotiate cautious, mutual reductions in nuclear arsenals around the world.

Trump’s comments to Reuters essentially invited other nuclear powers to escalate their capabilities, and has the potential to set off a new nuclear arms race.

 Trump has stoked fears about a new arms race before. When pressed for details about his nuclear policies in December, he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe“let it be an arms race,” and later tweeted that the U.S. should “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Trump’s spokespeople spent the following day trying to walk back his comments. But he later made his views on nuclear reduction clear when he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that he considers the Obama-era New START treaty a bad deal. The treaty calls for both countries to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades.


Toby said...

How many nukes are in orbit? If not, I'm sure that's on somebody's bucket list.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't believe there are any nukes in orbit, Toby. Putting warheads into low Earth orbit where they might be available to take out some target would require some plan for what to do with them as their orbit naturally degrades.

Do you realize all of us have a trace of weapons grade plutonium in our bodies? Some of it is naturally occurring, some comes from nuclear testing and mishaps.

Britain's astronomer royal, Martin Rees, now Baron Rees, wrote of one of NASA's deep space probes (Voyageur perhaps?) that was powered by a plutonium fueled reactor. NASA took a huge risk because had that launch failed, the plutonium debris could have contaminated a wide swath of the U.S. and spread around the world. We dodged a huge bullet with the successful launch of that space probe.

My point is, what would happen to a nuclear warhead on re-entry? Quite possibly a global calamity.

Toby said...

I have thought about the re-entry problem, Mound, however there are lots of Dr. Strangeloves and Curtis LeMays hanging around the Pentagon who would happily take the obvious risk.

The Mound of Sound said...

I doubt that, Toby.

John's Aghast said...

One trillion dollars! that could buy a lot of world peace. Especially if Russia matched it.