The Wall Street Journal highlights an issue we covered a couple of weeks ago--the alarming deterioration of our nuclear arsenal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described the situation as "bleak" and is urging the immediate modernization of our nuclear weapons. The Journal succinctly describes the situation:
Every U.S. warhead is more than 20 years old, with some dating to the 1960s. The last test was 1992, when the U.S. adopted a unilateral test moratorium and since relied on computer modeling. Meanwhile, engineers and scientists with experience designing and building nuclear weapons are retiring or dying, and young Ph.D.s have little incentive to enter a field where innovation is taboo. The U.S. has zero production capability, beyond a few weapons in a lab.
In a speech this fall, Mr. Gates said "there is no way we can maintain a credible deterrent" without "resorting to testing" or "pursuing a modernization program." General Kevin Chilton, the four-star in charge of U.S. strategic forces, has also spent the past year making the case for modernization. "The time to act is now," he told a Washington audience this month.
Unfortunately, Secretary Gates and General Chilton face an uphill battle in modernizing our nuclear forces. On the campaign trail, President-elect Barack Obama said he is seeking a "world without nuclear weapons," and Democrats in Congress have stymied efforts to build new warheads.
Meanwhile, Washington is awaiting a report from a Congressionally-mandated commission, which reviews the role of nuclear weapons and our overall strategic posture. Sources indicate that the commission will echo Dr. Gates' concerns, stating that the U.S. will need a nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future. According to the WSJ, the report also notes that a deterrent is credible only if it works. That means modernization.
We'll see if Mr. Obama--and his allies in Congress--are actually paying attention.