Det danske Fredsakademi
Kronologi over fredssagen og international politik 17. februar
2005 / Time Line February 17, 2005
16. Februar 2005, 18. Februar 2005
Pentagon's mini-nukes are just too cute
By David Isenberg
February 17, 2005
Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online (http://www.atimes.com).
WASHINGTON - The United States says that the prospect of other
countries developing nuclear weapons, like Iran for example, is a
bad thing. But at the same time, the US is seeking to upgrade its
own nuclear arsenal.
While the US has long contended that treaties such as the 1968
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) do not prevent it from modernizing
its nuclear-weapons inventory, the end of the Cold War with the
Soviet Union and advances in conventional military power have made
reliance on nuclear weapons less essential. As a result, the US in
the 1990s reduced its arsenal, abided by a moratorium on
nuclear-weapons testing, and crafted new arms-control treaties
limiting the size of its nuclear-weapons stockpile.
But in 1991, a team of Los Alamos nuclear-weapons scientists
delivered a briefing to the Pentagon's Defense Science Board titled
"Potential Uses for Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons in the New World
Order". The weapon envisaged in the briefing eventually came to be
called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP).
During the Bill Clinton years (1993-2001), Congress passed
legislation prohibiting US weapons labs from conducting any
research and development on low-yield nuclear weapons. The measure
defined low-yield nuclear weapons, also known as mini-nukes, as
having a yield of five kilotons or less.
But over the years, various conservatives and weapons scientists
had insisted that existing US nuclear weapons could not reach a
growing category of potential targets deeply buried in underground
facilities, possibly containing chemical, biological, nuclear or
command and control facilities. As a result, the George H W Bush
administration had released a Nuclear Posture Review in 1992
calling for options that could be considered for future production
and deployment against "hard and deeply buried targets". Another
review in 2001 similarly called for the creation of "new
As it turns out, the US already has such a weapon, or at least a
crude version of one. This early earth-penetrating warhead is the
B61-11, a variant of the standard B61 tactical nuclear bomb, with
heavily modified casing and fusing. This was put together in the
mid-1990s and can be deployed on the B-2A Stealth bomber.
But like the proverbial Phoenix, the RNEP has reappeared. In the
new military budget request that was released last week, the
Pentagon asked the Energy Department to spend US$18 million over
the next two years to finish a study on the RNEP, which
congressional opponents of nuclear weapons killed last year by
cutting all funding. Representative David Hobson (Republican-Ohio),
chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Water
Development Appropriations Subcommittee, led the House conference
on the annual Energy and Water Bill, which funds the Energy
Department, to cut all funding for RNEP.
The request stands in sharp contrast to what it experienced last
year when Congress denied the administration's fiscal-year 2005
request for $27.5 million to enhance the bunker-busting capability
of an existing high-yield warhead and redirected the
administration's $9 million request to investigate "advanced
concepts", such as new low-yield warheads, to the Reliable
Replacement Warhead program.
The Department of Energy's fiscal-year 2006 budget request includes
$4 million for research on the RNEP. It also envisages spending $14
million on the project in fiscal year 2007. Meanwhile, the
Department of Defense's fiscal-year 2006 budget request also
includes $4.5 million for work on the project, and it foresees
spending $3.5 million in fiscal year 2007.
Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the Energy Department's National
Nuclear Security Administration, said the program, unlike in the
past, will be narrowed down to adapting a B-83 nuclear warhead into
a rock-burrowing, penetrator warhead. Earlier work called for using
either a B-83 or B-61 warhead inside the digging package.
According to Matt Martin, deputy director of the British American
Security Information Council in Washington, DC, "When they got
funding two years ago, they got a line item in the Future Years
Defense Plan [FYDP], which over five years totaled half a billion
dollars [including actual production of the weapon]. After losing
funding last year, they have apparently gotten smart. They are not
including money in the FYDP. They are requesting $4 million this
year and possibly spending a little more next year, possibly $11.5
million the year after. They also made a separate account to see
what you can do to harden the case for the bomb. That is $4.5
million for non-nuclear shell-casing testing, included in the air
force budget. They may want to see how conventional munitions work,
in order to justify the case for a nuclear weapon."
The RNEP is being designed to burrow through as much as 300 feet
(91.5 meters) of rock or earth before detonating a high-yield
Martin said the move to fund research on RNEP is the wrong move at
the wrong time. "Clearly it sends a wrongheaded and dangerous
message. When you look at Iran and North Korea, it is clear they
are moving forward with their efforts because of what they see the
US doing and they use it as an excuse for their own activities. And
to the extent that they are able to do that, it gives them leverage
and works to the detriment of our own non-proliferation
The US Defense Department says countries such as North Korea and
Iran are protecting military assets by hiding them underground in
fortified bunkers. There are currently at least 10,000 bunkers in
more than 70 countries, according to the Defense Intelligence
Left largely undiscussed in public debate on the issue is that the
RNEP, even if developed and produced, might not do the job. The
Arms Control Association in Washington, DC, a leading arms-control
group, noted in a release that earth-penetrating bunker busters
would produce a high-yield blast too large to avoid dispersal of
radioactive debris and fallout around the target, threatening
civilians and military personnel. If new, smaller-yield nuclear
weapons were used to destroy chemical or biological targets, the
fallout would still be significant, and small errors in
intelligence and targeting could disperse rather than destroy
Funding for RNEP will also undermine efforts to strengthen the NPT
at the upcoming May Review Conference, according to critics. The
US, as a nuclear-weapon state, is obligated under Article VI of the
treaty to end the nuclear arms race and pursue nuclear
The law of physics works against bunker busters. In 2002, Dr Robert
Nelson, a physicist at Princeton University, wrote that
earth-penetrating weapons "cannot penetrate deeply enough to
contain the nuclear explosion and will necessarily produce an
especially intense and deadly radioactive fallout. A missile made
of the hardest steels cannot survive the severe ground impact
stresses at velocities greater than about [one kilometer per
second] without destroying itself. This limits the maximum possible
penetration depth into reinforced concrete to about four times the
missile length - approximately 12 meters for a missile three meters
Even low-yield earth-penetrating nuclear weapons would excavate
substantial craters, "throwing out a large amount of radioactive
dirt and debris". His dose calculations indicate that "a
one-kiloton earth-penetrating mini-nuke used in a typical Third
World urban environment [such as Baghdad] would spread a lethal
dose of radioactive fallout over several square kilometers,
resulting in tens of thousands of civilian fatalities".
According to Martin, "The one thing that is absolutely clear is
that there is no way you can build a BB [bunker buster] of any kind
that can contain the radioactive blast that is going to contain the
blast from the explosion. Every test that has been simulated shows
that you get not just a narrow plume but a huge crater and cloud.
In order to fully capture the explosion of any nuclear weapon you
would have to burrow down a thousand feet. The best they have done
so far is 60 feet."
It is far from clear that the administration will succeed in
getting funding for RNEP research. Hobson, who successfully led the
charge in killing funding for it last year, gave a speech this
month in which he said no one at the Defense or Energy Department
has "ever articulated to me a specific military requirement for a
nuclear earth penetrator".
Martin said, "I am cautiously optimistic that it will be defeated.
For one thing, though this was a surprise to the admin, it wasn't
the doing of one man, ie, Hobson. He had to get the votes of his
colleagues in the subcommittee, committee, floor and conference.
When you count all the places people had a chance to stop him,
there were eight different times he could have been stopped. That
tells me there are other people besides Hobson; including other
Republicans. Nothing has changed about the nature of the world or
the weapon that would make them change their minds so quickly."
David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British
American Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide
background in arms control and national security issues. The views
expressed are his own.
U.S. to privatize security for bases in Europe
Pamela Hess, WPH 17/2/05
WASHINGTON -- Germany's decision to recall some 2,500 troops that
had been protecting American bases in Europe will cost about $100
million to replace, according to Pentagon budget documents.
With the U.S. Army stretched by the continuing wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, the Pentagon plans to spend $100 million to hire
private security guards to protect its bases in Germany.
The request is outlined in the $82 billion supplemental
appropriation request for 2005 the White House submitted to
In January 2003, Germany offered its own troops to protect about 50
American installations around Europe as U.S. soldiers were pulled
off to train and deploy in advance of the war in Iraq. Security had
been provided by a mix of soldiers and private security forces.
But last fall, the German government announced it would withdraw
some 2,500 German forces from guard duty at American bases after
nearly two years, a cost-cutting measure that also came in the wake
of the Pentagon announcement that some 70,000 U.S. troops would be
withdrawn from Germany.
Installing civilian guards at the gates of military bases is not
unprecedented. In January 2002, the Army Corps of Engineers hired
DynCorp and ITT for base management in Qatar, including base
security. By 2003, there were at least 4,500 civilian guards
protecting bases in the United States. The bases were previously
protected by military police, most of who were deployed for the war
in Iraq. Private guards have also been installed at base gates in
"The driving force behind all this is (that) U.S. forces are
stretched thin as a result of bad planning," said Peter Singer,
senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of "Corporate
According to the Army, more than half of its active duty, Guard and
Reserve forces are deployed overseas, the lion's share in Iraq,
Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Moreover, the U.S. military has been almost halved in size since
1991. At the same time, reliance on private contractors has
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