Friday, November 04, 2011

Defense: Modernisation of Nukes Acquiring Priority

By Ramesh Jaura
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) - In a situation reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb', none of the nuclear weapon states is actively contemplating a future without nukes. On the contrary, the potential for using dreadful atomic arsenal is growing, says a new report.

Pointing to some rather disquieting trends worldwide, the paper says: "Although the New START treaty between the United States and Russia (which entered into force on February 5, 2011) arguably represents the most significant arms control advance in two decades, the Treaty contains significant gaps that mean it will not necessarily lead to significant reductions in the number of nuclear weapons held by both parties."

"Whatever the current global rhetoric about nuclear disarmament from the nuclear armed states, in the absence of any further major disarmament or arms control breakthroughs, the evidence points to a new era of nuclear weapons modernisation and growth," cautions Kearns.

He substantiates this view with data and analysis related to current stockpiles of nuclear weapons held outside Britain, examines force modernisation trends, declaratory policy and nuclear doctrine, and the security drivers that underpin nuclear weapons possession in each state.

The report is intended as a "discussion paper" of the UK Trident Commission, an independent, cross-party commission, to examine British nuclear weapons policy. It has been published by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) at the onset of November.

More Nuke States

Though there has been a major reduction in the global nukes stockpile since the mid-1980s, the number of nuclear weapon states has gone up, says the report, adding: "Nuclear weapons," totaling some 20,000, "are present today in some of the most unstable and violence prone regions of the world, and in North East Asia, the Middle East and South Asia, there are serious conflict and proliferation concerns that suggest an increased potential for nuclear weapons use."

The data analysis reveals that long-term nuclear force modernisation or upgrade programmes are underway in all the currently nuclear armed states: Hundreds of billions of dollars are earmarked for the purpose over the next decade, not only in the United States and Russia but in major development programmes in China, India, Pakistan and elsewhere.

Modernised Nukes

Almost all of the nuclear armed states are continuing to produce new or modernized nuclear weapons and some, such as Pakistan and India, appear to be seeking smaller, lighter, warheads than they possess currently, to allow these either to be delivered to greater distances or to allow them to be deployed over shorter ranges and for more tactical purposes.

As regards delivery systems, the study says: "Russia and the United States have recommitted to maintaining a triad of land, sea and air forces for the long-term. China, India and Israel are seeking to build triads of their own. In the case of China and India, major ballistic missile programmes are underway, both to increase the range and sophistication of land-based systems and to build fleets of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines.

"In the case of Israel, the size of its nuclear tipped cruise missile enabled submarine fleet is being increased and the country seems to be on course, on the back of its satellite launch rocket programme, for future development of an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

"Pakistan is not only rapidly increasing the size of its warhead stockpile but is building new plutonium production reactors, which could add to its fissile material stocks and, like North Korea, it is seeking to rapidly enhance its missile capabilities.

"France, having recently completed the modernisation of its ballistic missile submarine fleet, is also introducing new and more capable bombers to the air component of its nuclear force, though at reduced aircraft numbers overall, and is introducing new and better nuclear warheads to both its sea-launched ballistic missiles and to its aircraft."

These findings come less than three years after President Barack Obama's historic speech in Prague (the Czech Republic) in April 2009 in which he envisioned a nuclear free world, though not his lifetime.

Nukes Considered Essential

The shocking fact is that in all nuke armed states "nuclear weapons are currently seen as essential to national security and in several of them, nuclear weapons are assigned roles in national security strategy that go well beyond deterring a nuclear attack."

This, says Kearns, is the case in Russia, Pakistan, Israel, France and "almost certainly" in North Korea. India has left the door open to using nuclear arsenal in response to chemical or biological weapons attacks.

In fact, as the independent International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament pointed out: "Only China limits the stated role to deterrence against the threat or use by others of nuclear weapons; all others keep open the option, to a greater or lesser extent, of using their nuclear weapons in response to other kinds of threats."

The Blame Game

All nuclear power armed states justify modernisation and upgrade programmes by pointing to their strategic or potential vulnerability, in the face of nuclear and conventional force developments taking place elsewhere, says the report.

Moscow claims that the Russian nuclear programme is in response to concerns over U.S. ballistic missile defence and advanced conventional capabilities like Conventional Prompt Global Strike, as well as to concerns over conventional weakness relative to China.

China justifies its nuke modernisation and upgrade programme by referring to these same developments in the United States and by pointing out India's plans. India, on the other hand, says its nuke programme is driven partly by fear over Pakistan and China. Pakistan defends its nuclear programme by referring to Indian conventional force superiority. Far away from South Asia, France has endorsed nuclear weapons modernisation as a response to stockpiles elsewhere that "keep on growing".

Non-strategic Nukes

The study points out that in some states, non-strategic nuclear weapons are seen to have a particular value as compensation for conventional force weakness relative to perceived or potential adversaries.

"These weapons are seen, in this regard, to provide the conventionally weak state with conflict escalation options short of an all out nuclear attack on an adversary, which may not be seen as credible," says the report. This situation mirrors aspects of NATO nuclear doctrine during the Cold War.

Nuclear weapons are therefore assigned war-fighting roles in military planning in countries like Russia and Pakistan. In Russia, this takes on the form of the nuclear de-escalation doctrine. In Pakistan, it is implied, but left ambiguous to confuse risk calculations in the minds of any adversary, but principally India. [IDN-InDepthNews - November 3, 2011]

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