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John McCain: Nuclear Disarmament, and What Might Have Been

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 30, 2018 at 11:57 pm

world might have had far fewer nuclear weapons today.

John McCain wanted to ban the bomb. It is not the image one has of the late Arizona senator, but when he ran for president in 2008, he argued that “the United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament.”

It wasn’t just a throwaway line. McCain built it into a speech he gave to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that March. In between calls for robust U.S. global leadership and his defense of the Iraq War, he delivered this clarion call:

Forty years ago, the five declared nuclear powers came together in support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and pledged to end the arms race and move toward nuclear disarmament. The time has come to renew that commitment. We do not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal. The United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament consistent with our vital interests and the cause of peace.

A few months later, speaking in Denver, McCain laid out a detailed plan that called for working with Russia and China to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and canceling the development of so-called nuclear “bunker-buster” bombs then underway in the George W. Bush administration. Advised by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, McCain embraced Ronald Reagan’s vision of a nuclear-free world with specific proposals that still resonate today:

A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, “our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” That is my dream, too. It is a distant and difficult goal. And we must proceed toward it prudently and pragmatically, and with a focused concern for our security and the security of allies who depend on us. But the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals…

Our highest priority must be to reduce the danger that nuclear weapons will ever be used. Such weapons, while still important to deter an attack with weapons of mass destruction against us and our allies, represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man. We do, quite literally, possess the means to destroy all of mankind. We must seek to do all we can to ensure that nuclear weapons will never again be used…

Today we deploy thousands of nuclear warheads. It is my hope to move as rapidly as possible to a significantly smaller force…I would seriously consider Russia’s recent proposal to work together to globalize the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty…As president I will pledge to continue America’s current moratorium on testing, but also begin a dialogue with our allies, and with the U.S. Senate, to identify ways we can move forward to limit testing in a verifiable manner that does not undermine the security or viability of our nuclear deterrent. This would include taking another look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to see what can be done to overcome the shortcomings that prevented it from entering into force. I opposed that treaty in 1999, but said at the time I would keep an open mind about future developments.

I would only support the development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals. I would cancel all further work on the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon that does not make strategic or political sense.

McCain’s positions were so sweeping that they closely paralleled those advanced by his opponent, Barack Obama. There were plenty of areas of disagreement between the two, but nuclear policy was not really one of them. A debate that year between surrogates for the campaigns, Stephen Biegun for McCain and John Holum for Obama, was a fairly boring affair largely consisting of each side saying, “I agree.” Biegun (now President Donald Trump’s special envoy for North Korea) emphasized McCain’s long track record on nuclear reductions: “For his two decades in the United States Senate, he has been a strong supporter of treaty-based arms control.”


If McCain had become president, it is quite likely that he would have continued this support and implemented these shared policies. In fact, as a Republican, he likely would have been more successful than Obama in getting them enacted.

It is not that he was a better strategist than his Democratic opponent, but McCain would not have faced the fierce partisan opposition Obama encountered when he tried to enact the policies the two shared as candidates. McCain could have garnered Republican support in Congress for these policies, much as Ronald Reagan had done during his tenure. Conservatives would have trusted him; liberals would have applauded him. He very well could have guided us around a significant nuclear corner towards fewer arms, lower costs, and reduced risks.

But he never got the chance. Instead, much to his discredit, McCain himself became part of the opposition that blocked Obama’s efforts. Abandoning his principled positions, he voted against the modest 2010 New START agreement reducing U.S. and Russian strategic arms; as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he pushed billions of dollars into new nuclear weapons programs; he opposed verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program; and, in 2017, he called for a review of deploying nuclear weapons back to the Korean Peninsula.

Who was the real John McCain: 2008’s nuclear disarmer or 2018’s nuclear hawk? Likely both. As the Republican Party drifted away from Reagan’s vision, he drifted with it. He seemed to forget his own campaign-trail warning about “the folly of relying on policies that no longer keep us safe.” As defense budgets went up, he went from calls to slash nuclear arms to support for building more. As diplomacy faltered with Iran and North Korea, he went back to calls for regime change.

We will never know if, in time, he might have drifted back. But it was the 2008 McCain that offered the better hope, the better plan for reducing nuclear dangers rather than creating more.

An Air Force Stealth B-2 Spirit Just Test-Dropped a Nuclear Bomb

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, War on August 26, 2018 at 1:49 am

August 23, 2018

This is what it could do in battle.

by Kris Osborn, August 23, 2018


The Air Force’s B-2 Stealth bomber has test-dropped an upgraded,
multi-function B61-12 nuclear bomb which improves accuracy, integrates
various attack options into a single bomb and changes the strategic
landscape with regard to nuclear weapons mission possibilities.

Earlier this summer, the Air Force dropped a B61-12 nuclear weapon
from a B-2 at Nellis AFB, marking a new developmental flight test
phase for the upgraded bomb, Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Hope Cronin
told Warrior Maven.

“The updated weapon will include improved safety, security and
reliability,” Cronin said.

The B61-12 adds substantial new levels of precision targeting and
consolidates several different kinds of attack options into a single
weapon. Instead of needing separate variants of the weapon for
different functions, the B61-12 by itself allows for earth-penetrating
attacks, low-yield strikes, high-yield attacks, above surface
detonation and bunker-buster options.

The latest version of the B61 thermonuclear gravity bomb, which has
origins as far back as the 1960s, is engineered as a low-to-medium
yield strategic and tactical nuclear weapon, according to
nuclearweaponsarchive.org, which also states the weapon has a
“two-stage” radiation implosion design.

“The main advantage of the B61-12 is that it packs all the gravity
bomb capabilities against all the targeting scenarios into one bomb.
That spans from very low-yield tactical “clean” use with low fallout
to more dirty attacks against underground targets,” Hans Kristensen,
Director of the Nuclear Information Project, Federation of American
Scientists, told Warrior Maven.

Air Force officials describe this, in part, by referring to the
upgraded B61-12 as having an “All Up Round.”

“The flight test accomplished dedicated B61-12 developmental test
requirements and “All Up Round” system level integration testing on
the B-2,” Cronin said.

The B61 Mod 12 is engineered with a special “Tail Subassembly” to give
the bomb increased accuracy, giving a new level of precision targeting
using Inertial Navigation Systems, Kristensen said.

“Right now the B-2 carries only B61-7 (10-360 kt), B61-11(400 kt,
earth-penetrator), and B83-1 (high-yield bunker-buster). The B61-12
covers all of those missions, with less radioactive fallout, plus very
low-yield attacks,” he added.

The evidence that the B61-12 can penetrate below the surface has
significant implications for the types of targets that can be held at
risk with the bomb.

By bringing an “earth-penetrating” component, the B61-12 vastly
increases the target scope or envelope of attack. It can enable more
narrowly targeted or pinpointed strikes at high-value targets
underground – without causing anywhere near the same level of
devastation above ground or across a wider area.

“A nuclear weapon that detonates after penetrating the earth more
efficiently transmits its explosive energy to the ground, thus is more
effective at destroying deeply buried targets for a given nuclear
yield. A detonation above ground, in contrast, results in a larger
fraction of the explosive energy bouncing off the surface,” Kristensen

Massive B-2 Upgrade:

The testing and integration of the B61-12 is one piece of a massive,
fleet-wide B-2 upgrade designed to sustain the bomber into coming
years, until large numbers of the emerging B-21 Raider are available.
A range of technical modifications are also intended to prepare the
1980s-era bomber for very sophisticated, high-end modern threats.

The B-2 is getting improved digital weapons integration, new computer
processing power reported to be 1,000-times faster than existing
systems and next-generation sensors designed to help the aircraft
avoid enemy air defenses.

One of the effort’s key modifications is designed to improve what’s
called the bomber’s Defensive Management System, a technology designed
to help the B-2 recognize and elude enemy air defenses, using various
antennas, receivers and display processors.

The Defensive Management System is to detect signals or “signatures”
emitting from ground-based anti-aircraft weapons, Air Force officials
have said. Current improvements to the technology are described by Air
Force developers as “the most extensive modification effort that the
B-2 has attempted.”

The modernized system, called a B-2 “DMS-M” unit, consists of a
replacement of legacy DMS subsystems so that the aircraft can be
effective against the newest and most lethal enemy air defenses. The
upgraded system integrates a suite of antennas, receivers, and
displays that provide real-time intelligence information to aircrew,
service officials said.

Upgrades consist of improved antennas with advanced digital electronic
support measures, or ESMs along with software components designed to
integrate new technologies with existing B-2 avionics, according to an
Operational Test & Evaluation report from the Office of the Secretary
of Defense.

The idea of the upgrade is, among other things, to inform B-2 crews
about the location of enemy air defenses so that they can avoid or
maneuver around high-risk areas where the aircraft is more likely to
be detected or targeted. The DMS-M is used to detect radar emissions
from air defenses and provide B-2 air crews with faster mission
planning information – while in-flight.

Air Force officials explain that while many of the details of the
upgraded DMS-M unit are not available for security reasons, the
improved system does allow the stealthy B-2 to operate more
successfully in more high-threat, high-tech environments – referred to
by Air Force strategists as highly “contested environments.”

Many experts have explained that 1980s stealth technology is known to
be less effective against the best-made current and emerging air
defenses – newer, more integrated systems use faster processors,
digital networking and a wider-range of detection frequencies.

The DMS-M upgrade does not in any way diminish the stealth properties
of the aircraft, meaning it does not alter the contours of the
fuselage or change the heat signature to a degree that it would make
the bomber more susceptible to enemy radar, developers said.

Many advanced air defenses use X-band radar, a high-frequency,
short-wavelength signal able to deliver a high-resolution imaging
radar such as that for targeting. S-band frequency, which operates
from 2 to 4 GHz, is another is also used by many air defenses, among
other frequencies.

X-band radar operates from 8 to 12 GHz, Synthetic Aperture Radar, or
SAR, sends forward and electromagnetic “ping” before analyzing the
return signal to determine shape, speed, size and location of an enemy
threat. SAR paints a rendering of sorts of a given target area. X-band
provides both precision tracking as well as horizon scans or searches.
Stealth technology, therefore, uses certain contour configurations and
radar-absorbing coating materials to confuse or thwart electromagnetic
signals from air defenses

These techniques are, in many cases, engineered to work in tandem with
IR (infrared) suppressors used to minimize or remove a “heat”
signature detectable by air defenses’ IR radar sensors. Heat coming
from the exhaust or engine of an aircraft can provide air defense
systems with indication that an aircraft is operating overhead. These
stealth technologies are intended to allow a stealth bomber to
generate little or no return radar signal, giving air dense operators
an incomplete, non-existent or inaccurate representation of an object
flying overhead.

Also, the B-2 is slated to fly alongside the services’ emerging B-21
Raider next-generation stealth bomber; this platform, to be ready in
the mid-2020s, is said by many Air Force developers to include a new
generation of stealth technologies vastly expanding the current
operational ranges and abilities of existing stealth bombers. In fact,
Air Force leaders have said that the B-21 will be able to hold any
target in the world at risk, anytime.

The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of
them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of
50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both
conventional and nuclear weapons.

The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions
over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. In fact, given its ability to fly as
many as 6,000 nautical miles without need to refuel, the B-2 flew from
Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego
Garcia – before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.


The modern nuclear arsenal: A nuclear weapons expert describes a new kind of Cold War

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, War on August 24, 2018 at 11:26 pm

August 24, 2018

With the flurry of talks with North Korea and the fallout from the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, nuclear weapons have become a major topic of discussion in recent months. But secrecy abounds: Who has what weapons? How many? How much damage could they do?

Hans Kristensen tries to answer those questions. As the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, Kristensen and his colleagues delve into open source data, analyze satellite imagery and file requests under the Freedom of Information Act to get the most accurate picture of the world’s nuclear-armed countries. The initiative produces reports on nuclear weapons, arms control and other nuclear matters, and gives recommendations on how to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Kristensen sat down with The Washington Post to discuss how the United States’s nuclear capabilities stack up with the rest of the world, and potential problems down the road. The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

Why do you have to come up with estimates about the stockpiles? Why don’t we have hard data?

KRISTENSEN: Countries like to keep nuclear weapons data secret. That’s the tendency. It varies from country to country a lot. In the United States, there’s a lot of information available. It wasn’t always like that. There has been a process in the United States where the government has gradually become more at ease, if you will, with disclosing a certain amount of information. There are still secrets, by all means. But a lot of information can come out.

In other countries, it’s not like that. So it varies tremendously from country to country. In some countries, even if you try to collect this information, you go to jail. So we find ourselves in a very interesting role where for countries like China, we can provide information to people in China that want to have a discussion about nuclear weapons, because they can use information coming from outside. They don’t have to do their own homework.

One thing that really sticks out on your bio was that in 2010 you almost completely accurately estimated the U.S. stockpile. How much were you off on that?

KRISTENSEN: 13 weapons out of a stockpile of 5,113. But of course that didn’t come about because of one person doing some work over six months. It came about because many, many people over the years have been digging in and gleaning information from congressional hearings, budget documents, declassified documents that were released under the Freedom of Information Act. And so I was sort of standing on the shoulders of the giants that have created the methodology to do this and just happened to get really, really close to the real number, this top secret number, when the Obama administration in 2010 finally decided to declassify the actual number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. military stockpile.

So that was the number then, and now it has changed?

KRISTENSEN: That was the number then. Since then, they have reduced more. We’re down to about 4,000 now. There’s always been these fluctuations in the nuclear stockpile, but since the end of the Cold War, the trend has been very consistent going south. Fewer and fewer nuclear weapons. Now it’s sort of leveling out a bit and it’s sort of part of a broader trend, if you will, of nuclear reductions worldwide, where it is if the nuclear weapon states are sort of slowing down the disarmament process and are beginning to look at the long term and seeing, how do we want to exist as nuclear weapon states 20, 30 years from now? And what’s going to be the role of nuclear weapons in the world at that time? So there’s a lot more reluctance to progress toward zero these days than there was just 10 years ago.

There is a dilemma here for the countries to figure out the international security order as we progress down to deep cuts and eventual elimination, potentially. So that’s a really tough issue. But what we’re seeing now is also that we have an up-flare of an adversarial relationship again, most dramatically illustrated by the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West. We are back in a real Cold War type adversarial relationship again. It’s not at the scale or intensity of the Cold War, but it has all the characteristics.

Could you talk about the nuclear triad, who still maintains it and why?

KRISTENSEN: The United States has a triad of strategic nuclear forces. That means we have a land-based ballistic missile force, long-range ballistic missiles. They are in silos in the Midwest. We have about 400 of those silos loaded right now with long-range ballistic missiles. Each of those missiles currently carries one nuclear warhead, but some of them can be uploaded to carry more if we need them to. They have such a long range, they can reach anywhere on the planet where they need to go. That means in Russia, China, North Korea, wherever.

Then we have a second leg, which is the ballistic missile submarine force at sea, on board strategic submarines, nuclear powered submarines, very big ships that dive and disappear in the ocean for three months. And their role, essentially, is ultimately to hide so that if an adversary decided to conduct a first strike and try to wipe out everything on land, there was no way they could avoid a devastating retaliatory strike from those submarines.

They also have a third leg, which is the air leg, which is long-range strategic bombers. They can carry a variety of weapons, gravity bombs of different kinds, but also long-range cruise missiles. So either they can fly all the way into their target and drop a gravity bomb on it, or they can loiter off the coast and employ their nuclear cruise missiles from those positions and they will they find their way into their targets.

They also have a fourth leg we don’t normally hear about when we talk about triads. There’s also a leg that is a nonstrategic leg, a tactical leg. It consists of shorter-range fighter aircraft and shorter-range missile systems that can for example go on ships and submarines. They may be designed to blow up other ships or attack land targets. Or the Russians, for example, today still have nuclear torpedoes for their submarines that could be used to shoot other submarines, but with nuclear explosives.

Is cost one reason that some countries don’t maintain nuclear triads, and how has that discussion gone in the U.S.?

KRISTENSEN: Cost is important, but by and large, countries make the sacrifice they need to make if they really think it’s important. The thing with nuclear forces is that they’re very expensive to develop: you have to go through a very long testing program, both for delivery systems and for the warheads themselves, command and control, all these elements that constitute a nuclear posture. And that costs a lot of money to develop. Once you have it, you can maintain it at much less of a cost. You need to overhaul it from time to time.

But if you look at the U.S. nuclear arsenal today compared with what the entire defense budget costs, it’s only a small portion of it. And so there are a lot of people who fall for the temptation to say, see, nuclear weapons are very cheap. So we shouldn’t worry about a modernization program. But that’s not exactly how it works. Any country doesn’t want just nuclear weapons. They want a full military, and nuclear weapons are not very useful because you can’t use them. So you need to have them in the background, so to speak. So you don’t want too much nuke and you don’t want too much nuke to eat up too much of the total defense budget, because then you have to take that money from other conventional programs that might actually be more usable and more vital for the military operations you’re planing to do.

So what we’re seeing right now is that, in the case of the United States, the share of nuclear weapons eat up something in the order of about 4 percent of the defense budget. Because of the modernization program we’ve set in motion, that might increase to about 6, 7, 8 percent in the next decade. So we hear this argument a lot that, oh, it’s not very cheap, but it actually creates some serious problems for defense planning.

In your analysis, is the path we’re on a sustainable one?

KRISTENSEN: The current modernization program, to the best we can see, is not sustainable economically. It’s not that the United States couldn’t pay for all of those modernizations if it really wanted to, of course it could. But it would have to take that money from somewhere else. So we’d have to cut some conventional programs and use that money on nuclear instead. And that’s a huge dilemma inside military planning.

So what’s happening now is that there are so many warning signs already that in the ’20s, the cost of the nuclear modernization program is going to force cuts elsewhere in the defense budget, if you want to pay for it. So right now there are people who are out saying, well, why don’t we adjust the nuclear modernization program now, so we don’t have to make these catastrophe cuts later in that may mess up a program or create confusion about our posture and all these types of things.

But we have a very die-hard nuclear advocacy group or community right now that, every time they go to Congress and testify about the nuclear modernization program, it’s like, “Oh no, this is the only one, this is all we can do. Oh no, we can pay for it, it’s only a small portion of defense budget.” They just keep perpetuating this and all the warning signs are out that there are going to be some nasty adjustments that have to be made.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Fictions and Facts

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 12, 2018 at 6:47 am


About the US atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, popular accounts still stick to the false but “greatest generation” story that, “Without [them], more Japanese would have died in a US assault on the islands, as would have tens of thousands of Americans,” as Mike Hashimoto wrote in the Dallas Morning News in 2016.

The New York Times reported that year, “Many historians believe the bombings [of] Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, which together took the lives of more than 200,000 people, saved lives on balance, since an invasion of the islands would have led to far greater bloodshed.” Many historians, perhaps; but not that many.

On the contrary the chief historian of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, J. Samuel Walker, wrote in the journal Diplomatic History in 1990, “The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it.”

Historian Martin Sherwin has debunked the tale of the “good” atom bombs, citing in his 2003 book A World Destroyed “a ‘considerable body’ of new evidence that suggested the bomb may have cost, rather than saved, American lives. That is, if the US had not been so determined to complete, test, and finally use the bomb, it might have arranged the Japanese surrender weeks earlier, preventing much bloodshed on Okinawa.”

Historian Gar Alperovitz wrote in Atomic Diplomacy (Vintage Books, 1967), “available evidence shows the atomic bomb was not needed to end the war or to save lives — and that this was understood by American leaders at the time.” Further declassification of wartime secrets and 28 additional years of research make Alperovitz’s definitive 1995 history The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb even stronger on this point. 

Admirals and Generals Destroy the Myth

Combat veterans and bomber crews defeated Japan well before August 6, 1945 by fighting and dying in dreadful battles over Midway, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and elsewhere, a fact corroborated by dozens of military commanders, as Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the 21st Bomber Command, boasted. LeMay said publicly on Sept. 20, 1945: “The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb.” Asked to clarify, the general who directed the destruction of 67 Japanese cities using mass incendiary attacks doubled down saying, “The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”

Gen. George Kenny, who commanded parts of the Army Air Forces in the Pacific, was asked in 1969 for his opinion and said, “I think we had the Japs [sic] licked anyhow. I think they would have quit probably within a week or so of when they did quit.” Alperovitz notes further that Adm. Lewis Strauss, an assistant to WW II Navy Secretary James Forrestal, wrote to historian Robert Albion in 1960: “[F]rom the Navy’s point of view, there are statements by Admiral King, Admiral Halsey, Admiral Radford, Admiral Nimitz and others who expressed themselves to the effect that neither the atomic bomb nor the proposed invasion of the Japanese mainland were necessary to produce the surrender.”

In Mandate for Change, President Dwight Eisenhower admitted that when Sec. of War Henry Stimson told him atomic bombs were going to be used, “I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary….”

President Truman’s Chief of Staff, Adm. William Leahy, agreed. As Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell, report in Hiroshima in America: 50 Years of Denial, Leahy said, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.…” Even official histories have debunked the fiction. “[T]he US Strategic Bombing Survey published its conclusion that Japan would likely have surrendered in 1945 without atomic bombing, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without an American invasion,” Alperovitz recounted in The Decision. 

Still, the myth that the mass destruction of 200,000 was necessary to save lives is believed by millions in the US who refuse to consider or accept the historical record. This greatest of the “greatest generation’s” yarns may help some sleep at night, and to think better of killing civilians than does the rest of the world, but it doesn’t help abolish nuclear weapons.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.