The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Weapons Still Key to U.S. Security, Energy's Brooks Says

15 July 2005

Ambassador says department seeks to improve stockpile reliability, longevity

Nuclear weapons continue to be relevant to American and international security, though their emphasis has been reduced, according to a senior Energy Department official.

"We must recognize that evil still exists, and the coupling of evil with weapons of mass destruction is of terrifying concern," Ambassador Linton F. Brooks said July 14 at a National Academy of Sciences symposium in Washington.  Brooks is the administrator of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as under secretary of energy for national security.

Brooks said that the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) identified four roles for U.S. nuclear forces: assure friends and allies, dissuade competitors, deter aggression and deny or defeat aggression should deterrence fail.

"We must maintain sufficient forces to assure allies that we can … extend deterrence to them.  Otherwise we will encourage them to proliferate," Brooks said.  "And we must retain a large enough force to dissuade any power from seeking a competitive advantage in nuclear forces."

Brooks said he is confident the U.S. nuclear stockpile is "safe and reliable, and that there is no need at this time for nuclear tests."  However, today's stockpile is the wrong stockpile from several perspectives, he continued.

U.S. nuclear weapons were built during the Cold War, when a premium was placed on the greatest yield with minimal size and weight, so that many warheads could be carried on a single missile.  Today, a premium would be placed on increased performance margins, system longevity and ease of manufacture, he said.

For a variety of reasons, it is becoming more difficult and costly to certify warhead remanufacture, Brooks said.

The Energy Department is seeking a better way to maintain current military capability in the existing nuclear stockpile without testing, he said.

It is initiating what it is calling the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, he said. The program's aim would be to replace the existing stockpile with weapons that are produced more easily, readily available, made of environmentally safe materials and whose safety and reliability could be assured -- without nuclear testing -- for as long as the United States requires nuclear forces.

Brooks gave a target date, if studies are favorable and the Defense Department formally requests it, of 2012 or 2015 to "demonstrate that a Reliable Replacement Warhead can be manufactured and certified without nuclear testing."

Following is an excerpt of Brooks' remarks:

(begin excerpt)

National Nuclear Security Administration

Ambassador Linton F. Brooks
Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration and Under Secretary of Energy for National Security


Presented to the National Academy of Sciences Symposium “60th Anniversary of Trinity: First Manmade Nuclear Explosion, July 16, 1945”

14 July 2005

Are nuclear weapons still relevant to our security?  The answer is “yes,” although with a reduced emphasis, as the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review has made clear.

Nuclear forces are an insurance policy for an uncertain future.  Who would have predicted even 20 years ago today’s changed security posture?  Who, today, is willing to claim to see the future well enough to say that nuclear weapons will not be relevant to our security 20 years hence?

This week is the anniversary of another event.  Ten years ago — July 11, 1995 — Serb forces perpetrated a massacre in Srebrenica.  Thousands of Bosnian Muslim men — many non-combatants — were murdered in cold blood and their bodies thrown into huge pits and covered up in the night to hide this deed.  Forty years after the defeat of Germany bought the end of the Holocaust, genocide once again came to Europe.  I do not argue that U.S. nuclear weapons were relevant to this particular case; they were not.  But we must recognize that evil still exists, and the coupling of evil with weapons of mass destruction is of terrifying concern.  The United States must maintain a full set of military capabilities able to deter or counter any threat that emerges.

We have made remarkable progress over the past two decades in reducing nuclear threats.  In 1995, when the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty was indefinitely extended, the United States reiterated its commitment under Article VI to work toward the long-range goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and to general and complete disarmament.  The nuclear arms race has, in fact, been halted.  While nuclear deterrence remains necessary, even after the Cold War, the United States has been reducing its nuclear forces and nuclear weapons stockpile in a consistent fashion through both unilateral and bilateral initiatives.  Lets look at some recent accomplishments.

-- The administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, or NPR, mandated reduced reliance on nuclear forces in achieving U.S. national security objectives in light of a growing ability to achieve these objectives with conventional capabilities and missile defenses.

-- The 2001 NPR also articulated a vision, embodied in the Moscow Treaty, for additional deep reductions to a level of 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads by 2012, down from about 5,300 as of the beginning of last year.  These levels are far lower than many of us thought possible just a few years ago.

-- Under the START Treaty and the Moscow Treaty, the United States will have decommissioned, over the period of two decades, more than three-quarters of the strategic nuclear warheads attributed to its delivery vehicles.

-- In May 2004, President Bush decided on a major reduction in the total U.S. nuclear stockpile, including both operationally-deployed and non-deployed warheads.  By 2012, the nuclear stockpile will be reduced by nearly one-half from the 2001 level, resulting in the smallest stockpile since the Eisenhower administration.

-- The tactical weapons of the past — nuclear mines, antisubmarine weapons, nuclear artillery — are gone. The only nuclear weapons available for deployment today are those carried by our strategic triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, as well as a few non-strategic bombs and currently non-deployed nuclear-tipped, sea-launched cruise missiles.

-- The U.S. has no development programs underway for new or modified nuclear warheads.  Indeed, we have not developed and fielded a new warhead for nearly 20 years.  The last time we modified an existing warhead — the B-61-11 earth penetrator (to provide a safer way to achieve existing military capabilities) — was during the Clinton administration.

These accomplishments are helping to realize the president’s vision of achieving the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our need to deter current and future threats to the United States and its allies and friends.  Moreover, this record, coupled with the great progress the U.S. has made in reducing nuclear threats in other areas, demonstrates strong U.S. adherence to its own nonproliferation commitments and U.S. leadership in support of other countries’ nonproliferation interests and commitments.

But although the president directed major reductions in nuclear weapons, he did not endorse reductions to a few hundred warheads, as some may have preferred.  The 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which established the conceptual basis for thinking about nuclear weapons in the 21st century, identified four roles for U.S. nuclear forces: assure friends and allies; dissuade competitors; deter aggression; and deny or defeat aggression should deterrence fail.  The first two roles have important implications for force size.  We must maintain sufficient forces to assure allies that we can do more than simply deter attacks on the U.S. homeland, but that we can also extend deterrence to them.  Otherwise we will encourage them to proliferate.  And we must retain a large enough force to dissuade any power from seeking a competitive advantage in nuclear forces.

Let me turn to our efforts to transform America’s nuclear stockpile for the 21st century, and to create a responsive nuclear weapons infrastructure.  I must first emphasize that stockpile stewardship is working, that we are confident that the U.S. stockpile is safe and reliable, and that there is no need at this time for nuclear tests.  This assessment derives from 10 years of experience with science-based stockpile stewardship, from extensive surveillance of our weapons, from the use of both experiments and advanced simulation and computation, and from professional judgment.

Despite this success, there is more to be done.  Although nuclear weapons issues are usually contentious, most would agree that if we were starting to build the stockpile from scratch today we would take a much different approach than we took during the Cold War.  Today’s Cold War legacy stockpile is the wrong stockpile from a number of perspectives.  Let me explain.

First, today’s stockpile is the wrong stockpile technically.  Most current warheads were designed to maximize explosive yield with minimum size and weight so that many warheads could be carried on a single delivery vehicle. As a result, our weapons designers, in managing risk during a period when we used nuclear tests as part of the tool kit to maintain confidence, designed closer to the so-called “cliffs” or margins in performance.  If we were designing the stockpile today under a test moratorium and in a world where most delivery systems will carry many fewer warheads than the maximum capacity, we would manage technical risk differently, trading size and weight for increased performance margins, system longevity, and ease of manufacture.

Second, the legacy stockpile was not designed for longevity.  During the Cold War we introduced new weapons into the stockpile routinely and used our enormous production capacity to turn over most of the stockpile every 15-20 years.  Today, our aging nuclear weapons are being rebuilt in life extension programs that are both difficult and costly.  Rebuilding nuclear weapons will never be cheap, but decisions taken during the Cold War forced the use of certain hazardous materials that, in today’s health and safety culture, cause warheads to be much more costly to remanufacture.  Maintaining the capability to produce these materials causes the supporting infrastructure to be larger and more complex than it might otherwise be.

As a result of these decisions, it is becoming more difficult and costly to certify warhead remanufacture.  The evolution away from tested designs resulting from the inevitable accumulations of small changes over the extended lifetimes of these systems means that we can count on increasing uncertainty in the long-term certification of warheads in the stockpile.  To address this problem, we must evolve our strategy from today’s “certify what we build” to tomorrow’s “build what we can certify.”

We are exploring whether there is a better way to sustain existing military capabilities in our stockpile absent nuclear testing.  With the support of Congress, we are beginning a program — the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program — to understand whether, if we relaxed Cold War warhead design constraints that drove tight performance margins in nuclear design, we could provide replacements for existing stockpile weapons that could be more easily manufactured with more readily available and more environmentally benign materials, and whose safety and reliability could be assured with highest confidence, without nuclear testing, for as long as the United States requires nuclear forces.  Such modified warheads would be designed specifically to facilitate less costly remanufacture and for ease of certification of safety and reliability.  Thus they would reduce infrastructure costs needed to support the stockpile.  Because they would be less sensitive to incremental aging effects, RRWs would dramatically reduce the possibility that the United States would ever be faced with a need to conduct a nuclear test in order to diagnose or correct a reliability problem.  To establish the feasibility of the RRW concept, we will use the funds provided by Congress last year and those requested this year to begin studies on replacing warhead components while retaining the same military capabilities as existing warheads.  If those studies suggest the RRW concept is technically feasible, and if the Department of Defense establishes a formal requirement, we expect that by 2012 or 2015 we can demonstrate that a Reliable Replacement Warhead can be manufactured and certified without nuclear testing.

If we are successful in this effort, it will enable a fundamental transformation to a truly responsive infrastructure.  Such an infrastructure will almost certainly allow even greater reductions in the total stockpile.  Simpler, safer warheads that don’t use exotic and dangerous materials will let us perform modifications in response to technical problems quickly and thus obviate the need to retain excess warheads as a hedge against technical failure.  Once we establish a responsive capability to produce warheads on the timescale in which geopolitical threats could emerge, we will no longer need to retain excess warheads as a geopolitical hedge.  Thus a responsive infrastructure will allow us to take another step in realizing the president’s vision of the smallest stockpile consistent with our nation’s security.

Our vision for transformation of the U.S. stockpile and nuclear infrastructure is fully consistent with the administration’s strong support for nonproliferation.  Transformation will enable us to achieve a smaller stockpile, one that is safer and more secure, one that offers a reduced likelihood that we will ever need to test again, and one that enables a much greater ability to respond to changes.  Most importantly, this effort will ensure a credible deterrent for the 21st century, thereby reducing the likelihood we will ever have to employ our nuclear capabilities in defense of the nation and its allies.

The full transcript of Linton's speech is available on the Internet at  Click on "Documents" and then "Speeches."

(end excerpt)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

Join the mailing list