Smart Nuclear Bomb OK’d Despite Reduction Pledge

     (CN) — A new nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal will allow a future president to order a direct attack on an underground target, potentially saving the lives of American troops — but at a significant cost fiscally and politically.
     On Aug. 1, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration approved a guided or “smart” nuclear bomb, the B61-12, which recently completed a four-year development and testing phase.
     Despite the agency’s approval, several civilian experts and former high-ranking military officers have warned of what the weapon means for international relations, and potentially, the future of war.
     The B61-12 will be carried by fighter jets and could be valuable during a conflict thanks to its precision, as the bomb pairs explosive force with a high degree of accuracy.
     But President Barack Obama’s pledge to reduce nuclear weapons contradicts the B61-12 program, which remained afloat despite its controversial nature due to the political and economic clout of defense contractors, according to a Reveal investigation from 2015.
     “Of all the threats to global security and peace, the most dangerous is the proliferation and potential use of nuclear weapons. That’s why, seven years ago in Prague, I committed the United States to seeking a world without them. This vision builds on the policies of presidents before me, Democrat and Republican, including Ronald Reagan,” Obama said in a March opinion piece for the Washington Post.
     A degree of updating is expected and generally accepted among experts. But critics argue the scope and ability of B61-12 is unwarranted.
     Ten senators — including former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — sent a letter to President Obama, requesting that he use his remaining time in office to move the United States away from spending and developing enhanced nuclear weapons beyond what is reasonable and necessary.
     “Among the steps we urge you to consider are scaling back excessive nuclear modernization plans, adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, and canceling launch-on-warning plans. All of these options would bolster U.S. national security and advance the commitment you made in 2009 in Prague,” the senators said.
     They also asked Obama to cancel a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile, for which the Air Force is currently soliciting bids.
     The timing of the B61-12 announcement also worries critics given political conflict abroad, including the recent attempted coup in Turkey, since the B61-12 will likely be stockpiled in five European nations — including Turkey.
     Potential vulnerabilities at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey raise questions about the whether the United States should store nuclear weapons abroad at all.
     Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists explained why many critics are concerned about the B61-12 by posing a hypothetical scenario.
     “If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons? Absolutely,” he told Reveal.

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