President Barack Obama is at odds with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others in the military over America’s need for a new generation of nuclear warheads.
While serving as President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Gates repeatedly spoke in favor of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program because the country’s weapons, mostly produced in the 1970s and 1980s, are aging and their effectiveness may be in the question, Time magazine reports.
“Even though the days of hair-trigger superpower confrontation are over, as long as other nations possess the bomb and the means to deliver it, the United States must maintain a credible strategic deterrent,” Gates wrote in an article for Foreign Affairs, after Obama tapped him to remain as defense secretary.
But Obama said after taking office, as he had during the campaign, that the new administration “will stop the development of new nuclear weapons.”
The plutonium in a nuclear weapon suffers radioactive decay over time, losing power and accumulating impurities. So there are worries that the weapons may not detonate properly or detonate at all. But the U.S. has refrained from conducting tests to assure the reliability of the weapons since 1992.
Obama and Gates are “at loggerheads” on this issue,” Michael O’Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institute, told Time.
Congress has backed Obama’s position, repeatedly refusing to fund the RRW program, which is estimated to cost at least $100 billion.
But Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned last month: “The path of inaction is a path leading toward nuclear disarmament. The time to act is now.”
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