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US Military

Nuclear Weapons

Project: US Military
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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An American physicist and nuclear weapons designer warns of the dangers of nuclear terrorism. First in a series of articles in the New Yorker written by John McPhee, and later in a book, Theodore B. Taylor, a physicist who has designed nuclear bombs for the US military, says that terrorists could fashion a small nuclear bomb with stolen uranium or plutonium. This is the first time that such a warning is given wide publicity. Taylor has worked on the miniaturization of nuclear devices. Making a small bomb is easier than most people think, says Taylor. Weapons-grade nuclear material is not adequately secured at power plants or when in transit. As an example of where such an attack could cause the most damage, Taylor says that the newly-built World Trade Center could be brought down with a suitcase-sized bomb if strategically placed. “There’s no question at all that if someone were to place a half-kiloton bomb on the front steps where we came in, the building would fall into the river.” [New Yorker, 12/3/1973; McPhee, 1974, pp. 226] After 9/11, Taylor’s warning will be recalled in discussions of the threat of nuclear terrorism. [Time, 9/24/2001; Popular Mechanics, 3/2002; Washington Post, 7/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Theodore B. Taylor

Category Tags: Arms Proliferation, US Military Dominance, Nuclear Weapons

President Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, says in an official US policy statement: “The United States will not use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty or any comparable internationally binding commitment not to acquire nuclear explosive devices, except in the case of an attack on the United States, its territories or armed forces, or its allies, by such a state allied to a nuclear-weapon state, or associated with a nuclear-weapon state in carrying out or sustaining the attack.” [Graham and LaVera, 2003]

Entity Tags: Cyrus Vance

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

On the homeward journey from their Middle East trip (see August 5, 1990 and After), Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney hands General Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a copy of Powell’s proposal to retire the US Army’s tactical nuclear weapons stockpile. Powell states that the arsenal is expensive, difficult to maintain, inaccurate, and, in light of modern weaponry, virtually irrelevant. The proposal is heavily annotated by Cheney’s aide David Addington. Cheney and Addington adamantly oppose any such move to retire the tactical nuclear arsenal. “[N]ot one of my civilian advisers supports this,” Cheney tells Powell. Powell’s viewpoint will eventually prevail, but not until September 2002. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 101]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, David S. Addington

Category Tags: Other, Nuclear Weapons

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher reaffirms the United State’s commitment to its 24-year-old pledge (see June 12, 1978) not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. He says, “The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon States in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.” [Washington Times, 2/22/2002; Arms Control Association, 3/2002]

Entity Tags: Warren Christopher

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

President Bill Clinton is the first world leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The treaty, which will ultimately be signed by 154 nations, will extend the international ban on above-ground tests to underground testing, resulting in a total ban on all nuclear explosions. In 1999, however, the Republican-controlled Congress will vote not to ratify the treaty (see October 13, 1999). [White House, 7/20/1999; CNN, 10/13/1999]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons

In a party-line 48-51-1 vote, the US Senate decides not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that President Bill Clinton signed in 1996 (see September 24, 1996). The vote marks the first time in US history that the Senate has rejected an arms control treaty. The treaty, which needed a two-thirds vote for ratification, would have extended the current international ban on above-ground tests to underground testing as well, resulting in a total ban on all nuclear explosions. [CNN, 10/13/1999]

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

The National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP) publishes a report arguing for a “smaller, more efficient, arsenal” of specialized weapons. The report claims that developing a new generation of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons is necessary for the US to maintain its deterrent. The report suggests that nuclear weapons could be used to deter “weapons of mass destruction (WMD) use by regional powers,” deter “WMD or massive conventional aggression by an emerging global competitor,” prevent “catastrophic losses in conventional war,” provide “unique targeting capabilities” (such as the use of “mini-nukes,” or “bunker-busters,” to destroy deep underground/biological weapons targets), or to enhance “US influence in crises.” Many of the report’s authors are later appointed to senior positions within the Bush administration, including Linton Brooks who becomes head of the national nuclear security administration overseeing new weapons projects, Stephen Hadley who is appointed deputy national security adviser, and Stephen Cambone who becomes undersecretary of defense for intelligence. [National Institute for Public Policy, 1/2001 pdf file; Guardian, 8/7/2003] The document is said to influence the Pentagon’s controversial Nuclear Posture Review that is submitted to Congress a year later (see January 8, 2002).

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Linton Brooks, Stephen A. Cambone, National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP)

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

Congress receives an edited version of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a comprehensive review laying “out the direction for American nuclear forces over the next five to ten years.” [US Department of Defense, 1/9/2002] Congress requested the review in September 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 3/9/2002] The classified document, signed by Donald Rumsfeld and now being used by the US Strategic Command to prepare a nuclear war plan, advocates that the US adopt a “New Triad” of weapon types for its strategic arsenal that would include an “offensive strike leg” (nuclear and conventional forces), “active and passive defenses” (anti-missile systems and other defenses) and “a responsive defense infrastructure” (ability to develop and produce nuclear weapons and resume nuclear testing). The new triad would replace the United States’ current triad of bombers, long-range land-based missiles and submarine-launched missiles. [US Department of Defense, 1/9/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/9/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2002; Globe and Mail, 3/12/2002] The report asserts that the new strategy is necessary in order to assure “allies and friends,” “dissuade competitors,” “deter aggressors” like rogue states and terrorist organizations, and “defeat enemies.” [US Department of Defense, 1/9/2002; Globe and Mail, 3/12/2002] The review offers several possible scenarios where nuclear weapons might be used. For example, the document explains such weapons could be deployed to “pre-empt” the use of weapons of mass destruction against American or allied troops; in retaliation for an attack involving nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons; “in the event of surprising military developments;” or against targets that the US is incapable of destroying by conventional means, such as bunkers located deep underground. The NPR even names countries that could become targets of US nuclear weapons. For example, it says that they could be used against China, North Korea, Russia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, or any Arab country that threatens Israel. [Los Angeles Times, 3/9/2002; Daily Telegraph, 3/10/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2002] The NPR says that nuclear weapons could be deployed using ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, or other modified conventional weapons. US Special Forces on the ground could be used to pin-point the targets and direct the weapon’s deployment. [Daily Telegraph, 3/10/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2002] Arms control advocates warn that the document shows that the Bush administration does not view its nuclear arsenal only as a weapon of last resort or as a deterrent. They also say that the new policy would encourage other countries to develop their own nuclear programs. [Los Angeles Times, 3/9/2002]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

Referring to a 1978 US pledge not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states (see June 12, 1978), US Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton says in an interview with Arms Control Today, “We are just not into theoretical assertions that other administrations have made.” He explains: “We would do whatever is necessary to defend America’s innocent civilian population…. The idea that fine theories of deterrence work against everybody… has just been disproven by September 11.” [Washington Times, 2/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2002] Just five years earlier, the Clinton administration had reaffirmed its commitment to the pledge (see April 11, 1995).

Entity Tags: John R. Bolton

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sends President Bush a memo requesting authority to appoint US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander Adm. James O. Ellis Jr. in charge of all of the United States’ “strategic” warfare options to combat terrorist states and organizations. By giving STRATCOM warplanners jurisdiction over the full range of the country’s warfare options, the president would effectively remove a decades-old firewall between conventional and nuclear weapons which had served to prevent nuclear arms from being anything but a weapon of last resort. According to William Arkin, a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the request, if approved, would remove “nuclear weapons out of their long-established special category and [lump] them in with all the other military options.” Bush approves the request early the following month (see Early January 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior military officials at US Central Command, Memo obtained by the LA Times]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, James O. Ellis Jr

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

The proposed 2004 budget of the Energy Department’s Nuclear Security Administration includes some $15 million for the development of a nuclear bunker-buster bomb called the “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” and $6 million for two of the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. The labs would “assemble design teams to study advanced nuclear concepts,” the Washington Post reports. [Washington Post, 2/20/2003; USA Today, 7/6/2003]

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

US President George Bush approves Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s December request (see December 11, 2002) to give US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) warplanners jurisdiction over the full range of the country’s warfare options, including nuclear weapons. Many senior officials are concerned, according to columnist and reporter William Arkin, “that nuclear weapons—locked away in a Pandora’s box for more than half a century—are being taken out of that lockbox and put on the shelf with everything else.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior military officials at US Central Command]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

The Bush administration prepares a “Theater Nuclear Planning Document” for Iraq which includes the possible use of nuclear weapons. According to multiple sources interviewed by columnist and reporter William Arkin, nuclear weapons are being considered for use in an attack against Iraqi facilities located deep underground or to preempt the use of weapons of mass destruction. The planning is being carried out at “STRATCOM’s Omaha headquarters, among small teams in Washington and at Vice President Dick Cheney’s ‘undisclosed location’ in Pennsylvania,” the Los Angeles Times reports. [Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior military officials at US Central Command]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

Defense Department officials and representatives from the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories attend the “Stockpile Stewardship Conference Planning Meeting” called by Dale Klein, the assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to prepare for a secret conference on nuclear weapons during the week of August 4, 2003 (see Early August 2003). The purpose of the conference will be to discuss the construction of a new generation of nuclear weapons, including “low-yield” neutron bombs designed to destroy chemical or biological agents and “mini-nukes,” or “bunker-busters,” which could be used to destroy underground targets. Another purpose of the meeting will be to consider restarting nuclear testing and to discuss how the American public can be convinced that the new weapons are necessary. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/15/2003; Guardian, 2/19/2003; Washington Post, 2/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Dale Klein

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons

A group of 23 Republican members of the House Policy Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs issues a policy paper calling for the repeal of a 10-year ban on research on small, low-yield nuclear weapons of less than 5 kilotons. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper proposes a “new doctrine under which the country would be able to launch nuclear attacks not just in response to a nuclear attack, or the threat of one, but to preemptively destroy stockpiles of other weapons, such as chemical or biological weapons, in the hands of hostile countries” such as China, North Korea, Iran and Iraq. “Possession combined with evidence of the intent to use those weapons is sufficient” for a pre-emptive nuclear strike, the paper asserts. The paper also says that these weapons should be developed soon so that the military can have them available for use at its disposal. It recommends that preparations for the resumption of underground nuclear testing be accelerated at the Nevada Test Site so that testing can begin in as little as one year’s time. [San Francisco Chronicle, 2/15/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 2/15/2003; Washington Post, 2/20/2003]

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons

The House of Representatives and the Senate agree to spend $15.5 million to develop a nuclear bunker-buster, or “mini-nuke,” called the “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” (see January 2003). They also agree to allocate funds to make changes to the Nevada Test Site (see Early March 2003) in order to shorten the amount of time that would be needed to resume nuclear tests to as little as 18-24 months. [Guardian, 3/7/2003; USA Today, 7/6/2003]

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

In its 2004 budget proposal, the US Defense Department asks US Congress to lift the 1992 “Spratt-Furse restriction,“a 10-year ban on developing small nuclear warheads known as “mini-nukes.” Buried deep within the proposal, is a single line statement that calls on Congress to “rescind the prohibition on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons.” [Guardian, 3/7/2003; USA Today, 7/6/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Congress

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

The US Department of Energy announces that the United States has reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It is again capable of producing nuclear weapons for the first time in 14 years and is manufacturing plutonium parts for the stockpile of nuclear weapons. It will also begin plans for a new factory that could produce components for hundreds of weapons a year. The factory would be ready for production by 2018. [Los Angeles Times, 3/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

During the week marking the 48th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 150 people attend a secret conference at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to discuss plans to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the so-called “mini-nukes” and “bunker busters,” that could be used against rogue states and terrorist organizations. The B-29 planes that dropped the atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities, Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, were both built at Offutt. Another topic to be discussed is whether the development of nuclear weapons would require a repeal of the 1992 “Spratt-Furse restriction,” which banned such weapons. Though the exact identities of the attendees are not known, unnamed sources tell the Guardian of London that the meeting is attended by scientists and administrators from the three main nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore; senior officers from the air force and strategic command; weapons contractors; and civilian defense officials. No representatives from Congress, however, are at the meeting. According to the Guardian, “Requests by Congress to send observers were rejected, and an oversight committee which included academic nuclear experts was disbanded only a few weeks earlier.” One congressional weapons expert tells the London newspaper, “I was specifically told I couldn’t come.” [Guardian, 8/7/2003] According to the January meeting that had planned for this event (see January 10, 2003), other issues to be addressed include the possible recommencement of nuclear testing and how to convince the American public the new nuclear weapons are necessary.

Entity Tags: US Congress

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons, Key Events

2004: US Spending on Nuclear Weapons Increases

The United States Department of Energy spends $6.5 billion on nuclear weapons research and production, 50 percent more than it did during the Cold War. [Los Angeles Times, 3/24/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 4/13/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: Nuclear Weapons

A new report finds that the Defense Department (DoD) is displaying a “precipitous decrease in attention” to securing and controlling US nuclear arms. The report, issued today by the Defense Science Board, is the product of a task force assigned to investigate the August 2007 incident where a B-52 bomber flew across the continental United States carrying six nuclear missiles (see August 30, 2007). The report says, “The decline in DoD focus has been more pronounced than realized and too extreme to be acceptable.” The chairman of the task force, retired Air Force General Larry Welch, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in conjunction with the report, and tells the assembled lawmakers of his concern that “the nation and its leadership do not value the nuclear mission and the people who perform that mission.” Welch’s task force points out that Air Force colonels, Navy captains, and mid-level civilians are currently in charge of managing the Pentagon’s nuclear programs, whereas during the Cold War that task was handled by senior flag officers. The task force recommends the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for nuclear enterprise reporting directly to the defense secretary, and the delegation of flag officers in each of the military services who would focus solely on the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Part of the problem, the report notes, is the “widespread perception in both the Navy and Air Force that a nuclear forces career is not the highly promising opportunity of the past era.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Larry Welch, Defense Science Board, Senate Armed Services Committee

Category Tags: US Military Dominance, Nuclear Weapons

Time reports on a brewing conflict between President Barack Obama and his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, over the idea of replacing America’s aging nuclear arsenal. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, favors putting the $100 billion Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program into effect, because the nation’s nuclear weapons, many produced in the 1970s and 1980s, are becoming old and possibly unreliable. In a November 2008 speech, Gates called the RRW program “not about new capabilities but about safety, reliability, and security.” After Obama selected Gates to remain at the Pentagon, Gates told reporters that Congress must fund the RRW “for safety, for security, and for a more reliable deterrent.” Obama disagrees. After taking the oath of office on January 20, he declared on the new White House Web site’s policy section that his administration “will stop the development of new nuclear weapons.” Nuclear defense expert Michael O’Hanlon describes Obama and Gates “at loggerheads on this.” A Pentagon official asked about the issue says he doesn’t think Obama and Gates have discussed the matter as yet. Many experts such as O’Hanlon suggest retooling existing warheads to ensure their efficacy and functionality, but the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for developing and maintaining the US nuclear arsenal, has said it cannot meet the goals set for RRW by modifying existing weapons. Congress has repeatedly refused to fund RRW. Gates has argued that by enhancing and retooling the nuclear arsenal, the US could afford to dramatically shrink its numbers. Time reporter Mark Thompson explains the logic of Gates’s argument: “After all, if you have only a 50 percent level of confidence that a nuclear weapon is going to perform as advertised, you’ll need twice as many.” Critics note that US policy tends to, in Thompson’s words, “embrace the notion that all nuclear weapons possessed by adversaries will work, while those possessed by the US won’t.” [Time, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Michael O’Hanlon, Robert M. Gates, US Department of Energy, Mark Thompson, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Arms Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons

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