In April, US President Barack Obama spoke to a crowd in Prague about his hope for a world free of nuclear weapons. He said achieving such an approach would require “patience and perseverance”. But we must “ignore the voices that tell us the world cannot change”.

Unfortunately, some of those voices come from powerful figures within Obama’s own administration. Last month, non-proliferation news site Global Security Newswire reported that the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has been quietly lobbying for the resumption of a program to create a new generation of ‘reliable’ nuclear weapons.

The same report shows he has at least temporary support from two key cabinet members: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. However, pursuing this program will do nothing to improve the reliability of the US nuclear arsenal. Instead, it would seriously undermine Obama’s efforts to reduce the threat posed by the world’s deadliest weapons.

There is no reason why reserves cannot be depleted without creating a new nuclear weapon.

Since 1992, the United States has imposed a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. During that period, scientists from the nation’s nuclear-weapons laboratories have used computer simulations and non-nuclear tests to ensure that existing weapons are safe and reliable.

However, during the administration of President George W. Bush, some weapons scientists sought to move beyond this post-Cold War caretaker role, and pushed for the development of low-yield and Earth-penetrating nuclear weapons, which could be used Can be done against conventional army. Target Congress halted those projects for fear that they would restart the arms race.

So scientists came up with a more benign warhead concept. Dubbed the Reliable Replacement Warhead, it would require less maintenance than existing weapons, and would last much longer. One argument was that the plutonium in current-generation weapons was degrading due to its radioactivity, and that this, over time, would make the devices unreliable to use.

Another, which Gates reiterated in a speech last October, was that the new weapons would not require testing. Ultimately, he insisted, such a device would allow the United States to further reduce its nuclear stockpile.

Yet such arguments are baseless. Studies from weapons laboratories suggest that the nuclear material within existing equipment will last for decades (see Nature 444, 660–661; 2006). Experienced nuclear-weapons scientists believe it would be irresponsible to deploy a warhead without testing it first. And there’s no reason why reserves can’t be depleted without creating a new nuclear weapon.

Gates is now leading a major administrative review of the entire nuclear-weapon complex, including the credible-warhead proposal.

This review comes at a critical time for its non-proliferation agenda. Obama is currently pursuing Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), an international prohibition on nuclear-weapons testing. Next year, his administration will also participate in an international review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the main international tool for limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

For the United States to develop a new weapon during this period would look to other countries such as the rank hypocrisy. Furthermore, the very conceit of the replacement program, that existing weapons may not be reliable for much longer, would likely fuel conservative resistance to ratification of the CTBT.

Hopefully, the Nuclear Review will decide against recommending any sort of replacement program, ‘credible’ or otherwise. But if it doesn’t, Obama must have the courage to reject the plan.

The US nuclear stockpile is more than enough to protect the country and its allies’ territory for decades to come. If Obama really wants to lead the world in nuclear disarmament, he must do so with the weapons the country already has.

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