Give Contractors… Nukes?

Cheryl Rofer has some very interesting thoughts on the future of America’s nuclear arsenal:

I heard a talk last week by a high-up manager at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, someone who characterizes himself as “not doing policy.” He said that George Bush is committed to serious reductions in nuclear weapons, down to 5000 from the current 10,000. One of the contributors to the most recent Nuclear Posture Review said something similar about a year ago.

The question in many people’s minds seems to be whether that reduction is intended to make the remaining weapons more usable in situations that the US is likely to face in the post-Cold War world.

It goes on, so read the whole thing. There’s an open question as to how necessary nuclear deterrence really is in an age of all those shadowy, trans-national terrorist groups lurking around. In the New Republic a few weeks ago, Michael Levi argued that the U.S. should threaten an overwhelming response—presumably an overwhelming nuclear response—even to failed nuclear attacks on American soil. For those threats to work, presumably, we’re going to need some usable nuclear weapons. Frankly, I’m not sure whether this is a good idea or not. I do know that I’d prefer we never have this threat, which is precisely why it’s worth imploring the White House to get serious about funding programs like Nunn-Lugar, to secure loose nuclear material worldwide.

Rofer also notes that the Bush administration is thinking about taking the nuclear program away from Los Alamos and putting it into private, for-profit hands. (See here for more>.) Oy. You’d think any grand claims about the “efficiency” of the private sector would be at least a little muted after the debacle in Iraq, or even after, as Rofer puts it, “Lockheed-Martin’s penchant for using English and metric units interchangeably, which resulted in the crash of one of the Mars vehicles.” Heh, wee bit of a mess-up there. But no, apparently that track record is more than solid enough to trust contractors with our nuclear weapons.

Oh, and you also have to wonder: would the private companies who would stand to make billions off of a new and ever-more-dazzling array of nuclear weapons ever—ever—advise restraint on the subject? Hmmm, tough question.