Tauscher Says No to Reliable Replacement Warhead

The Obama administration’s stated desire to get the world on track to eventual total worldwide nuclear disarmament starts in practice at the only place it really could start — the quest for a new bilateral U.S.-Russia treaty on bilateral weapons reductions. The Russians want such a treaty because in the short-term maintaining the U.S.-Russia nuclear equilibrium at a high level is a bigger burden on (relatively poor) Russia’s budget than on our budget. But the high equilibrium is a waste of our dollars as well, and it’s strongly in America’s interest to reduce nuclear proliferation as a general matter. But a lot of members of congress are queasy about the idea of a new treaty, basically because they’d rather listen to crazy people like Charles Krauthammer than see the basic logic of a win-win deal.

Josh Rogin reports on some of the negotiations with congress:

Senate Republicans are not completely unwilling to get behind a new nuclear reduction treaty, but they intend to bargain for concessions before supporting ratification. One key concession they will not get, though, is a revival of the Bush administration’s plan to build a new class of nuclear warheads known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead, according to the State Department’s top arms control official.

“I think there are a lot of people that still hope for the return of RRW and they are going to be sadly disappointed,” Ellen O. Tauscher, the newly minted under secretary of state for arms control and international secretary told The Cable in her first interview after taking up her post.

The RRW concept has some benefits if looked at very narrowly, but it’s by no means necessary to American security and would undermine the larger nuclear strategy toward which the administration is trying to move. Reviving the multilateral nuclear non-proliferation regime requires the United States to regain the confidence of non-nuclear states by demonstrating our own commitment to play by the rules. That means not developing new generations of nuclear weapons and instead moving forward on bilateral talks with the Russians. Press reports have repeatedly indicated that the Obama administration is divided on the RWW issue (with Robert Gates, in particular, being a fan) so it’s good to see a clear statement that they intend to stay on the right side of this.