Thomas P D’Agostino on Administration attitudes to nuclear disarmament

Thomas P D’Agostino, the Administrator of the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), addressed issues including the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) scheme, the impact of animosity between the United States and Russia on disarmament and non-proliferation programs, during a public meeting on September 17.

On the subject of “getting to zero”, D’Agostino said that editorials advocating a nuclear weapons free world by Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev and a number of prominent national security figures, had made an impact within the NNSA. However, he stressed “doing disarmament in a way that doesn’t create imbalance,” and that making a public declaration that the US was “going to zero would be dangerous.” He argued that because no nation can “disinvent [sic] plutonium and uranium,” some events in the international community would not be “consistent with getting to zero.”

Questions to D’Agostino centered upon the deterioration of diplomatic relations with Russia in the wake of the Georgian conflict. D’Agostino responded by saying “we’re not going to wait for the Russians” in continuing the disarmament agenda. He claimed there was “no indication” that Russian enthusiasm for disarmament had waned, and that Russian staff involved understood its importance. He called the US-India civilian nuclear agreement a “good thing” for the non-proliferation regime, arguing that it would ensure transparency via IAEA inspections and safeguards. He reiterated his support for the controversial Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) plan in the face of congressional opposition to its funding, and spoke of the inherent limitations of attempting to retrofit decades-old weapons with better security features.

On the domestic front, the NNSA’s goal was to maintain “strategic deterrence at the lowest possible level,” said D’Agostino, maintaining that the nuclear deterrent was “indispensible.” D’Agostino projected that the weapons that have been removed from the stockpile at this point would be dismantled by 2023, stressing that he would not compromise security by rushing dismantlement. These efforts have been “mostly unilateral,” and accompanied by an estimated 140 per cent acceleration of the dismantlement process, due in part to the development of better technology in relevant fields.

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