The Obama Administration is notorious for the President’s goal of reducing nuclear weaponry across the globe with the introduction of the New START treaty in 2010. However, while the U.S. tries to play God over the world’s nuclear stockpile, it is simultaneously upgrading its own stocks of B61 weapons into “smart” atom bombs.
What does “smart” mean for the new line of B61-12s? For starters, they’re ditching their fixed tail fins and upgrading to steerable ones that are capable of pinpoint accuracy thanks to the marriage of a better guidance system that works in unison with the new aerodynamics. Further, the warhead can be dialed back to lessen the fallout and collateral damage depending on the size of the target, and as an added bonus, is designed to penetrate the earth.
While proponents argue that this will play within the limits of the START treaty signed in 2010 that limits both Russian and American stockpiles of deployed nuclear warheads, it will do nothing to alleviate the concerns of developing nations with nuclear programs whom the U.S. has less than stellar relations with. In fact, the New START Treaty specifically allows for the testing of current nuclear projects as each nation sees fit.
As North Korea performs new weapons tests, as Iran signs a nuclear deal, and as the volatile situation in eastern Europe rages on, the U.S. military is carrying out tests of its revamped nuclear stockpile in the Nevada desert. What better way to lead the charge towards nuclear zero than to perform tests of its own streamlined and newfangled nuclear delivery systems?
The response from around the world has been as expected. Russia called the test “openly provocative” and “irresponsible”, while China is also worried. North Korea claims that its own testing of a supposed hydrogen bomb was in response to the “ever-growing nuclear threat” from the United States.
Not only is the new B61-12 provocative, but its budget is astronomical – a whopping $30 billion dollars, and part of a $1 trillion 30-year program to upgrade U.S. nuke systems – a program many in the defense community don’t believe to be necessary, and some say is downright dangerous.
When you can dial in the damage and precisely guide a nuclear weapon to a target, the argument that it could be hypothetically easier to use is valid. Smart bomb use in general is an easier sell to the public compared to “dumb” bombs that cause wanton violence and civilian casualties.
Perhaps the most frightening scenario, and one that gives mutually assured destruction theory advocates a reason to pause and reflect, is the fact that the U.S. will become the only nation to deploy such technology. Should a future president use a smart atom bomb with the intent to only cause a small amount of damage in a limited area, what rational nation on earth with a much dumber nuclear arsenal can be counted on to respond in calculated proportion?