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Nuclear Weapons Proliferation

The United States is perhaps the principal nuclear weapons proliferator in the world today, openly flouting binding provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Article I of the treaty forbids signers from transferring nuclear weapons to other states, and Article II prohibits signers from receiving nuclear weapons from other states.

As the UN Review Conference of the NPT was finishing its month-long deliberations in New York last week, the US delegation distracted attention from its own violations using its standard red herring warnings about Iran and North Korea — the former without a single nuclear weapon, and the latter with 8-to-10 (according to those reliable weapons spotters at the CIA) but with no means of delivering them.

The NPT’s prohibitions and obligations were re-affirmed and clarified by the world’s highest judicial body in its July 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The International Court of Justice said in this famous decision that the NPT’s binding promises not to transfer or receive nuclear weapons are unqualified, unequivocal, unambiguous and absolute. For these reasons, US violations are easy to illustrate.

Nuclear Missiles “Leased” to British Navy

The US “leases” submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to Britain for use on its four giant Trident submarines. We’ve done this for two decades. The British subs travel across the Atlantic to pick up the US-made missiles at Kings Bay Naval base in Georgia.

Helping to ensure that US proliferation involves only the most verifiably terrible nuclear weapons, a senior staff engineer at Lockheed Martin in California is currently responsible for planning, coordinating and carrying out development and production of the “UK Trident Mk4A [warhead] Reentry Systems as part of the UK Trident Weapons System ‘Life Extension program.’” This, according to John Ainslie of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which closely watchdogs the British Tridents — all of which are based in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the Scots.

Even the W76 warheads that arm the US-owned missiles leased to England have parts made in United States. The warheads use a Gas Transfer System (GTS) which stores tritium — the radioactive form of hydrogen that puts the “H” in H-bomb — and the GTS injects tritium it into the plutonium warhead or “pit.” All the GTS devices used in Britain’s Trident warheads are manufactured in the United States. They are then either sold to the Royals or given away in exchange for an undisclosedquid pro quo.

David Webb, the current Chair of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reported during the NPT Review Conference, and later confirmed in an email to Nukewatch, that the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico announced, in March 2011, that it had conducted “the first W76 United Kingdom trials test” at its Weapons Evaluation and Test Laboratory (WETL) in New Mexico, and that this had “provided qualification data critical to the UK implementation of the W76-1.” The W76 is a 100 kiloton H-bomb designed for the so-called D-4 and D-5 Trident missiles. One of the centrifuges at Sandia’s WETL simulates the ballistic trajectory of the W76 “reentry-vehicle” or warhead. This deep and complex collusion between the US and the UK could be called Proliferation Plus.

The majority of the Royal Navy’s Trident warheads are manufactured at England’s Aldermaston nuclear weapons complex, allowing both the Washington and London to claim they are in compliance with the NPT.

US H-bombs Deployed in Five NATO Countries

An even clearer violation of NPT is the US deployment of between 184 and 200 thermonuclear gravity bombs, called B61, in five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Germany. “Nuclear sharing agreements” with these equal partners in the NPT — all of whom declare that they are “non-nuclear states” — openly defy both Article I and Article II of the treaty.

The US is the only country in the world that deploys nuclear weapons to other countries, and in the case of the five nuclear sharing partners, the US Air Force even trains Italian, German, Belgian, Turkish and Dutch pilots in the use of the B61s in their own warplanes — should the President ever order such a thing. Still, the US government regularly lectures other states about their international law violations, boundary pushing and destabilizing actions.

With so much a stake, it is intriguing that diplomats at the UN are too polite to confront US defiance of the NPT, even when the extension and enforcement of it is on the table. As Henry Thoreau said, “The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.”

 John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter.

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

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