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A New Arms Race? US Nuclear Test Might Trigger Response from Russia, China

© East News / USA/Science Photo LibraryMushroom cloud from an American atomic bomb test on January 17, 1962. The test was designated Upshot Knothold Grable shot No. 10.
Mushroom cloud from an American atomic bomb test on January 17, 1962. The test was designated Upshot Knothold Grable shot No. 10. - Sputnik International
More than six years after President Barack Obama said he wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the United States continues to work toward upgrading its nuclear capabilities, risking the start of another global nuclear arms race.

In April 2009, a recently inaugurated Obama, speaking in Prague, announced "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

B61 nuclear bomb - Sputnik International
US Military Successfully Tests Nuclear Gravity Bomb

"And as nuclear power … as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it."

On July 1, more than six years after Obama's speech, the US Air Force and National Nuclear Security Administration successfully tested an unarmed B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb as part of a program aimed at upgrading the aging weapon.

Obama's decision to upgrade the B61-12, rather than cancel the weapon, is the "clearest signal" that his 2009 comments were "hollow words," Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, a Washington-based anti-war group, said in an email to Sputnik News.

By authorizing the upgrade, Becker added, Obama violated the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a landmark multinational agreement enacted in 1970 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. In 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely.

There are currently five variations of the B61-12 as well as a B-84, the most powerful freefall bomb in the US arsenal, each deployable on different aircraft.

An undated file picture shows a B-2 Spirit Bomber droping a B61-11 bomb casing from an undisclosed location - Sputnik International
US Hopes Never to Use Atomic Weapons After Nuclear Flight Test - NNSA

While a traditional gravity bomb is less accurate as it free falls or is deployed with a parachute from an aircraft, the guided gravity bomb includes a guided tail kit and internal guidance system that can steer the bomb towards a target with greater accuracy.

According to Hans Kristensen, nuclear information project director at the Federation of American Scientists, there are significant tactical, efficiency and long-term strategic benefits in the United States’ efforts to bring all variations of the B61-12 into one guided gravity bomb system capable of deploying from both strategic and tactical fighter jets.

"They have all these different types of weapons in the arsenal and they want to in the future to be able to reduce that to one gravity bomb, so it will be cheaper to maintain and simpler," Kristensen told Sputnik on Friday.

By creating one type of guided gravity bomb deployable on both strategic and tactical fighter jets, he added, the United States also gains flexibility.

"They want to have a more flexible weapon," Kristensen said, "one that can do all the missions, so you do not have to drag a certain type of aircraft in with a certain version of a gravity bomb to able to do this and that mission."

© AFP 2023 / Jewel SamadUS President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin
US President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin - Sputnik International
US President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin

He said accuracy of the guided bomb will give the US greater capability — in hitting underground bunkers, for example — because there would be less collateral damage and the payload can be adjusted for specific missions.

"When you have a guided weapon you can put it closer to target you want to destroy, then you can also choose a lower explosive yield. That is important because if you have an attack against an underground facility and you need to use a really huge yield that creates an enormous amount of radioactive fallout" that pollutes and can spread to other countries.

Kristensen added, "Having to use a huge nuclear explosive yield is almost a self-deterrent."

Last week’s test of the B61-12 came at the same time US and major world powers continued negotiations toward a deal with Iran aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program.

"The hypocrisy and double-speak couldn't be greater," said Becker, of ANSWER. "At the very moment the United States is negotiating with Iran insisting that it not acquire any future nuclear weapons program, the Obama Administration in violation of the NPT, is expanding not diminishing its nuclear arsenal."

But the National Nuclear Security Administration has claimed the guided nuclear gravity bomb program is part of a refurbishment program and will in the end reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Kristensen, however, said that while the NNSA’s explanation is true, it is only part of a more complex issue that includes providing greater flexibility and capability.

"If you are a nuclear weapons state there is always something to be concerned about when another nuclear weapons state is developing nuclear weapons that could be used against you. The US is concerned about it when Russia and China does it, and China and Russia are concerned about it when US does it."

As for Obama's 2009 speech, Baker wonders if the president was appealing to the public while secretly ordering a proliferation of US nuclear weapons, or if his administration has transformed under pressure from the Pentagon.

"Perhaps the answer is both," he said. "The dominating power of the Military-Industrial-Complex and the Pentagon brass is so complete in American politics that President Obama's capitulation today is eerily reminiscent of President [Jimmy] Carter's decision to abandon the SALT II Treaty with the Soviet Union in the late 1970s."

"The acquiescence of two ‘liberal’ presidents before Pentagon war hawks triggered major nuclear arms escalations and posed a new danger to the prospects of world peace."

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