With its latest editorial calling for more nuclear weapons and more weapons spending, the Wall Street Journal has gone over a journalistic cliff. The serious factual errors in its Jan. 5 screed, "A False Nuclear Start," raise serious questions about the newspaper's credibility and integrity.
By claiming that U.S. nuclear weapons are in serious disrepair and that removing any of the 9,400 nuclear weapons in the arsenal would threaten national security, the Journal's editors help create public fear of changing obsolete Cold War nuclear policies. That fear could motivate senators to oppose U.S.-Russian efforts to decrease the number of weapons, convince them to increase from $54 billion a year the amount spent on nuclear weapons-related programs, and persuade voters that the U.S. president is weak, naive, and untrustworthy.
But to make their case, the editors have to make up their own facts. It's hard to find a provably true statement anywhere in the editorial, but here are the three most blatant falsehoods.
First, the Journal claims: "The deteriorating U.S. nuclear arsenal is emerging as a big security problem." Not true. U.S. weapons are safe, secure, and effective. No science-based study has found otherwise. The most recent report from JASON -- a premier U.S. defense advisory panel of scientists -- found no evidence that aging posed any threat to the usability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The JASON report said, "Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence." In an earlier study, JASON scientists found that the plutonium cores of these weapons are reliable for at least 100 years. In other words: The nukes are alright.
The U.S. government spends almost $6 billion a year on stockpile stewardship programs that maintain the massive nuclear arsenal. Some, like the Journal, want new facilities and new bomb production plants, but the Government Accountability Office has found that such plans would cost $150 billion. This is overkill.
Second, the editors say a letter from 41 senators promoting more spending on nuclear weapons programs means "Without modernization, it's unlikely that Senators will vote for the significant and probably unwise reductions in U.S. nuclear delivery vehicles that Mr. Obama is negotiating with the Russians."
The letter says no such thing. It never says the senators will vote against the new START treaty. It simply expresses their concern that they do not believe "further reductions can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent."
Policy experts, however, expect the new budget to be released in February to fully fund the nuclear weapons complex and support both the United States' science-and-engineering base and its nuclear stockpile. Vice President Joe Biden -- pilloried in the Journal's editorial -- is personally leading this effort, meeting with the leaders of U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, military chiefs, and top experts to forge a budget and strategic consensus. This is hardly a secret. The facts could have been obtained with a simple phone call.