Massive Ordnance Problem: The Conventional Arms Control Challenge

Massive ordnance penetrator. Sounds powerful, right? This bomb is also known by its initials: MOP.

About a month ago, Congress gave $68 million to the Boeing Corporation to accelerate the purchase and development of 10-12 "massive ordnance penetrators."
The Pentagon says that the MOP bombs are the "weapon of choice" for an
"urgent operational need." While not stated, the mostly likely "urgent
operational need" is North Korean hardened nuclear facilities or
hardened Iranian targets. It is designed to go deeper than any existing
bunker-busting weapon, burrowing more than 26 feet into the ground or
through concrete before detonating. These 30,000 pound bombs carry
6,000 pounds of high explosives. They are so heavy that they can only
be carried by the B-2 or B-52 bomber.

The MOP is not a nuclear weapon. But it replaces a nuclear weapon
that Congress was unwilling to fund over the past few years - the
robust nuclear earth penetrator. This huge warhead was conceived to
burrow deep into enemy lairs and deliver a nuclear wallop.

While that defunding was a success, the new funds going to the MOP
bomb sends a troubling message worth listening carefully to -
especially against the backdrop of excitement around President Barack
Obama's commitment to nuclear weapons reductions.

The message is - we do not need nuclear weapons to deliver massive
destruction. And some nuclear arms control advocates are comfortable
with getting rid of nuclear weapons not because they are destructive
but because the taboo against their use is so strong we cannot use
them. As we begin to reduce our nuclear capabilities, watch out for a
lot of pressure to ramp up conventional weapons procurement.

The Arms Continuum

In April 2009, Obama presented his vision of nuclear disarmament to
the world, calling for "a world without nuclear weapons." The president
is building on the calls for eliminating the bomb from a growing list
of former government officials, led by ex-secretaries of state George
Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former secretary of defense William Perry,
and former Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn.

Other presidents, from John F. Kennedy to Jimmy Carter to Ronald
Reagan, have called for nuclear disarmament. But Obama is diligent in
his work on this issue. From recent progress toward a new arms
reduction accord with Russia, to his proposal for a global anti-nuclear
summit in Washington next year, Obama has put reducing nuclear arsenals
high up on his frighteningly crowded agenda.

For this commitment and this aspiration, the Nobel Peace Prize
committee has recognized him, and he will accept that prize in December
in Oslo.

As we applaud these efforts and wait for them to bear fruit, we must
also attend to the intersections between nuclear and conventional
weapons. There is a compelling need to see nuclear weapons, major
conventional armaments, and small arms along a single continuum: as
deadly weapons systems that should be subject to a set of integrated
principles aimed at curbing their proliferation, export, and use.

In negotiations over nuclear reductions, the Russians have raised
the issue of conventional U.S. capabilities including powerful
long-range missiles able to strike anywhere in the world within 60
minutes - the "Prompt Global Strike"
capability that the U.S. commanders hope to deploy by 2015. "Some
countries, including the United States, are working on non-nuclear
strategic weapons. This is a subject of negotiations with our American
colleagues," said
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Interfax, a Russian wire
service. "President Dmitry Medvedev said many times that it was a key
problem for Russia. Hopefully, it will be resolved within the framework
of the Russian-American treaty (on the reduction of strategic offensive

Pakistan's Capabilities

These intersections are particularly stark, critical, and dangerous
in Pakistan. In the 1980s, the United States offered its close Cold War
ally the opportunity to purchase 111 F-16 fighter planes. But, in the
1990s, concerns about Pakistan's nuclear weapons programs, the nuclear
tests in 1998, and the military coup that brought General Pervez
Musharraf to power halted military cooperation. The fighter planes were
never transferred. A decade later, as it built a coalition to support
the "global war on terror," the Bush administration resumed transfer of F-16s to Islamabad, which now has as many as 50 of the high-tech fighters.

While the Lockheed Martin fighter plane is subject to regulation as
a major conventional system, it can also deliver nuclear weapons. This
has dangerous implications. Pakistan has at least 89 nuclear weapons
and the material to build dozens more. It is not a party to the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty.

While maintaining that its nuclear arsenal is a deterrent, Pakistan
has not ruled out first use of nuclear weapons. Its most likely vehicle
for nuclear warhead delivery is its fleet of U.S.-origin F-16 fighter
planes. The blurring of the lines between conventional and strategic
weapons thus has real and alarming implications, reaching far into the

Obama's Challenge

The Obama administration's work to reduce nuclear weapons and reduce
nuclear dangers has not been complemented by similar diligent work in
the area of conventional weapons exports. The United States continues
to be the world's largest exporter of conventional weapons - from F-16
fighter planes and other advanced systems to M-16 rifles, grenades, and
other small weapons. Despite (or perhaps because of) a large and
growing trade, there is a sobering lack of interest in controlling the
trade in these weapons. And what efforts at arms control do exist tend
to be ad hoc, episodic, and reactive.

This might be changing. Recently, the administration signaled its
willingness to work toward an Arms Trade Treaty, which would be a
comprehensive, legally binding instrument establishing common
international standards for the import, export, and transfer of
conventional arms.

This opens the door to new action on conventional weapons. But the
same week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in New York for
meetings on the Arms Trade Treaty, the Defense Security Cooperation
Agency announced that in fiscal year 2009 alone, the U.S. foreign
military sales program sold nearly $38 billion in weapons and defense
articles. As the head of the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation
Agency recently boasted, "We can take pride in the fact that we
achieved a new record." Vice Admiral Jeffrey A. Wieringa pointed out in a blog post
that not only was the $37.9 billion in weapons sold in 2009 higher than
ever before, it was 465% higher than a record low of $8.1 billion in

Recent arms sales notifications, some of which may be included in
the 2009 total and some of which may be counted in next year's
figure, include $134 million in Boeing Chinook helicopters to Morocco,
$3.2 billion in Lockheed Martin F-16s to Egypt, and the offer of $7
billion in Boeing F-18 fighter planes to Brazil. Looking ahead, the
agency is optimistic, projecting $38.4 billion in foreign military
sales for 2010.

So, as we move forward, the best way to curb conventional weapons
exports might be to link it with Obama's nuclear disarmament agenda.

Join the Movement: Become Part of the Solution Today

We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.

Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 Foreign Policy In Focus