This article was originally published by the Wall Street Journal

The four of us have come together, now joined by many others, to
support a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to
prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to
end them as a threat to the world. We do so in recognition of a clear
and threatening development.

The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and
nuclear material has brought us to a tipping point. We face a very real
possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into
dangerous hands.

But as we work to reduce nuclear weaponry and to realize the vision
of a world without nuclear weapons, we recognize the necessity to
maintain the safety, security and reliability of our own weapons. They
need to be safe so they do not detonate unintentionally; secure so they
cannot be used by an unauthorized party; and reliable so they can
continue to provide the deterrent we need so long as other countries
have these weapons. This is a solemn responsibility, given the extreme
consequences of potential failure on any one of these counts.

For the past 15 years these tasks have
been successfully performed by the engineers and scientists at the
nation’s nuclear-weapons production plants and at the three national
laboratories (Lawrence Livermore in California, Los Alamos in New
Mexico, and Sandia in New Mexico and California). Teams of gifted
people, using increasingly powerful and sophisticated equipment, have
produced methods of certifying that the stockpile meets the required
high standards. The work of these scientists has enabled the secretary
of defense and the secretary of energy to certify the safety, security
and the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile every year since the
certification program was initiated in 1995.

The three labs in particular should be applauded for the success they
have achieved in extending the life of existing weapons. Their work has
led to important advances in the scientific understanding of nuclear
explosions and obviated the need for underground nuclear explosive

Yet there are potential problems ahead, as identified by the
Strategic Posture Commission led by former Defense Secretaries Perry and
James R. Schlesinger. This commission, which submitted its report to
Congress last year, calls for significant investments in a repaired and
modernized nuclear weapons infrastructure and added resources for the
three national laboratories.

These investments are urgently needed to undo the adverse
consequences of deep reductions over the past five years in the
laboratories’ budgets for the science, technology and engineering
programs that support and underwrite the nation’s nuclear deterrent. The
United States must continue to attract, develop and retain the
outstanding scientists, engineers, designers and technicians we will
need to maintain our nuclear arsenal, whatever its size, for as long as
the nation’s security requires it.

This scientific capability is equally important to the long-term goal
of achieving and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons—with all
the attendant expertise on verification, detection, prevention and
enforcement that is required.

Our recommendations for maintaining a safe, secure and reliable
nuclear arsenal are consistent with the findings of a recently completed
technical study commissioned by the National Nuclear Security
Administration in the Department of Energy. This study was performed by
JASON, an independent defense advisory group of senior scientists who
had full access to the pertinent classified information.

The JASON study found that the
“[l]ifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades,
with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to
those employed in Life Extension Programs to date.” But the JASON
scientists also expressed concern that “[a]ll options for extending the
life of the nuclear weapons stockpile rely on the continuing maintenance
and renewal of expertise and capabilities in science, technology,
engineering, and production unique to the nuclear weapons program.” The
study team said it was “concerned that this expertise is threatened by
lack of program stability, perceived lack of mission importance, and
degradation of the work environment.”

These concerns can and must be addressed by providing adequate and
stable funding for the program. Maintaining high confidence in our
nuclear arsenal is critical as the number of these weapons goes down. It
is also consistent with and necessary for U.S. leadership in
nonproliferation, risk reduction, and arms reduction goals.

By providing for the long-term investments required, we also
strengthen trust and confidence in our technical capabilities to take
the essential steps needed to reduce nuclear dangers throughout the
globe. These steps include preventing proliferation and preventing
nuclear weapons or weapons-usable material from getting into dangerous

If we are to succeed in avoiding these
dangers, increased international cooperation is vital. As we work to
build this cooperation, our friends and allies, as well as our
adversaries, will take note of our own actions in the nuclear arena.
Providing for this nation’s defense will always take precedence over all
other priorities.

Departures from our existing
stewardship strategies should be taken when they are essential to
maintain a safe, secure and effective deterrent. But as our colleague
Bill Perry noted in his preface to America’s Strategic Posture report,
we must “move in two parallel paths—one path which reduces nuclear
dangers by maintaining our deterrence, and the other which reduces
nuclear dangers through arms control and international programs to
prevent proliferation.” Given today’s threats of nuclear proliferation
and nuclear terrorism, these are not mutually exclusive imperatives. To
protect our nation’s security, we must succeed in both.

Beyond our concern about our own stockpile, we have a deep security
interest in ensuring that all nuclear weapons everywhere are resistant
to accidental detonation and to detonation by terrorists or other
unauthorized users. We should seek a dialogue with other states that
possess nuclear weapons and share our safety and security concepts and
technologies consistent with our own national security.