Tags: Sentenced | De-nuclearize?

Sentenced to De-nuclearize?

Tuesday, 08 January 2002 12:00 AM

Decision Brief

WASHINGTON – During her travels in Wonderland, Alice found herself embroiled in a kangaroo-style trial in which the judge famously announced, "Sentence first, verdict afterwards," followed by the pronouncement "Off with her head!"

Regrettably, a similar approach appears to have guided the Bush administration in preparing the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) it is releasing this week.

This review is intended to guide the future size and composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal for the early years of the 21st century. Yet its most prominent feature – a reduction by roughly two-thirds in the number of deployed nuclear weapons – was effectively predetermined by a pledge candidate Bush made on May 23, 2000:

Now comes the verdict: a Nuclear Posture Review that tries to explain how such unprecedented and draconian reductions in the U.S. deterrent force can be made "without compromising our security in any way."

With the NPR not yet released, one can only guess at how this feat of prestidigitation will be accomplished. Whether it turns out, in fact, to be a blueprint for a strategic deterrent force with which we can safely live – or a prescription for the wholesale denuclearization of the United States – will depend on several questions that cannot be answered at this writing:

Historically, the complementary strengths of these various systems have been seen as essential to maintaining a credible deterrent by offsetting their respective shortcomings. Unless costly new programs are undertaken to replace aging missiles and bombers, the small numbers of weapons allowed will greatly exacerbate the temptation simply to dispense with one or another "leg" of the Triad.

To date, Mr. Bush has tried to straddle this issue.

On the one hand, he courageously and correctly rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), with its permanent ban on all nuclear testing.

On the other hand, he has perpetuated a moratorium on this activity – an initiative first imposed upon his father in 1992 by congressional Democrats who favored U.S. denuclearization, something subsequently and explicitly embraced by Bill Clinton and his first energy secretary, Hazel O'Leary.

The CTBT's proponents understood that without actual nuclear testing, it would ineluctably become impossible to maintain, let alone to modernize, our arsenal.

As it happens, the moment of truth has arrived, just as the NPR is being released. The Washington Post reported on Jan. 3 that the Department of Energy's inspector general recently unveiled a dirty little secret: There are "growing problems associated with the safety and reliability of the Nation's nuclear weapons, [which] without nuclear testing, have become a 'most serious challenge area.' "

Of particular concern are mounting backlogs in the non-nuclear testing program upon which the U.S. has relied exclusively to monitor the safety and reliability of the stockpile since 1992. Energy's I.G., Gregory Friedman, concluded: "If these delays continue, the department may not be in a position to unconditionally certify the aging nuclear weapons stockpile."

In fact, even if they don't, the absence of realistic underground tests will likely make such certification little more than educated guesswork.

To his credit, President Bush has created conditions that may provide a safety net for the sorts of nuclear disarmament he wants to undertake. By withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, he has cleared the way for the deployment of effective global missile defenses that can reduce somewhat the requirement for nuclear weapons-based deterrence.

To realize his goals for a secure and properly defended 21st-century America, however, Mr. Bush must take several concrete actions:

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Decision Brief WASHINGTON - During her travels in Wonderland, Alice found herself embroiled in a kangaroo-style trial in which the judge famously announced, Sentence first, verdict afterwards, followed by the pronouncement Off with her head! Regrettably, a similar...
Tuesday, 08 January 2002 12:00 AM
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