Rein in nuclear weapons

May 17, 2001|By Alistair Millar and Brian Alexander

WASHINGTON -- The Cold War ended more than a decade ago, yet U.S. nuclear doctrine and targeting plans still call for thousands of nuclear warheads poised to launch at a moment's notice.

The Bush administration is conducting a congressionally mandated review of U.S. nuclear posture and is studying possible deployment and eventual use of low-yield nuclear weapons. The latter study would require abandoning a provision in the fiscal year 1994 defense authorization bill prohibiting nuclear laboratories from research and development that could lead to a low-yield nuclear weapon.

Several recent policy papers, some the product of key members of President Bush's national security team, carelessly advocate greater reliance by the United States on these weapons.

It is important to develop measures to control and reduce the vast arsenals of U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons (a class that includes the proposed mini-nukes), not develop new ones.

Any suggestions for plans to develop U.S. tactical nuclear capabilities, which advocate or signal an intention to use these kinds of weapons, lowers the nuclear threshold and blurs the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.

U.S. weapons laboratories are pushing the idea that "highly accurate" low-yield nuclear weapons would "minimize collateral damage" and that such weapons could be useful. But there have been recent conventional wars in which "highly accurate" bombs often have missed their targets.

Now is not the time to increase the role of tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Rather, the United States should explore meaningful controls and greater international cooperation for these weapons.

Incredibly, there are no formal treaties relating to currently deployed tactical nuclear weapons even though up to 30,000 of them exist, mostly in the poorly supervised and maintained Russian arsenal.

U.S.-Russian cooperation would have a positive ripple effect. Other nations would be less compelled to go down the path toward greater reliance on nuclear weapons and another nuclear arms race could be pre-empted.

Such an effort at cooperation could occur shortly when preliminary results of the national policy review on U.S. nuclear posture are expected to be ready in time for the United States to consult with its European allies at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Budapest, Hungary, beginning May 29.

Alistair Millar and Brian Alexander are with the Fourth Freedom Forum, a private foundation with offices in Goshen, Ind., and Washington.

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