The Bush administration told Congress yesterday that many of the warheads, bombs and intercontinental missiles involved in the president's promised two-thirds reduction of deployed strategic nuclear forces over the next 10 years would be kept in reserve under its new strategic policy, according to congressional sources.
In a top-secret briefing on the results of the Bush administration's year-long Nuclear Posture Review, J.D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, said it had not yet been determined how many of the roughly 4,000 nuclear warheads and bombs and hundreds of land- and submarine-based intercontinental missiles taken out of operational use would be destroyed and how many would be stored and available for redeployment, the sources said.
At his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December, Bush announced the United States would reduce its deployed nuclear warheads from today's 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade. He did not say how many of those weapons would be destroyed and how many would be put in reserve as a "hedge" against some unforeseen future threat, as the Clinton administration had done with its reductions under the START I agreement.
If the reduced nuclear weapons are kept intact and available for redeployment, it makes a mockery of the reductions.
One senior Democratic congressional expert on nuclear weapons said yesterday after the closed briefing that he believed the only firm plans disclosed yesterday were for destruction of the 50 Peacekeeper ICBM silos, an arrangement agreed upon under the still-unratified START II treaty. "They did not tell us how the remaining promised reductions would be made; they did not know what the remaining nuclear force structure would look like; and they were not sure how many would be stored or destroyed," he added.
A Republican source said details remain "to be fleshed out, but the administration was taking a good first step." Because the briefing was classified, this source declined to comment on any details but said many were contained in the highly classified report that was distributed at the sessions. They were attended mostly by House and Senate staff members because Congress is in recess.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said yesterday that based on what he had heard from the briefing, "if the reduced nuclear weapons are kept intact and available for redeployment, it makes a mockery of the reductions."
Crouch, according to congressional sources, also said the administration would seek additional funds to increase the speed at which nuclear testing could resume if needed, as reported yesterday. But Crouch insisted, as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld did in talking to reporters earlier yesterday, that the administration has no immediate plans to resume testing.
Rumsfeld said the Bush administration would continue for now to observe a self-imposed 1992 U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing. But, the defense secretary added, "Any country that has nuclear weapons has to be respectful of the enormous lethality and power of those weapons, and has a responsibility to see that they are safe and reliable."
"To the extent that can be done without testing, clearly that is the preference. And that is why the president has concluded that, thus far, that is the case," Rumsfeld added.
An administration source said yesterday the administration had not determined how much more money would be needed to reduce the present two-year guideline for the estimated time it would take to resume underground nuclear testing. "The administration will work with Congress to determine the appropriate funding level," said a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department agency that runs the nuclear weapons complex.
The preliminary costs for preparing underground nuclear tests are "substantial," according to a former senior official of the Clinton Energy Department. This ex-official added that unless a test is for policy reasons, "because they want to resume testing," it also would take a year or more to decide what type of test is needed, "particularly if it is to correct some problem in an existing weapon."
The prospect that the Bush administration is considering a resumption of testing to maintain the reliability of its scaled-back operational nuclear arms stockpile yesterday caused a stir among arms control advocates.
Stephen Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said the Energy Department "has yet to make a public case as to how nuclear testing would be better than the current arrangement. If the Bush administration wants to develop new nuclear weapons, it should be honest and make the case publicly. If the administration is afraid of making waves, if it feels it cannot justify the change it seeks to make, then perhaps there is something wrong with the policy."
Seeking additional funds to enable a faster resumption of testing "will produce a policy debate in Congress" on testing, according to Kimball of the Arms Control Association. "Since it would amount to giving prior approval for testing, the debate would be substantial," he added.
Robert B. Barker, who ran the Pentagon's nuclear weapons programs in the first Bush administration, said yesterday that the original test moratorium was forced on the former president by a congressional amendment passed by Democrats and a few Republicans.
A day before leaving office [in 1993], Bush sent a classified report to Congress as required by the amendment, Barker said recently. "In it Bush called the cessation of testing a mistake and called for the repeal of the legislation."
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