The U.S. Senate is preparing to take a major step to abandon all
pretense that U.S. nuclear forces exist only to deter war. An amendment
to the pending Defense Authorization Act for 2001 would lead to the
development of a new nuclear weapon designed expressly for fighting.
The new weapon is to be a low-yield device with earth penetration
capability, intended to destroy deeply buried bunkers. Paul Robinson,
director of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., which
would build the device, is a strong advocate of it. Robinson apparently
favors a new, low-yield device because U.S. leaders presumably would be
more ready to employ smaller weapons than to use the larger city- and
silo-busting high-yield weapons in our current arsenal. He considers
large weapons "self-deterring."
This thinking is an eerie throwback to the days of the Cold War, when
weapon designers provided the U.S. military with an array of explosives
to "prevail" in a survivable limited nuclear war. Among the 70,000 U.S.
nuclear weapons produced during the Cold War were suitcase bombs, neutron
bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, artillery shells, air-to-air missiles
and anti-tank rockets. The laboratories were like nuclear ice cream
factories, churning out the flavor of the day to meet the latest craving
of the customers.
Not only is the Senate's action a throwback to those unlamented days
of preparing to prevail in nuclear war, but it also is a flagrant
repudiation of a solemn pledge the United States made in May at the
Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. We joined with
Britain, France, China and Russia in a commitment to accomplish the total
elimination of nuclear arsenals, leading to nuclear disarmament.
Nothing could be more contrary to that commitment than a congressional
order to develop a new, more usable nuclear weapon. Regrettably, this
action is merely one more blatant signal that the United States is
determined to pursue nuclear dominance indefinitely through enhanced
readiness to fight a nuclear war. Additional preparations include the
decision to resume production of tritium and plutonium pits for
thermonuclear weapons, continued subcritical explosive testing in Nevada
and rejection of Russian proposals to reduce nuclear numbers 75% below
START II levels. The thinking behind all of this was revealed by
then-Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre when he said in March: "Nuclear
weapons are still the foundation of a superpower . . . and that will
All of these actions are supportive of President Clinton's signing in
1997 of a directive whose overarching principle was that nuclear weapons
would remain the cornerstone of U.S. security indefinitely. Far from
emphasizing deterrence, the document reasserted the need for all three
arms of the U.S. triad of nuclear forces--intercontinental ballistic
missiles, sea-launched ballistic missiles and long-range strategic
bombers. It declared the U.S. right to make first use of nuclear weapons
and to target not only Russia and China but also any prospective nuclear
states that might threaten U.S. interests in the future.
Authoritative sources subsequently have revealed that the U.S. has
expanded the list of worldwide targets planned for destruction under the
new doctrine. In short, with plans for new nuclear weapons, Congress is
joining the White House in putting into place all of the elements of a
war-fighting strategy. There is no way a deterrent strategy can justify
or rationalize developing new nuclear weapons to make them more usable
for fighting purposes. This is the ultimate antithesis of deterrence and
a total abrogation of the legal and moral obligation of the U.S. to work
for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.