WASHINGTON -- While the United States tells other nations to disarm, the Bush administration appears eager to take steps toward expanding our nuclear arsenal.
At the behest of the administration, the Senate has agreed to lift a 10-year-old ban on research on a new generation of low-yield nuclear weapons. Senate Democrats won a concession that congressional approval would be needed before full-scale development.
A comparable bill for a study of low-yield "mini nukes" was passed in the House. A conference committee is expected to work out a compromise between the two bills.
The Senate also agreed to continue research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which could explode targets protected by rock or hardened surfaces.
Republican proponents of beefing up the U.S. nuclear arsenal claim that they are essential in modern warfare to dismantle hidden chemical and biological weapons.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the proposed Penetrator could explode with as much as 70 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, toward the end of World War II.
The administration's new drive for nuclear arms is the latest example of its campaign to further scuttle our own arms control commitments, even as we urge Iran and North Korea to drop plans to join the nuclear club.
The scrapping of the anti-ballistic missile treaty was one of the forerunners of the Bush rearmament process and the dream of the hawks who are pushing for a Star Wars defense.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., expressed his worry that such nuclear weapons would eventually be used. If we build them, "we'll use" them, he warned.
Those who pushed for an end to the ban on the low-yield weapons said they could target enemies more precisely.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it is "illogical" to "stop research and development on a potential weapon that could destroy a terrorist group or prevent a rogue nation from creating a chemical-biological capacity deep underground."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters the Pentagon only wanted to consider such weapons, "nothing more, nothing less."
"It's not 'pursuing.' And it's not 'developing.' It is not 'building.' It is not 'manufacturing.' And it's not 'deploying.' And it is not 'using,"' Rumsfeld added.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., scoffed at Rumsfeld's protestations.
"Just a study? Baloney," Feinstein declared. "Does anyone really believe that?" To repeal the ban "opens the door for Americans to develop nuclear weapons again," she said.
Feinstein and Kennedy both believe the development of such weapons could lead other nations to follow suit and pave the way for a nuclear war.
After years of diligent negotiations for global arms control and reduction agreements with the former Soviet Union and other nations, how can we justify reviving a nuclear arms race?
There is no way the lifting of bans on nuclear weapons -- small or large -- will make this a safer world. Why wouldn't other nations seek to follow suit? American officials have been freely doling out advice to other nations on the proper way to disarm. They should take their own advice.
The nuclear research programs are included in the Pentagon's $400.5 billion military budget. It would be great if a few billions of that bloated budget could be used for educating poor children and helping the homeless, instead of blowing it on a new generation of nuclear arms.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said eight nations possess nuclear weapons and other countries are suspected of working to acquire them.
He said that although the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty was passed 30 years ago, its objectives have not been achieved and thousands of nuclear weapons are still around.
The United States should set the example by continuing to rollback its own nuclear stockpile, instead of seeking new and more powerful weapons. Then we could lead the way for the world to be a less dangerous place.
Copyright 2002 by Hearst Newspapers