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Published on Friday, July 14, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
We Are Taking a Detour From Deterrence
by Eugene J. Carroll Jr
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 never change."

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.

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Retired Navy Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll Jr. Is Vice President of the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times


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