U.S. RESEARCH INTO new nuclear weapons designs will not spur other states to do the same nor impede U.S. nonproliferation efforts, the Bush administration asserted in a March 31 report to Congress. Other world officials suggest otherwise.
The Bush administration sought and won a repeal last year of a decade-old legislative ban on research into low-yield nuclear weapons with explosive power equal to or below five kilotons. (See ACT, December 2003.) Although granting the administration's request, Congress demanded the administration assess by March 1 of this year how the repeal might affect efforts to halt worldwide nuclear proliferation.
Summing up its findings, the administration reported, "[T]here is no reason to believe that repeal has had or will have any practical impact on the pursuit of nuclear weapons by proliferating states, on the comprehensive diplomatic efforts ongoing to address these threats, or on the possible modernization of nuclear weapons by China or Russia." The Departments of Defense, Energy, and State jointly submitted the report.
This conclusion contrasts sharply with the view of the United Nations top nuclear official, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei. In a Feb. 12 piece in The New York Times, ElBaradei wrote, "We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security-and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use."
Top foreign officials from other states, such as Canada and Sweden, have echoed ElBaradei. Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds lamented March 16, "[W]e see a trend towards an increased emphasis on nuclear weapons as part of security strategies and signs that a new generation of nuclear weapons might be in the making. Such pursuits would undermine the credibility of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and could prompt a new arms race."
In addition to researching new low-yield weapon designs, the Bush administration is exploring possible modifications to existing nuclear weapons to destroy targets buried deep underground better.
Administration officials justify the development of new nuclear weapons on the grounds that they are responding to changes in threats to U.S. national security. They cite the necessity of convincing terrorists and rogue regimes that the United States would use nuclear weapons if need …