Why Deep Cuts in Nuclear Weapons Make Sense

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Bush's recent decision to store or destroy nearly 20 percent of the United States's 20,000 nuclear warheads, including most of our tactical nuclear weapons deployed worldwide, signaled a welcome shift in US arms-control policy that should spur further debate and reevaluation of US nuclear-deterrence strategy. Now, two institutions acclaimed for their objectivity have issued reports arguing that much deeper cuts would actually enhance our security further, as well as producing major savings.

One of these reports was issued by the National Academy of Sciences, which advises the government on scientific and technical issues. Starting from a baseline of 8,000 to 10,000 strategic warheads held by each superpower under the START treaty signed in July, the academy recommends that the superpowers reduce their arsenals to 3,000 to 4,000 warheads each in post-START negotiations, and ultimately to 1,000 to 2,000 apiece. The report holds that deep cuts would enhance security by reducing the risk of nuclear war and downplaying our reliance on nuclear weapons.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that deep cuts also would allow for significant reductions in the defense budget. CBO's 170-page study calculates that reducing US strategic warheads to 1,000 would save $17.4 billion a year over the next 15 years. Cutting warheads to 3,000 would save $15.5 billion a year, and cutting to 6,000 warheads would save $9.3 billion annually.

The US now spends about $50 billion every year on nuclear weapons, nearly one-sixth of our military budget and more than the entire defense budget of any other country in the world aside from the Soviet Union. CBO notes that even if we reduced our nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads, we would still spend nearly as much on nuclear weapons as Germany, France, or Britain spend on their entire armed forces.

The end of the cold war and the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe give us an unprecedented opportunity to revise our nuclear policies. For decades, US warfighting plans have emphasized attacking a wide range of Soviet targets, including strategic forces, conventional military facilities, command and control systems, and the Soviet industrial base. …