Nuclear Testing Undercuts US Security Interests

Article excerpt

IN 1992, for the first time in the nuclear age, the United States will have made a deliberate choice not to produce any new nuclear weapons. The last warhead under consideration, the W88 for the Trident II submarine ballistic missile, was canceled recently for budgetary and environmental reasons.

This is part of the dramatic reduction of nuclear arsenals in the US and former Soviet Union. Both already have eliminated all medium-range nuclear weapons. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START), awaiting Senate approval, calls for dismantling about one-fourth of existing long-range weapons. As the result of other initiatives taken last year, tactical nuclear warheads have been removed from Navy surface ships, and nuclear armed bombers no longer "stand alert," ready to launch attacks on the Soviet Union. Finally, the cancellations announced by George Bush in his State of the Union address, if matched by similar moves in Moscow, could further reduce strategic arsenals 40 percent below the level allowed under START.

So why does the Bush administration want to continue the testing of nuclear weapons?

In his FY93 budget, President Bush calls for the Department of Energy to spend $474 million on the testing of nuclear weapons. The Defense Nuclear Agency will allocate at least another $100 million. This is not only wasteful, but counter to US security interests.

It is wasteful because it is unnecessary. Since we are not producing any new nuclear weapons, we obviously won't be testing any. The Pentagon claims that repeated testing is needed to ensure the reliability and safety of weapons already in the arsenal. Reputable scientists and several government agencies have concluded, however, that those few warhead systems that need to be tested - the electronic and other nonnuclear components - can be examined separately from the actual explosive warhead. The Defense Nuclear Agency already does substantial testing of this kind.

Claims that testing limits cannot be reliably verified don't make sense in an era when US-Russian cooperation in such areas is growing, and when we will have installed, at the Pentagon's expense, a dozen seismic monitoring stations throughout the former Soviet republics by year's end.

More than being a waste of money, however, nuclear testing can threaten US national security by undermining efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons. The proliferation of nuclear weapons may be the chief threat America faces in the new, post-cold-war era. A world where nuclear weapons were commonplace, perhaps controlled by terrorist groups or irrational leaders, would be dangerous, uncertain, and unstable. …