Republicans, Democrats Square off on Approaches to Proliferation

Article excerpt

DESPITE AGREEING ON the importance of preventing the further proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have recently unveiled dramatically different visions on how best to accomplish that mission. Republican legislators prioritize bolstering U.S. deterrence and military capabilities, particularly nuclear weapons, while Democrats emphasize seeking diplomatic solutions and decreasing U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons.

The House Republican Policy Committee released a report February 13 declaring that "nuclear weapons and deterrence remain as relevant today as they were at the height of the Cold War." The lawmakers argued that the threats might have changed from one pre-eminent foe-the Soviet Union-to more disparate and smaller threats-namely, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea-but the value of nuclear weapons in protecting U.S. security remains the same.

The report, Differentiation and Defense: An Agenda for the Nuclear Weapons Program, argues that, for nuclear weapons to retain their role as a credible deterrent, the U.S. nuclear weapons complex must be revitalized by halving the time needed to conduct a nuclear test explosion from today's 24-36 months. It also calls for researching new types of nuclear weapons and modernizing and preserving the nuclear stockpile.

In addition, the report recommends that the United States field different types of nuclear weapons to enable it to threaten a variety of targets. As part of this approach, the report calls for research into low-yield warheads-with a yield of five kilotons or less-which has been prohibited by legislation passed in 1993. It also recommends continued research into nuclear warheads for destroying deeply buried and hardened targets. (See page 33.)

The report touts missile defenses as a key element to dissuade adversaries from investing in illicit weapons programs and dismisses arms control regimes as having limited worth. "The states that are seeking to develop these weapons are largely uninterested in limiting their programs through negotiation or in honoring the agreements they make," the report asserts.

Senate Democrats took an opposite view. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) co-sponsored a resolution March 5 recommending that the United States move "away from the increased reliance on and the importance of nuclear weapons." Thirty-seven other Senate Democrats and Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) have endorsed the initiative. Ten co-sponsors of the resolution also expounded earlier on this theme in a February 21 letter to President George W. Bush urging him not to contemplate using nuclear weapons against Iraq.

The resolution calls on the Bush administration to develop a strategy stressing multilateral and bilateral negotiations, including "direct and immediate talks with North Korea," to strengthen international controls and nonproliferation norms. These Democrats argue that other countries might become more motivated to acquire nuclear weapons if they perceive the United States as assigning expanded roles to nuclear weapons or increasing its willingness to use them. …