Outgoing Nuclear Chief Counsels Caution on Strategic Reductions

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NEWS AND NEGOTIATIONS

AS THE BUSH administration prepares to make significant changes to U.S. nuclear forces, the country's most senior military official in charge of those forces counseled caution in implementing deep reductions and criticized de-alerting proposals.

In July 11 testimony to the Senate Armed Services strategic subcommittee, Admiral Richard Mies, outgoing commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, supported moves to reduce deployed strategic weapons but cautioned that strategic reductions must be viewed as "means to an end-national security-not as an end in itself." The admiral highlighted a "naive and mistaken belief that the 'nuclear danger' is directly proportional to the number of nuclear weapons and accordingly, lower is inevitably better."

Quoting an unnamed former national security adviser, Mies suggested that, "given present circumstances in Russia," the United States should focus on "strengthening the safety and security of Russian weapons" and improving Moscow's command and control rather than "spending our energies on radical cuts." At lower levels, issues such as transparency, irreversibility, production capacity, aggregate warhead inventories, and verifiability become more important than numbers of deployed forces or numerical parity, Mies said.

Both during the campaign and from the White House, President George W. Bush has repeatedly said he would seek to reduce U.S. strategic forces to "the lowest possible number consistent with our national security." More specifically, Bush said during the campaign that "it should be possible to reduce.. significantly [below] START II," under which the United States and Russia would be required to deploy 3,500 or fewer strategic warheads. Bush also said that "the United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status" and that "keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. …