Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Is the White House's Nuclear-Arms Policy on the Wrong Track?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Is the White House's Nuclear-Arms Policy on the Wrong Track?

Article excerpt

Yes: Signing on to the nuclear test-ban treaty will degrade America's nuclear deterrent.

Since the demise of the Soviet empire the statement, "The Cold War is over" has become one of the most used and abused phrases in discussions about U.S. defense policy. It is true that the world has changed and the United States should adapt its policies accordingly. But, unfortunately, some people have used the end of the Cold War as a means to downplay the new threats facing our nation and as a pretext for the adoption of policies that could endanger our security.

For example, some have argued that nuclear deterrence is an outdated Cold War concept, and the United States no longer needs to retain a robust nuclear-weapons capability. But the end of the Cold War does not mean national-security threats to the United States have evaporated. James Woolsey, President Clinton's first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, aptly described the current security environment when he said, "We have slain a large dragon [the Soviet Union]. But we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes."

Russia has taken important steps on the path toward a free-market democracy, but its evolution is incomplete. Moscow retains formidable military capabilities, including more than 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads that still pose the greatest threat to the United States. In addition, although its economy remains troubled, Russia continues to modernize its nuclear forces and is continuing to build deep, underground bunkers to negate U.S. nuclear weapons.

The Washington Times reported that Russian spending on research and development of strategic weapons -- including funding for the development of new long-range missiles and nuclear weapons -- has soared nearly sixfold during the last three years. The Times had reported in April that a nuclear-survivable command post is under construction in the Ural mountains and that Russia is building or renovating four other underground complexes and subway lines near Moscow to shelter its leaders during a nuclear attack.

China is an emerging power, which already has the world's largest armed forces. At a time when most countries have slashed defense budgets, Beijing has embarked on a major modernization program and its defense spending has increased by double-digit percentages in the 1990s, according to East Asian Security magazine. China is estimated to have 17 nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can strike the United States and reportedly is developing new land and sea-based strategic missiles with sufficient range to reach the entire West Coast and several Rocky Mountain states.

In addition to Russia and China, several rogue nations -- including North Korea, Iran and Iraq -- possess weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, and are improving their capabilities. For example, Iran's chemical -- and biological-weapons programs already can produce a variety of lethal agents, and Tehran aggressively is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.

Despite a general consensus among defense experts that these increasingly sophisticated WMD programs are a growing threat, some groups, including the National Academy of Sciences, have stated that the United States should adopt a "no-first-use" policy for nuclear weapons. Under this policy, the United States no longer would threaten to respond with nuclear weapons against attacks by conventional, chemical or biological weapons and would restrict the role of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to deterring or responding to nuclear attacks.

Although well-intentioned, the adoption of a no-first-use policy actually would increase the likelihood that chemical or biological weapons would be used against U.S. forces. Our experience in the Persian Gulf War is an excellent case study of how the current policy that allows for the possibility that the United States would use nuclear weapons to respond to a non-nuclear attack from chemical or biological weapons saved lives by deterring such an attack. …

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