- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

Last week, the House of Representatives’ leadership used the political equivalent of the “nuclear option.” It removed a popular legislator, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee because of his failure in the last Congress to adhere to the budget and agenda laid out by the president and his allies on Capitol Hill.

The extent and implications of Mr. Smith’s apostasy pale, however, by comparison with those of another Republican chairman, Rep. David Hobson of Ohio of the Energy and Water Resources appropriations subcommittee in the 108th Congress. Though Mr. Hobson says “Our nuclear arsenal remains an important component of our overall national security program” and that he supports “maintaining our current stockpile,” his actions last year did not bear out that commitment.

At the very least, Mr. Hobson has made choices that render maintaining our current stockpile problematic. They also raise real questions whether our nuclear arsenal can remain “an important component of our overall national security program.”

This was accomplished when Mr. Hobson was able last fall to exploit the classic “smoke-filled room” process that shaped the 2004 omnibus appropriations act to decimate President Bush’s plans for assuring the continuing effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent, as called for by the 2002 Nuclear Program Review.

For example, if “maintaining our current stockpile” means anything, it requires that our existing nuclear weapons remain safe and reliable. Given that they are obsolescing, the only way to be absolutely certain is to conduct underground tests. Today, it would take some three years to do so. Mr. Hobson says it is an “unwise and unnecessary use of limited resources” to try, as Mr. Bush has recommended, to shorten that time significantly.

The president also believes we can no longer safely afford to be the only nuclear weapons state incapable of manufacturing “pits” — the plutonium cores at the heart of our current arsenal. Mr. Hobson says he does, too. But he thinks, since it will take years to design and build such a facility, it won’t matter if all but the most preliminary work is delayed further. He says he wants certain questions answered first, but they amount to a technical smokescreen for policy-driven inaction.

The congressman has departed even farther from the Bush strategy on what it will take to provide for America’s future deterrent. The president thinks we need to design a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator that can hold at risk the growing number of deeply buried sites used by North Korea, Iran and the like to conceal weapons of mass destruction and command-and-control facilities. Mr. Hobson disagrees, claiming that, like enhanced testing readiness, this and other advanced weapons development efforts would be not only wasteful but would “send the wrong signal to the rest of the world.”

Mr. Hobson has contemptuously dismissed contrary judgments like those of President Bush as “the desires of Cold War fighters for new weapons and facilities.”

As Keith Payne observed in Sunday’s edition of The Washington Times in an essay titled “Cold War thinking on nuclear policy,” such a criticism is all the more ironic coming from a man who would condemn America to retaining, at best, an arsenal designed to deter our Cold War foe — not those we confront today and tomorrow.

This folly was dissected in another excellent The Washington Post Op-Ed article last Nov. 16 by one of the most respected U.S. nuclear weapons experts, former Defense Nuclear Agency chief Vice Adm. Robert Monroe (U.S. Navy, retired). He noted: “No other nation has the global responsibilities the United States bears, and we must take the actions needed to meet them — particularly those involving deterrence.

“To be effective deterrents in the future, our nuclear weapons must have greatly increased accuracy, reduced yields, specialized capabilities (such as deep earth penetration) and tailored effects (such as ability to neutralize chemical-biological agents). … In a dangerous world, with many states and organizations committed to acquiring and using nuclear weapons, it would be unwise for the United States not to make our nuclear deterrent force more effective.”

Finally, Mr. Hobson claims his positions enjoy majority support in the Congress and that contrary representations are “simply inaccurate.” In fact, the full House and Senate were given successive opportunities to vote last year on who was right — President Bush and experts like Adm. Monroe, or Mr. Hobson and anti-nuclear activists opposed to the Bush defense program. Each time, the Bush position prevailed. The Hobson choices were enacted only when, in the Omnibus bill, neither the 108th Congress nor the president had the opportunity to address them individually.

Now, it falls to the 109th Congress to correct the damage David Hobson’s choices threaten to do to our nuclear deterrent. In that debate, Mr. Hobson should, of course, have his say. But it should not be from the vantage point of chairman of the relevant appropriations subcommittee, the sort of position of responsibility that — as Chris Smith recently learned the hard way — is not entrusted by the leadership to those with their own agenda. That sensible approach to party discipline should most especially be applied when the agenda of the individual in question is utterly inimical to U.S. security.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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