- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's mandate was to transform the military into a force capable of defeating the post-Cold War threats America faces. Since September 11, Mr. Rumsfeld has correctly decided that he can no, must transform the force at the same time we fight a major war. Part of the transformation that is still in the planning stage is described in the January "Nuclear Posture Review." The issues concerning the production and possible use of nuclear weapons are vastly different from those we faced when NATO stood against the Warsaw Pact. Recognizing this, the NPR moves us out of the Cold War "Mutually Assured Destruction" dogma into the post-September 11 world. Mr. Rumsfeld is rethinking the unthinkable and coming up with some cold, clear ideas.

The facts are what they are. The NPR points out that 12 nations have nuclear weapon programs, 28 have ballistic missiles, 13 have biological weapons and 16 have chemical weapons. The NPR also says North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya are among countries that could be involved in immediate, potential or unexpected contingencies, meaning a nuclear war, sooner rather than later. The report says that an Iraqi-Israeli conflict could escalate into a nuclear conflict.

It is no surprise that most of the nations named in the NPR sponsor and harbor terrorists and have programs to produce weapons of mass destruction and missiles to carry them. To deal with these threats, the NPR proposes we develop new, cleaner tactical nuclear weapons that can root out the terrorists who dig so deep into mountain caves that our conventional weapons can't reach them. The moral bar against using nuclear weapons comes from the widespread destruction they cause, killing hundreds or thousands of civilians. If small, clean, nuclear weapons are developed that will not cause those kinds of casualties, there may be a place for them in our arsenal.

The most frightening part of the NPR raises the need to develop and use nuclear weapons to respond to chemical, biological and other attacks it euphemistically calls "surprising military developments." The threat of a suitcase-sized nuclear weapon being smuggled into the United States must be among them. The Russians have them, the Chinese may have them, and if anything is certain, terrorists are seeking them actively.

All of which leads us to the somewhat puzzling fact that Russia has been downgraded as a nuclear threat, reportedly at the bequest of President Bush himself. Mr. Bush obviously sets great store by his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the fact remains that Russia is the only country in the world with a nuclear arsenal to match that of the United States. Even if Russia at this time may be an unlikely nuclear opponent, its lack of control of its weapons is a huge cause for concern.

Any nation that exports nuclear terrorism, or allows it to operate from within its borders, must know that America will do whatever it takes to prevent such an attack against us. The Soviets understood the "mutual" part of "Mutually Assured Destruction." Our new adversaries must come to understand that whatever horrible damage they may inflict on us, the retaliation will be such that the "destruction" will not be "mutual" at all.

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