- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

In leading the congressional opposition to reasonable U.S. responses to newly evolving global threats involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy appears to have learned nothing from his ill-considered attempts to stifle the Reagan arms buildup, which was pivotal in ending the Cold War. The fiscal 2004 defense authorization bill, which now goes to conference committee after similar versions passed the House and Senate on May 22, includes provisions that will authorize the Pentagon to begin to respond to imminent threats in the post-Cold War era. But Mr. Kennedy and his like-minded colleagues are working to terminate these reasonable efforts.

Three interconnected issues are involved. The Bush administration sought $15 million to continue research on the feasibility of sheathing existing nuclear weapons in much harder casings. Such a change would enable warheads to penetrate underground in order to destroy deeply buried command bunkers or storage facilities for mass-destruction weapons.

The second matter involves the repeal of a 10-year-old ban that has prohibited researching low-yield nuclear weapons of 5 kilotons or less. Such devices might prove valuable in incinerating nuclear, chemical and biological weapons sites, while at the same time, vastly limiting collateral damage. The Pentagon’s current nuclear arsenal contains powerful weapons that were developed to deter a superpower of the Soviet Union’s caliber. Their use against much smaller states, such as North Korea or Iran, would be so destructive that the United States might be deterred from ever employing them. Having smaller, mission-specific weapons in the arsenal might well serve as a greater deterrent than weapons that are unlikely to be used. Finally, the administration has sought to reduce the amount of time it would take to resume nuclear testing from the current three-year period to 18 months.

In the post-Cold War era, all three ideas make sense. Moreover, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized, researching the low-yield nuclear weapon represents only a study. “It is nothing more and nothing less,” he said. “It is not pursuing, it is not deploying, it is not building,” (which Congress would have to authorize funding for at later date.)

Mr. Kennedy and other Democrats, however, insist that the administration’s actions would ignite a new nuclear arms race:History suggests the opposite is true. The United States hasn’t tested nuclear weapons since Congress legislated a ban in 1992. But this unilateral restriction, it’s worth noting, has not prevented India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel from pursuing nuclear-weapons development.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Kennedy led the ill-fated nuclear-freeze campaign in Congress. The proposal would have solidified indefinitely the Soviet Union’s overwhelming superiority in intercontinental and Eurasian first-strike, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. It would have prevented the deployment of U.S. medium-range cruise and ballistic missiles in Europe, which eventually forced the Soviets to negotiate an agreement to completely eliminate all medium-range land-based nuclear missiles. In addition, by stopping the Reagan buildup dead in its tracks, the freeze almost certainly would have delayed the collapse of the Evil Empire. Given his dismal track record on nuclear issues, Mr. Kennedy’s current proposal should be viewed with great skepticism.

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