- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

The President’s defense budgethaspredictably raised cries of concern from the “disarm America” crowd. Late last year, as part of an overall agreement to secure funding for most of the U.S. government, Congress agreed to strip out funding for two nuclear-weapons-research efforts, including an earth-penetrating weapon. This was done despite the fact that both the House and Senate had previously voted to approve each of these program requests from the president.

Specifically, the Arms Control Association complains the administration’s proposals to continue work on these nuclear-weapons enhancements are a terrible idea and fraught with danger. They argue the administration should not be proposing “new” nuclear weapons or making them more “robust” in the face of efforts to eliminate suspected nuclear-weapons programs in North Korea and Iran. Only if we set a good example, the argument goes, will the mullahs in Iran and the gangsters in North Korea give up their nuclear programs.

These arguments are so baseless as to make one wonder why they are made so often and so relentlessly. Let’s look at the record. The president has reduced U.S. nuclear weapons from nearly 6,000 deployed warheads to somewhere around 2,200, a reduction of nearly two-thirds. In addition, the administration also successfully implemented a policy that will eventually result in the reduction of the U.S. nuclear stockpile — the warheads kept in reserve — by at least 50 percent. That is unprecedented in scope and breadth.

The United States has also begun the process of downloading warheads on our Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as eliminating the Peacekeeper 10-warhead ICBM from its silos in Wyoming, transforming the ICBM force from a Cold War technology that was seen as unstable to a post-Cold War defense technology that creates very strong incentives for stability and deterrence. It provides the United States with a deterrent that — in the current strategic environment — denies the possibility of a successful cheap or sudden attack on U.S. nuclear assets. To describe these success stories as a pell-mell rush to develop “new” additions to our nuclear arsenal makes one wonder whether the U.S. disarmament community is in need of some serious remedial math classes.

Equally inaccurate is the charge that the Bush administration, by seeking to improve the robustness and safety of our nuclear weapons, is somehow undermining our security and that of our allies. U.S. nuclear-weapons designs were repeatedly changed during the Cold War to make them safer and more effective, including weapons of significantly lower yields. Ironically, with little fanfare, the Clinton administration deployed one type of an earth-penetrating warhead in 1998.

For over a decade, we have not tested nuclear weapons. As an alternative, we have had to adopt the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which through simulation and other technologies is designed to help defense experts determine whether our nuclear deterrent needs improvement. To deter the old Soviet Union — its huge tank armies and its massive nuclear arsenal — we had to hold at risk Soviet-era assets with weapons with yields in the hundreds of kilotons. Our weapons, to be a credible deterrent, have to be, well, credible. While conceding that nuclear weapons are necessary for deterrence, the critics contradict themselves by asserting in the same breath that if deterrence breaks down, we can’t use them. In short, deterrence is proposed as nothing but a bluff.

Even if one assumes a U.S. president would simply never use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack on the United States, successful deterrence requires the deployment of weapons geared to holding those assets at risk, including buried bunkers, that are of major value to our adversaries. It may very well be that the United States can hold such targets at risk with the deployment of new U.S. conventional weapons, efforts that this administration is also pursuing. However, we cannot prejudge the outcome. Research into other options must continue.

Former President Carter recommends that the United States eliminate its nuclear forces entirely in order to entice Iran and North Korea to give up their weapons. The second cousin of such a foolish idea is the idea seized upon by the disarmament community, and that is that the United States should do little to maintain or enhance its deterrent. If such a foolish path were followed, our strategic nuclear deterrent would atrophy, and with it the requirements needed to keep the peace. Given the administration’s success in securing the elimination of a nuclear-weapons program in Libya and the Khan “Nukes R’Us” network, and its diplomatic push to end the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, maintaining our nuclear deterrent is obviously a prudent thing to do.

The complaints we hear would be more credible if the critics would spend as much time seeking to eliminate the weapons of our evil adversaries as they do seeking to curtail America’s might. Our adversaries have repeatedly proven their murderous intent. America’s might has secured the peace and the liberty of people worldwide, Its continued presence is required to keep us safe.

Peter R. Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.

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