- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010

President Obama, in fielding questions about his recently announced strategy for U.S. nuclear weapons, said he would trust the experts - the generals and the nuclear-weapon scientists - before he would trust the judgment of Sarah Palin on such matters.

Besides significantly reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons and their carriers, his plans include a rejection of any new nuclear-weapons development and an open-ended end to nuclear testing.

Doesn’t this seem odd for someone who has spent his career, albeit brief, disagreeing with and disparaging the judgments and even the morality of these very same generals and scientists about nuclear weapon issues? And why can he actually find generals and nuclear weapon scientists agreeing to dismantle these ultimate weapons? Shouldn’t they be fighting him?

In truth, there is good reason not to trust the judgments of these experts on the very weapon systems on which they are supposed to be expert.

Those in military leadership, generals and civilian, have always had a tough time with nuclear weapons. In a very real sense, despite their power, they are the least “militarily useful” resource at the military’s disposal. When have such weapons actually been used by the military? Rarely. Twice. When and how can they be used? Only under the most extraordinary circumstances.

You can’t even use nuclear weapons for bragging. In what way can a military leader demonstrate prowess or capability in his “art” with nuclear weapons? Hardly at all. During the Cold War, when there were attempts at strategizing with nuclear weapons, e.g., with the so-called neutron bomb, it was hardly a military or political success. Neither can the successful use of nukes as a deterrent to global war be extolled as an innovative strategy by the current generation of generals. It is very old news. Besides, any general who is a “champion” of nuclear weapons is much less likely to be praised than to be regarded far and wide as a potential genocidal madman.

It has been said that all military resources are merely political tools. This is true in spades for nuclear weapons.

Not only are they militarily limited; they are expensive, very expensive. Just the security and logistics of keeping them in storage is a terrible drain on a military establishment already stretched to the limit by conventional requirements and capabilities that are truly useful right here, right now. Why waste a dime on these things?

No, I wouldn’t think our military leadership would be the loudest section of the nuclear-weapon cheering crowd.

What about the nuclear weapon scientists in our national laboratories? Surely they are proponents who would be in favor of more nuclear-weapon development and deployment. Doesn’t it mean more money, more work and more prestige for them?

Yes and no. Since the end of the Cold War, without development and nuclear testing, the scientific base of the U.S. nuclear-weapons complex has been ossifying gradually. This was inevitable and even intentional. But wouldn’t you know, the decay process was expensive. Funny how everything the government does turns out to be very expensive. It can’t even kill a program without spending billions.

You might think we would have saved a lot of money by not developing or testing nukes for all these years. Not really. Instead, we got the worst of both worlds: a costly, lingering death. When the “real” nuclear-weapons program ended in 1992, instead of freeing up all that money, it was decided to spend every bit of it on an ersatz science program called Stockpile Stewardship.

This program reads like a lazy man’s dream. The scientists get billions of dollars every year just to play around. Sure, they would have liked even more money, but billions will do, and just look at the other benefits: They don’t have to design or build anything. They only need to check on old nukes and assert that they are fine - aging and obsolete, maybe, but just fine. It is only their “peers”, their comrades, who scrutinize their sage judgments. And every so often, a few scientists from academia are invited to provide additional review and further pontificate. Of course, we all know how unbiased and nonideological the academic community is concerning nuclear weapons. Better yet, nuclear tests that might prove all of them wrong are prohibited. How convenient.

You don’t have to hold a doctorate to know that science without testing is not science. These are nuclear weapons, and nonnuclear testing and computer analysis simply do not cut it. Our newest nuclear-weapon designs were created in the days of the K-car and some before eight-track tapes. Our last nuclear test was conducted in 1992, nearly a generation ago. Is this any way to run a serious military and technically challenging scientific program?

Do you trust the “experts” who have twisted themselves around to rationalize this nuclear weapon house of cards? Not me.

But from what I have seen on many issues, it is easy to understand how this president can.

Kenneth J. Adney worked as a Energy Department scientist and was involved in more than 100 nuclear tests.

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