|From Peace Leaf, April 2002
Nuclear Posture Review: A Flawed Proposal
by Howard W. Hallman
In January 2002 the U.S. Department of Defense sent to Congress a secret report on the results of its comprehensive Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). Mandated by Congress, the NPR lays out the direction for American nuclear forces for the next ten years and beyond. For the general public the Pentagon released only a bare outline of its recommendations. In March the Los Angeles Times got hold of the classified version and divulged greater details.
The fuller version reveals a set of policies that has some positive features but also contains serious flaws, some quite disturbing. The greatest flaw is the belief that nuclear weapons should remain forever. In contrast, the voices of religion say that possession, threatened use, and actual use of nuclear weapons is immoral and that all nuclear weapons should be eliminated.
On the positive side the Nuclear Posture Review offers the goal of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic warheads for the United States by 2012. This is a reduction from the approximately 6,500 warheads now deployed and the goal of 3,500 by 2007 under the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), which has never gone into effect. This is a step in the right redirection. If achieved, it will be a worthy improvement over the lack of reductions during the Clinton Administration, deadlocked as it was with the Republican-controlled Congress.
Deeper analysis, however, reveals that this reduction is not as significant as first appears. Previous arms control agreements, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed by President Reagan, and START I, signed by President George H.W. Bush, provided for the destruction of delivery vehicles (missiles, bombers) taken out of service. In contrast, the Nuclear Posture Review reveals an intent to preserve the delivery vehicles and warheads for possible redeployment
This goes against the principle of irreversibility that the United States agreed to during the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Also, it will encourage Russia to keep in reserve warheads and delivery vehicles take out of service. Because Russian security of nuclear weapons and fissile material is sometimes lax, this increases the risk that terrorist organizations could gain access.
A much wiser course would be to dismantle all downloaded warheads and their delivery systems. Moreover, reductions should be accomplished at a much faster pace and should go much deeper that now being considered by President Bush and Russian President Putin.
The Nuclear Posture Review speaks of an intention to encourage and facilitate a new framework for cooperation with Russia. It indicates that the Cold War approach to deterrence is no longer appropriate. It declares a desire to end the relationship with Russia based on mutual assured destruction (MAD). In speeches and news conferences President Bush has repeatedly stated an intent to move away from MAD. So have Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rumsfeld has acknowledged that the "deterrent of massive retaliation, or MAD -- mutual assured destruction -- did not do anything to deter the Korean War or the Vietnam War or Desert Storm or dozens of other events."
Their words about moving away from MAD are contradicted by the level of the nuclear force to remain deployed and held in reserve. Administration officials explain that nuclear missiles will no longer be aimed at any particular target but will be available for whatever contingency might arise. But experts indicate that all of the contingencies specified in the NPR beyond Russia -- China and five non-nuclear states (see below) -- would require only a few hundred missiles to deal with if worse comes to worse. The only possible targets for the balance are in Russia.
As Secretary of State George Shultz under President Reagan observed, states design policy not on the basis of intention of other states but rather on their capabilities. Because Russia retains the capability of launching a massive attack on the United States, the U.S. must maintain a counter capability. This means that mutual assured destruction remains in effect between two nations now said to be friends.
The only way to end the MAD doctrine is to substantially reduce capability far below the numbers considered in the Nuclear Posture Review, perhaps to fewer than 200 or 100, and eventually to zero.
As the United States built up its nuclear arsenal after World War II, the primary role for nuclear weapons was the deterrence of nuclear attack by another state possessing nuclear weapons. The second role until the Cold War ended was deterrence of a Soviet attack on Western Europe. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States made a commitment not to use nuclear weapons against any nation not possessing nuclear weapons or allied with a nuclear weapons state.
The Nuclear Posture Review of the Bush administration changes this. It indicates that nuclear strike capability should be available for various contingencies. It specifies: "North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya are among the countries that could be involved in immediate, potential, or unexpected contingencies." The NPR also indicates that nuclear weapons should be used to deter attack by biological and chemical weapons. It adds that nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, such as, deep underground bunkers and bio-weapon facilities.
When asked about this at a news conference, President Bush explained, "We've got all options on the table." This is a dangerous approach. The expanded role for nuclear weapons suggests greater legitimacy and encourages other nations to respond in kind. Moreover, it is immoral, for all options should not be on the table. Genocide is not a legitimate option. Slaughter of the innocent is not an acceptable option.
Testing and New Weapon Development
The desire to expand the role of nuclear weapons leads the Nuclear Posture Review to give consideration to return to nuclear weapon testing and development of new nuclear weapons. Although the NPT affirms President Bush's commitment to a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, it calls for the Department of Energy to reduce the time it would take to resume testing from the current two to three years to one year or so. Comments by the Pentagon spokesperson at a press briefing on the NPR and statements by other officials suggest that the Administration is looking toward the end of the test moratorium within a few years.
The NPR indicates that the current nuclear force is projected to remain until 2020 or longer. Meanwhile the Department of Defense will study alternatives for follow-ons. This could include a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to be operational in 2020, a new SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) and a new SSBN (ballistic missile submarine) in 2030, and a new heavy bomber in 2040 as well as new warheads for all of them.
Thus, the Bush Administration assumes that nuclear weapons will be part of U.S. military forces for at least the next 50 years. This is clearly in conflict with the goal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is contrary to the recommendation of numerous religious bodies to achieve the global elimination of nuclear weapons.
A Faith Response
Because of such concerns, representatives of 25 national religious organizations have urged President Bush to send the Nuclear Posture Review back to the drawing boards. They propose that it should be reconfigured to incorporate nuclear disarmament components and specify a declining role for nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign and military policy.
An excellent disarmament agenda is available from the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It encompasses a number of practical steps, such as: reduction in operational status of nuclear weapons system; continued moratorium on nuclear-weapon-test explosions; entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; irreversible reductions of strategic offensive weapons and also tactical nuclear weapons; increased transparency; engagement of all nuclear-weapon states in the process of achieving the total elimination of their nuclear weapons.
For some, this may sound too idealistic and impractical. It isn't. Numerous admirals and generals in their retirement have told us that nuclear weapons have no military utility. In June 2000 eighteen of them joined 21 top religious leaders in a statement, issued at the Washington National Cathedral, saying that "the long-term reliance on nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, and the ever-present danger in their acquisition by others, is morally untenable and militarily unjustifiable. They added, "National security imperatives and ethical demands have converged to bring us to the necessity of outlawing and prohibiting nuclear weapons worldwide."
This is moral response for a moral nation. This is the correct nuclear posture for the United States.