Still loving the bomb

Still loving the bomb

The Bush administration ignores a moral imperative to abolish nukes 62 years after Hiroshima

By John Grula 08/02/2007

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On Jan. 4, an amazing thing happened. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed article by four prominent Cold Warriors titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons.” The article was penned by former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry and hawkish ex-Sen. Sam Nunn. In no uncertain terms — and a stunning reversal of the policies they upheld while in office — the authors call for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

What has caused these former hawks to morph into doves?

First, during the last 10 years fears about nuclear proliferation have increased considerably. In 1998 India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear tests and joined the “nuclear club,” an elite group of nuclear weapons-owning states that also includes the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Israel. More recently, North Korea has conducted a nuclear test and questions have also been raised about Iran's nuclear intentions. Meanwhile, concerns are mounting about the possibility that nuclear weapons or materials have been acquired by stateless terrorists, who would not be inhibited by traditional notions of deterrence.

Second, despite the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia still aim at each other about 2,000 nuclear-tipped missiles poised on hair-trigger alert, and each side also maintains approximately 10,000 operational nuclear weapons in reserve. In their Jan. 4 article, Shultz & Co. warn that “the world is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era,” and they urge the United States to provide leadership in abolishing nuclear weapons once and for all.

How has the Bush administration responded to this moral imperative? Predictably, by ignoring it and then trying to steer our nation in exactly the opposite direction.

Instead of heeding the article and its authors, the White House has called for reinvigorating our entire nuclear weapons complex in a massive program sure to plunge us further into debt (with a price tag starting at $150 billion), and restart a global arms race. This totally irresponsible  program has been dubbed “Complex 2030.”

Complex 2030 includes many new projects, including the resumption of plutonium pit manufacturing, but probably the most senseless and foolhardy is the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. This scheme would  represent our first attempt since 1989 to devise a nuclear warhead with a new design. The plan is to develop an entirely new set of bomb designs, with the goal of completely replacing our current arsenal during the next 20 to 30 years (hence the number “2030”).

The White House is arguing that the RRW program is needed because of the presumed unreliability of our current stockpile. But this assertion is just as bogus as its claim more than four years ago of “mission accomplished” in Iraq. Several independent studies, including one conducted by the Jasons (an elite scientific group which has advised the government since Sputnik), have shown that the plutonium and other materials inside our nuclear warheads have a much longer lifetime than previously expected. In short, our current nuclear arsenal, the result of more than 1,000 tests since 1945, is highly reliable.

Furthermore, the Bush administration cannot call for the United States to design and deploy new nuclear weapons and then turn around and insist that nations like Iran and North Korea must end their nuclear programs. This kind of gross hypocrisy and duplicitous double standard will only encourage those nations and others to pursue their own nuclear arsenals with even greater determination.

Fortunately, Congress is resisting the White House push for Complex 2030 and the RRW. Our own Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) has been a leader in this resistance. He is also crafting legislation designed to stem nuclear proliferation and reduce the danger of an unintended nuclear  exchange between the United States and Russia. Congressman  Schiff, who now sits on the pivotal House Appropriations  Committee, voted with the majority on June 6 to eliminate all funding for the RRW program and a new plant for building plutonium pits. The full House has followed the committee's lead, but the Senate has voted to fund both programs. The fate of the RRW and new plutonium pit facility will be decided by a House-Senate conference committee scheduled to convene later this fall.

In the meantime, Schiff is preparing to introduce three forward-looking pieces of legislation which, if they become law, will help make our world a much safer place. These bills would 1) help end trafficking in nuclear weapons, devices and technology, 2) strengthen our nuclear forensics capabilities to better track the source of illicit nuclear materials, and 3) take US and Russian nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert, thus reducing the risk of an accidental launch of thousands of warheads which would cause an unthinkable human and environmental catastrophe.

     If successful, he will help lead humanity out of the nuclear  wilderness we have wandered in since the devastation of Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.


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