Why Washington's 'new' nukes would be worse

The one "new" set of Soviet targets that the US cannot threaten with its current forces is Russia's 1,400 intercontinental missiles in hardened silos. It is argued that to be able to threaten them will improve the US deterrent, but it will do just the reverse -- it will increase the risk that the Soviets will launch a first strike at us.

Yet the MX missile, endorsed by both President Carter and challenger Reagan, is specifically designed to threaten this Soviet target system. The 200 MX missiles will have 2,000 warheads, each with sufficient accuracy and explosive force to have high probability of knocking out a Russian missile silo. Thus the entire Soviet land-based missile force (75 percent of its strategic deterrent) will be in jeopardy.

These new MX missiles will inevitably be viewed by Soviet leaders as evidence of our first-strike intentions, no matter how often the President or Governor Reagan claim they are for retaliation only. In a second strike the MX warheads would only hit empty silos, since it is naive to expect the Soviets not to fire any leftover missiles on warning that a US retaliatory attack to destroy them is underway.

Furthermore, Soviet strategists could prepare even in peacetime to launch when their radars and computers get evidence that US missiles have been fired. But computers have been known to fail, as recent American experience has shown; and unintentional nuclear war could be the result. With this threat to their deterrent the Soviets would also be more likely to launch a preemptive strike in times of crisis. Both tactics, which we are driving the Russians to adopt, could result in a nuclear catastrophe for America and the entire world.

But as the political campaign grows hotter, the Carter administration is seeking to undercut Republican right-wing criticisms of its military policies and to justify spending billions on new nuclear weapons. The Republican platform called for "an unquestioned hard-target counterforce capability to disarm Soviet military targets." Then, just before the Democratic convention White House officials leaked the adoption -- incidentally without consultation with Secretary of State Muskie -- of a "new" strategy for nuclear war, Presidential Directive 59. The US would now be prepared to fight a long but limited conflict by using precise nuclear strikes against military targets not cities. Because of their pinpoint accuracy the new MX ballistic missiles and the land- and sea-based cruise missiles are touted as the linchpins of this new strategy.

In the first place we have had a strategy of attacking military targets and the capability to carry it out for a long time. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown as recently as his January 1980 annual report to Congress said: "It has never been US policy to limit ourselves to massive counter-city options in retaliation. . . . Indeed US nuclear forces have always been designed against military targets as well as those comprising the war-supporting industry and recovery resources." General dougherty, former head of the Strategic Air Command , has claimed that we never have targeted cities per se.

The administration says the new US strategy envisions attacks with the new weapons on Soviet civilian and military leaders in their underground bunkers. In the first place we already have enough weapons with the ability to destroy all Soviet hardened bunkers, so why do we need the new MX or our cruise missiles?

But, more to the point, it is a mystery why we should seek to wipe out those Russians who maintain control of nuclear weapons after a war starts, since without such leaders there will be no way to halt the conflict until the US, Europe, and the Soviet Union are in a shambles. How does the administration propose to keep a nuclear war limited without surviving leaders on the Soviet side who can stop or limit the war?

Most important, the new strategy perpetuates and spreads the dangerous myth that a nuclear war can be kept limited, that precision weapons will reduce casualties, and that we can fight a nuclear war and survive. President Carter and Secretary Brown have over and over again said that they know no way to keep a nuclear conflict from escalating to an all-out nuclear war. Again in January 1980 Brown said, "We have no more illusions than our predecessors that a nuclear war could be closely and surgically controlled.

The new precision weapons, such as the MX, will mean that we are reducing the aiming error from about 400 to 100 yards, but at the same time the administration is increasing the explosive force of the warheads so that the area in which civilian targets will be devastated will go up from 16 square miles to 28 square miles. Moreover the surface bursts required to destroy hard targets will produce widespread radioactive contamination. Hardly a new weapon to make nuclear war safer for the citizen!

Finally, just after the 35th annivesary of the explosion of the small crude atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and killed more than 100,000 people, it seems obscene for American leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, to be competing for political advantage by exploring new ways of fighting nuclear wars , with thousands of new, much more deadly hydrogen weapons. Mutual deterrence is the only route to security, and new weapons or strategies that make it easier to use them are giant strides in the wrong direction.

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