Why Deep Cuts in Nuclear Weapons Make Sense

PRESIDENT Bush's recent decision to store or destroy nearly 20 percent of the United States's 20,000 nuclear warheads, including most of our tactical nuclear weapons deployed worldwide, signaled a welcome shift in US arms-control policy that should spur further debate and reevaluation of US nuclear-deterrence strategy. Now, two institutions acclaimed for their objectivity have issued reports arguing that much deeper cuts would actually enhance our security further, as well as producing major savings.One of these reports was issued by the National Academy of Sciences, which advises the government on scientific and technical issues. Starting from a baseline of 8,000 to 10,000 strategic warheads held by each superpower under the START treaty signed in July, the academy recommends that the superpowers reduce their arsenals to 3,000 to 4,000 warheads each in post-START negotiations, and ultimately to 1,000 to 2,000 apiece. The report holds that deep cuts would enhance security by reducing the risk of nuc lear war and downplaying our reliance on nuclear weapons. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes that deep cuts also would allow for significant reductions in the defense budget. CBO's 170-page study calculates that reducing US strategic warheads to 1,000 would save $17.4 billion a year over the next 15 years. Cutting warheads to 3,000 would save $15.5 billion a year, and cutting to 6,000 warheads would save $9.3 billion annually. The US now spends about $50 billion every year on nuclear weapons, nearly one-sixth of our military budget and more than the entire defense budget of any other country in the world aside from the Soviet Union. CBO notes that even if we reduced our nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads, we would still spend nearly as much on nuclear weapons as Germany, France, or Britain spend on their entire armed forces. The end of the cold war and the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe give us an unprecedented opportunity to revise our nuclear policies. For decades, US warfighting plans have emphasized attacking a wide range of Soviet targets, including strategic forces, conventional military facilities, command and control systems, and the Soviet industrial base. These plans have required us to maintain a large and diverse nuclear arsenal. CBO studied what smaller forces could accomplish, and its striking conclusion was that less is more. Deep cuts, to levels as low as 3,000 or 1,000 warheads, would produce Soviet and American nuclear forces more defensively configured, and better able to survive a first strike, than our current nuclear forces. This would reduce pressure on national leaders to launch weapons at the perceived warning of a nuclear attack. Of course, smaller forces must still deter nuclear attack. CBO found that with an arsenal of either 3,000 or 1,000 warheads, military planners could still target enough key military and industrial facilities in the Soviet Union to launch an effective counterattack against a first strike. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and other national security experts have advocated reducing to 1,000 or fewer warheads for years. In the post-cold-war era, their case is even more compelling. Besides reducing the budget deficit and funding other urgent priorities, deep cuts would help pay for cleaning up the nuclear-weapons production complex, a job that the Energy Department expects to cost $38 billion during the next four years. Major superpower reductions would pave the way for stronger multilateral measures to control nuclear proliferation, which many experts see as a greater threat to US interests today than a superpower conflict. Mr. Bush has spoken of building a new world order in which nations would defend their interests through cooperation and respect for international law, rather than through unilateral projections of power. Deep nuclear cuts would stabilize that order and free up funds for more constructive projects at home and abroad. One good cut deserves another: We can have our savings and security too.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.