New Nukes, Anyone?
New Nukes, Anyone?
This May, before Congress adjourns for its Memorial Day recess, the Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to vote on the annual defense authorization bill. This bill is expected to include several provisions in the Bush administration's budget proposal that make preparations for the building of new nuclear weapons.
New nuclear weapons? Yes; there is no doubt about it. Armed with only 10,000 nuclear weapons, the
The Bush administration has requested $27.6 million to develop a nuclear "bunker buster," plus another $9 million for "advanced concept initiatives" that seem likely to include work on new, "small-yield" nuclear weapons. The President also proposes an allocation of $30 million toward building a $4 billion "Modern Pit Facility" that would churn out plutonium triggers for the explosion of thermonuclear weapons. And the administration wants another $30 million to dramatically reduce the time it would take to prepare for conducting nuclear test explosions.
Those who have followed the Bush administration's pronouncements regarding nuclear weapons won't be surprised by these proposals. The administration's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review widened
Meanwhile, of course, the administration has scrapped the
These shifts in nuclear policy are designed to get the
"Bunker buster" and low-yield nuclear weapons should be seen in this context. The former is designed to burrow into the ground to destroy military targets protected by rock or concrete. The latter -- sometimes called "mini-nukes" -- would also have greater utility on the battlefield than would larger nuclear weapons, with their vast, frightening destructiveness.
In fact, they would still be enormously destructive. Although advocates of the "bunker-buster" have claimed that this nuclear weapon -- because it explodes underground -- is a "clean" one, in reality it is quite deadly. The nuclear weapons that destroyed
Furthermore, these "usable" nuclear weapons blur the dividing line between conventional war and nuclear war. Indeed, this is just what they are designed to do. And given the Bush administration's penchant for waging war on the flimsiest of pretexts, it is hard to imagine that these weapons will not be used in the future -- for "pre-emptive" wars or worse.
In addition, by building, testing, and using new nuclear weapons, the
Ironically, despite the Bush administration's professed "war on terrorism," developing these new weapons will also sharply enhance terrorist dangers. Because of their small size, mini-nukes are relatively easy to steal and transport by terrorists. Indeed, what weapon of mass destruction would be more available and appealing to bloodthirsty fanatics -- whether of the domestic or foreign variety -- than the new nuclear weapons that the Bush administration plans to develop?
All in all, then, the Bush plan for building new nuclear weapons is a disaster. That Congress should even consider it seriously shows the degree to which this country has succumbed to the military madness fostered by the Bush administration.
Even so, all is not lost. In 2003, the Democrats in Congress put up a fairly good fight against the first stages of the Bush administration's plan for new nuclear weapons -- so good that, together with a some Republicans, they managed to block a number of the plan's key features. This forced the administration to go back to Congress this year, to try again.
So the battle is joined -- this month! If you sit it out and tamely let the Bush warriors get ready for nuclear war, you have no one but yourself to blame.
Lawence S. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book is Toward Nuclear Abolition (Stanford University Press).