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QDR to address transformation of U.S. nuclear arsenal

by Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

4/5/2005 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Today’s U.S. nuclear arsenal is too outdated and costly to maintain for use in deterring threats in the post-Cold War era, a senior officer told a Senate subcommittee April 4.

“It is our intent to have the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review address nuclear issues and the associated infrastructure to determine transformation requirements for our nuclear capabilities in the 21st century,” Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright explained to members of the Senate strategic forces subcommittee.

General Cartwright heads the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., which oversees U.S. military global strategic planning, including nuclear deterrence.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to substantially reduce nuclear stockpiles over the next 10 years upon their signing of the Moscow Treaty in May 2002. The U.S. is decommissioning its larger, multi-nuclear-warhead-carrying Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of terms of the treaty.

However, nuclear weapons remain an important component of U.S. national security policy, “particularly for reassuring allies and friends of U.S. security commitments, dissuading arms competition, deterring hostile leaders who are willing to accept great risk and cost, and for holding at risk those targets that cannot be addressed by other means.” General Cartwright said.

By 2012, America’s nuclear stockpile “will be reduced by nearly one-half” since President Bush took office, Ambassador Linton F. Brooks told committee members. Ambassador Brooks, who accompanied General Cartwright to the hearing, is the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Ambassador Brooks cited a recent Nuclear Posture Review that says America’s remaining nuclear weapons are rapidly aging, causing high maintenance and security costs. He said that Cold War-era nukes were designed for maximum destructive power and therefore cause too much collateral damage for some envisioned future uses.

The “legacy” stockpile, Ambassador Brooks said, is also environmentally unfriendly, ineffective against deeply buried targets, and unsuitable for destroying chemical and biological weapons.

Older nuclear weapons systems do not have “new precision-guidance technologies from which our conventional systems have fully benefited,” Ambassador Brooks said. Nor are older nuclear arms “geared for small-scale strikes or flexibility in command, control and delivery.”

And, in a post-9/11 world, Ambassador Brooks said, U.S. defense planners are presented with the nightmarish scenario of terrorists trying “to gain access to a warhead” and blow it up in place.

“If we were designing the stockpile today,” he said, “we would apply new technologies and approaches to warhead-use control as a means to reduce physical security costs” and risks.