Sep 6, 2007

Let's Not Play the Deadly Deterrent Game

September 6, 2007; Page A15

Linton Brooks ("Bombs Away, For Good," editorial page, Aug. 29) is asking all the wrong questions when it comes to the "Reliable Replacement Warhead" program. Why isn't he asking, "Will building new nuclear weapons make other states (such as Iran) more or less likely to pursue a nuclear weapons program of their own?" Or what about, "In a world where we face no superpower threat, is it really necessary to keep thousands of nuclear weapons deployed around the world, ready to launch at a moment's notice?"

Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) calls for the U.S. and other Nuclear Weapon States to "pursue negotiations in good faith . . . on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." Such negotiations have not happened in the 37 years since the NPT came into effect.

Building thousands of new nuclear weapons under the Reliable Replacement Warhead program will not bring us closer to the ultimate goal of the NPT; rather, it will perpetuate life under the shadow of nuclear destruction for decades to come.

Rick Wayman
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Mr. Brooks reminds us that questions about the U.S. nuclear arsenal remain first priority concerns. He asks the pertinent question, "Should the U.S. even have a nuclear deterrent?" but his answer is weak. He cites history and rests his case. Readers should agree with him only if we also agree that North Korea should have a nuclear deterrent, and Iran and Brazil and Egypt and Malaysia -- that's how the deterrent game is played.

In 1968, the U.S. signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Article VI of the NPT recognizes that rules of proliferation are quite simple. If anyone has nuclear weapons, everyone can have them. If we don't want others to have them, we have to give up ours. That's why we promised to disarm back in 1968.

To argue now that we need an enduring stockpile, either to support the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), the NNSA's current darling, or the ongoing Stockpile Life Extension work in Oak Ridge, Tenn., which is upgrading our current arsenal one warhead at a time, is to stand arrogantly and wrongheaded in the face of reality.

The only path to safety -- as former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Sen. Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry noted in the Journal last January -- is the path to disarmament, and an enduring stockpile won't get us there. Nothing else Mr. Brooks can say will overcome that simple fact, and his arguments in favor of the RRW even lack the virtue of being supported by facts.

"Whole classes of U.S. weapons have been eliminated," he says. What he doesn't add is -- but only when they were deemed no longer useful or were replaced by alternative weapons. "The number of nuclear weapons dismantled this year will increase by 50% over last year," he says, neglecting to mention that we have a 15-year backlog of bombs awaiting dismantlement, and capacity issues at the Y12 Plant in Oak Ridge and safety concerns at Pantex limited the number of bombs dismantled in 2006. "We're reducing the deployed stockpile to 2,200 by 2012," he says, failing to point out this falls short of the commitments of the Moscow Treaty (1,700 is the low end of the treaty's goal) and the missiles being withdrawn from the field are not scheduled for dismantlement; they are merely being shelved in a strategic reserve.

So, fellow readers, make no mistake. If Congress funds the RRW, it is funding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Agree with Linton Brooks at your peril. Literally.

Ralph Hutchison
Knoxville, Tenn.

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