VIEWPOINT: Dorgan can help find new direction on nukes
WASHINGTON - The recent accidental transport of nuclear-armed cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base highlights one aspect of North Dakota's continuing role in U.S. nuclear policy: The state still has more than a thousand nuclear warheads on i...
WASHINGTON - The recent accidental transport of nuclear-armed cruise missiles from Minot Air Force Base highlights one aspect of North Dakota's continuing role in U.S. nuclear policy: The state still has more than a thousand nuclear warheads on its soil, and many are on hair-trigger alert status, just as they were during the Cold War.
Another facet of the state's role is the leadership on nuclear weapons policy provided by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. Following the Minot incident, Dorgan appropriately sought and won approval for a top-to-bottom review of procedures controlling U.S. nuclear weapons. In earlier years, he also helped lead the successful fight to stop misguided plans to develop a nuclear "bunker buster" to attack underground sites.
Such a bomb would generate tremendous radioactive fallout, yet would be ineffective in destroying many of its intended targets.
Dorgan is able to do even more. Congress now is considering an ill-conceived proposal to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, and Dorgan is in a unique position to put the brakes on it.
The immediate question is whether Congress should fund a Bush administration proposal to spend nearly $120 million next year to design the first of a new generation of nuclear weapons - the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead. If Congress says yes, then over the next several decades, the U.S. will spend tens of billions of dollars more to develop and produce thousands of new nuclear warheads.
The planned arsenal after 2012 would consist of some 2,000 deployed warheads and an additional 3,000 to 4,000 in reserve.
But continuing to maintain such a massive U.S. nuclear force makes little sense today.
The House of Representatives already rejected the new warhead program, stating that it's inappropriate given the U.S. does not have a clear nuclear policy in a post-Sept. 11 world. Now, the fate of the program is in the hands of the Senate, where Dorgan chairs the subcommittee responsible for funding nuclear weapons work.
Under Dorgan's leadership, this subcommittee already has cut the administration's request for the program by 25 percent, which we appreciate very much.
The long-term question centers on the role nuclear weapons should play in U.S. security. Our massive arsenal clearly is not a deterrent against terrorists nor does it prevent other countries from getting nuclear weapons. In fact, it would be far more difficult to dissuade other countries from developing nuclear weapons if the U.S. chooses to build new warheads of its own.
An increasing number of national leaders have concluded that the U.S. would be far safer if all the nuclear powers drastically reduced their nuclear stockpiles. Former Secretaries of State George Shultz (under President Reagan) and Henry Kissinger (under Nixon and Ford), former Secretary of Defense William Perry (under Clinton) and former Sen. Sam Nunn argued in the pages of the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that if the world continues on its present course, more nations - and eventually terrorists - will get the bomb.
They called on the U.S. government to lead an international effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Dorgan's continued efforts are critical to moving their cause forward.
Dorgan has established a record of strong leadership on nuclear weapons issues. Working with congressional colleagues and the power of the purse, he could further set U.S. nuclear weapons policy down the right path, one that provides an example for other countries and ultimately eliminates these unneeded weapons. That path would make us all safer.
Robert Nelson is a senior staff scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. State Sen. Carolyn Nelson (no relation to Robert Nelson), D-Fargo, is assistant minority leader in the North Dakota Senate. The authors' opinions are their own and are not necessarily shared by the organizations they're affilited with.