Learning To Love the Bomb
If you want to send arms-control advocates into a tizzy, just tell
them that nuclear weapons in the hands of responsible nations have
a stabilizing influence on international relations.
No, really. Mention that nuclear weapons ended World War II, kept
the Cold Warcold and likely deterred Saddam Hussein from using
chemical or biological weapons in the first Gulf War. Then, if they
are even one millimeter short of apoplexy, suggest that we need new
nukes to keep the peace today.
And all of this is demonstrably true. We regularly modified our
nuclear arsenal during the Cold War to reflect our evolving
relationship with the Soviet Union. As a result, we kept the
Soviets from using such weapons against us. The Soviet Union
eventually collapsed when its leaders realized they could not match
American firepower or technology.
No such bulwark of deterrence exists today. This is unacceptable,
as proliferation is advancing at a dangerous pace. China has begun
a nuclear modernization program; India and Pakistan have tested
nuclear weapons; nations such as Iran and North Korea have edged
closer to becoming nuclear states. And even non-state actors --
terrorists such as Usama bin Laden who command no nation -- can
become nuclear players if they can acquire an old Soviet warhead on
the black market. And bin Laden's organization -- al Qaeda -- has
shown it is willing to inflict mass casualties on U.S. soil.
Strategic deterrence was difficult enough during the Cold War, but
it has become nearly impossible today. More states possess nuclear
weapons, and many of those nations do not understand each other,
nor the international chain reaction a nuclear attack
What role do nuclear weapons play in this increasingly dangerous
world? The Bush administration has asked Congress for $20 million
to study this question, but many lawmakers want to limit or
eliminate those funds.
The question is too important to be answered on the cheap. The huge
arsenal of devastating weapons with which we won the Cold War won't
be appropriate for most future conflicts. In many cases, the
theaters of conflict are too small, and the enormity of such
weapons would lead to more casualties among innocents than
combatants. For instance, we couldn't unleash such weapons against
either of our last two adversaries -- Afghanistan or Iraq.
In light of this and other factors, the time has come to
re-evaluate the role of nuclear weapons in national security
policy, especially what experts call "low-yield" nukes -- weapons
that can, say, wipe out enemy headquarters buried deep underground,
as opposed to ones that can level an entire city. Traditionally,
these weapons are meant to counter adversaries with large land
forces that could overrun America's expeditionary forces. This
requirement endures, but tactical nuclear weapons also may be the
best way to address emerging threats.
A tactical nuclear force may deter an adversary from using
biological or chemical weapons against American forces in the
field. An enemy leader may not fear America's conventional response
to the use of such weapons. He may believe his forces could
withstand or defeat the United States. Or, he may doubt the United
States would retaliate with existing nuclear forces because of our
demonstrated reluctance to kill innocent people.
Smaller nuclear weapons -- sized to wipe out hostile forces without
extensive damage beyond that -- have proven to be effective
deterrents. During the first Gulf War, the first Bush
administration purposefully let it be known that any use of
chemical or biological weapons by Saddam Hussein could provoke a
tactical nuclear response. Saddam, far more capable of deploying
such weapons then than in Gulf War II, held off.
Furthermore, the battlefield of the future may require a tactical
nuclear response. For example, America's arsenal of information
technology has given it unprecedented advantages on the
battlefield. It often can wipe out enemy forces before our troops
even come within range of the enemy's weapons.
Precision-guided munitions enable U.S. armed forces to target
almost anything, anywhere, at any time. America's enemies are
adapting to this advantage by placing troops, weapons, command and
control, and other combat elements underground. Until conventional
weapons and/or forces can be developed to destroy these underground
targets, the United States should consider having low-yield
tactical nuclear weapons.
America's enemies don't respect our Cold War-era arsenal of nuclear
weapons because they doubt we'll unleash those terrible payloads on
innocent civilians. And we all know that if a threat isn't
credible, it doesn't deter. As a result, we grow more vulnerable to
attacks by the day. That's why it's urgent Congress funds the
president's research request and that we get moving on the next
generation of nuclear weapons.
is a senior
policy analyst for defense and national security in the Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage
Reprinted with permission of Fox News