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Democrats Criticize Nuclear Posture Review
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Philipp C. Bleek

Disagreeing with their Republican colleagues, leading Democratic lawmakers sharply criticized the Bush administration’s recently released nuclear posture review, charging that the administration’s plans perpetuate outdated nuclear policies.

In a contentious February 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) was joined by several Democratic colleagues in arguing that the administration was failing to substantially reduce nuclear forces and make a meaningful break with Cold War nuclear policies, as administration officials have argued they are doing. (See ACT, January/February 2002.)

Levin pointed out that the administration intends to maintain a force structure nearly identical to the one recommended by the previous nuclear posture review, conducted in 1994, and that U.S. bomber and submarine forces would remain “exactly the same.” Testifying at the hearing, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith agreed with that characterization but noted that “operationally deployed warheads” would be reduced by about 65 percent under the Bush administration’s plan, which calls for the United States to reduce its 6,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by 2012.

But Levin pointed out that the administration has said it would store most of the warheads removed from deployed forces and that maintaining the delivery vehicles—missiles, bombers, and submarines—would allow them to be “reinserted.” When Feith subsequently argued that the administration was moving beyond the Cold War “balance of terror” between the United States and the Soviet Union, Levin quipped that it was simply substituting “warehouse terror.”

Responding to repeated queries from Levin, Feith indicated that “some” warheads would be destroyed but later said that “the warheads, by and large, are not going to be destroyed.” Exactly how many warheads would be dismantled has yet to be decided, Feith indicated. Levin argued that this approach makes it “highly unlikely that Russia will destroy its nuclear warheads” slated for reduction and said this poses a proliferation threat.

Moscow has called for reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic forces to be both verifiable and irreversible. Feith treated the latter goal dismissively, saying, “There is no such thing as irreversibility” and that “a state that destroys warheads could manufacture new warheads.” The undersecretary also pointed out that Russia maintains a “large infrastructure” that is “capable of producing large numbers of new nuclear weapons annually.” The United States, on the other hand, “has not produced a new nuclear weapon in a decade” and will not be able to do so for “nearly a decade,” he said.

Others Democratic lawmakers echoed Levin’s concerns. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) expressed concern that by moving warheads into storage rather than destroying them, the administration might just be “rearranging the furniture.” And colleague Daniel Akaka (D-HI) argued that “no substantial reduction in nuclear weapons is being proposed in this review.”

Key Republican senators sought to counter their Democratic colleagues’ sentiments, expressing strong support for the administration. Saying the study represented a “breakthrough,” Senator John Warner (R-VA) indicated in a statement read by colleague Wayne Allard (R-CO) that he thought the review addressed in an “innovative way” the improved relationship with Russia and the increased threat of weapons of mass destruction proliferation. And Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) argued for maintaining “clear superiority,” suggesting that locking in “low numbers” and destroying warheads might encourage other nations to try to “reach parity with us in nuclear weaponry.”