Nuclear plan keeps warheads in reserve

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s plan for reducing the nation’s nuclear arsenal does not provide for destroying the warheads, a top Pentagon planner said Wednesday.

Instead, the proposal would make thousands more warheads inactive, meaning it would take several months to get them ready to fire at an enemy, said J.D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security. Some warheads would be destroyed, but officials have not decided how many or when, he said.

The United States needs to keep the warheads in reserve in case the world situation changes, and most previous arms control treaties do not require that warheads be destroyed, Crouch said at a Pentagon news briefing.

"We’re certainly not trying to mislead anybody," Crouch said. "There are no phantom weapons here."

Critics called the plan a "nuclear shell game" that does not go far enough to trim the U.S. arsenal.

"How much is enough to have in the inactive stockpile?" said Stephen Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. His publication estimates the current number of inactive U.S. warheads at around 10,000.

"We’re still trapped in the Cold War logic that says you have to be able to vaporize your opponents."

The Bush administration’s policy includes plans to cut the number of operational nuclear warheads by two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200 by the year 2012. Bush made that pledge to Russian President Vladimir Putin last year.

While the United States no longer needs warheads to deter a nuclear strike from the extinct Soviet Union, Crouch said it does need them either to deter or to retaliate against smaller hostile nations, terrorists or other enemies that might attack America with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, Crouch said.

"We need a broader array of capabilities, including nuclear, to deter attacks, and should deterrence fail, to retaliate against our enemies," Crouch said.

Copyright ©2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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