May 15, 2012
Former Commander of U.S. Nuclear Forces Calls for Large Cut in Warheads
By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — Gen. James E. Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of the United States’ nuclear forces, is adding his voice to those who are calling for a drastic reduction in the number of nuclear warheads below the levels set by agreements with Russia.
General Cartwright said that the United States’ nuclear deterrence could be guaranteed with a total arsenal of 900 warheads, and with only half of them deployed at any one time. Even those in the field would be taken off hair triggers, requiring 24 to 72 hours for launching, to reduce the chance of accidental war.
That arsenal would be a significant cut from the current agreement to limit Russia and the United States to 1,550 deployed warheads each, down from 2,200, within six years. Under the New Start agreement, thousands more warheads can be kept in storage as a backup force, and the restrictions do not apply to hundreds of short-range nuclear weapons in the American and Russian arsenals.
“The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war,” General Cartwright said in an interview. “There is the baggage of significant numbers in reserve. There is the baggage of a nuclear stockpile beyond our needs. What is it we’re really trying to deter? Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century.”
The proposals are contained in a report to be issued Wednesday by Global Zero, a nuclear policy organization, signed by General Cartwright and several senior national security figures, including Richard Burt, a former chief nuclear arms negotiator; Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska; Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador to Russia; and Gen. John J. Sheehan, who held senior NATO positions before retiring from active duty.
General Cartwright’s leading role in the study is expected to give heft to the proposals; he was the top officer at the United States Strategic Command, overseeing the entire nuclear arsenal. The report’s proposals also may help shape the election-year debate on national security.
President Obama has pronounced a goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, but the specific steps and timetable remain aspirational.
Pentagon officials have drawn up options for the president, ranging from an arsenal that remains at New Start levels to one with 300 to 400 warheads. But officials emphasized that this internal review was still under way and that no decisions had been made.
In March, Republicans criticized Mr. Obama after he was overheard telling his Russian counterpart during a nuclear terrorism conference in South Korea that he would have more flexibility to deal with Moscow’s concerns on arms control after the November election.
Among the striking Global Zero proposals is one to eliminate outright the fixed, land-based intercontinental nuclear missiles that form one leg of the three-part nuclear arsenal, and instead rely solely on submarines, which are nearly impossible to detect, and long-range bombers, which can be summoned back from an attack should a crisis ease. The proposal calls for 360 warheads deployed aboard submarines and 90 gravity bombs aboard strike aircraft, and calls on Russia also to limit its arsenal to 900 warheads.
Given the low likelihood of a huge nuclear exchange with Russia or China, General Cartwright said, these steep reductions in the American arsenal are necessary if the United States wants credibility to urge restraints on the weapons programs of smaller nuclear powers like India and Pakistan — and on potentially emerging nuclear states like Iran and North Korea.
General Cartwright said that countries like India and Pakistan viewed their weapons more as a shield to protect their sovereignty than as a sword to be used in conflict. They and some potentially emerging nuclear powers ignore Washington’s calls for curbing their nuclear aspirations, saying that the United States is guilty of hypocrisy because it maintains a huge arsenal.
“A significant number of countries are not part of the dialogue” on reducing nuclear weapons, he said. And as more nuclear weapons are held by more nations — whose arsenals are not guarded by the layers of high-tech security systems in place over American weapons — the greater the opportunity for them to fall into the hands of terrorists, General Cartwright noted.
The Global Zero study also says that the large reductions make sense in a time of constrained Pentagon spending. The delivery systems in the American nuclear arsenal are nearing the end of their service life at nearly the same time, presenting a bill of hundreds of billions of dollars just as the Defense Department must cut spending.
Bruce Blair, who directed the study and is a co-founder of Global Zero, said that decisions should be made soon on nuclear arms reductions, so that money is not wasted on weapons programs that should be eliminated.
Mr. Blair said that land-based intercontinental missiles “have no role to play any longer.” In fixed silos, they are vulnerable to targeting. And the study includes maps to show that America’s land-based missile force would have to fly over Russia to reach potential nuclear adversaries like North Korea or Iran. That route “risks confusing Russia with ambiguous attack indications and triggering nuclear retaliation,” he said.
The report emphasizes the importance of missile defense in bolstering American deterrence in an era of smaller offensive nuclear arsenals.
© 2011 The New York Times Company
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