Preemption Denied New Nukes
cost-conscious U.S. Congress has denied funding to Bush administration
projects to develop new nuclear weapons designed to target rogue
states or terrorists developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Critics who said the new "bunker buster" weapons risked
blurring the lines between conventional and unconventional warfare
hailed the move, which was led by a member of President George W.
Bush's Republican Party.
Over White House objections, members of both the House of Representatives
and the Senate decided against approving $27.6 million for the Robust
Nuclear Earth Penetrator ("bunker buster") designed to
destroy command-and-control facilities or WMD buried deep underground.
The proposed funding was part of the mammoth $388 billion government
spending bill approved Saturday.
Members of Congress also cut a suggested $9 million for what is
called advanced-concepts research on new weapons designs, a program
that could have funded new, lower-yield nuclear weapons – so-called
"mini-nukes" – for use as tactical battlefield weapons.
Politicians also denied the administration $30 million it had requested
to shorten the lead-time needed to resume nuclear weapons testing
at the Nevada test site.
"This is the biggest victory that arms-control advocates in
Congress have had since 1992, when we were able to place limits
on nuclear testing," said Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey
from the opposition Democratic Party.
"If we are to convince other countries to forgo nuclear weapons,
we cannot be preparing to build a whole new generation of nuclear
weapons here in the U.S," he added.
The decisions were also hailed by arms-control activists, who gave
much of the credit for the outcome to Republican Rep. David Hobson,
the chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee
on Energy and Water Development.
"This proves both how one person in a key position can make
a major difference and that opposition to new nuclear weapons extends
across party lines," said John Isaacs, the director for the
Council for a Livable World (CLW), a grassroots organization that
had lobbied against the new weapons, in a statement.
Hobson himself warned the administration that it "should read
this as a clear signal from Congress" that any new effort to
revive the funding in 2005 "would get the same reaction."
The Bush government had made the new weapons a top priority beginning
in 2002, as an integral part of its "preemption" strategy
to be employed against terrorists and rogues states suspected of
having or building WMD.
Advocates of them have long argued that nuclear weapons, if precisely
targeted and designed in a way that would limit their destructive
impacts, could be used effectively for conventional purposes, particularly
in Bush's "war on terrorism."
They also contended that such weapons would help deter attacks ordered
by foreign leaders or terrorists who believed they could escape
retaliation by building hardened, underground shelters.
"The problem is the public – and the Congress reflects this
– just doesn't understand the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold
War world," David Smith, chief operating officer of the National
Institute for Public Policy (NIPP), a think tank that has long lobbied
for developing more advanced nuclear weapons, told the San Francisco
Chronicle on Tuesday.
But opponents have argued that developing new nuclear weapons could
spark an arms race with other nuclear powers and make countries
that have not yet crossed the nuclear threshold more determined
to acquire WMD and the ability to deliver them.
In a speech last August, Hobson said he saw the administration's
proposals, particularly for the "bunker buster," the "mini-nukes"
and cutting the time needed to resume nuclear testing as "very
provocative and overly aggressive policies that undermine our moral
authority to argue that other nations should forgo nuclear weapons."
"We cannot advocate for nuclear non-proliferation around the
globe and pursue more usable nuclear weapons options at home,"
Daryl Kimball, director of the Washington-based Arms
Control Association (ACA), praised Hobson's "enormous courage"
in defying the White House. He said Congress' action showed "that
not only are Democrats convinced, but key Republicans are convinced
we don't need new nuclear weapons capabilities."
According to CLW's Isaacs, the politicians' rebuff to the administration
was aided by the growing concern over the unprecedented budget deficit
piled up under Bush, currently more than $400 billion annually,
or roughly the same amount as the defense budget.
In negotiating the omnibus spending bill, the House and Senate agreed
that budgets for all executive departments, except Defense and Homeland
Security, would be subject to strict ceilings for fiscal year (FY)
2005. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs nuclear
programs, is administered by the Energy Department.
Congress also cut another administration request for $29.8 million
to build plutonium pits – or nuclear triggers – for new nuclear
weapons to $7 million.
is not winning the war by a long shot," said California Sen.
Dianne Feinstein, one of the principal foes of the administration's
proposed nuclear programs. "But it is a consequential step
that should send a very loud message to the administration."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service