Back when nuclear weaponry and deterrence strategy still received serious national deliberation, most sensible people recognized a basic reality: Once the technology to build nuclear weapons became widely available, there was no way to stuff “the nuclear genie back in the bottle.”
In those days, only the most pollyannish and irresponsible – typically, arms control enthusiasts, Soviet dupes and one-worlders – nurtured illusions that nuclear proliferation could be wholly prevented. Toward that end, such “Genie-stuffers” generally promoted the negotiation of unverifiable treaties and unilateral U.S. restraint, if not actual disarmament.
Unfortunately, a domestic political squeeze-play (involving funding for the long-since-terminated Super Collider-Super Conductor then under construction in Texas) prompted the first President Bush to embrace such an exercise in American nuclear restraint: a U.S. moratorium on all underground nuclear testing.
Fifteen years have now elapsed since the United States last conducted an underground U.S. nuclear test. The unilateral moratorium ushered in a period in which little responsible thought, let alone rigorous debate, has been applied to America’s deterrent and what it will take to assure its future reliability and safety.
This is all the more astounding since, during this period, uncertainty has steadily grown about the actual condition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. As the Washington Post reported back in January 2002, “The Energy Department’s inspector general has determined that the growing problems associated with the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons, without nuclear testing, have become a ‘most serious challenge area’ for the [agency] that runs the weapons complex.”
It has, nonetheless, been nine years since questions about what it will take to ensure that this country has – and continues to retain – a credible nuclear arsenal were addressed in a way remotely commensurate with the importance of the issue. The occasion was a momentous debate in the U.S. Senate concerning ratification of one of the Genie-stuffers’ favorite hobby horses: a treaty permanently (albeit unverifiably) banning all underground nuclear tests.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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