Nuclear Expansion: Risky Business, but Urgent

Monday, May 9, 2005

We agree with John J. Hamre about the need to retain a nuclear warhead capability to provide deterrence ["Toward a Nuclear Strategy," op-ed, May 2]. However, he omitted two important factors: a decade's loss of nuclear warhead design experience and the uncertainty of the effectiveness of deterrence in this new multipolar world.

Mr. Hamre referred to the need for maintaining competent design teams, while acknowledging that we have gone a decade without any credible nuclear warhead policy. In that decade, capability has been lost. Experienced staffers have left the industry, and, in the absence of new programs, any replacements have lacked the opportunity to develop their own skills.

Henry Kissinger has noted "that as nuclear weapons spread into more and more hands, the calculus of deterrence grows increasingly ephemeral, and deterrence less and less reliable." We need to enhance our missile defense capability, as a fallback for the failure of deterrence.

Without a dual approach to this vital issue of security, we shall be less free to pursue an independent foreign policy.

STANLEY ORMAN

Gaithersburg

EUGENE FOX

McLean

The writers are, respectively, former deputy director of the United Kingdom Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, and former deputy director of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative Office.

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John J. Hamre advocated building a new inventory of nuclear weapons. This policy, however, would damage U.S. interests.

The U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons already is robust and reliable. Further, the design margins of warheads could be increased to enhance reliability and effectiveness and to sustain confidence over longer periods. For example, the explosive energy of the primary stage of a nuclear weapon can be enhanced to ignite the secondary or main stage. This method is available now, and it is the appropriate focus for the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead Program.

It takes an extraordinary flight of imagination to postulate that a new arsenal of untested designs would be more reliable, safe and effective than the current U.S. arsenal, which is based on more than 1,000 tests since 1945. And if nuclear testing is resumed, as Mr. Hamre suggested, several nations undoubtedly will follow suit. The damage to U.S. national security interests that this would cause would far outweigh any conceivable advantages to be gained by new designs.

SIDNEY DRELL

Palo Alto, Calif.

JAMES GOODBY

Washington

The writers are, respectively, a physicist and longtime adviser to the government and weapons labs on technical issues of national security, and the former chief negotiator for the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat-reduction program.


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