Bush Urged to Develop Overall Nuclear Arms Policy

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

A prestigious scientific committee made up of retired nuclear weapons lab directors and former Defense and Energy department officials is recommending that, before the United States moves ahead on the development of new nuclear warheads, the Bush administration should develop a bipartisan policy regarding the size of the future stockpile, testing and nonproliferation.

The committee's report, which is due out next month, comes at a time when the Bush administration is asking Congress to approve $88 million for cost and engineering plans that could lead to a decision next year for production of a new Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) for the nation's current submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile.

The panel will recommend that "any decision to proceed with RRW must be coupled with a transparent administration policy on nuclear weapons, including comments concerning stockpile size, nuclear testing and nonproliferation," according to an interim progress report from the committee chaired by C. Bruce Tarter, the former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The panel was formed under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The panel includes John S. Foster Jr., another former Livermore director; Siegfried S. Hecker, who ran Los Alamos National Laboratory; Richard L. Wagner Jr., a Los Alamos veteran and a member of the Defense Science Board; and Charles B. Curtis, former deputy secretary of energy and currently president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

In presenting the interim report to an AAAS meeting last month, Tarter said the panel found there has been no Bush administration statements dealing with nuclear weapons since the Nuclear Posture Review in December 2001. In addition, he said, "There have been no public policy statements that articulate the role of nuclear weapons in a post-Cold War and post-9/11 world and lay out the stockpile needs for the future."

Based on open and classified briefings from current officials at the Pentagon, the weapons labs and National Nuclear Security Administration, the panel believes that the RRW program should not move ahead without getting bipartisan agreement on the Complex 2030 plan, the costly modernization of the nation's nuclear weapons complex, and the future of the program now underway to refurbish the currently deployed nuclear weapons stockpile.

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, has in the past sought funds to carry out the comprehensive nuclear policy study that the AAAS panel has recommended. "We have pieces and programs, calls for designs and weapons that don't track back to a policy that everyone understands," she said in a recent interview.

"There are a growing number of voices that have credibility that are saying we have a disjointed set of programs that don't lead to a cogent nuclear policy for the 21st century," she said, pointing to an article last January by Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz, former secretaries of State; former defense secretary William J. Perry and former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

In it they called on the Bush administration to take the lead in reversing reliance on nuclear weapons through various measures, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; taking nuclear weapons off alert; further reducing the number of the weapons themselves; and halting production of fissile materials.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company