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Toward real nuclear disarmament

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In an era of terrorism and guerrilla wars, are nuclear weapons a realistic option? Do they make us more secure? Nuclear weapons don't deter suicide bombers or guerrilla fighters. They can't be used in war without producing radioactive fallout that circles the globe and threatens the health of innocents. Perhaps they do deter some hostile governments from harboring thoughts of attacking the US, but that could be done at much lower levels of destructive power.

The cold war's two superpowers still possess huge nuclear arsenals - accounting for over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. The United States has 10,000 nuclear bombs and warheads, half deployed on submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers, and cruise missiles, and half held in reserve, stored for possible future use. Russia had 7,800 deployed as of 2004 and 9,200 retired or in storage (not all of them secured). Just one could destroy a city.

The nuclear club now has eight members, with North Korea and Iran pounding on the door. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is pressing Congress to fund nuclear "bunker busters" - which could kill up to a million city dwellers, depending on the yield - and new nuclear warheads, even as it insists other countries should just say no to nuclear arms.

For much of Congress, ours is an invisible arsenal, out of sight and out of mind. Rep. Dave Hobson, a conservative Republican from Ohio, is a shining exception. As chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, Mr. Hobson has blocked administration efforts to design a nuclear weapon that could penetrate deep underground bunkers. At the urging of the Defense Department, he spent a day at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska being briefed by the Strategic Air Command. But in a February address to the Arms Control Association, he said, "I was never told of any specific mission requiring the nuclear bunker buster." Yet someone is thinking of how to use nukes to wage war, not just to deter potential attackers. To cover all bets, the Pentagon is also working on a 30,000-pound conventional bomb intended to destroy "multistory buildings with hardened bunkers and tunnel facilities."

Hobson also asserted in his address that "the development of new weapons for ill-defined future requirements is not what the nation needs at this time. What is needed and what is absent to date is leadership and fresh thinking for the 21st century regarding nuclear security and the future of the US stockpile."

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