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U.S. Military to Preserve Weapons Many Missiles Under Bush Administration Plan To Be Retained

By Walter Pincus

The Bush administration told Congress Tuesday that many of the warheads, bombs and intercontinental missiles involved in the president’s promised two-thirds reduction of deployed strategic nuclear forces over the next 10 years would be kept in reserve under its new strategic policy, according to congressional sources.

In a top-secret briefing on the results of the Bush administration’s year-long Nuclear Posture Review, Assistant Secretary of Defense J.D. Crouch said it had not yet been determined how many of the roughly 4,000 nuclear warheads and bombs and hundreds of land- and submarine-based intercontinental missiles taken out of operational use would be destroyed and how many would be stored and available for redeployment, the sources said.

At his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in December, Bush announced the United States would reduce its deployed nuclear warheads from today’s 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade. He did not say how many of those weapons would be destroyed and how many put in reserve as a “hedge” against some unforeseen future threat, as the Clinton administration had done with its reductions under the START I agreement.

One senior Democratic congressional expert on nuclear weapons said Tuesday after the closed briefing that he believed the only firm plans disclosed Tuesday were for destruction of the 50 Peacekeeper ICBM silos, an arrangement agreed upon under the still unratified START II treaty. “They did not tell us how the remaining promised reductions would be made; they did not know what the remaining nuclear force structure would look like; and they were not sure how many would be stored or destroyed,” he added.

A Republican source said details remain “to be fleshed out, but the administration was taking a good first step.” Because the briefing was classified, this source refused to comment on any details but said many were contained in the highly classified report that was distributed at the sessions. They were attended mostly by House and Senate staff members because Congress is in recess.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Tuesday that based on what he had heard from the briefing, “if the reduced nuclear weapons are kept intact and available for redeployment, it makes a mockery of the reductions.”

Crouch, according to congressional sources, also said the administration would seek additional funds to increase the speed at which nuclear testing could resume if needed, as reported Tuesday. But Crouch insisted, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did in talking to reporters earlier Tuesday, that the administration has no immediate plans to resume testing.

Rumsfeld said the Bush administration would continue for now to observe a self-imposed 1992 U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing. But, the defense secretary added, “Any country that has nuclear weapons has to be respectful of the enormous lethality and power of those weapons, and has a responsibility to see that they are safe and reliable.”

“To the extent that can be done without testing, clearly that is the preference. And that is why the president has concluded that, thus far, that is the case,” Rumsfeld added.

The administration has not determined how much money would be needed to reduce the present guideline for the time it would take to resume underground nuclear testing.