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Public Statements

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2004

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise to support Senator FEINSTEIN's amendment to strike funding allocations for certain nuclear weapons research and development activities contained in H.R. 2754 the energy and water appropriations bill.
Before I discuss the particulars of this amendment, let me explain why it matters so very much in the context of the international environment in coming decades.

Today, the United States is the pre-eminent conventional superpower in the world. We spend more on our Nation's military than the rest of the world combined. As the dazzling display of firepower exhibited by our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrates, our Nation boasts the mightiest military machine in world history.

But none of that means our Nation is secure or can afford to rest on its laurels. As September 11 graphically exhibited, the world is a very dangerous place, if only because our adversaries and rivals are turning to asymmetric warfare to nullify our military advantages and exploit our weaknesses. One key asymmetry lies in the use of weapons of mass destruction. The spread of technology around the world allows a greater number of states and non-state actors to access the knowledge, technology, and infrastructure required to develop and produce nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Nuclear weapons, in particular, can nullify the overwhelming conventional military strength of the United States. Today no weapons system can defend against the detonation of a nuclear weapon in an American city. National missile defense holds out the prospect one day of preventing the delivery of nuclear weapons via intercontinental ballistic missiles, but the technology is so premature that any effective system is years, if not decades, away. Indeed, a terrorist is unlikely to use an ICBM with a return address. And there is absolutely no system that can prevent a barge from sailing into New York City's harbor and detonating a nuclear explosive on board.

So nuclear proliferation represents the gravest threat today to our national security, a threat from which our overwhelming conventional military strength provides little protection. How do we best respond to this threat? One school calls for the development of new nuclear weapons for possible use in an otherwise nonnuclear conflict. In order to ensure that a North Korea or an Iran cannot secure its chemical and biological weapons or hide its leaders in underground bunkers, some people call for new nuclear weapons capable of penetrating layers of earth and destroying deeply buried targets.

Advocates of new nuclear weapons go off the deep end, however, when they suggest that low-yield weapons could ever destroy deeply buried targets, or that a "bunker-busting" weapons would not cause horrific civilian casualties. The laws of physics dictate that a warhead cannot penetrate more than 50 feet of dry rock before gravitational forces cause the warhead to break up. That means that a nuclear weapon big enough to destroy a deeply buried target—even a target 100 feet below ground—cannot be "low-yield". Any low-yield weapon would simply lack the explosive power necessary to destroy a target buried at that depth or lower. So the nuclear weapons designers tell us explicitly: A Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator will never be a low-yield weapon.

But what would happen if a low-yield weapon were used against a buried target? According to the physicist Sidney Drell, a one-kiloton nuclear weapon, well below the 5-kiloton threshold below which nuclear weapons are called "low-yield", detonating at a depth of 40 feet below the surface would still create a crater larger than the entire World Trade Center impact zone and churn up about 1 million cubic feet of radioactive material into the air. This very small one-kiloton nuclear weapon would wreak tremendous damage, contaminating the surrounding area for miles on end with dangerous gamma rays and other radiation. This reality is vastly different from the image of a surgical weapon promoted so often by its advocates.

Advocates of low-yield nuclear weapons are trying to have it both ways. They want a weapon powerful enough to take out bunkers, neutralizing any stored chemical and biological agents, that are buried deeply below the Earth's surface. At the same time, these weapons must be small enough to minimize civilian casualties and destruction on the surface.
Unfortunately, scientists and weapons designers say it just can't be done.

Weapons designers will tell you that the real purpose for low-yield nuclear weapons is not to strike underground targets when all other options have failed. Rather, these weapons could strike regular surface targets like leadership compounds—while reducing the damage that a more regular-sized nuclear weapons would cause. But that resurrects the misguided strategic concept that nuclear weapons are just handy tools, like any other weapon—a bizarre notion that should have expired along with Dr. Strangelove decades ago. Besides, low-yield weapons are nothing new. Every time we developed them, however, the military concluded that they weren't worth the effort.

Any deterrence benefits that new low-yield nuclear weapons would provide are far outweighed by both the risk that they will actually be used and the dangerous signal that they send to other countries—intentionally or not—that we intend to fight nuclear wars. Low-yield weapons, in particular, blur the traditional firewall between nuclear and conventional war.
The sidestep the fact that a nuclear weapon is a weapon of a wholly different order and magnitude from any other weapon in existence today—something that any sane and rational society would only use as a truly last resort. As Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated in 1945, even crude nuclear weapons are city-killers.

Let me point out one final challenge to the possible use of low-yield nuclear weapons to strike deeply buried targets. Any decision to order such a strike must rely upon unimpeachable intelligence, because no rational President will order even a low-yield nuclear weapons like without great confidence in the success of the mission. It is precisely that type of intelligence which is so difficult to obtain when it comes to acquiring information on the location of WMD stockpiles and leadership compounds in rogue states. Just look at what happened during the war on Iraq this spring. Twice, we thought we had Saddam in our sights. Our intelligence folks told the President they had good information that Saddam was in a particular location at a given time—but in both cases they were wrong. Saddam either was never there or had left before the bombs arrived. And as for taking out Saddam's chemical or biological weapons, "all the king's horses and all the king's men" will get back to us later.

I'm not casting blame on our intelligence community—it is an incredible challenge to gain real-time tactical information in the heat of battle. But imagine the international outcry had the United States used a low-yield nuclear weapons to go after Saddam. Not only would we have failed to kill him because he was not in the bunker, we would have caused incalculable civilian casualties, razed a large part of Baghdad, and breached the nuclear threshold.

Is this a price any future Commander in Chief would or should be willing to pay? Our enemies are not stupid—they will increasingly locate valuable targets near or next to civilian sites, such as mosques and hospitals. They may will bury deeply hidden bunkers under these sites. Again, should any President give the OK to use a low-yield nuclear weapon under such circumstances? If not, why incur the fiscal expense, diplomatic costs, and strategic risks of developing these new weapons in the first place? Why give other countries the sense that nuclear weapons are a vital element in our war-fighting plans, when there would still be no rational reason for us to use them except in retaliation?

So what's the right response to the world we live in today, where nuclear proliferation poses the greatest security threat we face? I wish I could offer you one simple solution that will effectively answer this challenge. Unfortunately, no such magic bullet exists. Instead, we need to rely on a shrewd combination of accurate intelligence, diplomacy, multilateral cooperation, arms control, export controls, interdiction, sanctions, and when appropriate, the threat or use of military force, to deter and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

In those situations where we must target deeply buried targets, conventional weapons offer a promising alternative to introducing nuclear weapons into the conflict. After all, chemical or biological weapons stored in an underground site can do no harm as long as they remain within that bunker. And an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon could spread far more chemical or biological agents than it burned up, unless it landed very precisely on the target. So our military could employ large conventional bombs to seal or destroy the entrance and exit tunnels to underground sites, so that any weapons stockpiles stored in such sites will not be going anywhere for a while.

Other scientists have discussed the feasibility of targeting a series of conventional missiles, one following the other, in order to burrow a "pilot hole" toward a deeply buried target. So let's be clear—nuclear weapons are not the only possible solution for attacking an underground target.

The neoconservative school argues that diplomacy, arms control, and international "norms' have failed to deter rogue states like Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons programs. There may be some truth to that, but diplomacy has been instrumental in slowing down the progress of these programs and restraining their scope. In addition, nonproliferation regimes and international norms have provided tremendous value in convincing more established states in the international system to remain non-nuclear. For example, it was their desire for international legitimacy which, in part, persuaded Argentina and Brazil to give up their nascent nuclear weapons programs in the 1980's. The same can be said for Japan, Taiwan, the Ukraine, and South Africa, which have all foregone, halted, or voluntarily given up their own nuclear weapons programs.

How does the Feinstein amendment fit into this broader discussion over U.S. nuclear weapons strategy and the battle to combat nuclear proliferation? The energy and water appropriations bill includes the administration's original requests for funding of a series of controversial nuclear weapons activities, including research into advanced nuclear concepts, such as low-yield weapons, and reduction of the time period between when a President makes the decision to resume nuclear testing and when our nuclear weapons complex would be able to carry out a test.

This new funding to enhance our readiness to resume nuclear weapons testing and conduct research on new weapons concepts and designs will lead us to a world where the further proliferation of nuclear weapons is more widely tolerated.
While the senior officials in the current administration have disavowed any intent to resume nuclear testing or produce new nuclear weapons, their actions tell a different story.

The Nuclear Posture Review of December 2001 identified not only Russia and China as potential targets in a future nuclear war, but also North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Libya. The latter countries were cited as seeking weapons of mass destruction, but not necessarily nuclear weapons.

More recently, civilian Pentagon leaders ordered a task force to consider possible requirements for new low-yield nuclear weapons, even while assuring the Senate that no formal requirement has yet been established.

A presidential strategy document reportedly stated that the United States might use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state possessing chemical or biological weapons.

Senior officials publicly discuss the possible need to resume underground nuclear testing, either to ensure that existing weapons are safe and reliable or to test new weapons, all the while scorning the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The Feinstein amendment would strike out the $15 million allocation for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, eliminate the $6 million allocation for Advanced Weapons Concepts Initiative and prohibit the use of any appropriated funds to shorten the time period required to prepare for an underground nuclear test from the current 24 to 36 months to less than 24 months.

It would also prohibit the use of funds for site selection or conceptual design of a Modern Pit Facility, which would produce replacement plutonium triggers for the existing nuclear stockpile. The amendment reallocates the eliminated funding to the paramount goal of deficit reduction.

Let me remind my colleagues that this amendment only proposes to do what the Republican-controlled House largely already did in July, when it adopted its version of the Energy and Water appropriations bill. According to press reports, Representative DAVID HOBSON, the Republican chairman of the relevant House Appropriations subcommittee, defended his panel's decision to strike this funding by asserting the U.S. Government should first address the rising costs of
managing its existing nuclear stockpile and disposing of its nuclear waste before moving ahead with new nuclear programs.
Neither the full House Appropriations Committee nor the House as a whole challenged the subcommittee's mark.

We should all remember the House's actions when our opponents charge that this amendment will jeopardize U.S. national security or represents some extremist, antinuclear weapons agenda. In fact, the opposite is true.

So what's the bottom line here? Today, the United States deploys 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads and possesses in total more than 10,000 deployed or reserve nuclear weapons. As we are the overwhelming conventional military power in the world, it is decidedly against our interest to see others obtain and/or use nuclear weapons. Why on earth, then, are we considering the acquisition of additional and more advanced nuclear weapons?

If we continue on these steps to develop these new weapons, our friends and enemies alike can easily dismiss our future admonitions on why nuclear weapons fail to provide true security. Indeed, our adversaries will take to heart one overriding lesson: Develop your own nuclear weapons to deter a preemptive U.S. strike.

Let me close with a statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell, a man who spent the majority of his career in the uniformed military. In May 2002, Secretary Powell discussed the potential for an India-Pakistan conflict to evolve into a nuclear clash. But his larger point holds true for our debate today:

Nuclear weapons in this day and age may serve some deterrent effect, and so be it, but to think of using them as just another weapon in what might start out as a conventional conflict in this day and age seems to be something that no side should be contemplating.

The Feinstein amendment enhances U.S. national security by preventing our Nation from sleepwalking into an era when nuclear weapons are considered just another weapon. The United States is the leader of the world. Other nations watch us and they follow our lead. Let's not lead them astray.

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