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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005

Location: Washington DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I support the amendment offered by Senator KENNEDY and Senator FEINSTEIN to prohibit the use of funds for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and for the development of new nuclear weapons concepts.

Both the administration's policy of pre-emptive war and the suggestion, reportedly included in the Nuclear Posture Review, that it might use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries undercut U.S. non-proliferation pronouncements. And these policies form the context in which we must evaluate administration proposals for new nuclear weapons research.

Moves to make nuclear weapons just another part of the U.S. arsenal of usable weapons send a strong and unmistakable message to other countries: the only way to deter the United States is to have nuclear weapons of your own.

The President's agenda for a new generation of nuclear weapons is included in the bill before us today, which funds the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, the Advanced Concepts Initiative-which could include low-yield nuclear weapons-and the Modern Pit Facility. Funds for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, known as RNEP, or the bunker buster, are supposed to cover a "study" of turning existing nuclear bombs into earth penetrators. But what a robust study this is. The 5-year budget required by Congress and submitted by the Department of Energy funds the "study" at $27.6 million in fiscal year 2005, but the 5-year total balloons to $484.7 million.

Last year, Congress passed amendments that required congressional authorization before later phases and developmental engineering of RNEP could take place. The price tag suggests that the administration sees RNEP as far more than a study; it is clearly looking ahead to the development and fielding of a new nuclear weapon. If so, the Congressional Research Service warns that the 5-year cost is far from the total price tag for this program.

It is impossible to provide an estimate of total program cost because of the difficulty of the task at hand.

The current nuclear earth penetrator, the B61-11, can penetrate only to 20 feet in dry earth. According to physicist Rob Nelson from Princeton University, even an extremely small bunker buster with a yield of one-tenth of a kiloton must penetrate 140 feet underground to be contained. It is hard to imagine the technical feat required to penetrate into hardened targets to the depth necessary to prevent massive fallout from a nuclear weapon with the RNEP's yield, which is said to be far in excess of 5 kilotons. In fact, preventing the spread of fallout from an RNEP is impossible-and tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of casualties could result from the nuclear fallout from such a weapon.

U.S. nuclear tests from the 1960s and 1970s illustrate the point. The 1962 "Sedan" test exploded a 100-kiloton weapon 635 feet underground. It produced a gigantic cloud of fallout and left a crater a quarter mile in diameter. To destroy a deeply buried target, an even larger weapon would be needed-and an RNEP would be lucky to penetrate more than 50 feet underground. The fallout would be immense.

The bill before us also includes $9 million for the Advanced Concept Initiative that could lead to the development of new nuclear weapons, including low-yield nuclear weapons.

This program raises further concerns: Will the new weapons require a resumption of nuclear testing, leading others to test as well? Will the new weapons erode the current gap between nuclear and conventional weapons, which helps to make nuclear war "unthinkable" and to deter other countries from developing such weapons?

The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and low-yield nuclear weapons are not like regular nuclear weapons. Regular nuclear weapons are designed to deter an adversary; the massive destruction and civilian casualties they cause make nuclear weapons unlike even other weapons of mass destruction, with the possible exception of smallpox. But these nuclear weapons are different. They bridge the gap between conventional weapons and the city-busting weapons of the cold war. They offer the lure of a better way to destroy point targets.

Supporters of new nuclear weapons argue that they, too, could deter an adversary, and that is true. All nuclear weapons have a deterrent function. But the deterrence benefits that low-yield weapons provide are far outweighed by both the risk that they will actually be used and the dangerous signal that they send to other countries-whether intentionally or not-that we intend to fight nuclear wars.

These nuclear weapons blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war. They begin to make nuclear war more "thinkable," as Herman Kahn might have said. But Herman Kahn's book was "Thinking About the Unthinkable." He understood that nuclear war was unthinkable, even as he demanded that we think about how to fight one if we had to. Looking at the foreign and defense policies of the current administration, I fear that they have failed to understand that vital point. They want to make nuclear war "thinkable."

And that failure of understanding could lead to bigger failures: a failure to understand how to keep other countries from developing nuclear weapons; a failure to view nonproliferation as a vital and workable policy objective; and perhaps even a failure to avoid a nuclear war, which would do horrible damage to our country.

Building bunker busters and low-yield nuclear weapons is not a path to non-proliferation. Neither is a program to do R&D on such weapons, while Defense Department officials press our scientists to come up with reasons to build them.

Neither is a program to test those weapons-which would surely be necessary to develop new low-yield weapons; and which would just as surely be the death knell not only of the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, but also of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Consider what the administration has said regarding nuclear weapons: The Nuclear Posture Review of December 2001 spoke of reducing U.S. reliance upon nuclear weapons. But it also reportedly listed not only Russia and China, but also North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya as potential enemies in a nuclear war.

It spoke of possibly needing to develop and test new types of nuclear weapons, gave that as a reason for increasing our nuclear test readiness, and said that nuclear weapons might be used to neutralize chemical or biological agents. And in the run-up to the Iraq war, the administration proclaimed a doctrine of preemption against any potential foe that acquired weapons of mass destruction.

Now, if you were a North Korean leader, or an Iranian or Syrian one, which part of those reports would you act on? The part that reduces reliance on nuclear weapons? Or the part that names you as a possible target for nuclear preemption?

So far, we have one positive answer-from Libya, which is giving up its WMD program.

But from North Korea and Iran, the response is much more disturbing. The Washington Post reported last month that a new National Intelligence Estimate would likely conclude that North Korea has approximately eight nuclear bombs, instead of two; and that its secret uranium enrichment program would be operational by 2007 and produce enough weapons-grade uranium for another six bombs per year. Iran was accelerating its nuclear weapons program, when disclosures and IAEA inspections exposed it and disrupted Iran's efforts. It pursued two means of uranium enrichment-centrifuges and lasers-and experimented with separating plutonium.

Even countries that are our friends and allies worry about-and react to-these U.S. policies. Just last week, Brazil's new Ambassador reiterated his country's intent to limit the access of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Brazil's uranium enrichment plant. One rationale he used was Brazil's unhappiness that the Bush administration would consider using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries.

How shall we stem the spread of nuclear weapons? For a while, it seemed as though the administration's approach would be to declare war on every adversary that dared to go nuclear. But do we really intend to go to war with North Korea, if the price is the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of South Korean civilians? In fact, we appear now to be withdrawing half our ground combat forces from South Korea to send them to Iraq; and there are rumors that those forces will not return to Korea.

Do we intend to go to war with Iran, when we cannot guarantee security in Iraq? The list of countries that we accuse of having weapons of mass destruction is long. Will we take them all on? And what do we do when Indian officials cite our Iraq war arguments as justification for a possible attack on Pakistan that could risk a nuclear war? Is this the world we want?

Nobody ever said that nonproliferation was easy.

I don't have a silver bullet; and I don't expect the President to have one, either. But you have to keep your eye on the ball. When conservatives opposed the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, they said that countries would build nuclear weapons for their own strategic reasons. That is right.

It means that if we want to prevent proliferation, or roll it back, we have to affect those strategic calculations. Nonproliferation policy gives us a framework for those efforts.

The Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty gives us international support, and affects the calculations of countries whose neighbors sign and obey the treaty. The Nuclear Suppliers Group buys more time, by restricting exports of nuclear or dual-use materials and equipment. But in the end, it still comes down to other countries' strategic calculations.

For lasting nonproliferation, we must treat the regional quarrels that drive countries to seek nuclear weapons. We were able to do that with Argentina and Brazil. As South Africa moved away from apartheid, we were able to do that there, as well. We are making a real effort to help India and Pakistan step back from the brink, and we must continue that effort. But we also have to address security concerns in East Asia, including North Korea's concerns, if we are to keep that whole region from developing nuclear weapons. And we have to pursue peace in the Middle East.

Nor is there really an alternative to working with the international community.

We don't have the ability to inspect sites in Iran; the International Atomic Energy Agency does have that ability. Its inspections have revealed much about the extent of Iran's nuclear program and have made it harder for Iran to pursue that program.

We cannot close down proliferation traffic all by ourselves. The case of North Korea shows how much we need the help of other countries. The cooperation of other countries, especially including Russia and China, is essential. That is why the Proliferation Security Initiative is so important, as is our adherence to international law in implementing that initiative.

Those are the paths to nonproliferation. They are long and difficult paths, and we do not know whether we will succeed. But we can see where we want to go, and we can see how working those issues will help get us there.

Building a new generation of nuclear weapons will only take us on the opposite path. So I urge my colleagues to support the Kennedy-Feinstein amendment to prohibit funding for those counterproductive weapons.

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