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APRIL 7, 2004




by Myriam Miedzian


"U.S. nuclear policy is absolutely insane." This statement was made by:
A. Ralph Nader
B. A nun protesting nuclear weapons in Colorado
C. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
D. North Korean President Kim Jong Il

Correct answer: C.

Robert McNamara said this at a recent conference on nuclear policy. It was met with full agreement by a roomful of former government and military officials as well as academic nuclear experts. Among them was former CIA director Stansfield Turner, who was quick to furnish an example of this insanity. He told us that when he was a naval officer in command of a carrier task group, one of the targets of the nuclear weapons on board was a bridge in Bulgaria so small that it couldn't be seen on a reconnaissance photograph.

I was not surprised. Back in the mid-’80s before the Soviet Union's collapse, I had interviewed McNamara, as well as former Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke and former CIA Director William Colby. They all agreed that when the average nuclear bomb has a destructive power thirty times that of the Hiroshima bomb, roughly 200 to 400 impregnable (submarine based) nuclear devices are enough to deter any conceivable enemy attack. Richard Garwin, a key designer of the first U.S. hydrogen bomb, makes the same point when he writes: "no conceivable threat requires the United States to keep more than a few hundred survivable warheads."

But for decades we have maintained a nuclear arsenal of at least 10,000 warheads at a cost of approximately $30 billion to $35 billion per year. Why? Why has our government wasted at least a trillion dollars of taxpayers' money on totally unnecessary nuclear weapons?

A major part of the answer can be found by looking at recent electoral politics. In the 2002 Georgia elections for U.S. Senate, Democratic Senator Max Cleland – who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War – was attacked for being weak on defense. Cleland was especially upset by a TV ad that opened with pictures of Osama Ben Laden and Saddam Hussein and then depicted him as soft on defense. He lost the election. Cleland's sin: He voted against legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, Cleland supported the creation of a Department of Homeland Security even before the president did, but like many Democrats he wanted the bill revised to preserve union protections for some government workers.

Now Vietnam War hero John Kerry is being attacked for being weak on defense and unpatriotic. Kerry's sins include:
• Voting in 2003 against adding another $87 billion earmarked for the Iraq War to our $400 billion military budget. He points out that he voted for an amendment that would have provided $87 billion by rolling back some of Bush's tax cuts. The amendment failed.
• Voting against some weapons systems, including the Bradley fighting vehicle. He points out that while he voted against weapons systems that he considered wasteful, he also voted for "enormous defense budgets."

Imagine the heyday Republicans would have had if John Kerry or Max Cleland had voted to save taxpayers $40 billion a year by reducing our nuclear arsenal. Any vote against increasing the military budget and even more so any vote in favor of decreasing the military budget puts a candidate at high risk of being attacked as being weak on defense and unpatriotic. The pressure is more intense than ever. As Boeing Vice Chairman Harry Stonecipher stated in a post-9/11 “Wall Street Journal” interview, "the purse is now open; any members of Congress who oppose the new [weapons spending frenzy] won't be there after November."

Combine this pressure with the fact that Boeing and other weapons manufacturers are big donors to political campaigns and maintain a revolving-door employment relationship with the Pentagon, and you have a military budget bloated with pork. Taxpayers are still funding weapons systems designed to counter the now non-existent Soviet threat. In an increasingly complex and dangerous world, Americans need more than simplistic name-calling like "weak on defense" and "unpatriotic." We deserve serious, in-depth discussions between candidates on how to allocate our tax dollars to best protect our nation.


Myriam Miedzian, Ph.D., a New York-based researcher, is the author of “Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity and Violence” (updated edition: Lantern Books/ November 2002).

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