MOSCOW, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is all for a resumption of nuclear tests. In a key speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he said the United States could not maintain deterrence, reduce arms or modernize them without tests.
Gates pledged to set up a special group under James Schlesinger, a former U.S. defense and energy secretary, to draft measures for the direction and supervision of nuclear facilities in the country.
The arguments the Pentagon chief used to justify the resumption of tests are not new and are slightly cunning. He said the country ceased developing nuclear weapons in the 1980s and stopped producing nuclear munitions in the 1990s. With weapons developers and engineers gone, he said, the United States suffered a brain drain.
Since the mid-1990s the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has lost one-quarter of its staff. Half the scientists working in nuclear laboratories are older than 50, while young engineers have never engaged in the development of nuclear weapons. What's more, since 1992 the United States has conducted no nuclear tests. This, according to Gates, compromises the effectiveness of the weapons required by the American military.
Curiously, Russian nuclear weapons developers use the same words and speak about the same problems. Only the problems are Russia's, not America's. Russia, too, conducted its last nuclear tests in the remote arctic region of Novaya Zemlya in October 1992. Like the United States, it has lost not a quarter but more than half of its nuclear weapon designers. It is also experiencing a shortage of young talent wishing to work in this sector.
The explanation is simple. Nuclear weapons, although remaining a means of deterrence, are no longer the frightening prospect they were during the Cold War. What's more, the large stockpiles accumulated by the United States and the Soviet Union in those years, as Gates nostalgically recalls, are no longer needed.
A series of documents signed by Russia and the United States over the past 20 years bear witness to this simple conclusion. They include the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- START-1 -- of 1991, the Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms -- START-2 -- which was signed in 1993 but was never enacted, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty of 2002, and Russia's and U.S. initiatives on tactical nuclear weapons in the early 1990s.
They and other agreements have cut nuclear stockpiles considerably. Instead of 10,000 to 12,000 nuclear warheads shared by the Soviet Union and the United States in the late 1980s, Russia now has 3,100 and the United States 4,545. And instead of the 25,000 to 40,000 tactical nuclear munitions of that time, there are now 5,050 in the United States and 5,614 in Russia. These figures are published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The overall decrease in inventory is 80 percent since the Cold War era, and led to the results mentioned by Gates; and this is likely to be repeated by Russian weapons specialists.
(Part 2: U.S. and Russian secret research on new nukes)
(Nikita Petrov is a Russian military commentator. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)
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