Las Vegas Sun

July 17, 2024

Sun editorial:

Nuclear weapons

Plans to revamp the nation’s arsenal should be carefully reviewed by Congress

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is airing his concerns about the nation’s nuclear arsenal, joining what has been a growing debate over nuclear weapons.

He is planning to address the issue in a speech today, making a last-minute push to build support for a plan to revitalize the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

The question of whether the nation needs to put more money into this program has been debated in Congress, and the Bush administration has pushed for a revitalized “nuclear weapons complex.”

Gates has been speaking about the issue for some time and today is expected to build on comments by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other military leaders who have called for a stronger “model of deterrence.”

As part of that effort, the administration has, for the past several years, advanced a plan to consolidate and overhaul its facilities used to make and store nuclear weapons and material. Those plans also include building new warheads to replace the current stock. In a speech last month, Gates mentioned nations developing nuclear weapons and argued that the United States needs to “maintain a credible strategic deterrent.”

Defense and Energy department officials argue that the nation’s nuclear infrastructure has been neglected and point to aging buildings and a brain drain as experienced scientists have retired or gone on to other work.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said some of the facilities are “simply falling down from age” and called the situation an “emergency.”

The Federation of American Scientists, which has opposed the government’s plan, called the concerns “completely overblown” and estimates that the U.S. has more than 4,000 nuclear weapons ready for use and more than 1,000 in reserve.

Although that certainly sounds like a “credible strategic deterrent” to us, this issue is too important to make a rash decision on, particularly in the closing days of a presidential campaign. Congress should investigate the administration’s plan and have a full and vigorous debate about the status and size of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

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