WASHINGTON — A retired U.S. Air Force general formerly in charge of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal yesterday criticized a number of Bush administration nuclear arms initiatives and called for significant cuts.
Gen. Eugene Habiger called the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in May 2002, a “good treaty,” but criticized its timeline.
The treaty requires both countries to remove from deployment all but 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads by Dec. 31, 2012. The treaty, also known as the Moscow Treaty, does not specify what should happen to the removed warheads or define any warhead levels beyond 2012 (see GSN, June 2, 2003).
“That’s 21 years after the end of the Cold War. What’s wrong with that picture?” he said in a speech to an Arms Control Association conference.
Habiger called for significant additional cuts, but did not specify whether they should apply only to deployed warheads, or to the total strategic arsenal.
“It’s time for us to get down to lower levels,” he said.
“Cold War Really Didn’t End”
Habiger, who retired in 1988 and said he strives to be nonpartisan in his public comments, blamed “both sides of the aisle” for insufficient reductions to U.S. and Russian nuclear forces (see related GSN story, today).
He also attributed U.S. and Russian policies to a persisting Cold War mentality.
“The Cold War really didn’t end and both the United States and Russia have relatively large numbers of nuclear weapons. They are like two boxers, ready to go after each other, and neither of them wants to back away,” he said.
He praised a RAND study published last year that warned that current nuclear weapons postures and other factors could contribute to an accidental or unintended U.S. or Russian nuclear weapon launch (see GSN, Jan. 28).
Habiger said the total elimination of nuclear weapons “is never going to happen” and would be unwise because warheads will continue to be needed for deterrence against various WMD threats.
Lowering numbers of nuclear weapons down to around 1,000 per side would require a re-emphasis on targeting Russian cities, as there would be insufficient numbers for effectively targeting forces, he said.
“You’ve got to go back to city-busting,” he said.
Other nuclear states would also need to be included in reductions, he said.
“I see a world at some point in the future to be at a few hundred nuclear weapons for the United States, for Russia, for China and hopefully far less for other countries,” he said.
Habiger criticized administration plans for researching and developing new nuclear weapons capabilities as “a terrible waste of money.”
“To go out and spend upwards of $10 billion for a weapon that has very, very little military utility does not make a lot of sense,” he said, adding the B-61 mod-11 bunker-busting warhead developed in the 1990s is “all we need.”
Those comments echoed criticism this week by another retired Air Force commander, Gen. Charles Horner, who commanded the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Space Command and was in charge of all allied air assets during the 1991 Gulf War (see GSN, Jan. 26).
Tactical Nuclear Weapons
Habiger also blamed “both sides of the aisle” for insufficient transparency on tactical nuclear weapons.
He said the CIA estimates that Russia has between 12,000 and 18,000 tactical nuclear weapons.
“No one has stepped up to the accounting, the inventory of tactical nuclear weapons both in Russia and the United States. That is unacceptable in my view,” he said.