Strategic Weapons: April 29, 2000

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A conference by signatories of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had sharp words for the US and Russia. The signatory nations gave up the chance to build their own nuclear bombs in exchange for a promise by the US and Russia to begin a steady reduction in their arsenals. While the US and Russia have ratified START II and begun work on START III, the NPT signatories are not impressed. The devil is in the details. Russia has decided to store rather than dismantle 20,000 tactical warheads. The US plans to maintain a few thousand stored weapons of its own, plus 4,000 "war reserve" plutonium triggers that could be used to build new bombs within a year. While this is legal under START, the signatories do not find much difference between a deployed warhead and a stored warhead. The US Navy is upgrading its W76 submarine launched nuclear warheads to give them a better chance of destroying hard targets. The signatories fear that any kind of hard-target weapon would be used to start a nuclear war on the theory it could be won before the enemy can shoot back.--Stephen V Cole

 


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