The Pentagon is pressing ahead with a plan to put conventional warheads on inter-continental ballistic missiles for use against potential terrorist targets. The proposed non-nuclear warheads will be placed on submarine-launched Trident II missiles and will be able to reach a target anywhere in the world within an hour.
The New York Times reported that a paper prepared by the US Strategic Command defines the targets as weapon assembly sites, any location where terrorists meet, or the gathering of any known terrorists, even though such a gathering could easily disperse before a weapon reached the area. Implementation of the plan will cost US$500 million. The Defense Department has asked Congress to approve US$127 million from this year's budget.
Earlier this month, two former defence secretaries, Harold Brown and James Schlesinger, published an op-ed article in the Washington Post, arguing that the US should arm some of the ballistic missiles on the Trident submarine with conventional warheads. They claimed that nuclear warheads on the submarine are impossible to use in an anti-terrorist attack. They can only act as a deterrent. However, if they were equipped with conventional warheads, the Trident submarine could immediately react to a threat from anywhere in the world.
However, some congressmen worry that this could trigger a nuclear war, as it would be difficult, within a short period of time, to educate everyone to believe that the warheads on the US missiles are non-nuclear. Defense experts also worry that the move could trigger a new round of the Arms Race. According to Strategic Command General Cartwright, the plan aims to improve America's Global Strike capacity with conventional weapons in fighting against terrorism.
However, considering the US' unwarranted attack on Iraq in 2003, analysts worry that other countries will have to increase their defense budget in order to research and produce weapons that can resist such a system. The plan could even trigger nuclear conflict. If the US launched a ballistic missile, other nuclear countries might take retaliatory action if they are unclear about the strategic purpose of the American attack or unable to confirm if the missile is nuclear or not. Due to the large scale and long-distance destruction capacity of the weapon, there is no country that will simply wait to assess the damage. Therefore the possibility of nuclear conflict has substantially increased.
The New York Times reported that current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fully supports the idea and hopes to get the system operational within two years.
The Defense Department said it aims to improve its anti-terrorism weapon capacity, yet terrorists and their training camps are continually mobile. With the current network and separate target strategy, it will be hard to fully destroy terrorist cells with conventional warheads. The plan is a pretext to ensure research and development funding for a greater goal. The plan to place warheads on ballistic missiles indicates US determination to be the world's dominant military superpower.
(People's Daily online June 9, 2006)