I've written on this blog before about the reckless reluctance of some members of Congress to modernize America's aging nuclear arsenal, and their desire to abide by a never-ratified nuclear test ban treaty, for fear of appearing "provocative." But as this and other stories indicate, doves in Congress also seem reluctant to develop non-nuclear alternatives -- including Trident missiles armed with conventional, high-explosive warheads -- that might be used in a crisis.
Here's an excerpt from the story at GovExec.com:
"An independent panel on Friday advised that the U.S. Navy develop and field a conventional version of its nuclear-armed Trident D-5 missile, a Defense Department initiative that has received scant support thus far from a skeptical Congress.
In a 192-page report, commissioned by lawmakers in 2006, the National Academy of Sciences experts take issue with a Capitol Hill decision to eliminate this year's funding for the Conventional Trident Modification.
"The committee disagrees with the congressional decision not to fund testing of [the] CTM [missile] in 2008, and recommends instead that Congress fund" Conventional Trident Modification research and development "at a level sufficient to achieve early deployment if tests confirm system effectiveness," writes the group, composed of 18 national defense and nuclear weapons experts.
The Navy missile was to be the first weapon developed and deployed for a new mission called "prompt global strike," in which terrorist targets or rogue nations could be attacked within just one hour of a launch command. Currently, nuclear weapons are the only tools in the U.S. military arsenal available to hit urgent targets halfway around the world in such short order.
Lawmakers last year decided that the Navy project would be limited to basic research and development and must share a $100 million budget in fiscal 2008 with an array of other "promising conventional prompt global strike technologies." Critics on Capitol Hill cited concerns that, if launched from the same Ohio-class submarines that carry an identical nuclear weapon, a conventional D-5 ballistic missile might be mistaken for a nuclear salvo and elicit a violent response from other atomic powers like Russia or China."
The "critics on Capitol Hill" ought to worry less about the reaction of ruthless leaders in Russia and China -- nations that won't flinch from doing what's in their national security interest -- and more about the risks this country runs if doesn't take the necessary steps -- and take them soon -- to modernize and strengthen its sagging deterrent capability, nuclear and conventional.
The best way to avoid having to resort to the "nuclear option" is to have an array of equally-effective conventional options available. "Prompt Global Strike" is meant to do that. Yet the neo-disarmament crowd in Congress is making a nuclear strike even more likely, during some future crisis, by scuttling a viable conventional arms alternative.