Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the next American president should pursue a new agreement with Russia to further reduce the size of both nations’ nuclear weapons arsenals.
“I think it ought to be an agreement that is shorter, simpler and easier to adjust to real-world conditions than most of the strategic arms agreements that we’ve seen over the last 40 years,” he said.
Both presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, advocate negotiating further reductions with Russia.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates makes remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008.(AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
Gates spoke Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he said the long-term outlook for keeping U.S. nuclear weapons safe and reliable is “bleak,” in part because the United States is experiencing a brain drain in the laboratories that design and develop the world’s most powerful weapons.
Gates said America’s more than 5,000 nuclear weapons are now safe and secure, but he sketched out a series of concerns about the future, while stressing that nuclear weapons must remain a viable part of the U.S. strategy for deterring attack as long as other countries have them.
“Hope as we will, the power of nuclear weapons and their strategic impact is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle — at least for a very long time,” he said.
In a later question-and-answer session with his audience, Gates said he is concerned about the possibility that some Russian nuclear weapons from the old Soviet arsenal may not be fully accounted for.
“I have fairly high confidence that no strategic or modern tactical nuclear weapons have leaked” beyond Russian borders, Gates said. “What worries me are the tens of thousands of old nuclear mines, nuclear artillery shells and so on, because the reality is the Russians themselves probably don’t have any idea how many of those they have or, potentially, where they are.”
Gates offered a number of reasons the United States should maintain its nuclear arsenal, including the assertion that by providing an umbrella of protection for allies like Japan and South Korea, it removes a reason for those countries to feel the need to develop their own nuclear weapons.
Echoing concerns by some congressional Republicans, Gates said there are reasons to worry about the U.S. arsenal.
“Let me first say very clearly that our weapons are safe, secure and reliable,” Gates said. “The problem is the long-term prognosis — which I would characterize as bleak.” He noted that the United States has not designed a new nuclear weapon since the 1980s and has not built a new one since 1992.
From the Associated Press