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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Safe nuclear weapons?
How far should America develop its nuclear arsenal?

The United States must develop a nuclear arsenal that adequately reflects the modern world according to Jack Spencer at the Heritage Foundation. Dan Plesch of the Royal Institute for International Affairs disagrees. They both argue their point with Tim Sebastian.

Jack Spencer believes that low-yield nuclear weapons may be the best way to target large biological-weapons production facilities. But the development of tactical nuclear bombs would be a significant departure from the policy of deterrence.

In a Hardtalk interview with Tim Sebastian he debates these issues with Dan Plesch who believes that this policy will only encourage the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by others.

I think that nuclear weapons have been a tremendous stabilising force in international relations
Jack Spencer
Last week US government scientists and Pentagon officials met behind tight security at a Nebraska air force base to discuss the development of a modernised arsenal of small, specialised nuclear weapons which critics believe could mark the dawn of a new era in proliferation.

Addressing new threats

According to Jack Spencer, it is time to re-evaluate the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy, especially the utility of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons.

Traditionally, these weapons have been necessary to counter an adversary with very large land forces that could overrun America's more expeditionary forces.

The argument that we seem to be hearing is that the more dangerous we make the world the safer it is
Dan Plesch

While this requirement endures, tactical nuclear weapons may also be the best way to address the new set of threats.

Conflicting the treaty

It is argued that the development of these weapons would almost certainly conflict with the United States existing treaty obligations. The US is a signatory to the comprehensive test ban treaty (but has not yet ratified it) and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

But Jack Spencer says that "the United Sates is building down its strategic arsenal from about 6,000 or strategic warheads to less than 2,000....I think that nuclear weapons have been a tremendous stabilising force in international relations but nonetheless by developing new nuclear weapons does not counter the non proliferation treaty."

He adds, "In order to undermine the nuclear threats that are out there you may have to develop new nuclear weapons."

Dan Plesch believes that a reliance on nuclear weapons can only encourage the possession of weapons of mass destruction by others:

"The argument that we seem to be hearing is that the more dangerous we make the world the safer it is, which I think is a gap in logic."

"The non proliferation treaty needs to be fully implemented which means not waiting for a never never land of nuclear disarmament."

HARDtalk can be seen on BBC World at 03:30 GMT, 08:30 GMT, 11:30 GMT, 15:30 GMT, 18:30 GMT and 22:30 GMT.

It can also be seen on BBC News 24 at 03:30 and 23:30



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