Imagine a scenario in which the United States must confront a rogue regime on the brink of deploying a nuclear weapon, with the stated purpose of obliterating a key U.S. ally — Iran, for instance. Short of launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike and shattering a longstanding taboo against the use of such weapons, what other means are at our disposal for quickly and reliably knocking out the hardened bunkers where the Iranian bomb, or Iran’s command and control systems, are hidden?
Congress has canceled all work on a nuclear-tipped bunker-buster, in a pander to the disarmament lobby, so that option isn’t on the table. We will thus have to count on non-nuclear alternatives. But how can we be sure such weapons will do the job if we don’t test them in advance? This question needs to be asked of those who are trying to prevent the Pentagon from testing a conventional bunker-busting weapon on the Nevada Test Site, using the same sensationalist arguments that effectively killed the nuclear bunker-buster.
The test, dubbed “Divine Strake,” is a necessary step toward developing a non-nuclear method of knocking out hardened underground facilities — a capability that certainly seems desirable at the moment. The government says the blast effects won’t extend beyond the site. But judging from the hysterical and irresponsible rhetoric coming from critics, one would think this marked the return of nuclear testing.
Just this week, for instance, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. demanded the government stop the test, due to its possible health effects on “downwinders” living in his state — a term that has Cold War-era associations with no relevance to this test. “We are downwind,” said Huntsman. “I believe that, obviously, we need a strong national security position, a strong defense position, and capabilities to protect us abroad. But do the testing somewhere else, where citizens aren’t downwind.”
Where that might be Huntsman didn’t say, since everywhere is downwind from somewhere else. And how can we have “a strong national security position” if we don’t test weapons before deploying them? Huntsman, again, has no answers. But governors have no real responsibility for safeguarding the country, so they can afford to undermine U.S. national security by playing on unfounded fears.
Huntsman isn’t alone, however. Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, while not calling for a test halt, also have raised questions about the blast that play into the hands of those whose ultimate agenda is disarmament, nuclear and conventional.
Having a non-nuclear bunker buster is clearly in the nation’s interest. Halting or slowing its development today could come back to haunt us tomorrow.