Congress Approves Study of Two New Nuclear Weapons

WASHINGTON, DC, May 26, 2003 (ENS) - In a reversal of U.S. nuclear policy, the $400.5 billion fiscal 2004 Defense Authorization Bill that the U.S. Congress passed on Thursday includes a provision authorizing research on two new types of nuclear weapons - small, low yield nuclear weapons, and earth penetrating nuclear bombs that could destroy underground enemy facilities.

But the nuclear weapons research provision in the bill does not provide funding for development or production of either type of nuclear weapon system.

The measure also includes a requirement that the President must seek congressional authority before ordering full scale development of the new generation of battlefield nuclear weapons.

The United States has not produced a nuclear warhead since 1990, and the country has been reducing its nuclear stockpile.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last week that Defense Department researchers want to study the use of the two new types of nuclear weapons, but that does not mean the Pentagon is pursuing, developing, manufacturing or deploying such weapons.

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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (right) escorts Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov into the Pentagon on May 22 for a working luncheon. (Photo courtesy DOD)
"You make a study for a very simple reason: to learn whether you do believe that that is ... something that's needed, something that would be useful," he said at a Pentagon briefing for news media. "And we're going to look at a variety of different ways - conceivably - to develop the ability to reach a deeply buried target."

At issue are two systems: low-yield nuclear weapons of five kilotons or less that Congress had banned in 1993, and high-yield, burrowing nuclear bunker-busters that target underground military facilities or arsenals.

A comparable defense spending bill approved by the House would remove the ban on research but retain it for other steps in the process, and continue to fund the bunker-buster project.

The defense spending bills approved by the Senate and House May 22 authorize the approved amounts for defense spending, but separate appropriations measures will have to be approved for the programs and projects to be funded.

While the bills are similar, several differences between them will have to be resolved by a congressional conference committee before a final bill wins passage in both houses and goes to the President for his signature. The fiscal year begins October 1.

The House and Senate measures contain approximately $75 billion in new spending to buy weapons and weapons systems, $114.6 billion for operations and maintenance, $9.6 billion for military construction and family base housing, $60 billion for defense research and development programs, and $9.1 billion for continued development of the ballistic missile defense program.

The House measure also includes $1.2 billion for chemical and biological defense equipment and materials, and large increases for U.S. special operations forces, which are tied directly to supporting homeland security and fighting global terrorism.

The bills also authorize a 2005 base closure schedule, but require the Pentagon to eliminate half of the nation's military installations from consideration for closure.