The Cold War is over, but missiles remain

  Dear HCN,

I read your Roundup on Cold War tourism in South Dakota with apprehension (HCN, 2/14/00: From missile silo to theme park) because you could come away with the idea that the Cold War is over. When I reread the article at 2 a.m., I realized this could be someone's idea of the perfect solution: Put the Bomb in a museum; people will think it is history - dead.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The missile that will be on display is the obsolete Minuteman II. What about the Minuteman III or MX? Aren't these weapons and others like the Trident submarine, any one of which carries more explosive force than all that used in WWII, currently soaking up our tax dollars?

JFK's "ace in the hole" missile defense system certainly defined the Cold War in such incidents as the Cuban Missile Crisis of "63, but it was at the same time a public relations disaster in its "consumer appeal." People believed in the necessity of this mighty weapon (even though they never voted for it) and were at the same time justifiably terrified of it.

So, the Bomb has since assumed a much lower, if not completely flat, public profile. This is no accident. We've been hearing about the demolition and cleanup of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons plant as if we're out of the business of making those pesky nukes. Yet our nuclear arsenal today would make President Kennedy's "ace in the hole" look like a shotgun.

JFK's missiles numbered in the hundreds; today, seven nations possess a total of some 15,000 nuclear warheads. We have about 6,500, and yes, poor, fractured, diminished Russia has about 7,000. (As Russia has reduced her conventional forces, she has relied even more on her nuclear forces, with a dubious Early Warning System.)

Furthermore, about 2,500 of ours and 3,000 of theirs are on "hair trigger" alert. This means nuclear missiles can be launched in a matter of minutes, before Congress could convene and before you would dive down into your 1960s fall-out shelter that wouldn't do you any good, anyway.

Any one of these nuclear missiles carries a payload easily 20 times that which leveled Hiroshima. And with the Senate's sound defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last fall, it looks like they are here to stay. Why should nations like India, Pakistan and China renounce nuclear weapons if we are only maintaining and modernizing ours? As for Russia, they have said that if we pursue our Missile Defense System (Star Wars), it will be simpler and cheaper for them to expand their system to target all our missile defense sites. It has been said that you do not enhance your own security by diminishing that of an opponent.

President Clinton's FY2000 discretionary budget included $281 billion for defense, a $20 billion increase over last year. The good news is the next largest category is education. The bad news is that it is only $36 billion. Could this be why 28 million Americans are too dumb to pick out the United States on a world map? Is it of any assurance that those who will be picking out our foreign nuclear targets are at least smart enough to pick them out on a map?

Not only are nukes still in our budget, but we are actually spending more (adjusted for inflation) per year, than we were during the Cold War. Until these hot, gushing billions are cut off, you can't tell me this Cold War is over.

Jim Bock
Boulder, Colorado

High Country News Classifieds