Monday, October 31, 2011

Scare and Scare Again

In an editorial, yesterday the New York Times spoke out sharply against any further care and feeding of the US nuclear weapons program; viz., "The Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget." The Times opined that the upgrades to this program planned by the Obama Administration, to the tune of $600 billion to be spent over the next ten years, are unnecessary and a sharp reduction in the numbers of deployed and stockpiled nuclear weapons in the US arsenal is now entirely in order.

Moreover, a cancellation of DOE/NNSA plans to build a new plutonium pit manufacturing facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (for ~$5 billion), and a new uranium parts fabrication facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (another ~$5 billion) should also ensue.

The Times argued that, since the Russian nuclear threat to America has vanished, or become "unthinkable", it is illogical for the US to continue to maintain an arsenal of nuclear weapons of a size perhaps appropriate during the cold war, but no longer.

But, in the same edition of the Times, a long news article entitled "Are We Ready for Bioterrorism?" appeared, purporting to describe the sorry state of the US bioweapons defense program. The Times reported that the major threats faced by the US today arise from weaponized forms of the smallpox and anthrax bacilli; but, no good vaccine has been developed to combat these two pathogens. Thus, the US may be standing naked before its enemies, who might be armed with scary bioweapons.

What the Times reporter failed to point out was that antrax has been successfully weaponized by the US and by the Russians, during the cold war, but by no one else. What's more, today the only live smallpox bacilli are residing in vaults at bioweapons laboratories in the US and in Russia. So then is the reporter just trying to scare us a bit, in keeping with the present season? Or is he really suggesting that we try to think more about the "unthinkable"?

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