Bush To Review Nuclear Arsenal

Friday, February 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush said Friday the Pentagon is doing a ``top-to-bottom review'' of the military, including spending priorities. Other officials said the study includes a consideration of how much further the nation's large arsenal of nuclear weapons could be safely reduced.

Responding to a reporter's question about the defense budget, Bush said there would be no ``early supplemental,'' meaning an add-on to the current Pentagon budget of $297 billion. Aides have said the president is leaving open the possibility of asking Congress for a supplemental appropriation this spring or summer.

Bush said he has asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to conduct a wide-ranging review of the Defense Department before firm decisions are made on budget increases and other changes.

``Secretary Rumsfeld is beginning a review of the defense — a top-to-bottom review of what's happening in today's military, reviewing missions, reviewing opportunities for change,'' he said.

Bush has said repeatedly that he sees room for unilateral reductions in the number of offensive nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, although the military has balked at further cuts. Rumsfeld has not publicly expressed a view on this. When he noted several days ago that his review of the Defense Department would include a look a possible further cuts in nuclear weapons, Rumsfeld would not say whether he favors that approach. He seemed to hint in that direction, saying, ``It is a different world, we know that.''

In his remarks Friday, Bush did not mention nuclear weapons, but he said he would be ``traveling the country next week,'' talking about defense priorities, including additional pay raises for the troops.

Bush was asked about those who say the military needs a quick infusion of money in order to maintain combat readiness.

``That's part of the review process,'' he said. ``I have said during the campaign, I have said since I have been sworn in, it is important for us to do a top-to-bottom review to review all missions, spending priorities, and that's exactly what the secretary of defense is going to do. Before people jump to conclusions I think it's important to get that review finished.''

Cuts in the nuclear arsenal could help the administration gain support abroad for Bush's plan to build a national missile defense — a project the Europeans question and Russia and China strong oppose.

The United States now has about 7,000 warheads for deployed nuclear weapons, compared with about 6,000 for Russia. The most recent nuclear arms reduction treaty between Russia and the United States calls for cutting both sides' arsenals to 3,500 warheads.

Further reductions, to between 2,000 and 2,500 warheads on each side, were proposed during the Clinton administration as a goal for the next round of arms talks. Bush has indicated an interest in cutting below that level, and Rumsfeld said last weekend that he had been told by the president to consider how much further the Pentagon could cut.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said Thursday that Rumsfeld had not yet received formal orders to begin the review, which is part of a comprehensive assessment of the nation's military requirements.

The New York Times reported that Bush intended to issue three military policy directives as soon as Friday — including the nuclear force review.

In an interview last Friday with reporters traveling with him to a security conference in Germany, Rumsfeld disclosed his intention to conduct a series of reviews, including a look at the size of the nuclear arsenal.

Rumsfeld has been constrained in his review by the fact that he has no other Bush appointees on his staff. The president has said he will nominate Paul Wolfowitz to be deputy defense secretary, but he had not yet been confirmed and other top Pentagon posts have yet to be filled.

Rumsfeld said he also would review ``quality of life'' issues to include military salaries and housing, as well as the Pentagon's business practices. He and Bush intend to highlight these issues during visits next week to several military bases, including U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va.