05/18/2012 09:04 am ET Updated Jul 18, 2012

Former U.S. nuclear commander startles with proposal to cut weapons arsenal by 80%


The chairman of a House subcommittee that helps shape the nation's nuclear arsenal, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), has been scathing about the Obama administration's consideration of new cuts in the arsenal's size. A shift in U.S. targeting policy, now under White House review, "could border on disarmament and significantly diminish U.S. strength," Turner complained in March. "Clearly, any further reductions will undermine the deterrent that has kept this country safe."

Turner's view has strong currency with Republicans in the House, and among some senior military officers at the Pentagon. But it got some politically interesting pushback this week from a former senior military officer, retired Marine Gen. James E. "Hoss" Cartwright. As head of the U.S. Strategic Command under President George W. Bush from 2004 to 2007, he oversaw the nuclear targeting plan and thousands of warheads atop missiles and inside long-range bombers.

Cartwright, who solidified a reputation for original thinking when he became vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to Aug. 2011, startled his former uniformed colleagues again by urging in a new report that the existing American arsenal of 5000 warheads be cut by 80 percent, in an effort meant to be matched by similar reductions in the Russian arsenal.

Cartwright said the proposed cut would boost the credibility of U.S. nuclear non-proliferation efforts, allow the United States to trim its defense budget, and also bolster its security. "No sensible argument has been put forward for using nuclear weapons to solve any of the major 21st century problems we face," said the report he signed, which was coordinated by former Minuteman missile officer Bruce Blair's Global Zero project. The report was also endorsed by Richard Burt, a former arms negotiator under President George H.W. Bush, and by Thomas Pickering, Bush's ambassador to the United Nations.

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