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An American Challenge for Global Security
By Stansfield Turner
Westview 163pp $21

In 1970, as a newly minted rear admiral, Stansfield Turner asked a pilot and a bombardier aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Independence what their mission would be if nuclear war broke out. Their target, it turned out, was an unimportant bridge in Bulgaria. The carrier, Turner writes, was ''assigned inconsequential targets because the United States had many more nuclear weapons than it needed.''

It's a recurring theme in Turner's slim, provocative new book, Caging the Nuclear Genie. As a remedy for troubled efforts to shrink nuclear-weapons stockpiles, the former Central Intelligence Agency chief offers a blend of utopian wishes and pragmatic policy suggestions.

Turner concedes that full nuclear disarmament isn't politically practical. So he proposes a three-pronged program instead. First, in what he calls ''strategic escrow,'' thousands of warheads would be separated from their launchers and stored in warehouses subject to international inspection. That would make accidental or unauthorized launches less apt to occur.

Second, Turner recommends a no-first-use treaty. The treaty and strategic escrow would send a message to nuclear wannabes that getting these arms isn't important or useful because they won't be used. Finally, Turner backs limited antimissile defense systems as safeguards against any attack by a rogue state.

Turner's book is more than an arms-control proposal, however. It is a readable primer on nuclear weapons and strategy. He describes, for example, the difference in explosive power between nukes and conventional arms. He notes that, during the Persian Gulf War, the allies dropped 84,000 metric tons of conventional bombs, which altogether had less than 20% of the explosive power of the common Russian 550 kiloton nuclear bomb.

Nor is the blast the only issue. Unlike conventional bombs, nukes can start mammoth firestorms, strew radioactive fallout, and set off electromagnetic pulses that disrupt power, communications, and computer networks. It's this collateral damage that make nuclear weapons a poor third-choice option for resolving disputes: Diplomacy and conventional arms are preferable. Even if the U.S. were attacked by, say, Saddam Hussein, Turner doubts that Washington would opt for a nuclear response, since that would mean the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis and ''the unfathomable responsibility for opening a new nuclear Pandora's Box.''

Turner notes that, after President George Bush withdrew most tactical nuclear weapons deployed outside the U.S., Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev did likewise. Turner thinks the U.S. should take the same initiative with strategic escrow. If Moscow doesn't follow suit, U.S. warheads could go back on their launchers. It's an idea the Administration should consider. With the current woes facing moves to reduce these weapons, the U.S. has little to lose--and much to gain.



PHOTO: Cover, ``Caging the Nuclear Genie''


Updated Oct. 2, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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