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The Neutron Warhead: Stormy Past, Uncertain Future

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Will introduction of neutron warheads into our nuclear inventory in NATO increase the chances of escalating a conventional war into a nuclear war Will they increase NATOs deterrence against a Warsaw Pact attack Are the warheads militarily effective How will their deployment affect our NATO allies How are the Soviets apt to react to this new development Such questions are admittedly more prosaic than discussions of death rays and killer warheads, but they should be addressed before we go ahead with production, and particularly before the weapons are deployed in Europe. The future of the neutron weapon is, at the time of this writing, by no means secure. Since it represents an innovative technical development in tactical nuclear weapons, it poses some real and immediate issues dealing with our concept of limited nuclear war and our deterrence in Europe it deserves a sober, careful consideration, not only as a weapon of war, but also as an instrument of foreign policy. One suspects that the production of neutron warheads has a momentum of its own that cannot be slowed. From a military point of view, they will provide, at least in the midterm, an improvement in the effectiveness of our nuclear delivery systems. Although they are somewhat more credible than the fission weapons in our current inventory, their presence, alone, will not substantially deter a Warsaw Pact attack. Should deterrence fail, they might represent an increase in NATOs ability to deny the enemy his military objectives, temporarily at least, with comparatively low levels of collateral damage. However, with the risks involved, before we deploy the neutron warhead to NATO we should review our entire policy concerning U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. As a minimum, we should carefully reexamine our conventional and nuclear force posture in Europe and, with the full participation of our NATO allies, decide exactly what we propose to do with these weapons.

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  • Nuclear Weapons

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