Generals plead for nuclear arms ban

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Washington (AP) - The former commander of the United States nuclear arsenal has said that the nation's nuclear policy is fundamentally irrational, The Washington Post reported yesterday.

The retired Air Force General, George Lee Butler, said: "Nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous, hugely expensive, militarily inefficient and morally indefensible."

General Butler, 57, a former commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command, based in Omaha, Nebraska, who retired in 1994, was due to speak on the dangers of nuclear war in a lunchtime address later yesterday at the National Press Club, where he was expected to be joined in a plea for reducing nuclear arms by Andrew Goodpaster, a former supreme allied commander in Europe, and 60 other generals and admirals from around the world. They are to issue a joint statement today calling for nuclear powers to begin moving toward abolition of the weapons.

People who say that nuclear arms still are necessary despite the end of the Cold War are lost in an "intellectual smog" that would force US commanders to decide in less than 30 minutes whether to launch a devastating retaliatory nuclear strike, General Butler told The Washington Post. He said he has come to believe that the threat of attack from Russia was grossly exaggerated.

He said he "really had been dealing with a caricature all those years" of a powerful, resilient enemy. Visiting Russia in 1994 persuaded him that military installations there "hardly warranted a conventional attack", much less a nuclear strike.

The US and Russia have not held formal negotiations on eliminating nuclear arsenals since President Bill Clinton took office. The administration has said that it would like to see ratification of a treaty on nuclear arms reduction by the Russian Parliament before holding more talks.