WASHINGTON : A senior US senator has criticized Pentagon efforts to develop a new offensive nuclear weapon despite a recent call by President Barack Obama in Japan about a future free of nuclear arms.

“The [US] Air Force is set next year to accelerate the development of this new nuclear cruise missile. It would carry an upgraded W-80 nuclear warhead and be able to penetrate the world’s most advanced air-defence systems,” US Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Ellen Tauscher,  a former Democratic congresswoman and under secretary of state for arms control and international security, wrote in an article published in The New York Times today.

While insisting on the “value” of the deterrent effect of massive US nuclear stockpile, the two authors underlined that “building new nuclear weapons like this one could be unnecessary, costly and dangerous.”

They also called on President Obama to reconsider efforts by the nation’s military establishment to develop the new nuclear cruise missile, known as the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, arguing that there are “compelling reasons” that it would increase the risk of nuclear war.

To back their opposition to the new nuclear weapon, the authors then cited an article published last year by former US Defense Secretary William Perry and former assistance defence secretary Andy Weber, stating: “Cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon” because “they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants.” 

Feinstein and Tauscher went on to urge “retiring nuclear cruise missiles” in favor of reliance on conventional weapons in a bid to “reduce the risk of setting off accidental nuclear war.”

The two also slammed the US Congress for evading “its duty” to adequately asses “the need for new nuclear weapons capable of immense destruction,” demanding a thorough and public debate on the decision to build the Long-Range Standoff Weapon.

In conclusion, the article questioned the need, the intent and the estimated $30 billion cost of developing the potentially offensive nuclear weapon, describing the effort as “irresponsible” and demanding official certification by the US defense secretary that “the sole objective of the weapon in nuclear deterrence,” as well as releasing a public cost estimate.