A Nuclear Road of No Return
It turns out the threat is not from Iraq but from us.
On Sunday, the Washington Post wrote the obituary for the United States’ effort to find Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. “Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq,” read the headline, confirming what has become an embarrassing truth -- that the central rationale for the invasion and occupation of oil-rich Iraq was in fact one of history’s great frauds.
The arms inspectors “are winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms,” reported the Post, putting the lie to Colin Powell’s Feb. 6 claim at the United Nations that Iraq possessed a functioning program to build nuclear bombs and had hoarded hundreds of tons of chemical and biological materials.
Unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean the world is a safer place. The deadly weapons of mass destruction have proved phantom in Iraq, but the Bush administration is now doing its best to ensure that the world becomes increasingly unstable and armed to the teeth. Although the nuclear threat from Iraq proved to be nonexistent, the United States’ threat to use nuclear weapons and make a shambles of nuclear arms control is alarmingly vibrant.
In its latest bid to frighten the planet into a constant state of shock and awe, our government is accelerating its own leading-edge weapons-of-mass-destruction program: President Bush’s allies on the Senate Armed Services Committee have approved ending a decade-old ban on developing atomic battlefield weapons and endorsed moving ahead with creating a nuclear “bunker-buster” bomb. They also rubber-stamped the administration’s request for funds to prepare for a quick resumption of nuclear weapons testing.
What’s going on here? Having failed to stop a gang of marauders armed with nothing more intimidating than box cutters, the U.S. is now using the “war on terror” to pursue a long-held hawkish Republican dream of a “winnable nuclear war,” as the president’s father memorably described it to me in a 1980 Times interview. In such a scenario, nukes can be preemptively used against a much weaker enemy -- millions of dead civilians, widespread environmental devastation and centuries of political blowback be damned.
Building a new generation of battlefield nuclear weapons sets the stage for another round of the most dangerous arms race imaginable. What has been forgotten in all of the patriotic hoopla is that it is our country that pioneered the creation of weapons of mass destruction over the last half-century. And it was our dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that sparked the arms race of the Cold War.
Faced with the reality that nuclear weapons are useful only for mass international suicide, every U.S. president since World War II has pursued a policy of nuclear arms control. Every administration, that is, until this one, which from its first days has made clear its inveterate hostility to arms control. It attacked the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and resurrected the corpse of the “Star Wars” nuclear defense program, even as Bush’s first Nuclear Posture Review telegraphed the development of battlefield nuclear weapons and threatened their use against “rogue” nations.
“We’re moving away from more than five decades of efforts to delegitimize the use of nuclear weapons,” warned Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a dissenter on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Following our lead, why shouldn’t India and Pakistan develop battlefield nuclear weapons? Or Beijing for use against Taiwan and vice versa? After getting China and most nations to accept a testing ban, why would this administration seek to resume testing?
The current preponderance of our military power, combined with our overweening, xenophobic fear of the rest of the world, has corrupted all rational thought. Sadly, no one will listen to the mayor of Hiroshima, who last month wrote Bush to warn that new U.S. nuclear weapons development represented “a frontal attack on the process of nuclear disarmament.”
But why listen to someone from Hiroshima? What do those people know about weapons of mass destruction?