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The Bush Doctrine on Nuclear Weapons

15 March 2002

Six months after the World Trade Center attack, the Bush Administration has formulated a new military policy. The Bush Doctrine is being promoted as a response to terrorism. But, practically speaking, its potential applications have less to do with combating terrorism than they do with asserting the dominance of American military power at home and in the world.

The most dangerous aspect of the Bush Doctrine is its resurrection of the idea of tactical nuclear weapons, the Strangelovian notion that the threat of nuclear attack has a legitimate place in international diplomacy, and that the use of nuclear weapons can serve a tactical function under battlefield conditions.

The Bush Administration s Nuclear Posture Review proposes building a new generation of small nuclear bombs to be used against terrorists hiding in caves, as well as against underground command posts and biological weapon facilities. The goal, says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is to provide the president with a range of options to defeat any aggressor.

The model for a war against terrorism is Afghanistan, of course. There, remnants of Al Qaida have been hiding out in mountain caves - not very successfully it seems. More to the point, terrorists in caves cannot launch missiles, hijack planes or drive truck bombs into buildings in the manner of our own made-in-America terrorist, Timothy McVeigh. The military doesn't even have to use conventional bombs to defeat terrorists in caves. Soldiers can surround the caves and starve them into submission.

Terrorists are dangerous because they operate in large populations. The Bush Administration has tried to link every terrorist group from the jungles of the Philippines to the deserts of the Middle East to bin Laden's Al Qaida network. In the world according to Bush, any country we don't like is part of bin Laden's gang. But the world is full of powerless people with grievances to bear, some legitimate, others not; some Arab or Muslim, some, even, as we have seen, self-described Christian and American. The terrorists who most threaten us, as police investigations have shown, do not live in caves, but in cities like Hamburg, Miami and New York. Is the Pentagon planning to nuke Miami because some inspired patriot, part of some anti-terrorist neighborhood watch, sees two Arab-American men walking in the neighborhood? Do we drop a small earth-penetrating nuclear weapon on New York in order to destroy a terrorist cell in a basement apartment in Queens?

Generals, it is often said, are always fighting the previous war. In terms of fighting terrorism, Afghanistan is an anomaly. It had a civil war going on before the American intervention and an oppressive government that most Afghans are happy to be rid of. Afghani nationalists also saw bin Laden's Al Qaida as foreign occupiers. These advantages are not easily replicated, not in Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Libya or even Iraq, all of which Bush has recklessly asserted are potential targets of our nuclear arsenal. People who are threatened or attacked don't always roll over. They usually fight back.

The new nuclear weapons that Bush wants to build will take years to develop, so practically speaking they have nothing to do with Saddam Hussein or any current real or imagined terrorist threat. What they do have to do with is the violation and destruction of all existing agreements regarding nuclear weapons. This is the real essence of the Bush Administration's nuclear policy. Because it's part of a pattern, I consider it a doctrine. To begin with, the Administrations pursuit of an anti-missile missile violates the anti-ballistic missile [ABM] treaty. The Administration is also at odds with Russian over agreed-upon reductions of nuclear weapons. The Russians want to destroy all weapons except those they believe they need for mutual deterrence. But the U.S. doesn't want to destroy any of its excess weapons. It merely wants to store them - quite a difference. And now Bush is proposing this new generation of nuclear weapons that, in order to become operational, will have to be tested. This means violating the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and ending the moratorium on underground testing.

The predictable result of The Bush Doctrine will be a new arms race. Russia and China won't sit idly by with the United States building and threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons and describing them as targets. The Bush Doctrine represents a decisive break with Cold War doctrine in which nuclear weapons were seen as strategic deterrents, mutual assurance that no country would use nuclear weapons against any other. It's true that the United States considered using nuclear weapons in Vietnam and elsewhere, but it's significant that such an option was always rejected. Now, insists President Bush, all options are on the table. Bush's disregard for international agreements and opinion is as dangerous as it is monumental.

In collapsing the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons and destroying the balance of mutual deterrence, the Bush Doctrine opens the nuclear genie of nuclear proliferation. By agreeing to limit nuclear weapons, the United States had contributed to their containment. By violating treaties, funding research, conducting new tests, and building more bombs, the U.S. virtually assures that nuclear weapons will end up in the hands of terrorists or hostile nations.

The Bush Administration claims that terrorists are trying to build nuclear weapons. Should we believe that? If the nuclear threat was real, would the Administration still be encouraging the continued operation and further construction of highly vulnerable nuclear power plants which in a terrorist attack would lay waste to a vast area? It's difficult to know what to believe. But it's certainly evident that the Bush Doctrine on nuclear weapons has nothing to do with stopping terror. On the contrary, it is a reckless and needless provocation that increases the danger not only of a nuclear holocaust but of terrorist attacks against the American people.

Marty Jezer
Published by Common Dreams © 2002 by Marty Jezer

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