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Bush's Nuclear Footsie with China
Published on Thursday, September 6, 2001 in The Progressive
Bush's Nuclear Footsie with China
by Matthew Rothschild
George W.'s nuclear policy is bordering on lunacy at this point.

Just look at his latest idea to wink at China if it resumes nuclear testing or builds up its fleet of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States. (At the moment, China has about 20.)

Bush is playing a game of nuclear footsie with China apparently in hopes of mollifying Beijing over missile defense.

That's just what we need. More nuclear weapons that can hit U.S. soil!

Two days after The New York Times broke this story, the Administration issued a mealy-mouthed statement denying that it would drop objections to a Chinese nuclear build-up "to overcome China's opposition" to Star Wars, and denying that it would "acquiesce in any resumption of nuclear testing by China."

But it wasn't a very credible crawl back, since senior officials confirmed the gist of the story to the Times even after the statement of clarification.

Bush's indifference to more nuclear weapons in the hands of the Chinese, or more multiple warheads on Russian missiles (as Putin has warned about), is almost baffling.

These are the countries that pose the biggest threats to the United States, not Iraq or North Korea. But the Bush Administration is blasé about the risks.

"Why panic? They [the Chinese] are modernizing anyway," one senior Bush official told the Times.

Rather than do all it can to get China to disarm, the Bush Administration is all but telling China to go ahead and rearm, which Chinese military officials feel compelled to do by Bush's missile defense plan.

It should be clear already: Missile defense is making the world more dangerous, not more safe. So why is Bush so gung-ho on it?

He may be a true believer like Reagan (simple minds favor simplistic solutions).

He may want to reward his friends in the arms industry.

And he may be pushing missile defense for crass political reasons: Karl Rove probably has the poll numbers that show it's an issue that helps Republicans, who like to accuse the Democrats as being soft on defense.

(What else are the Republicans going to run on? The economy and the environment?)

But lest Democrats get too smug, it might be a good idea to notice that the Bush game of Chinese nuclear footsie is eerily similar to the Clinton game of Russian nuclear footsie.

To support their own version of missile defense, the Clintonites urged the Kremlin to keep its nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert, the single most dangerous idea in Clinton's eight years.

Keeping weapons on hair-trigger alert means Russia and the United States have only fifteen minutes to decide whether to launch their weapons in retaliation for what they perceive as an incoming first-strike. Computer errors, human errors, and miscommunication can spell disaster when nuclear weapons are crouched in their starting blocks. Several times in the nuclear age, and as recently as 1995, this hair-trigger alert almost led to an accidental nuclear holocaust.

What was the Clintonite reasoning?

For political purposes, it, too, wanted to sell the American people on Star Wars. When Russia balked, viewing missile defense as provocative, the Clinton negotiators responded: Well, if you, Russia, are so worried that we, the United States, would launch a first-strike attack against you and then protect ourselves with a missile shield, just keep your missiles ready to fly so you can retaliate against us even before our first strike hits your soil.

Seems that nuclear and political strategists in both the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration will go to any lengths, no matter how potentially suicidal, to sell missile defense.

But what does that leave us with?

A Russia with weapons on hair trigger alert, and/or a China with many more nuclear weapons aimed at us than it had before.

Somehow, these are not comforting notions.

They don't make me sleep better at night.


Copyright 2001 The Progressive, Madison, WI


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