Even as Bush joined the G-8 leaders in Switzerland on June 2nd in saying that the spread of nuclear weapons was "the pre-eminent threat to international security," his political operatives and allies were back home ramped-up for a nuke building bender.
Resurrecting domestic weapons production is the logical extension of Bush's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which outlines his plans for increasing the types of scenarios in which nuclear weapons would be used. While his administration is lowering the bar for going nuclear, Bush continues to preach nuclear abstinence to the world and threaten to visit pre-emptive attacks upon those thought to be in non-compliance of the edicts of his proselytizing. This "do as I say, not as I do" nuclear weapons policy will be a disaster for worldwide nuclear non-proliferation efforts and will, necessarily, increase the danger to Americans from nuclear weapons.
After years of nuclear reductions, the Republican controlled Congress, at the Bush administration's behest, recently set about putting our country back in the Bomb making business. They rolled back a decade-old law that was originally put on the books to curb the temptation of any rash commander (In
Chief) to "go nuclear" with a small nuclear bomb-less than five kilotons. The administration then secured tax dollars from Congress to study building new more usable nukes. The weapons-so called bunker busters and low-yield nuclear weapons-would, according to the administration's theory, deter countries that might be tempted to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because Bush would be willing to use the new weapons, due to their lower nuclear carnage quotient, in the pursuit of non-proliferation. "It is essential to undertake the research needed to evaluate a range of U.S. options that may prove essential in deterring or neutralizing future threats," said the administration's May 20 "Statement of Administration Policy" to the Senate on this issue.
Apparently Bush and the Congress have learned nothing from the history of the Nuclear Age. When one nation possesses nuclear weapons, the other belligerent, uniformly, attempts to acquire them-India and Pakistan being the most recent example. Bush's pursuit of new nukes, will likely breed worldwide suspicion about a U.S. preemptive attack on a non-nuclear nation. And what will be the likely course of action among the non-nuclear nations? To acquire their own weapons. Bush's policy will therefore have the opposite of the desired effect. It will encourage rather than deter proliferation.
Another vote by Congress would be required to produce Bush's proposed weapons. However, it is all but certain that the Republican leadership could again, as was the case in the votes described above, push through the President's will with a party-line vote.
Despite White House protestations that they are merely studying these weapon designs, their actions would point to another conclusion. At the same time the administration acquired the funding to study new nuclear weapons, the Congress also dedicated money, again at the Administration's request, to perform the necessary preparations to shorten the amount of time required to re-start nuclear weapons testing. The plan calls for cutting the timeline from the current 36 months to 18 months. Additionally, Bush's Department of Energy indicated that they are making plans to build a factory to produce new nuclear pits-the cores of nuclear bombs. On June 2nd, they released an environmental impact study for a high-capacity nuclear bomb factory that would cost between $2 billion and $4 billion dollars. Any new nuclear weapons that the Bush administration builds will be in addition to the 10,000 nuclear warhead arsenal that the U.S. continues to maintain. These policies send a clear message to the rest of the world: nuclear weapons have practical strategic value, are worth vast amounts of wealth to obtain and the current administration is entertaining putting them to use.
To make matters worse, the lesson for potential proliferators from the invasion and occupation of Iraq-which demonstrated an indomitable U.S. conventional force-was that if a country wants to forestall or avoid a U.S. led invasion they had better have nuclear weapons. That lesson was buttressed by Bush's willingness, at the time, to let regional negotiations resolve the crisis with nuclear-armed N. Korea.
It is easy to imagine a world, awash with nuclear weapons, where a nuclear war is initiated by the weapons that Bush is currently seeking to develop. A May 28th Reuters article, "No Bunker Found Under Bomb Site" illustrated the dangers inherent making nuclear weapons more
usable: "There was no bunker under the Baghdad compound the United States bombed on the opening night of the Iraq war in an effort to kill Saddam Hussein." A future president might be tempted to use the nuclear weapons that Bush is seeking today for a similarly misbegotten attempt at strategic advantage. If, unlike Saddam, the target of a nuclear assassination attempt actually had nuclear weapons of his own, he would surely respond in kind and thereby unleash the uncertainties of a nuclear war that the world has rightfully feared.
To an administration that sometimes seems to find the world perpetually new and to view that world though a prism of expediency tainted by petulance, the idea of getting back into the nuclear bomb business might seem a good one. However, the world has spent nearly fifty years trying to avoid a nuclear scenario of the type described above-nuclear war or Armageddon started by faulty intelligence or a misperception of advantage. Bush's policies take the country and the world in the wrong direction. It is unrealistic and dangerous to expect to maintain the nuclear status quo in perpetuity by brandishing nuclear weapons both large and small. The way to fight nuclear proliferation and increase our security is through international efforts to secure loose nuclear materials and to pursue treaties to reduce nuclear weapons worldwide. Though such a course offers no foolproof guarantees of success, it does offer a proven track record and it does not lead to wars in search of phantom WMDs. The House and Senate must rise above partisan politics and vote against building new nukes when the time comes. And the time will come.
Scott Lynch is the communications director for Peace Action