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Usable Nukes?
Published on Monday, September 15, 2003 by
Usable Nukes?
by Kevin Martin and Carrie Benzschawel

Ronald Reagan, nobody's idea of a dove when he took office, came to understand the insanity of the nuclear arms race and stated, "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."

Yet right now, the Bush Administration is hypocritically pushing for new, more "usable" nuclear weapons. The US invaded and conquered Iraq on "intelligence" about an imminent Iraqi threat of weapons of mass destruction that looks more and more like a big lie every day. President Bush wags his finger at other countries, demanding they end their pursuit of nuclear weapons while the US maintains an arsenal of over 10,000 nuclear warheads and is seeking new types and uses for nuclear weapons.

This "do as we say, not as we do" non-proliferation policy is impossible to reconcile with America's core values and is doomed to failure.

In just a few days, the U.S. Senate will vote on an issue of great importance - the funding and development of Bush's new nukes. The senate's decision could put this country on a perilous road -- a decision to build a new breed of nuclear weapons would likely spark a new global arms race. North Korea and Iran are on the edge of going nuclear, and our government's support of new nuclear weapons could push them over that edge, with other countries to follow.

We've been down this path before. It led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, bomb shelters, the Cuban Missile Crisis, massive instances of thyroid cancer from nuclear testing, widespread fear, and global power structures based on countries' relative ability to unleash apocalypse. At the core of it, this is an issue of survival.

In the next few days, the Senate will take up the issue of funding for a modified nuclear weapon, called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or nuclear bunker buster. This bomb is intended for use against bunkers buried deep within the earth. However, most independent experts say the weapon would not burrow as far underground as advertised and that conventional weapons can do the job if needed.

Funding for a new generation of smaller, low-yield nuclear weapons intended for actual use on the battlefield will also be addressed as part of what's called "advanced concepts." The administration wants to build these new nukes despite the fact that our existing nuclear arsenal is capable of destroying the world a few times over. Proponents of these new types of smaller nuclear weapons like to portray them as precise, surgical, more "usable", with less radioactive fallout and "collateral damage" than the weapons in our current arsenal.

However, the prestigious, non-partisan Federation of American Scientists concluded that the use of low-yield nuclear weapons in urban areas would cause "enormous numbers of civilian casualties".

Furthermore, the Administration seeks funding for a new plutonium production facility to make plutonium pits for new nuclear warheads, and wants to decrease the time necessary to ready the Nevada nuclear test site for full-scale nuclear weapons test explosions, which the US has not conducted since 1992. Observers in Washington fear the president, if re-elected, will seek to resume full-scale nuclear testing, which would surely provoke worldwide outrage such as France experienced when it briefly resumed nuclear testing in the mid-1990s.

Opposition to Bush's plans comes from many quarters, not just peace activists. The independent National Security Advisory Group, consisting of veterans of the national security establishment and chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry, issued a report in July advising against these new programs and new nuclear weapons development in general, and advocating further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

In the words of activist Joanna Macy, we sorely need "a massive outbreak of sanity in this country". Thankfully, there are many Members of Congress who agree. In a rare rebuke to the Bush Administration's national security policies, the House of Representatives stood against the President's request by cutting most of the funding for these new nuclear weapons two months ago. A few principled Senators will offer amendments for similar cuts to these programs in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.

America's credibility in the international community, particularly on the issue of weapons of mass destruction and ending proliferation, is low enough already. If the Senate doesn't stop Bush's reckless push for new nuclear weapons programs, we will reap a whirlwind with grave consequences.

The U.S. needs a new foreign policy based on international cooperation, support for human rights and democracy, and serious leadership toward wiping the scourge of weapons of mass destruction off the face of the Earth. The Senate can take an important step in the right direction by saying "no" to usable nukes. This vote could tip the balance toward a new arms race or toward an outbreak of sanity.

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the nation's largest peace and disarmament organization with over 91,000 members. Carrie Benzschawel is Program Associate for Peace Action Education Fund.


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