The outcome of the November election
is likely to determine whether or not the US goes to war with Iran before
President Bush leaves office. For
recounted below such war will with very high probability
include the US use
of tactical nuclear weapons. In casting or not casting a vote in November, each of us will contribute
events of potential consequences immensely larger than local taxes, illegal immigration or
even the Iraq war. Crossing the nuclear threshold in a war against Iran will trigger a
that in weeks, years or decades could lead with high probability to global nuclear war and
widespread destruction of life on the planet.
The Bush administration has
radically redefined America's nuclear use policy
: US nuclear weapons are no longer
regarded as qualitatively different from conventional weapons.
Many actions of the administration in recent years strongly suggest that an
imminent US nuclear use is
being planned for, and this was confirmed by
Bush's explicit refusal to rule out a US nuclear strike against Iran.
We have all
been put on notice. The fact that North Korea is now a nuclear country
does not change the agenda - quite the contrary.
There were fears that the US would use nuclear weapons in the Iraq attack
, which did not materialize, hence some will argue that the
nuclear use against Iran
may not materialize either.
Some will argue that there were many other occasions in the past 60 years
where the US appeared to come close to using
nuclear weapons and did not
, that the threshold for using nuclear weapons always was and
remains extraordinarily high, and that the
US nuclear "saber rattling"
is just trickery to scare our
These arguments are wrong.
The US is much closer than it has ever been since Nagasaki to
nuclear weapons again.
This year for the first time in its history the
American Physical Society,
representing 40,000 members of the profession that created nuclear
weapons, issued a statement of deep concern on this matter:
"The American Physical Society is deeply concerned about the possible
use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and
for pre-emptive counter-proliferation purposes".
In the case of Iraq, our adversary was so weak that there was no way a US
nuclear weapon use could have been
justified in the eyes of the world.
Iran is different: it possesses missiles that could strike
US forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf as well as Israeli cities, and a
large conventional army.
150,000 US soldiers in Iraq will be at great risk
if war with Iran erupts, and Americans will support a nuclear strike on Iran
once the administration creates a situation
where it can argue that such action will save a large number of
American or allies' lives.
In previous US wars, nuclear use did not occur because it carried an unacceptably high risk
triggering a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union or China
Because North Korea appears to have now a nuclear deterrent, and because of the possibility
that China could get involved, there is no danger that the US will attack North Korea. In
fact, Bush will
use the fact that North Korea has joined the
nuclear club, and charges that
he was not "tough enough" on North Korea, as an argument
to "justify" attacking Iran before it achieves that
status, notwithstanding the fact that
unlike North Korea
has stated no intention to follow that path
is there any evidence that it is doing so.
The nuclearization of North Korea only helps the
plan to nuke Iran, which is why
the administration did everything
to encourage it.
No nuclear country is likely to intervene nor threaten to intervene
when the US uses nuclear weapons against Iran, hence there is no military deterrent
to such use.
The US has now achieved
vast nuclear superiority,
and is about to
demonstrate to the world
5-trillion nuclear arsenal
The US Nuclear Posture
The Bush administration has made
nuclear weapons policy of the
United States during the past 5 years, singlehandedly without consulting Congress nor the American people
Under the name of
"New Triad", the key concept is
"integration" of conventional and nuclear forces.
Don't be fooled by the
rhetoric stating that it means
that some missions previously assigned to nuclear
forces will be taken over by conventional forces. What it really means is
"a seamless web of capabilities":
there is no longer a sharp
line, a sharp distinction, between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.
Why should there be such a sharp line? Because, as a
newly set up website from the Department of Defense
"weight for weight, the energy produced by a nuclear explosion is millions of times more
powerful than a conventional explosion".
Consequently, it shouldn't be difficult to understand, even for
a Yale C-student,
that a nuclear conflict that gets out of hand
will take a million times more lives than a conventional conflict. The last
global conventional conflict took over 50 million lives.
What is the benefit of making such policy declarations? The US has never ruled out
the use of nuclear weapons,
and it carries a cost to remind other countries
of this fact, since
it provides an incentive for others to develop nuclear capability.
There is no benefit in openly announcing such ominous policy changes, unless the
intention is to put them into practice. Just like Bush announced in 2002 that
"the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively"
in preparation for the "preemptive"
attack on Iraq.
aforementioned Department of Defense website on "nuclear matters"
"there are a number of arms control agreements restricting the deployment and use of
nuclear weapons, but there is no conventional or customary international law that
prohibits nations from employing nuclear weapons in armed conflict".
That statement defines the "rules" by which the U.S. government
plays. No matter that
it ignores (and
the website's list of "arms control agreements"
also doesn't mention it)
"negative security assurance"
issued by the US in 1978 and
reaffirmed in 1995 promising not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states.
Nor that it ignores the
1996 ruling of the International Court of Justice.
The reason the
changes in declaratory policy
were made is to gauge public opinion, and to prepare the
public for the implementation of this policy. Because
reaction to these radical statements
unfortunately has been rather muted,
the administration will be able to claim that
the American people by and large have embraced the new nuclear doctrine of
of nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities"
and approve of the use of nuclear weapons
when they provide
"the most efficient use of force".
The November vote may be your last chance to disagree.
The changes in nuclear doctrine did not occur in a vacuum. They
were accompanied by a
strong push by the White House to develop new and more usable nuclear weapons,
and they are
intimately tied and go hand in hand with Rumsfeld's
"transformation" of the military
overarching goal of this transformation is
set out to do for the
As Time Magazine
reported in its Aug. 20, 1945 issue
right after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
"One hundred and twenty-three planes, each bearing a single atomic bomb,
would carry as much destructive power as all the bombs (2,453,595 tons) dropped by the Allies
on Europe during the war".
And this was before
hydrogen bombs. To the extent that the US military will be able to
replace conventional weapons by nuclear weapons to carry out its missions, it will have
achieved the ultimate "downsizing". That in a nutshell is the key to Rumsfeld's "transformation
of the military", everything else is window-dressing.
The principal vehicle to achieve this transformation is the radical
redefinition of the mission
one of the nine
U.S. Unified Combatant Commands. Before Rumsfeld, STRATCOM's sole mission
was nuclear deterrence
and if necessary
the use of nuclear weapons. Since 2001,
"USSTRATCOM' nuclear focus broadened considerably with the latest Nuclear
Posture Review (NPR)".
Now it is a
"global integrator charged with the missions of full-spectrum global strike...",
"a range of options, both nuclear and non-nuclear, relevant to the
threat and military operations". And it is in particular
"the lead Combatant Command for integration and synchronization of DoD-wide efforts in
combating weapons of mass destruction". A supporting role will be played by
Special Operations Command,
providing Rumsfeld with
convenient "intelligence" and covert operations capabilities.
The new nuclear doctrine is the software, the new USSTRATCOM is the hardware,
and Rumsfeld is the driver, for
the "downsizing" program that is about to be launched. Brace yourself.
There have been many voices across the political spectrum calling for Rumsfeld's resignation
botched Iraq war
"retains the full confidence" of Bush.
Because Rumsfeld cannot be fired
"nuclear taboo" barrier, by detonating a small tactical nuclear weapon
against a US enemy.
US military is reluctant
to even consider the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, because
it would provoke
"an outcry over what would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki".
Only after a small
tactical nuclear weapons strike against Natanz or another Iranian facility will
such a barrier no longer
exist for future US nuclear threats and uses, and Rumsfeld's transformation will
be a fait accompli.
Why is "downsizing" the military so important to the
PNAC crowd? Because the American public has
no stomach for a draft nor large losses of American military personnel. If it becomes possible to
wage war "on the cheap", without loss of American life, and in the process we can lower the price of oil
spread "liberty" across the world, opposition will be muted.
Public opinion on the Iraq war
was not turned by the
enormous number of Iraqi lives lost
there isn't even an effort to keep a count),
it is only affected by the number of American lives lost.
How it will happen
decision as to the employment of atomic weapons in the
event of war is to be made by the Chief Executive when he considers such decision to be required" according
to NSC 30 from 1948. According to the
Goldwater-Nichols Act, the chain of command flows from the President
through the Secretary of Defense to the geographic combatant commanders. If
Gen. John Abizaid
(CENTCOM commander) or Gen. James Cartwright (STRATCOM commander) ask authorization from President Bush
to use nuclear weapons, following the
guidelines in the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations,
what will Bush's response be?
As he often repeats,
"I'm going to be listening to the people that know what they're talking
about, and that's the commanders on the ground in Iraq. They'll make the decisions".
The commanders on the ground
will be driven by what they perceive to be the immediate military necessity, without
regard to the larger
issues such as the
survival of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Congress will not be asked in advance
to authorize the Iran war. Congress has already declared, in passing
that Iran should be held accountable "for its threatening behavior"
(which merely consists in
Iran's refusal to give up its rights under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty).
The Iran war
is likely to
start with selected bombing of a few Iranian facilities.
Recall that on October 3rd, 2002, over 5 months before the US invasion of Iraq,
we learned that
"Coalition forces this morning
struck an Iraqi air defense center after a coalition plane in the
area dropping leaflets was fired upon, defense officials said".
On December 16, 1998, Clinton informed the American people that
"Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces
to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They
are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical
and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors".
Neither of these operations, nor many other US military operations, were done with
Bush will threaten Iran with a massive attack if it responds to such a bombing.
Iran will certainly respond, and Bush will proclaim
that this constitutes Iranian "aggression" against the
US, and that Iran has "chosen" war. It will be less farfetched than in the case of Iraq, where Bush
stated shortly before the US invasion
"war is upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice" (speech of March 6, 2003),
and as the US was about to attack on March 17, 2003
"Should Saddam Hussein choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure
has been taken to avoid war". Once war with Iran has started,
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and
their hand-picked nuclear advisors
will find plenty of convenient
"surprising military developments" to seize on to
"justify" the use of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear weapons that the administration is planning to use
against Iran are
low yield earth penetrating
"reduced collateral damage".
real purpose is not
facilities that are too deep underground
destroyed by conventional weapons: it is primarily to
erase the nuclear taboo, and secondarily to
shock-and-awe Iran into surrender.
Of course the potentially disastrous consequences of this action
cannot be overestimated. Once the US has
used its nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country signatory of the
NPT, the NPT will fall apart.
Many more countries will strive to develop and test nuclear weapons, overtly or
covertly, as North Korea has just done. With no longer a nuclear taboo
many more countries will feel entitled to use their
nuclear weapons in aggression against or to defend against aggression from
nuclear and non-nuclear adversaries.
Military conflicts inevitably lead to escalation,
and they usually end only when one side prevails.
That is not how a global nuclear conflict will end.
If the US attacks Iran and does not use nuclear weapons, it
will incur military losses that will vastly outweigh any benefit of such war.
If there is no
Iran war, the Bush presidency will be remembered predominantly for the disastrous Iraq war.
Crossing the nuclear threshold will overshadow all other
events of the Bush presidency. To the
(however unlikely) extent that it results in an advantage to America, Bush's achievement
could conceivably be
hailed by future generations. The
for the administration is clear.
Like desperate gamblers in a losing streak, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have nothing to gain and
everything to lose by not attacking Iran with nuclear weapons.
Why the November vote matters
On November 7th,
33 Senate seats
all 435 House seats
will be contested.
There are many reasons
why even Republicans may wish that one or both Houses are won by Democrats,
and the prospect of nuclear war should be a dominant one.
The President can legally order the use of nuclear weapons under any
circumstance without asking Congress. However,
Congress could block the authority of the President to
order the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon countries
Article I, Sect. 8, Clause 14 of the Constitution
to "make rules for the government and regulation" of the Armed Forces.
If Congress passed
such a law (see an example for a bill
here), it would in practice also impede a conventional
attack on Iran.
Congress may also find other ways to derail a presidential push
towards using nuclear weapons, for example by demanding that the Administration publicly discloses
plans or preparatory moves
deployment of nuclear weapons
in the Persian Gulf.
Which Congress is more likely to do this, a Republican or a Democratic one?
Only Democratic congressmembers, however weakly, have questioned the
wisdom of the new US nuclear
Not a single Republican in Congress has,
nor have they questioned the fact that the
nuclear option against Iran
is "on the table".
This is not to say that Republican candidates would necessarily
approve of the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, in fact many if not most
are likely to oppose it. And
some Democratic candidates may be
more hawkish than Republicans
in regard to
. However, the
applies to both Republicans and Democrats.
And the administration that is planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran is
No matter how
wise, moral, resolute, and independent of Bush a Republican candidate
appears to be, when push comes to shove he/she is
more likely than not to vote the party line. In the current Congress,
as reported by the non-partisan
Hill Monitor website,
Republican senators voted
for the White House position 92.57% of the time, Democratic senators only 54.56%. In the House,
the respective numbers are 88.50% and 40.99%.
October 2002 vote
requested by the White House authorizing the Iraq attack,
a single Republican senator opposed it, versus 21 Democrats; in the House,
only 6 Republicans opposed it, versus 126 Democrats.
A US attack on Iran will lead to the US use of nuclear weapons and will be disastrous for America.
It is the path that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld,
with the advice of Kissinger
are hell-bent on pursuing.
military takeover of government is not likely,
military refusal to
carry out immoral orders
is uncertain at best.
Congress has a role to play, perhaps the most important one in its history,
and a Republican Congress is likely to rubberstamp any White House plan on Iran.
Voting Republican in November is voting to wage
is a Professor of Physics at the University of California at San Diego. Fellow of the American Physical Society. Organizer of a recent petition, circulated among leading physicists, opposing the new nuclear weapons policies adopted by the US in the past 5 years.