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Hooked On Weapons: Unfortunately It's Us

Bryan Farrell

Vice President Dick Cheney has said it would be "a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran were allowed to become a nuclear power." He did not enumerate the reasons, but a logical person would assume it has something to do with keeping a doomsday-rendering weapon from the hands of a vengeful and irrational government.

Of course, had Cheney used those words, the hypocrite alarm would have sounded. Not only has the United States pursued an overhaul of its own nuclear weapons program in recent years, but since the invasion of Iraq, polls from around the world have shown our country to be the biggest perceived threat to peace.

Cheney also failed to mention that the president of Iran, just days earlier, said his country was willing to abandon its uranium enrichment program, as long as Western nations did the same. Such a move would actually have the public's support. In 2005, the Associated Press reported that 66 percent of Americans believe no country should possess nuclear weapons.

Yet, our government's defense experts ignore this opinion and cling to the Cold War theory, claiming the nuclear standoff created a fear of mutual destruction that actually prevented war.

How that applies in today's world is far from clear.

Nuclear weapons are the great equalizer. They make weaker nations just as strong as the United States; therefore, having them at all—-be they within our borders or with an overseas ally—opens a slew of world-ending possibilities. From accidents and miscommunication to terrorist takeover, nuclear weapons pose a threat to the United States like no other.

Given our position in the world, it would be to our advantage---and by extension to the advantage of every other inhabitant of this planet—that we lead the way toward disarmament.

However, if our reaction to recent international bans on even conventional weapons is any indication, such a movement is far off. Forty-six countries agreed to abandon the use of cluster bombs at a conference in Norway last month, but the United States joined Israel, Russia, and China in snubbing the event. While all four countries are major arms dealers, the rebuke was particularly resonant given Israel's disputed use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in last year's war with Lebanon.

The United Nations' humanitarian chief described Israel's deployment of these weapons as "completely immoral," considering that the 98 percent of casualties are to non-combatant civilians. Current estimates also suggest 1 million unexploded bomblets are scattered throughout southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has taken the position that "these munitions do have a place and use in military inventories," which is not surprising considering we are also the world's largest supplier of small arms. Last year we provided nearly half of the weapons sold to militaries in the developing world, many to unstable regions already engaged in conflict.

These low-tech weapons are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths over the last decade, including the genocide in Rwanda. But when the U.N. member states met in November to curb the trade of guns and other light weapons, the United States was the only country to vote against the historic measure.

When compared to the so-called "axis of evil," our deeds of violence are no less horrific. Worse yet is our denial and inability to seize the role of international peacemaker.

There's little doubt President Dwight Eisenhower's prophesies of the "military industrial complex" and "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power" have become a reality. Let's hope Ike is right about one other thing he said: "People want peace so much that one of these days, government had better get out of their way and let them have it."

Bryan Farrell is a researcher for "Rolling Stone" and writes on international affairs for many publications, including "The Nation."

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