A few years back, when President Bush described Libya's decision to put aside its programs for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, he applauded the Qaddafi regime for abandoning its quest for "weapons of mass murder."
When it became clear that Iran was seeking to develop its own capacity to enrich uranium the Bush administration engaged in a vigorous campaign of saber-rattling that included military threats in the form of ominous statements that "no options are off the table" in addressing Iran's program.
After years of calling for sanctions and other "tough" measures, the Bush administration engaged in serious negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear weapons programs.
And the administration justified its war with Iraq in large part by scaring the American public about the need to act quickly to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime, before waiting for the "smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
This record of anti-proliferation activity - however uneven in its application - certainly gives the impression that stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is a top administration priority. But a closer look at its policy on this issue suggests that nothing could be further from the truth.
Perhaps the clearest example of President Bush's "do as I say, not as I do" policy is the Department of Energy's "Complex 2030" plan to build a new generation of nuclear weapons. With a potential price tag of $175 billion or more over the next two decades, the initiative calls for the replacement of every deployed warhead in the U.S. arsenal and the construction of a series of new facilities, including a multi-billion dollar plutonium production plant. It's hard to tell other countries that building nuclear weapons is dangerous and unnecessary while the United States proceeds with a plan that will have us in the nuclear weapons business well into the middle of this century.
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A second thread in the policy of nuclear hypocrisy involves the myth that there can be "good" nuclear weapons states and "bad" nuclear weapons states, based entirely on which countries happen to be U.S. allies. When India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, they received a brief slap on the wrist from the Clinton administration; no outrage, no long-term sanctions, and no serious attempts at negotiations to cap and reverse this dangerous development. In fact, in the past few years these countries have essentially been rewarded with large military packages ($5 billion worth of F-16 combat aircraft for Pakistan) and proposals to transfer nuclear technology (the provocative U.S.-India nuclear deal).
And of course, Israel's estimated arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons is never spoken of by U.S. officials, and certainly has never figured in any public discussions about how to achieve peace in the Middle East.
Despite acknowledging in the 2004 presidential campaign that the greatest danger to U.S. security could be the acquisition of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons by a terrorist group, President Bush has failed to accelerate programs designed to eliminate or secure loose nuclear weapons or nuclear bomb-making materials in Russia. This is a huge strategic blunder when one considers that the massive Russian stockpiles are the most likely source for terrorists seeking the bomb.
If this administration or the next is serious about stemming the spread of nuclear weapons, it needs to abandon plans to develop new nuclear weapons; pressure its allies to reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear weapons programs; and invest more resources in putting bombs and bomb-making materials out of terrorist reach. Perhaps most importantly of all, it must get back to the business of radically reducing our own nuclear arsenal, in parallel with efforts to organize a global summit on reducing the nuclear danger. A policy of nuclear hypocrisy is not just unethical - it is also an unacceptable danger to the future of humanity.
William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute at the New School in New York.