Originally Published by the Inter Press Service

A top U.N. disarmament official assailed Thursday U.S. proposals to deploy nuclear weapons against countries wielding biological and chemical weapons.

“I don’t think it makes sense,” said Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala. “If somebody uses a basic weapon against you, you do not use the maximum weapon you have in your arsenal.”

”We know from scientific evidence that the use of nuclear weapons can destroy not only large numbers of human beings but also the ecological system that supports human life,” and that ill-effects from radiation are prolonged, Dhanapala added.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the administration of President George W. Bush is planning a broad overhaul of its nuclear policy.

As part of the proposed policy, it reported, the administration is planning to develop new nuclear weapons including so-called “mini” weapons suited to striking specific targets in countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Libya.

All five countries have been accused by the United States of either developing or possessing weapons of mass destruction including nuclear, biological, and chemical arms.

Arab officials have complained that the United States has remained silent, however, on Israel, which they say possesses large quantities of mass destruction weapons.

There are five declared nuclear powers in the world: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, all of them veto- wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

At least three other countries are generally considered “undeclared nuclear powers”: Israel, India and Pakistan.

The United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons, when it bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In a report titled ‘The Nuclear Posture Review’ (NPR), the U.S. Department of Defence has said there is a need to resume nuclear testing and to develop new nuclear weapons to blow up underground bunkers where biological and chemical weapons may be in storage.

Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the only choice against adversaries using weapons of mass destruction is to make it clear in advance “that it would be met with a devastating response.”

Dhanapala said the new U.S. policy “flies in the face of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty undertakings.” Under Article VI of the NPT, he said, states are expected to reduce nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate them.

“So this is to me a very serious contradiction of that, and will be a very major stumbling block, as we begin the process of preparing for the 2005 NPT Review Conference,” he said. These preparations are scheduled to begin next month.

Dhanapala also warned that if the United States resumes nuclear testing or develops new nuclear weapons, it would encourage other countries to discard their obligations under the NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

“To go back on those treaties would amount to opening the flood gates, and regressing in the development of the norms that we have had,” he added.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, including retaliation against a nuclear, chemical or biological attack, must meet the requirements of humanitarian law. These include necessity, proportionality, and discrimination between military targets and civilians.

“Nuclear weapons cannot meet these requirements,” he said. “As the International Court of Justice said, their radioactive effects cannot be limited in space and time. Therefore their use is barred.”

Burroughs added that one of the “disturbing aspects” of the NPR is that it signals the possibility of U.S. nuclear use against a non- nuclear country – and not in retaliation for a chemical or biological attack, but rather to pre-empt such an attack.

The NPR also refers to “surprising military developments” as a rationale, taking the issue out of the realm of weapons of mass destruction, he added.

Chris Paine, a senior analyst with the Natural Resources Defence Council, said only a massive and unusually lethal chemical attack on large numbers of non-combatants could conceivably justify a nuclear response.

Biological weapons have a much greater inherent lethality against unprotected civilian populations, and the devastating consequences of such an attack could possibly render nuclear weapons a proportionate response – “but not necessarily a rational or moral one”, he argued.

This is particularly so, if alternative military means exist for punishing the perpetrators, who may or may not be readily targeted, or even susceptible to identification.

The policy of pre-emptive strikes is foolish and counter- productive on several levels, he said, because it encourages other nation’s to consider whether they will be able to sustain an adequate conventional deterrent to foreign military interference or invasion, and therefore to acquire the very weapons of mass destruction that Bush claims so vigorously to oppose.

Paine said that such a policy also deprives the United States of the moral and political standing to oppose other nation’s weapons of mass destruction programmes, leaving military coercion as the primary instrument for “dissuading” foreign countries from competing with the United States in the realm of mass destruction weaponry.

“The Bush administration’s stance reduces a once vigorous U.S. non- proliferation posture to rubble,” he added.