Nuclear weapons are back on the front pages, with news of a Bush administration policy document, the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, which projects the role of nuclear weapons into the future — not as deterrents, but for the purpose of waging wars. The document even names potential targets. This document and the thinking behind it are reckless. They not only jeopardize international law but the support of America’s closest allies. Canada must state its opposition immediately.

The document also breaks a commitment. In 2000, the United States joined the other nuclear-weapons states in making an “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination” of their nuclear arsenals. The United States made this commitment at a review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which, with 187 nations involved, is the world’s largest arms-control and disarmament treaty.

There are still 31,000 nuclear weapons in the world, most of them American or Russian, with lesser amounts held by the United Kingdom, France and China, India, Pakistan and Israel. At least 5,000 of the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are maintained on hair-trigger alert, meaning they could be fired on 15 minutes notice.

The Bush administration has offered cuts in the nuclear weapons the United States deploys, but is reinforcing its maintenance of core stocks and planning the development of new ones. By rejecting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, it is holding open the door to resumed nuclear testing. This has greatly worried many non-nuclear weapons countries and has already led to charges that the United States is acting in bad faith. The Non-Proliferation Treaty insists that negotiations for elimination should be held in “good faith.”

Periodically, the United States reviews its policies on nuclear weapons; it did so last year, the results of which are seen in this week’s alarming headlines. “Behind the administration’s rhetorical mask of post-Cold War restraint,” comments the U.S. National Resources Defence Council, a prestigious non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists, “lie expansive plans to revitalize U.S. nuclear forces, and all the elements that support them, within a so-called ‘New Triad’ of capabilities that combine nuclear and conventional offensive strikes with missile defences and nuclear-weapons infrastructure.”

According to the council’s analysis, the Bush team assumes that nuclear weapons will be part of U.S. military forces at least for the next 50 years; it plans an extensive and expensive series of programs to modernize the existing force, including a new ICBM to be operational in 2020 and a new heavy bomber in 2040.

The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review says that there are four reasons to possess nuclear weapons: to “assure allies and friends”; “dissuade competitors”; “deter aggressors”; and “defeat enemies.” Over the next 10 years, the White House’s plans call for the United States to retain a total stockpile of intact nuclear weapons and weapons components roughly seven to nine times larger than the publicly-stated goal of 1,700 to 2,200 “operationally deployed weapons.”

Moreover, the U.S. administration has ordered the Pentagon to draft contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against at least seven countries, naming not only the “axis of evil” (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) but also Russia, China, Libya and Syria.

This position has prompted the editors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the minute hand of their “Doomsday Clock” forward two minutes — to seven minutes to midnight, the same position as when the clock made its debut in 1947. “Despite a campaign promise to rethink nuclear policy, the Bush administration has taken no significant steps to alter nuclear targeting policies or reduce the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces,” said George A. Lopez, chairman of the Bulletin’s board of directors.

The shift in U.S. policy has immense implications for Canada and the other members of NATO. NATO has traditionally presented its nuclear doctrine as one of deterrence, not war. Canada is now caught in the middle, between its international legal obligations to support negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons, or to support the United States in its determination to keep them. All this will come to a head at an important Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting at the United Nations, starting April 8.

Canada has higher obligations to international law, as it is being developed in the United Nations system, than it does to its friendship with the United States, which is violating the very law that Canada stands for. Good friends don’t let their friends drive drunk. It’s time for Canada to blow the whistle on its U.S. friends in Washington, who are veering out of control in their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Because of its military strength and commanding position as the world’s lone superpower, the United States occupies the central position when it comes to making progress on nuclear disarmament. NATO’s stance — that nuclear weapons remain “essential” — would fold in an instant if the United States took action in entering comprehensive negotiations for elimination. Russia and China, struggling to move their economies into strong positions, do not want to engage in a new nuclear arms race, which is precisely what they fear will happen if and when the United States actually deploys a National Missile Defence system.

Most people do not realize that the United States spends $100-million (U.S.) a day maintaining its nuclear weapons. Because Washington is pouring huge new sums into its defence budget — it will soon be spending, at $400-billion annually, more than the next 15 countries combined — the international community has become rightfully alarmed about U.S. intentions.

Nor is the rest of the world reassured when we see the Pentagon’s Web site proclaiming the U.S. intention to weaponize space and thus ensure “full-spectrum dominance” on land, sea, air and space.
*Douglas Roche is an independent senator from Alberta and Canada’s former ambassador for disarmament. He is a former chairman of the UN Disarmament Committee. Currently, Senator Roche is Chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative and a member of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.