The Bush administration came into office with the clear intention to strengthen US military dominance, including its nuclear dominance, and it has been true to this major policy goal. While the Bush administration views nuclear weapons as central to US security, it has a larger vision of US military dominance as a principal means for serving US national security interests. The administration has shown scant concern for US treaty obligations, particularly in the area of arms control. Most prominently, the administration has disavowed the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, arguing it is no longer relevant in a post-Cold War environment.
The US Nuclear Posture Review
The clearest statement of US nuclear policy can be found in the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review Report, a classified document mandated by Congress, which was leaked to the press in March 2002. This report lays out a “New Triad,” composed of offensive strike systems (nuclear and non-nuclear), defenses (active and passive), and a revitalized defense infrastructure to meet emerging threats. The old strategic triad of land-based missiles, sea-based missiles and long-range bombers now fits into the nuclear branch of the New Triad’s offensive strike systems.
The Nuclear Posture Review states, “Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and large-scale conventional military force. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important strategic and political objectives.” This is an extraordinary admission of the benefits that US leaders attribute to nuclear weapons in US defense policy, benefits that they are clearly reserving for themselves and a small group of other nuclear weapons states.
The report also finds utility in the use of nuclear weapons under certain circumstances: “Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand a non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities).” The report further calls for development of contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against seven countries, five of which are non-nuclear: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Russia and China. Such threat to use nuclear weapons violates the negative security assurances that the US gave to the non-nuclear weapons states that are parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the time of that Treaty’s Review and Extension Conference in 1995.
The report calls for strengthening the “U.S. Nuclear Warhead Infrastructure.” It states, “The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will: …be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground nuclear testing if required.”
In sum, the Bush administration’s Nuclear Posture Review is a strategy for indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons with plans to improve the capabilities of the existing arsenal and to revitalize the infrastructure for improving US nuclear forces in the future. The Nuclear Posture Review promotes a nuclear strategy of maximum flexibility as opposed to measures for irreversible nuclear disarmament as agreed to at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
As a candidate for president in 2000, Mr. Bush announced that he wanted to reduce the level of strategic nuclear weapons in the US arsenal to the lowest number compatible with US security. Based on military studies, that number was placed at between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. According to the Nuclear Posture Review, “Based on current projections, an operationally deployed force of 1700-2200 strategic nuclear warheads by 2012…will support U.S. deterrence policy to hold at risk what opponents value, including their instruments of political control and military power, and to deny opponents their war aims.”
The upper end of 2,200 strategic nuclear weapons is nearly identical with the 2,500 strategic nuclear weapons that Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin had agreed upon for START III, when the method of counting is taken into consideration. Under the counting system proposed in the Bush administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, the weapons aboard submarines being overhauled are not counted. Even the lower end figure of 1,700 strategic nuclear weapons was above the level of 1,500 (or less) that President Putin had proposed.
As a candidate, Bush also promoted development and deployment of a National Missile Defense to protect the United States against nuclear attacks by so-called rogue states, a proposal that would have been prohibited under the ABM Treaty. Upon assuming the presidency, Bush dealt with the impediment of the ABM Treaty by withdrawing from it. He gave the six months’ notice required by the Treaty for withdrawal on December 13, 2001, and US withdrawal became effective on June 13, 2002.
Prior to providing notice of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, both the Chinese and Russians attempted to dissuade Mr. Bush from taking this step. Chinese officials told the Bush administration that deployment of a US missile defense system would necessitate an increase in the Chinese nuclear arsenal capable of reaching the US in order for China to maintain an effective although minimal deterrent force. The response of the Bush administration was that it had no problem with a build-up of Chinese nuclear forces capable of threatening US territory since the US missile defense system was aimed at “rogue” nations and not at China.
Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty
In Spring 2002, Mr. Bush also reached agreement with President Putin on a Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The two presidents signed this treaty in Moscow on May 24, 2002. In the treaty, the two governments agreed to reduce the actively deployed strategic nuclear weapons on each side to Bush’s preferred numbers, as set forth in the US Nuclear Posture Review, of between 1,700 and 2,200 by the year 2012. The treaty made no provisions for interim reductions, and thus, despite SORT, it remains possible for either or both sides to actually increase the size of their arsenal between the inception of the treaty and 2012, so long as the reductions to the agreed numbers occur by 2012. The treaty is also set to terminate, unless extended, in 2012.
The treaty also made no provision for the nuclear warheads that were removed from active deployment. The US has announced that it intends to put many or most of these warheads into storage in a reserve status, where they will remain available to be reintroduced to active deployment should this decision be taken in the future. Presumably Russia will follow the US lead on this, thus making many of its strategic nuclear weapons more prone to theft by criminal organizations, including terrorists.
The Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty was announced with considerable fanfare. It gave the public a sense of progress toward nuclear disarmament, when in fact it was far more of a public relations effort than an actual arms reduction treaty. Although it did provide for removing several thousand nuclear weapons on both sides from active deployment, and in this sense it was a de-alerting measure, it did not make these reductions irreversible as agreed to by the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the 2000 NPT Review Conference.
The Bush administration’s nuclear policies have not been favorable to nuclear disarmament. Many of its policies have been contrary to the 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament set forth in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Not only has the Bush administration withdrawn from the ABM Treaty, the President has made it clear that he does not intend to send the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty back to the Senate for ratification. His administration has given indications that it wishes to shorten the time needed to resume underground nuclear testing, and is developing more usable nuclear weapons and contingency plans for their use.
In sum, the Bush administration is not taking seriously, nor attempting to fulfill, US obligations for nuclear disarmament under Article VI of the NPT. Nor has it shown good faith in fulfilling the 2000 NPT Review Conference’s 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament, including pursuing the promised “unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapons states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals….” And without US leadership to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons, there is not likely to be significant progress.
The Role of the Anti-Nuclear Movement
The effectiveness of the anti-nuclear movement in reaching the US public and policy makers seems to have diminished under the Bush administration. While the promise of this movement seemed bright in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, this promise has not been realized and at the moment is receding. In part, this is because the ideologues in the Bush administration are not receptive to proposals, no matter how reasonable, to reduce nuclear arsenals or even nuclear risks. Another factor in the diminished effectiveness of the US anti-nuclear movement is that the issues of terrorism and war have moved to the forefront and taken precedence over nuclear weapons issues in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.
In the aftermath of September 11th, public receptivity to challenging Bush’s nuclear policies became highly restricted. The concern and fear generated by the terrorist attacks created a greater willingness to use force for protection of the US civilian population and foreclosed possibilities for public consideration of any reductions in armaments, nuclear or conventional, other than those proposed from above, such as the SORT agreement. The attacks also strengthened Bush’s position of leadership in the US, a fact that was reconfirmed in the recent US elections.
One current challenge to the Bush administration’s defense policy is being mounted by 31 members of Congress, led by Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). Kucinich and his fellow members of Congress are challenging in federal court the president’s authority under the Constitution to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without congressional approval. The lawsuit is based on the theory that the Senate must ratify a treaty for it to enter into force, and that once it does enter into force the treaty becomes the “supreme Law of the Land” under Article 6(2) of the Constitution. The congressional challengers argue that once a treaty becomes law under Article 6(2), it is not within the president’s unilateral authority to terminate that law and that the president must seek congressional approval before acting to terminate a treaty.
Many important proposals from non-governmental organizations, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, agreement on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and de-alerting of the deployed nuclear arsenal, were simply taken off the table as the administration focused its efforts on rooting out terrorists, the war in Afghanistan, and now the threat of war against Iraq. But, while the anti-nuclear movement in the US has receded, the peace movement has grown, and this has been particularly so in relation to the administration’s threatened war against Iraq.
The reemergence of an active peace movement is a hopeful sign. In recent weeks the numbers have grown to tens of thousands of people, even hundreds of thousands in large cities, taking to the streets. In California in the small city of Santa Barbara where I live, there have been hundreds of people taking to the streets each Saturday to protest a war against Iraq. Should a war against Iraq actually begin, the number of protestors throughout the country will likely swell into the millions.
The Logic of War Against Iraq
The Bush administration has premised its case for war against Iraq on the need for regime change, primarily because Saddam Hussein may be trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. It is conceded that Hussein does not presently have nuclear weapons, but may be able to develop one or more in the future. The logic of the war from the perspective of the Bush administration is that Hussein must be stopped from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which he might use or pass on to a terrorist organization. Thus, we have the irony of a country with some 10,000 nuclear weapons seeking to go to war to achieve nuclear disarmament of a country that has yet to acquire a nuclear weapon. Surely this irony cannot be entirely lost on the American people or the people of the world, despite the official rhetoric of the Bush administration justifying our possession of a huge nuclear weapons arsenal.
This could be an educable moment for Americans. There are many inconsistencies in US nuclear policies that carry with them significant attendant dangers. Should terrorists obtain nuclear weapons, they might kill 300,000 or three million inhabitants of a US city rather than the 3,000 that were killed in the terrorist attacks of September 1l, 2001. And yet, US policy is to spend some seven to eight times more on developing missile defense systems than on eliminating the threat of “loose nukes” in the former Soviet Union. A bipartisan Department of Energy Task Force on Russia, headed by former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and former White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler, concluded that the US should be spending some $3 billion annually for the next ten years to keep Russia’s nuclear arsenal out of danger of terrorists. Instead, however, the US is spending only some $1 billion annually on this, while spending $7.5 billion on missile defenses. If the US goes to war against Iraq, that could cost some $200 billion and require a continuing US military occupation of Iraq, while increasing the threat of new incidents of terrorism.
Throughout the world nuclear dangers are increasing. In South Asia, India and Pakistan continue to posture and threaten each other with their relatively new nuclear forces. These two countries continue their periodic outbreaks of violence in their long-standing dispute over Kashmir. In Northeast Asia, on the volatile Korean peninsula, North Korea, according to the CIA, may have developed a few nuclear weapons. North Korean representatives have recently admitted to enriching uranium, which may be used to develop nuclear weapons. In the Middle East, the Israeli nuclear arsenal of some 200 nuclear weapons and sophisticated delivery systems, including submarines, continues to provoke attempts by other countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia, to develop or acquire their own nuclear arsenals. The security of the Russian nuclear arsenal cannot be guaranteed, and the US is developing more usable nuclear weapons and contingency plans to use them. Should terrorists succeed in obtaining nuclear weapons, anything could happen. These alarming circumstances create an incendiary set of conditions that could explode suddenly and without warning into nuclear holocaust.
The likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used in the next five to ten years is greater today than at any time since the end of World War II. Yet, at the present moment, the world seems to be preoccupied with other issues, while critical issues of nuclear control and disarmament are removed from the public mind and agenda. Rather than distracting the world from nuclear disarmament, the increasingly grave threats of terrorism should be providing additional impetus for fulfilling the already well-established obligations to achieve complete nuclear disarmament.
It should also give us pause to consider the relationship of nuclear weapons to terrorism. In the end, nuclear weapons may serve the poor and disenfranchised better than they serve the rich and powerful. The rich and powerful countries have far more to lose, and their cities are extremely vulnerable to nuclear, radiological, chemical or biological terrorism. In a more rational world, such considerations would lead the most powerful nuclear weapons states to act in their own interests by leading the world toward nuclear disarmament. Alas, this lesson has yet to be grasped by leaders in the United States and other powerful nations. In the meantime, it is these powerful nations that threaten the use of nuclear weapons, and this must be seen by objective viewers to constitute its own form of terrorism.
An active and effective nuclear disarmament movement has never been more needed. Our best hope is that this movement will reemerge with renewed energy and spirit from the anti-war activities in the US and throughout the world. It is extremely important now that the nuclear implications of the current global crisis not be lost on the anti-war movement, nor on the citizens of the world’s most powerful nations. The failure to make these connections and to act upon them could result in tragedies beyond our greatest fears.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His recent books include Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age and Missile Defense: The Great Illusion, both available in Japanese language.