Even since mid-2000, while there had been talk of reducing nuclear weapons, the US has been in favor of developing a new low-yield nuclear weapon1 with earth-penetrating capability. This would appear not to be for the purpose of defense, but more for attack.
Since originally writing the above, George Bush announced an abrogation of the ABM treaty, mid-December 2001. The tragic September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America and the resulting War on Terror was a significant factor for this. However, March 2002 saw Pentagon Nuclear Posture documents describing nuclear options at named countries. As a result, fears about nuclear weapons being turned from deterrents to possible weapons increased further. The New York Times captured some of this quite well:
As expected, various nations have reacted quite angrily3 or at least concerned at the U.S. posture.
Option of Nuclear Weapons against Iraq
Before the Iraq invasion in 2003, nuclear weapons were considered as an option. While eventually they were not used against, the fact that they were considered, and how they were considered is what is of issue here.
Military analyst for the Los Angeles Times reported (January 26, 2003) on The Nuclear Option in Iraq; The U.S. has lowered the bar for using the ultimate weapon6.
Arkin highlights that the Bush administration's decision to actively plan for possible preemptive use of such weapons, especially as so-called bunker busters, against Iraq represents a significant lowering of the nuclear threshold. It rewrites the ground rules of nuclear combat in the name of fighting terrorism. (Emphasis is original)
Nuclear weapons have long been considered to be used as either a matter of immediate national survival, or in retaliation to a nuclear strike.
But now, to raise the possibility of using these weapons in a preemptive strike sends a hypocritical message to the rest of the world, especially other nuclear powers, or states considering their nuclear options, who could conceivably choose to lower their own thresholds for nuclear use.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would also both be breached.
Arkin adds another concern that the decision-making of nuclear use options is being more and more concentrated, thus making dissent harder to hear:
Furthermore, options are being considered to use nuclear weapons in the event that chemical and biological weapons are used:
The BBC also revealed a report from the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament organization, that a leaked document9 suggests that Washington is beginning detailed planning for a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons10. This has raised further concerns of double standards; that Iraq is not allowed to have such weapons, while the U.S. can, and also breach the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty in the process.
In an interview with the BBC (see the previous BBC page for a link to a Real Audio of the interview), Dan Plesch of the Royal United Services Institute, an organization that studies defence and international security, said that the U.S. position amounted to a policy which is do as we say, not as we do, when it comes to nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We have nuclear weapons; other people can't have it.
For additional information see
An interview11 with William Arkin for additional discussions, by Democracy Now! radio, January 30, 2003, archived online).
US 'plans new nuclear weapons'12, BBC, February 19, 2003
Nuclear Weapons Conference13, February 14, 2003 from the nuclear watchdog, Los Alamos Study Group14, which released a leaked Pentagon document (from January 10, 2003) detailing the planning process for developing and building new nuclear weapons for small strikes.
This site’s section on the Iraq crisis15 for further background and issues relating to the sanctions, build up for war, etc.