The US Nuclear Superpower
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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.
On this page:
US backs out of nuclear inspections treaty
As reported by papers such as Washington Post (July 31, 2004) and Sydney Morning Herald (August 2, 2004), the Bush Administration announced that it would back out of a nuclear inspections treaty 4 by opposing provisions for inspections and verification as part of an international treaty to ban production of nuclear weapons materials.
This announcement came at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on a discussion about a treaty designed to reinforce the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The US and others have pushed for such a treaty for many years, as one of many mechanisms to help prevent proliferation, especially by nations termed as
rogue states, and by terrorists.
However, the US said it would support the treaty, but without a way to verify compliance.
As the above-mentioned article also noted, in the recent past, various US officials have demonstrated skepticism about the effectiveness of international weapons inspections. In addition, they said they opposed the treaty because:
- It would cost too much;
- Require overly intrusive inspections;
- Would not guarantee compliance with the treaty;
they declined to explain in detail how they believed US security would be undermined by creating a plan to monitor the treaty.
Maybe cost could be a factor, but so much of the world already spends staggering amounts of money on their militaries5, sometimes in relation to nuclear weapons.
intrusive inspections are surely what would be needed as was indirectly argued for against Iraq. Although, there would indeed be concerns that national security and thus national interests could be compromised, as the US themselves pointed out.
While countries may indeed try to hide information to avoid compliance, these inspections are just part of various mechanisms. Furthermore,
- As the above article notes itself,
Arms control specialists said the change in the US position would greatly weaken any treaty and make it harder to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists. They said the US move virtually killed a 10-year international effort to persuade countries such as India, Israel and Pakistan to accept some oversight of their nuclear production programs.
- Charges of US hypocrisy will abound from this, especially considering this announcement came
several months after President George Bush declared it a top priority to prevent the production and trafficking in nuclear materials.As the Washington Post also noted, despite that declaration,
the administration has opposed other arms-control treaties that rely on inspection regimes.Cited examples included:
- In 2001, the Bush Administration opposed attempts to create an inspections regime for the Biological Weapons Convention;
- It signed an arms-reduction deal with Russia that doesn’t include new verification mechanisms; and
- In its first year in office, the Bush administration pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
- Also significantly, this will further increase the criticism that the US are really doing this so they can pursue their own nuclear options with less scrutiny, as has been considered recently.
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
- This site’s section on the Iraq crisis15 for further background and issues relating to the sanctions, build up for war, etc.
US Moves Closer to Pre-Emptive Nuclear First Strike Option
On September 11, 2005, the Washington Post reported that,
The significance of this draft is that the Pentagon would like to use nuclear weapons if they suspect another nation is going to use them. What is of concern is that during the build up to the Iraq crisis, the US and its allied were
convinced that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq, and yet, they did not exist. How can the US be confident next time of using a nuclear weapon?
For the moment the US has canceled one of its controversial nuclear programs: the
bunker busting nuclear warhead17, a small nuclear weapon designed to penetrate deep bunkers. The concern at this stage was the ability to contain any fall-out. Other nuclear options remain.
The Pentagon can make an understandable point about other nations possibly developing weapons of mass destruction. However, there is an increasing risk that the U.S. rhetoric could also become a self full-filling prophecy.
- That is, (using an over-simplified scenario, for sake of explanation), if the U.S. claims the need to create more nuclear weapons or to pursue more nuclear options for attack purposes on the grounds that others might develop and use them, then other countries might become more concerned at the advantage the U.S. military will have, and may feel threatened by such a formidable nuclear superpower.
- Hence, it is very possible that these nations might spend more on military to increase their abilities
- As a result, we would have a scenario where the U.S. seemed right to pursue such policies, but it was instead a self full-filling prophecy.
For a while now, even before September 11 and its aftermath, it has been argued that an arms race and large military build ups by the more powerful nations in general can be detrimental to global security because of the insecurity it may cause to smaller nations who might feel that they need to arm themselves even more so. (See for example, this site’s page on foreign policy18.)
Moving from MAD to NUTS?
From Mutually Assured Destruction, we are moving to a Nuclear Use Theory.
In addition to the New York Times citation above, the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, while commenting on the build up for possible war with Iraq at the end of 2002, highlights well the potentially dangerous changes in the nuclear policy and doctrines:
0 articles on “The US Nuclear Superpower” and 3 related issues:
Read “Arms Control” to learn more.
Read “Nuclear Weapons” to learn more.
Read “Geopolitics” to learn more.
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