With all of the recent talk about North Korea's not-so-surprising admission that it possesses nuclear weapons, as well as Iran's refusal to cease its pursuit of nuclear technology, it is worth considering the United States’ own policy. That policy, such as it is, basically boils down to this: the U.S. and its proxies (e.g., Israel) may possess nuclear weapons. Everybody else is a global threat.
Speaking of global threats, the U.S. twice used nuclear weapons in 1945, in the Japanese cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths and innumerable injuries, both immediate and gradual. No other nation, terrorist organization, or individual has proven itself as deadly and dangerous as the United States, the world's only nuclear aggressor.
It is estimated that as of January 2005 the U.S. has approximately 5,300 nuclear warheads stockpiled, as well as nearly 5,000 additional warheads maintained in inactive status. The U.S. has over 2,000 strategic warheads ready for rapid deployment. The U.S. Energy Department is working on the development of a nuclear “bunker buster,” officially known as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. The Energy Department has also initiated an “Advanced Concepts” research program whereby it is exploring new kinds of nuclear weapons technologies, specifically a low-yield (less than 5 kilotons) “mini-nuke.” Such research was made possible when, at the request of the Bush administration, Congress in 2004 repealed a 1994 law that prohibited development of any low-yield weapons. To date, approximately $16.8 million has already been spent on bunker-buster research with an additional $8.5 million currently requested in Bush's budget.
As reflected by the foregoing, as well as in its Nuclear Posture Review of 2001, the United States endeavors to make nuclear weapons more “usable” and envisions an enlarged range of circumstances in which they could be used, including against non-nuclear attacks or threats. Indeed, despite the fact that the State Department declared in 2003 that the U.S. does not target any countries with nuclear weapons, the U.S. has repeatedly reserved the right to preemptively use nuclear and conventional weapons against nations or groups threatening to use of weapons of mass destruction.
As with any do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do policy, the United States’ policy of researching and developing new nuclear weapons and technologies undermines its credibility when it advocates nonproliferation and condemns “rogue states” for pursuing their own nuclear technologies. Further undermining U.S. credibility is the Bush administration's arrogant rejection of and withdrawal from numerous nonproliferation treaties. For instance, the United States rejected the Enforcement Protocol of the Biological Weapons Convention which would have established a formal regime to ensure that nations lived up to their commitment to destroy and not produce, stockpile, or transfer biological weapons. Bush's rationale for rejecting it -- Iran supported it.
Likewise, in 2001 Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, declaring that it hindered the ability of the U.S. to develop new weapons. That was the point, after all.
In 2004, the Bush administration voiced its opposition to and rejection of inspections and verification as part of the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty. According to the Bush administration, it opposes inspections and verification on the premise that the FMCT cannot be “effectively verifiable.” This opposition to the FMCT puts the U.S. at odds with Australia, Canada, and Japan.
Additionally, Bush has refused to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification or to categorically commit to halting all future tests. Without U.S. ratification of the CTBT, the treaty cannot enter into force. Nonetheless, Bush has said, in no uncertain terms, that he will not submit the CTBT to the Senate and that the U.S. may resume nuclear testing. Evidencing this intent to resume nuclear testing, Bush's Nuclear Posture Review calls for reducing the time frame for conducting tests from 3 years to 18 or even 12 months of a Presidential decision to do so. Congress has approved funds for this time reduction.
Most recently, the U.S. has been trying to remove Mohammed El Baradei as head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency. Why? Not because El Baradei is ineffective. Rather, the U.S. wants El Baradei gone because he questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq (he was right) and is critical of U.S. refusal to deal with Iran diplomatically. However, all 15 nations approached by the U.S., including Britain, Canada, and Australia, refused to back El Baradei's ouster. Indeed, a majority of the IAEA board asked El Baradei to serve for another five years.
Would the world be safer if North Korea or Iran did not have nuclear weapons? Certainly. It would be safer still if the U.S. adopted a coherent and sincere nuclear policy that led by example. However, as long as the U.S. pursues newer and “better” nuclear weapons while simultaneously undermining international efforts at nonproliferation, it will only enhance rather than diminish the nuclear threat.
Other Articles by Ken Sanders