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The Return of Dr. Strangelove

The Return of Dr. Strangelove

By Jack A. Smith

The pro-war national political consensus that emerged after the Sept. 11 attack on the United States has produced one more big dividend for George W. Bush, in addition to bipartisan backing for his open-ended, ill-defined wars on terrorism, support for his decision to terminate the ABM treaty, and the impending passage of his astronomical defense budget, among other right-wing initiatives.

Now, President Bush believes, he is free to "think the unthinkable" and actively plan to use nuclear armaments as first-strike weapons in pursuit of his right-wing definition of America's interests. With the release of the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) -- shaped by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon civilians of reactionary bent, delivered secretly to Congress in January, and leaked to the Los Angeles Times March 9 -- Washington is warning foe and friend
alike that nuclear weapons are back in style and George W. Bush is just the man to pull the trigger. Bush reiterated his willingness to use nuclear weapons in a press conference Feb. 13, closely associating his remarks with renewed threats against Iraq, a country which took no part in the terror raids.

Washington's resurrection of nuclear arms as first-strike weapons of mass destruction may have been unthinkable, but it was also inevitable. What made nuclear war unthinkable for the U.S. during the Cold War was not the morally repugnant fact that one bomb could kill millions of innocent people, and that a few of them could destroy an entire society, but that any nuclear attack by American forces may have resulted in massive retaliation and mutually assured destruction from the USSR.

Now, there's no Soviet Union to retaliate against nuclear aggression, and there's no need to pay the piper for an atrocious misdeed. So it's thinkable. And if it's thinkable, why continue to define nuclear weapons as a defensive last resort? Why not use them under any circumstances the White House judges necessary?

During the Vietnam conflict, warhawks complained that the politicians had "tied the hands" of the Pentagon by ruling out the use of nuclear weapons to defeat the liberation struggle. With his approval of the NPR, Bush clearly intends to untie any remaining binds, thus fulfilling a demand by the ultra-right for 57 years since the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There remains a chance that the administration can be forced to
repudiate the new plan and send the Pentagon back to the drawing boards for another review of nuclear posture. But it?s going to take a lot more guts than the Democrats have shown so far; a lot more pressure from U.S. allies; and, above all, a truly mass antiwar movement in this country beginning with the April 20 demonstrations scheduled for Washington (see brief article immediately below).

According to the Pentagon document, the U.S. may now use nuclear weapons under these circumstances:

1. Against targets that can withstand non-nuclear attacks, such as underground installations.

2. In retaliation not only for a nuclear attack but also chemical and biological attacks of unspecified dimension (which could mean, in the absence of any further elaboration, everything from an envelope of anthrax to a full-blown CB barrage).

3. "In the
event of surprising military developments," which means precisely what it sounds like -- anything (Sept. 11 was a surprise; Israel's recent interdiction of arms allegedly bound for Palestine was a surprise; a suitcase bomb set off in Washington would be a surprise; the discovery that a "rogue state" possessed a weapon that could reach the U.S. would
be another surprise). Specifically, the U.S. now threatens nuclear retaliation under these conditions:

1. If there is a war between North and South Korea (the Pentagon already has thousands of missiles in the south, many with nuclear warheads, itching to be fired).

2. If there is an armed
conflict between China and its province, the U.S. protectorate of Taiwan (China is already targeted with sufficient long- and intermediate-range nuclear missiles on land and sea to destroy all its biggest cities and hundreds of millions of its inhabitants; it has a few small bombs of its own and no adequate delivery system);

3. If Iraq attacks Israel.

4. Syria, Libya and Iran were also identified as possible targets, presumably for whatever reason the U.S. wants. (Several of the countries considered potential targets, including China and North Korea,
expressed outrage upon learning of the Pentagon document. )

According to the NPR, "In setting requirements for nuclear strike
capabilities, distinctions can be made among the contingencies for which the United States must be prepared.... Contingencies can be categorized as immediate, potential or unexpected.... North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya are among the countries that could be involved in immediate, potential or unexpected contingencies. All have long-standing hostility toward the United States and its security partners; North Korea and Iraq in particular have been chronic military concerns. All sponsor or
harbor terrorists and have active" programs to create weapons of mass destruction.

Washington's fabrications to the contrary, none of these countries possesses nuclear weapons, delivery systems with which to threaten the United States, or weapons of mass destruction. To launch a nuclear attack against any of them would place the United States in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, wherein the U.S. pledged 24 years ago not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

The Pentagon's new nuclear posture is based on three assumptions termed the New Triad. Assumption one is the possession and willingness to use an offensive strike force of nuclear and conventional weaponry. Assumption two consists of active and passive defenses, such as the anti-missile system and other defenses. Assumption three is called "a
responsive defense infrastructure," meaning the ability to develop and produce nuclear weapons and resume the testing of nuclear devices.

"Composed of both non-nuclear systems and nuclear weapons," the Pentagon report reveals, "the strike element of the new triad can provide greater flexibility in the design and conduct of military campaigns to defeat opponents decisively. Non-nuclear strike capabilities may be particularly useful to limit collateral damage and conflict escalation. Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bioweapons facilities). Nuclear and non-nuclear strike systems can attack an enemy's warmaking capabilities and thus contribute to the defeat of the adversary and the defense of the United States and its security partners."

According to William Arkin of Johns Hopkins University writing in the Los Angeles Times March 10, "While downgrading the threat from Russia and publicly emphasizing their commitment to reducing the number of long-range nuclear weapons, Defense Department strategists promote tactical and so-called adaptive nuclear capabilities to deal with contingencies where large nuclear arsenals are not demanded. They seek a host of new weapons and support systems, including conventional
military and cyber warfare capabilities integrated with nuclear
warfare. The end product is a now-familiar post-Afghanistan model -- with nuclear capability added. It combines precision weapons, long-range strikes, and special and covert operations."

Bush's new plan has come under sharp attack from several allies, some of the countries now targeted in the Pentagon documents, the international left and from expected liberal and radical sources, but as of this writing there has not been much of an outcry from the media or the Democratic opposition.

The New York Times was one of the critics, headlining its editorial comment March 12 with the words, America as Nuclear Rogue. "Where the Pentagon review goes very wrong," the Times advised, "is in lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons and in undermining the effectiveness
of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.... Since the dawn of the nuclear age, American military planners have had to factor these enormously destructive weapons into their calculations. Their behavior has been tempered by the belief, shared by most thoughtful Americans, that the weapons should be used only when the nation's most basic interest or national survival is at risk, and that the unrestrained use of nuclear weapons in war could end life on earth as we know it. Nuclear weapons are not just another part of the military arsenal. They are different,
and lowering the threshold for their use in reckless folly."

Arkin of Johns Hopkins, a frequent contributor to the liberal Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, argues: "What has evolved since last year"s terror attacks is an integrated, significantly expanded planning doctrine for nuclear wars." He is echoed by John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, who said of the NPR, "This is very, very dangerous talk .... Dr. Strangelove is clearly still alive in the Pentagon."