Sebastian Bertalan on Fri, 14 Mar 2003 13:50:26 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-ro] RE: A Regime Change in Nonproliferation / completare 2

The New York Times
February 14, 2003

Flirting With Disaster

War is coming very soon, possibly as soon as the next moonless nights over
Iraq at the beginning of March.

As best one can tell, the war plans are now smart, meticulous and
comprehensive  with one exception that is blindingly irresponsible. It's
the loose talk in the Bush administration about using nuclear weapons in

This hasn't gotten much attention, mostly because in the end it surely won't
happen. President Bush is wise enough not to order a nuclear strike, and
those in the know say Gen. Tommy Franks at Central Command thinks the idea
is ludicrous.

The U.S. Strategic Command has prepared a "Theater Nuclear Planning
Document" listing Iraqi targets for a nuclear strike, according to The Los
Angeles Times. Asked about the report, top administration officials growled
in deep, macho voices that they were keeping all options on the table.

To his credit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday seemed to dampen
the wild talk. He said that "we will not foreclose the possible use of
nuclear weapons if attacked," but added that "we can do what needs to be
done using conventional capabilities."

The equivocation is well intended; it's meant to dissuade Saddam Hussein
from using chemicals against us. But Bruce Blair, a former Minuteman launch
officer who is better known as the president of the Center for Defense
Information in Washington, notes that by publicly lowering our threshold for
using nuclear weapons, we're sending a dangerous signal to other countries.

Consider Israel. As the war begins, Saddam may well launch missiles with
chemical warheads at Tel Aviv. One of the critical questions for the Middle
East will be whether Israel shows the admirable restraint it did during the
first gulf war or whether it acts more like, well, Ariel Sharon.

Do we really want to encourage Mr. Sharon to consider ordering a nuclear
strike against Baghdad?

The equivocations are also unnerving because the Bush administration seems
interested in "usable nuclear weapons." For example, it persuaded Congress
to finance research this year into nuclear "bunker busters."

So suppose we discover that Saddam is cowering in a bunker in Baghdad, or we
learn of a cache of anthrax in Tikrit. I asked Richard Garwin, a veteran
nuclear scientist who helped design "Mike," the first U.S. thermonuclear
explosion, in 1952, about the utility of tactical nuclear weapons as

"If the location of a shallow bunker were precisely known," Mr. Garwin said,
"a low-yield nuclear weapon could destroy the bunker. It would not likely
destroy chemical warfare agents or [biological agents] in the complex. And
much of the intense radioactivity from the fission explosion would be spread
over the immediate neighborhood  about one kilometer or so. In an urban
environment, this could kill hundreds of thousands of people."

One sign of the administration's interest in tactical nukes came last
September when Mr. Bush signed Presidential Directive 17, whose classified
version has leaked and specifically mentions using "potentially nuclear
weapons" in response to chemical or biological attacks. And Republicans have
tried to pass a law allowing the development of small nuclear weapons.

Surely nukes won't be used in Iraq. But by noisily weighing their options,
officials are undermining the taboo against such arms.

"The way they are handling it is very counterproductive," said Spurgeon
Keeny, a nuclear expert who held senior posts in both Republican and
Democratic administrations. "It harms our efforts to discourage
proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Despite the way tactical nukes leave hawks glowing with enthusiasm, the
experts I interviewed insist that such weaponry isn't necessary.
Conventional weapons are now so precise and powerful that nuclear warheads
add little  except radiation.

"It undercuts our own security in the long run," said Wade Boese, research
director of the Arms Control Association, of the administration's policy.
"Nukes are the only weapons that could pose a threat to U.S. survival. Why
would you want to open Pandora's box?"

Whatever one thinks of the coming war, its aim of eliminating weapons of
mass destruction is a worthy one. Who could have imagined that the hawks
would find a way to prepare for such a war that could legitimize nuclear
weapons, leaving the world more dangerous than ever?

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