Bunker busters: a whole new nuclear ballgame

Weapon will be first conventional warfighting nuke

Feature story - September 23, 2003
As if George Bush's monumental miscalculation in Iraq wasn't bad enough for the people of Iraq and global security, the Bush regime has now moved one big step closer toward use of nuclear weapons in similar US misadventures.

George Bush leads the US toward a policy of unilateral, pre-emptive counterproliferation warfighting strategy.

On September 16, Bush got his way when the US Senate voted to allow research into smaller nuclear weapons that could be used in battlefield situations. The so-called "bunker buster" mini-nukes would, in theory, be used to destroy command and control bunkers buried deep underground. Voting to lift a 10-year ban against research and development of these low-yield battlefield weapons, the Senate caved in to Pentagon hawks who have actively been pushing to get their hands on such weapons.

Although Republican leaders of the Senate claimed the 51-43 vote (out of 100 senators) was only for research and not actual development of new weapons, other senators held a contrary view. "I think there's a very clear march on to develop these weapons," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California. NGOs against US nuclear policies provided Senator Feinstein with information that she used in her floor speech against the funding, to no avail. But the debate was really not about facts, or about the risk that the use of nuclear weapons presents to the world, it was rather another test of ideological loyalty to the new Dr. Strangelove, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, now under fire for lies and mistruths about the Iraq war and occupation.

War planners have grown tired of their own theories of deterring a foe through the threat of use of nuclear weapons. Now eager to have nuclear weapons available for use, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) deterrence theory which was the basis for the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union has quietly been moved to the back of the Pentagon's war closet. No longer stylish in Washington, MAD theory - insane in its own right - is giving way to clear plans to "go nuclear" in future wars. So what if the facts show that deeply buried bunkers can't be successfully attacked with the new weapons? Who cares that they would loft tons of deadly radioactive dirt and debris into the environment? Well, ummm... we do.

Nuclear strategy, nuclear madness

It can't be said that Bush hasn't been up front about his intentions. In his National Security Strategy (NSS), issued by the White House in September 2002, the Administration gloats over its "unprecedented and unequaled strength and influence in the world" and clearly links military and economic policies. Stating that the US goal is to defend "freedom, democracy, and free enterprise" and bring "free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world," the NSS goes on to lay out how the US will act pre-emptively and unilaterally as part of a new "counterproliferation" policy. Small nuclear weapons to carry out "first strikes" as part of this new strategy are but a part of the wider range of military options that the Pentagon is pursuing. Likewise, the Nuclear Posture Review from December 2001 also affirms first-strike, pre-emptive attacks.

Along with the vote for earth-penetrating mini-nukes - one-fifth the size of the Hiroshima bomb of 20,000 tonnes of dynamite - the Senate also voted to allow the US Department of Energy to get ready for nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site and to continue planning for a new factory that would build the plutonium "pits," or cores of all nuclear weapons. All these projects reveal that a very dangerous picture has emerged: Bush and his generals are planning to legitimise the use of nuclear weapons. The appropriate infrastructure for making new weapons, and rebuilding all the older deployed weapons - which would be around 2000 warheads in 2012, with thousands more stored - and for testing of old and new weapons is now on its way to being put in place.

Look over there! Nukes!

Wanting to divert the eyes of the world from what it's up to, the US has diligently tried to redirect all nuclear proliferation concern to "rogues" like North Korea and Iran. While the risk of new countries obtaining nuclear weapons is obvious and must be addressed, the country with the most aggressive nuclear weapons policies - and which is trampling not only on the NPT but also refusing to back the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - must likewise be confronted in parallel.

While it is true that proliferation of nuclear technologies and materials is accelerating at a rapid pace, the US has taken no steps to establish the norm that possession of nuclear weapons or weapons-usable fissile materials is illegitmate. While developing its new first-strike policies, the US has rejected the concept of leadership through responsible example. Instead, the US has not only blatantly ignored its nuclear disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but has turned a blind eye to allies proliferating nuclear technologies and plutonium, the key ingredient to atomic bombs.

Global peace movement can force disarmament, nonproliferation

In 1984, in the midst of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan was caught joking during a radio programme sound check about policies toward the Soviet Union. Reagan laughed into the microphone, which he didn't know was live, and said "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes." While it was a frightening and rightly caused a global reaction, in many ways Reagan's gaffe was educational as it revealed to the world that nuclear annihilation really was on the mind of a US president and had to be vigorously challenged. That challenge to US nuclear policies took the form of the "nuclear freeze," a movement that contributed in unacknowledged ways to the eventually successful goal of halting the insane US-Soviet nuclear arms race.

Those in the streets protesting Bush's invasion and occupation in Iraq are modern-day allies of those who marched and protested in the US and other countries against nuclear weapons. Before things spin further out of control at the hand of Bush and others bent on global domination, a global peace movement aimed at curbing the US, stopping all nuclear weapons and demanding new norms of peaceful international conduct may well hold the key to a better future. As we saw in the overwhelming response before the Iraq war, such an on-going anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons movement is possible.

The action of the Senate this week shows that for Bush nuclear war is no joke, rather a calmly planned policy to be put into practice. We need to let him know that all of us who were out in the streets in February for the largest anti-war demonstration in the history of the planet are still watching, and not afraid to speak out.

Take action!

Given that the nukes projects are only beginning, there remains time for an international outcry to pressure the Bush Administration to roll back its dangerous plans. Reaction by countries around the world is thus critical. As the signatory countries to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will meet at the United Nations in New York in May 2004, the US can be put in the hotseat as we head toward this important gathering.

Ask Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden to continue their fight for a non-nuclear world at the Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference by raising their voices NOW against the US move toward weapons and policies that will destabilize our world.

More information

What is plutonium, the fuel for nuclear bombs?

Greenpeace on Disarmament

Bush's "National Security Strategy"

Joint news release from Senators Ted Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein against funding for new nuclear weapons and other nuclear programs.

Background from Alliance for Nuclear Accountability on nuclear bunker busters.

Union of Concerned Scientists on "The Troubling Science of Bunker-Busting Nuclear Weapons"

Arms Control Association: "Nuclear Bunker Busters - Technical Realities"

MoveOn.org is keeping after Bush by tracking his lies and mistruths on a daily basis. Sign up for "The Daily Mis-Lead: A Daily Chronicle of Bush Administration Distortion" at http://www.misleader.org

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