Thursday, February 13, 2003
Nothing new under the sun: That is, unless you're a New York Times columnist who apparently awakened from a long sleep during the Clinton administration. Nicholas Kristof, fresh off the turnip truck, suggests that the Bush administration's warning to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that any use of weapons of mass destruction (biological, chemical or even nuclear), would open him up to like retaliation.
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.
Lowering our threshold? The fact of the matter is that the threshold hasn't changed in ages. From the Arms Control Association in 1997:
[Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council] also dispelled the published report that the PDD expands U.S. nuclear options against a chemical or biological weapons attack. "This PDD reaffirms explicitly, virtually verbatim, the policy of this administration as we stated it the last four or five years, including during the extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], the negotiation of the CTB [Comprehensive Test Ban] and the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention," he said.
Specifically, the PDD reaffirms the 1995 statement on negative security assurances issued by Secretary of State Warren Christopher on behalf of President Clinton at the time of the indefinite extension of the NPT. This statement reiterated in a slightly more restrictive form the 1978 statement on the non-use of nuclear weapons issued by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance on behalf of President Carter.
In this context, Bell explained that it is U.S. policy not to use nuclear weapons first against any state except in three cases. First, "if a state that we are engaged in conflict with is a nuclear-capable state, we do not necessarily intend to wait until that state uses nuclear weapons first?we reserve the right to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict whether its CW [chemical weapons], BW [biological weapons] or for that matter conventional [weapons]," he said. Under the second scenario, Bell said the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first "if a state is not a state in good standing under the Non-Proliferation Treaty or an equivalent international convention." Finally, he said if a state attacks the United States, its allies or its forces "in alliance" with a nuclear-capable state, then the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons first, even if that state is not a nuclear-capable state and is in good standing under the NPT. Because these three exceptions have existed for some time, Bell said "there is no policy change whatsoever in this PDD with respect to fundamental U.S. position on no first use of nuclear weapons."
That was the position under Clinton! The only weapon of mass destruction in the U.S. arsenal are nuclear weapons. You hit us with a WMD, we reserve the right to hit you with a WMD.
As far as Kristof's claim that Rumsfeld was "dampening the wild talk," you can find an article on Rumsfeld's talk here. After the statement Kristof references, Rumsfeld says:
As a part of contingency planning, the United States has, in my adult lifetime, always had contingency plans to do a variety of things. And it seems to me that if one looks at our record, we went through the Korean War, we went through the Vietnam War, we've gone through the war on terror, and we've not used nuclear weapons. That ought to say something about the threshold with respect to nuclear weapons.
The only purpose of bringing this subject up was a not-so-smooth segue into a rant about the possibility of using small-yield nuclear bombs to penetrate hardened bunkers.
Surely nukes won't be used in Iraq. But by noisily weighing their options, officials are undermining the taboo against such arms.
Noisily? Kristof references only a leaked, top-secret report that didn't get a whole lot of play in the media. I guess that's noisy if your ear tends to overamplify anything that could be construed as a negative for the Bush administration.
As far as the use of nukes being a taboo -- it is in most societies. I doubt our researching these possibilities is going to have any affect on those countries who currently see any possession or use of nuclear weapons as taboo. But those who might use nuclear weapons against the U.S. will certainly think twice about their impenetrable bunker really being impenetrable.