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Nuclear Nightmare: Bush Administration Hawks are Pushing the World Closer to Disaster

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Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Report from a Palestine Center briefing by John Steinbach


At the end of the cold war the infamous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which measures the world's proximity to nuclear holocaust, began to creep further and further away from midnight, the time it would read in the event of a nuclear war. During the Cuban Missile Crisis the Clock was set at two minutes to midnight, but by the late '90s it was as far as seventeen minutes away. Today the atomic scientists have returned the clock to seven minutes to midnight, signifying an increasing risk of nuclear war. According to noted international legal scholar and author Richard Falk, "not since the dawn of the nuclear age at the end of World War II has the danger of nuclear war been greater."

Anti-nuclear activist and writer John Steinbach, speaking at a 4 March 2003 Palestine Center briefing, argued that the concerns expressed by these experts reflect the impact of the nuclear strategy of President George W. Bush's administration. "Since George Bush has come to power," Steinbach explained, "the world has careened towards a nuclear precipice." He believes that the Bush administration policy makers are among the most extreme--in their strategic outlook--ever to serve in the United States (U.S.) government, making Ronald Reagan's hawkish advisers "look like doves." The ascendancy of the views of these advisers, which triumphed over more moderate positions following the shocking events of September 11th, has led to a world situation in which Steinbach believes that the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is a probability, rather than a possibility. Advocating the principle of being the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a battlefield, in a so-called first strike, is a flagrant violation of international law and long held U.S. policies. The purpose of publicly taking such a stand is to serve notice to potential rivals that they are vulnerable to attack from U.S. nuclear weapons if they do not do what they're told. Steinbach compares this policy to a 21st century version of the Monroe Doctrine of the 19th century, updated to include the entire world in the U.S. sphere of influence, subject to whatever intervention the U.S. deems necessary.

The views of Bush's nuclear policy makers are not new, and many of them have been actively espousing these views for decades. Current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wrote in the 1978 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review that "the most ambitious (damage limiting) strategy dictates a first strike capability against an enemy's strategic offensive forces." In 1990 Vice President Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, along with current Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, created a policy paper outlining the strategy for preemptive war which is now known as the Bush Doctrine. Steinbach recalled that the policy was scrapped at the time it was written due to strenuous resistance from then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, but it has now been resuscitated and elevated to the highest position in U.S. military doctrine.

Iraq, and especially its President Saddam Hussein, is now the primary focus of Bush and his hawkish administration. Steinbach disregards any U.S. claims that an attack on Iraq will be defensive or directed at Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. In Steinbach's view, this war is directed against Europe, Japan, China and any other potential competitor to U.S. "full spectrum dominance." It will serve as an assertion of U.S power and a preemption of any moves by the Europeans or others to advance their strategic position in the world. In a broader sense, Steinbach argues that using a nuclear weapon against Iraq would revive the threat and deterrent force of a U.S. nuclear arsenal which is intimidating but has not actually been deployed since 1945. He believes that those officials in the Bush administration who seek unchallenged U.S. global hegemony think it is necessary to silence the doubters who claim that nuclear weapons are, in Mao Tse Tung's words, a "paper tiger" because they are essentially unusable.

The U.S. policy that is now turned against Iraq was outlined in Bush's Nuclear Posture Review of spring 2002. This document called for the use of nuclear weapons in several situations. One is to penetrate deep or fortified bunkers. Another is to respond to an attack with non-conventional weapons. The third, and most mysterious, condition under which Bush's Nuclear Posture Review recommended the use of nuclear weapons is "in case of surprising military developments," an option which seems to leave all doors open to the deployment of U.S. weapons of mass destruction.

In order to reduce the danger of a nuclear war, and take advantage of the opportunities presented with the end of the Cold War, it is essential for the U.S. to return to the path of disarmament. Rather than building new, more versatile and more usable nuclear weapons the U.S. must lead the way in the world by reducing its arsenal, and providing an example for other states to follow.

The above text is based on remarks delivered on 4 March 2003 by John Steinbach. The speaker's views do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center (Palestine Center) or The Jerusalem Fund. This 'For the Record' may be used without permission but with proper attribution to Palestine Center.

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