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Attack Bolsters Nuke Lite Lobby

by Jeffrey St. Clair And Alexander Cockburn

Make the desert glow for a thousand years. Wipe them off the face of the Earth. Pulverize them. Such is the unrestrained blood lust that masquerades as military punditry these days. The Washington Times has called on the Bush administration the use of nuclear weapons against Afghanistan and Iraq. Absurd? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had the question put to them directly and neither would rule out the use of nuclear bombs as an option. Rumsfeld’s deputy, the blood-thirsty, Paul Wolfowitz has warned that the Pentagon is poised to unleash “a very big hammer”, a hammer capable of “ending states that support terrorism.” (Rumsfeld says the Pentagon has identified nearly 60 such states.)

“At a bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilites should be used against the bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan. To do less would be rightly seen by the poisoned minds that orchestrated these attacks as cowardice on the part of the United States and the current administration.” These are not the words of a columnist for the rabidly pro-war New York Post. No. These are the considered sentiments of Thomas Woodrow, a former officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

We now find ourselves closer to the unthinkable possibility of launching a nuclear first strike than at any time since the thawing of the Cold War. What is important to understand is the fact that there are people inside the Pentagon and the nuclear labs who have been urging just such a posture, even before the events of 9/11.

The Pentagon has come to a remarkable conclusion with regard to the nuclear weapons: smaller is better. These days the Wizards of Armageddon are palpably anxious to develop a new class of nuclear weapons, the so-called “deep penetrator” warheads. These are relatively low-yield weapons, packing warheads as small as 10 kilotons. Rear Admiral George P. Nanos excitedly refers to this new breed of nukes as “hard target killers”.

During testimony before the House in May, General John A. Gordon, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, groused that for the past decade the Pentagon had not been able to actively pursue new weapons designs. He said he wanted to “reinvigorate” planning for a new generation of “advanced nuclear warheads”.

“This is not a proposal to develop new weapons in the absence of requirements”, Gordon told the committee in a gem of Pentagon doublespeak. “But I am not now exercising design capabilities, and because of that, I believe this capacity and capability is atrophying rapidly”.

Gordon wasn’t being truthful. Over the past decade the Pentagon and its weapons designers have been quietly busy crafting a variety of new weapons. Indeed, although the Clinton administration generated a lot of hoopla by supporting the comprehensive test ban treaty (which it promptly violated with a string of subcritical tests), the Department of Energy and the Pentagon were busy developing new breeds of weapons. In 1997, they unveiled and deployed the B61-11, described as a mere modification of the old B61-7 gravity bomb. In reality, it was largely a new “package”, the prototype for the “low-yield” bunker blasting nuke that the weaponeers see as the future of the US arsenal.

The nuclear priesthood is salivating at the prospect of a new generation of nukes and new infusions of cash under the Bush regime, which has been stockpiled with nuclear hawks, ranging from Richard Armitage and Paul Wolfowitz to Assistant Secretary of Defense Jack Couch, who a couple of years ago wrote that the US should consider dropping a small nuke on North Korea to teach them a lesson.

The Pentagon, of course, isn’t the only one pushing new bombs. So are the nuclear labs and their legions of contractors. “There’s an overwhelming desire to develop new nuclear weapons and there are a lot of rationales put forward to justify the expenditure and the risks”, says Don Moniak, an organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental League in Aiken, South Carolina. “For example, the nuclear labs have said they make new design weapons if only to maintain design expertise”. Moniak monitors weapons production and plutonium storage and reprocessing at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site, which Moniak says is being geared up to begin producing plutonium pits, the triggers for hydrogen bombs.

This spring the labs made a big pitch for the Bush administration to overhaul the nation’s nuclear policy. The plea came in the form of a white paper by Paul Robinson, the director of the Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque. Robinson titled his essay Pursuing a New Nuclear Policy for the 21st Century and began thus: “I recently began to worry that because there were few public statements by US officials in reaffirming the unique role which nuclear weapons play in ensuring US and world security, far too many people (including many in our own armed forces) were beginning to believe that perhaps nuclear weapons no longer had value”.

Robinson doesn’t want to let go a single part of the nuclear arsenal. He even argues that Russia remains a threat, although he inverts the alleged source from that of an opposing superpower to that of a disintegrating nation. As backup for this rationale he quotes US National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice: “America is threatened less by Russia’s strength than by its weakness and incoherence”. This stretch is used to justify an upgrading of the most destructive and expensive weapons in the US arsenal, the so-called Category I strategic weapons capable of incinerating large-scale cities.

Robinson also sees no reason to scale-back the US stockpile of Category II weapons, the kind of all-purpose nuclear missile that Robinson dubs the “To Whom It May Concern Force”. Robinson hedges identifying exactly who the targets of these weapons might be, but he eventually concedes that they include the other nuclear and near-nuclear nations, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and, presumably, France, though definitely not Israel.

These weapons, primarily low-yield single rocket missiles, would mainly be an investment in the Navy’s submarine-launched arsenal to give the US the all-important “forward-basing” advantage-which mainly means that the US wouldn’t have to worry about the touchy diplomatic issue of launching nuclear bombs over the territory of non-combatants. (Apparently, this good neighbor policy hasn’t infected the Bush Star Wars team, which is toiling away on a contraption that would, if it works, knock incoming missiles down and onto the fields of the Poland, Germany and France.)

But Robinson’s real passion is for the Category III weapon, the bunker-busting nuke that is designed for the assassination of the leadership of “rogue regime”, a not so subtle code word for Iraq, although it really does serve as a stand-in for any troublesome non-nuclear nation. Robinson, in a scenario that perhaps even Edward Teller himself may not have envisioned, wants the Bush administration to publicly change its policy to target heads of state with nuclear bombs. “I believe it will be important to make a part o our declaratory policy that the United States’ ultimate intent, should it ever have to unleash a nuclear attack against any aggressor, would be to threaten the survival of the regime leading the state”, Robinson writes. “Unless that state’s leaders are deterred from the acts we are seeking to deter, our war aims would be single-minded-to destroy that leadership’s ability to govern”.

And now we see the prospect of nuclear weapons being used not against a regime, but against an indistinct enemy, largely untargetable, couched in the forbidding recesses of the Hindu Kush, one the world’s most hostile natural landscapes. The only possible objective for their use would be to kill broadly and indiscriminately and to obliterate the distinction between intentional and collateral damage. CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

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