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Bush Proposal Blurs Defensive, Attack Use of Nukes

by Jim Lobe

China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia, and Syria named as possible targets
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's new contingency plans for using nuclear weapons against a range of countries, including some who do not have them, came under heavy fire today here and abroad.

China said it was "deeply shocked" by the "Nuclear Posture Review" (NPR), leaked to the media last weekend, and arms-control groups here said the secret study is almost certain to heighten international tensions and fuel concerns about the unilateralist aims of President George W. Bush's administration.

"It isn't likely that the U.S. will go around nuking countries at random," said Stephen Young, a nuclear analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), "but the study conveys the notion that the U.S. will be the global policeman and arbiter of justice, and that's not a role everyone agrees we should have."

Another group, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the NPR "will weaken the non-proliferation regime by encouraging other states to acquire nuclear weapons and increasing the likelihood that nuclear weapons will actually be used."

Historically, Washington has taken the position that it would use nuclear weapons only as a last resort and only against nuclear- armed states.

But the new review suggests that nuclear weapons could be used in other circumstances and it cited seven nations -- China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia, and Syria -- as possible targets.

An "Iraqi attack on Israel or its neighbors, or a North Korean attack on South Korea or military confrontation over the status of Taiwan," according to the report, could develop in such a way that the United States may wish to employ nuclear weapons. The NPR also suggested their possible use to destroy suspected stocks of weapons of mass destruction held by so-called rogue states.

As the examples suggest, the study also recommends the development of new kinds of nuclear weapons that could be integrated into U.S. war-fighting strategy, and not just used, as in the past, for deterrence.

It calls, for example, for developing smaller nuclear weapons that could be used against specific kinds of targets, such as caves or hardened bunkers buried deep in the earth.

"The NPR blurs (the distinction between war-fighting and deterrence) by calling for development of new nuclear weapons," according to the Center for Arms Control. "Developing 'usable' nuclear weapons with perceived military value will encourage other states to pursue similar capabilities."

Developing new nuclear weapons will also undermine the 1970 Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which commits nuclear-weapon states to eventual nuclear disarmament, according to critics.

"This policy is a de facto announcement that the U.S. will not abide by the NPT," said Arjun Makhijani, director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment (IEE), recalling that India refused to sign the NPT in the 1960s precisely because it did not include a definite commitment to eventual nuclear disarmament.

"That has resulted in the very perilous situation in South Asia today," noted Makhijani, citing the current tense standoff between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. "And U.S. troops are right there today, which shows that Washington is not immune from the consequences."

Asked about the study and its implications March 10, top U.S. policymakers insisted that it was an innocent exercise in normal contingency planning.

"There are nations out there developing weapons of mass destruction," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Prudent planners have to give some consideration as to the options the president should have available to him to deal with these kinds of threats."

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also insisted that the paper was consistent with Washington's traditional policy of using its nuclear arsenal only as a deterrent.

"We all want to make the use of weapons of mass destruction less likely," she said. "The way that you do that is to send a very strong signal to anyone who might try to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States that they'd be met with a devastating response."

But critics argued that Rice's explanation appeared disingenuous, if only because top administration figures -- notably Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of State for international security and arms control John Bolton -- have themselves pooh-poohed the effectiveness of deterrence on "rogue states" or terrorist groups, particularly since the Sep. 11 attacks in the United States.

"If you say that you believe in deterrence, and then you say it can't deter rogues, then what is the point of threatening them?" asked one former senior State Department official. "There's a contradiction here."

Others noted that, whatever the status of deterrence, the strategic posture outlined in the NPR and the contingencies presented in it will simply add to tensions throughout the Mideast and elsewhere regarding Bush's intentions in the ongoing anti- terrorist campaign.

In late January, he warned that Washington could take pre-emptive military action against the so-called "axis of evil" -- which he identified as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- all of which Washington accuses of supporting terrorism and building weapons of mass destruction.

Those remarks provoked much anger and consternation abroad, even among U.S. allies in Europe and Asia who have engaged moderate forces in Teheran and tried to coax Pyongyang into opening wider to the West.

Hard-liners in both governments -- and now in Syria and Libya, as well as in China and Russia -- will only be strengthened as a result of the paper, according to critics. "By seeing threats everywhere, the U.S. is giving support to those who want to create those threats everywhere," said Young, at UCS.

"This will mean one more turn of the paranoia wheel in North Korea," said the former State Department official, an East Asia expert who added that, while it "won't turn things around in China," it will add to growing fears in Beijing about U.S. intentions.

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Albion Monitor March 17, 2002 (

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