The clamor for
nuclear disarmament is being raised by millions the world over not only by established
peace and anti-nuclear organizations, but by NGOs, scientific panels, retired generals,
eminent military and civilian officials, nuclear weapons designers, and international
judges. With the influential weight of these new voices, the United States has an
opportunity to reconsider official nuclear weapons policy and to achieve four important
victories in route to the bombs abolition: A pledge of no first use; a
promise of no use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-armed states; a disclosure and
accounting of secret military programs; a formal renunciation of the usefulness
of the bomb.
No First Use
The United States
atomic bombings were the first use of nuclear weapons in more ways than one.
In modern parlance, nuclear first use means the escalation from conventional
bombing or the threat of it, to the initiation of nuclear warfare. The U.S. government was
not only the first to use nuclear weapons in war but the first to escalate from
conventional to nuclear bombardment. The Pentagon still uses the first use
threat, as in the 1991 Persian Gulf bombing campaign, during which government officials,
including Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Secretary of State James Baker, continued
to publicly hint that the United States might retaliate with nuclear weapons.
Following their lead, U.S. Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), syndicated columnist Cal
Thomas, and others publicly advocated bombing Iraq with nuclear weapons in the midst of
the U.S.-led bombardment.
In April 1996, the
Clinton administrations Herald Smith publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons
against the African state of Libyaa member in good standing of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treatyfor allegedly building a weapons plant. When then Defense
Secretary William Perry was questioned about Smiths threat, he only reiterated it,
saying about using U.S. nuclear weapons against non-nuclear Libya, we would
not forswear that possibility. (The nonproliferation treaty forbids any nuclear
attack against states that are party to it.)
Last November, the
Clinton administration made public in Presidential Policy Directive 60 the first-use
intentions of its nuclear warfare planners. The announcement was that U.S. H-bombs are
aimed at Third World nations said by the Department of State to be administered by rogue
governments. The directive is notable for language that would allow the United
States to launch nuclear weapons in response to the use of chemical or biological weapons
The presidential announcement was accompanied by a statement by senior National Security
Council staffer Robert Bell who said, The [Directive] requires a wide range of
nuclear retaliatory options, from a limited strike to a more general nuclear exchange.
And Clinton ordered that the military reserve the right to use nuclear arms
first, even before the detonation of an enemy warhead.
announced first-strike policy flies in the face of the prestigious National Academy of
Sciences (NAS), the nations highest scientific advisory group, which recommended
last June that the United States, declare that it will not be the first to use
nuclear weapons in war or crisis. The Clinton administration seemed to directly
dismiss the NASs advice when, in April 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow flatly
refused to rule out the possible use of nuclear warheads against Iraq, saying we
do not rule out in advance any capability available to us.
first use would save billions of dollars in research and development, as well as the
cost of maintenance of systems designed to strike first: the MX, Trident I and II, Cruise
and Minuteman III missiles, and the B-1 and Stealth bombers. Forswearing nuclear first
use wouldnt be risky in geopolitical terms because the United States has no
nuclear-armed enemies, and all the other nuclear-armed states (Britain, China, France,
India, Israel, and Russia) are either allies, most favored nations, clients,
or military Don Quixoties.
Further, a no
first use pledge would free U.S. presidents from threatening to go nuclear,
officially unacknowledged terrorism they have practiced many times. Putting an end to
these ultimate bomb threats would bring U.S. actions in line with its current rhetoric:
President Clinton denounced nuclear terrorism on June 15, 1995, en route to
the summit meeting in Halifax.
nuclear weapons states who have used their first strike master card believe
theyve succeeded with their dreadful risk-takingthe way an extortionist can
get what he wants without ever pulling the trigger. Nuclear war planners want to keep this
ace up their sleeve. Sadly, since official history has it that the U.S. Army
Air Corps atomic bombings of Japan were justified, there is a heavy stigma against
formally renouncing another first use. To do so might seem to call into question the
rationale of having crossed the line back then.
Using the bomb
against non-nuclear Japan followed the mass destruction of Dresden and Hamburg in Germany
and the indiscriminate fire bombings of Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama, and Tokyo in Japan. In
August 1945, the power disparity between nuclear and conventional firestorms
must have appeared small. However, the atom bombs real punchinitially denied
and by nature delayed for many yearsis now known to be cancer, leukemia, birth
defects, and weakened immune system function for generation upon generation. Todays
U.S. warheads are from 12 to 96 times the magnitude of the Hiroshima blast: from 150
kiloton (Kt) warheads on Cruise missiles, to the 1,200 Kt (1.2 megaton) B-83 bombs aboard
the air forces heavy bombers.
The deadly power of
modern H-bombs (more accurately radiation bombs) gives the demand for a non-nuclear
immunity pledge the advantage of being fair and rational. The so-called rogue
states that the U.S. State Department claims want to join the Nuclear ClubLibya,
North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Cubahave a combined military budget of $15.3
billion (Libya: $1 billion; N. Korea $6 billion; Iraq: $3 billion; Iran: $2 billion;
Syria: $3 billion; Cuba: $0.3 billion). This is less than one-ninth of the Pentagons
annual $300-plus billion (including NASA, Energy Department, and National Guard). The 1991
Persian Gulf bombardment and the decade-long bombings of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia,
proved to the non-nuclear states and all the world and should have proved to our own, that
nuclear weapons are superfluous and totally unnecessary when the government chooses to
destroy small countries.
The agreement on
non-nuclear immunity made May 11, 1995 by the five declared Nuclear Club members will not
quell legitimate charges of hypocrisy made against them. The pact is full of exceptions
and is not binding. Only China has made an unequivocal pledge: At no time and under
no circumstances will China be the first to use nuclear weapons and (China) undertakes
unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear
countries and nuclear-free zones.
In spite of the
possible taint of impropriety that may accrue to the atomic bombings of Japan, the United
States should end its opposition to adopting Chinas unambiguous language and promise
never to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.
testing, and unleashing of the bomb in 1945 was done in total secrecy by the Manhattan
Project. The Project provided the unprecedented political insurance that was necessary for
such extravagant spending on such a dubious program. It might never have worked.
One consequence of the Projects leap into hidden government spendingironically,
all done in the name of combating anti-democratic militarismis that a militarized
and anti-democratic process was institutionalized.
Witness the 4,000
secret radiation experiments conducted under the auspices of the U.S. military against
more than 16,000 U.S. civilians: pregnant women, retarded children, prison inmates, cancer
patients, the terminally ill, and stolen cadavers. Former Energy Secretary Hazel OLeary
confessed shock about the U.S. scientists actions. I said, Who were
these people [conducting the experiments] and why did this happen? The only thing I
could think of was Nazi Germany. Official misconduct on such a scale could not have
occurred without the nuclear establishments grant of complete secrecy.
If further proof
were needed that such official secrecy breeds more wrong-doing than it prevents, we have
hundreds of thousands of tons of military radioactive wastes that have been injected into
deep wells, dumped into the water table, buried in shallow trenches, and thrown into the
oceans (our nuclear submarines still routinely release allowable amounts of
liquid and gaseous radioactive wastes into the oceans), that will threaten living things
with cancer and reproductive abnormalities forever. The U.S. governments cover-up of
these ethical and environmental outrages was exposed in 20 front-page New York Times
articles in 1989.
Pentagon budget has now ballooned to about $30 billion or more per year. The official
secrecy this fund is afforded protects programs and adventures that may not be legal, but,
because theyre secret, cannot be challenged in Congress, the courts, or the press.
Indeed, the secret budget continues to exist because the boondoggles that it keeps secret
could not withstand public or Congressional oversight.
One example is the
Navys Project ELF, which for years has been attacked in Congress as a cold war
relic. The ELF transmitter sends one-way orders to submerged, nuclear-armed U.S. and
British submarines around the world. This nuclear war starter pistol was saved
from certain cancellation in April 1995 by a so-called classified emergency reason
originating with the Navy. The nuclear war fighting function of ELF (along with its
potentially harmful non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation), made it an easy target for
deficit hawks, so its budget had earlier been cut. The Navys maneuverby way of
the secret emergency which is still unknown to the publicconvinced a
House-Senate conference committee to restore the funding. U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
(D-WI), who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to terminate Project ELF, was unconvinced
by what he called an eleventh-hour trick, saying, The Navy explicitly
told me there was no classified reason for maintaining ELF. Hundreds of
these cold war dinosaurs are still being maintained inside secret programs that, if made
public, would make laughing stocks of the military contractorsand the taxpayers.
Uselessness of the Bomb
warheads fundamentally useless, the National Academy of Sciences, in the June
1997 report mentioned earlier, charged that current U.S. nuclear war fighting plans were
largely unchanged form the cold war era when 30,000 H-bombs were targeted at
the former USSR and China. This NAS rejection of the bomb is a far cry from current State
Department policy and amounts to a startling condemnation of official U.S. history.
There has for 50
years been a debate about whether the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary.
Although critical voices have generally been drowned by the soothing official paradox that
the Bomb saved lives, negative answers are not hard to find. In 1945, Brig.
Gen. Bonnie Feller wrote, Neither the atomic bombing nor the entry of the Soviet
Union into the war forced Japans unconditional surrender. Historian Gar
Alperovitz (Atomic Diplomacy, Penguin Books, 1985 and The Decision to Use the
Atomic Bomb, Random House, 1996) has said, I think it can be proven that the
bomb was not only unnecessary but known in advance not to be necessary. President
Dwight Eisenhower said it wasnt necessary: First, the Japanese were ready to
surrender and it wasnt necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Second, I hated
to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.
These charges, as
contrary to the government story as they are, share a wrongheaded implication; namely,
that nuclear warfare could conceivably be necessary or excusable
under some circumstances. That most people in the United States still believe this to be
true, is the result of decades of myth-making started by President Truman, who said,
The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military
base. That was because we wished this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the
killing of civilians.
Truman at his word, the 140,000 civilians killed at Hiroshima are the minimum to be
expected when exploding a small nuclear weapon on a military base. At this
rate todays small (Cruise missile) warheads, which are 12 times the
power of Trumans bomb, might avoid killing any more, but would kill a
minimum of 1.68 million civilians.
The ability to
think of such acts as necessaryand to prepare and to threaten themrequires
the adoption of a learned indifference that insulates the conscience of the executioner.
Such a deep-seated denial is needed in order to excuse any mass destruction because,
generally, the rightness of indiscriminate attacks is not debatable whether in Oklahoma
City, Sarajevo, Rwanda, or Hiroshima. Furthermore, since the H-bomb can produce only
uncontrollable, widespread, and long-term results, it follows that the rationalization of
U.S. nuclear war planning has hardly changed since 1945. Consider how similar to President
Trumans words (above) are those of the U.S. State Departments recent
declaration to the International Court of Justice (the World Court) on the question of the
legality of using nuclear weapons: Nuclear weapons can be directed at a military
target and can be used in a discriminate manner.
This artful lie,
the engine of the nuclear weapons establishment, amounts to the cynical and outlawed
notion that good can come from the commission of mass destruction. The State Departments
claim cannot, no matter how often or skillfully repeated, make the effects of even one
nuclear warhead limited, controllable, militarily practical or ethically justifiable.
In his October 3,
1996 speech to the State of the World Forum in San Francisco, Gen. George Lee Butler
became the first U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) commander in history to condemn U.S.
nuclear weapons and nuclear war policy, a policy he had molded and implemented, saying in
part, A renewed appreciation for the obscene power of a single nuclear weapon is
taking a new hold on our consciousness He delivered the same statement to the
National Press Club December 4, 1996. In a more recent essay, Gen. Butler has said that
President Clintons nuclear war policy is based on the mistaken belief that nuclear
weapons retain an aura of utility. Gen. Butler argues that Too many of us have
failed to properly understand the risks and consequences of nuclear war. [Nuclear weapons]
effects transcend time and place, poisoning the earth and deforming its inhabitants for
generation[s]. Butler concludes that, The likely consequences of nuclear war
have no politically, militarily or morally acceptable justification, and therefore the
threat to use nuclear weapons is indefensible.
Even if the
official history and rationalizations surrounding the 1945 atomic bombings are not
rejected by a majority, these four conclusive stepsa pledge of no first use,
a promise of non-nuclear immunity, the abandonment of secret military budgets, and the
renunciation of nuclear wars usefulness might be taken in view of what
is indisputably known about nuclear weapons. Furthermore, crucial and compelling demands
have been issued in recent months by dozens of authorities who now agree that nuclear
abolition is necessary and possible. For example, last February at the National Press
Club, 117 world leadersamong them former President Jimmy Carter, former President of
the USSR Mkhail Gorbachev, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and former Canadian
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeaucalled upon nuclear weapons states to declar[e]
unambiguously that their goal is ultimate abolition; in April 1997 Dr. Hans Bethe, a
Nobel Prize winner and the most senior of the living scientists who built the Hiroshima
and Nagasaki bombs, wrote to President Clinton calling on him to withdraw the $2.2 billion
in funding set for nuclear weapons development; in December 1996, 62 retired generals and
admirals from around the world published a declaration in major papers urging that the
following must be undertaken now long term international nuclear policy must be
based on the declared principle of continuous, complete and irrevocable elimination of
mechanism and working blueprint for verifiable nuclear disarmament was proposed August 14,
1996 by the international Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. The
commission was made up of 17 prominent experts from around the world including Gen.
Butler, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Joseph
Rotblat. International legal authority for such a program was reaffirmed by the July 8,
1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (the World Court), which
(besides outlawing the threatened use of nuclear weapons) declared that nuclear weapons
states are under a binding obligation to proceed with the elimination of nuclear weapons
under the terms of the 1970/1995 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
These are the
obvious, decisive, and available reasons and means by which to achieve the abolition of
nuclear weapons. The goal can be reached only if those of us demanding it will amplify our
voices and refuse to take no for an answer. <S>Z
John M. LaForge is
co-director of <W0>Nukewatch, a peace and environmental action group based in
Wisconsin, and editor of its quarterly newsletter The Pathfinder (PO Box 649, Luck,
WI 54853). His articles on nuclear power and weapons have appeared in <W0>Z
Magazine, The Progressive, Earth Island Journal, and Sociological