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The US as nuclear rogue state. Part I of II

by Sirocco Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 08:20:13 AM EST

As Iran begins preparations for the resumption of uranium processing, the US is repeating its threats of imposing sanctions through the UN Security Council. "We cannot allow rogue states that violate their commitments and defy the international community to undermine the NPT's fundamental role in strengthening international security," President Bush insisted recently.

As we approach the 60 years anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki annihilations, it is time for some perspective. Notably, it is time to reflect on how, while pretending to do the opposite, the Bush administration has waged total war on the precarious international framework for nuclear arms limitation. In so doing it has not merely violated legally binding commitments, but effectively thwarted humanity's hope of a world free - or at the very least, nearly so - from nuclear weapons.

35 years ago, on March 5, 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force. Eventually ratified by all but three countries on earth, it would be the most widely recognized arms limitation agreement ever. The US, having of course been vitally involved in the negotiations, had signed it as soon as it was opened for signature on July 01 1968. The NPT was to be implemented with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and reviewed in special conferences every five years.

In brief, the NPT allows only five states to have nuclear weapons: the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China. These five - aka the permanent members of the UN Security Council - agree not to transfer nuclear weapons technology to others, who agree not to seek to develop nuclear weapons. But importantly, that is not all. In return for the vast majority of countries forever forswearing the right to have nuclear forces, the five also agreed agreed in Article VI of the NPT eventually to get rid of theirs.

While little known, especially in the US, this requirement is not in dispute. It was a central premise when on May 11 1995, the Cold War firmly behind them, 170 countries made the historic decision to extend the treaty indefinetely. And in 1996, the International Court of Justice unanimously held that Article VI obligates states to "bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects." Indeed, the five recognized nuclear weapon states recommitted themselves to this goal at the 30-year Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York, May 2000.

At this conference, all parties adopted by consensus a Final Document containing a Programme of 13 Practical Steps for Nuclear Disarmament, including "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals." These 13 steps are quite specific. They include the ratification of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty; the preservation and strengthening of the AntiBallistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; nuclear disarmament by unilateral and multilateral means; and a "diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies."

For a while, a spirit of optimism prevailed. Then the Bush administration took office, followed half a year later by 9/11. And suddenly the nuclear night engulfed us once again. As the International Herald Tribune would later observe:

[T]he Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review, released this year, indicates a clear intent to maintain a colossal nuclear arsenal for time without end. It lays out elaborate plans for designing and developing new generations of nuclear weapons for air, sea, and land deployment in 2020, 2030, and 2040. It does not name a date for any "unequivocal undertaking" on abolition.

The world was astonished. Shocked nuclear arms advocates noted how this "makes a mockery of 30 years of US commitments" under the NPT. Nevertheless, just four months later, as if nothing whatsoever had happened, Bush thundered in a graduation speech at West Point: "We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them."

Let us look at some of the ways in which the United States has since systematically broken, not to say trampled on, the NPT and the 13 Practical Steps agreed upon in 2000. To begin with, there is the question of nuclear disarmament, or lack thereof.


Although no conceivable threat requires the US to maintain more than a few hundred warheads - for instance, fewer than 200 would suffice to annihilate Russia - the US maintains, fifteen years after the end of the Cold War, some 10 350 such. Of these, 5 300 are considered active and no less than 4 530 are strategic. 2000 are on hair-trigger alert, ready to launch within minutes. Unbelievably, the average US warhead has a destructive power 20 times that of the Hiroshima bomb, which killed 200 000 people sixty years ago.

There has, to be sure, been some progress. On May 24, 2002, President Bush and President Putin signed to great fanfare the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT), which requires both sides to shrink their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1 700 and 2 200 by 2012. However, if one reads the fine print, it turns out that SORT does not actually reduce nuclear forces! Flaunting one of the 13 Practical Steps - the 'Principle of Irreversibility,' which calls for the physical destruction of weapons by sawing up or otherwise - it merely requires a change in operational status. Each side can keep unlimited numbers in storage. And, as the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) points out:

It also does not require the destruction or elimination of a single nuclear missile silo, submarine, missile, warhead, bomber or bomb. Moreover, there are no verification measures to create confidence that either country is carrying out the required changes in operational status. Finally, it provides no timeline or milestones between now and 2012, and expires at the precise moment that its only requirement - the 1 700-2 200 limit on deployed forces - comes into force.

Thus, as one analyst expressed it, either party could defer cuts until December 31, 2012, at which point violations would be moot because the treaty expires on that day. And unlike most arms control agreements, either party can withdraw upon three months notice without any reason, whereas traditionally, abrogation requires six months notice and is only allowed if supreme national interests are threatened. To put the whole treaty into perspective, even if it survives and is fully complied with, the projected US and Russian arsenal in 2012 has a destructive power approximately 65 000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.

The Bush administration clearly wanted it this way. In a 2003 gesture of less than good faith, the US rejected Russian proposals to further reduce both nations' nuclear stockpiles to 1 500 each. The USC sums it up: "Instead of 'liquidating the Cold War legacy,' this treaty has effectively locked-in the most dangerous leftover Cold War threat."

This is not all. In the words of the Arms Control Association:

By pursuing an agreement with Russia to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to a level of 1,700-2,200 apiece, the United States has signaled it will not seek entry into force of the START II treaty or to negotiate a START III treaty as outlined by then-Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in March 1997. In setting the START process aside, the United States and Russia will not be obligated to give up multiple warheads (MIRVs) on missiles, as called for by START II, and the United States is not seeking actual destruction of warheads as proposed under the START III framework.

Anyhow, as stated in its Nuclear Posture Review and confirmed by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush administration plans to maintain some 6 000 warheads indefinitely and will retain its 2 000 active warheads on alert, able to be launched in a matter of minutes. Aside from the continuing menace of nuclear holocaust this represents, it is not exactly cheap. The US is now spending some $40 billion a year on its nuclear forces, far more than the total military spending for most countries and nearly a tenth of its own. It is also a stunning 150 per cent increase over its nuclear weapons spending during the Cold War.

To cap it off: In direct contradiction to the agreement on a 'diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies,' the US government is evidently preparing to develop a new class of such devices.

Abstention from further armament

In 1994, the US Congress wisely passed a law barring US research and development of a new low-yield weapon with a yield of 5 kilotons (1/3 Hiroshima bomb) or less. The law aimed to discourage other countries from developing such user-friendly 'mini-nukes.' In its FY2004 budget request, however, the Department of Defense requested a repeal of this law, which the Senate approved on May 20, 2003. The reason can only be that the US government intends to proceed with development of new nuclear weapons.

And indeed, the Bush administration has requested funding in its 2006 budget in order to continue research of nuclear 'bunker busters' under the Air Force-led Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) Project. The Senate recently voted 53-43 to fund this study with $4 million (though it did reject, for now, an additional $4.5 million for modifying the B-2 bomber to carry the weapon).

The RNEP is no academic exercise: The Department of Energy's 2005 budget included a five-year projection of $484.7 million for US weapons laboratories to complete a warhead design and begin production by 2009. Nor is it necessarily a question of mini-nukes. According to the UCS, designers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory intend to use the 1.2-megaton B83 nuclear bomb - the USA's largest, about 100 times more devastating than the Hiroshima one - in a more massive casing. This despite the fact that analysis by independent scientists, including Dr. Michael May, a former director of Lawrence Livermore, shows that such a weapon would be more likely to disperse than destroy any chemical or biological agents, and would generate nuclear fallout potentially killing millions.

But even if much smaller warheads are used, a congressionally established panel of the National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that "earth penetrating nuclear weapons cannot go deep enough to avoid massive casualties at ground level, and they could still kill a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas." The study found that a bunker-buster, due to the huge amount of radioactive debris, would not be much better at sparing people nearby than an above-ground nuclear warhead of the same yield.

The ABM Treaty

Another of the 13 Practical Steps concerned preservation and strengthening of the 1972 ABM Treaty, a cornerstone of international arms control that limited the anti-ballistic missile systems defending against missile-delivered nuclear warheads. Seeking to maintain the balance of power implicit in the mutual nuclear deterrence of the superpowers, it marked a decisive change for the better in US-Soviet relations.

However, during his 2000 campaign, George W. Bush promised to resurrect the gargantuan 'Star Wars' missile defense program dreamed up by Reagan (though originally proposed by a team of conservative science fiction writers). He pledged to offer Russia amendments to modify the ABM Treaty. This he never bothered to do: On June 13, 2002, the United States officially withdrew from the Treaty in order to pursue the shield.

The missile defense idea is quite ridiculous. It has so far cost some $100 billion without yielding a deployable system, let alone one that guarantees effective protection against constantly evolving, and far more flexible, missile technology. Also it is useless against nuclear terrorism and probably even against deployment by small states, who are more likely to, say, launch cruise missiles from merchant ships off the coast than send up ICBMs. Insofar as it works, however, the missile shield is widely understood to be an offensive weapon because it would immunize the US to the nuclear deterrents of other countries, leaving it free to use conventional force against them. Consequently, it gives these other countries an incentive to beef up said deterrents as much as it takes.

The US intelligence community warned in 2002 that the abrogation of the ABM Treaty could lead to an increase in the number of warheads China deploys on long-range ballistic missiles from about 20 today to 75-100 by 2015. And indeed, some observers interpreted statements by US National Security Advisor (now Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice to suggest that the US would not mind an expansion of China's arsenal allowing it to overwhelm the future US missile shield.

To be continued.

Are you going to write in Part II about the recent nuclear deal with India? I have an interesting article on that topic, as well as various links on the Iranian situation.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 09:33:53 AM EST
Yes, I'll write about that. Or rather, I have done so, and I don't have so much time to revise...

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 09:44:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you going to write about the state of nuclear weapons stored in the former Soviet Satellite states?  I  had thought there were many there, that they are not very well stored or securely guarded and that the security staff is badly and only sporadically paid.  The Clinton administration in the US had a program to support the dismantling of these weapons, but it was eliminated early in the Bush first term.
by guleblanc on Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 04:37:58 PM EST
Also, I was going to say that these seem more dangerous than the US nuclear arsenal.  They are close to the unstable middle east, including Saudi Arabia.  A revolution by a dissident Arab from the arab peninsula, but not a member of the Saudi family, would have a lot of disposable cash.  It seems as if it would be relatively easy for such a person to purchase nuclear weaponry.
by guleblanc on Tue Aug 2nd, 2005 at 04:41:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Nunn-Lugar programme to keep the Sovier scientists busy and to help the Russians account for all their nuclear materials is one of the best thing the US Senate did, but it's always been unclear if it was sufficient.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 3rd, 2005 at 07:26:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for putting this information together all in one place Sirocco. Only bits and pieces of information like this make it into our news and when it does it is filtered so badly by the press it pretty much comes out sounding like bush is wonderful for doing everything he can to protect us...meaning he has to obligation almost to ignore treaties that might hinder us from protecting ourselves from those 'terrists'.

If I substituted China/Russia for US and told anyone all of this they'd be howling to high heaven about those countries being evil warmongers who we need to nuke into oblivion right now before they do something drastic.  As it is almost no one in the US is even aware of any one of the points you've brought up here or in Part 11.

"People never do evil so throughly and happily as when they do it from moral conviction."-Blaise Pascal

by chocolate ink on Wed Aug 3rd, 2005 at 07:18:25 PM EST
Much as I hope you're wrong, Inkster, I fear you are not...

The world's northernmost desert wind.
by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Thu Aug 4th, 2005 at 07:17:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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