Lawrence Wittner: The Bush Administration Is Pushing Ahead with Plans for Mini-Nukes

Roundup: Historians' Take

Lawrence Wittner, in ZNet (May 10, 2004):

This May, before Congress adjourns for its Memorial Day recess, the Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to vote on the annual defense authorization bill. This bill is expected to include several provisions in the Bush administration's budget proposal that make preparations for the building of new nuclear weapons.

New nuclear weapons? Yes; there is no doubt about it. Armed with only 10,000 nuclear weapons, the U.S. government wants some more.

The Bush administration has requested $27.6 million to develop a nuclear "bunker buster," plus another $9 million for "advanced concept initiatives" that seem likely to include work on new, "small-yield" nuclear weapons. The President also proposes an allocation of $30 million toward building a $4 billion "Modern Pit Facility" that would churn out plutonium triggers for the explosion of thermonuclear weapons. And the administration wants another $30 million to dramatically reduce the time it would take to prepare for conducting nuclear test explosions.

Those who have followed the Bush administration's pronouncements regarding nuclear weapons won't be surprised by these proposals. The administration's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review widened U.S. nuclear options by suggesting possible use of nuclear weapons against countries that don't possess them. The following year, the Nuclear Weapons Council, an administration committee, remarked that it would "be desirable to assess the potential benefits that could be obtained from a return to nuclear testing." In 2003, the Department of Energy's Nuclear Security Administration began a study of building a nuclear "bunker buster," and the head of its nuclear division proposed taking advantage of the White House-prompted repeal of the Congressional ban on research into low-yield nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, of course, the administration has scrapped the U.S. government's long-term commitment to nuclear arms control and disarmamentmade in the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and reiterated as late as the NPT review conference in 2000 -- by withdrawing from the 1972 ABM treaty and refusing to support ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

These shifts in nuclear policy are designed to get the U.S. armed forces ready to wage nuclear war. The Nuclear Posture Review made it clear not only that nuclear weapons would continue to "play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States," but that they would be employed with "greater flexibility" against "a wide range of target types." Strategic nuclear weapons were fine for deterrence purposes. But their capacity to annihilate vast numbers of people had horrified the public and, thus, had led government officials to write them off as useful war-fighting implements. Battered by popular protest, even the hawkish Ronald Reagan had agreed that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." But this abandonment of nuclear options stuck in the craw of the militarists who garrison the Bush administration, who were (and are) determined to build "usable" nuclear weapons....

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