New US Nuclear Posture
by Thalif Deen, March 14, 2002
Originally Published by the Inter
A top U.N. disarmament
official assailed Thursday U.S. proposals to deploy nuclear weapons
against countries wielding biological and chemical weapons.
"I don't think it makes sense,"
said Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha
Dhanapala. "If somebody uses a basic weapon against you,
you do not use the maximum weapon you have in your arsenal."
''We know from scientific evidence that the use
of nuclear weapons can destroy not only large numbers of human
beings but also the ecological system that supports human life,"
and that ill-effects from radiation are prolonged, Dhanapala added.
Last week, the New York Times reported that the
administration of President George W. Bush is planning a broad
overhaul of its nuclear policy.
As part of the proposed policy, it reported, the
administration is planning to develop new nuclear weapons including
so-called "mini" weapons suited to striking specific
targets in countries such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and
All five countries have been accused by the United
States of either developing or possessing weapons of mass destruction
including nuclear, biological, and chemical arms.
Arab officials have complained that the United
States has remained silent, however, on Israel, which they say
possesses large quantities of mass destruction weapons.
There are five declared nuclear powers in the world:
Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, all of them
veto- wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
At least three other countries are generally considered
"undeclared nuclear powers": Israel, India and Pakistan.
The United States is the only country to have used
nuclear weapons, when it bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki in 1945.
In a report titled 'The Nuclear Posture Review'
(NPR), the U.S. Department of Defence has said there is a need
to resume nuclear testing and to develop new nuclear weapons to
blow up underground bunkers where biological and chemical weapons
may be in storage.
Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice said the only choice against adversaries using weapons of
mass destruction is to make it clear in advance "that it
would be met with a devastating response."
Dhanapala said the new U.S. policy "flies
in the face of Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty undertakings."
Under Article VI of the NPT, he said, states are expected to reduce
nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate them.
"So this is to me a very serious contradiction
of that, and will be a very major stumbling block, as we begin
the process of preparing for the 2005 NPT Review Conference,"
he said. These preparations are scheduled to begin next month.
Dhanapala also warned that if the United States
resumes nuclear testing or develops new nuclear weapons, it would
encourage other countries to discard their obligations under the
NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
"To go back on those treaties would amount
to opening the flood gates, and regressing in the development
of the norms that we have had," he added.
John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers
Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS the use of nuclear weapons
under any circumstances, including retaliation against a nuclear,
chemical or biological attack, must meet the requirements of humanitarian
law. These include necessity, proportionality, and discrimination
between military targets and civilians.
"Nuclear weapons cannot meet these requirements,"
he said. "As the International Court of Justice said, their
radioactive effects cannot be limited in space and time. Therefore
their use is barred."
Burroughs added that one of the "disturbing
aspects" of the NPR is that it signals the possibility of
U.S. nuclear use against a non- nuclear country - and not in retaliation
for a chemical or biological attack, but rather to pre-empt such
The NPR also refers to "surprising military
developments" as a rationale, taking the issue out of the
realm of weapons of mass destruction, he added.
Chris Paine, a senior analyst with the Natural
Resources Defence Council, said only a massive and unusually lethal
chemical attack on large numbers of non-combatants could conceivably
justify a nuclear response.
Biological weapons have a much greater inherent
lethality against unprotected civilian populations, and the devastating
consequences of such an attack could possibly render nuclear weapons
a proportionate response - "but not necessarily a rational
or moral one", he argued.
This is particularly so, if alternative military
means exist for punishing the perpetrators, who may or may not
be readily targeted, or even susceptible to identification.
The policy of pre-emptive strikes is foolish and
counter- productive on several levels, he said, because it encourages
other nation's to consider whether they will be able to sustain
an adequate conventional deterrent to foreign military interference
or invasion, and therefore to acquire the very weapons of mass
destruction that Bush claims so vigorously to oppose.
Paine said that such a policy also deprives the
United States of the moral and political standing to oppose other
nation's weapons of mass destruction programmes, leaving military
coercion as the primary instrument for "dissuading"
foreign countries from competing with the United States in the
realm of mass destruction weaponry.
"The Bush administration's stance reduces
a once vigorous U.S. non- proliferation posture to rubble,"