Nuclear Hubris

by Richard Alan Leach

Z magazine, April 2003


After the Soviet system imploded, the US reveled in its role as the worldís sole superpower, giving many indications that the consequences for the inhabitants of the periphery were a matter of imperial indifference. Among the hard lessons learned from the September Suicide Bombings is that, on this polarized planet, no unbreachable fortresses can be built, not even a ìFortress America.î It should come as no surprise, however, that entrenched special interests still support military boondoggles ó such as the mis-named ìmissile defenseî system ó and still refuse to admit that throwing 100 billion dollars at unworkable missile shields will be economically wasteful and strategically destabilizing. Unless the ambitions of this influential minority of far rightists is constrained, a self-defeating focus on remote, high-end threats such as ballistic missile attacks may also be inimical to self-preservation.

Everybody agrees that we now live in a new world, but it is important to recall the old one. The pre-September climate of opinion already feels like ancient history: the worldís most powerful nation had the luxury of exaggerating ballistic missile threats solely to divert public funds into a massive welfare program for aerospace and related industries, and to pave the way for the weaponization of outer space. Long before the Bush inauguration in January, analysts pointed out that no designated ìrogue stateî has the technology to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) against the US, which would leave a signature and invite the destruction of their countries. From its inception, the actual motivation behind what the administration (misleadingly) terms ìmissile defenseî has been to pursue a costly program of offensive preparations against possible later challenges from ìstrategic competitorsî like China, even as China and Russia, along with the majority of US allies, continue to argue for preserving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), while strenuously objecting to national missile defense (NMD).

The need to shore up the nonproliferation regime is now more urgent than ever, but an influential number of would-be nuclear hegemonists are steadfast in their obsession with building shields to augment the nuclear sword ó and they now exploit September 11th to justify the scheme. Despite the likelihood that a shift to misnamed ìdefensesî will lead to a new arms race, it is a calculated risk which policymakers remain willing to run. The US is still pressuring allies to withdraw objections to the US plan to scrap the ABM Treaty. Both national and global security will be knowingly jeopardized so that the US can break out of established norms, such as the Outer Space Treaty (1967).

Before September 11th, the terms ìsecurityî and ìdefenseî were largely employed as Orwellisms to justify a buildup in offensive capabilities. The interregnum between the end of the Cold War and the ìnew warî sparked by the terrorist attacks provided Americans with a short-lived window of opportunity (now firmly shut) to recognize the inherent dynamic of the US military towards ever-greater expansion ó enemies or no enemies ó with the initial promise of a post-Cold War ìpeace dividendî long forgotten. Previously, the menace (or mirage) of ìrogue statesî loomed large in our consciousness: they have since been supplanted by terrorist warlords. Yet this more credible threat will now be used to justify weapons systems that would be useless against them. Meanwhile, President Bushís showing in the polls over the next eight months will continue to be better than his advisors ever dreamed, with Washington capitalizing on the September tragedy to fight an open-ended ìnew war.î The new GOP agenda will skewer the Social Security budget to combine a new ìhomeland defenseî with the same useless ìdefenseî system proposed in the pre-September climate of nuclear unilateralism.

Instead of heeding the advice of its allies and abandoning the national missile defense scheme, advocates now try to capitalize on public fears to sell their agendas. Formerly, the main argument of pro-nuclear extremists was that a radical shift to ìdefensesî was necessary to defend the United States against ìunreliable nationsî or ìroguesî like North Korea: they now add that missile defenses were not intended to defend against commercial airliners! True: nor can NMD defend against nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) weapons, deliverable in a suitcase or a crop-duster. Given the entrenched interests represented by Eisenhowerís military-industrial complex (MIC), actual security or ìdefenseî considerations still represent only a secondary or tertiary consideration. Pro-nuclear forces now expect to receive carte blanche for every ìdefensiveî project from space bombers to unworkable missile shields, and employ every sophistry at their command to stay the course.

Meanwhile, sanitized reportage in the newspaper of record continues to hinder Americans from understanding the issues. The assumption that ìsecurityî considerations were always the paramount consideration behind missile defenses remains unquestioned by the media. Today, given the unprecedented siege mentality prevailing in the United States (with skyrocketing sales of flags and shotguns) an agenda which provoked partisan flak before the advent of a ìunited frontî against terror is being shamelessly exploited. To avoid handing the Defense Department a blank check for military boondoggles, it is revealing to review New York Times (NYT) coverage of the missile defense issue in the months leading up to September, when threats were invented or exaggerated to sell a scheme which knowingly imperils US national security, but to which the administration remains committed (for other reasons).

On September 2nd, the NYT reported that US policymakers, recognizing the inadequacy of Chinaís 18-20 ICBMs as an effective deterrent against the proposed system, planned to inform China that they no longer opposed a Chinese buildup ó if this would overcome their opposition to NMD (David E. Sanger, ìUS To Tell China It Will Not Object To Missile Buildup,î NYT, Sept. 2nd 2001). Because the October summit was imminent, the administration was forced by the calendar to reveal what it could no longer conceal: that, for hawks in the State Department and the White House, a halt to the development of missile defenses represented a worst-case scenario ó even worse than a new arms race in Asia, spurred by a Chinese buildup!

The piece implicitly revealed the intention of the Bush administration to rely on ìpeace through strength, rather than peace through paper,î in the memorable sound-bite of Arizona Senator John Kyl. Abrogating its responsibility to shore up the nonproliferation regime, the White House implicitly acknowledged its willingness to initiate an open-ended arms race, telling China, in effect, ìcatch me if you can.î This news surprised many, including many who should have known better. All along, the clear pattern has been to postpone such forthright admissions until the eleventh hour. The Bush administration expected to provoke widespread protest against its dangerous shift in nuclear posture, so the strategy has been to release information in stages, and slowly bring its allies on board ó along with a bewildered and frightened planet.

Washington immediately attempted to downplay the report. A ìrestatementî appeared on September 5th, with the administrationís denial, stating that they would ìnot acquiesceî in a Chinese buildup, while conceding on background that the effect of ìnot acquiescingî would be much the same, since the US ìunderstandsî Chinaís need to test their weapons for safety and reliability (David E. Sanger, ìUS Restates Its Stand on Missiles in China,î NYT, Sept. 5, 2001). Such an obliging collusion between press and state is hardly reassuring.

In the first half of 2001, many slanted editorials informed us that China and Cuba were against missile defenses: if they are against it, of course, it must be ìa good idea.î Long before September, the prerogatives of power ensured that a ìzero sumî mentality percolated throughout the political culture. However, this radical shift in nuclear strategy alarms US allies as much as China and Cuba. Throughout the year, the mainstream continued to relay the absurd misrepresentation by hawks that the acquisition of a shield to augment the sword is merely a ìdefensiveî maneuver which should threaten no one.

In stark contrast, China echoed the typical world reaction in a written statement by Jiang Zemin: ìTo reduce the armaments of others while keeping oneís own intact, to reduce the obsolete while developing state of the art, to require other countries to scrupulously abide by treaties while giving oneself freedom of action, all these acts make a mockery of international efforts and run counter to the fundamental objective of disarmamentî (Jiang Zemin, ìThe Way to Get On With Nuclear Disarmament,î Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1999). US policy is to side-step such accusations, while depicting China as moving forward to new and threatening heights with research and modernization, even as the US ignores Chinese calls to preserve the ABM Treaty. China signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1986, conducting no explosive nuclear tests since that time. During the Cold War, the Defense Department employed the same ruse: even funding for Reaganís Star Wars was procured by arguing that, otherwise, the Russians would get there first!

On August 24th, the NYT readership must have breathed a collective sigh of relief to see an article (penned by David E. Sanger) titled: ìBush Flatly States US Will Pull Out of Missile Treaty.î The sigh of relief would be generated not by the news itself, which was bad, but because of finally hearing White House intentions flatly stated. Despite being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the new policy is for the US to upgrade and extend its strategic force advantage, rather than work towards eventual disarmament, as pledged. As a result, other nations will be compelled to acquire or enhance stocks of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons (NBC), for protection against the planetís sole superpower.

Two days earlier, on August 22nd, the NYT revealed that an official in the Bush administration had given Russia an unofficial deadline of November to accede to stipulated US changes in the ABM treaty or ìface a unilateral American withdrawal.î The piece is euphemistically titled, ìUS Sets Deadline for Settlement of ABM Argument.î And when the United States disagrees with the rest of the world, it will be a big argument. The implicit framework for addressing the issue of missile defense is one that genuflects to power and rejects any such principle as ìone nation, one vote.î Further, if the US disagrees with the rest of the world, it is world opinion that is presented as suspect. Throughout the Cold War, Americans were constantly assured that only ìtheyî break treaties ó or abrogate, annul, scuttle, or violate them. So today, we amend, go beyond, exceed the constraints of, and now make arguments for ó jettisoning a treaty which served as the linchpin of international security for the last thirty years of the nuclear age.

An historic moment of candor occurred on May 1st, 2001. After months of disclaimers, George W. Bush, in his first major speech on defense, first conceded the administrationís intention to ìgo beyondî the ABM Treaty. This candid adminssion, however, was marred by alarmist rhetoric updated from the Cold War, as Bush cited numerous (and unmentioned) rogue states which might (at some future date) seek to acquire nuclear weapons. The President warned of an inevitable arms race, which we must ìwinî (since negotiated multilateral reductions are out of the question):

More nations have nuclear weapons and still more have nuclear aspirationsÖ Most troubling of all [my emphasis] the list of these countries includes some of the world's least-responsible states.ÝUnlike the Cold War, today's most urgent threat [my emphasis] stems not from thousands of ballistic missiles in the Soviet hands, but from a small number of missiles in the hands of these statesÖ

North Korea, a failed communist state that cannot even feed its own people, is a threat? And the most urgent threat to the United States is a ballistic missile launch? Numerous security analysts attempted (in vain) to convince the hawks that it would be easier for a terrorist to smuggle a chemical weapon into the United States in a suitcase. For balanced minds, the means wrought by terrorists on September 11th provided definitive evidence of the futility of constructing missile shields. Yet, proponents of NMD now twist logic to the breaking point, using the terrorist attacks as an absurd justification for implementing, not abandoning, missile defenses. Such chicanery, of course, was inevitable, since the latter term is a euphemism for the long-term project of weaponizing the ìultimate high groundî of outer space.

The day after Bushís speech, the NYT described the radical shift from deterrence to destabilizing ìdefensesî merely as an innocuous ìstrategy overhaulî (David E. Sanger and Steven Lee Myers, ìIn Strategy Overhaul, Bush Seeks A Missile Shield,î NYT, May 2, 2001). The euphemism masks the most irresponsible strategic gamble since Ronald Reaganís Star Wars speech of 1983. As the Bushies expected, the more the public learned about missile defense, the less they liked it. So the new administration resorted to standard practice for pitching the scheme: it changed its arguments, depending on its audience. While in Europe, the NYT reported that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld ìpresented several arguments. He suggested that antimissile defenses could be reconciled with some arms control treaties, avoiding the bluntness of comments he made in Congressional hearings ó and even on the plane flying to the conference ó that the ABM treaty was an anachronismî (Michael R. Gordon, ìUS Tries Defusing Alliesí Opposition to Missile Defense,î NYT, February 4, 2001). As noted, only when concealment became impossible did the Bush administration resort to plain talk. Until the May 1st defense speech, the policy was to counter perceptions of unilateralism, and to hedge when the subject of space weapons was brought up. As the NYT reported in May, ìMr. Rumsfeld repeatedly side-stepped questions from reporters about whether his efforts to give space operations a higher profile in the Pentagon would inevitably lead to building anti-satellite weapons or other types of space-based military hardware. ëThese proposals have nothing to do with that.í he saidî (James Dao, ìRumsfeld Plan Skirts Call for Stationing Arms in Space,î NYT, May 9, 2001). To finesse both public opinion and allied opposition to its designs, the Bushies released information in stages, always careful to avoid acknowledging the long-term strategy to weaponize space. Planning documents are more candid, but are ignored by the mainstream, on the principle that the Pentagon would never stoop so low as to mislead the media or the American people.

In the preceding months, the President and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld met with foreign leaders more to inform them of the US commitment to NMD than to consult with them concerning the wisdom of this fundamental shift in nuclear strategy. Soon thereafter, worldwide complaints of US unilateralism (and bad manners) prompted Bushís handlers to begin paying lip service to the notion of ìconsultation with our alliesî ó which became the Presidentís week-long mantra in Europe in June, 2001. The shift to conciliatory rhetoric was another manifestation of damage control, a mere bid to alter perceptions ó before proceeding exactly as planned.

Washington is also circumspect regarding its long-range plans to jettison other arms control agreements, although in July, it signalled its intention to resume nuclear testing, in clear violation of the unratified comprehensive test-ban treaty (CTBT). Recently, arms control expert Richard Butler warned that ìIf the United States now destroys the test ban treaty and moves to resume nuclear testing, other nuclear-weapons states will follow suit, and still other states will consider acquiring nuclear weapons. The nonproliferation regime will perish.î (Richard Butler, ìNuclear Testing and National Honor,î NYT, July 13, 2001). The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids the weaponization of space, must also be scrapped because it interferes with ìnew thinkingî ó where outer space is regarded as the next American ìfrontier.î

In elite circles, debates are confined to pragmatic considerations (cost-benefit analyses), while a sycophantic media frames the debate according to the principle that all decisions made by Washington must be ìwell-intentioned.î When stated openly, the axiom produces comical effects, such as in this editorial: ìIf his missile defense plan makes new missiles and generates nuclear turmoil in Asia, it will not succeed despite the Presidentís good intentionsî (Business Week, May 14, 2001). The standard picture of a security policy guided by ìgood intentionsî is marred by a refusal to acknowledge the vested interests behind military appropriations. In keeping with this myth, some classic Orwellisms frequently appear, such as the title of this editorial: ìBush Decides Discarding Treaties Aids Peaceî (Walter Shapiro, Detroit Times, May 4, 2001). (So that is what it does! Perhaps Bush who should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)

The US plan to eventually scrap the Outer Space Treaty (1967) and to ìdominateî planet Earth is still presented by the US media as defensive, although the new justification is the threat of terrorist warlords. At least this threat did not have to be invented: today, we hear almost nothing about the former menace of ìrogue statesî like North Korea: East Asia has been replaced by the Middle East. Prior to September 11th, the irresponsible scheme to erect missile shields required demonizing anemic enemies and diplomatic gridlock to keep North Korea out in the cold. Today, a real threat (domestic terrorism) is cited to justify an antimissile scheme that would be useless against it! In accordance with the principles of doublethink, no two-front war is needed against rogues and Middle East extremists; instead, the hyperbolical ìthreatî from North Korea is now forgotten.

Until September, the newspaper of record was largely a forum for nuclear hawks to employ sophistical arguments urgently calling for ballistic missile defenses. NYT bias has consistently favored far rightists who present little evidence, rather than left-liberals who present a lot of evidence. In the early 1980s, former Pentagon official Frank Gaffney was kicked out of the Reagan administration because he became apoplectic when his boss began talking to the Russians. Gaffneyís Center For Security Policy (CSP) is less a ìthink tankî than the leading Star Wars lobby. Gaffneyís group has received over $2 million in donations since CSP began operation, mostly from Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The media monitoring group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) noted the tactic:

In a New York Times article, Gaffney is quoted calling ads from the disarmament group Peace Action ëmisleading.í But it seems far more misleading that the article failed to mention that Gaffney's CSP receives more than 15 percent of its annual revenue from corporate sponsors, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin.î Michelle Ciarrocca, ìHoles in The Coverage: Whatís Left Out of Reporting on Missile Defense,î FAIR, Nov./Dec. 2000).

It should be added that nowhere did Gaffney provide evidence for his dismissive reaction, nor was he asked for any. His skeptical snort sufficed.

The ìfalse balanceî tactic frequently recurs. Another NYT article featured the dissenting viewpoint of Senator Carl Levin, who, in mid-2001, called for a review of technical requirements before making a deployment decision. To achieve a spurious ìbalance,î the NYT again consulted Gaffney, describing him as the ìpresident of a conservative defense analysis groupÖî They failed to add that this analyst advocates nuclear-armed weapons in space (that is, detonating nuclear bombs in space as part of a missile defense strategy, among other Strangelovian fantasies). Gaffney used his NYT forum to denounce the Senatorís prudent advice as ìa delaying actionî (Thom Shanker, ìMissile Defenses Need More Tests, Key Senator Says,î NYT, June 1, 2001). Characteristically, Gaffney was not asked to offer evidence for his diametrically opposed position: that the US should proceed to develop and deploy an unworkable system, despite the fact that it will most likely lead to a strategic cul-de-sac.

Gaffneyís Center For Security Policy is less interested in ìsecurityî than in implementing Star Wars II by any conceivable rationale, and its opportunistic arguments show how desperately logic will be contorted to pursue ends undertaken for other reasons. His corporate-sponsored lobby masquerades as a think tank, hosting conferences and writing speeches for proponents of missile defense. In 1999, Gaffneyís alarmist rhetoric was primarily aimed at Northeast Asia, not the Middle East: ìWe must not only worry about rogue states like North Korea that are now acquiring the means to attack their enemies with such weapons of mass destruction. Russia and China already have significant numbers of these long-range missilesî ó conveniently omitting that both have been consistently clamoring for the United States to agree to multilateral reductions of nuclear weapons. For opponents of arms control, the standard ruse is to accept that the race is on, and that the United States has no other choice but to ìwin.î

Gaffney goes on to remark that ìNevada and other parts of the western United States will shortly be in the cross-hairs of one of the most brutal and irrational totalitarian regimes on the planet.î (Frank Gaffney Jr., ìNevada: Defended or in North Korean Crosshairs?î Nevada Journal, 1999). However, that was before September 11th, which provided him with ìproofî of Americaís vulnerability to terrorist attacks: the well-worn pretense being that opponents of missile defenses were soft on defense. Shaping facts to suit their commitments, CSP promptly averted its eyes to the Middle East: ìDoes anyone think for a moment that if those waging holy war on this country, people fully prepared to die in the process of doing so, had access to [weapons of mass destruction] they would refrain from using them?î The straw man argument caricatures arms controllers with their heads in the sand: a ridiculous claim never backed up with quotations, because none exist. What proponents of the missile defense scheme argue against is the futility of wasting 100 billion dollars on a fundamentally flawed system which cannot protect the United States against the far greater threat of domestic terrorism.

If Washington places politics above laws of physics, it is not for the NYT to reason why. On the contrary, the ìfalse balanceî ploy is used to discredit the views of dissenting critics. Last year, when a group of 50 Nobel Laureates wrote an open letter to the White House to denounce missile defenses as ìwasteful and dangerous,î the final ìbalanceî line of the NYT piece was a classic in the Trust Big Brother genre: ìA spokesman for the Pentagon said that the group, while prestigious, had no access to secret information about the proposed systemís feasibility or to intelligence on global missile threats.î The message is marred by this tactic, as the last line leaves the reader with a more ìoptimisticî assessment, courtesy of a Pentagon spin doctor. Fortunately for Americans, the Defense Department has information which will always be used for their benefit, but which will be kept secret from them (also for their benefit). (William J. Broad, ìNobel Winners Urge Halt to Missile Plan,î NYT, July 6, 2000.)

On July 18, the NYT uncritically relayed another attempt at misrepresentation, when Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dismissed concerns by claiming that NMD is merely a ìdefensiveî system which threatens no one. (James Dao, ìDemocrats Are Warned on Missile Stance,î NYT, July 18, 2001). Such pronouncements, of course, are intended for the benefit of a credulous and uninformed public. Because of shared (bipartisan) disdain for public participation and open discussion, such rhetoric is not challenged by liberal opponents of the missile defense scheme, who realize that it will ìplay well in Peoria.î Abroad, the reassuring and misleading pronouncements offered by Assistant Secretary Wolfowitz fell on deaf ears: the attempt to acquire a shield to complement the sword was recognized worldwide as an attempt to achieve a first-strike capability, to break out of the condition of mutual vulnerability which characterizes deterrence. Lacking the tender mercies of the US media (towards the powerful) the rest of the world received information and perspectives that made clear that the US is instigating a new arms race.

A sterling example of rhetorical innocence was provided by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry in an article critical of Bush policy towards North Korea. Rather than pointing out the obvious, he argues with feigned naivete:

The Bush administration points to the North Korean missile threat as a major reason why we need to proceed with such a defensive system. This makes its hesitant approach on missile talks with Pyongyang all the more puzzling. If we can reduce or eliminate the threat posed by North Korea's missile program, why wouldn't we push ahead? (John F. Kerry, ìEngage North Korea,î Washington Post, March 30, 2001.)

Kerryís rhetorical pose of ìpuzzlementî at this seeming contradiction is based on the pretense that policymakers always present forthright explanations to the American people, rather than inventing ballistic missile threats to bamboozle them ó on behalf of Boeing.

Among numerous journalistic shortcomings on this issue, the most irresponsible is the widespread assumption that the missile defense scheme, given sufficient time and money, can ìeventuallyî work. This untenable presupposition was noted in the excellent article by Michelle Ciarrocca quoted earlier, and underlies most commentary and analysis. The misleading frame asks: do we have the political will to ìgo beyondî treaty obligations in order to ìdefend Americaî? If so, a viable and reliable ìshieldî can result: or so the shoddy thinking goes. Meanwhile, rigged tests should continue to help alter perceptions, with a compliant media reporting a ìsuccessfulî test with great fanfare, while downplaying subsequent revelations that it was rigged!

Yet the most likely possibility is that no amount of money can change laws of physics, and that the ìumbrellaî fancied by ideologues will be a mere ìscarecrow.î This view prevails in the scientific community, but is scandalously absent from media coverage, obscured by a commonplace journalistic reflex, illustrated by this one sentence: ìFormidable technical difficulties remain before Son of Star Wars can become a reality, but the main legal obstacle to the plan is the ABM Treaty banning national missile defense systemsî (Marcus Warren, The Daily Telegraph, July 28, 2001). The casual reader could be forgiven for inferring that the main obstacle is legal, and that the technical difficulties, while formidable, can be surmounted.

While the Defense Department continues on its natural course towards a bid for global omnipotence (ìfull spectrum dominanceî), terrorist acts undertaken by committed cadres of suicidal fanatics revealed the limitations of relying primarily on high technology to achieve security. ìTechnolatryî (blind worship of technology) is a factor which underlies American unilateralism and its tendency to ìgo it alone.î Such nuclear hubris led to Reaganís Star Wars speech (1983) and continues in its current incarnation, NMD.

Earlier, I mentioned that strategic security was actually a secondary or tertiary consideration for the MIC. The scheme to weaponize space with lasers and ASAT (Anti-Satellite) weapons, and to blanket the planet with sea-, land- and space-based interceptors was not concocted to ìprotect Americansî but to protect profits for aerospace and related industries. The Big Four (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, TRW, and Raytheon) are still poised for payback after multi-million dollar contributions to both parties, along with more than $10 million political action committee (PAC) money to the Republicans. For beneficiaries, a new arms race sparked by a US imposition of this fundamentally flawed and risk-fraught system is ìworth it.î To knowingly embrace the risk of a catastrophic nuclear weapons launch (by accident or design) in order for the United States to retain the luxury of projecting power can hardly be called a ìdefensiveî strategy. To create a multi-billion dollar scarecrow, and the mere perception of nuclear invulnerability (in order to issue ultimatums to recalcitrant middle powers) is a reckless and irresponsible gamble which must be firmly opposed by Americans who recognize the need to direct resources to actual security measures.

Throughout 2001, even staunch US allies opposed this dangerous bid for nuclear supremacy, and its underlying obsession with preparation for future wars (which hawks like Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz regard as ìinevitable,î thus ensuring their inevitability). Meanwhile, the mainstream media reported only that the Bush administration has formulated a new strategy overhaul, nothing more than a modest proposal to provide for the common defense. Judging from numerous letters to the editor of the NYT, many Americans prior to September were nodding in assent, grateful that the leadership was doing its job to ìprotect Americansî ó from the remote threat of ballistic missile attack. Ironically, even as Americans approve of what is presented as an attempt to shore up defenses, the US has undermined its security with its willingness to scotch the nonproliferation regime for the sake of deploying this unworkable and destabilizing missile defense system. Embracing unacceptable risks to achieve a nuclear force advantage, US policy has resulted in a sharp diminution in both US and global security, which, as noted, runs counter to commitments made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which remains the best agreement to prevent nuclear-weapons grade material from being acquired by ìnon-state actors,î i.e., terrorist groups.

In this new atmosphere of heightened international insecurity, Washington has finally conceded that unilateralism is counterproductive, but has yet to listen to the rational objections of its allies, including Canada, which counsels abandoning this perilous pro-nuclear policy. The detonation of even a single nuclear warhead over a major US city would lead to the immediate loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property damage, along with long-term consequences that are well known. Avoiding this outcome must entail a progressive shift towards a reinvigorated arms control and disarmament policy, as Russia, China, and traditional US allies have strenuously advocated. In order to help defend the continental United States from real, not invented, threats, Americans can no longer afford to leave crucial decisions concerning US security to the vested interests of an enlarging state apparatus. As hawkish reactionaries pursue punitive wars without and enhanced police state tactics within, only growing protest can divert the current administration from its irresponsible conflation of real security needs with the hubristic pursuit of nuclear hegemony.


Richard Alan Leach is an English Instructor and Editor at the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in Pohang, a major research university in South Korea.

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