Phil Gasper: U.S. develops new weapons of mass destruction


Richard Moore

The U.S. develops new 
weapons of mass destruction

by Phil Gasper

International Socialist Review, Jan/Feb 2003


The Bush administration accuses Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of attempting to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Whether or not this charge is true, it is indisputable that the U.S. is not only the country that has used such weapons to kill more people than any other, it is also, as the British playwright Harold Pinter points out, 

at this moment developing advanced systems of “weapons of mass destruction” and is prepared to use them where it sees fit. It has more of them than the rest of the world put together. It has walked away from international agreements on biological and chemical weapons, refusing to allow inspection of its own factories. The hypocrisy behind its public declarations and its own actions is almost a joke.’

Indeed, Washington’s reckless pursuit of new weapons programs is one of the major threats to global stability as it fuels a new arms race around the world.

Nuclear weapons

In May 2000 at the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York, the U.S. government made an “unequivocal undertaking” to work towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons. This promise was nothing but hot air. Less than three years earlier, in November 1997, Bill Clinton had issued a Presidential Decision Directive which declared that nuclear weapons would remain central to U.S. defense policy indefinitely and that Washington has the right to target not only nuclear rivals, but even prospective nuclear states that might threaten U.S. interests. In March 2000, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre reiterated the policy: “Nuclear weapons are still the foundation of a superpower…and that will never change.”

Under Clinton, the U.S. began developing “mini-nukes” at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.- low-yield “bunker busting” devices designed to be used in combat, not to act as a deterrent. According to retired Navy Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll Jr., vice president of the Center for Defense Information, the development of such weapons

is merely one more blatant signal that the United States is determined to pursue nuclear dominance indefinitely through enhanced readiness to fight a nuclear war. Additional preparations include the decision to resume production of tritium and plutonium pits for thermonuclear weapons, continue subcritical explosive testing in Nevada and rejection of Russian proposals to reduce nuclear numbers 75 percent below START II levels.

When he ran for office, George W. Bush campaigned against ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and once he became president, he began exploring the possibility of resuming nuclear tests. According to one news report, “The Bush administration has asked U.S. nuclear weapons scientists to examine ways that nuclear test explosions beneath the Nevada desert could resume more quickly if the government decides to end a nine-year moratorium on nuclear testing.

Last year, Bush unilaterally renounced the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to press ahead with a so-called missile defense program, which would supposedly be able to shoot down enemy missiles. But far from being a defensive program, Bush’s revival of the Reagan administration’s “Star Wars” plan is designed to give the U.S. first-strike nuclear capability by attempting to remove the threat of retaliation by other nuclear powers. According to Robert Bowman, president of the Institute for Space and Security Studies and director of advanced space programs development for the Air Force during the Ford and Carter administrations, “We want to be the aggressor. Star Wars has nothing to do with defense. It’s about maintaining absolute military superiority by developing new offensive weapons in the guise of defense.” It is also likely to provoke even greater proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In March 2002, a copy of the Pentagon’s revised Nuclear Posture Review that was leaked to the Los Angeles Times revealed that the U.S. has contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Libya, and also in the event of “surprising military developments.” In 1996, the International Court of Justice ruled that using or threatening to use nuclear weapons is illegal. According to David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, “Just as planning and preparation for aggressive war was held to be a crime at Nuremberg, U.S. planning and preparation to use nuclear weapons constitutes…a crime under international law.”

Biological weapons

In July 2001, the Bush administration undermined the 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BWC)- which prohibits the development, production, stockpiling or use of biological weapons-by announcing that it would not endorse a verification and monitoring protocol, which would require all signatories to submit to international inspections to ensure their compliance. That December, John Bolton, the U.S. representative to the Fifth BWC Review Conference, shocked the other delegates by reversing a promise to allow negotiations on a revised protocol to continue, thus sabotaging the meeting. According to a Physicians for Social Responsibility press release:

A European Union (EU) representative referred to the U.S. delegation as “liars,” and said that in “decades of multilateral negotiations, we’ve never experienced this kind of insulting behavior.” The EU nations, including staunch U.S. ally Great Britain, then boycotted a meeting of the Western Group of States Parties to the BWC saying they had “been treated like dirt.”

But the fact that the U.S. government opposes inspections is not so surprising. In September 2001, the New York Times revealed that under the Clinton administration, the military had initiated a secret new germ weapons program known as Project Bachus, which was later embraced by Bush.” As part of Bachus, the Pentagon built a bioweapons plant from commercially available parts, supposedly to show that terrorists could do the same thing. Other secret U.S. weapons projects include an attempt by the CIA to replicate a Soviet-designed cluster bomb intended to deliver biological weapons, Defense Intelligence Agency research into genetically engineering a strain of anthrax resistant to antibiotics and a program to manufacture dried anthrax spores for use as weapons. The U.S. claims that these programs are only for defensive purposes, but the BWC requires signatories to make annual declarations of any biodefence research, and Washington never listed these programs in its reports.

Moreover, in May 2002, on the basis of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Texas-based Sunshine Project revealed that,

U.S. Navy and Air Force biotechnology laboratories are proposing development of offensive biological weapons. The weapons, genetically engineered microbes that attack items such as fuel, plastics and asphalt, would violate federal and international law. The proposals…date from 1997; but were recently submitted by the Marine Corps for a high-level assessment by a panel of the U.S. National Academies of Science (NAS).’3

The development of such weapons violates not only the BWC, but also the U.S. Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act.

Chemical weapons

In September 2002, the Sunshine Project, again on the basis of FOIA documents, accused the Pentagon of running a chemical weapons research and development program that violates the Chemical Weapons Convention. The violations include “[c]onducting a research and development program on toxic chemical agents for use as weapons, including anesthetics and psychoactive substances,…developing long-range military delivery devices for these chemicals” and “[a]ttempting to cover up the illicit program by classifying as secret even its own legal interpretations of the Chemical Weapons Convention and attempting to block access to documents requested under U.S. information freedom law.”

According to Malcolm Dando, professor of international security at the University of Bradford in England, joint research by the U.S. and Britain into weapons such as the hallucinogenic gas BZ encouraged Iraq to pursue similar research. “We showed them the way,” says Dando. The U.S. is also developing knock-out gases like that used by the Russian military to end the takeover of a Moscow theater by Chechen rebels in October. Although such weapons are characterized as “non-lethal,” over 100 hostages were killed by the gas. Whether incapacitants of this kind are permitted by the Chemical Weapons Convention is unclear, but according to Dando, by developing them the U.S. is undermining the treaty and “leading the world down a pathway that will greatly reduce the security of all.”

According to Nicole Deller of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, “The U.S. has undermined the chemical weapons treaty by passing legislation that conflicts with the terms of the inspection provisions of the treaty.” Deller, who is a principal editor of the recent report “Rule of power or rule of law?” adds that “This is part of a pattern, as our report found that the U.S. has violated, compromised, or acted to undermine in some crucial way every treaty that we have studied in detail.”

The U.S. government is not only developing new weapons systems, it has every intention of using them as it sees fit. “If you are not with us, you are against us,” President George W. Bush has said,” writes Pinter. “He has also said: ‘We will not allow the world’s worst weapons to remain in the hands of the world’s worst leaders.’ Quite right. Look in the mirror, chum. That’s you.”


Phil Gasper is a professor of philosophy a) Notre Dame de Namur University in California.

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