US Shift from Nuclear Deterrence to Nuclear Use


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Bush's Latest Nuclear Gambit
By Lawrence S. Wittner

Dr. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York, Albany.
His latest book is Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear 
Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present (Stanford University Press).

In 2005, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, recognizing that the Bush 
administration's favorite new nuclear weapon--the "Bunker Buster"--was on the 
road to defeat in Congress, told its leading antagonist, U.S. Representative 
David Hobson (R-Ohio): "You may win this year, but we'll be back."

And, now, like malaria or perhaps merely a bad cold, they are.

The Bush administration's latest nuclear brainchild is the Reliable Replacement 
Warhead (RRW). According to an April 6, 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times 
(Ralph Vartabedian, "U.S. Rolls Out Nuclear Plan"), the RRW, originally depicted
as an item that would update existing nuclear weapons and ensure their 
reliability, "now includes the potential for new bomb designs. Weapons labs 
currently are engaged in design competition."

Moreover, as the Times story reported, the RRW was part of a much larger Bush 
administration plan, announced the previous day, "for the most sweeping 
realignment and modernization of the nation's system of laboratories and 
factories for nuclear bombs since the end of the Cold War." The plan called for 
a modern U.S. nuclear complex that would design a new nuclear bomb and have it 
ready within four years, as well as accelerate the production of plutonium 
"pits," the triggers for the explosion of H-bombs.

Although administration officials justify the RRW by claiming that it will 
guarantee the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and reduce the 
need for nuclear testing, arms control and disarmament advocates are quite 
critical of these claims. Citing studies by Lawrence Livermore National 
Laboratory researchers, they argue that U.S. nuclear weapons will be reliable 
for decades longer than U.S. officials contend. Furthermore, according to Hoover
Institution fellow Sidney Drell and former U.S. Ambassador James Goodby: "It 
takes an extraordinary flight of imagination to postulate a modern new arsenal 
composed of such untested designs that would be more reliable, safe and 
effective than the current U.S. arsenal based on more than 1,000 tests since 
1945." Thus, if new nuclear weapons were built, they would lead inevitably to 
the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing and, thereby, to the collapse of the 
moratorium on nuclear testing by the major nuclear powers and to the final 
destruction of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Most worrisome for nuclear critics, however, is the prospect that the 
administration will use the RRW program to develop new kinds of nuclear weapons.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, remains 
convinced that the replacement process initiated by the RRW program could serve 
as a back door to such development. Peace Action, the nation's largest peace and
disarmament organization, maintains that "the weapons labs and the Department of
Defense will be the ones to decide the real scope" of the RRW program.

Even Representative Hobson, who seems to favor the RRW, appears worried that the
administration has a dangerously expansive vision of it. "This is not an 
opportunity to run off and develop a whole bunch of new capabilities and new 
weapons," he has declared. "This is a way to redo the weapons capability that we
have and maybe make them more reliable." Hobson added: "I don't want any 
misunderstandings . . . and sometimes within the [Energy] department, people 
hear only what they want to hear. . . . We're not going out and expanding a 
whole new world of nuclear weapons."

Certainly, some degree of skepticism about the scope of the program seems 
justified when one examines the Bush administration's overall nuclear policy. 
Today, despite the U.S. government's commitment, under the nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, to divest itself of nuclear weapons 
through negotiated nuclear disarmament, the U.S. nuclear stockpile stands at 
nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads, with more than half of them active or 

Not only does the Bush administration steer clear of any negotiations that might
entail U.S. nuclear disarmament, but it has pulled out of the ABM treaty and 
refused to support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (negotiated
and signed by former President Bill Clinton). According to the Defense 
Department's Quadrennial Defense Review Report of February 2006, "a robust 
nuclear deterrent . . . remains a keystone of U.S. national power."

Furthermore, there are clear signs that the Bush administration is shifting away
from the traditional U.S. strategy of nuclear deterrence to a strategy of 
nuclear use. The nuclear Bunker Buster, for example, was not designed to deter 
aggression, but to destroy underground military targets. Moreover, in recent 
years, the U.S. Strategic Command has added new missions to its war plans, 
including the use of U.S. nuclear weapons for pre-emptive military action. 
Seymour Hersh's much-cited article in the New Yorker on preparations for a U.S. 
military attack upon Iran indicates that there has already been substantial 
discussion of employing U.S. nuclear weapons in that capacity.

This movement by the Bush administration toward a nuclear buildup and nuclear 
war highlights the double standard it uses in its growing confrontation with 
Iran, a country whose nuclear enrichment program is in accordance with its NPT 
commitments. Of course, Iran might use such nuclear enrichment to develop 
nuclear weapons--and that would be a violation of the NPT. But Bush 
administration policies already violate U.S. commitments under the treaty, and 
this fact appears of far less concern to Washington officialdom. Logic, however,
does not seem to apply to this issue--unless, of course, it is the logic of 
world power.

Escaping the Matrix website
cyberjournal website  
blog:   cyberjournal forum
blog:   Achieving real democracy
blog:   for readers of ETM
blog:   Community Empowerment
Blogger made easy     

subscribe cyberjournal list     mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives