May 12, 2003
Under pressure from the White House, the Senate Armed Services Committee last week voted to allow the United States to develop a new nuclear weapon.
The snow job on this one is that it's designed to be a bunker-buster-to get at "evildoers" like Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Il no matter how far underground they may be hiding.
Plus, it's supposed to be a "low-yield" weapon--less powerful than the atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima.
As if any nuclear bomb is low yield.
A bunker buster would still have a devastating effect.
"The use of any nuclear weapon capable of destroying a buried target that is otherwise immune to conventional attack will necessarily produce enormous numbers of casualties," Dr. Robert Nelson, a professor of theoretical science at Princeton, wrote in a study for the Federation of American Scientists. "The explosion simply blows out a crater of radioactive dirt, which rains down on the local region with an especially intense and deadly fallout."
The blast itself would "knock down nearly all homes and apartments--and kill nearly all the people in them--out to distances of greater than half a mile from the blast," says Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group. Mello's comment and Nelson's prediction ran in a prescient article by Alistair Millar in the August 2001 issue of The Progressive. That article, "It's a Bomb! Bush's Baby Nuke," anticipated the "undoing of a Congressional prohibition on testing new nuclear weapons"--and warned of the dangers.
One of those dangers is the message the United States will be sending that nuclear weapons are serviceable in war. And there's a hypocrisy at the heart of U.S. policy: that nuclear weapons are OK for the United States to have, but not India or Pakistan or Iran or North Korea.
"It just sort of makes a mockery of our argument around the world that other countries-India, Pakistan-should not test and North Korea and Iran should not obtain" nuclear weapons, says Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the highest ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
It also makes a mockery of U.S. treaty obligations. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States pledged to rid itself of nuclear weapons, not build additional ones.
Since the terrible days of August 1945, the world has not seen again the horrifying image of a nuclear weapon being used in war. For almost sixty years, arms control advocates and peace activists have struggled mightily to erect a firewall between the use of conventional arms and nuclear arms.
Now the Bush Administration and the Senate Armed Services Committee want to tear down that firewall, and so the hideous image of a mushroom cloud may rise again in the not too distant future.