Sleepwalking in a Nuclear Minefield: The United States Still Worships at the Altar of Nuclear Weapons-Yet Cries 'Heresy' When Others Want to Join the Sect

By Roche, Douglas | Sojourners Magazine, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Sleepwalking in a Nuclear Minefield: The United States Still Worships at the Altar of Nuclear Weapons-Yet Cries 'Heresy' When Others Want to Join the Sect


Roche, Douglas, Sojourners Magazine


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AS THE 21ST CENTURY UNFOLDS, a new truth is gradually being recognized: Nuclear weapons and human security cannot co-exist.

Almost two decades after the end of the Cold War, there are still 25,000 nuclear weapons in existence, about 95 percent held by the United States and Russia with smaller numbers also possessed by the United Kingdom. France, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel. All told, half of humanity still lives in a nuclear-weapons state. The total amount of money spent by these countries on their nuclear arsenals exceeds $12 trillion, a stupendous sum only a fraction of which could have resolved the issues of mass poverty, health deficiencies, and education neglect.

During the Cold War, the rationale for the superpowers" buildup of strategic nuclear weapons was the theory of deterrence. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were each deterred from using their nuclear weapons, according to the theory, in the knowledge that the opponent had the capacity to strike back overwhelmingly. This stand-off was called Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). But with the post-Cold War emergence of the United States as the sole superpower, a new nuclear age has begun in which the war-fighting use of nuclear weapons is actually considered and threatened.

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The Nuclear Posture Review, conducted by the Bush administration in 2001, established expansive plans to "revitalize" U.S. nuclear forces and "all the elements that support them, within a new triad of capacities combining nuclear and conventional offensive strikes with missile defenses and nuclear-weapons infrastructure. Under the subsequent post-9/11 National Security Strategy, the administration said it would take "anticipatory action" (a euphemism for pre-emptive strikes) against enemies of the United States and has not ruled out using nuclear weapons, which remain a cornerstone of U.S. national security policy.

The Bush administration has sought to modernize its Cold War-era nuclear arsenals under the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. In late 2007, Congress eliminated funding for production of new nuclear bombs from an omnibus spending bill. However, left intact was finding for other programs that functionally include ongoing nuclear weapons research and development and provide for the training of new nuclear weapons scientists and engineers. In fact, Congress has authorized the administration "to develop and submit to the Congress a comprehensive nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century." In short, both the administration and Congress continue to anticipate the need to revitalize the present nuclear weapons complex. This approach renders meaningless the disarmament objective implicit in reductions of current numbers of weapons.

U.S. determination to maintain nuclear weapons in the 21st century led Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce in 2004 that Russia is "carrying out research and missile tests of state-of-the-art nuclear missile systems." Russia, he said, would "continue to build up firmly and insistently our armed forces, including the nuclear component." The U.K. is replacing its aging submarine-launched Trident nuclear missiles. France and China refuse to be left behind in this new nuclear arms race.

While political and media attention has been focused on Iran and North Korea for their nuclear technology developments, little attention is paid to the heart of the nuclear weapons problem: the refusal of the major powers to negotiate the elimination of their own nuclear weapons while proscribing acquisition by any other state. Brazil put the issue tartly: "One cannot worship at the altar of nuclear weapons and raise heresy charges against those who want to join the sect." The report from the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, an international nongovernmental organization, warns that as long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. …

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