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June 30, 2006

Nucleoholic, Hypocritical, and Dangerous


America's imminent nuclear relapse

by Jorge Hirsch

Imagine your adult daughter is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for five years. You notice lately that, when you go out to dinner with her she reads the restaurant's wine list, when she walks past a liquor store her pace slows and she stares at the window, and you worry. Recently, she started talking about attending wine-tasting parties and going to happy hour with friends. What should you do?

  • Try to get the local restaurant association to do away with wine lists at restaurants?
  • Try to get the city council to close down all liquor stores and bars in town?
  • Try to get law enforcement to bust all wine-tasting parties?
  • Try to get all your daughter's friends and acquaintances to stop drinking alcohol so your daughter won't be tempted?

If you really care about your daughter, you will not waste your time, money, and energy doing any of the above. Instead you will focus on urgently helping her to get the necessary support so that she does not have a single drink again. You will encourage her and help her to go to AA meetings, get a sponsor, and seek psychological help. You will discourage her from going to bars and wine-tasting parties and from associating with heavy drinkers. If all else fails, you may try an "intervention" to persuade her to check herself into a residential treatment facility.

Because you know and she knows and all recovering alcoholics know that if she has just one little drink, it's all over. Five years of abstinence go down the drain, and she has to start from scratch. And each time it is harder than the last. And you know what alcoholics and other substance-abusers figured out long ago: "It's easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world."

The United States is a recovering nucleo-holic. It used 60 years ago and has miraculously stayed "sober" ever since. But lately it has been drifting dangerously close to using again. When it does, it will not matter whether it is a strong vodka or a mild cider, a Hiroshima-type bomb or a low-yield nuclear bunker buster. The instant the U.S. uses a nuclear weapon again, 60 years of nonuse go down the drain and we have to start from scratch with abstinence. And it will be that much harder to stay sober the second time around.

If you really love your daughter and wish her well, you will do everything you can to help her avoid drinking again. But suppose instead you secretly want her to resume drinking, for whatever devious reason, and yet you want to look like you are a good parent. Then you will pretend that you are trying to help your daughter, by campaigning for the reduction and ultimate elimination of all alcohol from the world, and for the nonproliferation of alcoholic beverages among your daughter's friends and acquaintances; you will oppose the development of new and better-tasting alcoholic beverages; you will advocate treaties that restrict the display of alcoholic beverages in liquor-store windows and restaurants' loose wine lists; and you will lobby to get wine-tasting events outlawed. Meanwhile, your daughter will be drifting toward having that single glass of alcohol that will lead her into the abyss, well before you achieve any of your grandiose goals.

That, in a nutshell, is the folly of "anti-nuclear efforts" in the United States, by foolishness or by design, by individual policymakers and by anti-nuclear organizations (check out 40+ on this list). They focus on nonproliferation, arms reduction, test bans, the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, even ending all wars. And while they pursue these lofty and mostly utopian goals they largely ignore the key question: how do we keep our country, the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons in war, from using its nuclear weapons again?

Why the U.S. Will Use Again

Sixty years is a long time. That is why the nuclear hawks want the U.S. to cross the nuclear threshold again now and use a nuclear weapon, no matter how small. The goal is to shift the nuclear line from 60 years ago to the present. Like a recovering alcoholic, the longer you stay sober the safer you are from relapse. And conversely, you are much more likely to relapse if your last use was recently. And that is precisely why a new U.S. nuclear use is so important to the hawks.

Five years from now, a nuclear threat from the U.S. will be much more credible if the last U.S. use of nuclear weapons was five years earlier rather than 65 years earlier. And a stronger U.S. nuclear deterrent makes for a safer world [.pdf], according to U.S. policymakers. That is why the U.S. is planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran imminently.

But it's not just the hawks. U.S. liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and hawks and doves agree on this.

The U.S. nuclear policy is based on the concept of "deterrence" [.pdf]. Nuclear weapons are there not to be used, but to threaten, in order to "deter" other countries from doing things that the U.S. doesn't like. According to the Nuclear Posture Review of 2001, "Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force." The key word is credible.

Doves and hawks agree that U.S. nuclear weapons as a "deterrent" are OK. It is only over actual usage that they disagree. But at least the hawks' stance is consistent, while the doves' stance is not.

Nuclear weapons cannot be a credible "deterrent" unless you are prepared to use them. The doves don't want to use them, yet they do not take a strong stand for taking them off the table, not even against non-nuclear nations. The subject of "negative security assurances" is almost taboo at even the most progressive U.S. forums discussing the dangers of nuclear weapons, nuclear disarmament, and nonproliferation. At best, it is only given lip service in passing. Instead, it should be center-stage. It is elementary that the strongest incentive for non-nuclear countries to remain non-nuclear would be an ironclad unconditional guarantee by the U.S. and other nuclear nations that nuclear weapons will not be used against them.

There will be a huge outcry from the nuclear "doves" when "crazy" Bush crosses the line. They will loudly deplore it and condemn it. But they will be consoled by the knowledge that the rest of the world will have taken notice. And as a consequence it will result in a strengthened and more credible U.S. "nuclear deterrent" [.pdf] in the coming years, to ensure peace in our time.

Congress' Hypocrisy

If Sen. Dianne Feinstein were serious about her opposition to the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against Iran, she would not oppose it on the grounds that "nuclear 'bunker busters' would kill tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people across the Middle East." Because she must know that a sufficiently small bunker buster will only kill hundreds of people [.pdf].

If Rep. Ed Markey were serious about his opposition to Bush dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran, he would not talk about Iran being "a nation that is on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon" when there is zero evidence for it.

If Rep. David Hobson and Sen. Ted Kennedy and others were serious about their opposition to nuclear bunker busters, they would also oppose the fact that there has been a nuclear bunker buster in the stockpile since 2001, the B61-11, ready to be used.

And they would not oppose bunker busters on the grounds that they do not penetrate enough to contain the radiation, or that we don't have good enough information to know where to drop them. Because it is easy to take care of those objections.

If Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Ellen Tauscher and others were serious about their opposition to "low-yield" nuclear weapons, they would point out that any nuclear weapons designer "know[s] how to give you most of those [low] yields today with a pair of wire cutters and a wrench." Information on existing nuclear weapons yields is classified, and the administration will not tell them how many low-yield nukes we already have, or can make at a moment's notice.

If all these "anti-nuclear" members of Congress were sincere in their concerns, they would oppose the threat and use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. on principle, and focus on the fact that the president today has sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons against anybody, and that he will not ask them for permission.

Congressional representatives must know that writing pleading letters of deep concern to the president [1], [2], [3], [4] [.pdf] doesn't really accomplish anything. They must know that to really accomplish something they have to pass legislation. They know that they could legislate away the authority of the president to order the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries: they could make it an impeachable offense. They recently passed legislation that made torture illegal.

At the very least, if they were serious they would call for hearings and demand that Rumsfeld and Bush clarify publicly under which conditions the United States will use nuclear weapons against Iran, before they approve a single penny of the next defense appropriations bill.

They will not do it, though, because it would "undermine deterrence."

Anti-Nuclear Organizations' Folly

Take the 24 national organizations focusing on "arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, peace, and security" that recently presented an award to Rep. Markey for his "leadership in the area of arms control and nonproliferation."

Or the 93 national and international organizations that endorse the "Call for Nuclear Disarmament" [.pdf] that calls for our elected leaders to "dismantle our nuclear arsenal in concert with other nuclear powers."

They should know that it will happen when pigs fly.

How many of these anti-nuclear organizations forcefully call for our elected representatives to outlaw a first use of nuclear weapons? Or at least to outlaw the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries?

How many of these organizations have asked President Bush to take the nuclear strike option against Iran "off the table"? You can count them with the fingers of one hand.

Visit the Web sites of these 40+ organizations that have anti-nuclear agendas. Find one of them that makes "negative security assurances" the centerpiece of their efforts. There is none.

Reducing nuclear arsenals from 10,000 to 5,000 or 2,000 warheads achieves nothing to reduce the nuclear danger. An ironclad guarantee that your country will not use nuclear weapons does.

At the very least, how about a legal safeguard that would require other elected representatives besides the president and his hand-picked advisers to be part of a decision that will change the future of America and humanity?

It is not just that the goals of these anti-nuclear organizations are unachievable. Their members' motives may be heartfelt and sincere. But by pursuing these goals and advertising their efforts, they create a smokescreen that diverts from the real issue, the usage of nuclear weapons. The general public is deceived into believing that there are serious efforts under way to reduce the nuclear danger, hence it is deceived into complacency about the status quo.

And the status quo is that the U.S. president can legally, single-handedly decide tomorrow to use a nuclear weapon, big or small, against anybody he wishes. And the groundwork has been laid by the speeches [.pdf], documents, and changes in policy to prepare the country for a nuclear attack to happen.

Help your loved one avoid alcohol relapse: abolish all alcohol!

Mainstream Media's Hypocrisy

When the Nuclear Posture Review of 2001 came to light, setting the stage for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, the media were up in arms:

They also published numerous op-eds expressing dismay and opposition to the new nuclear plans.

Four years later, multiple new indicators confirm that the new posture is not just saber-rattling, but is about to be put into practice in a confrontation with Iran, e.g.:

Given the indications that we are much closer to the actual implementation of the policies that the mainstream media opposed in 2002, you would naturally expect a far stronger outcry in those media. Instead, they are silent. There are no editorials and barely any op-eds published on this issue, and this is likely not because no op-eds are submitted for publication.

Thirteen of the nation's most prominent physicists (physicists are the ones that invented nuclear weapons) recently wrote an op-ed/open letter to President Bush opposing this plan. Not one of 12 major U.S. newspapers agreed to publish it.

The only logical interpretation is that in 2002 mainstream media were safe in stating opposition to a hypothetical plan. Today, the media would be opposing a real, concrete, imminent plan, and strong opposition could have a chance to derail it, thus undermining "deterrence." So the time for self-serving posturing has passed.

Nuclear Self-Destruction

Just like alcohol kills alcoholics, nuclear weapons will kill America. Death from alcohol is not the sudden result of a single drink. But drinking alcoholics are locked in an irreversible path of self-destruction, becoming increasingly detached from reality, their internal organs progressively damaged by the killing substance until death occurs from liver failure, cardiac arrest, or nervous system breakdown.

Similarly, once the "nuclear taboo" [.pdf] is gone, the use of nuclear weapons will spread; terrorists will use them against America, and we will preempt and retaliate in kind against states suspected of harboring terrorists. Other countries will join the nuclear free-for-all, and nuclear weapons will eventually destroy America and the rest of the world in the process. The existing nuclear arsenals have the power of over 300,000 Hiroshimas, a bomb that killed over 100,000 people. Hence the existing nuclear arsenals can kill over five times the entire population of the earth. And it is a straightforward matter for the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states to increase the size and lethality of their nuclear weapons arsenals in short order, during or before a nuclear conflict.

To an alcoholic, alcohol feels like a good thing initially. A couple of drinks will cheer you up, make you feel more relaxed and relate better to others. Similarly, in a limited conflict the use of a nuclear weapon could help terminate the conflict more rapidly and save lives. The Pentagon draft document Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations calls for using nuclear weapons "for rapid and favorable war termination on U.S. terms," and "to demonstrate U.S. intent and capability to use nuclear weapons to deter adversary use of WMD." Using nuclear weapons preemptively may deter an adversary from using real or suspected chemical or biological weapons that could potentially take thousands of U.S. lives. And one might even argue that a U.S. massive response to an adversary's WMD attack would cause many more enemy casualties than a preemptive U.S. low-yield nuclear attack, thus making the latter the more "humane" course of action.

Such arguments are profoundly deceiving. They ignore the fact that nuclear weapons are the only true weapons of mass destruction, against which no protection nor mitigation exists, and that they have the power to destroy all life on the planet. So the issue is not that by using nuclear weapons today we may save 5,000 lives at the cost of only 500. The issue is that once you start on this path there is no return.

Like recovering alcoholics, we should stay away from circumstances that will make it easier to start using again. But if you need to be around liquor, it is better that it be hard liquor rather than a banana daiquiri, because the former will be easier to resist. Similarly, America should stay away from nuclear weapons that make it easier to cross the line, like low-yield, highly accurate nuclear bombs or mini-bunker-busters, that supposedly cause "reduced collateral damage." If you need to have nuclear weapons, let them be the biggest and most powerful. Because they epitomize what nuclear weapons are all about.

And we should stay away from policies that lower the bar for the use of nuclear weapons. Recovering alcoholics know about "slippery slopes." They know that there are things other than the actual drinking that should be avoided because of the danger they entail.

An escalating nuclear conflict cannot be stopped and will lead to the destruction of humanity. The only way to stop it is before it starts.

The Way Forward

Let us learn from the successes of self-help alcohol and drug abuse organizations. Forget about nuclear arms reduction, nonproliferation, and test bans; they are diversions. Focus on individual usage and how to prevent it. Usage against nuclear countries is not the danger, because of mutual deterrence. Proliferation is not the danger, because no country will risk nuclear retaliation by the U.S. Nuclear terrorism is not a danger that we will deter by brandishing our nuclear weapons; rather, we will enhance it.

If each individual alcoholic stops drinking, there is no more alcohol problem. We don't need to ban nor eliminate all alcohol. It will wither by itself.

All nuclear weapon countries should clearly, unequivocally, and unconditionally renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon countries. That is the single anti-nuclear goal worth fighting for. Citizens of each nuclear country should focus their efforts on their own country, not on others'.

How is that goal achieved? By changing the laws and the constitution of each nuclear country. Citizens can elect lawmakers and administrations committed to such a path, and shun those that don't.

And citizens of non-nuclear countries can help by deciding that they do not want any dealings with those nuclear countries that do not adopt an ironclad commitment renouncing their use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries.

The United States took the lead in developing and using nuclear weapons and in building up nuclear arsenals [.pdf]. In recent years, it took the lead in lowering the bar for the renewed use of nuclear weapons. A new U.S. use of nuclear weapons is imminent.

We should also take the lead in averting the danger. Do 300 million Americans want to commit national suicide?

 

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Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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