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Publications:  IALANA News March 2005 - Online Edition

Effect of US Elections on Disarmament
Jacqueline Cabasso

George W. Bush’s election to a second term as U.S. President removed any perceived ambiguity about prospects for nuclear disarmament in the foreseeable future. While many had hoped that a John Kerry Presidency would open the way to progress on nuclear disarmament, it probably would only have muddied the waters. While candidate Kerry stated his opposition to “new” nuclear weapons and espoused vaguely progressive ideas like alliance-building and being prepared to talk directly with North Korea, it was in the context of a national security policy premised, in his own words, on “modern[izing] “the world’s most powerful military to meet new threats.”

In terms of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, a Kerry Presidency would have looked a lot like the Clinton Presidency. Despite the unprecedented historical opportunity at the end of the Cold War, Democratic President Bill Clinton’s regressive 1994 Nuclear Posture Review set the stage for current U.S. nuclear policy. Clinton’s 1997 Presidential Decision Directive reaffirmed the threatened first use of nuclear weapons as the “cornerstone” of U.S. national security, and contemplated an expanded role for nuclear weapons to “deter” nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The Bush Administration reinforced and expanded this policy. Knowing with virtual certainty that we expect more of the same during the second Bush term requires a critical evaluation of past approaches to arms control and disarmament, and development of new strategies that that will be sustainable over many years.

Although George W. Bush declared a popular mandate following his re-election, nearly half of American voters voted against him. But there were significant gains by Republicans in the Senate and, for the first time in many years, the Republican Party solidly dominates the Administration and both Houses of Congress. Further, all indications from the post-election Bush White House are that new appointments will favor those who support a unilateral, militarist world view of a U.S. empire determined to bring “freedom” and “democracy” to the Middle East and other volatile regions, through whatever means it deems necessary.

Bush’s loyal National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, has been promoted to Secretary of State. Her replacement, Stephen Hadley, is a nuclear hawk who has expressed a hegemonic view: “[B]ecause we cannot be confident that the world will ever be . . . permanently ‘devoid of nuclear weapons,’ some nations, such as the United States, must continue to possess them to deter their acquisition or use by others.” Hadley has also written that it is “often an unstated premise that if nuclear weapons are needed at all, they are needed only to deter the nuclear weapons of others. I am not sure that this unstated premise is true.

In the current situation, at best what can be accomplished through conventional methods of lobbying in Washington, DC, is defending against the most egregious nuclear weapons programs. Somewhat surprisingly, Republican House members led efforts last year to cut funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) and Advanced Weapons Concepts, but the FY 2006 budget request reinstates funding for the RNEP. It also establishes a new Reliable Replacement Warhead program (“nukes forever”), which has the enthusiastic support of the same Republicans who last year opposed the RNEP and Advanced Weapons Concepts.

The U.S. will spend nearly $7 billion this year to maintain and modernize its nuclear warheads, and many billions more to operate and upgrade its delivery and command and control systems. And U.S. deployment of anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska and California is well underway.

In understanding what will be required to halt this juggernaut, it is essential to recognize that the Bush doctrine is a continuation and extension of programs and policies carried out by every U.S. administration, Democrat and Republican, since President Harry Truman – a Democrat – authorized the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60 years ago. Today, more than 2,000 “old” U.S. strategic nuclear warheads remain on hairtrigger alert, deployed on land-based missiles and Trident submarines still patrolling the seas at Cold War levels, ready to instantly target locations around the globe upon receiving a few short computer signals. It was recently reported that the U.S. maintains some 480 nuclear bombs in six NATO countries.

If the most powerful country in history reserves for itself the threatened first use of nuclear weapons in the name of “national security,” we shouldn’t be surprised if others follow suit. Following the 9-11 attacks, the Bush doctrine of preventive war, carried out and disastrously continuing to unfold in Iraq, makes clear that we urgently need a new understanding of what security means. It is too little and too late to campaign narrowly against individual weapons like bunker busters and mini-nukes. As responsible global citizens, we must demand a more sustainable concept of “human security” based on the promise of food, shelter, health care, education, clean water and air for all people everywhere, and on the resolution of international conflicts through multilateral institutions and nonviolent mechanisms rather than through the threat or use of force.

-- Jacqueline Cabasso is Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation, a U.S. affiliate of IALANA; www.wslfweb.org


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