One Step Forward and Two Steps Back: The U.S. Nuclear Policy
By: Barbra J. Bearden
We’ve had some great news in the past few months regarding non-proliferation and disarmament. Experts and activists agree that an amazing resurgence of the anti-nuclear movement, one not seen since the late days of the Cold War, is in part responsible for checking the Bush administration’s efforts to reinvigorate U.S. nuclear capabilities. This mobilization began with the fight against the ‘bunker buster” and “mini nukes.” Now, we are winning the fight against “reliable replacement warheads” (RRW) and the poorly conceived “complex 2030.” The House zeroed out funding for these White House initiatives and, hopefully, the Senate will follow.
At Peace Action, we are proud to be a part of this movement – prouder still that our efforts to mobilize citizens against nuclear weapons may become an archaic part of our mission. I received a story from the Associated Press trumpeting the success of the negotiations, lead by the U.S., with North Korea to shut down the county’s nuclear reactor. “Clearly, we’ve made a turn over the weekend…We’re away from these banking issues, back onto denuclearization issues (Associated Press).” The banking issues U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill is referring to are centered on U.S. foreign aid money promised to North Korea in exchange for disarmament back in February of this year. After an extensive debate over which state should take action first the U.S. finally agreed to free up the aid funds on the promise that North Korea would dismantle their reactor “within this year.”
Despite our government’s abhorrence of nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea we are still the most heavily armed nuclear power in the world. We are still first among nuclear proliferators – most recently assisting India in obtaining nuclear materials. Sadly, among our citizenry is a select group who believe that U.S. control of nuclear weapons is not only inevitable but necessary.
Frank Gaffney, of the Washington Times, said “once the technology to build nuclear weapons became widely available, there was no way to stuff the nuclear genie back in the bottle.” Thomas D’Agostino, deputy administrator for defense programs at the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said he was committed to funding RRW next year. It seems, despite the will of the people, and the commitment of our representatives, those whose careers are invested in nuclear weapons would like to stay that way. Department of Energy bureaucrats claim the bolstering of funds for nuclear armament in the U.S. and throughout the former Soviet Union is intended to thwart the “desire of al Qaeda ad other terrorist groups to gain nuclear weapons or improvised nuclear devices.”
What logic are these people following? Somehow they believe that investing new resources in nuclear sites will be more effective in preventing their ill use than eliminating them all together. I am not suggesting that expanding the Cooperative Threat Reduction program geographically is a bad idea. I simply own up to one fact – horizontal proliferation (across borders) isn’t the only kind; vertical proliferation (expanded nuclear capabilities within one country) can put the world at just as great a risk . With this in mind, our successes in North Korea are nullified by our own nuclear program.
Perhaps other countries might follow the U.S. non-proliferation model. If the U.S. can use economic exploitation to force a country like North Korea to disarm – some other country could do it to force us. A country like China, which is heavily invested in U.S. trade deficits could pull those investments and cripple the U.S. economy until we submit to disarmament of our nuclear weapons. Of course China will never do this, but, not because they are more benevolent than the U.S. in their foreign policy. They will never enact a policy to hurt trade relations with the U.S. because our love of cheap clothing and nick nacks fuels their own economy.
But it is an interesting thought. If the U.S. was not the global powerhouse it became after WWII what would our foreign policy look like? Would we still insist that some countries can and should have nuclear weaponry while others are terrorist states because they seek out a nuclear policy? Would we send our military all over the globe to unseat internationally recognized governments in the pursuit of resources or ideological interests? Or, would we fear invasion by a foreign army unhappy with our current regime? It’s just something to think about.