- With growing stridence, the United States is making a
high profile effort to persuade Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons
program. Both State Undersecretary John Boulton and Vice President Dick
Cheney, the chief US spokesman on this issue, give the highest priority
to halting Iranian nuclear activities, and US threats of what happens to
Iran if it does not cease and desist are hardly veiled. Just how does a
layman know what is going on here, and why? The combination of deception
to protect military options, deceit to keep the public from knowing what
is happening, and a Bush/neo-con habit of telling anything but the way
it is, the picture we get is to say the least frightening, but it is also
- There is great confusion, at least in the public domain,
on exactly what Iran is doing, and Iran, for obvious reasons, is unlikely
to tell very much of what it knows. But the main distortion in the picture
is the behavior of the United States itself. While publicly devoted to
curbing the nuclear ambitions of Iran, Syria and North Korea, the US is
totally silent on Israel's large nuclear arsenal and soft-spoken at most
on likely programs of countries such as Taiwan. Meanwhile, the United States
openly continues to research, design and build new generations of nuclear
- Redefining the battlefield
- More scary than weapons design and manufacture itself,
however, the United States appears engaged in a creeping redefinition of
conventional warfare. Since the beginning of Gulf War I, the US has deposited
several thousand tons of nuclear trash through the use of depleted uranium
weapons on both Iraqi and Kosovo landscapes. Long before that, both the
United States and the former Soviet Union had developed battlefield nuclear
weapons, e.g., artillery shells, as well as small, tactical nukes for air
drop. Where the Russians are going on their activities is not clear, but
the United States is setting the worst possible example of nuclear proliferation
while aggressively attempting to prevent the birth of any new nuclear states.
- What is the goal?
- The true subject of US behavior does not appear to be
nuclear nonproliferation. If it were, the US would be pounding tables
everywhere to eliminate nuclear weapons no matter who has or may have them.
However, all the while pushing to rid Iraq of nonexistent nuclear weapons,
and pressing North Korea and Iran to cease and desist from uranium refining
programs that can lead to weapons, the US is seen, especially in the Middle
East, as merely trying to keep for itself and Israel a regional nuclear
monopoly. As Middle Easterners and many others see it, the name of the
game is not nonproliferation but retention of nuclear advantage.
- The troublesome facts
- To a layman, there are several facets of this problem
that are quite worrisome. On the one hand, the United States and other
nuclear club members (Britain, France, China, and Russia) are not showing
any real signs of getting rid of their weapons, while the United States
itself seems launched on a major modernization program. Doubtless other
club members are not standing still. The US program and other likely reactions
to it obviously will broaden the range of nuclear weapons uses and presents
to the world an undeniable picture of proliferation, not control. The result
is that, no matter what it says, any real nonproliferation leadership of
the United States is lacking, a genuine non-proliferation spirit is simply
missing, and in that atmosphere the persistence of nuclear weapons on the
planet appears assured, along with the have-not country perception of their
enduring, indeed proliferating, desirability as an attribute of national
- To make matters worse, any approach to nonproliferation
is highly selective. No real effort is being made to either curb or eliminate
Israeli weapons, or for that matter the weapons of India and Pakistan.
Maybe it would be foolish, even perilous to try. But the approach looks
to the rest of the world like an aggressive, even arrogant, attempt to
maintain nuclear exclusiveness, to preserve and limit nuclear power because
it provides the ultimate weapon for dominating other societies.
- All non-nuclear powers have to struggle with a fundamental
national security decision: Can they trust the nuclear powers not to use
the bargaining weight of nuclear weapons against them? The Middle East
answer to that question is no! Depleted uranium has been widely used in
Iraq, and other devices reportedly were used in the destruction of Fallujah.
Meanwhile mainstream media report that the United States and Israel are
both looking for bunker busters powerful enough to disrupt Iranian and,
by inference, any other deeply buried and would-be nuclear program. Weapons
of that power are likely to be at least tactical nukes.
- What is the truth?
- Current US leaders may be driven by a realistic appraisal
that it is no longer possible to put the genii back in the bottle; that
the only real option is to control the size, shape, motives, and applications
of the genii. That appraisal would commit the world to a lasting condition
of nuclear haves and have nots, while decisions about who is who would
be maintained by nuclear blackmail. That appraisal is a sad commentary
on our ability to control a major global evil. It is also the doorway to
a frightful self-fulfilling prophecy in which the world, as we know it,
will either eventually destroy itself, or become bound in an iron-fisted
matrix of a few nuclear powers dominating a world of vassal states.
- The role of "dirty bombs"
- Creeping nuclearization of conventional warfare is, right
now, America's future. The gateway weapons are "dirty bombs".
We hear much about them as so-called radiological weapons that may be the
first nuclear entry of terrorists. But the United States, as noted above,
has used dirty bombs for more than a decade, using depleted uranium weapons
widely on the battlefields of Iraq and Kosovo. Depleted uranium is incorporated
into armor piercing ammunition and other projectiles, because it provides
greater mass, meaning a more destructive edge that armor makers so far
have not overcome. The unavoidable side effect is radiation contamination
of both friend and foe.
- In the competition between arms and armor that has gone
on for millennia, the current battle is being fought with the earth itself.
Governments seeking to protect their programs, devices, plans, and key
people, now bury them ever deeper beneath the ground. The challenge is
how to penetrate those bunkers, and the word is that Iran has dug in deeply
in many different locations.
- The outlook
- So the outlook is not ideal. An ideal perspective for
non-nuclear powers would be that of a nuclear club and outriders all diligently
seeking to reduce and eliminate their weapons. That would represent a
benign environment, largely if not completely free of threat. But the present
environment is aggressively threatening. Whether or not they intended
the world to know it, the United States and Israel are now actively thinking
about destroying large parts of Iran to prevent that country from going
nuclear. They are looking for weapons powerful enough/massive enough to
penetrate far enough to eliminate deeply buried operating sites. Thus,
as implied in Vice President Cheney's statement, Iran is a de-facto victim
of nuclear blackmail. North Korea also will be if it persists in its nuclear
ambitions, and the only real deterrent may be likely Chinese reactions
to an attack on North Korea.
- Destabilizing equations
- These equations represent globally destabilizing situations
that help proliferation as well as terrorism to flourish. Because they
contribute to uncertainties that unbalance the outlooks of many societies,
they add to the incentives to dissidents, opposition groups, and active
terrorist organizations to take advantage of the situations. Lacking nuclear
tools, the groups motivated by such situations will use conventional devices.
The 9-11 attacks ought to have shown us convincingly how effective conventional
devices can be.
- The perverse nature of the present nuclear policies is
that they preserve a nuclear standoff among club members while stimulating
the rest of the family of nations to use every device and subterfuge available
to become a club member. The materials unfortunately are both available
and profitable to sell. The atmosphere for real nonproliferation is thus
- At the same time, nuclear weapons appear to deter only
nuclear weapons. Conventional devices are available to the least significant
of users. Thanks to the proliferation of Semtex and C4, virtually anybody
anywhere can get powerful explosives, and the Iraq landscape is increasingly
destroyed by them. If those explosives are not to be found, fertilizer
and fuel are available. The principal deterrent to such weapons is not
other weapons, but rather some way to keep people from becoming angry and
frustrated enough to use them. The Iraqi spectacle says we are not even
close to that discovery.
- The slippery slope
- Facing us is the slippery slope. Having crossed the
boundary between nuclear and conventional war, there seems no turning back.
Rather, the prospect is that governments who might have felt "we really
don't want to do this" will shift to "we can't afford not to
do this." In that frame of mind, the conventions of war will slowly
drift toward unbounded use of nuclear devices. The struggle to keep new
nuclear powers from emerging will become more acute. Nonproliferation as
now pursued will only encourage proliferation.
- The global evil we now face cannot be turned away without
a concerted effort by people who know this landscape well and are dedicated
to putting the genii back into the bottle. America had that potential once,
and America must regain it, first by curbing its own ambition. The notion
that the leaders of nonproliferation can also be the leading proliferators
is a denial that will destroy us all.
- The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and
a regular Columnist on rense.com. He was trained as a teacher but spent
most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service.
He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching
Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National
War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department
of International Studies. He will welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org