Robert McNamara’s description of a “future overshadowed with the permanent possibility of thermonuclear holocaust” was nothing new at the time. For more than 20 years, the threat of human annihilation had consumed the minds of Americans. This became particularly the case during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 – in which McNamara played a pivotal role.
The questions of whether to use and how to deploy nuclear weapons became a political issue even before the first formal testing. In June 1945, a group of scientists working at the University of Chicago drafted a report warning about the dangers of an arms race and calling “inadvisable” the “use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan.”
Since their inception, nuclear arms have been subjects of debate. Mainly this discussion has centered on questions of size, use, and tactic. Under deterrence theory, the need for a certain quantity of nuclear weapons was rarely, if ever, questioned.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the basis for deterrence theory – mutually antagonistic and inimical nuclear counterparts – dissolved with it. The nature of threats changed. The nuclear arsenals in Russia and the United States, however, remained consistent in number, structure and philosophy.
Through the 1990’s, the role and need for nuclear weapons was the subject of a decreasingly political dialogue. The topic of nuclear arms largely slipped from national discourse altogether. In 1999, the Senate rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an agreement that would end any and all nuclear testing among signatories. All Western European nations ratified the treaty, as well as a number of South American, African and eastern European nations. The United States was with China, Colombia, Congo, India, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam, among others, in failing to ratify the test ban.
With the rejection of the CTBT in the United States, all global efforts to secure the ban on testing came to an end. Further, the failure of the Clinton administration to develop a forward-looking nuclear arms policy perpetuated the gargantuan nuclear arsenal that sat poised to launch instantaneously.
In his 2000 election campaign, Bush proposed the development of a ballistic missile defense shield to take place concurrently with a reduction in the number of nuclear arms. Such an act required that the United States pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty signed with Russia.
In December 2001, Bush formally announced his intent to renege on the ABM treaty, and later allocated $8 billion to develop a ballistic missile defense shield. He also agreed to “reduce” the number of arms in what Richard Rhodes called the “death machine” and work toward further reductions in the future.
A grand delusion.
According to articles in the Washington Post, Bush proposed to decrease the number of deployed warheads from the staggering number of 6,000 to somewhere between the still mighty numbers of 1,700 and 2,200. Deployed nuclear weapons are those that are poised, placed, secured and ready to launch. They are positioned in many countries and could immediately launch upon receiving the order from the president.
Bush’s proposal suggests that the 6,000 that are ready at any instant to send each and every one of us to a timeless and unhappy closure be cut down to around 2000 by 2012. Here’s the catch: The 3,000 or so will only be taken off deployed status. They will not be dismantled and could be reactivated in a timely fashion. Instead of being disassembled and buried deep in some unattainable vault, where they would be out of the reach of terrorists and other nefarious plotters, they will be held, awaiting reactivation.
It gets worse. According to a Post article that came out on Tuesday, the Nuclear Weapons Council has called for an investigation into a new nuclear warhead that could penetrate deep into the ground, vaporizing underground targets. The Council also drafted plans for new designs of ICBM’s, SLBM’s and heavy-bomber delivery units. The draft, as of now, calls for the development of new systems in a time frame extending to 2040. Furthermore, the article claimed, the administration has assembled an additional team to study new possibilities for future nuclear systems.
Simply put, the current nuclear arsenal is experiencing no reductions. Rather, the administration is planning just the opposite. In a sense, Bush’s so-called “reduction” is a marvelous idea for the nuclear protagonist – it creates room for newer, more sophisticated, heavier-impact nuclear arms to be assembled and deployed in the future; armed and hair-trigger response, with no more than a simple order .
The tragedy in this newest initiative needs no explanation. The present number of nuclear arms are enough to send every individual in this world to an abysmal and infernal grave many times over. It is enough to ensure that no inadaptable creature will live again on this planet for thousands, if not millions, of years. The proposed “reduction”, to around 2,000 arms, is qualitatively no different. The missiles poised and ready to launch currently are hundreds, if not thousands, of times more destructive than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ll leave speculation to the reader.
Nuclear weapons should not be a partisan issue. Their existence concerns the human enterprise in its entirety. The Bush administration has ensured that the threat of thermonuclear holocaust, which McNamara spoke of so many years ago, will haunt humanity until at least 2040, 38 years of terror.
Bush has the best opportunity of any American president since Truman to drastically reduce the global nuclear arsenal. He has not only decided against this, but instead has encouraged the expansion of nuclear forces and nuclear research for almost 40 years into the future. Such an act is no less than a tragedy and an injustice suffered upon every human being, six billion times over.