Nuclear Posture Review 2010
Inducing potential victims to surrender their right to self-defense under threat of nuclear annihilation
By Stephen Gowans
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Washington named Iraq, Iran and north Korea as forming an axis of evil. Soon after, the first of these countries was invaded by US and British forces on entirely spurious grounds. The invading forces met little resistance, for Iraq had effectively disarmed under a regime of international sanctions championed by Washington and London that led to the deaths of more than one million over its decade-plus-long existence. The pretext for the aggression was that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction. It had none.
Around the same time, Washington tore up an accord with north Korea that committed the latter to shuttering its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and forswearing the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the former to building light water reactors and delivering fuel oil while the reactors were being built. Washington tarried on the reactor construction, convinced the Juche regime would collapse before the United States had to make good on its commitment. As the date for completion of the reactors drew near, and with only the foundations of the reactors having been built, Washington declared that north Korea had admitted to operating a secret uranium enrichment program. Pyongyang denied the charge. One Bush administration official warned the north Koreans to draw the appropriate lesson from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. They did. North Korea fired up its Yongbyon reactor and embarked upon development of a nuclear deterrent.
Whether Iran drew the same lesson is unclear. The National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus of the US intelligence community, is that Iran pursued a nuclear weapons program until 2003, the year of the US-British invasion of Iraq, but has since abandoned it. Iran has worked to develop its own capability to generate enriched uranium for use in civilian nuclear power plants, while at the same time working on long range missiles. Irrespective of its nuclear weapons intentions, which Tehran says it doesn’t have, both activities converge on providing the country with the capability of developing nuclear warheads and the means of delivering them. While Tehran is not in the position to present a nuclear deterrent today, it may in the not too distant future be able to rapidly develop one to deter a US or Israeli attack.
There are two conclusions to be drawn from the above and a third that is axiomatic.
1. The United States and Britain have long records of highly provocative behavior based on policies of military aggression, the most conspicuous recent example of which is the invasion of Iraq. Naming countries as forming an axis of evil is a virtual declaration of war. Invading one of them, without provocation and on entirely contrived grounds, is a repugnant act and an international crime of the highest order. North Korea and Iran, the two remaining countries of the US-designated axis, have reasonable cause to fear military aggression by the United States or its proxies.
2. If the case of Iraq is definitive, US policy is to pressure its targets to surrender their means of self-defense to facilitate US pursuit of a subsequent war of aggression.
3. Countries that possess a nuclear weapons capability reduce the Pentagon’s room for manoeuvre and therefore reduce the probability that they will become the object of US military aggression.
From these three points may be drawn a fourth: The United States, as the world’s major agent of military aggression, is the principal cause of nuclear proliferation.
If read superficially, Washington’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) would lead you to believe that US policy makers have finally figured out that the cardinal rule of nonproliferation is to abjure military aggression. Countries that aren’t threatened by nuclear powers have no need to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense. However, a closer reading of the review shows that nothing has changed. US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.
The NPR declares “that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states”, even if they attack the United States, its vital interest or allies and partners with chemical or biological weapons. This differs, but only on the surface, from the policy of preceding administrations which refused to renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. There are a number of reasons why the difference is apparent only.
While nuclear weapons are widely regarded as being unparalleled in their destructive power (and they are), the United States is able to deliver overwhelming destructive force through its conventional military capabilities. A promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is not the same as an assurance not to use or threaten to use devastating military force. Six decades ago it was possible to obliterate a city through conventional means, as the United States and Britain demonstrated in the firebombing of Dresden. If a city could be destroyed by conventional means more than half a century ago, imagine what the Pentagon could do today through conventional forces alone. Indeed, the NPR makes clear that the United States is prepared to shrink its nuclear arsenal partly because “the growth of unrivalled U.S. conventional military capabilities” allows Washington to fulfill its geostrategic goals “with significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.”
The NPR also provides a number of escape hatches that allow Washington to continue to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over the heads of the two remaining axis of evil countries. One is that nuclear weapons can be used, or their used threatened, against a country that is not “party to the NPT” (the nuclear non-proliferation treaty) even if the country doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, or it is unclear whether it does. This is the north Korea escape clause. It allows Washington to continue to threaten north Korea (which may or may not have a working crude nuclear weapon) with nuclear obliteration, just as it has done since the early 1990s when the US Strategic Command announced it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles on the DPRK (the reason why north Korea withdrew from the NPT.)
Another escape hatch allows Washington to reach for the nuclear trigger whenever it deems a country to have fallen short of “compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” even if the country doesn’t have nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. This is the Iran escape hatch, intended to allow Washington to maintain the threat of nuclear annihilation vis-à-vis Iran or any other country Washington unilaterally declares to be noncompliant with the treaty’s obligations. Washington has a history of fabricating casus belli. 10-100,000 Kosovo Albanian dead and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, neither of which were ever found, represent recent examples of the United States waging war on entirely fictitious grounds. Washington could readily produce “sexed up” intelligence to declare Iran or any other NPT signatory to be in breach of its treaty obligations, thereby justifying the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.
As for the United States’ commitment not to reach for its nuclear arsenal in response to a chemical or biological attack on itself, its vital interests (a term that defies geography and democracy, for how is it that the United States’ vital interests extend to other people’s countries?) its allies and its partners, this too is verbal legerdemain. As a careful reading of the NPR makes clear, the truth of the matter is that the United States will attack any country with nuclear weapons if such an attack is deemed necessary by Washington to protect its interests, which is to say, the interests of the corporations, banks and investors whose senior officials and representatives dominate policy formulation in Washington and provide the major funding, and post-political jobs, to the country’s politicians. According to the NPR, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in [its commitment] that may be warranted…” Translation: We won’t attack non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons unless we decide it’s in our interests to do so.
Washington’s attachment of escape clauses and reservations to its commitment calls to mind Rajani Palme Dutt’s description of how the great powers made a mockery of the Kellog Pact, an agreement to renounce recourse to war as an instrument of foreign policy.
“The United States government exempted from its operation any action for the maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine. The French Government insisted that the pact must not be understood to refer to wars of self-defense or in fulfillment of treaty obligations. The British Government made the most sweeping reservation of all…
“Not content with the ‘defense’ of the Empire, covering a quarter of the world, Britain…reserved for itself full ‘freedom of action’ in any unspecified ‘regions of the world,’ where it might at any time claim ‘a special and vital interest.’ This sweeping claim of British imperialism left the Monroe Doctrine behind as a parochial affair in comparison. Needless to say, this claim was thereafter taken as equally applicable to themselves by the other Powers: thus the Italian representative at Geneva specifically referred to it as justifying Italy’s claim that its war on Abyssinia was no breach of the Kellog Pact.
“What, then, remained of the Kellog Pact even on the day that it was signed? Wars of ‘defense’ were clearly understood to be excluded from its operation. Wars for the maintenance of colonial possession or in execution of treaties were equally understood to be excluded. So were wars on behalf of ‘special and vital interests’ in any ‘regions of the world.’ With these small exceptions the imperialist signatories ‘renounced’ war.” (R. Palme Dutt, World Politics: 1918-1936, Random House, New York, pp. 151-152.)
What, then, remains of the Obama administration’s assurance, even on the day the NPR was published, that Washington won’t attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons? Countries that may or may not have nuclear weapons are excluded. Countries that don’t have nuclear arms and are party to the NPT, but which may develop a nuclear arms capability, and importantly, are independent of the United States, are excluded. Countries which, through their pursuit of independent economic development policies, threaten the special and vital interests of the United States in any region of the world, are excluded. With these small exceptions, Washington has renounced the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.
The NPR is said to be based on “the President’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.” But it’s clear from the very beginning of the review that US policy stands in the way of the president’s ostensible aim. “As long as nuclear weapons exist,” the review begins, “the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal…to deter potential adversaries…” The implication is that the country to first develop nuclear weapons, and the only country to have ever used them, intends to be the last country to have them, arrogating onto itself the monopoly right to maintain a nuclear arsenal to deter potential adversaries. Only if every other country surrenders their rights to deter potential adversaries, and yields this right exclusively to the United States, can the implications of the president’s aim be realized. But given the United States’ sanguinary history of busting down the doors of weak countries to lay claim to their land, labor, resources and markets on behalf of its economic elite, only the insane, opportunistic, unprincipled, cowardly or co-opted would yield their right to self-defense to such a predatory country. The president’s agenda for reducing nuclear dangers and pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons is more aptly described as an agenda for inducing potential victims to surrender their right of self-defense, and under the threat of nuclear annihilation. In other words, US foreign policy carries on in its characteristic imperialist and war-like manner, despite the elevation of a black Democrat, and now Nobel Peace Prize winner, to the highest elected office of the land.