Thou Shalt Not Nuke

The recent agreement to reduce the number of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads from around 6,000 to between 2,200 and 1,700 sounded like good news. But rather than requiring the dismantling of those warheads, it allows them to be kept in storage—like unloading a shotgun, but keeping the shells in the closet. It's safer and prevents accidents, but in crisis or anger the weapon can still be used. And the real Catch-22 is that the reductions aren't required to take place until 2012, the year the treaty expires. Perhaps celebrations of progress are premature.

Most important, the treaty does not forestall the Bush administration's plans for new weapons and new potential targets. As a "senior administration official" told the press, "What we have now agreed to do under the treaty is what we wanted to do anyway."

When the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review was leaked in early March, a flurry of news stories followed. The "war on terrorism" had suddenly gone nuclear! Details of the plan that included the possible targeting of non-nuclear states, the possibility of a first strike use of nuclear weapons, and the development of a "bunker-buster" nuclear weapon that could penetrate deep underground to destroy storage facilities were explained and critiqued.

Yet in the months since then, very little has been heard, other than from national peace organizations. Peace Action, the Council for a Livable World, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Pax Christi, and others issued press releases and action alerts. They have played a crucial role in keeping the issue alive. Indeed, these activist groups mounted a campaign that helped lead to the Senate Armed Services Committee cutting the administration's request for $15.5 million to begin work on the "bunker buster."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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