The Revolt Against the Bush Administration's Nuclear Double Standard

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In
late November, when Congress refused to appropriate money to fund
so-called "bunker busters" and "mini-nukes,"
this action represented not only a serious blow to the Bush administration’s
plan to build new nuclear weapons, but to the administration’s overall
nuclear arms control and disarmament policy.

That
policy has been to prevent the development of nuclear weapons by
nations the Bush administration considers "evil." The
military invasion of Iraq, like the gathering confrontation with
Iran and North Korea, reflects, at least in part, the administration’s
obsession with preventing nations potentially hostile to the United
States from acquiring a nuclear capability. This focus upon blocking
nuclear weapons development in other countries has some legal justification
for, in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, non-nuclear
nations agreed not to develop nuclear weapons.

But
the NPT also calls for nuclear nations to rid themselves of the
nuclear weapons they possess. Indeed, in the meetings that fashioned
the treaty, the non-nuclear weapons states demanded a commitment
to nuclear disarmament by the nuclear powers. And they received
it – not only in the form of the treaty’s provisions, but in the
formal pledges made by the nuclear powers at the periodic treaty
review conferences that have been held since the NPT went into effect.

It
is in this area that the Bush administration has revealed itself
as the proponent of a double standard. At the same time that it
has assailed selected nations for developing nuclear weapons, it
has withdrawn the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile
treaty, effectively destroyed the START II treaty, and refused to
support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It has
also raised the U.S. nuclear weapons budget to new heights and proposed
the building of new U.S. nuclear weapons, including the "bunker
busters" and "mini-nukes." As Senator Kerry pointed
out during the recent presidential campaign, this is not the kind
of policy that will encourage other nations to abide by their commitments
under the NPT.

The
surprising congressional move to block the Bush plan for new nuclear
weapons is but one of numerous signs that this double standard cannot
be sustained. As a special high-level U.N. panel has just warned:
"We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation
regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."
Nor is the breakaway from the NPT limited to the non-nuclear nations.
Just the other day the Russian government announced its development
of a new nuclear missile. Appropriately enough, the U.N. panel condemned
the nuclear powers for failing to honor their commitments, and called
upon them to restart the nuclear disarmament process.

Furthermore,
of course, terrorists have been actively seeking nuclear weapons,
and might well obtain them. Thousands of tactical nuclear weapons
– many of them small, portable, and, therefore, ideal for terrorist
use – are still maintained by the U.S. and Russian governments.
No international agreements have ever been put into place to control
or eliminate them. In fact, it remains unclear how many of these
tactical nuclear weapons exist or where they are located. In Russia,
at least, they are badly guarded and, in the disorderly circumstances
of the post-Soviet economy, they seem ripe for sale or theft.

The
revolt against the Bush administration’s double standard could come
to a head in May 2005, when an NPT review conference opens at the
United Nations, in New York City. Nuclear and non-nuclear nations
are sure to exchange sharp barbs about non-compliance with NPT provisions.
Furthermore, more than a hundred mayors from the Mayors for Peace
Campaign, which has drawn together the top executives from 640 cities
around the world, are expected to come to the U.N. to lobby for
nuclear disarmament. They will be joined by United for Peace and
Justice, the largest peace movement coalition in the United States,
and over 2,000 organizations in 96 different countries. Together,
they have launched Abolition Now, a campaign calling on heads of
state to begin negotiations in 2005 on a treaty to eliminate all
nuclear weapons.

Ultimately,
then, the Bush administration might be forced into accepting a single
standard for dealing with the threat posed by nuclear weapons –
one designed to lead to a nuclear-free world. Certainly, there are
plenty of signs that people and nations around the globe believe
that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.

December
14, 2004

Lawrence
S. Wittner [send him mail]
is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany.
His latest book is Toward
Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement,
1971 to the Present
(Stanford University Press). This article
originally appeared on the History News
Network
. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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