Lists seven nations as targets

A story in the March 10 edition of The Los Angeles Times revealed that the Pentagon has drawn up a list of seven countries who are prime targets for U.S. nuclear weapons in the event of undefined “surprising military developments.”

The report, titled “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) and signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, and delivered to Congress on January 8, is already being used by the U.S. Strategic Command to develop a new generation of low-yield bunker-busting min-nukes and other nuclear weapons and to prepare a plan for their use.

The NPR, which outlines several situations where the use of nuclear weapons could be “justified,” offers a chilling glimpse into the world of nuclear war-planners who, with a Strangelovian genius, cover every conceivable circumstance.

Although there have always been nuclear hawks in the Pentagon, the review reverses the a decades-long policy that saw the use of nuclear weapons only in situations when the nation’s most basic interest or national survival is at risk.

Until now, behavior of the most hawkish military planners has been tempered by the belief, shared by most thoughtful Americans, that the unrestrained use of nuclear weapons in war could end life on Earth as we know it.

The NPR says the U.S. should develop plans to use nuclear weapons in an Arab-Israeli conflict, in a war between China and Taiwan or in a conflict between the two Koreas and lists seven countries – Russia, China, North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran and Syria – as targets against which nuclear weapons might be used.

Although the Pentagon has admitted having a detailed plan for an attack on Russia in the past, the NPR marks the first time an official list of potential targets has come to light.

Criticism of the report came from all quarters while administration spokespersons were trying desperately to put the genie back in the bottle. John Isaacs, policy director at the Center for Arms Control, said the NPR is “a dangerous escalation of the nuclear arms race at a time when nuclear weapons should be de-emphasized.” He told the World the review means that President Bush is “desperately looking for new uses of nuclear weapons.”

Isaacs called the report “another example of U.S. unilateralism” based on perceived self interest with little regard for the opinions of others, adding: “Dr. Strangelove is alive and well in the Bush Pentagon.”

Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear arms expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the report represents the “extreme views” of the Pentagon and is a “dramatic change” in U.S. policy. “The review is not yet policy and should not become policy. It should be marked ‘return to sender,’” he told the World.

In a March 11 editorial titled “America as Nuclear Rogue,” The New York Times said, “Nuclear weapons are not just another part of the military arsenal. They are different, and lowering the threshold for their use is reckless folly.”

Bruce G. Blair, the retired Air Force general who heads up the Center for Defense Information, says it is a “poignant irony” of the nuclear era that, in the first decade of the post-Cold War era, the threshold for using nuclear weapons has been lowered. “The Nuclear Posture Review accelerates that trend,” he said, adding that the review “failed to grasp” the fact that the United States would be “far better off in a nuclear-free world.”

The increased nuclear danger was underscored earlier when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of their “Doomsday Clock” forward two minutes – to seven minutes to midnight – the same position as when the clock made its debut in 1947 and the third time the hand has been advanced since the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Steve Schwartz, publisher of the bulletin, said the policies enunciated in the NPR translate into a guide on using nuclear weapons and are likely to decrease U.S. security. “Like it or not, other nations will respond and are likely to speed up work on development of their own nuclear arsenals.”

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, William Arkin, a fellow at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the NPR “reverses a two-decades-long trend of relegating nuclear weapons to the category of last resort.”

Revelation of the NPR has made Vice President Richard Cheney’s task more difficult as he swings through the Middle East in an attempt to build up support for an attack on Iraq.

When confronted by reporters in England, Cheney, speaking in the classic double-talk of the Bush administration, said, “Right now, today, the United States, on a day-to-day basis, it does not target nuclear weapons on any nation.”

The Chinese foreign ministry said that country was “deeply shocked” to be included on the NPR hit list while the Russian foreign minister said Moscow expects explanations from a “higher level” than televised comments by Cheney and Powell.


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries