WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted 51 to 43 to lift a ban on research on so-called “low yield” nuclear weapons, caving in to Bush administration plans to develop a new generation of “usable” nuclear warheads as part of George W. Bush’s preemptive war doctrine.

The May 20 vote killed an amendment to keep the ban in place that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) attempted to attach to the administration’s $400 billion Pentagon budget. The Senators also approved $15 million for research on the so-called “bunker buster” deep earth penetrator, a nuclear weapon with an explosive power six times greater than the A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the same time, the Senate voted for a measure that requires the Energy Department to prepare for nuclear weapons testing, ending a decade-long nuclear test moratorium.

Feinstein told her colleagues, “This administration seems to be moving toward a military posture in which nuclear weapons are considered just like other weapons … a usable instrument of military power like a tank, a fighter aircraft or a cruise missile.”

The internet grassroots group MoveOn.org launched an online petition campaign May 19 demanding that Congress reject Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s request for funding of a study of “low yield” or “usable” nuclear weapons.

In an e-mail message to millions of supporters, MoveOn.org founders Wes Boyd and Joan Blades write, “We now know there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” But the Bush administration, they continue, “is pursuing the invention of even more dangerous portable weapons – including ‘usable’ mini-nukes that would make arms control impossible.”

Annoyed by questions suggesting he has a hidden agenda, Rumsfeld insisted during a House Armed Services hearing that the money is “not to develop, not to deploy, not to use” the mini-nukes. Yet Air Force General Richard Myers told the same hearing that attacking an enemy’s weapons arsenals with nuclear weapons might destroy biological or chemical weapons “and not develop that plume that conventional weapons might do that would drift and then bring others in harm’s way.”

Lawmakers warned that Rumsfeld is seeking an opening wedge to develop, deploy and use a whole arsenal of nuclear weapons. The MoveOn.org message concludes, “Please call now and ask your Senator to oppose lifting the ban on building new nuclear weapons in the Defense Authorization Bill.” While the Senate has now voted, the MoveOn.org petition is needed more than ever to exert pressure to kill the mini-nukes before final passage.

In his infamous National Security Strategy, George W. Bush openly advocates use of nuclear “bunker busters” and other so-called tactical nuclear weapons as part of his menacing doctrine of preemptive war. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) charged that the administration’s mini-nuke scheme “jeopardizes the entire architecture of nuclear arms controls so carefully negotiated by our leaders over our lifetimes.”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that he will now push an amendment to block the production of mini-nukes. Language banning their production is contained in the House military authorization bill. “If we can limit it to research, it would be an improvement to the president’s language,” he said. “After 50 years of trying to find ways to prevent nuclear warfare, now we’re really talking about using them,” Reed said.

Robert Scheer, author of With Enough Shovels, an expose of Ronald Reagan’s crazed Star Wars weapons-in-space scheme, wrote a scathing op-ed in the Los Angeles Times May 13 denouncing Bush’s drive for use of nuclear weapons. Scheer charged that “the U.S. is now using the ‘war on terror’ to pursue a long-held hawkish Republican dream of a ‘winnable nuclear war’ as the president’s father memorably described it to me in a 1980 Times interview. In such a scenario, nukes can be preemptively used against a much weaker enemy – millions of dead civilians, widespread environmental devastation and centuries of political blowback be damned.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com