[Reader-list] Alexander Cockburn's take on the crisis

Ravi Sundaram ravis at sarai.net
Thu Sep 20 17:48:31 IST 2001

I have mixed feelings about Alexander Cockburn, his old-left writing often 
borders on the conspiratorial, but he is a sharp journalist, and gutsy...

check our http://www.counterpunch.org/ for very good coverage. Another is 
http://www.thenation.com/ apart from Tarq Ali's lead essay (nothing there 
that you did not know already) the other essays are first-rate

Ravi Sundaram

Attack Bolsters
Nuke Lite Lobby
By Jeffrey St. Clair
and Alexander Cockburn

Make the desert glow for a thousand years. Wipe them off the face of the 
Earth. Pulverize them. Such is the unrestrained blood lust that masquerades 
as military punditry these days. The Washington Times has called on the 
Bush administration the use of nuclear weapons against Afghanistan and 
Iraq. Absurd? Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had the question put to them 
directly and neither would rule out the use of nuclear bombs as an option. 
Rumsfeld's deputy, the blood-thirsty, Paul Wolfowitz has warned that the 
Pentagon is poised to unleash "a very big hammer", a hammer capable of 
"ending states that support terrorism." (Rumsfeld says the Pentagon has 
identified nearly 60 such states.)
"At a bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilites should be used against the 
bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan. To do less would be rightly 
seen by the poisoned minds that orchestrated these attacks as cowardice on 
the part of the United States and the current administration." These are 
not the words of a columnist for the war-mongers at the New York Post. No. 
These are the considered sentiments of Thomas Woodrow, a former officer at 
the Defense Intelligence Agency.
We now find ourselves closer to the unthinkable possibility of launching a 
nuclear first strike than at any time since the thawing of the Cold War. 
What is important to understand is the fact that there are people inside 
the Pentagon and the nuclear labs who have been urging just such a posture, 
even before the events of 9/11. Now they feel vindicated and ready to strike.
The Pentagon has come to a remarkable conclusion with regard to the nuclear 
weapons: smaller is better. These days the Wizards of Armageddon are 
palpably anxious to develop a new class of nuclear weapons, the so-called 
"deep penetrator" warheads. These are relatively low-yield weapons, packing 
warheads as small as 10 kilotons. Rear Admiral George P. Nanos excitedly 
refers to this new breed of nukes as "hard target killers".
During testimony before the House in May, General John A. Gordon, director 
of the National Nuclear Security Administration, groused that for the past 
decade the Pentagon had not been able to actively pursue new weapons 
designs. He said he wanted to "reinvigorate" planning for a new generation 
of "advanced nuclear warheads".
"This is not a proposal to develop new weapons in the absence of 
requirements", Gordon told the committee in a gem of Pentagon doublespeak. 
"But I am not now exercising design capabilities, and because of that, I 
believe this capacity and capability is atrophying rapidly".
Gordon wasn't being truthful. Over the past decade the Pentagon and its 
weapons designers have been quietly busy crafting a variety of new weapons. 
Indeed, although the Clinton administration generated a lot of hoopla by 
supporting the comprehensive test ban treaty (which it promptly violated 
with a string of subcritical tests), the Department of Energy and the 
Pentagon were busy developing new breeds of weapons. In 1997, they unveiled 
and deployed the B61-11, described as a mere modification of the old B61-7 
gravity bomb. In reality, it was largely a new "package", the prototype for 
the "low-yield" bunker blasting nuke that the weaponeers see as the future 
of the US arsenal.
The nuclear priesthood is salivating at the prospect of a new generation of 
nukes and new infusions of cash under the Bush regime, which has been 
stockpiled with nuclear hawks, ranging from Richard Armitage and Paul 
Wolfowitz to Assistant Secretary of Defense Jack Couch, who a couple of 
years ago wrote that the US should consider dropping a small nuke on North 
Korea to teach them a lesson.
The Pentagon, of course, isn't the only one pushing new bombs. So are the 
nuclear labs and their legions of contractors. "There's an overwhelming 
desire to develop new nuclear weapons and there are a lot of rationales put 
forward to justify the expenditure and the risks", says Don Moniak, an 
organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental League in Aiken, South 
Carolina. "For example, the nuclear labs have said they make new design 
weapons if only to maintain design expertise". Moniak monitors weapons 
production and plutonium storage and reprocessing at the Department of 
Energy's Savannah River Site, which Moniak says is being geared up to begin 
producing plutonium pits, the triggers for hydrogen bombs.
This spring the labs made a big pitch for the Bush administration to 
overhaul the nation's nuclear policy. The plea came in the form of a white 
paper by Paul Robinson, the director of the Sandia National Labs in 
Albuquerque. Robinson titled his essay Pursuing a New Nuclear Policy for 
the 21st Century and began thus: "I recently began to worry that because 
there were few public statements by US officials in reaffirming the unique 
role which nuclear weapons play in ensuring US and world security, far too 
many people (including many in our own armed forces) were beginning to 
believe that perhaps nuclear weapons no longer had value".
Robinson doesn't want to let go a single part of the nuclear arsenal. He 
even argues that Russia remains a threat, although he inverts the alleged 
source from that of an opposing superpower to that of a disintegrating 
nation. As backup for this rationale he quotes US National Security Advisor 
Condoleeza Rice: "America is threatened less by Russia's strength than by 
its weakness and incoherence". This stretch is used to justify an upgrading 
of the most destructive and expensive weapons in the US arsenal, the 
so-called Category I strategic weapons capable of incinerating large-scale 
Robinson also sees no reason to scale-back the US stockpile of Category II 
weapons, the kind of all-purpose nuclear missile that Robinson dubs the "To 
Whom It May Concern Force". Robinson hedges identifying exactly who the 
targets of these weapons might be, but he eventually concedes that they 
include the other nuclear and near-nuclear nations, China, India, Pakistan, 
North Korea, Iran and, presumably, France, though definitely not Israel.
These weapons, primarily low-yield single rocket missiles, would mainly be 
an investment in the Navy's submarine-launched arsenal to give the US the 
all-important "forward-basing" advantage-which mainly means that the US 
wouldn't have to worry about the touchy diplomatic issue of launching 
nuclear bombs over the territory of non-combatants. (Apparently, this good 
neighbor policy hasn't infected the Bush Star Wars team, which is toiling 
away on a contraption that would, if it works, knock incoming missiles down 
and onto the fields of the Poland, Germany and France.)
But Robinson's real passion is for the Category III weapon, the 
bunker-busting nuke that is designed for the assassination of the 
leadership of "rogue regime", a not so subtle code word for Iraq, although 
it really does serve as a stand-in for any troublesome non-nuclear nation. 
Robinson, in a scenario that perhaps even Edward Teller himself may not 
have envisioned, wants the Bush administration to publicly change its 
policy to target heads of state with nuclear bombs. "I believe it will be 
important to make a part o our declaratory policy that the United States' 
ultimate intent, should it ever have to unleash a nuclear attack against 
any aggressor, would be to threaten the survival of the regime leading the 
state", Robinson writes. "Unless that state's leaders are deterred from the 
acts we are seeking to deter, our war aims would be single-minded-to 
destroy that leadership's ability to govern".
And now we see the prospect of nuclear weapons being used not against a 
regime, but against an indistinct enemy, largely untargetable, couched in 
the forbidding recesses of the Hindu Kush, one the world's most hostile 
natural landscapes. The only possible objective for their use would be to 
kill broadly and indiscriminately and to obliterate the distinction between 
intentional and collateral damage.

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