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Voting against nuclear war with Iran

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Voting against nuclear war with Iran
By Jorge Hirsch

The outcome of the November election is likely to determine whether or not the US goes to war with Iran before President Bush leaves office. For multiple reasons recounted below such war will with very high probability include the US use of tactical nuclear weapons. In casting or not casting a vote in November, each of us will contribute to determine events of potential consequences immensely larger than local taxes, illegal immigration or even the Iraq war. Crossing the nuclear threshold in a war against Iran will trigger a chain reaction that in weeks, years or decades could lead with high probability to global nuclear war and widespread destruction of life on the planet.

The Bush administration has radically redefined America's nuclear use policy: US nuclear weapons are no longer regarded as qualitatively different from conventional weapons. Many actions of the administration in recent years strongly suggest that an imminent US nuclear use is being planned for, and this was confirmed by Bush's explicit refusal to rule out a US nuclear strike against Iran. We have all been put on notice. The fact that North Korea is now a nuclear country does not change the agenda - quite the contrary.

There were fears that the US would use nuclear weapons in the Iraq attack, which did not materialize, hence some will argue that the current fears of nuclear use against Iran may not materialize either. Some will argue that there were many other occasions in the past 60 years where the US appeared to come close to using nuclear weapons and did not, that the threshold for using nuclear weapons always was and remains extraordinarily high, and that the US nuclear "saber rattling" is just trickery to scare our opponents ( "madman theory"). These arguments are wrong. The US is much closer than it has ever been since Nagasaki to using nuclear weapons again. This year for the first time in its history the American Physical Society, representing 40,000 members of the profession that created nuclear weapons, issued a statement of deep concern on this matter: "The American Physical Society is deeply concerned about the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and for pre-emptive counter-proliferation purposes".

In the case of Iraq, our adversary was so weak that there was no way a US nuclear weapon use could have been justified in the eyes of the world. Iran is different: it possesses missiles that could strike US forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf as well as Israeli cities, and a large conventional army. 150,000 US soldiers in Iraq will be at great risk if war with Iran erupts, and Americans will support a nuclear strike on Iran once the administration creates a situation where it can argue that such action will save a large number of American or allies' lives.

In previous US wars, nuclear use did not occur because it carried an unacceptably high risk of triggering a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union or China. Because North Korea appears to have now a nuclear deterrent, and because of the possibility that China could get involved, there is no danger that the US will attack North Korea. In fact, Bush will use the fact that North Korea has joined the nuclear club, and charges that he was not "tough enough" on North Korea, as an argument to "justify" attacking Iran before it achieves that status, notwithstanding the fact that unlike North Korea Iran has stated no intention to follow that path nor is there any evidence that it is doing so. The nuclearization of North Korea only helps the plan to nuke Iran, which is why the administration did everything it could to encourage it.

No nuclear country is likely to intervene nor threaten to intervene when the US uses nuclear weapons against Iran, hence there is no military deterrent to such use. The US has now achieved vast nuclear superiority, and is about to demonstrate to the world that its 5-trillion nuclear arsenal is not "unusable".

The US Nuclear Posture

The Bush administration has made sweeping changes in the nuclear weapons policy of the United States during the past 5 years, singlehandedly without consulting Congress nor the American people . Under the name of "New Triad", the key concept is "integration" of conventional and nuclear forces. Don't be fooled by the rhetoric stating that it means that some missions previously assigned to nuclear forces will be taken over by conventional forces. What it really means is "a seamless web of capabilities": there is no longer a sharp line, a sharp distinction, between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.

Why should there be such a sharp line? Because, as a newly set up website from the Department of Defense kindly explains[1], "weight for weight, the energy produced by a nuclear explosion is millions of times more powerful than a conventional explosion". Consequently, it shouldn't be difficult to understand, even for a Yale C-student, that a nuclear conflict that gets out of hand will take a million times more lives than a conventional conflict. The last global conventional conflict took over 50 million lives.

What is the benefit of making such policy declarations? The US has never ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, and it carries a cost to remind other countries of this fact, since it provides an incentive for others to develop nuclear capability. There is no benefit in openly announcing such ominous policy changes, unless the intention is to put them into practice. Just like Bush announced in 2002 that "the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively" in preparation for the "preemptive" attack on Iraq.

The aforementioned Department of Defense website on "nuclear matters" states that "there are a number of arms control agreements restricting the deployment and use of nuclear weapons, but there is no conventional or customary international law that prohibits nations from employing nuclear weapons in armed conflict". That statement defines the "rules" by which the U.S. government plays. No matter that it ignores (and the website's list of "arms control agreements" also doesn't mention it) the "negative security assurance" issued by the US in 1978 and reaffirmed in 1995 promising not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Nor that it ignores the 1996 ruling of the International Court of Justice.

The reason the changes in declaratory policy were made is to gauge public opinion, and to prepare the public for the implementation of this policy. Because reaction to these radical statements unfortunately has been rather muted, the administration will be able to claim that the American people by and large have embraced the new nuclear doctrine of "integration" of nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities" and approve of the use of nuclear weapons when they provide "the most efficient use of force". The November vote may be your last chance to disagree.

The Rumsfeld "downsizing" transformation

The changes in nuclear doctrine did not occur in a vacuum. They were accompanied by a strong push by the White House to develop new and more usable nuclear weapons, and they are intimately tied and go hand in hand with Rumsfeld's "transformation" of the military . The overarching goal of this transformation is "downsizing" . What Rumsfeld did as CEO of Searle, he set out to do for the US military.

As Time Magazine reported in its Aug. 20, 1945 issue right after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "One hundred and twenty-three planes, each bearing a single atomic bomb, would carry as much destructive power as all the bombs (2,453,595 tons) dropped by the Allies on Europe during the war". And this was before hydrogen bombs. To the extent that the US military will be able to replace conventional weapons by nuclear weapons to carry out its missions, it will have achieved the ultimate "downsizing". That in a nutshell is the key to Rumsfeld's "transformation of the military", everything else is window-dressing.

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Jorge Hirsch is a Professor of Physics at the University of California at San Diego, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and organizer of a recent petition, circulated among leading physicists, opposing the new nuclear weapons policies (more...)
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