Our Nuclear Talk Gravely Imperils Us
Notion of a First- Strike Use in Iraq Carries The Seed of World Disaster
by Edward M. Kennedy
© 2003 The Los Angeles Times
January 29, 2003 -- A dangerous world just grew more dangerous. Reports
that the administration is contemplating the preemptive use of nuclear
weapons in Iraq should set off alarm bells that this could not only be the
wrong war at the wrong time, but it could quickly spin out of control.
Initiating the use of nuclear weapons would make a conflict with Iraq
President Bush had an opportunity Tuesday night to explain why he believes
such a radical departure from long-standing policy is justified or
necessary. At the very minimum, a change of this magnitude should be
brought to Congress for debate before the U.S. goes to war with Iraq.
The reports of a preemptive nuclear strike are consistent with the extreme
views outlined a year ago in President Bush's Nuclear Posture Review and
with the administration's disdain for long-standing norms of international
According to these reports, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has
directed the U.S. Strategic Command to develop plans for employing nuclear
weapons in a wide range of new missions, including possible use in Iraq to
destroy underground bunkers.
Using the nation's nuclear arsenal in this unprecedented way would be the
most fateful decision since the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Even
contemplating the first-strike use of nuclear weapons under current
circumstances -- and against a non-nuclear nation -- dangerously blurs the
crucial and historical distinction between conventional and nuclear arms.
In the case of Iraq, it is preposterous.
Nuclear weapons are in a class of their own for good reasons -- their
unique destructive power and their capacity to threaten the very survival
of humanity. They have been kept separate from other military alternatives
out of a profound commitment to do all we can to see they are never used
again. They should be employed only in the most dire circumstances -- for
example, if the existence of our nation is threatened. It makes no sense
to break down the firewall that has existed for half a century between
nuclear conflict and any other form of warfare.
A nuclear bomb is not just another item in the arsenal.
Our military is the most powerful fighting force in the world. We can
fight and win a war in Iraq with precision bombing and sophisticated new
conventional weapons. The president has not made a case that the threat to
our national security from Iraq is so imminent that we even need to go to
war -- let alone let the nuclear genie out of the bottle.
By raising the possibility that nuclear weapons could be part of a first
strike against Iraq, the administration is only enhancing its reputation as
a reckless unilateralist in the world community -- a reputation that
ultimately weakens our own security. The nuclear threat will further
alienate our allies, most of whom remain unconvinced of the need for war
with Iraq. It is fundamentally contrary to our national interests to
further strain relationships that are essential to win the war against
terrorism and to advance our ideals in the world.
This policy also deepens the danger of nuclear proliferation by, in effect,
telling nonnuclear states that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter a
potential U.S. attack and by sending a green light to the world's nuclear
states that it is permissible to use them. Is this the lesson we want to
send to North Korea, Pakistan and India or any other nuclear power?
The use of nuclear weapons in Iraq in the absence of an imminent,
overwhelming threat to our national security would bring a near-total
breakdown in relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world. At a
minimum, it would lead to a massive rise in anti-Americanism in the Arab
world and a corresponding increase in sympathy for terrorists who seek to
do us harm. Our nation, long a beacon of hope, would overnight be seen as
a symbol of death, destruction and aggression.
In the introduction to his national security strategy last fall, the
president declared: "The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the
crossroads of radicalism and technology." On that he was surely right --
and the administration's radical consideration of the possible use of our
nuclear arsenal against Iraq is itself a grave danger to our national
interests, our nation and all that America stands for.