Op-Ed: How the nuclear weapons taboo is fading and what’s needed to deal it
In 1998, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that the nation’s nuclear weapons are not just a deterrent to an attack, they are a “signature of our values and our strength.”
Gates’ comments, made in a speech at the Army War College in Montgomery, Alabama, were met with harsh criticism, then and for years thereafter, by the Clinton administration and the American defense establishment. They were dismissed as naïve, misguided or naive.
The Bush administration, on the other hand, has sought to defend the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, on the grounds that a world in which weapons were used only as deterrents would be a worse one.
On April 5, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an emergency request to Congress for funds to support a new nuclear weapons modernization program and for an additional 10,000 troops to augment the U.S. presence in Iraq. The administration contends that such support would enhance the defense against a threat from Iran.
The Pentagon’s latest estimates, meanwhile, indicate a possible emergency need for about $10 billion to meet a “critical national security threat,” said spokesman Geoff Morrell in response to questions from Foreign Policy magazine.
“We have an ongoing emergency, but there is a sense that at this point it’s becoming more urgent,” Morrell said in a June 9 telephone interview.
The Pentagon contends that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is a threat that must be contained, and that its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty prevents it from obtaining the nuclear materials and technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon.
Rumsfeld’s request for funding for new programs is, of course, aimed to offset the cost of the Iraq war. But it is not a direct response to the nuclear threat or to the need for new weapons. And the administration’s rationale for the weapons program is far from convincing.
“They’re not going to have a nuke in six months,” said Dan Bishop, director of Nuclear Information for the Middle East at the Institute for Science and International Security. “In reality, it’s more like two or three years.”
This is in fact the opposite of what Rumsfeld has