tactical nuclear weapons deployed in the Persian Gulf, on hair-trigger alert,
and ready to be launched against Iran at a moment's notice?
The answer is contained in
presidential directive NSPD 35, "Nuclear Weapons Deployment Authorization,"
issued May 2004, which is classified. Nevertheless, we can infer the answer
from the fact that every other element needed for a nuclear strike on Iran is
now "deployed" and ready, namely:
- The nuclear hitmen: Stephen Hadley, Stephen Cambone, Robert Joseph, William
Schneider Jr., J.D. Crouch II, Linton Brooks, and John Bolton are nuclear-weapons enthusiasts who advocate aggressive policies
and occupy key positions in the top echelons of the Bush administration.
- A nuclear doctrine that advocates nuclear strikes against non-nuclear countries
that precisely fit the Iran profile: the "Nuclear
Posture Review" and the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations."
- The doctrine of preemptive attack adopted by the Bush administration
and already put into practice in Iraq, and the "National Strategy to Combat
Weapons of Mass Destruction" (NSPD 17), which promises to respond to a WMD threat with
- 150,000 American soldiers in Iraq, whose lives are at risk if a military
confrontation with Iran erupts, and who thus provide the administration with
a strong argument for the use of nuclear weapons to defend them.
- Americans' heightened state of fear of terrorist attacks and their apparent
willingness to support any course of action that could potentially protect
them from real or imagined terrorist threats.
- The allegations of involvement of Iran in terrorist activities around the
world , , including acts against America , , and its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.
- The determination of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission that Iran has connections with al-Qaeda.
- Senate Joint Resolution 23, "Authorization for Use of Military Force," which allows the
president "to take action to deter and prevent acts of terrorism against the
United States" without consulting Congress, and the War Powers Resolution [.pdf], which "allows" the president to
attack anybody in the "global war on terror."
- The Bush administration's willingness to use military power based on unconfirmed intelligence and defectors' fairy tales.
- The fact that Iran has been declared in noncompliance [.pdf] with the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty, which makes it "legal" for the U.S. to use nuclear weapons against
- The course of action followed by the Bush administration with
respect to Iran's drive for nuclear technology, which can only lead
to a diplomatic impasse.
- The Israel factor ,  .
I have discussed many of these elements in previous columns. Here I will focus
on the people, the doctrine, and the weapons.
The decision to employ nuclear weapons at any
level in a military conflict rests with the president. Neither Congress nor
state governments nor you nor I have to be consulted. According to Robert McNamara
(U.S. secretary of defense during the Cuban missile crisis), to launch a nuclear
attack requires "20 minutes' deliberation by the president and his advisers."
In preparation for the nuclear strike on Iran, the Bush administration in
its second term has deployed into key positions hardliners that have both
expertise in nuclear weapons and a known history of advocating the aggressive
use thereof. Thus the president can say, "I feel like I'm getting really good advice from very capable
people" to justify nuking Iran.
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley
Hadley is one of the coauthors of the document "Rationale
and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control" [.pdf], which
served as a blueprint for the " Nuclear Posture Review" of 2001. In a 1997 paper, "Policy Considerations in Using Nuclear Weapons," Hadley
applauded the "many men and women" who "have devoted their professional lives"
to nuclear weapons as having made "a significant contribution to our nation."
Further, "It is often an unstated premise in the current debate that if nuclear
weapons are needed at all, they are needed only to deter the nuclear weapons
of others. I am not sure this unstated premise is true … this is not why
we got into the nuclear business." He was one of the leading proponents of the
claim that Iraq
had a nuclear weapons program, and he was profiled in a 2004 Los Angeles
Times article as "A Hawk in Bush's Inner Circle Who Flies Under the Radar."
of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone
Cambone is Rumsfeld's right-hand man, another coauthor of "Rationale and Requirements,"
and a longtime promoter of missile-defense systems. If there is any doubt as
to whether he will promote the policies advocated in that document, let's hear
his own words: "Any policymaker has certain views. Policymakers are where they
are and doing what they do because they have a view." (New
York Times, April 11, 2003)
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control
and International Security Affairs Robert Joseph
Joseph has the position formerly held by John Bolton and is another coauthor of "Rationale
and Requirements." He also helped draft the document "National Strategy
to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction" (NSPD-17), which advocates the use of nuclear weapons in
response to WMD and names Iran as one of the countries that are the focus of
the new U.S. strategy. He is a member of the National Institute for Public Policy, which says on its Web page that Joseph is a leading promoter of counterproliferation
policy ("formulation and implementation of national security strategies to counter
proliferation threats") and "criminalizing proliferation activities." He was the National Security Council member supervising
the portion of the 2003 State of the Union speech dealing with intelligence
about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. According to Right Web, Joseph "advocates the offensive use of nuclear weapons" and advocates
placing "preemptive attacks and weapons of mass destruction at the center of
U.S. national security strategy."
In a recent interview, Joseph "dismissed Iran's contention
it seeks only civilian nuclear power," said that "Iran is closing in on
production of nuclear weapons and even UN sanctions may not deter the aggressive
government in Tehran," and averred that "once they begin to enrich, that is
the point of no return," echoing similar statements by Israeli officials.
National Nuclear Security Administration Director Linton Brooks
Brooks oversees the country's nuclear weapons infrastructure and is another
coauthor of "Rationale and Requirements." He also served on the Pentagon's
Deterrence Concepts Advisory Panel, which was charged with
overseeing the production of the Nuclear Posture Review policy document. In
explaining the Nuclear Posture Review to the Senate Armed Services Committee
in 2004, Brooks stated [.pdf]:
"The Nuclear Posture Review represented a radical departure from the past
and the most fundamental rethinking of the roles and purposes of nuclear weapons
in almost a quarter-century. … Instead of treating nuclear weapons in isolation,
it considered them as an integrated component of American military power. …
Instead of treating the future as static and predictable, it recognized that
requirements could change and that U.S. nuclear forces must be prepared to respond
to those changes, including by increasing the fraction of the force that is
deployed. … The Nuclear Posture Review broadens our thinking to encompass
a New Triad of flexible response capabilities consisting of non-nuclear and
nuclear strike capabilities."
In that address, he also advocated research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator
initiative to "hold at risk hardened, deeply buried facilities that may be important
to a future adversary," and repealing the
prohibition on low-yield nuclear weapons to allow research in "advanced
concepts" of more usable nuclear weapons. He stated, "We need to make sure our weapons will in fact be seen by other
countries as a deterrent. One element of that is usability. If nobody believes
there is any circumstance where you will use the weapon, it is not a deterrent."
Chairman of the Pentagon's Defense
Science Board William Schneider Jr.
Schneider is another coauthor of "Rationale and Requirements." He was a staff member at the Hudson Institute between 1967 and
1971, where "he contributed to studies on strategic forces, Soviet affairs,
theater nuclear force operations, and arms control." In his own words, "The leakage of nuclear weapons-design
technology over time has become a flood in recent years," and "Both Iran
and Iraq sought to develop their own military ballistic and cruise missiles
as well as weapons of mass destruction. In conjunction with offshore procurements
of conventional defense products, they produced formidable military establishments
posing an overwhelming threat to U.S. allies."
Deputy National Security Advisor J.D. Crouch II
Crouch served as assistant secretary of defense from 2001 to 2003, and was
the "principal advisor to the secretary of defense on the formulation and
coordination of policy … for nuclear forces, missile defense, technology
security policy, counterproliferation, and arms control." In a briefing he gave
on the Nuclear Posture Review in 2002, he stated, "Now, we are trying to look at a number of initiatives.
One would be to modify an existing weapon, to give it greater capability against
deep and hardly – or hard targets and deeply-buried targets." He is characterized
as a "nuclear weapons enthusiast."
Conclusion? None of these people, when asked for advice, is likely to advise
against the use of nuclear weapons for reasons that you or I would find
eminently reasonable , , , , .
Finally, there is the infamous John Bolton. While undersecretary of state, he warned that "efforts to attain nuclear weapons pose a direct
and undeniable threat to the United States and its friends and allies around
the world. Whether the nuclear capabilities of states like Iran, North Korea
and others are threats today, or threats tomorrow, there can be no dispute that
our attention is required now before the threats become reality, and tens of
thousands of innocent civilians, or more, have been vaporized." Concerning Iran
specifically, he stated that "Iran has a covert program to develop and
stockpile chemical weapons," that "Tehran probably maintains an offensive
BW program," and in this connection that the "risks to international peace
and security from such programs are too great to wait for irrefutable proof
of illicit activity." Concerning missiles, he said, "Iran continues its
extensive efforts to develop the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction,"
and just like his successor, he stated categorically that "Iran has a clandestine program to produce nuclear weapons."
Today, John Bolton is "deployed" as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, where
he will be most effective (simply cutting and pasting from his old speeches)
explaining to the world why a nuclear strike on Iran was necessary.
Note that there is no obvious reason why the national security advisor, the
deputy national security advisor, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence,
the chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, and the U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations have to be people with experience in nuclear weapons policy.
This was not the case in other administrations. That it is the case in this
administration is highly unlikely to be a coincidence. Instead, it gives a strong
indication that it was envisioned in advance that the use of nuclear weapons
would be a central theme of the second term of the Bush administration.
The Bush administration has been busy in recent
years "deploying" the doctrine that will underpin the upcoming nuclear strike
against Iran. Some of this deployment occurred through presidential speeches, some through unclassified policy
documents, and some through classified documents, parts of which were "leaked."
It has been a well-orchestrated process with a clear purpose: that the more
alert sectors of the public and policymakers, and in particular the arms control community, become fully aware of it, so that
when nuclear weapons are used it does not come as a total surprise. At the same
time, the mainstream media have provided little coverage on the radical change
in the nuclear weapons doctrine (a few articles in the New York Times and Washington Post), so the issue has remained largely
invisible to the general public.
The National Security Strategy of the United States of America
of September 2002 codifies the doctrine of preemptive attacks, with phrases
"We cannot let our enemies strike first…"
"We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and
objectives of today's adversaries…"
"[E]ven if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's
"[T]he United States cannot remain idle while danger gathers…"
This doctrine was used with Iraq and will be used next with Iran.
The National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction
states, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the
right to respond with overwhelming force – including potentially nuclear
weapons – to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad,
and friends and allies."
The Nuclear Posture Review delivered to Congress in 2001
is classified, but portions have been made public. It substantially broadens
the role of nuclear weapons from their traditional role as deterrents against
nuclear countries to encompass non-nuclear "rogue" nations. It states that "U.S.
nuclear forces will now be used to dissuade adversaries from undertaking military
programs or operations that could threaten U.S. interests or those of allies
and friends," and that "Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets
able to withstand non-nuclear attack."
The Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations [.pdf] is
the Pentagon's implementation of the new nuclear posture. According to Hans Kristensen's analysis, "Foremost among the doctrine's
new features [is] the incorporation of preemption into U.S. nuclear doctrine…."
It lists a variety of new conditions under which nuclear weapons
will be used, including, "For rapid and favorable war termination on U.S. terms,"
"To demonstrate U.S. intent and capability to use nuclear weapons to deter adversary
use of WMD," and against "An adversary using or intending to use WMD against
U.S., multinational, or alliance forces or civilian populations."
The " Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms
Control" [.pdf] was produced by the National Institute for Public Policy and served as a basis
for the Nuclear Posture Review. Furthermore, five of its authors are in key
positions in the administration today as discussed above, and as a consequence,
the contents of this document are likely to reflect also the views of these
policymakers and forecast the future actions of the administration. Statements
in this document include:
- "[A] counterforce strategy will entail more targets, including many that
are harder to find and are better protected…"
- "[A] larger number of weapons, weapons with varied characteristics and
greater accuracy, will be needed for a counterforce strategy…"
- "Hardened targets built underground and deeply buried facilities are
the most difficult to destroy and will influence the required number and characteristics
of nuclear weapons…"
- "Examples of hardened and buried targets include missile silos, launch
control centers, concrete aircraft shelters, deeply buried command posts,
tunnels for missile storage and assembly, storage bunkers, and underground
facilities for weapons research and production…"
- "For example, although conventional weapons could be used to attack the
entrances, exits, or 'umbilicals' – electrical power, air supply, and
communications links – of a deeply buried facility, one or more nuclear
weapons might be required to destroy the facility itself…"
- "To ensure that enemy facilities or forces are knocked out and cannot
be reconstituted, attacks with nuclear weapons may be necessary. Indeed, in
the future the United States may need to field simple, low-yield, precision-guided
nuclear weapons for possible use against select hardened targets such as underground
biological weapons facilities."
In summary, the doctrines proclaimed by the administration envision preemptive
nuclear attacks on enemy facilities suspected of harboring WMD and other "assets
most valued" by the enemy.
Tactical Nuclear Weapons Deployment
It is generally believed that the U.S. has tactical
nuclear weapons deployed only in Western Europe, remnants of the Cold War. According
to Hans Kristensen of the Nuclear Information Project:
"The 480 bombs deployed in Europe represent more than 80 percent of
all the active B61 tactical bombs in the U.S. stockpile. No other U.S. nuclear
weapons are forward-deployed (other than warheads on ballistic missile submarines)."
According to Kristensen, the Nuclear Weapons Deployment Authorization Presidential
Directive (NSPD 35) merely "authorizes the military to continue deployment of tactical nuclear
weapons in Europe." However, Kristensen himself states that the new Doctrine
for Joint Nuclear Operations calls "for maintaining an aggressive nuclear posture with weapons
on high alert to strike adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD),
preemptively if necessary."
The reasons listed above make it essentially certain that NSPD 35 authorizes
deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf, and it is likely
that such deployment has already occurred and that the weapons are there for
the specific purpose of targeting Iran. The U.S. had tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea for many
years to defend against a massive conventional North Korean attack. It is easy
to argue that an invasion of southern Iraq by a 9-million strong Iranian Basij militia reacting to Israel's bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities cannot be
stopped without nuclear weapons.
The following statements in the
Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations [.pdf] suggest that tactical
nuclear weapons have been already deployed and are ready to be used, given that
"all options are on the table" with respect to Iran and that
many of Iran's facilities are underground:
- "Integrating conventional and nuclear attacks will ensure the
most efficient use of force and provide U.S. leaders with a broader range
of strike options to address immediate contingencies. Integration of conventional
and nuclear forces is therefore crucial to the success of any comprehensive
strategy. This integration will ensure optimal targeting, minimal collateral
damage, and reduce the probability of escalation."
- "Combatant commanders may consider the following target selection
factors to determine how to defeat individual targets. … 1. Time sensitivity.
2. Hardness (ability to withstand conventional strikes). 3. Size of target.
4. Surrounding geology and depth (for underground targets). 5. Required level
- "Nuclear weapons and associated systems may be deployed into theaters,
but combatant commanders have no authority to employ them until that authority
is specifically granted by the president."
- "Deployed nuclear-strike capabilities include … theater-based,
nuclear-capable dual-role aircraft."
- "Nuclear-capable aircraft offer a greater degree of flexibility
in escalation control because they may be a highly visible sign of resolve
and, once ordered to conduct a nuclear strike, are recallable, if necessary.
Aircraft-delivered weapons also provide strike capability across the range
of nuclear operations."
The F-16 fighter planes, of which there are many deployed in Iraq and surrounding American bases, are such
dual-role aircraft, capable of delivering B61-11 earth-penetrating nuclear bombs.
The Public Has a right to know
It is likely that the administration has briefed
key senators (e.g., John Warner, John McCain, Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Lieberman) on the deployment of tactical
nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf as classified information, arguing that it is necessary
to protect American troops in Iraq against an unprovoked Iranian attack, and
the American people from a possible terrorist attack with WMD sponsored by Iran,
and that making the information public could endanger American forces in Iraq
or make a terrorist attack more likely.
However, the use of nuclear weapons by the United States is a grave decision
that affects every man, woman, and child in America (not to mention the rest
of the world). The American public has a right to know if its government has
deployed nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf targeting Iran, because given the
circumstances described above, it is highly likely that those weapons will be used. The
administration has created the circumstances to make it appear that the
upcoming use of nuclear weapons against Iran will be "unavoidable." The
most likely (though not the only) scenario is that Israel will "pull the trigger," bombing some Iranian
facilities, and that the U.S. will be dragged into the conflict to protect American,
Iraqi, and Israeli lives. The use of low-yield nuclear weapons to destroy underground
Iranian facilities and deter an Iranian response will appear to be the most
"humane" path to achieve U.S. goals of eliminating Iran's nuclear program and
destroying its military capabilities, minimizing casualties, and achieving "rapid and favorable war termination on US terms."
The American public and the rest of the world will not fall for this deception.
The circumstances surrounding the nuking of Iran were created with the specific intent of making
the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. "unavoidable." The real purpose of nuking Iran is to establish the credibility of U.S. nuclear weapons as a deterrent against
any undesirable action by "rogue" states.
If Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and the other nuclear hitmen are really convinced
that this is the best course of action for America, they should make their case
public now. The president should tell the American people that the exercise
of "all options" against Iran will include nukes. He should
allow for a democratic debate on the pros and cons of using nuclear weapons
in the Iran situation, and on pursuing alternative courses of action, before
it is too late.
The president was not elected on an agenda of nuking a non-nuclear country, and the radical views of the nuclear
hitmen are not likely to be the views of the majority of Americans.
If the president engages in the use of nuclear weapons against Iran in the
coming weeks or months, without disclosing the preparations to the American
public, he will be making a mockery of the most fundamental democratic principles
that America represents. And he will have provided clear evidence of duplicitous
intent, no matter how many eloquent speeches he delivers afterwards.