The Bush administration is very focused these
days on Iran's nuclear program. This focus has only sharpened in the aftermath
of the International Atomic Energy Agency's recent report that Iran continues
to enrich uranium in defiance of a UN Security Council demand.
"A nuclear-armed Iran is not a very pleasant prospect for anybody to think
about," Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News' Jonathan Karl in Australia.
"It clearly could do significant damage. And so I think we need to continue
to do everything we can to make certain they don't achieve that objective."
Asked if the administration would continue to pursue diplomacy, the vice president
responded that while "we've been working with the EU and going through
the United Nations with sanctions … the president has also made it clear that
we haven't taken any options off the table."
In the White House, "options on the table" is code for military action.
There have been many media reports of U.S. preparations to attack Iran. But
the primary rationale for such an attack – to prevent Iran from going nuclear
– is deeply problematic. Not only is the United States beefing up its military
in general, it is even planning a modernization of its nuclear arsenal. The
nuclear hypocrisy of the Bush administration makes any resolution of the conflict
with Iran all the more difficult.
U.S. Military Spending
The new round of hand-wringing and saber-rattling
about Iran's nascent but worrisome nuclear program comes just a few weeks after
the Bush administration announced its new budget, which included billions for
nuclear weapons development. The Department of Energy's "weapons activities"
budget request totals $6.4 billion, a drop in the bucket compared to the Pentagon's
$481.4 billion proposed budget. But the budget for new nukes is large and growing
– even in comparison to Cold War figures.
During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year
(in current dollars). Almost two decades after the nuclear animosity between
the two great superpowers ended, the United States is spending one-and-a-half
times the Cold War average on nuclear weapons.
In 2001, the weapons-activities budget of the Department of Energy (DoE), which
oversees the nuclear weapons complex through the National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA), totaled $5.19 billion. Since President Bush's January 2002 "Nuclear
Posture Review" asserted the urgent need for a "revitalized nuclear
weapons complex" – "to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new
warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to
resume underground testing" – there has been more than a billion-dollar
jump in nuclear spending. Included in the $6.4 billion 2008 request is money
for "design concept testing" of two new nuclear warhead designs that
officials hope will be deployed on submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic
missiles – even as U.S. warships set their helms towards the Strait of Hormuz
to menace Iran back from the nuclear brink.
Costly, Illegal, and Dangerous
Key to revitalizing nuclear weapons is Complex
2030, the NNSA's"infrastructure planning scenario for a nuclear weapons
complex able to meet the threats of the 21st century." It is a costly,
illegal, and dangerous program aimed at rebuilding the 50-year-old nuclear facilities
where the weapons are both assembled and disassembled.
How Costly? The DOE estimates that Complex 2030 would require a capital
investment of $150 billion. But the Government Accountability Office says that
is way too low to fund even the basic maintenance of the eight nuclear facilities
currently operational throughout the country.
Why Illegal? Complex 2030 promises a return to the Cold War cycle
of design, development, and production of nuclear weapons, runs the risk of
a return to underground nuclear testing, and could require the annual manufacture
of hundreds of new plutonium pits – the fissile "heart" of a nuclear
weapon. These plans directly contradict U.S. treaty promises in 1968 "to
negotiate toward general and complete disarmament."
How Dangerous? Every step the United States takes away from the international
consensus on the illegality and immorality of nuclear weapons is a new incentive
and justification for other nations to pursue and brandish nuclear weapons.
In a 2006 report, the independent "Weapons of Mass Destruction" Commission
estimated the dark likelihood of 10 new nuclear powers within a decade. At the
end of January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the hand
of its Doomsday clock to five minutes to nuclear midnight, in part as a result
of "renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons."
As the United States surges forward in its nuclear renaissance, the threat
of nuclear terrorism and accidental nuclear strikes remains a grave yet under-funded
priority. The administration occasionally raises the specter of nuclear-armed
terrorists. In February 2004, for example, President Bush warned, "In the
hands of terrorists, weapons of mass destruction would be a first resort."
Despite its rhetoric, however, the administration has done nothing to accelerate
efforts to destroy and safeguard loose nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials,
allocating about $1 billion a year to these crucial nonproliferation efforts
(roughly the same amount that the Bush administration has been burning through
each day in Iraq). At this rate, it will be 13 years before Russian nuclear
material is secured.
The contradictions between what the administration is demanding of Tehran and
other powers, and the capabilities it is pursuing for its own arsenal, are provocative
and dangerous – a pernicious form of nuclear hypocrisy.
Dick Cheney is right – a nuclear-armed Iran is not a pleasant prospect, and
we have to do something. But the most effective option is the hardest to swallow.
Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the United States agreed to an "unequivocal
undertaking" to "eliminate" its nuclear weapons arsenal. Honoring
that commitment – and encouraging other declared and undeclared nuclear states
to do the same – would undercut Tehran's arguments about why nuclear firepower
is necessary. Oh, and by the way, it would also make the world feel a whole
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in Focus.