Nuclear disarmament: Onus on the US

The two-day nuclear security summit in Washington DC that marked the culmination of US President Barack Obama’s unprecedented nuclear disarmament diplomacy laid out a three-part strategy to address the nuclear threats facing the world.

The strategy consists of proposing measures to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals, strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty and halting proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states; and preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials.

Obama has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize so that he remains the pacifist. In 2005, the Nobel committee awarded the International Atomic Energy Agency and its then chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, for their efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It was considered a ‘blow’ to Bush’s policies of dealing with nuclear issues unilaterally, and the US focus on non-proliferation to the exclusion of disarmament — both of which are required by the NPT.

ElBaradei looked firmly against the US intent to expand its nuclear arsenal and promulgate policies that would allow it to pre-emptively use its nukes. The Pentagon’s ‘Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations’ provides for the US to use nuclear weapons to counter potentially overwhelming conventional adversaries, to secure a rapid end of a war on US terms, or simply “to ensure success of US and multinational operations”.

Radiation in Iraq
Obama has to do a lot of expiation. If Harold Pinter, the British Literature Nobel laureate, is to be believed, the USA has never owned up to its use of depleted uranium during the Gulf war and the ‘appallingly high’ level of radiation in Iraq.

When the US attacked the Sunni city of Fallujah, the US and Iraqi military forced out the town’s residents, bombed hospitals and buildings, attacked whole neighbourhoods, and denied entry to relief workers. There was a shocker titled ‘Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre’ on offer, featuring interviews with US soldiers, Iraqi doctors and international journalists on the US attack on Fallujah. Produced by Italian state broadcaster RAI TV, the documentary by Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta charges US warplanes of illegally dropping white phosphorus incendiary bombs on civilian populations, burning the skin off Iraqi victims.

Between 1945 and 1992, according to a rather dated record, the USA conducted 1,054 nuclear tests and two nuclear attacks. Between 1940 and 1996, the US spent at least $5.8 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons development. In November 1997, Bill Clinton had issued a presidential directive which declared that nuclear weapons would remain central to US defence policy indefinitely and that Washington has the right to target not only nuclear rivals, but even prospective nuclear states that might threaten US interests.
According to an article in the ‘International Herald Tribune’ around 100 specialists at the US nuclear weapons laboratories were involved in an initial $9 million project, one that was planned to develop into a full-scale programme capable of producing designs for completely new weapons within the next 5 to 10 years.

Using nuclear weapons
In March 2002, a copy of the Pentagon’s revised Nuclear Posture Review that was leaked to the ‘Los Angeles Times’ revealed that the US has ‘contingency’ plans to use nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Libya, and also in the event of ‘surprising military developments.’

President Obama has inherited a troubled legacy, which is why he seems to have frontloaded the threat of nuclear terrorism as the most serious threat of the 21st century.  Both the USA and Russia have earlier declared large amounts of former defence-purpose plutonium to be excess to defence needs. So the recent nuclear arms control treaty between the two nations is a welcome thing.

Still, not only the US, but other countries like Russia and China have to play a greater role in nuclear non-proliferation. Significant domestic and international efforts will be required to ensure the safety and security of Russia’s current stockpiles of weapons and materials and to ensure that they do not leak into the weapon programmes of other states or subnational groups.

The continuing nature of China’s role as an int ernational supplier of nuclear technology to weapon programmes is in question. It has exported nuclear-capable missiles notably to Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia America must don the mantle of major dismantling, followed by Russia and China. Non-state actors supposed to act as nuclear deviants are often known to draw sustenance from some big nations’ client states.

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