Washington Pushes the Nuclear Taboo
Experts work hard on new anti-bunker weapons.
By Pascal Riche
Thursday 07 August 2003
Ten minutes south of Omaha, Offutt airbase appears from a distance to be a university campus. However the entrance, flanked by two enormous airplanes, a B52 and an EC135, is not easy: "If you cross this line, you'll be handcuffed. I don't recommend it", suggests a soldier. "StratCom" (Strategic Command), in charge of piloting the American nuclear arsenal, is located behind the bars in an armored underground shelter. That's where George W. Bush was hidden during the chaotic day of September 11, 2001...
This week, they fool around even less with security since the base expects to host a very secret meeting of very high level experts responsible for imagining the nuclear arsenal of the future. At least 150 scientists and strategists (from the Pentagon, the White House, laboratories such as Los Alamos, and even from contractors like Lockheed Martin...), all involved in nuclear military use, are to be hosted by StratCom today. The order of the day for this "Bomb Jamboree" was leaked on an anti-nuclear site, the Los Alamos Study Group. Among the subjects for discussion: how to marry the nuclear arsenal to new precision weapons? Should nuclear anti-bunker weapons be developed? Should nuclear tests be resumed? So many questions that demonstrate that the Bush administration is not afraid to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons, nor to take the exact opposite direction from internationally accepted doctrine, namely that the atomic bomb should serve as deterrent and for nothing else.
Gatherings. American pacifists sounded the alarm, without triggering much commotion. This weekend, a few gatherings were held in Omaha. "Nebraska's motto is "The Good Life"! How can they have a meeting here to develop the most fatal weapons in human history!" fulminates Becca Kaiser, a young militant from Lincoln. However, only 300 people (including a few survivors of Hiroshima) showed up Sunday at the entrance to Offutt Base, to demand "an inspection of the weapons of mass destruction"...
The meeting, dubbed "Stockpile Stewardship Conference", was decided on at the beginning of the year by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's entourage. The names of the participants are not public. No Congressional representative has been invited. The only organization capable of "civil" oversight of these discussions, the "National Nuclear Security Administration Advisory Panel", an offshoot of the Energy Department, was dissolved without advance notice... "These experts cultivate secrecy to try and surreptitiously advance their projects and so preempt political debate", concludes Greg Mello, Director of the Los Alamos Study Group.
To justify the study of "new" nuclear weapons, Pentagon experts bring up their present inability to reach deeply buried bunkers. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, there are 10,000 military bunkers in 70 countries, 1,400 of which are linked to weapons of mass destruction... However these bunkers are outside the reach of American forces, which, in these terrorist days, Washington considers in itself an enormous threat. Only nuclear weapons would allow-perhaps- a resolution of this "technical impediment".
One of the fiercest advocates for the development of these weapons is the President of the National Institute for Public Policy, Keith Payne, who, after spending a year in the Pentagon, earned the nickname, "Rumsfeld's Dr. Strangelove". He should be participating in today's meeting. He asserts that these new nuclear weapons, far from reviving the arms race, will actually lead to a... reduction of proliferation. In fact, he explained to the New York Times, they would deter hostile countries from investing in the construction of underground arsenals...
Dance of ideas. These arguments have found a fertile compost heap in the present administration. By declaring the MAD ("Mutual Assured Destruction") doctrine, on which deterrence rested up to now, obsolete, Bush opened the dance of new ideas. In December 2001, the Nuclear Posture Review, a theoretically confidential document submitted to Congress by the Pentagon, suggested the hypothesis of new nuclear tests to "respond to the goals of the twenty-first century" and considered it necessary "to develop new capabilities to respond to emerging threats, such as deeply buried targets..." The war against terrorism has exploded all taboos. So, Gary Schmidt, Director of the neoconservative research center, the Project for a New American Century, rejects the idea that there was a "red line" in this area that should not be crossed: "These new projects will not trigger proliferation because proliferation already exists", he concludes.
Congress, however, is more cautious. Last month, the House of Representatives dramatically reduced the projected budget for research in new weapons, considering them "premature". The final Senate position remains to be seen: it will have the last word when the recess is over.
Translation: TruthOut French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.