Plans Tidal Wave of Nuclear Proliferation by Ira Chernus
on Wednesday, January 5, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
There’s another tsunami coming -- a tidal
wave of nuclear proliferation. This one is human-made.
So it can be prevented, if enough people know
about in time. We do have an early warning system:
the news media. When it comes to nuclear proliferation,
though, our warning system is pretty much out
of commission. We are nearly as defenseless as
last week’s tsunami victims.
Oh, we do spend U.S. tax dollars to warn the world
of the nuclear danger. On December 27, the Voice
of America broadcast news of a UN report on proliferation:
the international community "is approaching
a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation
regime could become irreversible and result in
a cascade of proliferation." At least 40
nations have the technology to build nuclear weapons
at relatively short notice.
But the VOA only mentions two of those nations
as dangers: Iran and North Korea. What about the
other 38? Apparently, in this age of a “what-me-worry”
president, we just aren’t supposed to worry.
At the tail end of its news item, the VOA adds
this: “Nuclear issues will be discussed
next year in New York, during the review of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty -- the legal cornerstone
of non-proliferation efforts. Under terms of the
pact, non-nuclear states are bound not to acquire
nuclear weapons while the five declared nuclear
states (the United States, France, Britain, China
and Russia) pledge to disarm. The four-week session
in May will bring the 187 signatories together
to debate whether the treaty needs to be revised
and strengthened to meet the nuclear challenges
in the years ahead.”
But neither the VOA, nor any U.S. news media,
have reported the important news about that meeting
in May: the Bush administration is going to New
York not to strengthen the NPT, but to destroy
Do you want to know why? You could study every
news outlet in the USA and not get an answer.
You have to go to Japan, where the Kyodo News
Agency reported a few days ago: “The United
States plans to suggest that a 2005 international
conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty should invalidate a document adopted at
a 2000 meeting in which five nuclear powers committed
to an ‘unequivocal undertaking’ to
a nuclear-free world, according to U.S. government
and congressional sources.”
In other words, the U.S. wants to scrap the very
heart of the NPT, the deal that says if all you
non-nuclear nations stay that way, we nuclear
nations will move steadily toward getting rid
of our nukes. If the treaty were permanent, we’d
be stuck with that deal. That’s why the
U.S., under the Clinton administration, insisted
that the treaty be reviewed and subject to change
every five years.
Now the Bushies are planning, not merely to change
it, but to make it meaningless. They want to tell
all the non-nuclear states: “Y’all
must stay non-nuclear, but we’ll have as
many nukes as we want. We’ll make new nukes
but keep the old. And if you don’t like
it, just take a good look at Iraq, because you
could be next.”
According to the Kyodo News Agency report, this
makes perfect sense in Bush-logic: “A U.S.
government official described the final accord
adopted during the 2000 NPT review conference
as a ‘simply historical document’
and pointed out the need to adopt a new document
reflecting drastic changes in international security
conditions, including the Sept 11 terrorist attacks
The NPT is an international treaty signed by the
president and ratified by the Senate. Most of
us thought that made it law. How silly of us.
It’s not “a binding guideline or anything
like that," the anonymous official explained.
The idea that the U.S. should move toward nuclear
disarmament is now “outdated,” so
it must go.
“A congressional source also pointed out
that an article in the NPT which requires nuclear
powers to make a serious commitment to disarmament
was created against the backdrop of a nuclear
arms race between the United States and the Soviet
Union during the Cold War,” the Japanese
Now that no other country has nuclear capability
even remotely close to ours, why should we let
all those little countries tell us what nukes
we can or cannot have? When George W. was planning
the invasion of Afghanistan, he reportedly said:
“At some point, we may be the only ones
left [in the coalition]. That’s okay with
me. We are America.” No doubt his attitude
about nukes is pretty much the same.
Administration policy now authorizes preemptive
nuclear attack against nations that it says are
close to acquiring nuclear weapons. No proof needed.
Suspicion is good enough. And if the rest of the
world is outraged, well, screw ‘em. We are
All this fits the Bush pattern of nuclear irresponsibility,
which Lawrence Korb recently described in the
Boston Globe. In the last four years, the U.S.
withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
kept the Senate from ratifying the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty, refused to commit itself to halting
future tests, and began work on two new nuclear
weapons. The U.S. now spends nearly $7 billion
a year for nuclear research and upgrading US nuclear
capabilities, and the spending curve keeps rising.
But if the administration demands this radical
change to the NPT, it will take nuclear irresponsibility
to a new level, because it will effectively destroy
the Treaty. If the U.S. won’t even pay lip
service to the idea of a non-nuclear world, why
should Iran, North Korea, or any other nation
renounce their right to have their own nukes?
If the U.S. is boosting its own nuclear program,
why shouldn’t others follow suit? The only
reason the Bushies will give them is fear of U.S.
attack. That takes away the last fig-leaf of moral
justification from U.S. non-proliferation efforts.
It turns the world into a schoolyard where the
U.S. is the reigning bully, ruling by nuclear
Our news media keep telling us that it’s
only Iran and North Korea we need worry about.
But any country can be added to the “axis
of evil” list. The British press is now
reporting that Egypt has done nuclear weapons
research too. As long as the Egyptians are “good
guys,” we won’t hear much about that
in the U.S. media. But if the Egyptians step out
of line, they could easily end up part of the
The message coming from the Bush administration
and the U.S. media is clear. It’s not about
the danger of weapons of mass destruction. It’s
about using the fear of that danger, along with
our own growing nuclear arsenal, as a club to
rule the schoolyard roost.
Iran and North Korea are already showing quite
effectively that the schoolyard bully approach
won’t work. Either all nations make the
same commitment to a nuclear-free world, or we
end up where the UN report sees us going: “the
erosion of the non-proliferation regime could
become irreversible and result in a cascade of
proliferation." Which route is safer for
America? It should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately,
we face four more years of a scarecrow administration
with no brain.
May 1, as the NPT meeting in New York begins,
will be a day for massive demonstrations to warn
the wold of the coming nuclear tidal wave. It
will be a day to say “No” to Bush’s
brainless nuclear bully approach and “Yes”
to a nuclear-free world. It’s not too early
to begin sounding the alarm. Those of us who care
about the safety of America and the world can’t
wait for the mainstream news media to do it. We
have to take care of that business ourselves.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies
at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author
of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org