May 6, 2010 http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LE06Ak02.html OBAMA'S WAR MACHINE, Part 2America's nuclear intentions
By Jack A Smith
This is the conclusion of a two-part report.
Part 1: The Pentagon's game plan http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LE05Ak02.html
The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is of great importance because it concerns the most deadly weapons in the world. The report is overflowing with ambiguity. First it notes that President Barack Obama seeks "a world without nuclear weapons," but that he recognizes it may not be possible "in his lifetime."
Then it notes that after the Cold War "The threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased" because a terrorist may seek to bring a nuclear weapon into the United States. We assume this does not mean it is more dangerous today than during the Cold War, but it's not entirely clear.
It probably means that an al-Qaeda operative may enter the US with a nuclear weapon and detonate it. If so, it's odd that the latest NPR does not explain that in the unlikely event a weapon falls into the wrong hands, the chances of a successful nuclear terror attack are exceptionally slight due to complex technical reasons, and the fact that such a weapon has many intricate safeguards. Instead the American people are given one more exaggerated fear to dwell upon.
The New York Times and many websites carried the following comment regarding nuclear terrorism: "Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has written on nuclear history, said: 'The fear of a clandestine nuclear attack on American soil goes back to the very beginning of the nuclear era. There's certainly nothing new here, even if they didn't call it terrorism back in the '50s ... If you consider that the threat has been around for more than 60 years, you don't get overwhelmed by fear'."
One of the memorable descriptions of the Posture Review was supplied by Robert Haddick, editor of the Small Wars Journal, on April 9:
The authors of the ... NPR are attempting to deliver two messages. The first message attempts to show that the US government is making some significant changes to its nuclear weapons doctrine and force structure, changes that bring the world closer to being free of nuclear weapons. The second message asserts that the United States is doing no such thing at all and in fact will remain a fully modernized and supreme nuclear power.
The NPR lists "five key objectives of our nuclear weapons and posture". They are:
1. Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
2. Reducing the role of US nuclear weapons in US national security strategy.
3. Maintaining strategic deterrence and stability at reduced nuclear force levels.
4. Strengthening regional deterrence and reassuring US allies and partners.
5. Sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal.
We shall discuss number one and two, the most important.
"Preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism" is a worthy goal, but the Obama administration's approach to the problem is inadequate and politically motivated. No effort is made in the document to explain why complete nuclear disarmament - the only way to eliminate nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, and nuclear war - won't even be possible for the next 35 years (Obama's statistically remaining life span), if ever.
The US has been the main obstacle to complete nuclear disarmament during and after the Cold War. The Soviet Union repeatedly called for nuclear disarmament, and even proposed general and complete disarmament of each country's military apparatus, including nuclear weapons. In January 1986, several years before the USSR collapsed from internal political and economic contradictions, President Mikhail Gorbachev introduced another plan - this time calling for complete nuclear disarmament by 2000. Although at times sectors of the US ruling establishment viewed various such proposals favorably, a majority always demurred, as it does today.
If Washington boldly proposed the total nuclear disarmament of all nine nuclear nations under strict UN supervision, it probably would result in a treaty to eliminate the weapons within several years.
In this connection, when the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1970, the several nations in possession of nuclear weapons at the time were supposed to gradually reduce their arsenals to the extent of complete nuclear disarmament. That was 40 years ago, and while there have been reductions in Russian and US stockpiles, the final goal is absurdly distant. It should have transpired years ago.
Obama's effort to halt proliferation cannot possibly be sincere when he refuses to condemn and sanction three of the four countries that have produced a substantial number of nuclear weapons illegally in total violation of the NPT because they are US allies - India, Pakistan and Israel. Instead Obama vents fury, sanctions and the threat of attack upon North Korea, which possesses only a couple of relatively small nuclear weapons.
Most telling of all, however, is the NPR's implied threat to punish Iran with a nuclear attack, even though it does not have any nuclear weapons and repeatedly promises not to produce them. Here is the sentence pertaining to Iran: "The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations." Iran is technical violation because of a couple of minor incidents.
Here is how Defense Secretary Gates elaborated on this sentence: "The NPR has a very strong message for both Iran and North Korea, because whether it's in declaratory policy or in other elements of the NPR, we essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT. And basically, all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category, along with non-state actors who might acquire nuclear weapons."
The phrase "all options are on the table”, which Gates repeated in his next paragraph for emphasis, is standard George W Bush-Barack Obama speak for threatening certain small and weaker countries that displease the White House. Such bullying would never be directed against well-protected Russia.
Robert Parry, editor of the website Consortium News, wrote on April 18: "What is perhaps even more extraordinary about Obama's comments - and the nonchalant response from the US news media - is that the president appears to be exploiting technical disputes to overturn a broader principle that nuclear states should not threaten non-nuclear states with nuclear destruction."
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad responded with these words: "Even Bush did not say what Obama is saying."
Tehran is filing a formal complaint with the United Nations, reports an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman who noted that "such remarks prove that the countries which possess nuclear arms are the greatest threat to the global security." Iran strongly supports complete nuclear disarmament. At the Arab League summit in Libya March 28 delegates called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. They also requested the International Atomic Energy Agency to end technical assistance programs in Israel if Tel Aviv continues to avoid UN inspections.
The NPR's second objective is "reducing the role of US nuclear weapons". This does not mean reducing the number, deployed or in storage, just the role. And there is a very good reason to reduce the role: The US is developing a major non-nuclear alternative. It's called Prompt Global Strike (PGS) and sometimes Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS).
The US government realizes that there are serious problems with using nuclear weapons. Such weapons may be justified as a deterrent to avoid a nuclear exchange because strike and counter-strike would result in mutually assured destruction. But the entire world would object to a preemptive unilateral strike against a non-nuclear state. For instance, had the Bush administration's "shock and awe" terror bombing of Baghdad included nuclear weapons, the global outcry - substantial to begin with - would have been magnified a hundred fold, and the act would never be forgiven by much of the world. Indeed, it would spark proliferation as countries scrambled to build nuclear deterrents of their own, as did North Korea, to forestall a possible nuclear attack.
The document barely mentions Prompt Global Strike (PGS), revealing only that the Pentagon "is studying the appropriate mix of long-range strike capabilities, including heavy bombers as well as non-nuclear prompt global strike". Global Strike usually means nuclear bombs and missile warheads. PGS or CPGS means conventional, i.e., non-nuclear.
Prompt Global Strike relies on high-speed missiles, satellite mapping and other cutting edge military technology to launch a devastating non-nuclear payload from a military base in the US to destroy a target anywhere in the world in less than one hour. The purpose is to resolve the conundrum posed by the global inhibition toward the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, thus greatly strengthening the Obama administration's full spectrum military dominance.
Gates, a once leading Cold War hawk, had PGS in mind in an article he placed in the January-February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs titled "A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age". Writing of the need to balance nuclear capabilities with non-nuclear weapons, he declared: "The United States cannot take its current dominance for granted and needs to invest in the programs, platforms and personnel that will ensure that dominance's persistence."
PGS is a non-nuclear weapon on steroids. Along with existing nuclear missiles and anti-missile systems, this new addition, still in its experimental stage, will provide the United States with a decisive advantage over China and Russia, unnecessarily provoking an arms race, defensive or offensive, in a totally new weapon category.
According to a March 15 article by Global Security Newswire's Elaine M Grossman, the Air Force's Conventional Strike Missile, as it is named,
would initially boost into space like a ballistic missile, dispatch a 'hypersonic test vehicle' to glide and maneuver into a programmed destination, which could be updated or altered remotely during flight. Finally, it would dispense precision-guided munitions to hit its target. Traveling at speeds exceeding hypersonic Mach 5 the weapon could go from initial launch to destroying a target halfway around the globe in less than an hour.
A US president might be more likely to approve the launch of a Conventional Strike Missile because it would involve fewer negative consequences and less stigma than nuclear weapons, government officials assert. As it stands, the capability is very expensive, with per-weapon estimates approaching US$100 million or more. The Obama administration has requested $239.9 million for prompt global strike research and development across the military services in fiscal 2011.
It is expected to be war-ready in five to seven years.
To insure the right wing doesn't characterize claims of reducing weapons as signs of weakness, the White House dispatched both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gates to TV news programs last month to sing the praises of Pentagon power.
Appearing April 11 on This Week, hawkish Clinton intoned: "I think if you actually read the nuclear posture review, you would [understand] we intend to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent. Let no one be mistaken. The United States will defend ourselves, and defend our partners and allies. We intend to sustain that nuclear deterrent by modernizing the existing stockpile. In fact, we have $5 billion in this year's budget going into that very purpose.
"We believe ... that we can have the kind of deterrent that we need by modernizing our stockpile, but not necessarily having to replace and build new nuclear weapons. But if there is a conclusion down the road that there does have to be consideration for some kind of replacement, that decision will go to the president ... We do not see this as in any way a diminishment of what we are able to do."
Gates then chimed in: "We have more robust deterrents today, because we've added to the nuclear deterrent missile defense. And with the phased adaptive approach that the president has approved, we will have significantly greater capability to deter the Iranians, because we will have a significantly greater missile defense. We're also developing this conventional prompt global strike, which really hadn't gone anywhere in the Bush administration, but has been embraced by the new administration. That allows us to use long-range missiles with conventional warheads. So we have more tools, if you will, in the deterrents kit bag than - than we used to."
Everything is expressed as defensive deterrents; that's almost always the aggressor's way. Prompt Global Strike is an offensive tool par excellence. Nuclear weapons are both defensive, as a deterrent, and offensive, particularly when coupled with an anti-ballistic missile network.
Hans M Kristensen, project director for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, wrote the following April 7 for the FAS website:
The new NPR comes across as a surprisingly cautious document that ... for now preserves many of the key nuclear weapons force structure and policy elements of the previous administration ... For those of us who looked forward to the NPR to clearly and significantly reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons, however, the report is a disappointment. President Obama has cautioned that his vision of a nuclear free world might not happen in our lifetime and the NPR shows why he might be right.
The United States and Russia possess over 90% of global nuclear weapons and delivery systems, mostly accumulated during the Cold War (1945-1990). Significant reductions have taken place in the past. The recent US-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II reduced a portion of deployed nuclear warheads and delivery systems by about 30% to a shared total of over 3,000 strategic warheads, and 1,600 deployed strategic launchers.
The withdrawn weapons are to be taken off line and stored for possible future deployment, not destroyed. No new warheads are to be built since existing warheads will be upgraded for future deployment if required. The treaty did not interfere with the 200 US intermediate range warheads and delivery systems based in Western Europe, much to the chagrin of several European governments.
START II will become operative if approved in the senate by a two-thirds majority. It may have been watered down sufficiently to gain the 67 votes needed for approval. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said April 12 he believed it would pass but it might take several months. Congress still has not approved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was adopted by the United Nations general assembly nearly 14 years ago.
In an analysis of START for Truthout on April 19, Joseph Gerson, director of programs for the New England American Friends Service Committee, declared:
[It] is widely recognized as a very modest step that at best helps to stabilize relations between the world's two nuclear superpowers," noting that the reductions still leave the two states with "the destructive capacity on the order of 60,000 Hiroshimas." He further quotes The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to the effect that "due to the arcane arms control counting methods, a fully armed B-52 bomber will be counted as a single warhead, resulting in smaller reductions than most anticipate. No cuts in US and Russian nuclear stockpiles of about 20,000 warheads are included.
The State Department on April 8 made a special point of the fact that "the new START treaty does not contain any constraints on current or planned US conventional Prompt Global Strike capability". We have no evidence but assume the Russians must have raised the point and lost since Moscow is on record as strongly opposing PGS.
The QDR and NPR, followed by the Obama administration's April 12-13 nuclear summit meeting of 47 nations in New York are intended to set the stage for promoting the US agenda at the May 3-28 meeting of the UN's important 2010 review conference of the parties to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Washington wants its principal priorities - strengthening the NPT and intensifying efforts against nuclear terrorism - to be acted upon. It seeks to have Iran and North Korea punished. And it wants to be looked on as being compliant with the NPT in terms working toward complete nuclear disarmament.
Above all, the Obama administration seeks to convey the impression to the people of the US and the world that it is diligently trying to reduce weapons, ease world tensions, and diminish the danger of more war. In reality, the US government is widening the wars, hiking military spending, introducing an entirely new and disruptive weapon, while erecting obstacles to the swift attainment of nuclear disarmament.
Jack A Smith is editor of the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter in New York State and the former editor of the Guardian Newsweekly (US). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Copyright 2010 Jack A Smith.)