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Nuclear (non) proliferation

Illustration by Holly Randall
By Dan Post
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
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There are more than 180 nations that signed on to the Global Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, and only nine of them are nuclear weapons states (India, Pakistan and Israel are nuclear states that aren't signed on to the treaty). The treaty demands that the non-nuclear countries not acquire any weapons, on the condition that weapon holding countries like the United States begin programs of disarmament. Every five years, the member countries meet at the United Nations to review the progress of the treaty. This year, it seems that things are going in the wrong direction.

On the eve of the conference, North Korea launched a short range missile into the Sea of Japan. Then Kim Jong Il called George Bush a "philistine" and a "hooligan." Iran announced that it wants to build 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment for peaceful, electricity generating purposes. Their foreign minister accused the United States of using its power to keep the positive benefits of nuclear technology out of less-developed nations' hands.

Bush's spokesmen responded with equally sharp language, calling Kim Jong Il a "bully" and "not a good person." They responded to Iran's nuclear aggression with some aggression of their own, demanding Iran halt their nuclear programs completely. They are paranoid that Iran's true intentions are to build weapons.

Yet the Bush administration isn't exactly pacifist itself. This month the administration announced plans to pursue low-yield nuclear bunker busting technology. These nuclear weapons can destroy underground facilities and, if aimed at underground facilities near urban areas, could kill up to 2 million people, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences. Linton Brooks of the National Nuclear Security Administration, claims that the United States' nuclear stockpile "inherited from the Cold War may not be the right stockpile militarily," adding that "we have no capability against hard and deeply buried targets. Our systems are unsuited for some specialized missions."

Dan Post

Of course the United States and its nuclear weapons supporters claim that the weapons are merely for the deterrence of nuclear war. This argument obviously has some merit. No country would dare start a nuclear war with the United States; we would respond by unleashing the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. But would the United States threaten to use a nuclear weapon pre-emptively? Many who opposed the Iraq war felt that its pre-emptive nature was leading the country down a path toward pre-emptive nuclear war. This is an option that many non-nuclear states are clearly threatened by, and it is driving the rising tensions on the global nuclear scene.

These non-nuclear countries are asking the United States for negative security assurances which are promises that the United States won't act preemptively with nuclear missiles. As the United States has so far refused to make such promises, escalating conditions such as those between America and North Korea and Iran are understandable - these countries feel threatened by American foreign policy and are protecting their own interests.

Of course, the United States is equally scared that North Korea and Iran are developing a pre-emptive strategy, and uses this as a reason for its current steps toward proliferation. This cyclical bickering leaves open the realm of preemptive action and no progress ever gets made.

But progress can be made if the United States takes the lead. It would be smart policy to end any new research and development on nuclear weapons here in the states. To the rest of the world, such research and development of bunker busters looks hypocritical, dishonest, and frightening. Because America has handfuls of nuclear warheads left over from the cold war, we don't need bunker busters to maintain a policy of nuclear deterrence. If these policy changes were implemented, and we truly committed to disarmament, the global nuclear crisis might begin to recede.

Plus, the bunker busting research and development is costing well over a $100 million, which would be much better spent in other nuclear related areas of homeland security.

In reports obtained by The Washington Post yesterday, the federal government examined its own preparedness to deal with a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city. The reports found that first responders and emergency workers are grossly under funded and undereducated; if such an attack happened, emergency workers would likely be unable to effectively minimize casualties. Additionally, reports described the country's lack of a nuclear alert system - as it currently stands there is no national alarm system for nuclear attack - and as a result, the potential for large amounts of casualties in the case of a nuclear attack remains high.

Rather than taking an aggressive and risky foreign policy approach to nuclear proliferation, the United States would be better served in compromising to some of the demands of the non-nuclear states and spending more money on nuclear attack readiness here at home.

Dan Post is an anthropology and ecology senior. He can be reached at

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