Pentagon Shocker: US Threatens Nuclear First Strike

by Fred Goldstein

Worker's World, 14 March 2002

Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), , 18 March 2002


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The Bush administration has dramatically escalated its campaign of global intimidation by going public with portions of the Pentagon's latest classified plans for the use of nuclear weapons and its targeting of China, Russia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya with these weapons.

By clearly throwing out the policy of using nuclear weapons for deterrence in favor of using them as part of the regular arsenal of warfare, the Bush administration and the Pentagon have openly demonstrated to the world that military madness and the quest for imperialist world domination are inseparable.

Bush has thrown down the challenge to the anti-war movement and the working class and oppressed of the whole world to escalate the struggle against Washington's war plans. The Pentagon has expanded its definition of the so-called "war against terrorism" and enumerated a long series of instances in which it would carry out a nuclear attack, including "in the event of surprising military developments." This is a policy carte blanche that can cover just about any situation in any country that the Pentagon cares to designate.

The planning revealed by the Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) document "reverses an almost two-decade-long trend of relegating nuclear weapons to the category of weapons of last resort," wrote William Arkin in the Los Angeles Times of March 10. Arkin, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins and an adjunct professor at the U.S. Air Force School of Advanced Airpower Studies, wrote that the NPR "offers a chilling glimpse into the world of nuclear-war planners: With a Strangelovian genius, they cover every conceivable circumstance in which the president might wish to use nuclear weapons-planning in great detail."


In the new policy guidelines, the Pentagon is dealing with the fact that the nuclear arsenal it built up during the struggle to destroy the Soviet Union and socialism left it with a devastating military technology that it could not use for ordinary warfare. Furthermore, the very existence of the Soviet Union was a deterrent to Washington threatening smaller, oppressed countries with nuclear weapons. The NPR seeks to remedy this situation.

In the NPR, "Defense Department strategists," continued Arkin, "promote tactical and so-called 'adaptive' nuclear capabilities to deal with contingencies where large nuclear arsenals are not demanded. They seek a host of new weapons and support systems, including conventional weapons and cyber warfare capabilities integrated with nuclear warfare."

The review calls for incorporation of "nuclear capability" into many of the conventional systems now under development. For example, an extended-range conventional cruise missile in the works for the U.S. Air Force "would have to be modified to carry nuclear warheads if necessary." The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should be modified to carry nuclear weapons. Starting in April, research is to begin on fitting an existing nuclear warhead into a new, 5,000-pound earth- penetrating bomb.

The NPR completely abandons the pretext of the so-called "war against terrorism" in using nuclear weapons. It cites examples of situations when it would use them: if the DPRK invaded South Korea; if Iraq attacked Israel; if the People's Republic of China was at war with Taiwan.

All three instances would be examples of nations that have been oppressed by imperialism fighting back against U.S.- backed regimes that had been set up to defeat the national liberation struggle, or the socialist revolution, and protect the interest of the giant U.S. banks and multinational corporations. In other words, if any of the major clients of U.S. imperialism were to be militarily threatened, the Pentagon would use nuclear weapons.

The most immediately ominous aspect of the release of these plans is the timing. The classified information revealed in the documents leaked to the Los Angeles Times of March 10 has been known since Jan. 8, when it was sent to Congress as part of the nuclear policy review. Deputy Secretary of Defense for International Policy J.D. Crouch and other officials testified publicly on the unclassified sections of the document. The Pentagon refused to answer questions about any of the details-until this leak.


Whereas the Pentagon was tight-lipped in January, the administration is now relishing these revelations. They have been suspiciously timed to coincide with the 11-nation tour Vice President Dick Cheney is making. He is on his way to the Middle East to line up support for a U.S. war against Iraq.

The document emphasizes using nuclear weapons against governments that have "weapons of mass destruction." The U.S. propaganda campaign aimed at opening up a big war against Iraq is exclusively predicated on the supposed possession by Baghdad of "weapons of mass destruction." The timing and the terminology are unmistakably aimed at bringing down the regime of Saddam Hussein.

This goal on the part of Washington has nothing to do with eliminating "weapons of mass destruction." It is the U.S. military that is overloaded with enough means of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical and biological--to destroy the world several times over. U.S. imperialism is the only country that ever used nuclear weapons and has used nuclear extortion as a weapon of its diplomacy for over 55 years.

This campaign has everything to do with intimidating the Iraqi government, trying to engender splits and demoralization as a precursor to invasion. The goal is to establish a U.S. puppet government that would turn over the fabulous wealth represented by the 100 billion barrels of Iraq's oil reserves to the oil monopolies behind the Bush administration. These threats are also calculated to intimidate the regimes of the Middle East into collaborating in the effort to bring down the Iraqi government in order to avoid a massive war.

To emphasize the U.S. determination to go to war, Cheney has been in London asking for the "possible commitment of 25,000 British troops to topple Saddam Hussein," according to the Mirror of March 11. The British imperialists are extremely reluctant to be pulled into a U.S. war, but the Blair regime feels duty bound to comply with the demands of its overlord.

Meanwhile, thousands have taken to the streets against British participation in the war against Iraq and the cabinet may split over it.


It is most noteworthy that the ruling class here and its media have been relatively passive and silent about this development. This contrasts with 1991 in the period prior to launching the Gulf War against Iraq, when President George Bush Sr. threatened that if Iraq used chemical weapons, the U.S. might retaliate with nuclear weapons. Bush was later forced to write that he did not really intend to carry out the threat.

The mood in the present Bush administration is quite different. Defense Secretary Colin Powell went on CBS's "Face the Nation" on March 10 and characterized the NPR as "prudent" planning. "We think it is best for any potential adversary out there to have uncertainty in his calculus."

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Washington wanted "to send a very strong signal to anyone who might try to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States that they'd be met with a devastating response."

And Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN's "Late Edition" on the same day that "this preserves for the president all the options a president would want to have in case this country, its friends and allies were attacked with weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, biological, chemical or, for that matter, high explosives."

In other words, far from being defensive about the leak of this classified information, the administration had a coordinated media blitz to arrogantly defend the NPR and to proclaim before the world that any oppressed country targeted by Washington and Wall Street that tries to develop any significant deterrent to aggression by the super-armed superpower risks nuclear destruction.

Whether or not this military madness will lead to a split in the ruling class or not, and thus to a struggle over policy, is a matter of sheer speculation. Indeed, at this point the New York Times finally found its voice, after a period of delay, and wrote an editorial, "America as Nuclear Rogue."

The Times pointed out that such a policy could force other countries to develop nuclear weapons as a matter of deterrent and "the unrestrained use of nuclear weapons in war could end life as we know it. Nuclear weapons are not just another part of the military arsenal. They are different, and lowering the threshold for their use is reckless folly."

At present, and for the last several months, the Times seems to be quite lonely in its attempts to restrain the Bush administration and the Pentagon. The Democratic Party establishment has been down on its knees praising Bush in his war drive as he sends troops to the Philippines, Yemen, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and brought devastating destruction to the people of Afghanistan. They have uttered only the meekest and most ineffectual protests about this or that detail of the war.

It is important to note that the Times does not really bemoan the suffering of the mass of the people in the colonial world who would be incinerated in a nuclear attack. They bemoan the end of life as we know it, in general. They fear the escalation that would bring down capitalist civilization along with everything else.

They are quite ready to put up with the horrendous bombs euphemistically called daisy cutters, along with napalm, smart bombs and all the other conventional means of destroying the workers and oppressed in their struggles. They do not want to call back the F-16s or the Apache helicopters that are devastating Palestinian towns and refugee camps. And they are fully prepared to support a full- scale attack on the people of Iraq, just as they have backed the genocidal sanctions.


What the Times does not point out is that the madness lying behind the military minds in the Pentagon think-tanks is the madness of the finance capitalist profiteers and the multinationals that will stop at nothing to plunder and loot the globe for profit. That is where the madness begins and that is what the military was designed to serve in the first place.

The movement must never wait for the moderates in the ruling class to bring the Pentagon to its senses. Reaction and military adventure are an integral part of imperialism in its superpower phase. And now that the USSR no longer stands in their way, the military planners feel like the Roman emperors whose legions conquered the world.

But the difference between the Roman emperors and the modern rulers in the U.S. is that this ruling class will have to ultimately face a worldwide working class, including especially the working class right here at home. The workers will inevitably wake up and resist not only the nuclear plans of the Pentagon but the system of exploitation that is its foundation.

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