Arms Control Experts Warn Bush Strategy to Counter WMD Threats Sends Wrong Signal to the World

For Immediate Release: December 12, 2002

Press Contacts: Wade Boese, (202) 463-8270 x104 or Christine Kucia, (202) 463-8270 x103

(Washington, D.C.): The Bush administration's release Tuesday of a six-page strategy promoting a central role for nuclear weapons in countering weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats undercuts global nonproliferation and arms control efforts by signaling to the world that the United States is maintaining, and possibly increasing, its reliance on nuclear weapons, while at the same time urging other countries to give up or forgo such weapons, arms control experts warned.

The Bush policy, outlined in a document titled "National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction," indicates the United States considers itself free to employ nuclear weapons if attacked with chemical or biological arms. The strategy explicitly states that the United States "reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force-including through resort to all of our options-to the use of WMD against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies."

"A policy that sets the United States above and apart from the rules that other states are expected to follow is ultimately unsustainable and self-defeating," Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, stated. "Perpetuating U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons as a key component of protecting U.S. security will only make the acquisition of nuclear weapons more attractive to others, not less."

Previous U.S. administrations did not rule out using nuclear weapons to respond to chemical and biological-and in the case of NATO, even conventional-weapons attacks. But Washington has stated within the context of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an accord the Bush administration claims to support, that the United States would not strike non-nuclear-weapon states with nuclear weapons unless that state joined with a country possessing nuclear weapons to assault the United States, its troops, or its allies.

John Rhinelander, a former State Department legal adviser, argued against reserving the right to use nuclear weapons to respond to chemical or biological attacks. He said, "McGeorge Bundy, a former presidential security advisor, reminded us years ago that nuclear weapons are fundamentally different. They always have been and always will be." Rhinelander described the Bush approach to deal with WMD threats as "blurring the distinction between nuclear and chemical and biological weapons, undercutting the NPT, and absolutely dead wrong because it is an invitation for others to go nuclear."

"The United States undermines its own long-term security by suggesting that nuclear weapons are an appropriate retaliation for chemical or biological weapons attacks," Jack Mendelsohn, a former arms control negotiator, declared. "The sole role for nuclear weapons, as long as they are part of the U.S. arsenal, should be dissuading or responding to their use by others," he said.

This latest Bush strategy document also reiterates the administration's emphasis on pre-emption and calls for new capabilities "to defend against WMD-armed adversaries." The Bush administration has consistently argued that new types of low-yield nuclear weapons could be the weapon of choice to destroy deeply buried and hardened targets potentially housing chemical or germ weapons.

Kimball asserted, "Using nuclear bombs for pre-emptive attacks on such targets is militarily impractical and morally wrong. The very pursuit of such weapons undermines norms against WMD and might prompt other states to follow our lead."

U.S. development of new nuclear weapons would surely entail the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing, a move that some Bush administration officials have been quietly exploring and encouraging.

Kimball pointed out that "the United States will be less secure in the future if it chooses to go down the nuclear testing path as a misguided solution for the threats it is facing today. Instead, the Bush administration should strive to bolster and expand existing arms control norms and tools, such as the Nunn-Lugar program to protect and destroy former Soviet nuclear weapons and materials, if the United States is to have any success in stemming WMD proliferation."

"The administration's 'do as I say, not as I do' strategy promises to undermine U.S. efforts to halt WMD proliferation," Kimball warned.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. Established in 1971,the Association publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.