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MoveOn Bulletin: The New U.S. Nuclear Posture


MoveOn Bulletin
Friday, June 6, 2003
Noah T. Winer, Editor

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In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg was working at the Defense Department. Recognizing that the public was being deceived about Vietnam and anticipating that President Nixon was about to escalate the war, Ellsberg risked imprisonment to leak the Pentagon Papers -- 7,000 pages of top-secret memoranda -- to the New York Times. This would ultimately force Nixon to resign rather than face impeachment.

Ellsberg's recent book, "Secrets," undermines the naive assumption of many Americans that political leaders' inexplicable actions in times of war are based on accurate information from reliable sources. "Secrets" provides much needed insight for today's situation as many question the information President Bush used to base his claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Daniel Ellsberg will respond to five of the top questions written by MoveOn members. Post your questions at:


1. Introduction: The Nuclear Future
2. One Link
3. No More Hawks and Doves
4. Reviewing the Nuclear Posture
5. The Direction Since Sept. 11
6. The Bush-Putin Treaty
7. Mini-Nukes
8. Nuclear Weapons Go Underground
9. Credits
10. About the Bulletin



For years, the threat of nuclear catastrophe consumed the energies of many activists. Washington and Moscow both seemed willing to risk the lives of millions of human beings in order to maintain nuclear superiority. And then the Cold War ended.

Once rhetoric shifted to understanding the post-Cold War strategic environment, talk of nuclear expansion subsided. The assumption was that the weapons were no longer necessary and would be cooperatively dismantled by the now-friendly nuclear powers. This was, after all, in everyone's interest.

Yet de-escalation has not ruled the day. The focus has shifted from communists to terrorists and while there is no evidence that terrorists have nuclear weapons, there is evidence they are trying to procure them. Precisely because dismantling never occurred, Russia still possesses nuclear weapons in great numbers, but they are now less securely protected. Once again, nuclear weapons must be preserved as a deterrent.

More frighteningly, smaller nuclear weapons must be developed which would serve not as a deterrent, but as a usable complement to conventional weapons. These changes are immediate history -- the Bush-Putin nuclear arms treaty signed this week, the ban on developing small nukes lifted only last month -- and that history continues to unfold. This week's bulletin will prepare you to participate in the history to come.



If you read nothing else in this week's bulletin, read this article from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

"[President Bush] should ask whether adopting a military posture right now to counter aggressive 'peer competitors' that might arise in the invisible future could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, while also aggravating the dangers that exist today.Ê He should, instead, move towards an unambiguous and whole-hearted endorsement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and demonstrate this commitment by asking the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."



"Forget hawks and doves. The post-Cold War political struggle is between 'dominators' and 'conciliators.' Right now, thanks especially to Osama bin Laden, those who believe U.S. national security lies in raw military power, not cooperative agreements, are in control."



The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is a military planning document Congress mandated in 2000. The Bush administration delivered the NPR in 2002, but its contents were classified. Leaked versions reveal the NPR recommends a greater role for nuclear weapons and missile defense.

The Natural Resources Defense Council published an analysis of the NPR called "Faking Nuclear Restraint."

Analysis from the engineering organization IEEE describes how the NPR conflicts with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Or maybe we're just "nuclear alarmists." So say two research fellows at the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies.



"While there is much the Bush administration might have done to make nuclear terrorism less likely, the path they have chosen increases the risks of nuclear terrorism. It also undermines our relationship with countries we need in the fight against terrorism in general and nuclear terrorism in particular."



In 2002, President Bush met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss reducing deployable nuclear warheads. They drafted the Treaty of Moscow which has since been ratified by the U.S. Senate and Russian parliament. On Sunday, Bush and Putin signed the treaty in St. Petersburg, bringing it into full effect.

Questions remain as to the seriousness of this arms reduction. This Chicago Tribune op-ed challenges Bush's claim that the treaty will "liquidate the legacy of the Cold War":

"Moving [nuclear] weapons from silos, where they are extremely secure, to warehouses, where they may not be, would be a gift to Al Qaeda and every other outlaw group that lusts after Russia's 'loose nukes.' If we want to reduce the danger, we have to persuade the Russians to destroy nuclear weapons so that no one can ever use them. But they won't do that unless we agree to do the same."



The Bush administration has lobbied for the repeal of a 10-year ban on research and development of "low-yield" nuclear weapons. Opponents have argued these smaller nukes would blur the distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear weaponry, making nuclear warfare more palatable.

In a late May vote, Senators Edward Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein were unable to preserve the ban. On the Senate floor, Kennedy asked: "Is half a Hiroshima OK? Is a quarter Hiroshima OK? Is a little mushroom cloud OK? That's absurd. The issue is too important. If we build it, we'll use it."

Senator Feinstein on low-yield nuclear weapons:

"The political effects of U.S. pursuit of new nuclear weapons could well be to legitimize nuclear weapons, and U.S. nuclear planning could serve as a pretext for other countries and, worse, terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, to build or acquire their own bombs."

Slate magazine on the Pentagon's Dr. Strangelove, Keith Payne, whose nuclear infatuation is now making policy. Of nuclear war, Payne once wrote: "an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million ... a level compatible with national survival and recovery."



From Popular Science magazine:

"[T]he Pentagon has begun to consider the previously unthinkable: developing specially designed nuclear weapons for attacking buried caves and tunnels.... Such a move would represent the most significant rewriting of U.S. nuclear strategy in decades, because its intended purpose violates the two cornerstones of current policy: to use nuclear weapons only as a last resort and never to use them against non-nuclear nations.",12543,351094,00.html


CREDITS Research team: Leah Appet, Russ Juskalian, Janelle Miau, Kim Plofker, and Bland Whitley.

Editing team: David Taub Bancroft, Melinda Coyle, Eileen Gillan, Judy Green, Mary Anne Henry, and Rita A. Weinstein.



The MoveOn Bulletin is a free email bulletin providing information, resources, news, and action ideas on important political issues. The full text of the MoveOn Bulletin is online at ; you can subscribe to it at that address. The MoveOn Bulletin is a project of is an issue-oriented, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that gives people a voice in shaping the laws that affect their lives. engages people in the civic process, using the Internet to democratically determine a non-partisan agenda, raising public awareness of pressing issues, and coordinating grassroots advocacy campaigns to encourage sound public policies. You can help decide the direction of by participating in the discussion forum at:

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