"The domino theory of the 21st century may well be nuclear"

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Announcement of the first Tomdispatch contest: Any reader attending a demonstration anywhere on earth this weekend, who has created his or her own sign and wants to share it with the rest of us, please let me know what it said and where you demonstrated. If I get enough signs, I’ll create a “signs of our time” dispatch early next week. I will also dramatically reveal my own sign, just now being elegantly transcribed onto poster-board by my daughter. The grand prize for the winning contestant will be an all-expenses paid trip to any American base of your choice in any of the former SSRs of Central Asia, a winter wonderland experience, and only a hop, skip and a jump from the Afghan border! Or should no winner be declared, simply the satisfaction of having created a great sign.

Rules of the contest: You, or a loved — or at least liked — one with you, must carry the sign. You can’t just send in signs you happen to notice. If you or your loved one happens to be an oil executive, you can still enter the contest, but you are ineligible for the grand prize. (You’ll undoubtedly be heading for Central Asia soon anyway.)

I noted this morning that a halfhearted New York Times editorial about the ban on the New York march finally appeared, shooting blanks at the present (“…the city seems to be within its rights under First Amendment law…”), but more or less pleading with “the city” to secure our future by (fat chance) not making this a precedent. (“Now the burden is on the city to show how, in the future, it will protect New York’s tradition of vibrant and vocal dissent.”) That’s the way for a major paper to give up the ghost without a struggle!

In the meantime, while our government continues to induce near hysteria about an imminent biological, chemical or nuclear attack on [chose your place of residence]’s local subway station, government building, or health club, it seems ditheringly unconcerned about the global proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — so useful for its agenda, actually. It has focussed all its formidable energies on “disarming” pathetic Iraq of weapons of mass destruction by force. In the meantime, as the piece below from the Asia Times, reprinted from Radio Free Europe, makes clear, the world’s largest stocks of wmd sit hardly protected in Central Asia and Russia, “one-stop-shopping spots” for any terrorist group with initiative.

Along with the principle of preemptive force on which Senator Byrd gave a stirring senate speech recently (“this chamber is hauntingly silent”), the principle of proliferation — let a thousand weapons bloom — has been let loose on the world. CIA director Tenet testified to this just the other day. In a front-page Washington Post piece, “CIA Head Predicts Nuclear Race, Small Nations Pursuing Arms” by Walter Pincus, he is quoted chillingly:

“CIA Director George J. Tenet warned yesterday that the ‘desire for nuclear weapons is on the upsurge’ among small countries, confronting the world with a new nuclear arms race that threatens to dismantle more than three decades of nonproliferation efforts. ‘The ‘domino theory’ of the 21st century may well be nuclear,’ Tenet said…’We have entered a new world of proliferation.'”

For an administration that has worked to deep-six all global efforts at non-proliferation, however, this turns out, perversely enough, to be good news for its most cherished agenda items:

For an administration that has worked to deep-six all global efforts at non-proliferation, however, this turns out, perversely enough, to be good news for its most cherished agenda items:

“The CIA director’s remarks signaled that the Bush administration has concluded that without enforcement, the era in which countries were encouraged by treaties and self-regulation to avoid developing nuclear weapons may be coming to an end. Such a conclusion would buttress the administration’s new national security doctrine, which envisions preemptive strikes against potential nuclear powers, as well as bolster the administration’s case for developing missile defenses.”

To read more Pincus click here

For a boondoggle of a missile defense system and the global “right” to preempt, we’ve opened the door to nuclear thoughts of every sort. Imagine — one answer to that eternal question, well, what would you do — if we had taken the multibillions we’re so eager to invest in an Iraqi war and occupation, and used them instead to significantly speed up the Russian disarmament program. Then we might at least have put some weight behind a solution to the hysteria of the moment. But the Bush administration has greater faith in preemption, duct tape (see tomorrow’s Tomgram), and — now that in our media prospective wmd attacks by terrorists are being compared to natural disasters — perhaps naming hurricanes after Al Qaeda members. Tom

Reckless Administration May Reap Disastrous Consequences
by US Senator Robert Byrd
Senate Floor Speech
February 12, 2003

To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.

Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent — ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.

We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.

And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.

This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption — the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future — is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our — or some other nation’s — hit list. High level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq.

What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11.

Here at home, people are warned of imminent terrorist attacks with little guidance as to when or where such attacks might occur. Family members are being called to active military duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate police and fire protection. Other essential services are also short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling. Fuel prices are rising and may soon spike higher.

This Administration, now in power for a little over two years, must be judged on its record. I believe that that record is dismal.

In that scant two years, this Administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This Administration’s domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs for our people. This Administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant to better protect our long and porous borders.

In foreign policy, this Administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.

Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant — these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.

The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land.

Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace?

And yet we hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq. In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife. Will we seize Iraq’s oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation’s oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after Saddam Hussein?

Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?

Could a disruption of the world’s oil supply lead to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?

In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.

One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.

But to turn one’s frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.

Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq — a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 — this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare — this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.

We are truly “sleepwalking through history.” In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.

To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is “in the highest moral traditions of our country”. This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.

To read the speech on commondreams click here

Russia’s stockpile of deadly weapons
By Jeremy Bransten
Asia Times
February 11, 2003

PRAGUE – The fact that United Nations weapons inspectors have not found a plausible “smoking gun” in their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq means one of two things: either Baghdad no longer possesses such weapons, as it claims, or they are so well hidden that inspectors have yet to discover them, as the US administration believes.

Either way, many experts believe that the situation in Iraq is less immediately threatening than the dangers that exist in Russia and some of the former Soviet republics.

More than a decade after the end of the Cold War, Russia – by its own admission – possesses some 40,000 tons of chemical weapons – the world’s largest quantity – and some 1,000 tons of weapons-grade nuclear material in scores of storage sites around the country.

To read more of this Asia Times piece click here