from the pages of../

Cold War Still on Life-support

By John LaForge


Just when you thought nuclear nightmares were passť, another bad dream occupies today's war planners,. .".to aim nuclear weapons at Third World nations that threaten the interests of the United States or its allies." This is the computer program that entertains General Lee Butler, commander of the former Strategic Air Command--now STRATCOM--in Omaha, NE. ( New York Times, February 25, 1993.)

Although the U.S. arms race may be free of competition, nuclear bomb builders want to keep the machinery oiled with fear and powered by taxes.

"Nuclear weapons of very low yields could enhance U.S. security in possible future Third World conflicts..." This is the thinking of T.N. Dowler and J.S. Howard, who call themselves a "weapon effects analyst" and a "theater force analyst" respectively. They wrote of Department of Energy (DOE) plans for "micronukes" in the Fall 1991 Strategic Review magazine, from the Los Alamos National Weapons Lab, where they are career employees.

In their estimation, the U.S. hydrogen bombing of underdeveloped nations with "micro" warheads, "whose power is effective but not abhorrent,... would insure the enemy's defeat."

"While the resulting crater would have a radius of about 15 meter, and would be very radioactive, high-intensity residual radioactivity would be confined to a relatively small area," they wrote.

Can these ideas be dismissed as cynical rationalizations by desperate men struggling to protect their salaries from cold war budget cutters? They could if Strategic Review didn't regularly presage developments in the nuclear weapons industry; they could if cold war spending were being slashed. However, last year $95 billion--one-third the Pentagon budget--was cold war related, and, when DOE and foreign affairs costs are added in, $116 billion still went to fight the "commies."

"Maintenance and development" of the nuclear arsenal alone cost $39.9 billion in 1993, according to T.L. Friedman writing in the New York Times Magazine, August 22, 1993.

What does this development amount to? At least these: DOE research on PLYWD (for precision low-yield weapons design), a "radio frequency" nuclear warhead, a "maneuvering reentry vehicle" warhead for strategic missiles, and something called a "hyper-velocity" air-to-ground nuclear weapon. ( Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July-August 1992.)

Much of the Air Force's work on new warheads is hidden in the secret "black budget," which, in 1986, was reported to have reached $30 billion a year. Open and unabashed nuclear weapons building includes B-2 Stealth bombers and Trident submarines and its missiles. Even the remaining 500 Minuteman ICBMs are being refitted with "guidance improvements."

Waging nuclear war may be far from the public's mind, but the President, Congress, and the career military can't seem to put the nuttiness to rest. While visiting the Korean demilitarized zone last summer, President Clinton said that if North Korea ever used nuclear weapons "it would mean the end of their country as they know it."

This shocking statement, heard around the world, indicates Clinton's personal acceptance of the U.S. well-known practice of nuclear terrorism. In 1991, for example, President Bush refused to rule out the possible use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear Iraq.

Congress has also rejected dozens of bills that would have cut current nuclear war spending. GWEN, the Ground Wave Emergency Network, and the Super Collider have been cut back but they are smoke blown to cover continuing nuclearism. The re-constituted Star Wars program, now called Ballistic Missile Defense, is only different in letter-head. The Navy's Project ELF is ready and able to order a nuclear surprise attack against "every reasonable adversary" around the globe--if the 1990 "Reed" report suggestions were adopted. ELF, called a "relic of the Cold War," by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) during debate over his bill to cancel the program, also escaped the budget ax last fall. So much opposition to the bill was brought by the Navy's friends, that Feingold had to withdraw the bill in exchange for a promise from the Navy to develop a written justification of the program's continued operation. This paper has not yet been completed.

Perhaps the bomb builders and their supporters--like Intelcom Support Services, which runs Project ELF--would, regarding war and Congress, rather fight than switch. The generals certainly would. "If the President ever says we want to execute a nuclear mission, the planning will come out of here," said General Butler in June 1992. For nuclear war-gamers like Butler, "The big issue is proportionality," according to Strategic Review editor Mac Owens ( Omaha World Herald, June 9, 1993). "What do they have to do to get you to use nuclear weapons?" he wants to know. Dowler and Howard have a ready answer from the weapons lab.

They endorse the plutonium bombing of non-nuclear states, "in response to the use of...other weapons of mass destruction against U.S. troops," or, .".to neutralize airfields." Their most amazing idea is to use "mininukes" to shoot down ballistic missiles. They believe, "in some cases the radiation output of the mininuke would destroy the oncoming warhead or sterilize the chemical or biological agent."

Pentagon plans for nuclear war-fighting--no matter whom or what the target, no matter what the pretext--must be exposed, denounced, opposed, and defeated. Yet bringing an end to night time nuclear jitters means more than pointing the warheads toward the southern hemisphere. Taking down the Berlin Wall could prove to be easier than nuclear disarmament, especially with a U.S. president who can say of this 2:30 AM Cruise missile attack on inner-city Baghdad, that it was intended .".to affirm the expectation of civilized behavior among nations." (St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 1993.)

Nuclear nightmares may have eased in East-West relations, but the Third World too deserves a decent night sleep.

John LaForge is a board member of the national peace group Nukewatch in Madison.