Here's the strange thing: Since 2001, our media has been filled with terrifying nuclear headlines. The Iraqi bomb (you remember those "mushroom clouds" about to rise over American cities), the North Korean bomb, and the Iranian bomb have been almost obsessively in the news. Of course, the Iraqi bomb turned out to be embarrassingly nonexistent; experts still consider the Iranian bomb years away (if it happens); and the North Korean bomb, while quite real, remains a less than impressive weapon, based on a less than spectacular nuclear test in October 2006.
And yet these are the nuclear weapons that have taken all our attention. How many of you have ever heard of Complex 2030 or know that, as William Hartung and Frida Berrigan pointed out recently, the Bush administration is, on average, putting more money into our nuclear arsenal (over $6 billion this year) than went into it in the Cold War era? Or that, if all goes according to administration projections, this figure should hit $7.4 billion a year by 2012? And Complex 2030 -- aiming, as the name implies, at a thoroughly updated, upgraded American arsenal 23 years from now -- involves producing, among many other things, the Reliable Replacement Warhead, our first new warhead in two decades. (The Energy Department just selected its design.) In addition, the Bush administration has worked hard to break down the barrier between nuclear and conventional weapons, absorbing nuclear weapons into its plans for its new Global Strike force, supposedly able to hit any target on the planet "with a few hours' notice," and repeatedly leaking the news that it might consider using the "nuclear option" against Iran's nuclear facilities.
As Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro pointed out recently in his article, "The Iranian Bomb in a MAD World," there are not two nuclear worlds -- that of the nuclear "rogues" and that of the "nuclear club"; there is only one. Our nuclear world and theirs are intimately linked by an ever more volatile version of the old Cold War doctrine of deterrence.
Hiro pointed to the annual sum, publicly announced, of $75 million that the Bush administration is investing in creating enemies for the Iranian regime. He adds:
"The Bush White House has launched a series of covert operations to undermine the Iranian regime, dispatched aircraft-carrier strike forces through the Straits of Hormuz in classic gunboat-diplomacy fashion, and had its Vice President issue a series of warnings to Iran from the deck of the USS John C. Stennis, floating barely 150 miles off the Iranian coast.
"The Iranian response, despite public denials, has been to play the single card that history has stamped "effective" since 1949 -- raising the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran. It is a classic act of self-defense guaranteed to spread nuclear arms to other countries in a MAD world where Catch-22 is the nuclear rule of the day."
In the meantime, the Iranians would simply create regional (and global economic) chaos. Just last week, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, a senior defense adviser to Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered an American magazine, Defense News, a hair-raising preview of what an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities might mean. According to Michael Smith of the British Times, he warned that, within an hour, the Iranians would be lobbing "dozens, maybe hundreds" of missiles into the Gulf states that had U.S. bases (and enormous oil reserves). "The U.S.," he said ominously, "will be as surprised with Iranian military capabilities as the Israelis were with Hezbollah in last summer's war in Lebanon."
The more we invest in, and maintain, a vast nuclear arsenal, the more we slot those weapons into our strategic and tactical planning, the more such weapons will proliferate elsewhere. The Bush administration came into office ready to crush nuclear proliferators. Instead, when its history is written, it will undoubtedly be seen as a nuclear proliferation machine, threatening to bring its own nightmare scenario -- such weaponry in the hands of a terrorist band for whom "deterrence" would have no meaning whatsoever -- ever closer to reality.