The Illegal – and Immoral – Option

When Bill Clinton became President, there were five acknowledged nuke-armed states – the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia. Back in in the late 1960s those five states had persuaded about 150 other states that didn’t have nukes to become signatories to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The NPT was viewed – then and now – by those other states as having three "pillars" –

  • a promise by the NPT nuke-states to eventually dispose of nukes
  • an affirmation of the inalienable right of all other NPT states to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy "without discrimination"
  • a mechanism for verifying that nuclear energy was not being diverted from peaceful to military purposes.

The NPT required those signatories not yet having nukes to negotiate a Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency – an existing United Nations agency already charged with facilitating the widest possible international transfer of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes – for the "exclusive purpose" of "verifying" that certain proscribed materials were not "diverted" to a military purpose.

With the Cold War over, Clinton accelerated the nuke dismantlement process begun by his predecessor.

Clinton also attempted to get the Indians and Pakistanis to become signatories to the NPT and to get every NPT signatory to agree to its indefinite extension.


Well, Clinton told them that if everyone signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty then – without testing – there could be no new nuke states and that eventually – without testing – the five acknowledged nuke states would effectively be disarmed.

Furthermore, in 1995 Clinton got the Security Council to pass UNSC Resolution 984 which, inter alia, formally expressed the "intention" of the nuke states to "provide or support immediate assistance" to any non-nuke NPT signatory that is "a victim" of an act – or a threat of an act – of aggression "in which nuclear weapons are used."

Clinton was, thereby, able to get NPT signatories to agree in 1995 on the indefinite extension of the NPT.

But, Clinton did not get the Senate to ratify the CTBT, nor get the Indians and Pakistanis to become NPT signatories. In fact, in the spring of 1998 both India and Pakistan conducted multiple tests of nuclear weapons, thereby increasing the number of acknowledged nuke states to seven.

Upon becoming president, under our Constitution, George Bush was bound by those commitments – ratified by the Senate – to "facilitate" the widest possible transfer of nuclear materials, equipment and technology to no-nuke NPT signatories and to come to their "immediate assistance" in the event someone threatened them with nukes.

Hence, if the Bush-Cheney regime-change coalition wanted to renege on our commitments to help Iran establish a complete nuclear fuel cycle, or wanted to provide Russia some excuse for not coming to Iran’s assistance in the event the Bush-Cheney regime-change coalition nuked – or threatened to nuke – Iran, it would be necessary to somehow get Iran to withdraw from the NPT.

Well, Bush-Cheney-Bolton-Rice did their best, but failed, miserably.

In fact, Iran is now generally acknowledged – by the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum, the Non-Aligned Movement’s Ministers, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference – to be a principal defender of the NPT, at the 2005 NPT Review Conference, and in pleadings made before the UN Security Council and at quarterly meetings of the IAEA Board of Governors.

Who is generally acknowledged to be the principal enemy of the NPT and the associated IAEA and Nuclear Suppliers Group nuke proliferation-prevention regime? We are, especially since Bush became president.

Well, as of this writing, Bush has not actually "taken out" Iran’s IAEA Safeguarded programs. In any case, the Russians and/or Chinese would not be required to come to Iran’s immediate assistance unless Bush nukes – or threatens to nuke – Iran.

But what about Bush’s potential successors?

At a recent "debate," moderator Wolf Blitzer asked the GOP candidates "If it came down to a preemptive U.S. strike against Iran’s nuclear facility, if necessary would you authorize as president the use of tactical nuclear weapons?"

Notice that Blitzer asked about a preemptive strike against Iran’s [Safeguarded] "nuclear facility."

Representative Duncan Hunter replied "I would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons if there was no other way to preempt those particular centrifuges."

Notice Hunter threatened to nuke an IAEA Safeguarded facility.

So, if Hunter succeeds Bush, the Russians and Chinese had better put their ICBMs on "red alert."

Blitzer phrased the question somewhat differently to other GOP candidates. In particular he asked Governor Mitt Romney "I want to get you on the record. Do you agree with the mayor, the governor, others here, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons, potentially, would be possible if that were the only way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb?"

Notice that is a doubly hypothetical question. There is no evidence whatsoever that Iran is developing a "nuclear bomb." Hence, there can be no way of determining that the only way to stop whatever it is they’re not doing is to nuke them.

So, how did Romney answer the doubly hypothetical question?

Quoth Romney, "You don’t take options off the table."

But the Constitution requires – the "law of the land" requires – that so long as the IAEA continues to ‘verify" that no Iranian Safeguarded materials have been diverted to a military purpose, the option of nuking – or threatening to nuke – Iran must be taken off the table.

Representative Ron Paul – as you might have expected – went even farther. When asked by Blitzer what the most pressing moral issue in America is right now, Paul replied;

"I think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe that’s part of the American tradition.

"But now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war. We have rejected the "just war" theory of Christianity."

"And now, tonight, we hear that we’re not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security!"

On the basis of his recent comments, it appears Senator Barack Obama may have – may have – reached a similar conclusion.

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.