Against Nuking Civilians

Quoth Barack Obama, then a candidate for the Presidency, way back in August of 2007: "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance involving civilians.”

Now that Obama is President-Elect, we all hope and pray that he more than thinks that nuking civilians would be a profound mistake. Yea, all of us – except the neocrazies, the Likudniks, their fellow travelers and their media sycophants – hope and pray that Obama sincerely believes that nuking civilians – even threatening to nuke civilians – is actually… immoral!

Furthermore, once President Obama takes his oath of office;

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

as a signatory to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, even threatening to nuke another signatory – such as Iran – would be a violation of that oath.

Why? Because Article VI of that Constitution plainly says;

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

Now, under the United Nations Charter, which the Constitution makes the Law of the Land, there is only one legal basis for the use of force other than self-defense: Security Council directed or authorized use of force to restore or maintain international peace and security pursuant to its responsibilities under Chapter VII, Article 42.

"Should the Security Council consider that measures [not involving the use of force] provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations."

So, didn’t President Clinton violate his oath of office, and commit crimes under international and U.S. Law when he bombed Bosnia in 1995 and Serbia in 1999, killing several thousand civilians?

You betcha!

But at least he didn’t nuke them.

In fact, as the outlines of the Obama-Biden administration begin to emerge, it’s probably worth re-examining not only the Clinton-Gore administration efforts to comply with all articles of the NPT, but also the efforts by the Bush-Quayle-Baker administration to dismantle thousands of our tactical nukes and peacefully dispose of the recovered fissile materials, as well as to implement the so-called Nunn-Lugar Act, which authorized technical and financial help to Russians to do the same.

When Bill Clinton became President, there were five acknowledged nuke-armed states: the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia. Back 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.

Clinton 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.

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.

In September 1993, Clinton called for a multilateral convention banning the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons, and in March 1995 the Conference on Disarmament established a committee to begin drafting such a treaty.

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 became 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.

Then, the 2000 NPT Review Conference approved an “action agenda” for “systematic and progressive efforts” to implement disarmament requirements of Article VI of the NPT.

However, two action steps on that agenda – early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiation of a multilateral and internationally and “effectively verifiable” FMCT – were not supported by Bush the Younger.

Worse still, Secretary of State Condi Rice declined to even address the 2005 NPT Review Conference and prevented their final report from even being mentioned – especially the “13 steps” to nuke disarmament agreed to – much less endorsed.

Now, Clinton had not been able to 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.

But, strangely, 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, 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 the Younger became president.

When asked if he is prepared to nuke Iran’s IAEA Safeguarded facilities, doubtlessly incurring tens – perhaps hundreds – of thousand civilian casualties, Bush and his underlings simply say "no options are off the table."

So how gratifying it will be for President Obama to re-iterate his "thinking" as a candidate that it would be a profound mistake – in fact immoral – to use nukes in any situation that would involve significant civilian casualties.

Especially nuking a country like Iran where IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei continues to report that he can find no indication that there has been any diversion of NPT-proscribed materials to a "military purpose."

Will President Obama be a man of his word? Will he preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America? Will he take up where Bill Clinton left off? Will he listen to his advisors Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar, who advocate reducing substantially our nuke stockpile and taking our remaining nukes off "red alert"?

Well, apparently IAEA Director-General ElBaradei hopes so. Here is what he had to say last week, in accepting the Seville Prize;

"The goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons may look unattainable today. But why not make a start by slashing the number of nuclear warheads in the world from the present 27,000? Ninety-five percent of these warheads are held by two countries, the United States and the Russian Federation. Some military experts believe security would not be compromised if each had just 1,000 warheads, which is still more than enough to obliterate most of humanity. This would demonstrate their commitment to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons to which they pledged themselves by signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty more than three decades ago and give them the moral authority to preach non-proliferation to others. Likewise, the nuclear weapon states could immediately make the world a safer place by lowering the state of alert of their nuclear weapons to make it less likely that missiles are launched by accident or miscalculation."

Stay tuned.

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.