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Bush And The Bomb 
By Marjorie Cohn 
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 10 August 2005

    The 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people, mostly civilians. Many tens of thousands more have been afflicted with radiation-induced cancers, immunologic disorders, birth defects, and lasting psychological trauma.

    For years, the United States government engaged in a massive cover-up of the devastation wreaked by its use of the atom bomb in Japan. (See Hiroshima Cover-Up Exposed.) The claim has persisted that the use of the bomb ended the war and saved lives. Yet, historians have now put the lie to the assertion that the Japanese would not have surrendered but for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (See Hiroshima after Sixty Years: The Debate Continues.)

    The United States dropped the A-bomb to test it on live targets, and to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of America. The Cold War had begun.

    General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." General Curtis LeMay declared that the atomic bomb had nothing to do with Japan's surrender. And Admiral William D. Leahy stated angrily that the "use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender ... in being the first to use it, we ... adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages."

    The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal defines ill-treatment of a civilian population as a war crime, and inhumane acts committed against a civilian population as crimes against humanity.

    The US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes and crimes against humanity. Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admitted in the film Fog of War that if we had lost the war, he and LeMay would have been war criminals. Since only the vanquished Nazis and Japanese were tried and punished, the US officials who ordered these crimes were never brought to justice.

    After World War II, the new enemy of the United States became the Soviet Union, and there ensued a nuclear arms race unprecedented in human history.

    Concern about the possibility of another, more devastating Hiroshima led to the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. When the United States ratified this treaty, it became part of the supreme law of the land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. The treaty commits the countries that possess nuclear weapons (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) to negotiate their elimination.

    To gain the agreement of the non-nuclear-weapon parties to the treaty’s extension in 1995, the US made promises in connection with a UN Security Council resolution calling for what are known as negative security assurances, in which the US promised not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon parties unless they attack the US while in alliance with another nuclear-weapon country.

    The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was concluded between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972. This treaty was supposed to maintain the credibility of retaliatory deterrence based on the threat of a successful second strike, known as the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). It also put limits on future technological development in order to preserve the "strategic balance" between the US and the USSR.

    In 1995, a commitment was made to complete negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by 1996. It bans all nuclear explosions, for any purpose, warlike or peaceful.

    In 1996, in response to a request by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Court of Justice (the World Court) issued an advisory opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.

    The World Court said that under humanitarian law, countries must "never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets." It held that the threat or use of nuclear weapons was "generally" contrary to international law. Although the divided Court was unable to reach a definitive conclusion regarding threat or use in extreme circumstances of self-defense where the survival of a nation was at stake, the overall thrust of the decision was toward categorical illegality. It strongly implied that the doctrine of deterrence is illegal. The Court said that the radioactive effects of nuclear explosions cannot be contained in space and time. Thus, the use of nuclear weapons can never conform to the requirements of the law.

    The World Court also held, unanimously, that Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligates all countries to "bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects."

    So what has the United States done to fulfill its obligations under this treaty?

    In 1999, the US Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

    The United States has tried to negotiate a more flexible nuclear doctrine that would include missile defenses far beyond the very limited defenses allowed by the ABM Treaty. But Bush didn't like the treaty at all.

    Thus, in December 2001, the United States notified Russia of its intent to withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 6 months, based on a treaty provision that permitted withdrawal if there existed extraordinary events jeopardizing the withdrawing country's supreme interests.

    The US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty is the first formal unilateral withdrawal of a major power from a nuclear arms control treaty once it has taken effect. It also spurred Russia to announce its withdrawal from its commitments under the START II arms reduction treaty.

    And the US withdrawal jeopardizes the most important treaty that aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    In 2002, the Department of Defense presented the Nuclear Posture Review to Congress, which actually expands the range of circumstances in which the US could use nuclear weapons. This document explicitly allows the option of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations. It permits pre-emptive attacks against biological and chemical weapons capabilities, and in response to "surprising military developments." It provides for the development of nuclear warheads, including earth penetrators.

    Alarmingly, classified portions of the document obtained by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times call for contingency planning for the use of nuclear weapons against Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya.

    The Nuclear Posture Review sets forth policies that explicitly violate the legal obligations the US undertook when it ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and subsequently in 1995 - the prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries, and the obligation to negotiate the cessation of the arms race at an early date.

    When the Nuclear Posture Review was presented in 2002, the New York Times said: "Where the Pentagon review goes very wrong is in lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons and in undermining the effectiveness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ... Nuclear weapons are not just another part of the military arsenal. They are different, and lowering the threshold for their use is reckless folly."

    Yet today the United States stands ready to rapidly launch 2,000 strategic warheads with land- and submarine-based missiles. Each warhead would inflict vast heat, blast and radiation 7 to 30 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.

    Although less spectacular and obvious than a mushroom cloud, the United States has used nuclear weapons - depleted uranium warheads - in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Reporters from the Christian Science Monitor have measured radiation levels in downtown Baghdad that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal background radiation levels.

    The US Nuclear Defense Agency condemned depleted uranium weapons as a "serious health threat." Whipped up by sandstorms and carried by trade winds, they can cause cancer, leukemia, brain damage, kidney failure and extreme birth defects for 4,500,000,000 years (See Horror of USA's Depleted Uranium in Iraq Threatens World.)

    The United States is committing ongoing crimes against humanity by its use of depleted uranium.

    The effects of the strategic warheads and depleted uranium "cannot be contained in space or time ... would affect health, agriculture, natural resources and demography over a very wide area ... and would be a serious danger to future generations." Thus, under the definition set by the World Court, these weapons are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets, and are therefore prohibited.

    By using nuclear weapons against Japan, the United States became a dangerous role model. The Bush administration persists in the use of depleted uranium, and it has announced its intention to enlarge the use of the extraordinary strategic warheads.

    Bush targets countries like North Korea and Iran that may seek to develop their nuclear capabilities. Yet all the while, Bush and his administration continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq and threaten to commit even greater crimes in the future with their horrific new weapons.

Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.
: t r u t h o u t 2005

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