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Voting against nuclear war with Iran
By Jorge Hirsch

Published 19 October 2006

The outcome of the November
election is likely to determine whether or not the US goes to war with
Iran before President Bush leaves office. For multiple reasons recounted
below such war will with very high probability include the US use of
tactical nuclear weapons. In casting or not casting a vote in November,
each of us will contribute to determine events of potential consequences
immensely larger than local taxes, illegal immigration or even the Iraq
war. Crossing the nuclear threshold in a war against Iran will trigger a
chain reaction that in weeks, years or decades could lead with high
probability to global nuclear war and widespread destruction of life on
the planet.

10/16/06 "Information Clearing House"

The Bush administration has radically redefined America’s nuclear use
policy [1], [2]: US nuclear weapons are no longer regarded as
qualitatively different from conventional weapons. Many actions of the
administration in recent years strongly suggest that an imminent US
nuclear use is being planned for, and this was confirmed by Bush’s
explicit refusal to rule out a US nuclear strike against Iran. We have
all been put on notice. The fact that North Korea is now a nuclear
country does not change the agenda - quite the contrary.

There were fears that the US would use nuclear weapons in the Iraq
attack [1], [2], which did not materialize, hence some will argue that
the current fears of nuclear use against Iran may not materialize
either. Some will argue that there were many other occasions in the past
60 years where the US appeared to come close to using nuclear weapons
and did not [1], [2], that the threshold for using nuclear weapons
always was and remains extraordinarily high, and that the US nuclear
"saber rattling" is just trickery to scare our opponents ( "madman
theory"). These arguments are wrong. The US is much closer than it has
ever been since Nagasaki to using nuclear weapons again. This year for
the first time in its history the American Physical Society,
representing 40,000 members of the profession that created nuclear
weapons, issued a statement of deep concern on this matter: "The
American Physical Society is deeply concerned about the possible use of
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and for pre-emptive
counter-proliferation purposes".

In the case of Iraq, our adversary was so weak that there was no way a
US nuclear weapon use could have been justified in the eyes of the
world. Iran is different: it possesses missiles that could strike US
forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf as well as Israeli cities, and a
large conventional army. 150,000 US soldiers in Iraq will be at great
risk if war with Iran erupts, and Americans will support a nuclear
strike on Iran once the administration creates a situation where it can
argue that such action will save a large number of American or allies’

In previous US wars, nuclear use did not occur because it carried an
unacceptably high risk of triggering a nuclear conflict with the Soviet
Union or China [1], [2], [3]. Because North Korea appears to have now a
nuclear deterrent, and because of the possibility that China could get
involved, there is no danger that the US will attack North Korea. In
fact, Bush will use the fact that North Korea has joined the nuclear
club, and charges that he was not "tough enough" on North Korea, as an
argument to "justify" attacking Iran before it achieves that status,
notwithstanding the fact that unlike North Korea Iran has stated no
intention to follow that path nor is there any evidence that it is doing
so. The nuclearization of North Korea only helps the plan to nuke Iran,
which is why the administration did everything it could to encourage it.

No nuclear country is likely to intervene nor threaten to intervene when
the US uses nuclear weapons against Iran, hence there is no military
deterrent to such use. The US has now achieved vast nuclear superiority,
and is about to demonstrate to the world that its 5-trillion nuclear
arsenal is not "unusable".

The US Nuclear Posture

The Bush administration has made sweeping changes in the nuclear weapons
policy of the United States during the past 5 years, singlehandedly
without consulting Congress nor the American people [1], [2], [3]. Under
the name of "New Triad", the key concept is "integration" of
conventional and nuclear forces. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric stating
that it means that some missions previously assigned to nuclear forces
will be taken over by conventional forces. What it really means is "a
seamless web of capabilities": there is no longer a sharp line, a sharp
distinction, between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.

Why should there be such a sharp line? Because, as a newly set up
website from the Department of Defense kindly explains, "weight for
weight, the energy produced by a nuclear explosion is millions of times
more powerful than a conventional explosion". Consequently, it shouldn’t
be difficult to understand, even for a Yale C-student, that a nuclear
conflict that gets out of hand will take a million times more lives than
a conventional conflict. The last global conventional conflict took over
50 million lives.

What is the benefit of making such policy declarations? The US has never
ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, and it carries a cost to remind
other countries of this fact, since it provides an incentive for others
to develop nuclear capability. There is no benefit in openly announcing
such ominous policy changes, unless the intention is to put them into
practice. Just like Bush announced in 2002 that "the United States will,
if necessary, act preemptively" in preparation for the "preemptive"
attack on Iraq.

The aforementioned Department of Defense website on "nuclear matters"
states that "there are a number of arms control agreements restricting
the deployment and use of nuclear weapons, but there is no conventional
or customary international law that prohibits nations from employing
nuclear weapons in armed conflict". That statement defines the "rules"
by which the U.S. government plays. No matter that it ignores (and the
website’s list of "arms control agreements" also doesn’t mention it) the
"negative security assurance" issued by the US in 1978 and reaffirmed in
1995 promising not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon
states. Nor that it ignores the 1996 ruling of the International Court
of Justice.

The reason the changes in declaratory policy were made is to gauge
public opinion, and to prepare the public for the implementation of this
policy. Because reaction to these radical statements [1], [2], [3], [4]
unfortunately has been rather muted, the administration will be able to
claim that the American people by and large have embraced the new
nuclear doctrine of "integration" of nuclear and non-nuclear
capabilities" and approve of the use of nuclear weapons when they
provide "the most efficient use of force". The November vote may be your
last chance to disagree.

The Rumsfeld "downsizing" transformation

The changes in nuclear doctrine did not occur in a vacuum. They were
accompanied by a strong push by the White House to develop new and more
usable nuclear weapons, and they are intimately tied and go hand in hand
with Rumsfeld’s "transformation" of the military [1]. The overarching
goal of this transformation is "downsizing" [1], [2], [3], [4], [5].
What Rumsfeld did as CEO of Searle, he set out to do for the US military.

As Time Magazine reported in its Aug. 20, 1945 issue right after the
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "One hundred and twenty-three planes,
each bearing a single atomic bomb, would carry as much destructive power
as all the bombs (2,453,595 tons) dropped by the Allies on Europe during
the war". And this was before hydrogen bombs. To the extent that the US
military will be able to replace conventional weapons by nuclear weapons
to carry out its missions, it will have achieved the ultimate
"downsizing". That in a nutshell is the key to Rumsfeld’s
"transformation of the military", everything else is window-dressing.

The principal vehicle to achieve this transformation is the radical
redefinition of the mission of USSTRATCOM, one of the nine U.S. Unified
Combatant Commands. Before Rumsfeld, STRATCOM’s sole mission was nuclear
deterrence and if necessary the use of nuclear weapons. Since 2001,
"USSTRATCOM’ nuclear focus broadened considerably with the latest
Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)". Now it is a "global integrator charged
with the missions of full-spectrum global strike...", and provides "a
range of options, both nuclear and non-nuclear, relevant to the threat
and military operations". And it is in particular "the lead Combatant
Command for integration and synchronization of DoD-wide efforts in
combating weapons of mass destruction". A supporting role will be played
by the expanded USSOCOM, US Special Operations Command, providing
Rumsfeld with convenient "intelligence" and covert operations capabilities.

The new nuclear doctrine is the software, the new USSTRATCOM is the
hardware, and Rumsfeld is the driver, for the "downsizing" program that
is about to be launched. Brace yourself.

There have been many voices across the political spectrum calling for
Rumsfeld’s resignation for the botched Iraq war [1], [2], [3], [4], [5],
[6], [7], yet he "retains the full confidence" of Bush. Why? Because
Rumsfeld cannot be fired until he demolishes the "nuclear taboo"
barrier, by detonating a small tactical nuclear weapon against a US
enemy. The US military is reluctant to even consider the use of nuclear
weapons against Iran, because it would provoke "an outcry over what
would be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since
Nagasaki". Only after a small tactical nuclear weapons strike against
Natanz or another Iranian facility will such a barrier no longer exist
for future US nuclear threats and uses, and Rumsfeld’s transformation
will be a fait accompli.

Why is "downsizing" the military so important to the PNAC crowd? Because
the American public has no stomach for a draft nor large losses of
American military personnel. If it becomes possible to wage war "on the
cheap", without loss of American life, and in the process we can lower
the price of oil and spread "liberty" across the world, opposition will
be muted. Public opinion on the Iraq war was not turned by the enormous
number of Iraqi lives lost (of which there isn’t even an effort to keep
a count), it is only affected by the number of American lives lost.

How it will happen

"The decision as to the employment of atomic weapons in the event of war
is to be made by the Chief Executive when he considers such decision to
be required" according to NSC 30 from 1948. According to the
Goldwater-Nichols Act, the chain of command flows from the President
through the Secretary of Defense to the geographic combatant commanders.
If Gen. John Abizaid (CENTCOM commander) or Gen. James Cartwright
(STRATCOM commander) ask authorization from President Bush to use
nuclear weapons, following the guidelines in the Doctrine for Joint
Nuclear Operations, what will Bush’s response be? As he often repeats,
"I’m going to be listening to the people that know what they’re talking
about, and that’s the commanders on the ground in Iraq. They’ll make the
decisions". The commanders on the ground will be driven by what they
perceive to be the immediate military necessity, without regard to the
larger issues such as the survival of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty (NPT).

Congress will not be asked in advance to authorize the Iran war.
Congress has already declared, in passing H.R.6198, that Iran should be
held accountable "for its threatening behavior" (which merely consists
in Iran’s refusal to give up its rights under the Nuclear
Non-proliferation Treaty). The Iran war is likely to start with selected
bombing of a few Iranian facilities. Recall that on October 3rd, 2002,
over 5 months before the US invasion of Iraq, we learned that "Coalition
forces this morning struck an Iraqi air defense center after a coalition
plane in the area dropping leaflets was fired upon, defense officials
said". On December 16, 1998, Clinton informed the American people that
"Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and
security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their
mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors". Neither
of these operations, nor many other US military operations, were done
with Congressional authorization.

Bush will threaten Iran with a massive attack if it responds to such a
bombing. Iran will certainly respond, and Bush will proclaim that this
constitutes Iranian "aggression" against the US, and that Iran has
"chosen" war. It will be less farfetched than in the case of Iraq, where
Bush stated shortly before the US invasion "war is upon us because
Saddam Hussein has made that choice" (speech of March 6, 2003), and as
the US was about to attack on March 17, 2003 "Should Saddam Hussein
choose confrontation, the American people can know that every measure
has been taken to avoid war". Once war with Iran has started, Bush,
Cheney, Rumsfeld and their hand-picked nuclear advisors will find plenty
of convenient "surprising military developments" to seize on to
"justify" the use of nuclear weapons.


The nuclear weapons that the administration is planning to use against
Iran are low yield earth penetrating weapons expected to cause "reduced
collateral damage". Their real purpose is not to destroy facilities that
are too deep underground to be destroyed by conventional weapons: it is
primarily to erase the nuclear taboo, and secondarily to shock-and-awe
Iran into surrender.

Of course the potentially disastrous consequences of this action cannot
be overestimated. Once the US has used its nuclear weapons against a
non-nuclear country signatory of the NPT, the NPT will fall apart. Many
more countries will strive to develop and test nuclear weapons, overtly
or covertly, as North Korea has just done. With no longer a nuclear
taboo many more countries will feel entitled to use their nuclear
weapons in aggression against or to defend against aggression from
nuclear and non-nuclear adversaries. Military conflicts inevitably lead
to escalation, and they usually end only when one side prevails. That is
not how a global nuclear conflict will end.

If the US attacks Iran and does not use nuclear weapons, it will incur
military losses that will vastly outweigh any benefit of such war. If
there is no Iran war, the Bush presidency will be remembered
predominantly for the disastrous Iraq war. Crossing the nuclear
threshold will overshadow all other events of the Bush presidency. To
the (however unlikely) extent that it results in an advantage to
America, Bush’s achievement could conceivably be hailed by future
generations. The "rational" choice for the administration is clear.

Like desperate gamblers in a losing streak, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld
have nothing to gain and everything to lose by not attacking Iran with
nuclear weapons.

Why the November vote matters

On November 7th, 33 Senate seats and all 435 House seats will be
contested. There are many reasons why even Republicans may wish that one
or both Houses are won by Democrats, and the prospect of nuclear war
should be a dominant one.

The President can legally order the use of nuclear weapons under any
circumstance without asking Congress. However, Congress could block the
authority of the President to order the use of nuclear weapons against
non-nuclear-weapon countries by passing legislation under Article I,
Sect. 8, Clause 14 of the Constitution to "make rules for the government
and regulation" of the Armed Forces. If Congress passed such a law (see
an example for a bill here), it would in practice also impede a
conventional attack on Iran. Congress may also find other ways to derail
a presidential push towards using nuclear weapons, for example by
demanding that the Administration publicly discloses plans or
preparatory moves such as deployment of nuclear weapons in the Persian
Gulf. Which Congress is more likely to do this, a Republican or a
Democratic one?

Only Democratic congressmembers, however weakly, have questioned the
wisdom of the new US nuclear weapons policies [1], [2], [3]. Not a
single Republican in Congress has, nor have they questioned the fact
that the nuclear option against Iran is "on the table". This is not to
say that Republican candidates would necessarily approve of the use of
nuclear weapons against Iran, in fact many if not most are likely to
oppose it. And some Democratic candidates may be more hawkish than
Republicans in regard to Iran [1], [2], [3]. However, the principle of
"party discipline" applies to both Republicans and Democrats. And the
administration that is planning to use nuclear weapons against Iran is

No matter how wise, moral, resolute, and independent of Bush a
Republican candidate appears to be, when push comes to shove he/she is
more likely than not to vote the party line. In the current Congress, as
reported by the non-partisan Hill Monitor website, Republican senators
voted for the White House position 92.57% of the time, Democratic
senators only 54.56%. In the House, the respective numbers are 88.50%
and 40.99%. On the October 2002 vote requested by the White House
authorizing the Iraq attack, a single Republican senator opposed it,
versus 21 Democrats; in the House, only 6 Republicans opposed it, versus
126 Democrats.

A US attack on Iran will lead to the US use of nuclear weapons and will
be disastrous for America. It is the path that Bush, Cheney and
Rumsfeld, with the advice of Kissinger [1], [2], are hell-bent on
pursuing. A military takeover of government is not likely, and military
refusal to carry out immoral orders is uncertain at best. Congress has a
role to play, perhaps the most important one in its history, and a
Republican Congress is likely to rubberstamp any White House plan on
Iran. Voting Republican in November is voting to wage nuclear war.

Jorge Hirsch is a Professor of Physics at the University of California
at San Diego, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and organizer
of a recent petition, circulated among leading physicists, opposing the
new nuclear weapons policies adopted by the US in the past 5 years. He
is a frequent commentator on Iran and nuclear weapons.

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