When Is an Evil Weapon Not Evil?
George Bush finally got something right about nuclear weapons. He declared that nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction were "evil." He went on to say that nations that used these weapons were also evil. The countries that he meant were countries like Iraq, countries that have strived to develop nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. In its quest to protect the world against these perils, however, the administration has a huge blind spot. Some of our allies in the war against the Taliban have recently adopted "evil" nuclear weapons. And the United States itself might fail to pass the President's own standards.
Bush has described Osama bin laden at almost every opportunity as "evil" or an "evildoer" or even "the evil one." He has described enemies of the United States as evil since the start of his presidential campaign. Calling weapons of mass destruction as evil per se is a newer tactic. For that tactic to have any moral force whatsoever it must be applied with some measure of consistency. For three of our allies, the evil of nuclear weapons is a curiously dissociated one.
The United States historically has seen India as a counterweight to communist governments in China and the Soviet Union. Even though India worked on nuclear weapons from shortly after independence, numerous American administrations helped India develop nuclear power plants under the Atoms for Peace. Only in 1974, when India first detonated a nuclear device that it claimed was a "peaceful nuclear explosion" did the nuclear aid stop.
Worried about sanctions and other measures of opprobrium, but also worried about the reaction from Pakistan, Indian governments made few moves to resume nuclear testing until a few years ago. Even without nuclear testing, the obvious potential for Indian nuclear bombs, and the Indian refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty kept American administrations from selling arms to India. Still, in 1995, India postponed nuclear testing because of the threat of automatic American sanctions against states for nuclear weapons testing by new states. In 1998, a nationalist government won the Indian federal elections, and soon conducted successful tests of nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration quickly imposed sanctions on India for conducting these tests, and cut off most military ties to India.
By last week, however, the concerns about the Indian nuclear program were things of the past. In the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on America, sanctions against both India and Paksiatn became moot because of "national security" reasons. Now the United States and India have agreed not only to joint military exercises, but also to sales of American fighter jets to India.
Pakistan's nuclear program was, from its outset, a direct response to the Indian nuclear program. After the successful Indian nuclear explosion in 1974, Pakistan started its program in earnest. In response, Congressional amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act kept Pakistan from receiving much economic aid from the United States. But during the 1980s, the Reagan and original Bush administrations used the pretext of national security to send billions of dollars to Pakistan. Although the Pakistani nuclear program was notorious, the American desire to have the progenitors of the Taliban in power in Afghanistan rather than clients of the Soviets was paramount. Shortly after the Soviet army left Afghanistan for good in 1989, George Bush the elder finally refused to certify that Pakistan did not have a nuclear weapon, and thereby triggered an end to most American military assistance.
A series of nuclear tests in May 1998 made clear to the world that Pakistan indeed possessed nuclear weapons. It also made clear that the longtime rivalry between India and Pakistan could escalate into a nuclear war. The United States responded with sanctions against Pakistan for testing nuclear weapons (in addition to existing sanctions for importing importing equipment to build nuclear weapons, and for possessing them). A final set of sanctions applied in 1999 when the ostensibly democratic government fell to a military coup. All of these sanctions are now waived thanks to the war in Afghanistan.
That the situation in Afghanistan would end a sanctions regime against Pakistan is bizarre. Pakistan has provided aid, comfort, equipment, and even military guidance to the Taliban, from the time of its civil war with other factions in Afghanistan and continued through October of this year. Pakistan was one of only three countries that had direct diplomatic ties at all to the Taliban government. Yet, in an effort to overthrow a regime that was essentially Pakistan's puppet, the United States has given Pakistan a pass on its nuclear program.
The Israel nuclear program began shortly after the founding of the Israeli state in 1948 and became a reality in the 1960s, shortly after the completion of the first Israeli production reactor in 1964. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that the Israeli nuclear program has produced between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. Israel has never tested a nuclear device; it has relied on testing of the non-nuclear components of its weapons to confirm that its bombs would actually work. Its official stance is complete denial of any nuclear program. The Knesset, Israel's parliament, has never debated any aspect of the nuclear bomb program.
Secrecy is so important to the Israeli nuclear program that Israeli agents kidnapped Mordecai Vanunu, who provided evidence of the existence of the program to the London Times, from Rome in July 1986 to spirit him away to a Israeli courts and prison.
Although the CIA has known about Israeli nuclear weapons for over 25 years, no American government has dared to expose Israel for what it is: one of the few countries in the world with nuclear weapons. Doing so would force the United States either to impose sanctions on Israel or to provide an excuse for doing otherwise.
Last week, Palestinian terrorists exploded suicide bombs in Jerusalem and Haifa. These attacks were the latest in a series of attacks and counterattacks by Israeli armed forces and Palestinian extremists. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon flew home from Washington to make a speech to his nation.
In the speech, he promised a response "[w]ith all the strength, determination and resources we have used until today and with resources at our disposal." Given the resources that Israel has used against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—including attacks by tanks and airplanes, forced resettlement, and attacks on infrastructure—there are few resources besides nuclear weapons that are at his "disposal" but are not yet "used." The Israeli Prime Minister made an implied threat of nuclear annihilation, and the American government did nothing.
The United States has a great deal of practice at overlooking the evil of nuclear weapons. We still hold the dubious distinction of being the only country ever to use a nuclear explosion against an enemy. Throughout the cold war, both the United States and Soviet Union planned scenarios in which they would try to fight and win a nuclear war. Both countries had systems that were designed to be used preemptively against the other. Many provocations between the two involved implied or even overt nuclear threats.
But our love affair with nuclear weapons is not just a thing of the past. Only six weeks ago, Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense told Wolf Blitzer of CNN that he could not rule out using nuclear weapons in Afghanistan. During the Gulf War, members of the original Bush administration made similar pronouncements about Iraq. If these weapons are truly evil, what are we if we threaten to use them? If they are not truly evil, then who are we to judge those who strive to get them? These weapons are only evil when it suits our purpose for them not to be so.
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