Earth Day and Apocalypse W
April 21, 2006
The challenge for any Earth Day assessment of the Bush Administration’s policies is where do you begin? With a record that includes refusing to acknowledge evidence of global warming and weakening environmental laws — there is no shortage of material demonstrating this Administration’s poor stewardship of the nation’s environment.
While the calamity of these policies cannot be understated, the greatest environmental threat presented by the Bush administration has been its Strangelovian policies on nuclear proliferation. From his decisions on weapons systems, his refusal to engage North Korea or Iran , to his failure to safeguard nuclear technology from the former Soviet Union , President Bush has placed us at the greatest risk of nuclear catastrophe since the Cold War. From day one, President Bush made the Reagan-era “Star Wars” missile defense program his top defense priority and promptly withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Treaty with the Soviet Union — which limited the deployment of missile defenses to ensure that neither party would seek a preemptive first strike — in order to begin deployment. After two decades and approximately $100 billion, this program has yet to demonstrate that it will work.
In reality, the more likely path of a nuclear weapon targeted at the U.S. is via sea since experts estimate that a nuclear weapon smuggled in a ship container has a 90 percent chance of clearing customs undetected. President Bush, however, would rather spend $10 billion a year on a missile defense program that does not work, than provide an additional $1 billion needed for port security efforts. This is very disturbing considering that the nation’s busiest international port is only 30 miles south.
On top of this, the Bush administration reversed long-standing U.S. policy against the first use of nuclear weapons while also seeking to develop newer nuclear weapons. The net effect of these actions has been to raise concerns in Russia and China that the U.S. is seeking a crippling first strike capability and spur a new arms race.
President Bush also refuses to take action needed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons among rogue nations or terrorists organizations. This includes under-funding efforts to secure nuclear weapons materials from the former Soviet Union and killing a similar plan to employ former nuclear weapons scientists from Libya and Iraq despite state department warnings that these unemployed scientists could sell their knowledge to rogue nations.
President Bush’s most enduring legacy and greatest failure may be a nuclear North Korea and Iran . In 1994, when North Korea began to take steps towards converting their fuel rods from their nuclear power plants to weapons-grade plutonium, President Clinton prepared for war and, as a result, North Korea backed down and agreed to lock up the fuel rods and adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (“NNPT”) in return for energy assistance. President Bush, however, rejected this policy in favor of a black-and-white approach in which North Korea was part of the “axis of evil.” North Korea responded in 2003 by withdrawing from the NNPT, unlocking the fuel rods and ultimately developing nuclear weapons while signaling a willingness to negotiate and reverse course at each key step in the process. The Bush Administration, however, refused to negotiate because it wanted to preserve “moral clarity” according to a White House memo. At about the same time, Iran also communicated a willingness to discuss its nuclear program and support of terrorist organizations as part of normalizing relations. Vice President Cheney and Administration neo-cons bent on “regime change,” however, blocked these negotiations as well. Instead of taking action when confronted by the danger of a nuclear North Korea and Iran , President Bush chose “moral clarity” and invading non-nuclear Iraq . It is amazing that this administration which raised the specter of mushroom clouds where the threat was non-existent can be so blind to a real nuclear threat.
After watching the world’s first nuclear explosion, Manhattan Project Director Robert Oppenheimer thought of a passage from a Hindu text: “I am … death, the destroyer of worlds.” At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy echoed this theme when he warned that “(w)e have the power to make this the best generation … in the history of the world or to make it the last.”
Today, the dark cloud of nuclear danger that had dissipated with the end of the Cold War, is gathering again as the nuclear genie travels the globe unchaperoned. On this Earth Day, we should each remember the Indian proverb that “(w)e do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” and that it is us to up to protect the treasure which they have entrusted us with from the “destroyer of worlds” which President Bush so blindly embraces.