Monday, September 12, 2005

U.S. Policy on Nuclear Weapons

The Washington Post discovered a draft of a U.S. military policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons, posted on a publicly accessible web site. Of course, the DoD has removed the document, but not before it was archived on other non-government sites, including the one linked above.

U.S. policy regarding first use of nuclear weapons is intentionally ambiguous to avoid giving the impression of having a list of circumstances in which we would not make a first nuclear strike. However, one specific scenario envisioned by the current draft document is the imminent threat of a strike using biological weapons where a nuclear blast is the only safe way to neutralize the biohazard. After all, if you toss a stick of dynamite into a container of aerosolized anthrax, you get the anthrax spread almost as effectively as if the terrorists did it themselves, but a nuclear blast hotter than the surface of the sun would toast the anthrax into a nice caramelized dessert topping.

The United States is debating resuming development of "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons, designed specifically to take out hardened subterranean targets, including a bunker drilled directly into the side of a mountain. Nuclear weapons are almost unimaginably powerful, but they also carry enormously damaging side effects, poisoning the landscape for generations to come. The fuel-air bomb (thermobaric explosive) carries an explosive punch exceeded only by nuclear weapons, and it can create an overpressure equal to a nuke. Any chemical or biological weapon within the blast area would be incinerated. The benefits of a bunker-buster nuke do not outweigh the costs of even being perceived as willing to contemplate using one.