(Host) The Bush administration, backed by Congressional sentiment favoring a new approach to nuclear weapons, is exploring the idea of smaller nuclear weapons, less than five kilotons in strength. Commentator Philip Baruth believes fervently in this approach. His only fear is that they won’t make these new bombs small enough.
(Baruth) According to the New York Times this morning, the Bush administration is taking steps to “revamp” America’s atomic arsenal, steps that “include relaxing a ban on research into smaller nuclear weapons.” These so called mini-nukes five kilotons or less might be used to penetrate underground bunkers hiding chemical weapons, biological weapons or cowardly dictators. Of course, critics point out that the ban was originally imposed to prevent the development of useful nuclear weapons; the idea was to make nuclear force unusable, unthinkable.
But leave it to so-called “experts” and armchair critics to tear down a fully cool idea. I say rock on, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. As far as I’m concerned, nuclear weapons and cellular phones should both be as small and light-weight and sexy in design as possible.
Take the opening of the Iraq war. We got this hot intelligence that Saddam was holed up in a secret bunker beneath a compound in Baghdad, so President Bush launched a cruise missile strike to take him out. But because of clunky, outdated, non-sexy Tomahawk missiles, we were only able to destroy the compound and some surrounding buildings and maybe twenty or thirty feet of the ground underneath. But if you’re gonna go to war in the Cradle of Civilization, you need to be able to rock that cradle. A mini-nuke removes all doubt.
Well, okay, the New York Times also reported today that there actually was no secret bunker under that compound in Baghdad. The CIA and the Army both looked, and – no bunker, no bodies; just this wicked big hole we dug with the Tomahawks. But, you know, so the hot intelligence was wrong. I’m here to tell you that a lack of intelligence never has and never will stop the top brass at the United States Pentagon.
My only fear is that they’re not going to make these nukes small enough to really wow the rest of the world. Because that’s what it’s all about: showing the world that our nukes are no longer off the table. We’ll use them responsibly, but we will use them – no mistake about it. Sure, we’re gonna have to come up with some new rules of etiquette, just like cell-phones when every country started racing to make them smaller and sleeker so they could control the market. Finally cells got small enough and common enough that everyone had one on them at all times, and we gave them [rings] like the William Tell Overture. So we all learned to turn our cells off when we went into a movie. And the U.S. and all the other countries that start designing smaller and sexier nukes will eventually come up with some unspoken rules about when it’s cool to use them and when it’s not.
And sure, there’s always gonna be that handful of people who forget to turn off their cell, and ruin the end of the movie, and there’s always gonna be a country here or there that goes a little over the top with their mini-nukes. But it’s not the end of the world. Everybody just gives them this massive dirty look, and then looks at each other and rolls their eyes, and, you know, life goes on.
Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.