-- -- Five former Nato generals, including the
former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff,
have written a
"radical manifesto" which states that "the West must
be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack
to try to halt the 'imminent' spread of nuclear and
other weapons of mass destruction."
In other words, the
generals argue that "the west" - meaning the nuclear
powers including the United States, France and
Britain - should prepare to use nuclear weapons, not
to deter a nuclear attack, not to retaliate
following such an attack, and not even to pre-empt
an imminent nuclear attack. Rather, they should use
them to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons
by a non-nuclear state. And not only that, they
should use them to prevent the acquisition of
biological or chemical weapons by such a state.
Under this doctrine,
the US could have used nuclear weapons in the
invasion of Iraq in 2003, to destroy that country's
presumed stockpiles of chemical and biological
weapons - stockpiles that did not in fact exist.
Under it, the US could have used nuclear weapons
against North Korea in 2006. The doctrine would also
have justified a nuclear attack on Pakistan at any
time prior to that country's nuclear tests in 1998.
Or on India, at any time prior to 1974.
The Nuremberg principles
are the bedrock of international law on war crimes.
Principle VI criminalises the "planning,
preparation, initiation or waging of a war of
aggression ..." and states that the following are
"Violations of the laws or customs of war which
include, but are not limited to, murder,
ill-treatment or deportation of slave labor or
for any other purpose of the civilian population
of or in occupied territory; murder or
ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on
the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public
or private property, wanton destruction of
cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not
justified by military necessity."
To state the
obvious: the use of a nuclear weapon on the military
production facilities of a non-nuclear state will
mean dropping big bombs on populated areas. Nuclear
test sites are kept remote for obvious reasons;
research labs, reactors and enrichment facilities
need not be. Nuclear bombs inflict total devastation
on the "cities, towns or villages" that they hit.
They are the ultimate in "wanton destruction". Their
use against a state with whom we are not actually at
war cannot, by definition, be "justified by military
"The west" has lived
from 1946 to the present day with a nuclear-armed
Russia; no necessity of using nuclear weapons
against that country ever arose. Similarly with
China, since 1964. To attack some new nuclear
pretender now would certainly constitute the "waging
of a war of aggression ..." That's a crime. And the
planning and preparation for such a war is no less a
crime than the war itself.
Next, consider what
it means to determine that a country is about to
acquire nuclear weapons. How does one know? The
facilities that Iran possesses to enrich uranium are
legal under the non-proliferation treaty. Yes, they
might be used, at some point, to provide fuel for
bombs. But maybe they won't be. How could we tell?
And suppose we were wrong? Ambiguity is the nature
of this situation, and of the world in which we
live. During the cold war, ambiguity helped keep
both sides safe: it was a stabilising force. We
would not use nuclear weapons, under the systems
then devised, unless ambiguity disappeared. But the
generals' doctrine has no tolerance for ambiguity;
it would make ambiguity itself a cause for war.
Thus, causes for war could be made to arise,
wherever anyone in power wanted them to.
doctrine would not only violate international law,
it repudiates the principle of international law.
For a law to be a law, it must apply equally to all.
But the doctrine holds that "the west" is
fundamentally a different entity from all other
countries. As the former Reagan official Paul Craig
Roberts has pointed out, it holds that our use of
weapons of mass destruction to prevent the
acquisition of weapons of mass destruction is not,
itself, an illegal use of weapons of mass
destruction. Thus "the west" can stand as judge,
jury and executioner over all other countries. By
what right? No law works that way. And no country
claiming such a right can also claim to respect the
law, or ask any other country to respect it.
we stated the generals' doctrine as a principle:
that any nuclear state which suspects another
state of being about to acquire nuclear weapons has
the right to attack that state - and with nuclear
weapons if it has them. Now suppose North Korea
suspects South Korea of that intention. Does North
Korea acquire a right to strike the South? Under any
principle of law, the generals' answer must be, that
it does. Thus their doctrine does not protect
against nuclear war. It leads, rather, directly to
Is this proposed
doctrine unprecedented? No, in fact it is not. For
as Heather Purcell and I
documented in 1994, US nuclear war-fighting
plans in 1961 called for an unprovoked attack on the
Soviet Union, as soon as sufficient nuclear forces
were expected to be ready, in late 1963. President
Kennedy quashed the plan. As JFK's adviser Ted
Sorensen put it in a letter to the New York Times on
July 1, 2002:
pre-emptive strike is usually sold to the
president as a 'surgical' air strike; there is
no such thing. So many bombings are required
that widespread devastation, chaos and war
unavoidably follow ... Yes, Kennedy 'thought
about' a pre-emptive strike; but he forcefully
rejected it, as would any thoughtful American
president or citizen."
It's not just
citizens and presidents who are obliged to think
carefully about what General Shalikashvili and his
British, French, German and Dutch colleagues now
suggest. Military officers - as they know well -
also have that obligation. Nuremberg Principle IV
fact that a person acted pursuant to order of
his government or of a superior does not relieve
him from responsibility under international law,
provided a moral choice was in fact possible to
Any officer in the
nuclear chain of command of the United States,
Britain or France, faced with an order to use
nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state would be
obliged, as a matter of law, to ponder those words
with care. For ultimately, as Nuremberg showed, it
is not force that prevails. In the final analysis,
it is law.