Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
George Bush didn’t exactly deny Seymour Hersh’s report in The New Yorker that the Administration is considering using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.
Neither did Scott McClellan.
Bush called it “wild speculation,” and McClellan said the United States would go ahead with "normal military contingency planning."
Those are hardly categorical denials.
So let’s look at what the human costs of dropping a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran might entail.
They are astronomical.
“The number of deaths could exceed a million, and the number of people with increased cancer risks could exceed 10 million,” according to a backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists from May 2005.
The National Academy of Sciences studied these earth-penetrating nuclear weapons last year. They could “kill up to a million people or more if used in heavily populated areas,” concluded the report, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Physicians for Social Responsibility examined the risks of a more advanced buster-bunker weapon, and it eerily tabulated the toll from an attack on the underground nuclear facility in Esfahan, Iran. “Three million people would be killed by radiation within two weeks of the explosion, and 35 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, would be exposed to increased levels of cancer-causing radiation,” according to a summary of that study in the backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
While Congress last year denied funding for a new nuclear bunker-buster weapon, the Pentagon already has a stockpile of one such weapon in the arsenal: the B61-Mod11, according to Stephen Young, a senior analyst at the Federation of the American Scientists.
That the Administration is considering using such a weapon against Iran is “horrifying and ludicrous,” says Young.
But it is now Bush Administration doctrine to be able to use such weapons. The new “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” which Bush unveiled in March, discusses the use of nuclear weapons in an offensive way. “Our deterrence strategy no longer rests primarily on the grim premise of inflicting devastating consequences on potential foes,” it states. “Both offenses and defenses are necessary. . . . Safe, credible, and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a critical role.”
Even more explicit is the Pentagon’s draft of a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons, which was revealed by Walter Pincus of The Washington Post last September.
It envisions using nuclear weapons for “attacks on adversary installations including WMD, deep hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons.” It says that the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons “if necessary to prevent” another country from using WMDs.
This is a mere amplification of the Nuclear Posture Review of December 31, 2001, which stated: “Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities).”
If the United States used nuclear weapons against Iran, it would be violating the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty, which prohibits nations that possess nuclear weapons from dropping them on nations that don’t.
But in the Bush Administration, planning to do this is just “normal” behavior.
And a million casualties or more?
For Bush, that is evidently not a disqualification.