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The truth on weapons of mass destruction

This article is over 21 years, 9 months old
Bush and Blair claim war on Iraq is about stopping Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction. But who is the real threat in the world? And who has, and has used, weapons of mass destruction? \"The people who do most of the shouting about weapons of mass destruction have those weapons themselves,\" says Nigel Chamberlain from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Issue 1818

Bush and Blair claim war on Iraq is about stopping Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction. But who is the real threat in the world? And who has, and has used, weapons of mass destruction? ‘The people who do most of the shouting about weapons of mass destruction have those weapons themselves,’ says Nigel Chamberlain from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The arsenal in US and British hands

THE UNITED States has 10,600 nuclear warheads in its stockpile. That includes 550 intercontinental ballistic missiles with 1,700 warheads. There are also 18 Trident nuclear powered submarines which carry a total of 3,120 warheads, 320 Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles, 94 B-52 bombers and 21 B-2 bombers. The B-2s carry the US’s new ‘earth penetrating’ nuclear bomb. The US’s chief ally is Britain, which has around 200 warheads with four nuclear submarines which can carry 64 nuclear missiles.

Both these countries are willing to use nuclear weapons. US defence policy now authorises the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, reported the Los Angeles Times earlier this year. The paper said that US policy is now that nuclear weapons could be used when there is an unexpected development in a conventional war. New Labour’s 1998 Strategic Defence Review allows ‘the limited use of nuclear weapons’.

The US is still the only state to have actually used nuclear weapons in war. The US exploded an untested uranium bomb above the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945. It killed 140,000 out of a population of 350,000. The US then dropped a nuclear bomb on another Japanese city, Nagasaki, killing 70,000 out of 270,000 inhabitants.

Other nuclear powers

Five nuclear powers dominate the UN’s security council, which authorises military action against other countries. As well as the US and Britain these are Russia, China and France.

Russia has a declining stock of nuclear weapons, but is still the world’s second largest nuclear power. It has 8,400 nuclear warheads. That includes 706 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 14 operational nuclear submarines and 78 bombers. France has 288 warheads including 60 bombers capable of carrying nuclear missiles, and three nuclear submarines.

China does not issue detailed figures on nuclear capability, but it is estimated that it has 130 aircraft which can carry nuclear missiles, as well as 125 land-based missiles and 12 nuclear submarines.

There is one state in the Middle East that has been secretly developing nuclear weapons – Israel. It has up to 200 nuclear weapons. It refuses to let in any weapons inspectors at all. Yet the US gives Israel $3 billion in military and economic ‘aid’ every year. Between 1980 and 1995 it bought or ‘received’ 260 F-16 fighter aircraft from the US which can drop nuclear bombs.

Former Pentagon and US state department officials told the Washington Post in June this year that Israel was also arming three submarines with missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Spreading the threat

THE MAJOR powers’ access to nuclear weapons fuels the arms race around the world. India and Pakistan threatened to start a nuclear war in June in their longstanding dispute over Kashmir. India has an estimated 30-35 nuclear weapons and Pakistan an estimated 48 nuclear weapons.

The US sells weapons to both sides, after abandoning an arms embargo on both countries in September last year. Russia also sells arms to India, and China sells to Pakistan. France sells Mirage jets to both air forces.

The real makers of biological bombs

THE US is the world’s biggest investor in ‘biodefence’. It refuses to allow any inspections of its research. The campaign group GeneWatch UK last month condemned the US secrecy. ‘Investment in biodefence may look like a screen for the development of weapons that are intended for offensive use,’ it said. ‘Because the US have been unwilling to declare programmes in the past, their motives inevitably come under scrutiny.’

During former US president Clinton’s administration the US secretly built and tested a model of an anthrax bomb. The US also constructed a facility in Nevada where bacteria could have been produced for use in biological weapons, according to a New York Times report in September last year.

Bush’s administration whipped up hysteria in the wake of 11 September over letters contaminated with anthrax that killed five people in the US. The anthrax spores are now suspected to have come from the US’s own research facilities.

The rogue state Bush supports

‘Iraq has answered a decade of United Nations demands with a decade of defiance. Are UN resolutions to be honoured and enforced or cast aside without consequence?’ Those were the words George Bush used last week when addressing the UN general assembly. Tony Blair used the same argument in his TUC speech.

Talk of the ‘flouting’ of UN resolutions is a fig leaf. One state in the world has broken many, many more UN resolutions than Iraq. Yet Bush and Blair are not threatening any action against it. That state, Israel, is the US’s key ally in the oil-rich Middle East. Israel has ridden roughshod over UN resolutions since its creation in 1948.

The UN passed a partition plan for Palestine in 1947. It gave 55 percent of Palestine to Israeli settlers, who were only 30 percent of the population. This was not enough for the Israelis. Armed militias ethnically cleansed 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. Israel grabbed 77 percent of Palestine. The UN general assembly passed Resolution 194 in response. It calls for the Palestinians to be allowed to return to their homes. This resolution has been reaffirmed at least 28 times since 1948. Israel has ignored it every time.

Israel invaded and took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 242 in response. This called for ‘withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’. Israeli troops are still occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip 35 years later. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 338 in 1973 calling for the implementation of Resolution 242. After the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in September 2000 the UN Security Council again reaffirmed both Resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions are both fully binding, and can be enforced by sanctions and military action.

Between 1955 and 1992 there were, in all, 65 UN Security Council resolutions passed against Israel. All of them were ignored. This pattern continues today. Israel this year invaded the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin and Palestinian cities that were supposed to be Palestinian-controlled under the peace process.

The UN Security Council passed resolutions calling for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. Israel did not withdraw. The UN Security Council passed a resolution in April to send a UN fact-finding mission into Jenin to discover whether the Israelis had massacred people there. Israel refused to allow a UN group into the camp.

Despite its flouting of UN decisions and international law there has been no military or economic action threatened against Israel. This has allowed Israel’s leaders, including the current hardline prime minister Ariel Sharon, to tighten the noose around the neck of the Palestinians. The US’s war on terror and its backing for Sharon are threatening another catastrophe for the Palestinian people. ‘After 11 September the Israeli ruling class thought it was even more right, and that it could wage war without limit,’ says Michel Warschawski, an Israeli revolutionary socialist.

‘They said, ‘We are waging the same war as Bush. We are in the front line of the war against terrorism. We have the US with us.’ There has been an unprecedented dehumanisation. The Palestinians are not seen as human beings but as terrorists. What held Israel back previously was international pressure. But today Washington is following Israel. The framework of the war has become Israeli-Arab. Sharon is pushing for war against the Arabs and Iraq. According to the journalist George Novak, Sharon called on the US to wage war against Saudi Arabia and Egypt during a closed meeting of the foreign affairs committee in the US Senate.

‘The ultimate objective is to expel the Palestinians. There are terrifying slogans appearing. There is huge graffiti at Jerusalem bus station saying, ‘Holocaust for the Arabs’, a car sticker published by the governing parties says, ‘Peace is a catastrophe – we want war.’ And everywhere you see posters: ‘Jordan is the Palestinian state, transfer now.’ The ‘transfer’, meaning ethnic cleansing, is the line of four of the eight parties in the governing coalition. The situation is getting worse month by month. Finally, Israel is pushing for ‘the nuclear option’. Sharon declared a month ago, ‘If the Iraqis fire missiles on Tel Aviv, and even if there are no victims, we will use nuclear weapons.’ Since Bush’s declaration on the ‘axis of evil’ Sharon has pushed to attack Iraq. The question is not whether it will happen but when and how.’

The record on chemical weapons

DURING THE Vietnam War the US dropped 17 million gallons of defoliant. The Agent Orange defoliant contained one of the most toxic substances known to humanity, dioxin. It caused massive deformities in children long after the US left Vietnam. The US also dropped napalm on Vietnamese villages.

The US experimented with napalm to ensure it clung to human flesh and couldn’t be washed off. The US World Trade Journal reported in 1966, ‘Today when the American troops enter the villages of South Vietnam they make it a habit to throw gas grenades into the shelters. ‘Obviously there are some innocent victims.’

Britain used mustard gas and white phosphorus incendiaries in the First World War, along with Germany and France. Israel used phosphorus bombs during its invasion of the Lebanon in 1982 in which 12,000 Lebanese civilians were killed. ‘Dr Shamaa found that two five day old twins had already died but they were still on fire,’ reported journalist Robert Fisk. ”I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames,’ she said.’When I took them out half an hour later they were still burning’.’

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein felt he could easily get away with using poison gas against Iranian troops and Kurdish civilians during his eight-year war with Iran that started in 1980. There was no outcry from Western governments. US military observers on the ground at the time knew exactly what was happening, and approved of it.

Figures are from the US-based Natural Resources Defence Council. For full details go to


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