Who Has Weapons of Mass Destruction-And Why?
By Charles J. Barton, Ph.D., Ret. Chemist
Oak Ridge, TN
Note: The author worked in research for 30 years at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories. This article was submitted by Dr. Barton's pastor and recommended by Donald B. Trauger (author of Horsepower to Nuclear Power) as "appropriate and timely for our readers."
The question "Who has weapons of mass destruction?" (commonly referred to as WMDs) has been of global concern at least since the 1940s. The three principal types appear to be nuclear bombs, poisonous gases, and biological agents such as anthrax and smallpox. The question whether Iraq had weapons of the latter two types and an interest in obtaining nuclear bombs, the stated reason for the pre-emptive strike against that nation, is still under investigation. The much more important question, in this writer's opinion, "Did Saddam Hussein have the means to use WMDs against our country?" seems to have been overlooked by the Bush administration and our news media.
I will confine my discussion to nuclear bombs because the identity of nations possessing them is fairly clear and efforts of countries such as Iran and North Korea to obtain them is a matter of current concern. The report that Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from Africa proved to be bogus. Even if it had been true, it should have been put in the "so-what" category. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, owes its existence primarily to the need for facilities to enrich uranium from the 0.7 percent level of the naturally occurring element to the 90 plus level of bomb grade material. Even if Iraq had possessed the technology to accomplish this formidable task, which seems unlikely, it is a time-consuming operation.
The U. S., with the support from our British ally, developed the atomic bomb because we were afraid that Germany might do so. Russia soon achieved that capability and the two nations then embarked on programs to see who could produce the greatest number and the most powerful bombs. More about that later.
A cursory view of some nations known to possess atomic bombs provides probable causes for their expenditure for that purpose. Western European countries were afraid of Russia, as we were. India and Pakistan are afraid of each other. Israel was afraid of its Arab neighbors. A report that they have 300 bombs has neither been confirmed nor denied, to the best of my knowledge. The above information is illustrative of the extent of global proliferation of atomic bombs that has occurred in spite of President Carter's efforts to reduce the likelihood of the proliferation of atomic bombs. His policy resulted in the elimination of the U. S. ability to reprocess used fuel from nuclear power reactors and made disposal of our nuclear wastes more costly than that of France, Great Britain, and Japan which have the reprocessing capability.
In thinking about the U. S. supply of nuclear bombs, I was reminded of Jesus Christ's question: "Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" (Mt. 7:3). The plank in this instance is of tremendous proportions. Our government announced last year, somewhat proudly I thought, that an agreement had been reached with Russia to reduce our inventory of atomic bombs to 2000, plus or minus a couple of hundred.
Please note that most of our bombs, as well as Russia's, are the so-called hydrogen bombs which are tremendously more powerful than the two bombs exploded in Japan. Also, please note that we have the capability of delivering said bombs to targets in Russia and elsewhere around the globe. Only once (to my knowledge) during the 1963 Cuban missile crisis, has the possibility of launching atomic bombs been seriously considered. A half dozen bombs would pulverize most countries. The specter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the recognition of "mutually assured destruction" has deterred bomb use.
Therefore, I am raising the question: "Why do we maintain this huge number of bombs that we are unlikely to use?" Of whom are we afraid? Could not some of the money that we spend for bomb maintenance be better used to build good will in our relations with other nations around the world?
I found an example of this type of activity in Harry Emerson Fosdick's book, The Challenge of the Present Crisis, published in 1917. He wrote: "What now is our surest reliance in America against any unresolvable misunderstanding with China? It lies in the $50,000,000 which out of sheer good will our government returned to China when the Boxer indemnity was paid. Hundreds of Chinese students supported by the interest of that fund are studying in America now and in every intelligent Chinese mind there is a settled predisposition to trust America." Memory of this attitude has unfortunately escaped from the minds of both Chinese and American citizens, but it demonstrates the possibility of developing international good will.
In the years since World War I, many avenues for producing good will among needy countries have been developed. There is no doubt in my mind that funneling a fraction of the money that we are spending on maintenance of nuclear bombs into such use could go a long way toward improving the American image throughout the world. Also, there would be the possibility of turning our swords into plowshares by using the enriched uranium and plutonium recovered by dissembling our nuclear bombs to generate electricity in nuclear power plants.
In an earlier article titled "Nuclear War: Perspectives from the Psalms" (Baptist Peacemaker, October 1983), I raised the question: "What can the individuals do in regard to nuclear war?" I urged communication of any disagreement that we have with government policies to our elected representatives and banding together with likeminded people to make our opposition more effective. That suggestion seems appropriate in our present situation. I believe that we should put our trust in God as the psalmist and many others have advocated rather than in our military might and nuclear bombs. I will continue to pray for recognition of that need.