Fighting Fire with Fire

  Weapons of Mass Destruction and National Defense   The announcement from the White House couldn't have been clearer. A document released last week, titled National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, says, "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force -- including through resort to all of our options -- to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies." "All our options" includes "our conventional and nuclear response and defense capabilities." So, if a terrorist group or hostile nation uses weapons of mass destruction against us, we are reserving the right to use such weapons in retaliation. There are even circumstances where we reserve the right to "preemptive measures" against nations or groups about to attack with weapons of mass destruction. This is a terrifying prospect -- terrifying, but sadly necessary in this very dangerous, threatening world. Or at least, publicly announcing that we reserve the right to use nuclear weapons is necessary -- and effective. Not only does the mention of nuclear weapons frighten us, but it also frightens our enemies. As the 1991 Gulf War began, then-President Bush sent a letter to Iraq assuring Saddam Hussein of "the strongest possible response" to the use of chemical or biological weapons against American troops. Saddam took that to mean a nuclear response and, according to the Washington Post, Iraqis have told U.S. officials that it "was a powerful deterrent." President George W. Bush appears to be thinking along the same lines. This is similar to the Cold War doctrine of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction. We made the Soviets believe that if they attacked us with nuclear weapons, we would retaliate with nuclear weapons even though the result would surely have been the destruction of both nations. But there was no other way to assure peace except through MAD, dreadful as that concept was. This new White House policy -- like MAD -- raises questions from those who hold to just war doctrine. Nuclear arms, after all, are not the weapons of choice for just warriors, who believe, above all, in protecting non-combatants. Nuclear arms are weapons of total war, and their use would certainly mean substantial civilian casualties. The use of nuclear weapons and the death of civilians, however, could be justified if their use prevented even greater evils. This was the rationale behind the use of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where those bombs brought the war in the Pacific to an abrupt end, saving an invasion of Japan that would have resulted in more bloodshed, destruction, and suffering for soldiers and civilians than the bombs. It was the same justification the Church embraced during the Cold War. So I believe that the president's position reflects the sound prudential argument in this fallen world. In order to deter an aggressive attack with weapons of mass destruction, we must at least say that we are prepared to respond in kind. Would we actually do it? I don't know. But only a credible threat will effectively frighten and deter the evil men who already possess chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Every Christian should be on his or her knees praying that no one tests this policy. For further information: The unclassified version of the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction is available at the Department of State's website. Read the statement by President Bush (December 11, 2002) on the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. Mike Allen and Barton Gellman, "Preemptive Strikes Part of U.S. Strategic Doctrine," Washington Post, A01. Joby Warrick, "Scientists Hold Key to Iraqi Arms Search," Washington Post, 15 December 2002, A01. "Security in Dangerous Times" -- in this "BreakPoint This Week" special broadcast, Edwin Meese III, former U.S. Attorney General under President Reagan and currently Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow in Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, brings his experience and faith in Christ to bear on issues of terrorism today. BreakPoint commentary no. 021004, "Doing Justice in a Time of War: Preemptive Attacks." See BreakPoint's fact sheet on just war theory. Dr. Nile Gardiner, "The Right Side of History," The Heritage Foundation, 12 December 2002. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently delivered a speech on the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative at The Heritage Foundation.


Chuck Colson



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