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Interview With James Walsh

Aired January 26, 2003 - 11:14   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The nuclear option is now on the table for Iraq, that according to the Bush administration. Some say it was never off the table. Our next guest is James Walsh of Harvard University, whose work focuses on weapons of mass destruction, and he's in our Boston bureau.
Good to see you, Jim.

JAMES WALSH, HARVARD UNIV.: Good morning, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, so what is this about this policy that the White House says it's old news, it's always been known that there could be plans for a U.S. preemptive strike using nuclear weapons.

WALSH: Well, in some ways, it is old news, but it's always been controversial. American policy on the subject of using nuclear weapons against a country that doesn't have them has always been sort of schizophrenic. The Department of Defense has staked out one position. They want to retain the right to use a nuclear weapon against another country even if it doesn't have nuclear weapons, as a way to deter the use of chem or bio weapons. Others people have argued that's a very dangerous path to take, and in particular the State Department has taken up the other point of view and says, hey, we have treaty commitments.

For example, the Nonproliferation Treaty, and that treaty is supposed to reduce proliferation threats, and the way you do that is you promise other countries not to whack them with nuclear weapons if they give up theirs. There aren't many countries that are going to give their nuclear weapons unless you tell them we won't attack you if you promise to give them up. And so there's been a competing set of views here, and the difference has been split down the middle. It's done so by being vague and ambiguous. So during the Gulf War, there was sort of a vague threat that we might use nuclear weapons, but nothing very specific. Here it seems, though, as if the preparations are a little more in the open and are more specific.

WHITFIELD: It sounds very specific. For example, here are the reported scenarios. Two scenarios in which that preemptive strike would take place. Firing of Iraqi facilities underground by use of U.S. nuclear weapons, and the second would be to thwart Iraqis' use of weapons of mass destruction.

A, how do you see that as being effective, and B, how would that work? WALSH: Well, let me back up on one point. You asked whether it was new or old, and what I was talking about was the general policy of deterring chem or bio use with nuclear. The preemption part, that is brand new. There's no president in U.S. history that has openly advocated striking a non-nuclear country first with nuclear weapons.

And how that would work -- there's been a lot of talk in the Pentagon about creating a bunker buster. They know that Saddam has German-made NATO-quality bunkers in which he could hide from conventional bombs, and what they wanted to do is design a bomb that would burrow into the earth and then set off a nuclear detonation and then take him out. Of course, you got to know where he is, and if you knew where he was, he probably would have been killed a long time ago. So I think that's problematic. There are problems all over the place here.

And let me focus on two in particular. One, this gives Israel more permission -- a greater ability to respond in the same way. If Israel gets hit with chem or bio, do we want them to respond with nuclear weapons? By saying we are going to do, I think it creates conditions that that's a more likely outcome.

And secondly, just personally now, I think we have to step back and ask, how did we get here? This is supposed to be a war in the name of non-proliferation, to stop the use of weapons of mass destruction. And now the CIA tells us in a report that by attacking Saddam, he will use his weapons of mass destruction, and now we're saying we'll use nuclear weapons against him, or even first, and that Israel might also do that. So somehow a war in the name of non- proliferation is a war all about using weapons of mass destruction. So I think somewhere along the line, we've gotten off track.

WHITFIELD: All right. Certainly sounds like a major contradiction, doesn't it, especially since you're saying you are in agreement that the use of preemptive is, indeed, new. It is not the same old policy.

WALSH: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: Jim Walsh, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

WALSH: Thank you, Fredricka.


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