Symposium INDEX

Japan Peace Conference 2005
International Symposium


Zia Mian

Program on Science and Global Security
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
Princeton University


Protecting the Empire:
Nuclear Weapons, Military Bases and the United States


Wars leave many enduring legacies, for those who believe they were defeated, for those who think they are victorious, and for those who are trapped in between. Sixty years after World War II, the most obvious legacies that remain are nuclear weapons and the global military presence of the U.S. military. These nuclear weapons, military bases and alliances give the United States a global reach.

The U.S. is a nuclear-armed empire. It has over 10,000 nuclear weapons, 2000 of which are still on hair-trigger alert and ready to be used in fifteen minutes, and these missiles can reach almost anywhere in the world.1 With these weapons, the U.S. can threaten anywhere in the world. Ignoring its international legal commitments under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) to eliminate its nuclear weapons, the U.S. is planning to develop new nuclear weapons that are explicitly designed to last longer and to be seen to be more useable. At the same time, the U.S. seeks to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that may limit U.S. capacity to exercise political and military power in key regions of the world.

The United States is also an "empire of bases".2 It has about 700 military bases in 130 or so countries and a large number of other military facilities in these and other countries. It is estimated there are now over 500,000 U.S. military personnel and associated civilians stationed in over 150 countries.3 The U.S. 2004 Global Defense Posture Review involves increasing the number of foreign U.S. bases as part of the so-called Global War on Terror. It has long been evident that the U.S. has placed its needs for military bases far above any concern for democracy in such countries. American agreements for creating and keeping bases have recently been described as often no more than "deals with devils."4 Future base agreements will no doubt involve the same kind of deals with the same kind of devils.

The U.S. has also long-standing military alliances with key countries around the world. Many of them were first created at the end of World War II and in the early years of the Cold War. These alliances have continued to be important sixty years later. They show signs of becoming stronger not weaker. There are also new countries that the U.S. is trying to make into allies. It has watched quietly as some of these allies have armed themselves with nuclear weapons.
These nuclear weapons, bases and alliances are the most obvious instruments of the American empire and allow it to exercise power and influence every hour of every day across the world. It is important to understand what roles they play and how they are increasingly connected together. We look at each of these issues here, and try to examine the connection between them and the danger they pose.


1 "U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2005", Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, January/February, 2005.
2 Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, Henry Holt, 2004.
4 Alexander Cooley, "Base Politics", Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005.


Nuclear Weapons

After the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mahatma Gandhi declared: "The atom bomb brought an empty victory to the Allied arms, but it resulted for the time being in destroying the soul of Japan. What has happened to the soul of the destroying nation is yet too early to see."

During the Cold War, it became clear what had happened to America. It made more and bigger nuclear weapons and threatened to end the world. It is estimated that the United States nuclear war plan in 1960 (involving only some 3,000 nuclear warheads - out of a total of 20,000 then available) would have resulted in the deaths of 360-525 million people.5

The U.S. also deployed nuclear weapons and their components to many other countries, including Canada, Cuba, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, Morocco, Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, UK, and West Germany. It seems that in some cases even the governments of these countries did not know that U.S. bases in their country stored nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons components. The lack of democratic accountability was profound.

For many decades, U.S. leaders claimed these nuclear weapons were a necessary part of the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. But now fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons have become more important than ever as instruments of U.S. policy. The Bush Administration's "Nuclear Posture Review 2002" announced continued reliance for the indefinite future on nuclear weapons, "to achieve strategic and political objectives." It mandated new facilities for the manufacture of nuclear bombs, research into new kinds of nuclear weapons, new delivery systems, and much more.

The "Nuclear Posture Review 2002" laid out a new strategy, in which nuclear weapons were to be used to "dissuade adversaries from undertaking military programs or operations that could threaten U.S. interests or those of allies". It named as possible targets, Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya, and opened the door to the use of nuclear weapons to respond to "sudden and unpredicted security challenges." In particular, the Nuclear Posture Review proposed that "in setting requirements for nuclear strike capabilities," it was necessary to consider "unexpected contingencies" which involved "sudden and unpredicted security challenges," citing as an example "a sudden regime change by which an existing nuclear arsenal comes into the hands of a new, hostile leadership group."

The pressure for this has come from nuclear weapons designers and nuclear military planners, a vast and powerful complex created in the Cold War that has been looking for a new role in the world. Senior officials from the nuclear weapons laboratories, who are also advisors to the US military, have proposed developing a special low-yield nuclear arsenal, directed at Third World countries. They suggest that in the post-Cold War world, the U.S. needs new kinds of low-yield nuclear weapons because continued U.S. "reliance on high-yield strategic [nuclear] weapons could lead to self-deterrence, a limitation of strategic options."

The U.S. Congress has approved funds for a new nuclear weapons development program, the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, the purpose of which is to eventually replace all the nuclear warheads in a future (~ 6,000 weapon) U.S. arsenal with newly-designed and newly-built warheads, which are supposed to be more easily built and maintained than the existing weapons, to last longer and be more reliable, and to do this without nuclear testing. The U.S. military has also now put in place a 2004 "Interim Global Strike Alert Order" that requires it to be ready to attack countries anywhere in the world at very short notice. The military claims to be able to carry out such attacks within "half a day or less" and to use nuclear weapons in such an attack.

It is clear from these developments that the nuclear legacy of the Cold War has created a profound predicament for our time. The U.S. is trying to create nuclear weapons that can be more useable, especially against third world countries. They want to lift the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that has stopped these weapons from being used in war for sixty years.


5 Matthew McKinzie, Thomas Cochran, Robert Norris and William Arkin, The U.S. Nuclear War Plan: A time for change, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2001.


Nuclear weapons and military bases

American concern about nuclear proliferation to the third world is part of a long story. It is important to remember that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty was negotiated and signed in the late 1960s, a period in which the United States was engaged in wars in South-East Asia and actively intervening in the Middle East and Latin America. The NPT emerged in large part because U.S. leaders believed the spread of nuclear weapons to a region of vital interest to the United States would increase the risks of any American intervention there.

However, after the Cold War, this concern about the spread of nuclear weapons has grown. One reason is that without the Soviet Union to counter it, the U.S. feels it can intervene in third world countries with greater freedom. Third World militaries cannot hope to fight and win a conventional war against the United States. As one Bush administration official said of nuclear weapons: "It is a real equalizer if youユre a pissant little country with no hope of matching the U.S. militarily."6 Nuclear weapons in the hands of states in the regions where the U.S. wants to intervene would clearly make any intervention far more costly and harder to sell to American public opinion.

But the American drive to control nuclear proliferation is also directly connected to the international network of U.S. military bases around the world. Michael May, the director emeritus of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Americaユs second major nuclear weapons laboratory) and Michael Nacht, former assistant director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Clinton administration have explained that:

"Since the cold war, the top US military priority, as stated in congressional testimonies, has been to deploy the world's most effective power projection forces. These forces have been used in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf and central Asia. A power projection force operates in or near hostile territory... Any power projection force needs air bases and ports of debarkation and logistics centers for sustained operations. These facilities must be rented or conquered. Their number is limited - a handful in Iraq, and not many more in East Asia, seven or so in Japan, some bases in South Korea, and a few others. These facilities are highly vulnerable even to inaccurate nuclear missile attacks. They are "soft targets", not "hardened" against nuclear weapons...

The nuclear threat to essential US force-projection assets largely counterbalances the advantage provided by US conventional forces, without necessarily consigning whole cities and industrial bases to destruction. A great deal is at stake in constraining the missile and nuclear weapons capabilities of North Korea and other rogue states. The US thus must utilize all the resources at its disposal, working constructively with its allies and other interested parties, to deny these states the capabilities they almost surely seek to acquire. A more resilient forward defense and deterrent posture is essential to an effective American global strategy. "7

The fear of a nuclear threat to American military bases and forces around the world has triggered the search for ways to defend them and to project American power through other means. As Andrew Lichterman has observed:

"For the wars of the 21st Century, the United States is seeking unilaterally assured destruction, the capacity to reach across the planet to destroy an adversary's most dangerous weapons before they can be used, or to kill leaders it has declared to be unacceptable, and then to prevent retaliation against either U.S. forward deployed forces or the United States itself."8

There are many systems being developed for this purpose. One example is the Space Based Laser program; it seeks to build lasers that can shoot down long and short range missiles. This is part of a much larger set of programs, including include anti-ballistic missile systems for use on the battlefield, other systems to protect U.S. aircraft carriers and battle ships, and an airborne laser for shooting down missiles soon after launch, as well as a proposed Global Protection Against Limited Strikes system that could be capable of destroying 100-200 missile warheads.9

It would appear US military planners see future conflict as inevitable, and confronted with military forces armed with weapons and strategies based on following the US example, their response is to find means to protect their imperial expeditionary forces so that they can be deployed and can fight wars without taking large casualties and so risking the loss of American public support.


6 Bill Keller, "The Thinkable", New York Times, May 4, 2003.
7 Michael May and Michael Nacht, "The Real Nuclear Threat Is To America's Bases," Financial Times, September 22, 2005
8 Andrew Lichterman, Missiles of Empire: America's 21st Century Global Legions, WSLF information Bulletin, 2003,
9 Michael O'Hanlon, Star Wars Strikes Back, Foreign Affairs, November/December 1999.


Nuclear Alliances

The U.S. has also long relied on countries serving as allies for regional conflicts. Some of these have been nuclear-armed. Others have been used as bases from where U.S. nuclear forces can be deployed. Still others have been encouraged to strengthen their military and play a role in American war plans.

The most famous examples are Britain and France, who played these roles in Europe during the Cold War. The United States helped both countries with their nuclear weapons programs as part of this relationship. In the Middle East, the most famous and controversial example of a nuclear-armed US ally is Israel. Israel has the biggest and most successful nuclear weapons program outside of the five major nuclear weapons states.10 It has not signed the NPT and is believed to have several hundred nuclear weapons and to possess ballistic missiles with a range up to 4000 km (Jericho-2), as well as aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons and submarine launched nuclear cruise missiles.

United States support for Israel seems to be without limit. It has not been affected by Israel's preparations to use nuclear weapons in its 1973 war, its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in which almost 20,000 people were killed and many more injured, its subsequent occupation of South Lebanon until early 2000, its policy of assassinations and bombings directed against Palestinians, to say nothing of its widespread violation of international law as part of its illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. It takes far less for any other state to be dubbed a メrogue stateモ and subject to censure and punishment by the U.S.

The U.S. has underpinned its cooperation through the provision of $70-80 billion dollars of military and economic aid to Israel over the past two decades, and it presently provides well in excess of $3 billion a year. Israel may even have had access to U.S. and French nuclear weapons design and test expertise.11 In 1998, the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Israel committing it to "enhancing Israel's defense and deterrent capabilities" and "upgrading the framework of the U.S.-Israel strategic and military relationship, as well as the technological cooperation between them."12 The agreement included a U.S. commitment to providing "ways and means of assuring and increasing Israel's deterrent power by supplies of modern technology and weapons systems."13 It is hard to read this as anything other than a promise of active U.S. support for Israel having nuclear weapons.

Another country that the US is trying to create as a nuclear-armed ally is India. U.S. interest in India acquiring nuclear weapons became evident in a 1961 proposal that the U.S. help India acquire a nuclear weapon and conduct a test, so that a "friendly Asian power beat Communist China to the punch."14 In 1964, amid American concerns about China's first nuclear weapons test, senior officials in the State Department and the Pentagon went so far as to consider "the possibilities of providing nuclear weapons under U.S. custody" to India. The plan envisaged helping India modify aircraft to drop nuclear weapons, training crews, providing dummy weapons for practice runs and information on the effects of nuclear weapons for use in deciding targets.15 At the same time, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was considering helping India with "peaceful nuclear explosions", which would involve the use of U.S. nuclear devices under U.S. control being exploded in India.16

In May 1998, first India and then Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. But in 2000 the United States made clear it was seeking a new relationship with India. A joint statement declared that "India and the United States will be partners in peace, with a common interest in and complementary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security."17 India in effect agreed to "complement" the exercise of U.S. interests in return for the U.S. making a place for India in the international arena. One early expression of this was India's unprecedented support for President Bush's plan to deploy a National Missile Defense.18

In January 2004, the US and India announced a "Next Steps in Strategic Partnership" agreement, declaring that the United States and India would "expand cooperation" in civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programs, and high-technology trade, as well as on missile defense. U.S. officials have made clear the purpose of this agreement. A senior official announced that "Its goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century....We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement."19 Former senior U.S. officials have pointed out the inference that is to be drawn from the new U.S. effort to "help India". Robert Blackwill, who served in the Bush administration as U.S. ambassador to India and then as deputy national security adviser for strategic planning, has wondered, for instance, "Why should the U.S. want to check India's missile capability in ways that could lead to China's permanent nuclear dominance over democratic India?"20

The U.S. military, economic and political support for Israel and its recent offer to help India become a major nuclear-armed military power are in sharp contrast to the use of sanctions and then war against Iraq to compel compliance with non-proliferation agreements. U.S. policy to these countries is clearly determined by the role they are willing to play as powerful regional clients in the U.S. empire.

Another stark comparison that can be drawn is between U.S. policy towards Iran and Japan. The U.S. insists that Iran should not be allowed to have either uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing capability, even though it is permitted to do so under the NPT as long as such facilities are under International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards. The U.S. claims that enrichment and reprocessing capabilities are all that would be needed to make Iran effectively a nuclear weapon state. The U.S. also argues that nuclear energy is uneconomic in both Iran and is a cover for a nuclear weapons program. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Iran and seeks action from UN Security Council to force it to give up parts of its nuclear program. Many fear that the U.S. is laying the basis for an American war against Iran, or perhaps attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Contrast this with Japan, which has developed both large-scale uranium enrichment capability and has a large reprocessing plant at Rokkasho. The uranium enrichment plant in Rokkasho could produce highly enriched uranium for over 150 nuclear weapons each year. There are plans to increase its capacity. Japan's plutonium stockpile and reprocessing plans provide it with an option to build many more nuclear warheads. It has been estimated that once the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is operational, then by 2020 Japan's plutonium stockpile could reach 145 metric tons.21 This would give it sufficient plutonium for over 10,000 nuclear weapons.

Japan's Rokkasho reprocessing plant is both a proliferation and a safety concern. It is so large that inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency will be ineffective. According to estimates, the material that will be unaccounted for during normal operations at Rokkasho will be around 50 kg per year - enough for several nuclear weapons.22 The plant has been built and will be operated despite the fact that it would be much cheaper to store the spent fuel rather than reprocess it.23

There is also a dangerous connection between the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and U.S. military bases in Japan. The U.S. Misawa Air Force base and firing range is located only 30km from the Rokkasho plant. It was revealed in a court case that the government approved the Rokkasho Plant's design even though it could not survive a crash by a fighter jet. The design was approved because to make Rokkasho safe against such a crash would have increased significantly the cost and time of construction.24

At the same time, Japan and the U.S. have agreed on strengthening their military cooperation. The U.S. has committed itself to "provide all necessary support for the defense of Japan", which means Japan being defended by U.S nuclear weapons and missile defenses. Japan has also agreed to act as a base for the deployment of a radar station for the U.S. missile defense system, and continue to be a forward base for U.S armed forces for the Asia-Pacific region.25 It is clear that the goal here is the same as U.S. policy with India, to create a military ally who will help the U.S to surround and pressure China.

Japan it seems, like Israel and India, is sheltered by the United States from any concerns about proliferation because its serves a military purpose. The parallels may go deeper. It may be that as Frank Barnaby and Shaun Burnie have cautioned:

"In the 1960's, the Nixon administration considered the option of arming Japan with nuclear weapons. Forty years on it would be surprising if there were not those in Washington considering that such a development would be in the medium term interests of the United States. And anyway, the U.S. is already signaling that it would not be able to stop it."26


10 Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, Columbia University Press, 1998.
11 Eric Arnett, "Implications of the Comprehensive Test Ban for Nuclear Weapons Programmes and Decision Making," in Eric Arnett, ed., Nuclear Weapons After the Comprehensive Test Ban: Implications for Modernisation and Proliferation, Oxford University Press, 1996.
12 U.S.-Israel Memorandum of Agreement, October 31, 1998, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey,
13 Howard Diamond, "New U.S.-Israeli Strategic Dialogue Announced; Israel Acquires New Submarine," Arms Control Today, July/August 1999.
14 George Perkovich, India and the Bomb, University of California Press, 1999.
15 Perkovich, 1999.
16 Perkovich, 1999.
17 U.S.-India Relations: A Vision for the 21st Century, White House website,
18 "India to Hear Out Armitage on NMD", The Hindu, May 11, 2001.
19 US unveils plans to make India 'major world power', Reuters, March 26, 2005
20 Robert D. Blackwill, A New Deal For New Delhi, Wall Street Journal March 21, 2005
21 Frank Barnaby and Shaun Burnie, Thinking the Unthinkable: Japanese Nuclear Power and Proliferation in East Asia, 2005;
22 Barnaby and Burnie, 2005.
23 International Critical Review Committee on the Long Term Nuclear Program, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, Tokyo, 2005.
24 Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant: Exposure of Inadequate Protective Measures against Aircraft Crashes,
25 U.S.-Japan Alliance: Transformation and Realignment for the Future, Security Consultative Committee October 29, 2005.
26 Barnaby and Burnie, 2005.



Nuclear weapons, military bases and military alliances are an integral part of the American empire. The U.S. is developing new nuclear weapons, building new bases and strengthening its alliances with key states, especially Israel, India and Japan.

The continued insistence on a nuclear-armed American future has come despite growing opposition from the public and from senior U.S. officials with long experience with these weapons. A 2005 poll found that two-thirds (66%) of Americans believe no nation should have nuclear weapons, and in what is a hopeful sign, sixty percent of younger people, aged 18 to 29 years, disapprove of the bombing of Hiroshima.27 At the same time, former U.S. Defense Secretary and nuclear cold warrior, Robert McNamara says "I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous."28

There is less pressure about the global network of military bases and alliances. Most Americans do not know about them. The bases are far away and do not intrude on the daily lives of ordinary people. It is for citizens of the countries in which these bases are located to mount a strong challenge and bring to attention the existence of these bases and expose how U.S. military bases are a threat to democracy and local communities and should be removed.

America's old and new nuclear armed allies and those who sit on the nuclear threshold like Japan have a special role to play. Britain and France, Israel and India will have to give up their nuclear weapons and break free of their alliances with the United States if they want to become normal countries in their neighborhoods and help lead the world towards peace. Japan could take similar steps. It could not operate the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, give up its long-term plutonium reprocessing plans, and start to just store its nuclear fuel. It could begin to phase out nuclear energy and shut down its uranium enrichment program. These steps would lift the concerns about proliferation and strengthen global nuclear disarmament. Japan could close its U.S. military bases and end its alliance with the United States and by doing so help other countries break free of the empire.


27 Will Lester, "Poll: Most in U.S. Oppose Nuclear Weapons," AP, March 31, 2005
27 Robert S. McNamara, "Apocalypse Soon," Foreign Policy, May/June. 2005, p. 29-35.