The Guardian November 14, 2001


US The right to use nuclear weapons?

by Salvatore Di Rossa

The US has refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan 
and the United States military has reserved the right to use nuclear 
weapons during the war in Afghanistan.

At the same time, it has attacked the Red Cross, forcing the medical relief 
agency into an embarrassing public climbdown, for demanding that combatants 
in the war should not use weapons of mass destruction.

US ambassador to Switzerland Mercer Reynolds was dispatched to the 
headquarters of the International Red Cross on September 29 to highlight a 
mistake by the organisation.

During international wars, the Red Cross sends a memo out to the parties 
involved.

It points out that weapons of mass destruction, specifically citing nuclear 
weapons, are not to be used under any circumstances as they would kill many 
civilians and are considered illegal under international human rights law.

A week before the first bombings commenced in Afghanistan, four letters 
were sent out, one to Kabul, one to Washington, one to London and one to 
Islamabad.

However, the United States refused to accept that nuclear weapons should be 
out of bounds.

Instead, by exposing the wording of the Red Cross memo, it forced the Red 
Cross to resend the memo with all the references to the illegality of the 
nuclear weapons removed.

The US also demanded that the Red Cross included a passage admitting that 
it had made a mistake.

Red Cross spokesman Darcy Christan said that the organisation had had no 
choice and had to comply with the US demands.

"The adaptation of the first text is a political matter and we don't want 
to get involved in politics", he said.

He also admitted that the Red Cross had been forced to state that it "had 
put a mistake in the memorandum and that nuclear arms are not illegal".

The United States used the "ruling" of the international court on July 8, 
1996, which stated: "It follows that the threat or use of nuclear weapons 
would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in 
armed conflict and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian 
law.

"However, in view of the current state of international law and of the 
elements of fact at its disposal, the court cannot conclude definitely 
whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in 
an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a 
state could be at stake."

The vote of the court in 1996 was not, in fact, decisive but tied at seven 
judges' votes each.

Mr Christan also admitted that the Red Cross had been forced to bow to 
pressure because a quarter of its annual 150 million pounds(A$480m) in 
donations came from the US.

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Morning Star

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