The Iranian nuclear program has been and likely will continue to be a top priority in American foreign policy debates. While it’s currently unclear whether Iran is intent on building nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic — despite setbacks — is certainly moving forward with uranium enrichment.
Newt Gingrich has been getting some attention lately, not only because he recently announced that he is running for president of the United States, but particularly because of the disaster that is his campaign thus far. Nonetheless, it might be interesting to explore how a theoretical President Gingrich would handle the Iranian nuclear issue. Back in 2003, Gingrich wrote in USA Today that he’d like the U.S. to get some bunker busting nuclear weapons for use — yes to use, not to deter — in these types of situations:
Every year, as tunneling technology improves, countries such as Libya, North Korea and Iran get closer to an ability to create a weapons-of-mass-death facility that simply will be out of our reach. We should conclude from this reality that in order to pre-empt such weapons of mass murder, and those who would use them, we must have the capability to destroy those sites.
The most promising option is a very accurate, limited and reliable low-yield nuclear weapon— a “bunker buster” — that is capable of penetrating deep into the earth and destroying with certainty a fortified weapons facility that is buried deeply underground.
Some will argue that existing weapon systems can do the job, but that is simply not true. Improvements in precision guidance and weapons design would allow a microtactical weapon to be developed that would effectively eliminate a weapons-of-mass-murder program with minimum collateral damage.
This would be a weapon designed to be used. It would not simply be a weapon of deterrence, as current nuclear weapons are.
Yes that’s right. Gingrich not only wants to develop these weapons, but he wants to use them. And his ascribed threat level for using them is insanely low; Newt only limited his imagination to “an enemy of the United States that has developed a chemical or biological weapon.”
Thankfully President Bush abandoned his plan (well, Donald Rumsfeld’s plan) to develop nuclear bunker busters, or the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator in 2005. And for good reason, as the Congressional Research Service report from 2003 noted:
[Critics] argue that a high threshold for nuclear use serves U.S. interests, given the overwhelming U.S. advantage in conventional forces. They fear that [earth penetrator weapons] would make nuclear use more likely by making it seem more acceptable. Any use of nuclear weapons, the argument continues, would end a critical norm of international behavior that has held since 1945 and would inflame world opinion against the United States, undermining nonproliferation and counterterrorism efforts. It would put potential adversaries into a use-or-lose posture with their WMD if a U.S. attack appeared likely. Thus the huge strategic risks of nuclear use far outweigh, in this view, any military gains from using EPWs against buried facilities.
Gingrich — who regularly promotes alarmist nonsense about the alleged electro-magnetic pulse threat — said as recently as 2009 that he believes Iran “will use” nuclear weapons. So by extension, it’s not unreasonable to surmise that Gingrich would launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran with nuclear weapons. But then again, Gingrich considers it a “falsehood” to accurately quote his past statements so perhaps he was only joking about using nuke bunker busters.