Nukes, Oil and National Security

With bipartisan Congressional support the Bush-Cheney Administration is continuing to occupy Iraq, while preparing for a possible invasion of Syria. In its nearly unanimous vote on March 21, the U.S. Congress expressed support for "the President as Commander-in-Chief for his firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq as part of the on-going Global War on Terrorism." Over three-quarters of the U.S. Senate, including all the Senators currently running for the Democratic Party's 2004 nomination for President, supported the war resolution in October. Even those who opposed the war resolution generally wanted to first seek United Nations cover before proceeding with U.S. military action.

What is the reason for the war? According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the U.S. arsenal contains over 10,000 nuclear warheads, more than any other country in the world. Iraq has none. In its National Security Strategy for the United States, the Bush-Cheney Administration declared the policy of the US government now includes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. The United States is the only nation which has used nuclear weapons in war. Why is Iraq the target?

Chevron tanker Condoleezza Rice

The National Security Strategy explains the importance of the Middle East and Central Asia. Largely the work of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a former Chevron-Texaco executive after whom an oil tanker was named, the policy elaborates on the earlier National Energy Strategy, in which Vice President Cheney and his former colleagues in the oil industry called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In addition to drilling in ANWR, a goal of the new policy is to "expand the sources and types of global energy supplied, especially in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Central Asia, and the Caspian region."

Petroleum and other fossil fuels are major contributors to global climate change. A February 2002 report from WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature, known in the USA as the World Wildlife Fund) concluded: "Global warming has the potential to cause extinctions in a great majority of the world's especially valuable ecosystems.... Urgent reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are required to prevent the possibility of widespread, and in some cases catastrophic, species loss."


dolphin aboard U.S. Navy ship sea birds coated with oil during 1991 Gulf War

K-Dog, a Bottle Nose Dolphin belonging to Commander Task Unit (CTU) 55.4.3 in a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, aboard the USS Gunston Hall in the Arabian Gulf. CTU-55.4.3 is a multi-national team consisting of Naval Special Clearance Team 1, Fleet Diving Unit 3 from the United Kingdom, Clearance Dive Team from Australia, and the U.S. Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Units 6 and 8. These units are conducting deep/shallow water mine countermeasure operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Brien Aho)

Oil soaked birds at the Jubail Wildlife Rescue Project during the 1991 Gulf War

(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)


The U.S. Navy is using dolphins to check for mines near Iraqi ports in the Persian Gulf. A recent report from the U.S. Navy admitted responsibility for killing whales as part of its sonar testing, continuing a tradition dating back to the nuclear weapons tests of the 1950s.

Even if nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction are not used in the new Gulf War, "conventional" weapons can devastate the environment. The 1991 Gulf War of the elder Bush resulted in massive oil refinery fires and leakages, causing the deaths of sea birds and other marine life. What would be the effect of a new Gulf war? Medact, the UK affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, identifies the following likely effects in their November 2002 report Collateral Damage, the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq:

Based on the unprecedented environmental damage caused by the 1990-1991 Gulf War and available data on the environmental effects of recent conflicts in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, BirdLife International has identified seven risks to the environment and biodiversity — and as a consequence also to local people — posed by war:

  1. Physical destruction and disturbance of natural habitats of international importance and wildlife resulting from weapons use
  2. Toxic pollution of natural habitats and wildlife resulting from oil spills or oil-well fires caused by fighting or deliberate damage
  3. Radiological, chemical or bio-toxic contamination of natural habitats and wildlife resulting from the use of weapons of mass destruction and conventional bombing of military or industrial facilities
  4. Physical destruction of natural habitats and wildlife resulting from increased human pressure caused by mass movements of refugees (water pollution, use of wood as fuel, hunting of wildlife)
  5. Burning of wetland and forest vegetation as a result of fighting or deliberate damage
  6. Desertification exacerbated by military vehicles and weapons use
  7. Extinction of endemic species or subspecies

"Until recently the impact of war on nature has often been ignored or obscured by the conflict itself. As the 1990-1991 Gulf War showed, such conflicts have devastating effects on the environment, biodiversity and the quality of life of local people long after the cessation of hostilities," said Dr Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive of BirdLife International, a global alliance of national conservation non-governmental organisations working in more than 100 countries in five continents who, together, are the leading authority on the status of the world's birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life.


Mesopotamian marshlands 1973    Mesopotamian marshlands 2000
1973    2000

Mesopotamian marshlands have effectively been relegated to the history books, a landscape of the past. A generalized classification of marshland land cover in 1973-1976 and 2000 is shown in the maps above—the principal aim has been to highlight changes in the area of water and vegetation. In total, at least 7,600 km of primary wetlands (excluding the seasonal and temporary flooded areas) disappeared between 1973 and 2000. Most of the change, however, occurred between 1991 and 1995.


The United Nations Environmental Program has reported extensive devastation to the Tigris-Euphrates marshland, part of the U.S.-patrolled "southern fly zone," mostly occurring in the five years following the last Gulf War:

The collapse of Marsh Arab society, a distinct indigenous people who have inhabited the marshlands for millennia, adds a human dimension to this environmental disaster. Around 40,000 of the estimated half-million Marsh Arabs are living in refugee camps in Iran, while the rest are internally displaced within Iraq. A 5,000-year-old culture, heir to the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, is in serious jeopardy of coming to an abrupt end.

The impact of marshland desiccation on the area's teeming wildlife has been equally devastating, with significant implications to global biodiversity from Siberia to southern Africa. A key site for migratory bird species, the marshlands' disappearance has placed an estimated 40 species of waterfowl at risk and caused serious reductions in their numbers. Mammals and fish that existed only in the marshlands are now considered extinct.



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Related articles:

Is Iraq to blame for the New Gulf War?

War in the Gulf: An Environmental Perspective


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