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With symbolic, indeed ironic timing, 150 experts convened this past weekend at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. The date, August 6, was the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, 58 years ago. And the reason for their conference under a heavy veil of secrecy was to formulate a new American nuclear policy. There was more symbolism accompanying the discussions because they took place in briefing rooms above a maze of tunnels that were staffed 24 hours a day during the Cold War by the officers of the Strategic Air Command and served as the inspiration for the movie "Dr. Strangelove."

Indeed, from an analysis of the Bush administration's intentions, as they were articulated at the Nebraska conference, it seems that the satirical figure of Strangelove, trying to pressure the American president into using nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, is the model for the policymakers around George Bush. After they defined the "axis of evil" and toppled one of its three legs, the Pentagon hawks are now preparing a formula for the next stage in the institutionalization of American hegemony in the world.

The problem is that at this stage their assessment shows the need to use nuclear weapons. But as opposed to the American concept during the Cold War, which regarded nuclear weapons as the ultimate deterrent against Soviet plotting thus obviating any initiated use of the weapons, the new doctrine turns the nuclear bombs not only into legitimate weapons in wars the U.S. conducts against rivals that have no nuclear weapons, but even against terror organizations.

This is not the first time the Bush administration has signaled its intentions about the use of nuclear arms. A year ago, in a document prepared by the Pentagon for Congress, a list was drawn up of seven countries against which the U.S. might make use of nuclear weapons, with the additional note that there might not be any alternative but to use nuclear weapons on headquarters or weapons stockpiles of terror organizations. The document was massively criticized by some congressional circles and activists against the proliferation of nuclear arms, but the White House fundamentally understood that it is possible to continue making progress in forming a new nuclear doctrine.

And that was the reason for the convention of 150 Pentagon experts, air force generals and senior executives from the American nuclear industry. To implement a policy of using nuclear weapons against new targets, there is a need for small bombs of less than a kiloton, which can, for example, be used to penetrate underground bunkers where rogue state leaders will hide, or to destroy stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction without causing the kind of wide-scale damage that would be caused by the current bombs in the U.S. arsenal. The new weapons already have a name - mini-nukes - and all that's needed is a decision to go ahead with their development.

The American administration, with an arrogant and brutal approach, is adopting a policy that is in total contradiction to the important role it plays in the effort to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world. While the president and senior members of his administration invest a lot of effort trying to prevent the development of nuclear arms by North Korea and Iran, they are also making a very significant contribution to the opposite trend. While the American president agrees with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a reduction of two thirds of the nuclear power of both countries, he is approving a policy that means enlarging the American arsenal with a large number of nuclear bombs. Small bombs, that's true, but nuclear ones, with all the ramifications.

And that is one of the serious problems embedded in the new American nuclear policy. The administration is blurring the boundary between conventional war and nuclear war. It is saying that nuclear war is possible and in effect there is no difference between dropping a bomb that contains conventional explosives and dropping a nuclear bomb on an enemy.

Blurring the clear and sharp line between nuclear weapons and everything else is endangering the relative strategic stability that has characterized the post-Cold War world. If the Americans are allowed to use nuclear weapons in a war in which there is no existential threat to America, what will prevent other countries, equipped in the future with nuclear weapons, from using nuclear weapons against enemies that do not threaten their existence? Thus, a dangerous anarchy will arise in the most problematic sphere of all - nuclear weapons. While the last five decades had clear and strict rules with regard to nuclear weapons, and the assumption was that the weapons were only for deterrence with no intention to use them for anything other than that purpose, now the American administration is trying to create new rules. At this stage it is still not clear what was decided in Nebraska, but it is clear in which direction the Bush administration is pushing.

Israel needs to watch the American president's maneuverings in this area with concern. The new policy granting legitimacy to the use of nuclear weapons could encourage other countries to develop nuclear arms. The American nuclear threat against those countries justifies their development of nuclear arms. If there is a danger the Americans will use nuclear weapons against them, there is no reason not to prepare for that with the deployment of nuclear weapons as a response and as a deterrent - just as North Korea has already made clear.

The lesson from the Iraq war, said the North Korean foreign minister during talks with the Americans, is that the only way left for a small country to stand up to a superpower that is trying to bulldoze it, is to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Only thus can the U.S. be deterred. The problem is that the Bush administration, insensitive and ignoring the political consequences of its new nuclear policy, is pushing rogue states toward nuclear arms. No less grave is that a large number of the countries that might try to develop nuclear arms are in our neighborhood.