Reports last week have Team Obama considering cuts in our strategic nuclear forces — by as much as 80 percent. Not good.
These accounts say the Pentagon has been ordered to study the possibility of reducing the number of deployed nuclear warheads to several levels — 1,000 to 1,100; 700 to 800; 300 to 400.
This would be on top of the cuts agreed to in 2010 in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which drops our deployed nukes to 1,550 by 2018. (Entering office, President Obama inherited about 2,200 warheads.)
One big question is: Why?
First, money. Absent reform of the big “entitlement” programs that are ballooning our federal budget, defense appears (falsely) as the place to find some cash.
With the White House seeking to downsize conventional forces in the next budget, going after strategic forces down the line might ease the sting of the coming Pentagon cuts, because it would happen over time.
Then, too, chopping US strategic forces is integral to President Obama’s national-security “theology,” including his dreams of a nuke-free world and of taking America down the mythical road to “nuclear zero.”
Obama is rightly concerned about nuclear proliferation. Iran is on the brink of “nukedom”; Syria may still have a program; North Korea helps others gain nuclear knowhow; Pakistan may be bolstering its arsenal; Russia and China are modernizing.
Where the administration gets it wrong is in its belief that if we reduce or eliminate our nuclear holdings — unilaterally, bilaterally or multilaterally through a treaty — others would, too.
It’s a great theory, but there’s no evidence that it would work in practice.
Instead, were we to shrink our stockpiles enough, such countries as China that now have fewer nukes than we do might move to match or exceed our diminished holdings — creating possibly unfriendly strategic peers. There are other risks, too.
Cutting US forces to 300 deployed warheads — a level that experts say we haven’t seen since the early 1950s — might force us to alter our strategic doctrine. Right now, that’s a “counterforce” policy — we target opposition-nuclear forces. A smaller force might require us to put “countervalue” targets, that is, large population centers, in the crosshairs.
No shortage of moral issues there.
The nuke cuts would also heighten the danger to our conventional forces. How? Without an iron-clad US nuclear deterrent to backstop our troops, foes would be more tempted to roll the dice and challenge us or allies that rely on our nuclear umbrella.
Yes, Republican presidents have ditched plenty of nukes over the years. But those reductions came with US arms-control wins, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and our indisputable conventional superiority.
The world remains a dangerous place of rising powers, rogue states and much international uncertainty. As always, now’s a good time for “peace through strength,” involving robust conventional, nuclear and missile-defense forces.
These possible nuclear cuts are just one more bad — in fact, dangerous — national-security notion floating around the White House. It’d be a big mistake for this nuclear nonsense to become a reality.
Peter Brookes, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post