April 8, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
On Tuesday, the Obama admin istration released its new nu clear strategy; today, the prez will ink a new nuke treaty with the Russians in Prague. Next week, he'll host an all-world atomic affair in Washington. It's a veritable "no-nukes-palooza."
Problem is, not all nuclear cutbacks are wise.
Next week's DC summit makes sense: It's focused on securing nuclear materials -- making it harder, for example, for terrorists to acquire an A-bomb. But the other two "events" raise serious concerns.
The new nuclear strategy aims to create a smaller nuclear force. But that force is already aging, and thus growing inherently less reliable.
Smaller and aging creates a clearly less-credible deterrent. That, in turn, encourages bad actors to rely more heavily on nukes.
How so? By "building down," we make it easier for the likes of Iran and North Korea (as well as future proliferators such as Syria and potential big-power adversaries) to envision matching our nuclear capabilities. Rather than inevitable US superiority, they'll see potential vulnerability -- which makes the world more dangerous, not less.
The new policy also wrongly calls for us to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty -- which would effectively prevent us from modernizing our nuclear forces to meet ever-changing threats. It also saddles us with an increasingly obsolete, Cold War-vintage nuclear arsenal.
God forbid we should ever have to use a nuke, but we want to be sure it's going to go "kaboom" if we do -- and others to be darned sure, too. (That's why China and Russia are modernizing their strategic nuclear forces.)
Then there's the "Son of START," the successor to the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The worry here isn't so much the 30 percent drop in the size of the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, which seems like a good idea, as the troubling context for the cuts.
For instance, while we're planning to shrink our nuke holdings -- our most potent deterrent force -- there's been no progress on rolling back North Korea's nuclear program or halting Iran's efforts. Sorry: The notion that if we do the "right" thing, these rogues will follow suit is a joke. If nothing else, they know that having nukes is one way to end-run our vast superiority in conventional forces.
Which raises another problem with the treaty: It will limit strategic US "platforms," such as bombers and submarines, that have both nuclear and conventional roles.
Losing these platforms diminishes our military punch -- especially our ability to fight in places like the Korean Peninsula to counter China's growing might -- no small matter.
Experts also worry about Russia's history of violating arms-control agreements, specifically the verification procedures for ensuring Moscow is (finally) playing by the rules.
One last bit of context: The administration is cutting dozens of defense programs, including funding for missile defense, which would be used for defending us against a nuclear missile attack -- even an accidental or unauthorized launch in our direction. (And President Obama's unilateral concessions to Russia on missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic last year have Moscow hungry for more, or it may pull out of START.)
Obama wants to eliminate nukes, driving the United States down the road to "zero." Is that a wise goal or a pipe dream in a world where ever-more nations are pursuing and acquiring nuclear weapons?
Obama fans note President Ronald Reagan wanted to eliminate nukes. Sure -- but only as part of an active plan to defend the United States from attack with a ballistic missile shield, an idea that helped bury the Soviet Union.
America needs some of that Reagan "peace through strength" today. We certainly don't need "arms control for arms control's sake," leaving us vulnerable in an increasingly troubled and increasingly nuclear world.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in the New York Post