June 9, 2011 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
So now President "Who Needs Nukes?" Obama wants to re-engage the Senate on the once-rejected 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
It's unclear why the administration believes a re-heated version of the treaty (which bans explosive nuclear-weapons testing) is any more palatable today than it was when it was first served up to the Senate in 1999.
Deepening skepticism will be the emerging problems with the US-Russia New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the Obama team rammed through during the lame-duck Congress late last year. Senators likely won't have much appetite for another helping of arms control anytime soon -- especially last century's leftovers.
It's only been a few months so far, and Team Obama's claims about New START are proving . . . let's just say, overly optimistic. The Russkies are already giving us a hard time, insisting the treaty prevents us from developing missile defenses -- and promising to break it if we don't stop.
Also raising eyebrows are recently disclosed disparities in cuts under New START. On missiles and bombers, we have to dismantle some 180, while they can add almost 180; on warheads, Washington must cut 250, but Moscow can add nearly 25.
But as problematic as the bilateral New START is, the global test-ban treaty would arguably be far worse -- potentially creating more problems than it would solve.
The treaty would further compromise our atrophied nuclear arsenal (which Obama isn't sufficiently modernizing) by ending our ability to test our aged stockpile if necessary. (We haven't tested since 1992.)
While we hope never to use a nuke, we want to make sure it will go "bang" if we do. We want others to believe that, too -- especially to deter those who threaten us, and to comfort the folks in the 30 countries that find security under our extended nuclear "umbrella."
Adversely, if the credibility of our nuclear deterrent is questionable -- by friend or foe -- it provides incentives for developing (or enhancing) their own nuclear capability, unleashing the spread of these incredibly powerful weapons.
Moreover, while the treaty bans nuclear testing in general, there's a debate as to what "no testing" in the treaty really means. While the United States takes a literal view of "no," there are questions as to how others see it, leaving loopholes.
For example, a country could conceivably conduct a "low-yield" test that might go undetected or be misidentified as an earthquake. This makes the treaty fundamentally unverifiable. (Some believe Russia and China are performing low-yield tests.)
Of course, Obama sees himself as the nonproliferation Pied Piper on the mythical road to a nuke-free world: He hopes that if we disarm, others will follow our example.
Someone should advise "Mr. Multilateral" to look around: North Korea isn't shrinking its stockpile; Iran is perilously close to going nuclear; Pakistan is expanding its arsenal, and China and Russia are modernizing theirs. They're clearly not moving in Obama's intended direction.
Before we engage in more arms-controlling like the test-ban treaty, we ought to take notice of that stark, inconvenient fact. In the rough-and-tumble world we live in, it's critical we have a capable strategic nuclear force to maintain our security and protect our interests. This means having a robust, modern -- and testable -- nuclear arsenal at our disposal.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.
First appeared in The New York Post