June 28, 2011 | Commentary on Arms Control and Nonproliferation
President Obama's "lead by example" nuclear-nonproliferation policy of strategic-weapons cuts and treaties (such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia) isn't having the desired effect. In fact, the "fallout" is quite the opposite: All the news points toward a more nuclear world.
Just last week, in an exit interview with Newsweek, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates dropped a bit of a bombshell about North Korea's nuclear know-how: "North Korea now constitutes a direct threat to the United States," he said. "They are developing a road-mobile ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. . . It's a huge problem. . . Finding mobile missiles is very tough."
It's strange that Pyongyang would move to a mobile missile before perfecting its Taepo Dong ICBM, a missile that has only been tested from a fixed-launch pad -- but it's a big problem for us if Gates is correct.
Road-mobile missiles are difficult to track, even with those "prying eyes in the sky" orbiting above. The missiles can be easily moved in and out of facilities such as underground tunnels, for which Pyongyang has a mole-like proclivity.
This moving-missile shell game makes a mobile nuclear force more survivable and dangerous than those found at fixed sites or in land-based silos. That's why Russia and China have mobile missiles in their atomic arsenals.
The Middle East has more bad news for Obama's Pied-Piper proliferation-prevention policy.
Start with Iran, which is upping its production of enriched uranium at concentration levels (i.e., 20 percent) far beyond what's needed for nuclear-power-plant fuel (i.e., 3 to 4 percent). Iran claims it's for a medical-research reactor, but this development puts Tehran on its way to producing uranium at 90-percent purity -- the level needed for nuclear weapons.
Plus, Tehran is putting new, more efficient uranium-enriching centrifuges into operation at a new, fortified facility near Qom. Meaning? More enriched uranium, more quickly -- and more bombs.
Another cause for strategic insomnia: The United Nations' always cautious International Atomic Energy Agency is concerned Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile.
Anyone still have lingering doubts about Tehran's "peaceful" nuclear program?
Then there's Saudi Arabia. Riyadh reportedly plans to build as many as 15 nuclear-power plants in the kingdom by 2030, costing more than $100 billion overall. The Saudis claim they need the plants to meet their growing energy needs, and to allow more exports of their "black gold." Maybe -- but they've got other reasons, too.
Would oil-rich Saudi Arabia be bothering with all this expensive nuclear infrastructure if Iran, its archenemy, weren't about to go nuclear? Most likely, Riyadh is looking to tread the same path to nuclear-weapons statehood as Tehran.
Saudi Arabia, an increasingly prominent regional power (especially with Egypt in disarray), has no intention of allowing Iran's nuclear Shiite Persians to lord it over the rest of the Mideast's non-nuclear Sunni Arabs.
It's long been an article of faith that if Tehran goes nuclear, so will Riyadh. And Saudi Arabia isn't alone: Other Mideastern and North African states are flirting with nuclear "power" programs, too.
So, while Team Obama spends its time focusing on downsizing our strategic forces and future, others are upsizing theirs. Coincidence? Probably not.
The prez has expressed his desire for a world free of nuclear weapons, but that shouldn't undermine our national-security needs.
For the moment, Obama's nuclear "road to zero" is a road to nowhere.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post