January 22, 2012 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Barry is No Harry

On July 24, 1945, Harry Truman spilled the beans. As he recalls in his memoirs, "I casually mentioned to [Joseph] Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force. The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make 'good use of it against the Japanese'."

All versions of this story agree on one point: Stalin feigned disinterest in news about the atomic bomb. We know now that the Soviets knew all about our supposedly secret atomic program and were keenly interested.

Indeed, they were racing to build their own bomb ... and stealing U.S. secrets just as fast as they could. Stalin's desire to get ahead of the Americans as a nuclear power was unrelenting.

Not much has changed, at least in the Kremlin. Moscow's current leadership certainly shares that desire. However, the current occupant of the White House, intentionally or not, is doing everything possible to make Russia's dream come true.

Doggedly pursuing his "Road to Zero," President Obama is vitiating the U.S. nuclear deterrent force. If he gets his way, America will have a significantly smaller nuclear arsenal and atrophied delivery systems (air, land and sea). We will also never build a new nuclear weapon or construct missile defenses adequate to protect us from the global ballistic missile threat.

There is no doubt about this. The White House has made clear that its signature tool for combating nuclear proliferation is leading by example, and that example is disarmament. Hence, the administration's 2010 New START arms-control agreement with Russia. It requires only the U.S. to reduce warheads and delivery systems.

And this year's "strategic guidance" from the Pentagon indicates the president is not nearly done cutting America's nuclear forces. Per the guidance: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory, as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Meanwhile, the Russians have stated publicly and repeatedly that their strategic objective is to establish a robust strategic nuclear force to deter others and, if needed, use. Doubtless they're elated to see an American administration looking to downsize our arsenal.

New START already assures Russia parity with us on long-range strategic weapons and an overall 10-to-1 advantage in short-range tactical weapons. (In the European theater, the Russian advantage is 20-to-1.

Cheating is easy, too. Under the current verification regime, the Russians must verify only the stockpiles they declare. If we suspect them of hiding stockpiles, we have no right to go look for them.

Meanwhile, the Russians have retained a robust capacity for building new nuclear weapons. America has virtually lost this capacity through disuse.

No one wants a nuclear arms race with Russia. But helping make Russia the world's predominant nuclear weapons power by letting the U.S. nuclear arsenal rust away makes no sense. It certainly makes laughable the suggestion that "our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force."

Surely, the White House doesn't believe conventional forces can substitute for the U.S. nuclear deterrent. After all, it's slashing those forces, too. Upwards of a half-trillion dollars in defense cuts are already in the works, and under the Budget Control Act of 2011, another half-trillion may be added on top of that.

The president is commander in chief. He can press for a smaller, less-capable military if he thinks that best. But he certainly can't make the case with a straight face that he is giving us more defense. His policy is giving us far less.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The Washington Examiner