This should not come as a big surprise, given Barack Obama’s political history, but his drive to drastically restructure the policy on American nuclear weapons could have a far-reaching impact on global security. Obama will team with Gordon Brown to push for an aggressive schedule of disarmament, so aggressive that even the French have begun to object, according to the Guardian. Obama apparently hopes to win concessions from Russia and eventually from Iran and North Korea by setting an example:
Barack Obama has demanded the Pentagon conduct a radical review of US nuclear weapons doctrine to prepare the way for deep cuts in the country’s arsenal, the Guardian can reveal.
Obama has rejected the Pentagon’s first draft of the “nuclear posture review” as being too timid, and has called for a range of more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of eventually abolishing nuclear weapons altogether, according to European officials.
Those options include:
• Reconfiguring the US nuclear force to allow for an arsenal measured in hundreds rather than thousands of deployed strategic warheads.
• Redrafting nuclear doctrine to narrow the range of conditions under which the US would use nuclear weapons.
• Exploring ways of guaranteeing the future reliability of nuclear weapons without testing or producing a new generation of warheads.
The review is due to be completed by the end of this year, and European officials say the outcome is not yet clear. But one official said: “Obama is now driving this process. He is saying these are the president’s weapons, and he wants to look again at the doctrine and their role.”
None of this comes out of the blue. Obama has always echoed strains of the no-nukes crowd in which he marinated in the Ivy League during the 1980s. His antipathy towards missile defense systems during the campaign hinted at this kind of movement in nuclear-weapons policy. The Left has often remarked on the supposed hypocrisy of demanding denuclearization of North Korea and prevention of nuclearization of Iran while we keep our own nukes and presumably give tacit agreement to others, especially India and Israel.
However, those arguments ignore the obvious problems of the individual governments that hold the nukes. India and Israel do not have expansionist or millenial ambitions, as does Iran with its support for radical Islamist terrorist groups. They are also not totalitarian regimes, as is North Korea, which is also an arms proliferator. Neither of these governments are likely to be impressed with American disarmament, either. If we dismantled our entire nuclear regime, this dictators would still pursue their own in order to gain the deterrent they present to aggressive military action.
That is only one of the problems with the utopian no-nukes approach. Once the technology exists, once the genie has escaped the bottle, it’s impossible to stop. The problem with nuclear-weapons technology is that it’s becoming rapidly less expensive to produce them, and it’s certainly easier to master than over the past few decades. There has never been a weapon that disappeared from national stockpiles for reasons other than obsolescence, not long enough so that one nation or another could quickly revive it.
Still, in this age, the threat from nuclear weapons comes not so much from the nation states but from terrorist groups that are their clients, groups that will not be deterred from using them by national stockpiles. That doesn’t make their deterrent value completely obsolete, but considering the massive damage we could easily inflict on countries like North Korea and Iran without nukes — and the political disaster it would be to use these weapons — reduction may not matter much anyway.
We just need to make sure we get firm concessions and benefits from any reductions, but the track record of this White House thus far indicates we’re much more likely to give away the store. And that would be a serious blow to American credibility on national and global security.