Thursday, March 31, 2016
Titan II Missiles, formerly used as nuclear launch platforms, lie covered in clear plastic in an Air Force hangar. Image by © Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS
Irving Kristol famously wrote that neo-conservatism was an ideology for those who once considered themselves members of the idealistic left, but who have been “mugged by reality.” Barack Obama entered the Oval Office as one of Kristol’s wide-eyed idealists. He, too, has been assaulted by learned experience. Apparently, however, Obama is declining to press charges.
Ahead of his final summit on nuclear security and nonproliferation as president, Barack Obama penned a lengthy defense of his administration’s approach to the issue for the Washington Post. In that effort, Obama chose to declare his continued fealty to the naïve ideal of “a world without nuclear weapons.”
Of course, the objective of putting the atomic genie back in its bottle is no more attainable than is the idea the world could uninvent penicillin. As well as being sheer fancy, both outcomes would be undesirable.
Obama entered office a firm believer in the “nuclear zero” movement. “If we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable,” Obama professed in April of 2009. That is a bizarre way to characterize a half-century of effective deterrence, but such are the tenets of the faith. To strengthen a binding non-proliferation regime, the president insisted that the nation’s responsible nuclear powers must be uncompromising. “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something,” he asserted. If only Obama circa 2009 could see what he has become in 2016.
“[W]e’re taking concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama wrote for the Post, citing a reduction in the nuclear arsenals of both Russia and the United States. That progress has not been consistent. In fact, the trend toward disarmament in Europe may be set to reverse. In 2015, Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Mikhail Ulyanov, warned that America’s supposedly provocative actions have led the Kremlin to contemplate the development of new, more sophisticated nuclear weapons to accompany its buildup of intercontinental ballistic missiles and other modernized nuclear delivery vehicles. What’s more, Russia has flirted with the forward deployment of nuclear weapons in places like Kaliningrad and occupied Crimea.
In his op-ed, Obama bragged about his administration’s efforts to limit the development of new nuclear weapons in the U.S. and to narrow the contingencies that would necessitate their use, but this is a misguided pursuit. Much of America’s nuclear arsenal and its “triad,” – missile-capable submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and long-range bombers – are literally relics of the Cold War. The threat of deterrence breaks down when the deterred party believes it can act with impunity; retaliation must be assured. Worryingly, America’s nuclear arsenal is not necessarily reliable, as former Defense Nuclear Agency Director and Navy Admiral Robert Monroe warned last year.
“President Obama’s policy doesn’t permit research, design, testing or production of new, advanced nuclear weapons,” he lamented. “Our current nuclear weapons — strategic and tactical — were designed and built decades ago to meet different threats, and have gone untested for decades.” Equally disturbing, American nuclear weapons research and development specialists have seen the handwriting on the wall and have moved on to other more lucrative occupations. They are not being replaced.
While the United States is giving up on its nuclear weapons and Russia is leaning more heavily on its arsenal, the nightmarish threat of nuclear terrorism looms ever larger.
“Given the continued threat posed by organizations such as the terrorist group we call ISIL, or ISIS, we’ll also join allies and partners in reviewing our counterterrorism efforts, to prevent the world’s most dangerous networks from obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Obama wrote in the Post. On this, the president has been consistent, reflective perhaps of the sobering security briefings to which he is privy. “I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan,” the president said when dismissing the threat posed by Russia’s invasion and annexation of sovereign territory in Europe, the first of its kind since 1945. Obama is not wrong to fret about the prospect of fissile material falling into the hands of ISIS or like-minded groups. Terrorist groups are actively seeking the procurement of radioactive and fissionable substances.
An Associated Press investigation in October of last year revealed that a nuclear smuggling ring with ties to Russian governmental agencies was shopping weapons-grade uranium to radical Islamic buyers through Moldovan proxies. The smugglers’ aim, as one of the indicted smugglers told an informant, the hope that their clients “will bomb the Americans.” Today, there is no more Nunn-Lugar-style cooperative framework to prevent Russia from mishandling its bomb-making materials. In January of 2015, the Russian government informed Moscow that it would no longer permit U.S. personnel to protect its nuclear facilities. “I think it greatly increases the risk of catastrophic terrorism,” said one of the landmark post-Soviet cooperation law’s architects, former Senator Sam Nunn. “The housekeeping by the Russians has not been comprehensive,” his counterpart, former Senator Richard Lugar, agreed. “There had been work done [with the United States] hunting down nuclear materials. This is now terminated.”
Finally, and most importantly from the perspective of the White House’s image-makers, Obama made the effort in his op-ed to contend that his administration has been particularly hard on rogue proliferators like North Korea and Iran.
“After intense negotiations, Iran agreed to a nuclear deal that closes every single one of its paths to a nuclear weapon, and Iran is now being subjected to the most comprehensive inspection regimen ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program,” the president averred. “The additional sanctions recently imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations Security Council show that violations have consequences.”
But those consequences for North Korea have not prevented it from conducting nuclear tests at will, launching a satellite into orbit (demonstrating that it can put an atomic warhead on any major American city), and working on a second-strike capability in the form of missile-ready submarines. Pyongyang’s experience should prove a tempting model for Tehran to follow once it determines that the benefits of the vaunted Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka, the Iran nuclear deal) are yielding diminishing returns. The inspections regime the president touts is a joke. The Islamic Republic has continued to develop and test nuclear-capable delivery vehicles, and the punishments they have faced for their violations amount to a slap on the wrist. Obama himself has admitted that the deal’s restrictions merely lengthen the time it will take for Iran to complete a nuclear “breakout.” When that day comes, the United States will have to determine whether to use force as it’s final failsafe – force its allies in the West, who are now racing to get a piece of the action in Iran, will oppose.
“We’re clear-eyed about the high hurdles ahead,” President Obama concludes, “but I believe that we must never resign ourselves to the fatalism that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable.” If this is clear-eyed, we should pray for a return to the hard-nosed sobriety displayed by an earlier generation of Cold Warriors. The only effective way to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons is by eliminating the need for deterrence. South Africa, Belarus, and Ukraine surrendered their nuclear stockpiles only when the threats in their neighborhoods were neutralized. Today, a wave of democratization that crested in the 1990s is receding, and interstate conflict is no longer the stuff that fills the pages of history books. Obama can recite deluded liberal nostrums about the uselessness of nuclear weapons all he wants, but everyone else seems to see their utility perfectly fine.
Pamela K. Browne
theodore M I R A L D I.
Let me be clear. Although I speak out about issues regarding the resounding loss of Public Trust, both parties are responsible for the Decay of our Political System.
Both parties, along with the multitude of minor voices have been on a quest for power by any means and all costs. This is fundamentally wrong. There is little to no real dialog, or negotiation by lawmakers to find a safe place for all. The dilettantes on both sides are acting like packs of wolfs. They are more interested in their individual satisfaction, and not the society in which we must all exist within.
We should all be ashamed of the very people we have elected and given our power to. We should all be astonished by the vitriol by the media who's only objective is to get ratings and advertising money.
The Media no longer deserves the safeties guaranteed in the Constitution. It has become so bias and payed for, that it should now be classified as entertainment at best.
Neither party has the right answers at the moment. No one candidate can possibly satisfy every voter's individual wants. The chaos in the nation is far more dangerous than most will admit.
We are no longer speaking about issues, both parties and every candidate is more interested in a scorched earth narrative, attacking personal attributes and qualification. It should be obvious at this point no one candidate is without reproach, no one candidate is a savior.
The Left speaks about high ideals and yet supports a candidate under Federal Investigation. How much worse a candidate could this be? A candidate who has been mired in scandal for her entire private and political life. Where are those high ideals, may I ask?
The Right, being beat back by Political Correctness has finally found its voice. Obviously, not the right voice or messaging.
Both parties must put the public and nation before their own deceitful ambitions. The voters are not the problem.
A Divided Right will go down in defeat.
A Corrupt left will seed a Political Revolution that may end Politics as we know it
The voices of reason have committed suicide by ambition.