Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Obama Administration Nuclear Weapons Policy Is Destabilizing

The US nuclear strategy since the dawn of the nuclear age has been simple. Attack the US with any nuclear weapon or other WMD (chemical or biological), and the US may respond with nuclear weapons. The US simply didn't hold out that we would not use nuclear weapons in retaliation for such attacks (no first use).

It worked throughout the Cold War and even through the post-Cold War period, but now President Obama would like to throw out the policy in favor of one that has the potential to be far more destabilizing because it eliminates certain ambiguities as to when the US would respond:
Mr. Obama’s strategy is a sharp shift from those of his predecessors and seeks to revamp the nation’s nuclear posture for a new age in which rogue states and terrorist organizations are greater threats than traditional powers like Russia and China.

It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war. For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.

Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the country would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama argued for a slower course, saying, “We are going to want to make sure that we can continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,” and, he added, to “make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”

The release of the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, opens an intensive nine days of nuclear diplomacy geared toward reducing weapons. Mr. Obama plans to fly to Prague to sign a new arms-control agreement with Russia on Thursday and then next week will host 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit meeting on nuclear security.
Presidents - Democratic and Republican - didn't make such changes because the policy was a sound one.

Now, by eliminating the ambiguities, rogue nations and terror groups seeking to obtain and use them, would exploit the new policies and undermine US national security in the process.

Bear in mind that US intel capabilities are anything but foolproof and a nation could engage in building its own nuclear capabilities without anyone knowing until it was potentially too late. Far too often, the first inkling of a nuclear weapons capability is when a particular nation detonates its first test weapon - see Pakistan, North Korea, China, or India. Even the former Soviet Union's nuclear capabilities were unknown until they detonated their first weapon (and later their first thermonuclear weapon) far earlier than US experts believed possible.

The President maintains that he's still leaving the existing policy in place for certain nations - like North Korea and Iran - but there is no reason to make this adjustment when terror groups and regimes may seek nuclear capabilities despite signing on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The President is also wedded to the notion of reducing US nuclear weapons inventories as part of a bilateral treaty with the Russians. That's all well and good, but even there the possibility that going below a certain threshold figure may lead to more uncertainty and the possibility that our nation's enemies might chance a first-strike to decapitate the US nuclear response.

This change in nuclear weapons doctrine is a serious mistake and shows that the President clearly doesn't grasp the seriousness of the threats arrayed against the US and how foreign powers may exploit the change to their advantage.

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