Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Disarming America

It's bad enough that President Obama is about to sign a new START agreement with Russia--an accord that is little more than a gift to Moscow. But Mr. Obama is now making matters far worse with his "Nuclear Posture Review," which further weakens our deterrent capabilities.

Previewing his new policy for the court stenographers at The New York Times, the president set limits on how the U.S. might use nuclear weapons, even in self-defense. Mr. Obama said the United States would commit "to not using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that adhere to non-proliferation treaties--even if those countries attack the U.S. with chemical or biological weapons."

While stopping short of a "no first use" policy, the Obama doctrine clearly constrains our potential employment of nuclear weapons. In his interview with the Times, the president said one of his goals is to "move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons, to make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”

Some of those "circumstances" could include rogue states like Iran and North Korea. Mr. Obama's policy makes exceptions for those adversaries. Pyongyang has already demonstrated a limited nuclear capability while Iran is working actively to develop nuclear weapons. The President says our revised posture will "set an example" for the rest of the world, and persuade more nations to curb their nuclear programs.

It's tempting to ask just how well that example is working. North Korea has threatened both the U.S. and South Korea with nuclear attacks, and even shared their technology with Syria. Apparently, Pyongyang is unconcerned about our "example," or the potential for American nuclear retaliation. And the pace of Iran's nuclear program has only accelerated over the past year, suggesting that Iran has little fear of the administration and its nuclear policies.

But the decline in our nuclear forces goes well beyond our political statements, and how they play in places like Iran and North Korea. Mr. Obama is telegraphing how he would use nuclear weapons, eliminating the policy "ambiguity" that has kept enemies guessing--and served us well--for more than 60 years.

Equally distressing, President Obama remains committed to a continuing erosion in our nuclear capabilities. As former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney observes:

I believe that the most alarming aspect of the Obama denuclearization program, however, is its explicit renunciation of new U.S. nuclear weapons — an outcome that required the president to overrule his own defense secretary. Even if there were no new START treaty, no further movement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and no new wooly-headed declaratory policies, the mere fact that the United States will fail to reverse the steady obsolescence of its deterrent — and the atrophying of the skilled workforce needed to sustain it — will ineluctably achieve what is transparently President Obama’s ultimate goal: a world without American nuclear weapons.

Given the outlines of Mr. Obama's policy, it's hard to disagree. Not only will our nuclear forces grow smaller in the coming years, they will also become less capable, with the president mandating a "procurement holiday" for that category of weapons, and the infrastructure and produces them.

Additionally, the newly-negotiated Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will take a further toll on our deterrent capabilities, by cutting the number of warheads (to 1,500 for both the U.S. and Russia) and placing limits on delivery systems. By agreeing to that provision, Mr. Obama and his security team essentially traded away an American strength.

Two decades after the Cold War ended, the U.S. is the only global power with a true nuclear "triad," consisting of land-based ICBMs, sub-launched ballistic missiles and long-range nuclear bombers. Reaching treaty goals means the United States will surrender some of its advantage in those latter categories. Russia, on the other hand, has only a token ballistic missile fleet and a handful of long-range bombers. Clearly, the U.S. must make most of the cuts to comply with the new agreement.

It's also worth noting that some of the American bombers facing elimination are dual-capable systems, designed for nuclear strike missions and extended-range conventional sorties. Writing at the American Thinker, Thomas Lifson speculates that Russia's real goal wasn't a reduction in nuclear weapons, but rather, a decrease in our global, precision-strike capabilities. With fewer dual-capable bombers in the inventory, it will be more difficult to mount "shock and awe" campaigns in the future and inject U.S. power in areas that Moscow wants to dominate.

No matter how you slice it, the new START agreement (and Mr. Obama's revised nuclear posture statement) are bad policy, pure and simple. After a year in the Oval Office, the commander-in-chief still has a myopic view of the world, believing that nuclear weapons can simply be wished or negotiated away. In reality, President Obama is sewing the seeds of a new arms race. Allies in eastern Europe and the Far East (think Taiwan) that have long counted on the American nuclear umbrella will now be tempted to developed their own weapons, deducing (correctly) that the U.S. may be unwilling or unable to protect them.

Sad to say, but the new treaty and nuclear posture statement represent the worst security policy since the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand pact back in 1928. That was the agreement that "prohibited war as an instrument of national policy," except in matters of self-defense. You know how that one worked out.


Robert said...

I’m among those who believe the most serious failing of Obama’s nuclear weapons policy is his absolute unwillingness to allow the modernization of our nuclear weapons. Some of our stockpiled weapons do incorporate many of the modern safety & security features but, many of our weapons are very old & do not have the latest safety & security technology designed to prevent accidental detonation of the high explosives or intentional detonation of the explosives should terrorist/other nut cases acquire control of the older weapons. Many of our older weapons still use the sensitive (HMX based) HE in the nuclear explosive package rather than the Insensitive HE. To replace the sensitive HE with the IHE requires a new design of the nuclear explosive package & essentially a complete new warhead.

Opponents of nuclear weapons modernization say modernization would allow the military to build bigger bombs & that the newer designs would require full-scale underground testing which would weaken our non-proliferation policies/objective & prevent ratification of the CTBT. Our nuclear design Labs have made it clear that new modern warheads can be manufactured without the need for full-scale testing.

To leave these older warheads in the stockpile for more years/decades is a pure case of negligence. Our weapons designers have verified this concern but Obama has chosen to ignore their expert advice.

If an American nuclear worker ever goes postal or if terrorist gain control over one of our nuclear weapons you better pray it’s one that has the more modern safety & security features.

planethou said...

I'm confused. Last night on the PBS News Hour, they had two "experts" that reported specifically that the modernization of our current warheads could continue. Did they talk about this for a couple of minutes yet were incorrect?

Robert said...

I did not see the PBS News Hour experts you refer to but the Nuclear Posture Review Report April 2010


contains the following statements:

By pursuing a sound Stockpile Management Program for extending the life of U.S. nuclear weapons, we can ensure a safe, secure, and effective deterrent without the
development of new nuclear warheads or further nuclear testing.

The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs
(LEPs) will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not
support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.

To better understand this issue of modernization, the issues I’m talking about involve the nuclear explosive package contained inside the Physics Package of the weapon. Life Extension Programs (LEP) don’t apply to the nuclear explosive package – they only involve components/design features outside of the physics package (electro-mechanical components mostly).

To replace the older HMX based main charge explosives in the nuclear explosive package will most likely require a whole new weapon design/manufacture. IHE is less energetic than the HMX based explosive & therefore takes more to do the job- which makes for a larger sized nuclear explosive, physics package & overall weapon.

Replacing the older nuclear explosive packages with IHE based designs can be done using the design of existing IHE nuclear explosive packages such as the SKUA-9 design proposed for the WR1 RRW which has been full-scale tested some years ago.

So, my contention is that Obama’s nuclear policy & his decision to eliminate funding of the WR1/RRW will not allow modernization of the nuclear explosive packages inside our nuclear weapons.

Thus, my/others contention that these policies/decisions will ensure the aging of our nuclear deterrent into obsolescence and irrelevance – along with the nuclear R&D expertise of our Nuclear Design Labs.

planethou said...

As usual, the devil is in the details, and it seems you know more about the details than the 2 "experts" on PBS. Thanks for the clarification and further information.