President Barack Obama today released five specific objectives regarding the United States’ future nuclear force, but the most important objective of all – defending the United States and its allies against strategic attack – was not among them. Now, it is up to Congress, the American people and America’s allies to ask the President a simple, pointed question: Why won’t you defend us?
The release of the President’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) raises significant questions about the soundness of the Obama administration’s nuclear strategy. First and foremost, the President’s priorities for his nuclear strategy are contradictory. By having a smaller, less reliable, less credible nuclear force, the President’s strategy will increase the incentive for nuclear proliferators to produce weapons, and other states’ reliance on nuclear weapons will only grow. In short, the world will become a more dangerous place to live.
Contrary to President Obama’s assertions, maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent and combating proliferation and nuclear terrorism are not incompatible goals. In fact, the previous administration made significant strides in countering proliferation, including establishing the Proliferation Security Initiative, which was designed to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.
What’s more, existing U.S. declaratory policy, which as written under President Carter and reaffirmed by other Presidents, (including President Clinton after the Cold War ended), has served the United States well. As it stood, the policy was a simple, clear cut and forceful declaration of the U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons for self defense. Conversely, the declaratory policy stated in President Obama’s NPR is something only a lawyer could love and lays out a series of muddled conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. That only serves to send confused signals to both allies and adversaries.
There’s another problem with President Obama’s new nuclear strategy. As written, the NPR raises legitimate concerns that the President has not met requirements under U.S. law (sec 1251 of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act) to adequately address the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons and infrastructure before entering into a new arms control agreement. In addition, the NPR wrongly argues that the United States should ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This treaty would prevent the United States from developing the nuclear forces necessary to deal with today’s threats and saddle the United States with an increasingly obsolete nuclear arsenal designed for the Cold War era.
So what’s the alternative? The right U.S. defense strategy would emphasize a modernized, credible nuclear force; comprehensive missile defense; and robust conventional forces, as well as vigorous efforts to prevent proliferation, illicit trafficking in nuclear technology and materials; and combating terrorism. That would provide for a more robust and effective deterrence for the post-Cold War World. In other words, it would do what nuclear weapons should – defend the United States and its allies.