Leaders from 46 nations, the most gathered together since the United Nations was formed in San Francisco in 1945, will meet over the next two days in Washington, DC. The stated goal of this Obama administration-hosted summit is laudable: keeping nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands. Who could argue with that? And this Nuclear Security Summit comes less than a week after President Barack Obama released a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and just days after he signed a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. As many of the White House’s allies pointed out last week, President Ronald Reagan wanted a world without nuclear weapons, and he also signed an arms treaty with the Soviet Union. President Obama’s policy goals are just like President Reagan’s. So why is anyone criticizing the White House’s nuclear strategy? Because how we get to a nuke-free world matters.

Reagan knew that to eliminate the need for large nuclear arsenals, you must first start to eliminate the dependence — both ours and others’ — on massive nuclear attack as the guarantor of security. That is why Reagan’s first priority was to build up U.S. conventional forces and introduce missile defense. That allowed his negotiators to approach arms control agreements from a position of strength.

President Obama has done the exact opposite. He has cut our national defense, including acquisition of the F-22, removed missile defense installations in Eastern Europe, and cut missile defense development programs. His lawyer-like NPR weakens America’s deterrence credibility by broadcasting our intention not to respond in kind if we are hit by weapons of mass destruction. And his New START agreement not only clearly links our missile defense shield with Russian missile reduction, but it also limits our own conventional weapons capabilities as well.

Reagan also understood how other nations viewed their own nuclear programs and recognized the limits of unilateral arms reductions. President Obama clearly does not. Russia’s nuclear and conventional weapons arsenals are declining faster than ours, due to age and funding, so of course they want to bring our levels down to theirs. New START plays right into the Kremlin’s needs by constraining our advantage in conventional (non-nuclear) “strategic” weapons, including missile defense, in order to accentuate the power of their nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, the current Iranian regime views their nuclear program as essential to their domestic survival, so the increasingly worthless sanctions the Obama administration is trying to get out of the United Nations Security Council will do nothing to slow the Iranian bomb either. And Obama’s call for eliminating nuclear weapons even provides North Korea with some political cover for maintaining its stockpile. In September 2009, Pyongyang declared that “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula [will be] in the context of a global effort to build a world free of nuclear weapons.” North Korea now ties its denuclearization to worldwide U.S. disarmament.

Heritage fellow James Carafano concludes:

Reagan’s sound vision for “rendering nuclear weapons obsolete” started with first ensuring robust defenses, then reducing the nuclear stockpile appropriately. Obama has taken a “reduce first, beef up defense later (if ever)” approach.

It’s a path that leads to even greater danger, not to “zero.” Doubtless President Obama is motivated by the very best of intentions. But in a world of proliferating nuclear power, we should remember where a road paved only with good intentions leads.

Quick Hits:

  • Read President of The Heritage Foundation, Dr. Edwin J. Feulner statement on the tragic passing of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the First Lady Maria Kaczynska and other Polish officials and ministers.
  • According to Rasmussen Reports, 66% of voters believe that America is overtaxed.
  • Congress is poised to miss its April 15 deadline for finishing the budget without even considering a draft in either chamber. If the House does not pass a first version of the budget resolution, it will be the first time since the implementation of the 1974 Budget Act, which governs the modern congressional budgeting process.
  • Congress still has not found a way to pay for $9 billion more in jobless benefits that expired April 5th.
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told Fox News Sunday that the Obama administration does not have the votes to ratify New START in the Senate.