OpEd: Obama’s Nuclear-Redux Fantasy
Earlier this month, James N. Miller, principal undersecretary of defense for policy, acknowledged to the House Committee on Armed Services that China is increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal, North Korea continues to pursue the development of enriched-uranium weapons, and Iran is advancing its own nuclear ambitions. Mr. Miller also admitted that despite the administration’s decision to unilaterally declare the number of nuclear weapons in the American stockpile, neither China nor Russia has met the calls to increase transparency in their programs.
The nuclear issues Mr. Miller chose not to address, at least publicly, should be of even greater concern to policymakers. They include rising concerns that Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will pursue their own nuclear programs in reaction to Iranian progress. He also did not tackle the increasing threat of North Korean nuclear proliferation, nor did he confront the negative security assurances provided to South Korea and Japan as a result of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
Mr. Miller’s silence on emerging issues and lingering concerns similarly should not go unnoticed. He avoided the rising threat posed by emerging nonnuclear, high-end capabilities, including offensive cyberweapons and long-standing questions about the safety and readiness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without proper testing. He also failed to elaborate on what fallout NATO’s campaign in Libya would have on future denuclearization and nonproliferation diplomacy.
It is clear that the administration’s nuclear nonproliferation policies are not working to advance American national security interests. The administration is not preventing nuclear proliferation, maintaining strategic deterrence, strengthening deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies and partners, or sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal - the very objectives that the administration set forth in the 2010 NPR. Despite these obvious contradictions, the administration continues to press forward with its efforts to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons.
If the United States is serious about reducing its nuclear arsenal without undermining American national security, the administration must take a new policy approach. Policy should rest with the very objectives that it is failing to achieve, starting with nonproliferation. Given that the high-end-threat environment has only increased under this administration’s watch, the unilateral reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should not be prioritized as a stand-alone objective.
A new policy approach will require a more accurate portrayal of current and future high-end threats that affect America’s nuclear posture.
In the Cold War, nuclear deterrence centered on the threat posed by nuclear-state adversaries. The threat of U.S. nuclear weapons was designed to remind such adversaries that violence against Americans would be met with shock and awe - overwhelming, instant and certain devastation. Today, new threats from unconventional sources have emerged. These include non-state actors targeting Americans and their allies as well as rogue states’ illegal pursuit of nuclear technology. Both threats call for swift and sure responses from the United States. Nuclear options should not be ruled out.
On the modern battlefield, conventional weapons also are increasingly less effective against many of today’s military technologies. Many countries have secret command-and-control centers, underground military installations and hidden missile silos that can only be taken out with the scale of destruction that comes from high-end weapons, including ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. It is risky, albeit foolish, to assume that conventional weapons will be enough to respond to the growing cutting-edge-technology risks of tomorrow. The administration’s limited and restricted nuclear strategy misses tomorrow’s threats, making it increasingly difficult to reassure Americans and allies that the United States will continue to possess the offensive and defensive capabilities required to mitigate any threat, anywhere in the world.
Finally, the recent Stuxnet incident reveals that nuclear capabilities are not the only high-end threats that can destroy and disable critical infrastructure. The emergence of new high-end threats, particularly in the cyber- and space domains, require consideration as part of the U.S. nuclear posture. To say that the “United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear weapons states that are party to the [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations” leaves Americans’ safety at risk. It shows that the administration does not appreciate the need to have all options on the table to deal with the full spectrum of high-end threats.
The administration also appears unwilling to address the elephant in the room: In an era of strategic cyberwarfare, there is an increased need for redundancy in capabilities. This appears to contradict the administration’s focus on nuclear arsenal reduction.
For these reasons, American policymakers and American allies, especially in Asia, should answer Mr. Miller’s call to vigorously debate the NPR 2010 implementation in its entirety. One year on, it is clear that the administration’s hypothesis that other countries would follow the United States in making nuclear concessions was naive and wrong. As a result, Americans and their allies face greater high-end threats than they did when the administration assumed office. This should be a critical cause for concern.
The administration’s nuclear accommodations are forcing countries such as Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea to question their national security policies. A decision by just one of these states to pursue nuclear weapons could threaten the entire nonproliferation regime on which the United States has relied for 60 years. If the U.S. hopes to preserve the status quo, it should not be blindly reducing its nuclear arsenal.
Co-authored with Richard Grenell - former director of communications and spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations from 2001-08.
Image Credit: U.S. Air Force