'Nuclear zero' is dangerous to U.S., allies
Recent threats from North Korea have led the Obama administration to reverse some of its previous decisions and to build up U.S. missile defenses. President Barack Obama should acknowledge that he was unrealistic in making it U.S. policy to achieve “a world without nuclear weapons.” The practical effects of embracing “nuclear zero” are harmful.
We are part of a team of 20 professionals with extensive experience in national security and defense policy who recently sent an open letter to the president. In it, we argued that the United States' triad of land-based, submarine-launched and bomber-delivered nuclear weapons has helped ensure strategic stability and discouraged proliferation of such weapons. We warned that raising doubts about the reliability, effectiveness and sustainability of our nuclear deterrent may embolden our enemies and encourage our friends to build their own nuclear arsenals.
Obama administration officials have expressed opposition to developing a reliable, new nuclear warhead; opposition to ever testing our warheads again; support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; support for deep new cuts in nuclear force levels; eagerness for a new treaty with Russia to make such cuts a legal requirement; hints of funding cuts for U.S. nuclear infrastructure (in violation of earlier promises to increase such funding, which were pledged in 2010 to win Senate votes for the “New START” nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia); and endorsement of “nuclear zero.”
The president calls it “leadership” when he adopts such policies. He says other countries will more energetically oppose nuclear proliferation in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere if we demonstrate such leadership by constraining our own nuclear capabilities.
But these policies have not yielded the hoped-for diplomatic benefits regarding North Korea and Iran. Their nuclear weapons programs progress, as do their programs to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Obama fails to properly weigh the cumulative negative effect his policies and rhetoric have on the many allies and partners that for decades have relied on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for their security. If countries such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Australia (or Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) begin to hedge their bets and develop their own nuclear weapons, the world will become a much more dangerous place.
Obama's determination to make major new cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be considered in this light. By some accounts, he has in mind reductions of about a third. It would be wiser if the president fulfilled the commitments he made during the debate over ratification of his New START treaty with Russia: modernize all three legs of the triad; ensure the safety and deterrent effectiveness of the weapons in each leg; and restore the critical industrial base supporting these forces.
In the name of opposing nuclear proliferation, promoting international cooperation and championing peace, the Obama administration has embraced “nuclear zero” and a set of nuclear policies that risk spurring proliferation. The worst error of governments is not failing to achieve their purposes; it is achieving the opposite of what they properly intend.
Douglas J. Feith was undersecretary of Defense for policy from 2001 to 2005. Frank J. Gaffney is founder and president of the Center for Security Policy; he was acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security policy in 1987. James A. Lyons was commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1985 to 1987. R. James Woolsey was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995.