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GAFFNEY: Peace through weakness?

COMMENTARY:

Fresh from reworking the domestic economic order via the "stimulus" bill in favor of vastly expanded U.S. government influence and power, President Barack Obama proposes a set of changes with respect to American security policies and programs that will have the opposite effect. If equally successful, he stands to transform the "world's only superpower" into a nuclear impotent, with possibly catastrophic consequences.

Such a transformation would be the more extraordinary for it coming against the backdrop of others' buildups of their nuclear arsenals. Every other declared nuclear weapon state is modernizing its stockpile and the most dangerous wannabees - North Korea and Iran - are building up their offensive missile capabilities and acquiring as quickly as possible the arms to go atop them.

The American people are largely clueless about this state of affairs. Doubtless, they would be horrified by the affront to common sense and hard experience entailed, especially under these circumstances, by the sort of U.S. disarmament Mr. Obama has underway.

In fairness, this president inherited what amounts to a 17-year-long unilateral U.S. nuclear freeze. Since 1992, there has been no underground nuclear testing in the United States and no modernization of the arsenal. We have allowed a steady decline in investment in the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program that promised to assure the safety, effectiveness and reliability of our nuclear weapons in the absence of below-ground tests.

Meeting that rigorous standard has been made more all the more challenging by the concomitant exodus of the skilled workforce and the increasing obsolescence and unsustainability of the industrial complex it mans. Not surprisingly, the nuclear laboratory directors' certifications about the status of our weapons are increasingly qualified by warnings of uncertainties about how long the present situation can be sustained.

What is more, since the Cold War's end, the United States has reduced by roughly three-quarters the numbers of nuclear weapons it deployed at that time. Today, we have fewer than the 2,200 fielded nuclear arms we are permitted to have under the U.S.-Russian Treaty of Moscow signed by Presidents Bush and Putin in 2002.

Now, President Obama wants to cut that number down to roughly 500 deployed weapons. His Office of Management and Budget contemplates no modernization of these forces and no upgrading of the capability to produce or refurbish them. The Obama administration seeks the swift ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - which was rejected by a majority of the Senate in 1997 and which would permanently preclude in the future tests that may be essential to the maintenance of our deterrent.

As part of a concerted effort at rapprochement with the Kremlin, Mr. Obama is not only signaling a willingness to scrap the missile defense deployment previously agreed upon by NATO and the basing countries, Poland and the Czech Republic. He not only is hinting at acquiescence to Russian domination of its "near-abroad" (including Georgia and Ukraine). His representatives indicate that they wants an arms control deal that effects these draconian cuts while extending and applying terms of the outdated START II Treaty.

Combining START counting rules and the proposed Obama force reductions would have the practical effect of attributing weapons to various platforms in a way that would effectively preclude the maintenance of the "Triad" of strategic forces that has served us so well, for so long. One and possibly two of the "legs" of this deterrent posture would have to be dismantled.

In addition, the Obama administration apparently believes that the remaining strategic weapons - presumably on submarines - would have to be taken off what it wrongly claims is "hair-trigger" alert status. As with bans on nuclear testing and at least some of the proposed Obama nuclear reductions initiatives, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to verify the compliance of secretive governments with such "de-alerting" arrangements. Only ours would be rendered incapable of prompt use should the need arise.

The cumulative effect of these actions would be to render the U.S. nuclear arsenal, to quote President Reagan, "impotent and obsolete." That was, of course, not something he ever contemplated having the United States do unilaterally. In fact, even though our 40th president is increasingly invoked by the anti-nuclear crowd (whose latest campaign is called "Global Zero" and seeks the hopelessly unrealistic goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons) because of his avowed antipathy towards such arms, arguably no one did more than he to build up America's deterrent. Indeed, were it not for the capabilities Mr. Reagan put in place in the 1980s as part of his refurbishing of our nuclear Triad, we might well have been substantially disarmed already.

The tragic irony is that the Obama administration's goal of global denuclearization is likely to be made more remote, not less, as America's deterrent becomes ever less certain. Our adversaries stand to benefit geostrategically from building up their nuclear arsenals as ours vanishes. Long-time allies will surely feel constrained to acquire their own nuclear forces if our "umbrella" ceases to assure them protection. In short, more proliferation, not less, is in prospect.

In these ways, Barack Obama risks standing the time-tested Reagan philosophy of "peace through strength" on its head in favor of a posture shown to be a formula for war - sometimes on a global, cataclysmic scale: the failed pursuit of peace through U.S. weakness.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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