- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

An effort is afoot to destroy the U.S. nuclear deterrent that has kept America safe for more than half a century. Those behind this effort are attempting to make us so fearful of possible nuclear proliferation that we will agree to rapid dismantlement of our nuclear-deterrent forces. These forces are the ultimate guarantor of our liberty, freedom and safety - of our very existence as a nation - in the dangerous, highly volatile and unknowable world of the future.

Without question, determined proliferators like Iran and North Korea are dangerous. But the answer is to stop the proliferators, not to surrender the only means we and our children have to deter nuclear disaster.

Look at what the United States has done in support of nonproliferation since the end of the Cold War. We’ve reduced our ready nuclear weapons from more than 10,000 to about 2,000. We’ve refrained from transforming our nuclear strategy in response to today’s adversaries and threats. We’ve stopped designing, testing or producing needed new weapons. In short, to prevent proliferation, we’ve observed a nuclear freeze for two long decades.

What has this freeze done to our nuclear deterrent? It is now virtually irrelevant for deterring today’s threats. Our strategy is out of date. Our remaining weapons are well past the end of their design life and deteriorating. Our personnel situation is desperate. Experienced scientists, engineers, and testing and production personnel are virtually gone, and their replacements are inadequately trained.

Recruiting pre-eminent young people into a profession seemingly not valued by society is just not possible. In the Defense Department, two decades of focus on conventional warfare has led to atrophy of our nuclear deterrent. Urgent recovery actions in each of these areas are vital.

Has this restraint prevented proliferation? Not remotely. The world’s unwillingness to stop rogue states from acquiring nuclear weapons is about to trigger a global cascade of proliferation. Even our allies, which for decades have been protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, will sense our impotence and go nuclear. This can only end in a world of unimaginable nuclear horror and chaos. Clearly, weakness in not the way to fight proliferation. Yet even greater weakness is now being proposed.

The impending disaster has led some to conjure up an impossible vision: a world without nuclear weapons. Because they cannot describe how to get there, or how to remain there when nuclear-weapons technology is widely known, they ask the United States to prostrate itself in fear and take the lead by dismantling our nuclear deterrent. They propose large additional cuts in our nuclear arsenal, guaranteeing long-term vulnerability. They propose ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, permanently denying us the ability to fix problems, deter current and future threats, and remain knowledgeable of advancing nuclear technology. They propose banning production of any nuclear weapons whatsoever.

They’re dead wrong in all this. If our huge nuclear reductions in the past 20 years have not stemmed proliferation, how can these nuclear disarmers imagine that more U.S. cuts and denials will reverse things? Our adversaries would applaud and redouble their efforts. Our allies would be forced to acquire nuclear arsenals for self-protection. And the resulting proliferation would cause the rest of the world to follow suit.

What about the real-world nuclear threats we face (which disarmers seldom mention)? They’re diverse and increasing. All nuclear-weapons states - except the United States - are modernizing their arsenals. Russia is designing and producing new, advanced weapons. They’re retaining many thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, and their new military strategy emphasizes nuclear use. China is engaged in an immense strategic modernization, greatly increasing the number of nuclear missiles which can reach the United States. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is unstable. North Korea has nuclear weapons and Iran is on the verge of producing them. Terrorists and proxy groups (Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda) are seeking nuclear weapons worldwide.

Is there an alternative to submission? Certainly. Have confidence in America. Stop wringing our hands. Face reality. Accept the fact that nonproliferation requires enforcement. Stop Iran and North Korea, using military force if necessary. Convince the world that future enforcement must be in the hands of responsible states with nuclear weapons. Urgently rebuild all elements of our nuclear-deterrent force. Emphasize that the Nonproliferation Treaty, cornerstone of global nonproliferation, established two tiers: five nuclear-weapons states and some 183 non-nuclear-weapons states.

The great beneficiaries of this system are not the five, which carry the heavy burden, but the 183, which are protected from nuclear aggression by their neighbors.

Lead all nuclear-weapons states into gradual, responsible, verifiable reductions. All this can be done if America leads. But we cannot lead in the nuclear era without a strong, reliable nuclear deterrent.

It’s a simple choice for America - strength or weakness. The stakes are national survival. America has reached a turning point in its history, and it is time for a national debate. This is how democracies decide issues of this magnitude.

Ronald Reagan’s statement was powerful: “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.” Let’s not invite the next one by weakening our nuclear deterrent.

Robert R. Monroe is a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral and former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.

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