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HEINRICHS: As others advance, U.S. retreats on nuclear stage

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama has said the U.S. will help take the world to zero nuclear weapons by shrinking our own force. Defying logic and evidence, he thinks this would inspire others to do the same. What is more confounding, Mr. Obama also has seen fit to scale back U.S. defensive systems designed to intercept incoming missiles.

Unsurprisingly, while the U.S. neglects and shrinks its nuclear force and fails to beef up its defensive forces, America's foes are taking the opportunity to do the opposite.

Just last week, Jane's Intelligence Review reported that Iran had completed yet another rocket-launching facility. It already has put a satellite into orbit, proving it is mastering the technology needed to launch a missile capable of hitting America's East Coast. Intelligence estimates show Iran may have this capability in just two years.

As for its nuclear program, Tehran operates three times the number of centrifuges it did before Mr. Obama took office, and the International Atomic Energy Association reports that Iran could begin plutonium production as soon as next year.

While Iran moves full speed ahead on nukes and missiles, the U.S. is moving backward. In 2010, Mr. Obama negotiated a nuclear arms agreement with Russia that committed the U.S. to cutting its deployed strategic nuclear weapons, even as it allowed Moscow to increase its stockpiles. Before we have even seen the effects of these cuts, Mr. Obama announced he plans to bring those numbers down even further.

This administration is no fan of robust defenses either. The past four fiscal years have seen dramatic cuts to missile defense to the tune of $6 billion less than what the George W. Bush administration estimated would be required. Moreover, Mr. Obama canceled plans for a missile defense site in Europe and recently canceled development of an advanced missile his administration said was needed.

This year, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the administration would consider a third missile defense site on the homeland. Yet to date, the Pentagon has shown no evidence it is serious about deploying one and appears poised to "study options" for building one until this president's term runs out.

Such backtracking and dithering is incredibly dangerous. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center recently reported that missiles and missile technology are proliferating worldwide, with no slowdown in sight.

China, the intelligence center reports, has "the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world." It is testing new missiles and new techniques to counter missile defenses: mobile missiles that can be hidden and then easily deployed with little warning, as well as long-range missiles able to carry multiple warheads.

North Korea continues to test its long-range missile. Last December, just like Iran, whom it cooperates with, it placed a satellite in orbit.

Russia is investing heavily in missile defense technology. A radar station near the Black Sea is nearing completion, one of four highly advanced missile defense facilities built by Russia in recent years.

On June 6, Moscow tested a new mobile missile. Reports indicate it was likely an intermediate-range missile, which would put Russia in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

So, while Moscow aggressively opposes U.S. missile defense and demands a legally binding agreement that we limit ours, it is ramping up its own missile defenses and testing offensive missiles in violation of an existing treaty.

Some in Congress would have us keep backpedaling while our enemies and competitors press forward. Right before the August recess, Congress defeated two amendments that would have scaled back defenses against the more-limited threats from countries like Iran or North Korea.

But other countries are developing more sophisticated missiles and against some of those threats, the U.S. is utterly undefended. The U.S. must take a new look at its strategic posture. By decreasing its nuclear forces and failing to build robust defenses, the U.S. is not leading the world to peace. It is putting itself in grave danger.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, a scholar on nuclear deterrence and missile defense, is a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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