America is confronting a very dangerous nuclear "perfect storm." You might be forgiven for thinking that prospect has sufficient importance to warrant mention in President Obama's State of the Union address.
However, if past experience is any guide, it probably won't make the cut in a speech with an Alinsky-like focus on persuading the public and his Republican opponents that the greatest threat the country faces is "income inequality."
Reality must intrude, however, on such cynical political machinations. Consider the following elements of this perfect storm:
The Washington Free Beacon reports that a Defense Science Board task force has completed a three-year review of U.S. intelligence capabilities with respect to emerging nuclear threats and found them seriously wanting.
The Beacon's Adam Kredo says the board found: " 'The nation is not yet organized or fully equipped' to detect clandestine nuclear activities across the globe, and in most cases, 'current solutions are either inadequate, or more often, do not exist.' "
This conclusion is all the more alarming, given the current strategic environment. The panel concluded: "The actual or threatened acquisition of nuclear weapons by more actors — with a range of motivations, capabilities and approaches — is emerging in numbers not seen since the early days of the Cold War.
"Many of these actors are hostile to the U.S. and its allies, and of greater worry, they do not appear to be bound by established norms, nor are they deterred by traditional means."
Think about that the next time — presumably in Mr. Obama's State of the Union address — the president claims his seriously defective deal with Iran will curb its bid for "the Bomb." The truth is that we have no clue about the extent of the mullahs' covert nuclear-weapons program, let alone any reason to think it will be impacted at all by the terms of an agreement that covers only a few declared facilities and only in ways that are readily reversible.
It seems certain that those intelligence deficiencies will only grow as Mr. Obama further compromises our collection policies, practices and capabilities. As a new study by the Center for Security Policy's Fred Fleitz and Clare Lopez points out, that is the inevitable effect of his affording many foreign leaders and even "ordinary people" the privacy rights heretofore reserved for American citizens and persons.
The question occurs: Will our spies and intelligence agencies find it still more difficult to perform the mission of ferreting out what enemies are doing to ready electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and other nuclear threats for possible use against us?
Speaking of electromagnetic pulse, Americans have lately been getting a much-needed crash course on the existential danger it poses to our country and population. With the enthusiastic support of a new EMP coalition chaired by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Bret Baier and Jeanine Pirro of Fox News last week aired must-see-TV segments about this threat.
They exposed the damage Iran or other actors could inflict on the United States by taking down its electric grid, possibly with an electromagnetic pulse unleashed by a single high-altitude nuclear detonation. Do you think Mr. Obama will mention that threat to our union — or the fact that we need to harden our grid against the certainty that intense solar flaring will at some point in the future cause similar effects?
Mr. Obama is also unlikely to address another element of the nuclear perfect storm: the free fall being experienced by America's deterrent to nuclear and other threats. In the wake of a series of performance, readiness and disciplinary problems with personnel manning some of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missiles, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently issued an all-hands-on-deck memorandum to the Pentagon leadership.
The secretary's memo read, in part: "Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure." It went on to lay out an "action plan" to try to remedy the situation, which included this directive to the senior occupants of the E-Ring: "Examine the underlying leadership and management principles governing the strategic deterrence enterprise and the health of the culture that implements those principles."
Mr. Hagel's initiative is certainly welcome, the more so for its coming from a man who, until recently, was a champion of "Global Zero" — the reckless and truly insidious campaign to take down the U.S. nuclear arsenal, on the bizarre theory that other nations will then follow our example.
Unfortunately, the most serious "underlying leadership and management" problem confronting America's strategic deterrence enterprise today is the commander in chief's continuing adherence to his policy of "ridding the world of nuclear weapons," starting with ours.
Unless and until he makes clear his commitment to maintaining and modernizing our deterrent, it will continue to unravel as a result of demoralized personnel, obsolescing weapons systems and ever more emboldened adversaries.
The State of the Union would be a perfect vehicle to announce such a commitment and to rally the Congress and the American people to the task of contending with the emerging nuclear perfect storm. Will President Obama follow the lead of his defense secretary and do so?
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program Secure Freedom Radio.