- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009


What sort of national security policy can we expect from a president who seeks a “world free of nuclear weapons?” In principle, this is a reasonable objective. In reality, however, it is preposterous.

President Obama, by failing to identify serious strategic threats and objectives, has ignored the core expectations of national survival.

Further nuclear proliferation should be curtailed, but, ironically, this goal would actually be degraded by the president’s proposals. By themselves, nuclear weapons are neither good nor evil. In certain circumstances, these weapons may even be indispensable to international stability and national security. The nuclear stalemate between this country and the former Soviet Union played a critical role in preventing World War III. And, however ambiguous, Israel’s implicit nuclear deterrent is required for that country’s very life.

The naive nuclear hopes of Mr. Obama represent an elaborate fiction. What we require, instead, is a model of international relations that reflects, realistically, the passions and principles of our potential enemies. Such a model would be drawn not from Mr. Obama’s idealized visions, but from the informed awareness that America’s multiple enemies may still remain face down to peace with the United States.

When Pericles delivered his Funeral Oration, with its praise of Athenian civilization, his perspective was inner-directed. Pericles remarked: “What I fear more than the strategies of our enemies is our own mistakes.” Later, in Rome, Cicero inquired: “What can be done against force without force?” Today, a president of the United States must still understand that in a world of international anarchy, foreign policy must aim at maintaining and improving his country’s power position.

America needs nuclear weapons for deterrence. We need to continually upgrade and refine these weapons, as well as their associated strategic doctrine. We need to recapitalize our national nuclear deterrent and ensure that we can maintain all essential global power projection capabilities. This means, at a minimum, a re-examination of nuclear targeting doctrine, this time with regard to current threats from other countries and their proxies. It also means preparing for a world in which both our national and subnational enemies may sometimes be irrational. In all of these matters, the president’s current glide path to a nuclear-free world is counterproductive.

A key concern of U.S. strategic doctrine must still be pre-emption. Like it or not, there are major threats on the horizon that may still call for anticipatory self-defense. In our uncertain strategic future, where enemy rationality cannot always be assumed, and where the essential effectiveness of national ballistic missile defense would be problematic, the only alternative to an American pre-emption could be surrender or defeat.

Sea power still has its place. Future enemy missile launches could come from container ships off our shores. Launches against Israel could likely also come directly from Iran, so a modernized U.S. anti-missile fleet capability should be positioned in the Mediterranean, Red and Arabian seas. For Israel, its current Dolphin class submarines may have to be upgraded, and so, too, may its Arrow-centered system of ballistic missile defense.

A nuclear threat to American cities need not come from enemy missiles. It could also come from cars and trucks, and from ships used only for “dirty-bomb” dispersals. Ballistic missile defense would be of no use against any such attacks.

Could we make enemy states and their surrogates believe that proxy acts of nuclear terrorism would elicit an unacceptable retaliation against them directly? Perhaps, but functional answers can never emerge from a plan for global nuclear disarmament.

America’s strategic doctrine must rest on the idea that threats of war and terrorism may now derive from a genuine “clash of civilizations.” This does not mean Mr. Obama is wrong in his expanding emphasis on negotiation and diplomacy, but only that he should also acknowledge that some of our principal enemies will be unresponsive to traditional deterrent policies. These enemies, sworn to expectations of jihad, will be animated not by the ordinary secular promises of hegemony, wealth and privilege, but by power over death.

Some of these enemies could come to resemble the suicide bomber writ large. Such enemies may not concede an inch to proposals for compromise, coexistence and peaceful settlement.

An act of nuclear terrorism against the United States could have overwhelming consequences. To prevent the “Ryder truck scenario,” which could involve either a radiological or authentic chain-reaction nuclear weapon, Mr. Obama’s strategic policy would have to hold the state sponsors accountable. This policy should initially offer these states a suitable diplomatic option.

If any such outreach should fail, the president must then make clear that any terrorist proxy nuclear explosion in this country would certainly elicit an unacceptably damaging retaliation. This means that we should (1) unambiguously target these sponsor states; and (2) plainly and regularly “war-game” retaliatory options with national command authorities.

Nuclear weapons are not going to go away. Understanding this, Mr. Obama must quickly begin to construct a broad and coherent strategic plan from which specific policy options can be drawn. This compelling plan should prepare to deal effectively with both our national and subnational adversaries, and should take into account that some of them might sometimes be willing to act irrationally.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University. Thomas McInerney is a retired Air Force lieutenant general and vice chief of staff and co-author of “The Endgame: Winning the War on Terror” (Perseus Distribution Services, 2006). Paul E. Vallely is a retired Army major general and co-author of “The Endgame.” He is chairman of Stand Up America and Save Our Democracy Projects.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide