President Obama pledged to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and he’s starting with the United States. The new U.S. nuclear posture puts the country flat on its back.
Mr. Obama’s nuclear strategy is long on ideology and short on common sense. It reflects the mindset of those on the left who came of age during the “nuclear freeze” movement, who see nuclear weapons as an evil to be eliminated, not as a useful deterrent that has contributed to limiting conflict for the last 60 years. The new strategy predictably undermines the deterrent value of these weapons in pursuit of Mr. Obama’s fanciful vision of a nuclear-free world.
One of Mr. Obama’s gimmicky innovations is to place non-nuclear states off-limits from nuclear strikes. The president asserted instead that the United States will “make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.” But a credible worldwide conventional deterrent would require much greater capabilities than currently exist in the U.S. inventory. American ground forces are already stretched thin across the globe, and it is unlikely that the Obama administration would be eager either to build up the military or to commit to any additional ground conflicts should they occur.
Adversary states are well aware of America’s diminished will and capacity to respond to conventional threats. Nuclear weapons may be the only thing deterring large-scale non-nuclear conflict on the Korean Peninsula. If North Korea mounted a conventional assault on the South, it’s doubtful the United States would be able decisively to respond using only conventional force. Arbitrarily compartmentalizing nuclear and conventional conflicts into separate deterrence frameworks raises costs and risks, forfeits escalation dominance and increases the probability of conflict.
The new strategy also compromises the U.S. nuclear deterrent by ending development of new nuclear systems. The administration is replacing modernization efforts with an increased emphasis on warhead life extension and maintenance of the current aging nuclear infrastructure. Mr. Obama desires to set an example for others to follow, but this backdoor disarmament is a gift to America’s nuclear adversaries. Russia and China are engaged in significant modernization efforts and will be able to exploit future generational technological innovations and breakthroughs that the United States is opting to ignore.
Under Mr. Obama’s initiative, America will forfeit its historical advantage as a technological innovator and cede future advances in nuclear weapons to other countries. This is bassackwards, since modernization efforts could lead to the development of smaller, more effective nuclear warheads that would enable further reductions in U.S. arsenals while maintaining or augmenting deterrence capabilities.
Instead, America is taking a pledge to pursue nuclear obsolescence. This fits neatly in Mr. Obama’s anti-nuclear ideological framework, but as a deterrence or war-fighting strategy, it is counterproductive. The new nuclear posture signals weakness and lack of resolve. It commits the United States to slow-motion, unilateral nuclear disarmament and encourages non-nuclear states to examine options for the use of force that had previously been impractical, given the possibility of an American nuclear response.
Over time, the O Force’s nuclear policy will diminish the relative strength of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, weakening deterrence and reducing America’s ability to respond effectively should deterrence fail. It is a lose-lose strategy that makes the world a far more dangerous place.