- The Washington Times - Friday, April 16, 2010


President Obama has signed a new arms-control agreement with the Russians, but this does not mean we no longer require adequate nuclear deterrence. The president, in his naivete on matters of national security and foreign affairs, continues to weaken the U.S. capability to deal with serious threats. Multiple existential dangers still exist, and this country will have to ensure that our remaining strategic-force assets are always capable of reaching their intended targets. At a minimum, this will mean maintaining a thoroughly modern and penetration-capable nuclear force.

To be sure, further nuclear proliferation should be curtailed, yet that particular goal will be degraded by the new treaty. The president’s underlying and overriding objective, “a world free of nuclear weapons,” is not attainable, and it is not desirable. By themselves, the president should understand, nuclear weapons are neither good nor evil. In certain circumstances, however counterintuitive, those weapons may prove indispensable to international stability and national security.

How quickly we forget that the nuclear stalemate between the United States and the former Soviet Union played a decisive role in preventing World War III. Today, a tiny American ally’s physical survival is plainly contingent upon having nuclear weapons. However ambiguous or implicit, Israel’s nuclear deterrent is required for that always-imperiled country’s very “life.”

The naive nuclear hopes of Mr. Obama will present a grave hazard. What we require in any effective arms-control policy is a model of international interactions that reflects, realistically, the passions and principles of all our potential enemies. Such a complex model would be drawn not from idealized visions of worldwide denuclearization, but from the informed awareness that America’s multiple enemies still remain resolutely 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. He 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 still must 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 and to meet strategic operational requirements. We need continually to modernize and upgrade and refine those weapons as well as 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 capable re-examination of nuclear targeting doctrine, now 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 be irrational. In all of these matters, the president’s current glide path to a nuclear-free world is counterproductive and dangerous.

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 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 abject surrender or defeat.

Future enemy missile launches could come from container ships off our shores. Launches against Israel likely will come directly from Iran and from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israel has been smart in moving its expanded capability offshore, with a modernized U.S. anti-missile fleet and with Dolphin-class submarine capabilities. These assets are well-positioned in the Mediterranean, Red and Arabian seas. The current Dolphin-class submarines already are being upgraded, as is Israel’s Arrow-centered system of missile defense.

A nuclear threat to American cities need not come from enemy missiles. As the president has recognized, it also could come from cars and trucks and from ships used only for “dirty-bomb” dispersals and missile launches off our shores. Ballistic-missile defense, of course, 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 functionally useful answers can never emerge from any grandiose plan for global nuclear disarmament.

America’s strategic doctrine must rest on the idea that threats of war and global jihad may derive from a genuine clash of civilizations. This does not mean Mr. Obama is wrong in his expanding and codified emphasis on diplomacy (though it has been ineffective to date) but only that he should acknowledge that some of our principal enemies will be unresponsive to traditional deterrence policies. Those enemies, sworn to unyielding expectations of jihad, will be animated not by the ordinary secular promises of hegemony, wealth and privilege, but rather by power over death. In all world politics, there is no greater power.

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. Effectively controlling these enemies will fall outside the bounds of any strategic arms-reduction agreement.

The president understands that an act of nuclear terrorism against the United States could have unendurable consequences. To prevent the “Ryder truck scenario,” which could involve either a radiological or authentic chain-reaction nuclear weapon, Mr. Obama’s strategic policy must hold the state sponsors accountable. This policy initially must offer these states a suitable diplomatic option, but there must be persuasive alternatives if diplomacy should fail.

The president should then make clear that any proxy nuclear explosion in this country would certainly elicit an unacceptably damaging retaliation. This means we should (1) unambiguously target these sponsor states; and (2) plainly and regularly “war-game” retaliatory and pre-emption options with National Command Authority. Surely, it is imprudent for the United States to rule out in advance any use of nuclear weapons for certain deterrent objectives, as the president already has done regarding nonnuclear adversaries that would sponsor chemical and/or biological terror attacks.

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

Louis Rene Beres is a professor of political science and international law at Purdue University. Thomas McInerney is a retired Air Force lieutenant general 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 the chairman of Stand Up America and Save Our Democracy projects.

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