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The incremental steps Kerry proposes regarding nuclear weapons would lead the US and its allies over a national security cliff.

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Kerry and the Nuclear Utopians

The incremental steps Kerry proposes regarding nuclear weapons would lead the US and its allies over a national security cliff.

Nuclear deterrence is one of those “dirty shirt” things that liberal elites want to avoid.  It is a policy that kept America safe from nuclear attack all through the Cold War. Now the same liberals who want to dismantle our nuclear arsenal — literally, and by attrition — want to rely on nuclear deterrence to keep us safe from nuclear strikes by terrorists and rogue regimes.  

Liberals such as Sen. Barack Obama see Iran as no credible threat because our nuclear deterrent makes us immune — in his opinion, not in fact — to Iranian nuclear weapons.  But he is no different from the junior Senator from Massachusetts and the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, John Forbes Kerry.  Kerry, in an op-ed published June 25, 2008, says there is an emerging consensus about America’s nuclear policy. He claims both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are committed to a world without nuclear weapons and so, in Kerry’s mind, we should do away with our nuclear forces.

But Kerry, like many of the supporters of a world without nuclear weapons, engages in a slick slight of hand. He conflates the views of those such as Senator McCain — and every President since Lyndon Johnson — that the US eventually seeks a world without nuclear weapons, with his views and those of  Senator Obama that the US will actually implement the first steps toward such a goal now. He further says that 17 former Secretary’s of State and Defense, (including former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Kissinger) also share this goal.

Not so fast, Senator. Kerry calls for no production of any nuclear weapons material and describes our weapons as on “hair trigger alert”, (they are not). He calls for many of our weapons to be de-alerted and that we should have a notional total force of no more than 1000 nuclear warheads, of which nearly half would not be available to deter on a day-to-day basis because they would be taken off “ready” status).

In a letter to Senator Kyl, former Secretary of State Schultz wrote that the Reliable Replacement Warhead, (RRW), research and development needed to go ahead. Kerry and Obama oppose this. Furthermore, in my own discussion with Secretary Kissinger, he did not support going to the very low numbers being suggested, including the number proposed by Senator Kerry. He further emphasized that deterrence had to be maintained, a point made by Secretary Schultz to National Review in a series of recent interviews. The RRW is based on the idea that if a warhead needs replacing we should be able to do so especially if such new warheads are more reliable and secure. Not to do so would  put at risk key elements of our deterrent. Schultz and Kissinger have never taken this position nor has Senator McCain.

There is a world of difference between maintaining nuclear deterrence for the foreseeable future — which Schultz and Kissinger and their colleagues support — and the proposals by Senators Kerry and Obama to basically terminate any such efforts immediately under the fanciful notion that this somehow gives the US a strengthened hand in dealing with non-nuclear countries wishing to go nuclear — such as Iran — because “we lead by example” and thus can successful negotiate an end to nuclear weapons. What fatuous nonsense, Senator. Are the British to be scolded because they prudently agreed recently to extend their Trident nuclear deterrent by purchasing replacement submarines for that mission even though they share the “vision” of a nuclear free world? Is the Senator proposing they cancel this effort?

North Korea, Iran, Libya, Iraq and Syria have and are now pursuing nuclear weapons programs because they are regimes committed to blackmail, coercion, terror and murder. Two of these nations — Iraq and Libya — are no longer pursuing such weapons because of the successful policies of this administration. Syria’s initial nuclear facilities have been bombed away by our courageous friends and allies in Israel, not by the often misguided folks at the UN or the European Union at the headquarters of the various so-called “blame America always” and “pass an international test” critics of United States policy. Since when does standing up and defending our freedom depend upon the moral approval of Pyongyang and Tehran?

Senator Kerry eventually admits that our proper behavior “will not persuade rogue states to cooperate”.  Of course it won’t Senator. We reduced our nuclear arsenals under the INF, START and SORT treaties by over 80% while you were supporting the nuclear freeze when the US and Russia arsenals each exceeded 10,000 warheads. Now we are on a path to a day to day deployed force of just slightly more than 1000 warheads, and a total force of 2200 warheads available for deterrence.

But somehow this considerably lower number — lower than the nuclear enterprise we had at the end of the Eisenhower administration — is not sufficient to win praise from the Senator and his colleagues. Ironically, even as we have dramatically reduced our stockpiles of weapons, the North Koreans have built new nuclear weapons and Iran is sprinting toward a similar capability according to your colleague Senator Jeff Sessions, one of the senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. We set the example Senator. And the rogue states to whom you refer gave us the big “get lost”.

The incremental steps Kerry proposes would lead the United States and its allies over a national security cliff. There is no requirement for the US to go to zero nuclear weapons unless and until there is also a commitment to global conventional disarmament as well. The 1970 NPT, or Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which you site as requiring this, could not possibly have envisioned the US giving ups nuclear weapons, even if the Soviet Union did as well, in the face of Moscow’s existing enormous conventional military edge.

The current deployed force is necessary for deterrence. The future evolution of Russian behavior is uncertain and it’s seeking hegemony in the Caspian, Eastern Europe and elsewhere is worrisome. China, the PRC, is building significantly additional nuclear weapons, including mobile land based missiles and submarines, to where its nuclear force could reach some 600 warheads by the end of the next decade.

Our nuclear umbrella, our extended deterrent, which has contributed significantly to the absence of nuclear weapons deployments among our closest allies, might be seriously eroded if we went down the path advocated by the Senator. Dreaming about a real world free of nuclear weapons belongs in a fairy tale or children’s book like “Winnie the Pooh”. It does not belong in a portfolio on national security by any serious candidate for President.

Senator McCain’s campaign has underscored its commitment to maintaining the nuclear enterprise necessary to maintain deterrence and support efforts to get to lower levels than those weapons deployed today but only if the deterrent can be maintained. On the other hand, Senator Obama and Senator Kerry have, it appears, simply plucked a number out of the air that ends in zero and is lower than the number of nuclear weapons we have deployed today. Are we seriously meant to believe this has something to do with maintaining deterrence?

I suggest a test, Senator Kerry. Would you rather have a world of today where the US deters war with a robust nuclear arsenal, and works with our allies to stop nuclear proliferation — as we did in Libya and Iraq? Or would you rather we live in a “fair” world, where the US, France, Great Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, Russia, China, North Korea and Iran each have 10, 20 or 50 nuclear weapons, having promised to then go to zero, “cross my heart and I am not lying?” The road to maintaining peace and deterrence is not the same road as going to abolition. One keeps the peace. The other is fatuous nonsense.

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Written By

Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland.

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