President Obama's Nuclear Naivete

President Obama's Nuclear Naivete

By Jack Kelly - April 11, 2010

President Barack Obama reminded us last week that before he drives us into bankruptcy, he might get us all killed.

On Tuesday, the president released his nuclear posture review. On Thursday in Prague, he signed a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

The NPR is the more significant, because treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and the START II treaty is so manifestly harmful to the security interests of the United States that it is unlikely to obtain the 67 votes needed.

The president listed five priorities in the NPR, noted James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. Defending the United States wasn't among them.

The key elements of the NPR are Mr. Obama's decision to eschew the use of nuclear weapons to retaliate against a biological or chemical attack against the United States, and the president's decision to develop no new nuclear weapons.

The first is more rhetorical posturing than substantive change. As Tunku Varadarajan of the Hoover Institution noted: "We weren't going to nuke Brazil before the review, and we're still asserting the right to nuke North Korea if we need to."

But the posturing is not without consequence.

"In the past, our ambiguity made our enemies hesitate," said Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer. "The new policy guarantees that they'll intensify their pursuit of bugs, gas and weaponized computers."

What's really dangerous is the president's decision to build no new nuclear weapons. Nukes deteriorate with time. They need to be replaced if deterrence is to be maintained.

More modern nukes, moreover, are less likely to cause collateral damage. Greater accuracy means weapons can have lower yield. And more complete consumption of radioactive materials lessens the danger of fallout.

We have the technical capacity to build and an urgent strategic need for deep-burrowing, small-yield nukes that can destroy the underground bunkers where North Korea and Iran plan to store their nukes.

The unwillingness of Mr. Obama to do anything meaningful to block the mullahs' pursuit of nuclear weapons highlights the absurdity of the START II treaty with the Russians.

"There you have appeasement in a nutshell," wrote Michael Goodwin of the New York Post. "[Obama] wants the world to give up nukes and insists America lead the way, but he's not willing to stop a crazed theocracy that is determined to get them and threatens to use them."

When Mr. Obama was a kid, arms treaties with the old Soviet Union were a big deal. But the Soviet Union is no more. The odds the Russia of today would go to war with the United States are even lower than the odds Obamacare will save money.

Though Russia is unlikely to ever use them, especially against us, Russia will never give up its nukes. Russia is an economic lightweight -- its gross domestic product is less than Spain's -- with a declining population. Its sole claim to superpower status is based on its possession of nukes.

And the Russians believe, correctly, that nukes are critical to their defense, because their conventional forces really stink. Conventional forces, moreover, are expensive, while nukes are relatively cheap.

But the Russians are more than happy to accept concessions from the United States in exchange for vague, unenforceable promises.

Mr. Obama is fond of describing his actions as "historic." But forging a deal ostensibly to reduce a threat that passed into history decades ago puts new meaning on that word. It's unclear whether he intends also to pursue arms deals with the Ottomans or the Byzantines.

The new strategy outlined in the NPR and the START II treaty is intended as a message, to add leverage to "the faltering effort to force Iran and North Korea to rethink the value of their nuclear programs," wrote David Sanger and Thom Shanker in The New York Times Wednesday.

If so, the message isn't having the desired effect.

"Iran's hard-line president on Wednesday ridiculed President Barack Obama's new nuclear strategy," the Associated Press reported.

"Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer," said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience."

Will Mr. Obama gain that experience before calamity ensues?


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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