Tuesday, April 6, 2010

No Nukes, He Said

President Obama made the nation a little less safe today by announcing limits on when we would use nuclear weapons.

For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.

Just curious: what good is this expected to do? For the record, there are chemical and biological weapons (CBW) bans, too, which have been joined by nearly every nation. So a nation attacking us with those weapons would likely be out of compliance with some WMD treaty. We have long committed not to use CBW ourselves, so the only WMD we have left with which to respond is our nukes.

Which are rapidly aging, by the way. We could replace them, except that Obama is also preventing that:

To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary.

Does our President think we should conduct diplomacy as if we were running a kindergarten? I'm curious if it has worked, ever, for a nation to "set an example" by disarming itself. What do other nations typically do? Do they disarm themselves, act nicely, start cooperating, out of a spirit of lovingkindness? I don't know of any cases where this has ever happened. There's no reason to think this time will be any different.

In fact, the great danger here is that, by systematically weakening the U.S. nuclear umbrella that currently stretches over the Western Hemisphere, Obama's policy actually increases the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. Many nations that could go nuclear easily rely on the U.S. to protect them: take Japan, Germany and the rest of the Anglosphere as obvious examples. India, a growing ally of ours, has never been under the umbrella: it went publicly nuclear in May, 1998, in response to a growing threat from Pakistan's nuclear program. Pakistan then went nuclear itself two weeks later.

It's not pleasant being the world's sheriff, and it's understandable that Obama doesn't relish being the leader of the nation that has been stuck with the job. But if he abdicates his responsibilities, he will end up making the problem of nuclear proliferation worse, not better.


  1. I read the article too, finding it disturbing, but looking for some good in it. The only thing I found is that many nations might feel less pressure to develop nuclear weapons, knowing that we would use them against them, and thus be more likely to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

    Of course, any nation that has such fears is probably already an agressor and in violation of some kind of treaty, or at least a threat to world peace. And Obama's plan seems to be largely based on hope. An axiom I learned in the military is that "hope is not a method".

    I also was unhappy when the article talked about how Obama had "won the Nobel Peace Prize". I hate being reminded of that farce...Obama receive the Nobel Prize for wishful thinking and for being the first black President of the US. His predecessor, George W., who I dislike, actually did more to earn a Nobel Peace Prize, by taking Saddam Hussein out of power, and creating a chance for a peaceful democratic government in Iraq (not that I think it will stay that way).

  2. Sorry, that should have been,
    "many nations might feel less pressure to develop nuclear weapons, knowing that we would NOT use them against them, and thus be more likely to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty"

  3. Gary, that hope strikes me as awfully thin gruel. Do you think there is a nation on the planet that actually fears we might attack them with nuclear weapons without provocation?

    Iran, for instance, has done as much provoking as a nation can do without actually pulling a Pearl Harbor-style military attack. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has: taken our embassy personnel as hostages, financed and armed terrorists who have killed our soldiers and civilians, sent troops disguised as civilians to act as terrorists against our soldiers in Iraq, and flaunted the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But while they may slightly fear a conventional attack by us, I'm sure they won't think we're actually going to take our their nuclear facilities with nukes of our own.

    They do, however, have a strong incentive to develop their own nukes, even without considering the U.S. With them, they can become the local hegemon. The only deterrent will be American nuclear weapons. If we reduce the value of that deterrent, Iran's rivals will need their own nukes. Do we want to see Iraq - even a shakily democratic, sort-of-ally-to-America Iraq - restart a nuclear program to counteract Iran's? Do we want to see Saudi Arabia working with Russia and North Korea to buy nukes?

    I'm less concerned about the rest of the world. But if we remove the U.S. deterrent umbrella, or weaken it too far, the incentive for our allies to go nuclear goes up. Consider Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These are all nuclear threshold nations. They could certainly have nukes very quickly if they wished. But they don't because the U.S. guarantees their defense. I'm not worried about any of these nations using nukes against us. But it would certainly complicate the geopolitical picture if the nuclear club were to expand from seven to a couple of dozen states.

    As for the Nobel Peace Prize: look, once Yasser Arafat won it, you could start ignoring it. It's completely meaningless.

  4. James, I didn't say I thought Obama's plan was a good one....actually, it is a pretty bad one. But I am saying that a lot of countries DO fear our nuclear weapons, even when they should have no reason to. Russia and China certainly feared them, and then went to extreme lengths to develop their own. You also believe other countries fear our nukes, since you refer to "deterrent".

    I didn't say that they would necessarily fear an "attack without provocation", but that they might want to do things that could be provocations, but lesser than a violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Gassing Kurds, for example, annexing a small neigboring country, or oppressing their own citizens. These are things we often intervene in, and, justified or not, many of these countries think we have no right to interfere in their affairs. They most certainly fear our military power, including our nuclear weapons.

    That doesn't mean I think Obama's answer IS the answer. As I said, I think it's based on hope, and I think that hope would be disappointed. Liberals often seem to believe that if the good man gets rid of his weapons, the bad man will do so too, and they will live in peace and harmony. Nonsense, of course....there will always be people out there who will try to take by force rather than make or earn, and so a form of defense will always be needed. Pacifism is a luxury we cannot afford, perhaps not ever.

    There is another aspect of Obama's plan that I also worry about. As a former US soldier, one of the things we fear are chemical and biological weapons. Until now, our enemies have been deterred from using such weapons against us, for fear of possible retaliation with nuclear weapons. Obama has not quite given a green light to our enemies to use CBW against us, but he's certainly made the consequences less severe.

    Fortunately, if Obama can do this, the next sensible president we have should be able to undo it.