Last week, President Barack Obama released his Nuclear Posture Review, outlining current American policy on nuclear weapons.
According to the NPR — and believe it or not, this is a new policy — the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations who are in compliance with nonproliferation treaties.
Of course, the NPR is as equivocal as anything that comes out of Washington. It clarifies that “the United States is … not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that the ‘sole purpose’ of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack.” In other words, we reserve the right to drop nukes wherever, whenever.
But we’ve gone on record that we’d rather not.
Sadly, even this limited, non-binding policy change has been controversial. Cold War thinking is alive and well in our foreign policy establishment.
Over the last few months, there has been a running debate about nuclear strategy on the pages of Foreign Affairs, a policy journal. As recently as November, scholars from Dartmouth and Georgetown proposed a plan for neutralizing China with nuclear weapons. By their analysis, the United States could eliminate China’s nuclear threat by destroying its silo-based weapons in a series of twenty low-yield nuclear strikes.
In this month’s issue they argue that low-yield nuclear weapons are also the best tool to eliminate mobile warheads. Using conventional weapons would require pinpoint accuracy, they assert, but with nuclear weapons, we would only need to hit within “about half a mile.”
That’s right, these guys think nuclear area bombing is a reasonable strategy.
And Obama’s announcement has kicked up the debate. Lambasting the NPR, former New York Mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani told National Review Online that “a nuclear-free world has been a 60-year dream of the Left.” And he didn’t mean it as a compliment to the left.
It’s been almost 65 years since Truman dropped Little Boy on the civilian population of Hiroshima. Inspired by that great achievement, we’ve spent the last six decades building and testing thousands of bigger, faster, scarier bombs, and built a national security regime based on nuclear deterrence.
This deterrence is what’s really getting Obama’s critics riled up. Because the thing about deterrence is, it only works if people think you’ll really do it. So by announcing to the world that America won’t obliterate peaceful cities, Obama has made us all less safe.
Is that really the world that we live in? A global order based on fear of the United States?
Is it really in our best interest to tell the world that we, arguably the most dominant military power in history, need nuclear weapons to keep us safe?
Should we really be reserving the right to annihilate cities?
As noted in the NPR, the U.S. is quite capable of “devastating” conventional military action.
By relying so heavily on nuclear deterrence, we have made these weapons an integral part of our modern world.
It’s time to move on.
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