Will the Pentagon Thwart Obama’s Dream of Zero?

Posted: August 21, 2009 in No-Nukes, nuclear policy, nuclear posture review, Nuclear War, Nuclear Weapons

Dude, where’s my unicorn?

While nukes are not our future, they are in our future and will be for a very long time.

Nukes will go away when their value is or approaches zero, which will likely mean when they are made obsolete by anti-nuclear methods yet to emerge or are superseded by superior weapons.

Today, people aren’t calling for a world without flaming buckets of oil launched via catapult for the same reasons–it’s just no longer the best way to storm the castle.

Similarly, instead of being made obsolete, nuclear weapons could have their value greatly reduced by affecting the efficacy of their delivery systems, via viable missile and air defense systems.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who work directly for the President, is not mentioned anywhere in the article, despite the fact he is known to advocate for the Reliable Replacement Weapon, a modernization effort to ensure the viability of our nuclear deterrent. Part of the concept of deterrence is possessing a consequence should deterrence fail. If a U.S. adversary has no fear of the U.S. nuclear enterprise because the weapons won’t work–or because there aren’t any–deterrence is obviously greatly reduced.

For all the purported pushback the President is getting regarding the U.S. going to zero nuclear weapons from “generals in the nuclear chain of command,” only two are mentioned, General Kevin Chilton, the Commander of USSTRATCOM and USAF Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz. Chilton is critiqued for correcting the assertion U.S. nuclear forces are on a “hair trigger,” which those who have experience in the nuclear community know to be untrue. Then, Schwartz is critiqued for agreeing with Chilton. The author suggests these men are somehow disloyal by correcting an error in fact.

The “bolt out of the blue” scenario the author incorrectly characterizes as “launch under attack” is likewise flawed. We have ways of knowing what’s going on well before an adversary gets to the point they would be starting a nuclear war, and it’s called posturing. Tensions would likely take a significant amount of time to reach the point nuclear weapons would be considered and all elements of U.S. power would be put to use to avoid war well before a nuclear attack. Because no rational player wants nuclear war, these parties will be exceedingly reasonable and prudent in taking actions to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen.

In the end, the issue is not nuclear weapons per se, rather the issue is national security. As such, the real question is not “Should the U.S. pursue a zero nuclear weapons cram-down?” but rather “Is our national security best served by a world with no nuclear weapons?”

If the answer is yes, a follow on is “How do all those holding nuclear weapons get rid of them simultaneously?” with the final question being “How do we ensure they never come back?” If the follow on questions can’t be adequately addressed, the goal of a world without nuclear weapons matters not.

As for me, I dream of a world with no cigarettes.

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