Preserving our nuclear deterrence / Obama proposal for force reduction is foolhardy (WASHINGTON TIMES COMMENTARY) By Bradley A. Thayer 02/18/12)
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Last weekís leak from the Pentagon that the United States is
considering reducing its nuclear arsenal from the 1,550 re- quired by
the New START to as few as 300 provokes a critical question: Is the
United States tempting fate with such drastic cuts? Because President
Obama frequently states that one of his major objectives is to
eliminate nuclear weapons, these cuts make very little difference.
Unfortunately, the answer isyes, because nuclear weapons serve
fundamentally important foreign- and defense-policy objectives.
For the United States, nuclear weapons matter for purposes of
deterrence and coercion - two of the major tools in the toolbox of
the United States to advance and protect its interests. To serve
these important and complicated ends, the United States must not cut
its nuclear arsenal.
For deterrence purposes, nuclear weapons matter for six reasons.
First, they help keep the peace and prevent crises from escalating,
as the world witnessed with the Cuban missile crisis. Second, they
deter an attack on the U.S. homeland. Third, nuclear weapons - both
strategic and tactical - allow the United States to extend deterrence
credibly, effectively and cheaply to its allies, such as Germany,
Japan and Saudi Arabia. This provides them with security and removes
their incentive to acquire their own nuclear weapons. Fourth, we have
nuclear weapons to deter attacks against the U.S. military. Fifth,
nuclear weapons play a role in deterring escalation of conflict. For
example, were China to attack Taiwan, U.S. nuclear weapons would
deter escalation to a strategic exchange between the United States
and China. Finally, nuclear weapons deter the use of other weapons of
mass destruction, such as biological weapons or chemical weapons,
against the U.S. homeland, allies or U.S. military.
Nuclear weapons aid Uncle Samís ability to coerce opponents as well
for three reasons. First, in a crisis situation, nuclear weapons help
persuade a challenger not to escalate to a higher level of violence
or move up a rung on the escalation ladder. Second, although laden
with risks, they also provide the possibility of attacking first to
limit the damage the United States or its allies would receive.
Whether the U.S. would do so is another matter. But possessing the
capability provides the nation with coercive capabilities in crisis
situations or war. Third, nuclear weapons give the United States the
ability to threaten nuclear first-use to stop a conventional attack
or limited nuclear attack and to signal the risk of escalating
violence to a higher level.
Regrettably, the cold fact is that the clock cannot be turned back.
Nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented, and they remain key tools to
advance the interests of the United States and international
stability. The global deterrent and coercive commitments of the
United States do not permit additional cuts. They cannot be
eliminated or dramatically reduced without a cost and penalty for the
interests of the United States. The Cold War changed much, but it did
not alter the need to be able to deter and coerce foes, a need as
identifiable to the ancient Greeks as it is to us today.
No state has given up key tools, certainly not China, Russia, India,
Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, France or the United Kingdom, and the
United States should not be first. No superpower has contemplated
such drastic reductions in essential weapons it and its allies need
now and will need in the future.
Bradley A. Thayer served as a consultant to the Department of Defense
and is professor of political science at Baylor University. (© 2012
The Washington Times, LLC. 02/18/12)
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