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Any number of presidential candidates have promoted the idea that the moral standing of the United States in the world community is in dire need of being re-established.  However, few have mentioned any particular actions they would take to accomplish that goal.  Perhaps that's because they haven't really thought through what brought about the sudden collapse of the moral authority which the United States enjoyed after World War II.

It seems pretty clear, in retrospect, that the country which earned the respect of other nations was one which said what it was going to do and then did it. From stopping totalitarianism to sending men to the moon, the United States set goals and then achieved them.  No longer.  Ever since Ronald Reagan, the United States has taken to telling other nations what to do, while conditions at home were allowed to deteriorate.

Although there's a general consensus that the United States fall from grace was considerably accelerated (and has hopefully reached its nadir) during the last seven years, it's noteworthy that George W. Bush actually invoked the importance of a nation keeping its word when he initiated the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.  So, where did he go wrong?

The answer, I think, lies in the difference between a promise and a threat; between a positive moral goal with which the world community concurs and a coercive exercise aimed at world dominance.  Clearly, the debacle in Southwest Asia is an example of the latter.  But, what should concern us even more is that it's actually part of a pattern, a first step in a strategy that, like the Project for a New American Century in the late 1990s, is essentially out of control.  We need not look far to find the evidence.

Recent votes in the United Nations on questions related to nuclear weapons and proliferation make it clear.  From the Australian perspective:

The 2007 session of the United Nations General Assembly saw several significant new resolutions....Nuclear resolutions stimulated a total of 315 statements and 52 draft texts. Every resolution was adopted either by consensus or by large majorities of countries.
The USA isolated itself from the global framework for disarmament (my bold) by opposing nearly every resolution dealing with nuclear issues.....
The second resolution by Chile, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sweden and Switzerland received support from more member states. As in India's resolution, it called for deflating the readiness of weapons. Additionally it invited states to negotiate bilateral agreements and advocated de-alerting as a means for confidence building between Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) and Non-Nuclear Weapon States. The resolution was supported by 139 states, with only three against (France, UK and US) and 36 abstentions. While Australia, as a state without nuclear weapons abstained, the resolution was supported by Italy and Germany, both of which host US nuclear weapons.

When it came to the Nuclear Weapons Free Zones, of which there are several, including the CANWFZ, the United States support for non-proliferation was, again, nowhere in evidence.

With the resolution L.27 "Nuclear-weapon-free southern hemisphere and adjacent areas" Brazil and New Zealand called the states in the southern hemisphere to connect the NWFZs to make the whole hemisphere a NWFZ. Besides the NWFZs mentioned above, the NWFZ of South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga) and the Antarctic Treaty are referred to in the resolution. It also welcomes other approaches like the negotiation of a NWFZ in the Middle East, and the NWFZ in central Asia (Semipalatinsk Treaty). A vote was called, with 169 in favour, three against (UK, US and France) and eight abstentions....

No doubt the folks at the Heritage Foundation were pleased with this series of "No" votes, since they re-enforced the position that

U.S. strategic forces should not be used to exact revenge on an enemy foolish enough to attack the U.S. or its friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. They should be used to deter that enemy from attacking by making it clear that such an attack will fail.

Because, as a statement deploring the failure of the Congress to fund the Reliable Replace Warheads, asserts:

Nuclear weapons are no less essen­tial to the security of the U.S. and its friends and allies than they were during the Cold War, but the requirements are different. Current and projected circumstances allow the U.S. to maintain a smaller active nuclear arsenal and stockpile of war­heads, in part based on the deployment of effective conventionally armed strategic strike weapons and defenses. This smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal, how­ever, makes it more important that the arsenal is fully modernized and tailored to meeting the demands of the damage-limitation strategy.

And the Heritage Foundation people aren't just blowing smoke.  The Congressional Research Service has put out a twenty-five page study, entitled "Nuclear Weapons in U.S. National Security Policy: Past, Present and Prospects" which explains that:

Tailored deterrence differs from Cold War deterrence in that it explicitly notes that U.S. nuclear weapons could be used in attacks against a number of nations that might have developed and deployed chemical and biological weapons, even if they did not possess nuclear weapons.

Which suggests that even with "everything on the table," there's absolutely no incentive for any nation to abjure nuclear weapons, since they're likely to be attacked regardless, whenever they fall out of favor with a nation that's proved incapable of deterring itself.

I should note that there's actually some good news.  The Democratic Congress in passing the omnibus budget, which GWB signed, eliminated funding for the development of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, for now. Senator Domenici, ever the optimist,

remarked hopefully that he expected the RRW or something like it to re-emerge "sooner rather than later."

So despite all the hoopla about the nuclear threats posed by the Axis of Evil (Iraq, Iran and North Korea, in case you've forgotten) new nukes haven't made much progress and the nuclear laboratories are laying people off.  And, in the interest of fairness, we should take note of Rep. David Hobson's (R-OH)contribution, according to the Los Alamos Study Group:

David Hobson (R-OH), ranking member of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee and one of the architects of the budget cuts in question, has said:

I spent much of my time...traveling to many DOE facilities...I saw hundreds of staff dedicating their professional lives to our national defense...I also saw a weapons complex that could be viewed as a jobs program for Ph.Ds – the ultimate in white-collar welfare...where business practices were two decades behind the times (April 11, 2004).

In our experience Hobson’s assessment is correct.  We believe that the best scale for LANL is one that is much smaller than LANL today, quite apart from our disarmament agenda.

If you didn't notice this good news, it was probably because the Administration was quick to grab the headlines:

Administration Plans to Shrink U.S. Nuclear Arms Program

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; Page A01

The Bush administration yesterday announced its intention to modernize and sharply reduce the size of the nation's aging nuclear weapons program by closing or abandoning 600 buildings at facilities across the country and gradually reducing the associated workforce by at least 7,200.  

Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists called the 15 percent cut announced yesterday "a bookkeeping event," since the number of warheads deployed with bombers, missiles, and submarines will not be substantially reduced, including the number kept on 24-hour alert. He also noted that the weapons taken out of the active stockpile will be transferred from the Defense Department to the Energy Department for storage but will not be dismantled.

And the cancellation of the RRW shows up as not only an after-thought, but as a good example of lemons turned into lemonade.

D'Agostino said agreement by Congress to eliminate funding for the next-generation Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which the Bush administration has long backed, would not affect plans for extensive modernization of the complex. The plan still faces public hearings and must go through an environmental impact review.

Makes it sound like the Administration had "long backed" the elimination, doesn't it?  But who was paying attention on December 19th anyway?  Not to mention that it may not be much of a victory.

But is the defeat of the RRW a momentous victory for nuclear disarmers?  After all, the U.S. government still possesses some 10,000 nuclear weapons, with thousands of them on launch-ready alert.  Moreover, the Bush administration is promoting a plan to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex.  Called Complex 2030 and intended to provide for U.S. nuclear arsenals well into the future, this administration scheme is supposed to cost $150 billion, although the Government Accountability Office maintains that this figure is a significant underestimate.

One wonders how this fits into the restoring moral authority agenda.  Perhaps it's a question our presidential candidates could be asked.
Barack Obama made a stab at it in the New Hampshire debate, but his answer didn't fit into Charlie Gibson's script:

Let me just add one thing, though, on the broader issue of nuclear proliferation. This is something that I've worked on since I've been in the Senate. I worked with Richard Lugar, then the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to pass the next stage of what was Nunn-Lugar, so that we would have improved interdiction of potentially nuclear materials. And it is important for us to rebuild a nuclear nonproliferant -- proliferation strategy -- something that this administration, frankly, has ignored, and has made us less safe as a consequence. It would not cost us that much, for example, and it would take about four years for us to lock down the loose nuclear weapons that are still floating out there, and we have not done the job.

How about expanded nuclear weapons free zones and the inspections that go along with them?  Senators?

Originally posted to hannah on Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 01:58 PM PST.

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