While various aspects of the administration's foreign policy leave much to be desired, President Obama's continuing push to cut nukes is a bright spot.
The reduction would leave the United States with the highest of three reduced levels of nuclear armament the Pentagon has been reviewing as part of the 2010 Defense Authorization Act. The lowest level considered would have reduced the U.S. arsenal to 300-400 strategic nukes, much closer to the "Global Zero" that Obama has previously endorsed. At the peak, 57 years ago, the United States had 32,000 nuclear warheads. In Berlin, Obama said:
Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons—no matter how distant that dream may be. And so, as President, I've strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons. Because of the New START Treaty, we’re on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.Bringing tactical nukes into the negotiation picture is an important move. Previously, these have been "off the table." By covering non-strategic nuclear weapons, Europeans and Asians who feel threatened by Russian tactical nukes can be brought into the arsenal-reducing process. Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and, presumably, Israel all have many tactical nukes in their comparatively small arsenals.
But we have more work to do. So today, I’m announcing additional steps forward. After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.
At the same time, we’ll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe. And we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.
America will host a summit in 2016 to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world, and we will work to build support in the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and call on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice.
Expect the usual hyperventilation from the right wing. Another round of depicting the Democrats as weak on defense. Not just weak, but selling us out to the Soviets ... er ... Rooskies and now, of course, the "yellow peril."
Please continue reading below the fold for more analysis of deep cuts in strategic nuclear weapons dating back to Ronald Reagan's presidency.
Anybody who has followed disarmament negotiations since the 1980s when noted peacenik Ronald Reagan first proposed a vast mutual reduction in the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenal knows that there's a whole bunch of talking to be done before this latest proposed cut will be signed off on if it is.
It's worth remembering that 22 years ago, when START I was finally signed by George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, the United States and the Soviet Union together had about 38,400 strategic warheads loaded or ready-to-be loaded onto 4,700 missiles and bombers. Enough megatonnage to vaporize billions of people, irradiate billions more and freeze the remainder in years of nuclear winter.
The reduction written into the first START treaty that Reagan initiated was, by the way, 80 percent. START II cut that further.
SORT, the Moscow Treaty, signed by George W. Bush and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin in 2003, reduced total warheads by another 50 percent before the end of 2007. In February 2011, SORT was superseded by New START, the treaty signed by Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in 2010. That treaty does the following:
|2010: operationally deployed launchers
|2020: est. operationally deployed launchers
|2020: est. total warheads|
|UNITED STATES||798 (897)||686 (797)||1,550|
|RUSSIA||571 (603)||396 (396)||1,258|
Last year, when it was announced that the Pentagon was actually looking at three reduction proposals, the lowest one of 300 to 400 warheads, the right went into OMG-we're-all-gonna-die mode.
Critics argued that having only 300 strategic nukes would demolish the U.S. deterrent and encourage other nations to seek to build warheads of their own or expand their existing arsenals so they could be America's equal in that department. As if the thought of having 300 nukes delivered to one's homeland is no deterrent to launching an attack of one's own.
But the 300 figure is a perfectly reasonable placeholder until a means to get to Global Zero can be achieved. In May 2010, Gary Schaub Jr., an assistant professor of strategy at the Air War College, and James Forsyth Jr., a professor of strategy at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, An Arsenal We Can All Live With:
The Pentagon has now told the public, for the first time, precisely how many nuclear weapons the United States has in its arsenal: 5,113. That is exactly 4,802 more than we need. [...]The two did not argue for "Global Zero," instead concluding that the United States will always need a nuclear deterrent. That puts all of them in disagreement with Ronald Reagan, who said in Shanghai on April 30, 1984:
This may seem a trifling number compared with the arsenals built up in the cold war, but 311 warheads would provide the equivalent of 1,900 megatons of explosive power, or nine-and-a-half times the amount that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued in 1965 could incapacitate the Soviet Union by destroying “one-quarter to one-third of its population and about two-thirds of its industrial capacity.” [...]
"A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. And no matter how great the obstacles may seem, we must never stop our efforts to reduce the weapons of war. We must never stop until all—we must never stop at all until we see the day when nuclear arms have been banished from the face of the Earth."That can't be done overnight, obviously. But it can be done. Nuclear arsenals have been reduced repeatedly over the past several decades. On the watch of two right-wing Republican presidents, they were cut by 80 percent and 50 percent respectively. Any screaming about a 30 percent cut now will make it clear once again just how phony the right's views of national security really are.