Obama’s Nuclear Option

It’s not just neocons who dislike Obama’s pursuit of a nuclear-free world. But it’s no accident that naysayers sound like neocons. From WSJ:
Mr. Schlesinger makes the case for a strong U.S. deterrent. Yes, the Cold War has ended and, yes, while “we worry about Russia’s nuclear posture to some degree, it is not just as prominent as it once was.” The U.S. still needs to deter Russia, which has the largest nuclear capability of any potential adversary, and the Chinese, who have a modest (and growing) capability. The U.S. nuclear deterrent has no influence on North Korea or Iran, he says, or on nonstate actors. “They’re not going to be deterred by the possibility of a nuclear response to actions that they might take,” he says.

Really? Our ability to make Pyongyang and Tehran into self-lit parking-lots has no effect on Kim Jong-Il or the mullahs in Qom? If that was true, why would they be developing nuclear weapons at all? Oh, yes: deterrence.

Against us. Against Israel. Against outside powers who might…attack their regimes.

The non-rational regime is a very silly meme. By definition, any government consists of a body of human beings with self-interest, and annihilation is not in any regime’s self interest. Yes, regimes can destroy themselves and the countries they rule. But there is no such thing as a suicidal regime.

Hitler committed suicide, but he did not wake up one day in September of 1941 and say: “Gosh, I should invade Russia! That’ll guarantee the destruction of the Reich.”

The only item where this argument does have relevance is the inclusion of “non-state actors,” for which you should read Al Qaeda. Groups dedicated to doomsday are not to be trusted with atomic weaponry. So…which country is Al Qaeda living in these days?

DUBAI (Reuters) – If it were in a position to do so, Al Qaeda would use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States, a top leader of the group said in remarks aired on Sunday.

Pakistan is falling apart, and that is entirely due to their longtime use of Islamist ideology:

Pakistan is losing the battle of ideas, and the Taliban have been taking advantage of the state’s contradictions. They have moved beyond being a purely negative force capitalizing on the unpopularity of Western and specifically U.S. policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to increasingly advancing a constructive agenda in the areas under their control. Obviously, they have been most vocal about the need for a true Islamic state. But some practical contours are becoming visible past this rhetoric. For example, they have backed an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan that addresses basic services and socioeconomic inequalities. Further, the Taliban campaign leading up to their takeover of Swat fully exploited deep class resentments. All of Pakistan’s traditional power brokers, from the military to mainstream political parties and Islamists, have generally opposed land reform, with the latter viewing private landholdings, no matter how inequitable, to be sacrosanct. In contrast, the Taliban drove out large landowners in Swat and engaged in more egalitarian redistribution of land. They are attempting to follow similar tactics in Buner.

The problem, then, is the nuclear genie getting out of the bottle in more and more places that had no business developing nuclear weapons. The word for that is proliferation. To make the world safer from apocalyptic minds, a diplomatic policy of nonproliferation is in order.

In fact, for maximum safety there should be fewer nuclear weapons all around, which is why President Obama just visited Moscow:

Barack Obama yesterday thrashed out a deal which could see Russia and the US scrap about 1000 nuclear warheads each.

[...]

The deal commits the two countries to cutting their nuclear warhead arsenals to as few as 1500 each, the lowest levels of any US-Russia arms control deal.

Contrary to what you’ll hear from neocons, there is no way to hide the most critical aspect of nuclear weapon development: testing. No one deploys a weapon they cannot test. Even a small nuclear explosion is measured in kilotons of TNT — that’s an enormous bang. Small wonder that Obama wants to resurrect the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty:

He also said Obama would use the speech to urge the US Senate to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty proscribing nuclear bomb trials, a treaty already endorsed by the other main nuclear powers, Russia, Britain, and France. The US has about 10,000 of the world’s estimated 24,000 nuclear weapons, and Russia 13,000. Obama has three major aims: ensuring the security of existing nuclear weapons; reducing and eventually eliminating all nuclear weapons; and preventing the spread of nuclear material to new countries.

Remember: Obama is staking out a radical new approach to arms control by seizing the highest moral ground. His stated goal of a nuclear-free world is a gambit to expand nuclear arms control beyond the US-Russian axis. Peacemaking is not easy, and it’s harder if you’re vulnerable to claims of hypocrisy.

A nuke-free world may not be feasible, and it may not happen in our lifetime; but that isn’t the point. Pursuing the dream makes nonproliferation more achievable, and makes us all safer.

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About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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