A Dangerous, Short-Sighted Policy

One year ago, President Obama told a Prague audience that, "To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. . . ."

Yet last week, the president (a) signed an arms-control agreement with Russia that is a nearly perfect example of Cold War thinking; (b) announced a nuclear-weapons doctrine that does almost nothing to reduce the role of these weapons in a largely unchanged national security strategy; and (c) moved to abandon or diminish essential modernization of our aging arsenal. This is a dangerous, short-sighted policy that rejects or marginalizes the most urgent recommendations of the William Perry-James Schlesinger 2009 bilateral commission on nuclear forces.

With the new START treaty, the administration has continued the now senseless practice of fixing the size and character of our nuclear forces not by analyzing what is necessary for our security, but by reaching a bilateral treaty with Russia. This is exactly what we did during the Cold War when the most important issue facing our nuclear deterrent was whether its size and character was adequate to deter the nuclear forces of the Soviet Union.

With the new START treaty, the administration has continued the now senseless practice of fixing the size and character of our nuclear forces not by analyzing what is necessary for our security, but by reaching a bilateral treaty with Russia.

But no one believes the threat we face today comes from Russia's arsenal. It simply does not matter how many weapons Russia has.

What does matter, as we face increasing danger from nuclear powers like North Korea now, and Iran all too soon, is whether we have the right forces for our defense. This includes defensive as well as offensive weapons.

To the degree that an otherwise unimportant Cold War relic like the new START treaty limits our freedom to optimize our defenses, it will diminish rather than increase our safety. In this regard, Vladimir Putin's threat to abandon the treaty if he doesn't like our defensive forces is troubling. Militarily, it wouldn't matter if Russia withdrew from the treaty. But Mr. Putin could gain powerful leverage by threatening to do so since Mr. Obama has hyped the treaty's importance, claiming, without a shred of evidence, that it will restrain the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries.

Ironically, the president's exaggerated claims for the new treaty may be just the opening that thoughtful senators like Jon Kyl need to overcome the administration's lackadaisical attitude toward achieving a force that is secure, safe and reliable. Mr. Kyl is demanding an adequately funded program to implement the Perry-Schlesinger nuclear recommendations--especially the development of a warhead to replace our most antiquated weapons, and modernization of our weapons laboratories--as a condition for ratifying the treaty. And he has enough senators supporting him to make it happen.

Not a bad trade: A treaty of little consequence for a safe, secure and reliable deterrent that may actually make us safer.

Richard Perle is a resident fellow at AEI.

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About the Author

 

Richard
Perle
  • Richard Perle served as chairman of the Defense Policy Board, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, and a staff member to Senator Henry Jackson (D-Wash.). Mr. Perle is coauthor of An End to Evil (Random House, 2003) and author of Hard Line, a political novel. He codirected AEI's Commission on Future Defenses.
  • Email: rperle@aei.org
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