By Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. (www.whwg.com <http://www.whwg.com> ) andchairman, Pacific Research Institute (www.pacificresearch.org <http://www.pacificresearch.org> )
From all health care reform all the time, the Obama Administration has turned its attention to nuclear weapons. Cynics might call this changing the subject, but it suggests at least one other reason for the administration’s urgency in pushing through health reform: it had a new show to launch as soon as the old one had cleared the stage.
And sure enough, over the past six business days the White House has debuted a three-act nuclear extravaganza, from release of the Nuclear Posture Review last Tuesday to signing of the new US-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on Thursday, to today and tomorrow’s summit focused on access to nukes by rogue nations and non-state players. This last has been produced on a scale that Cecil B. de Mille would envy.
Yet as with so much in the Obama years, there is something not quite what it seems in this theatrical package of global happenings.[# More #]
For example, the Nuclear Posture Review – the Congressionally mandated periodic statement of national nuclear arms policy – turns out to be an exercise in what former National Security Council speechwriter Michael Anton calls in the current Weekly Standard “strategic obfuscation.” (see: www.weeklystandard.com/articles/our-nuclear-posture )
Many have noted that the Administration uses it to forswear employing nuclear weapons if the U.S. is attacked with chemical and biological weapons, except that, quoting the treaty, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.”
Not chemical weapons, mind you, just biological weapons – unless a country is out of compliance with the non-proliferation treaty, then we will do whatever we will.
Anton concludes, “The new policy is deliberately designed to sound softer than the old, but is also qualified to the point that the new softness will appear to any semi-careful reader to be highly questionable. What is the real policy? It is impossible to say from reading the report.”
A similar slipperiness of language was part of the new START agreement.
Kori Schake, who was an aide to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, writes on the Shadow Government blog that, under the agreement, “The administration is laying claim to a 30 percent reduction in strategic nuclear weapons while actually permitting an increase in the force.” For reasons of ancient nuclear theology, twenty warheads on a B-1 or B-2 bomber count as one. (See: http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/blog/2198 )
Yet, as Schake also notes, by counting and reducing delivery vehicles rather than actual warheads, the treaty appears to but in fact does not reduce our nuclear capacity. Rather by counting platforms instead of warheads, it limits our ability to redeploy bombers and missiles for non-nuclear, precision strike tasks.
And as Anton notes in his article, despite assurances from throughout the administration, the START treaty also bans using current land and sea-based launch silos for missile defense interceptors.
Readers of this column may recall my report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Global Strategic Review conference in Geneva in September (see: www.clarkjudge.org <http://www.clarkjudge.org> ). I noted then that a Russian speaker said that, from the Russian point of view, the top two threats coming from the U.S. were 1) ballistic missile defense; 2) precision guided weapons.
So while not actually limiting warheads, the treaty has limited the weapons that most worry Russia. Again, we find the administration looking soft, until the layer is pulled back to reveal a hard policy, until that layer is pulled back to reveal a soft one. Again, what is the real policy?
This question of real policy also hovers around today and tomorrow’s conference. The most effective U.S. action in recent years to control the spread of nuclear weapons was almost undoubtedly the invasion of Iraq. It led the Libyans to give up their nuclear program, the Pakistan to reveal and shut down the A.Q. Kahn nuclear proliferation network, and even the Iranians slowed their warhead development program for a time.
In this arena, global confidence in U.S. strength matters. Yet the administration has spent the last year setting deadlines and taking steps for removing our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, whether we had finished the work we set out to do in both places or not.
Over the decades, American clarity has been a major source of American strength – and a major global stabilizer. If we said we would do something, we would at least try to do it. If we said an agreement or policy meant something, it was clear that to us it did. If obfuscation really is the order of the day, we will surrender that advantage.
We may have all summits all the time. But if the world cannot trust that American words match American intentions, how can we expect others to follow us?