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The President’s Radical Break On Nuclear Weapons Development

Wednesday, April 7, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Max Boot is sanguine about the president’s declaration on American nuclear weapons policy, and if the only thing the president had done was announce meaningless tweaks to “first use” rhetoric, I would agree that the “new” policy was revealing but not revolutionary; a cause for concern because of the posture it communicated but not because of any concrete actions taken.

It is another other part of the president’s declaration that is radical. As the New York Times put it: “To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary.”

Here is the actual Nuclear Posture Review Report.

One example of the posturing that does not really change the deterrent effect of our nuclear arsenal:

In making this strengthened assurance, the United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response – and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, 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 weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat. (p. viii).

In other words, we won’t nuke the user of bio weapons unless we have to. That’s not a radical change in policy, if it is a change at all.

Here’s the key declaration:

The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs (LEPs) will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities. (p. xiv). (emphasis added.)

This is radical –a break with 75 years of American national security doctrine that committed the United States to being first with the most effective nuclear technology. The declaration that no new missions or capabilities will be sought is an abdication of the United States’ commitment to being in a position to counter any new threat from any source, and ought to stun national security elites.

Declarations such as this one have immediate and long-term consequences as research and development is not even begun much less pursued to completion. Entire units are not only shut down, but never hired to begin with. Careers devoted to engineering the next generation of warhead or weaponry are suddenly finished, and enemies know that new and unknown capabilities are not being pursued.

The Commander-in-Chief has broad powers over the military, but Congress sets weapons acquisition policy, and on this point, the Congress should impose its will on the president.

When President Obama was candidate Obama he never campaigned on ending American nuclear weapons research and development. That’s a fine talking point for his hard left political allies, but most Americans will be appalled that we have declared ourselves out-of-the-game when it comes to the nuclear weaponry of the 22nd century or of even 2030.

The NPR contains almost no discussion of this decision and its implications. On page 40, the briefest mention of the decision is noted:

The approach described here will ensure high confidence in the technical performance of warheads retained in the stockpile. It will guarantee that their safety and security are aligned with 21st century requirements (and technical capabilities). At the same time, it will not develop new nuclear warheads, and it will be structured so as not to require nuclear testing. Life Extension Programs will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities. This approach sets a high standard for the safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons and, in support of nonproliferation goals, positions the United States to encourage other nations to maintain the highest levels of surety for their nuclear stockpiles. (emphasis added.)

This is a classic case of burying the lede and thus of avoiding the debate over the implications of the policy change.

This will be the focus of much of today’s show, and hopefully of more than a few campaigns in the fall. Democrats should be asked whether, in addition to their support of the stimulus, Obamacare, cap-and-tax, the takeover of GM, and massive deficits as far as the eye can see they also support unilateral disarmament in the world of future nuclear technologies as the president does.


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