Playing Politics With Nuclear Security

When a Republican president negotiates reductions in nuclear arsenals, it is statecraft; when a Democratic president does the same, it is treason. That, at least, is the position advanced this week by several leading Republican politicians and their political advisors.

In his remarks at Hankuk University in Seoul last weekend, President Barack Obama again stated his desire to modernize US national security and jettison outdated weapons and strategies. He said:

The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited to today's threats, including nuclear terrorism. I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal.

This is not a view unique to the president. It represents the broad, bipartisan consensus of America's national security establishment. Most military and defense leaders recognize that nuclear weapons serve little purpose in the 21st century other than deterring other nations from attacking us with nuclear weapons. That mission does not require the thousands of weapons currently deployed.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell explained two years ago the evolution in his thinking that tracks closely with the views of many senior security experts today:

I became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989 and I had 28,000 nuclear weapons under my supervision. Every morning I looked to see where the Russian submarines were off the coast of Virginia and how far away those missions were from Washington. I kept track where the Russian missiles were in Europe and in the Soviet Union.

The one thing that I convinced myself after all these years of exposure to the use of nuclear weapons is that they were useless. They could not be used.

If you can have deterrence with an even lower number of weapons, well then why stop there, why not continue on, why not get rid of them altogether...This is the moment when we have to move forward and all of us come together to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and eliminate them from the face of the earth.

This new security consensus, however, does not extend to the political sphere. Obama's efforts to modestly reduce the still-massive Cold War nuclear arsenal have provoked outraged cries of "reckless lunacy" and "dangerous fantasy." But these critics are playing with fire, undermining efforts to counter nuclear terrorism, stop new nuclear states and prevent nuclear war, intended or accidental. Obama is doing what Republican presidents have done routinely and with much praise ever since President Ronald Reagan paved the way with the first treaty to actually cut nuclear weapons.

This article was originally posted on HuffingtonPost.com. Click here to read the full article. 

Co-authored with Mary Kaszynski, a researcher at Ploughshares Fund

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