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Will Obama Short-Change America’s Deterrent?
On Thursday, February 16, 2012, 34 members of Congress sent a letter to the White House, cautioning against further cuts in America’s nuclear arsenal – this, in response to an apparent plan by President Obama, for unilaterally reducing America’s nuclear strength by as much as 80%.[i] In the unlikely event that a cut of that size is called for, the U.S. would be reduced to approximately 300 nuclear warheads: leaving an “arsenal about the size of France’s Force de Frappe.[ii] The Congressional letter states, in part:
“At a time when every other nuclear weapons state has an active nuclear weapons modernization program and many are growing their stockpiles and capabilities, it is inconceivable to us that you would lead the United States down such a dangerous plan as has been reported…. [W]e seek to understand the basis on which you would instruct the National Security Staff to pursue these radical reductions in U.S. nuclear forces.” [iii]
The Congressman go on to cite the assessment of retired General Kevin Chilton, who testified in 2010 that “…the arsenal that we have is exactly what is needed today to provide the deterrent.” [iv]
According to the Washington Free Beacon, “Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney said even considering such deep strategic cuts is irrational.” General McInerney reportedly went on to say:
“No sane military leader would condone 300 to 400 warheads for an effective nuclear deterrent strategy.
“Going down to 1000 to 1,100 is risky enough and frankly in today’s world, very risky. The purpose of our nuclear force structure is to deter any adversary from even thinking that they could minimize our attack options. Such thinking is very dangerous and will only encourage our adversaries to make bold decisions.”[v]
The letter from members of Congress also reminded President Obama that:
“We are doubly concerned that you have abandoned your pledge to support the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program by your latest budget submission.” [vi]
What does this mean as a practical matter? America is reportedly the only holder of nuclear weapons not modernizing its systems. Following the 2008 Presidential elections, General Kevin Chilton illustrated to the Wall Street Journal
“…a prop to illustrate his point: a glass bulb about two inches high. ‘This is a component of a V-61’ nuclear warhead,’ he says. It was in ‘one of our gravity weapons’ — a weapon from the 1950s and ’60s that is still in the U.S. arsenal. He pauses to look around the Journal’s conference table. ‘I remember what these things were for. I bet you don’t. It’s a vacuum tube. My father used to take these out of the television set in the 1950s and ’60s down to the local supermarket to test them and replace them.’
“And here comes the punch line: ‘This is the technology that we have . . . today.’ The technology in the weapons the U.S. relies on for its nuclear deterrent dates back to before many of the people in the room were born.”[vii]
And as a study continues to determine if America will unilaterally strip itself of up to 80% of our nuclear deterrent, a Georgetown University study reports that China – which “…has never agreed to be part of any strategic nuclear framework,” and has never been part of any related negotiations, may in fact, have the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. [viii]
[i] Robert Zarate, (Feb. 18, 2012), The Weekly Standard web-site, The Blog, Lawmakers Urge Obama to Abandon Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament Study, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/lawmakers-urge-obama-abandon-unilateral-nuclear-disarmament-study_630062.html
[ii] Washington Times Editorial (Feb. 16, 2012), EDITORIAL: Obama’s Unilateral Disarmament, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/16/obamas-unilateral-disarmament/
[iii] Robert Zarate, (Feb. 18, 2012), The Weekly Standard web-site, The Blog, Lawmakers Urge Obama to Abandon Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament Study, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/lawmakers-urge-obama-abandon-unilateral-nuclear-disarmament-study_630062.html
[v] Bill Gertz, (Feb. 14, 2012), Free Beacon web-site, Nuking our Nukes, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://freebeacon.com/nuking-our-nukes/
[vi] Robert Zarate, (Feb. 18, 2012), The Weekly Standard web-site, The Blog, Lawmakers Urge Obama to Abandon Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament Study, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/lawmakers-urge-obama-abandon-unilateral-nuclear-disarmament-study_630062.html
[vii] Melanie Kirkpatrick, (Nov. 22, 2008), Wall Street Journal web-site, Sounding the Nuclear Alarm, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122731227702749413.html
[viii] Washington Times Editorial (Feb. 16, 2012), EDITORIAL: Obama’s Unilateral Disarmament, retrieved March 13, 2012 from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/16/obamas-unilateral-disarmament/