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Nuclear Options

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Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 4:00 am

On March 26, a conversation between President Obama and Russian President Medvedev was inadvertently captured by a live microphone; Obama, discussing missile defense, begged for “space,” and promised the Russian leader “flexibility” on the issue until after his re-election fight. Though certainly not intended for public consumption, these comments were no accidental slip; they are entirely consistent with the president’s larger objective of a world without nuclear weapons.

Indeed, while attending a recent security summit in South Korea, President Obama boasted that he “can say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.” Yet, American military planners don’t all share that view. During hearings on the New START treaty – the 2010 U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement – the president’s own commander of U.S. Strategic Command testified that “the arsenal that we have is exactly what is needed today to provide the deterrent.”

President Obama seems resolved to push forward regardless, and this incident simply underlines his determination to secure Russian support for another round of nuclear arms reductions – even if that means compromising our own missile defense capabilities. To meet Russian demands, he would have to disregard commitments made to Congress in 2010 to secure support for New START; among them, that he would deploy all four phases of planned missile defense systems for Europe, and that he would modernize our own national missile defense system.

Ironically, it is doubtful that these concessions would actually persuade Russia to reduce its nuclear arsenal. Russia’s national security strategy, unlike ours, is based around increasing its reliance on nuclear weapons, not reducing it; the Russians maintain a robust nuclear warhead production capability, and they continue to modernize their ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

But there is a much larger point here as well. The president firmly believes in “a world without nuclear weapons,” and that additional reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons now would further that goal. I do not agree with him.

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