At the end of last week, representatives of the U.S. and Russian governments met in Rome to negotiate far-reaching reductions in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals. President Obama is eager for the process to move quickly. Earlier this month he said he hoped for tangible results by July when he will visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
President Obama’s aggressive arms reduction initiative should come as no surprise, as it is fully consistent with the positions he has taken in the past. While still a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said in Berlin last year, “This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.”
A few months later Obama went further when in a speech at DePaul University he indicated that as president he would seek a fundamental shift in the way America’s views its nuclear deterrent:
"We need to change our nuclear policy and our posture, which is still focused on deterring the Soviet Union."
Then on April 5 of this year, President Obama told a cheering crowd of some 20,000 in Prague: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
In light of this, the upcoming Rome summit represents the first practical step in implementing the president’s vision of “a nuclear-free world.” It is rather revealing that to begin with Obama seeks to significantly reduce his own country’s nuclear capabilities. His actions flow from the conviction that America’s voluntary self-weakening will somehow convince others to follow the example. President Obama conveyed this idea when he said that cutting our nuclear armaments will give us “greater moral authority to say to Iran, 'Don't develop a nuclear weapon,' to say to North Korea, 'Don't proliferate nuclear weapons.'”
Unfortunately, the president’s plan to achieve a world without nuclear threats rests on a misguided premise. The problem is not nuclear weapons in the hands of the United States. The problem is nuclear weapons in the hands of malevolent regimes. Even though this should be obvious, there are many today who fail to grasp this simple truth.
A recent historical example should make the point clear. For much of the Cold War the world lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust, and understandably so, since both the United States and the Soviet Union possessed arsenals capable of destroying the planet several times over. Then one day – after decades of strife and tension – the threat of nuclear annihilation suddenly disappeared. Did that happen because either the United States or the Soviet Union rolled back on their enormous nuclear arsenals?
The threat ceased when the Soviet regime went out of business in December of 1991. In the spring of 1992 there were as many nuclear warheads on the planet as they were at the height of the Cold War, but the possibility of a nuclear confrontation was virtually non-existent by then. The new peace dynamic came about as a result of the communist regime being replaced by a democratically oriented government.
The outcome of the Cold War shows us how to contend with the specter of nuclear destruction. The solution is not for the United States to deprive itself of its nuclear capabilities, but to rid the world of evil regimes. It is truly naïve to think that if America disarms, those regimes will follow suit. What they will do instead is to take advantage of America’s self-induced weakness. If President Obama needs any evidence of that, he should look no further than his Prague speech earlier this month. On the very day he stated his administration’s commitment to nuclear disarmament, North Korea tested a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the west coast of the United States.
In March of last year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy affirmed his country’s commitment to the nuclear deterrent calling it France’s “life insurance policy.” Sarkozy was, of course, right. If the French – who have never shown great common sense in their conduct of international affairs– can figure this out, why can’t the Obama administration do the same?
To put it blandly, President Obama’s plan is a prescription for disaster. Rolling back on America’s nuclear capabilities will only embolden rogue regimes and invite attacks on the United States and our allies. We should always remember that it was America’s commitment to military strength and not disarmament that brought about our victory in the Cold War. Peace through strength was our motto then, and it should be our motto now. To abandon this paradigm today would not only be dangerous but outright suicidal.
President Obama needs to remember that it is not our weapons that are the problem. We are the good guys in this fight. We do not abuse or misuse our nuclear assets. They are our – and the world’s – life insurance policy, because they make the bad guys think twice before unleashing their weapons of mass destruction. If we want peace and security, we should enhance and modernize our country’s nuclear arsenal, not to roll it back as President Obama proposes that we do.