The world is about to get a lot more dangerous. For more than 60 years, the United States has been the pre-eminent nuclear power in the world, and the world has been safer as a result. While anti-nuclear fanatics warned of an apocalypse if the U.S. continued to expand and improve its nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, the reality was that our superiority over our enemy and our unwillingness to foreswear the use of nuclear weapons prevented the conflagration many feared. Now, President Barack Obama is determined to abandon six decades of proven nuclear deterrent policy in favor of a fantasy that he can rid the world of these dangerous weapons by tying America's hands behind our backs.
Obama announced his new nuclear strategy this week before heading to Prague to sign a dubious arms-control agreement with Russia in advance of next week's Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. The strategy he outlined is a virtual blueprint to those who would seek to destroy us. For the first time ever, an American administration has announced the specific circumstances under which a deadly attack on the United States will not result in a nuclear response.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed authored by Vice President Joe Biden, the administration put itself on record, promising "a policy that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, as long as they are party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations."
So, let's say a signatory to the NPT launches a chemical, biological or devastating cyber attack on the American heartland, killing thousands and crippling our economy. What will Obama do? We know what he won't do. He's now taken our most threatening response off the table. And for what? To provide "additional incentives for countries to fully comply with nonproliferation norms," as Biden argues? Yeah, right.
The list of signatories to the NPT includes an unsavory and threatening bunch: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Yemen, to name just a few. We know many of the regimes that currently control these nations can't be trusted, but the future is even more frightening. What about some future Yemen led by the likes of Anwar al-Awlaki or a re-Talibanized Afghanistan or a Saudi Arabia in which the House of Saud has been replaced by the House of bin Laden?
And never mind that the current risks to the United States come mostly from loosely affiliated terrorist organizations -- who are often aided by signatory countries like Iran, North Korea, and Syria, which would now be immune to a nuclear retaliation under the administration's policy. If a current or future enemy wants to wipe out an American city, they'd be wise to use botulin toxin or perhaps release some poison gas -- just don't use a suitcase nuke.
As if this new policy weren't bad enough, the administration has coupled it with a promise "not to develop new warheads or add military capabilities as we manage our arsenal for the future." Since President Ronald Reagan first proposed and President George H.W. Bush later signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the U.S. has committed itself to reducing its nuclear arsenal. But it has never promised not to "add military capabilities," which basically freezes our technology at today's capacity. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made no such commitment before signing the new treaty.
Thankfully, President Obama's signature on the treaty isn't enough to bind the nation -- and it remains to be seen whether he can get the 67 senators he'll need to get Senate ratification. But in a real sense, the harm has already been done. Obama has made the critical mistake of signaling to our enemies our willingness to hold back if we are attacked by a weapon of mass destruction. And you can bet they've taken notice.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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