Steve Chapman

Obama is also charged with capitulating to Moscow on our plans for missile defense -- even though the New START agreement puts absolutely no limits on anti-missile weapons. The alleged problem is that the Russians reserve the right to withdraw if our defenses become too formidable.

Big whoop. Either side can pull out of an arms control accord anytime for any reason. If they were truly worried, the Russians would not be downsizing their offensive capability without getting missile defense concessions.

Another charge is that by refusing to develop new nuclear weapons or conduct test explosions of existing ones, Obama is practicing disarmament through deterioration. At some point, the thinking goes, our aging nukes will no longer work. So we might as well not have them.

This claim is not entirely fantastical. In fact, the directors of the country's three nuclear weapons laboratories have warned that existing methods of maintenance and refurbishment may not be enough to ensure "a safe and reliable nuclear force."

But the directors could be letting their self-interest in development and testing cloud their judgment. A 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences found "the United States has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing weapons stockpile without periodic nuclear tests." More recently, an independent panel of experts reached the same conclusion.

If there is a problem, it's way off in the future, and there will be plenty of time to address it. In the meantime, we have vast stores of the most destructive weapons ever created, deliverable to any target in the world in a matter of hours if not minutes.

Republicans may hope to profit from imagining that America is becoming weak and helpless. The people in charge in Tehran and Pyongyang can't afford such illusions.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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