Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No Nukes, No Deterrence

Secretary of Defense Gates and President Obama have a disagreement over modernizing our nuclear arsenal. Gates has one view:

"Congress needs to do its part by funding the Reliable Replacement Warhead program — for safety, for security and for a more reliable deterrent." RRW basically trades explosive force for greater assurance that new warheads would work predictably in the absence of tests, which the U.S. has refrained from conducting for nearly two decades to help advance nonproliferation goals. (See a graphic of the global nuclear arms balance.)

But Obama doesn't buy that logic. Shortly after taking the oath of office on Tuesday, he turned what had been a campaign promise into an official presidential commitment: the new Administration "will stop the development of new nuclear weapons," the White House declared flatly on its website, with no equivocation, asterisks or caveats.

Obama and Gates are "at loggerheads on this," says Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution who has specialized in nuclear issues.

If the Obama administration isn't committed to stopping Iran from going nuclear on the theory that we can deter the mad mullahs from using nukes, shouldn't the reliability of our nuclear arsenal be a fairly high priority?