Foreign Policy

Nuclear Fantasies and Realities

The truth about Obama's new policy on nuclear weapons


President Obama released a new policy on the use of nuclear weapons the other day. From some of the reactions, I expected that on every government building, the Stars and Stripes would be replaced with a white flag of surrender.

Rudy Giuliani lamented that Obama bases his security policy on the charming belief that "we can all hold hands, sing songs, and have peace symbols." Former United Nations ambassador John Bolton said the plan puts America "on the road to nuclear impotence."

Obama deserves much of the blame for this criticism—not because of what he has done but because of what he has said. He has repeatedly endorsed the vision of "a world without nuclear weapons." When you make grand but wrongheaded pronouncements, some people take you literally.

What has gone unnoticed is the president's qualifying statement that our arrival in Shangri-La is "unlikely to be achieved even during my lifetime." As for what happens after 2040 or 2050, it won't be his problem.

In reality, there is no reason to think Obama has any intention of junking our doomsday weapons and confronting our enemies with an arsenal of honeyed words. Under the new arms control deal with Russia, we will get to deploy upward of 1,550 warheads. If you're on the receiving end, it only takes one to ruin your whole day.

But the alarmists see looming disarmament in three different developments. First, they decry Obama's new pledge not to use nuclear weapons even against a country that attacks us with biological or chemical weapons.

In formal terms, that was a significant change from the Bush administration's policy. In the real world, it has about as much content as the inside of a bass drum.

Obama made a point of refusing to offer this guarantee to nuclear states (I'm looking at you, North Korea) or states that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but have not abided by its terms (heads up, Iran). His offer would, however, apply if Canada starts lobbing mustard gas over the St. Lawrence Seaway.

More important is that any promise Obama makes regarding our possible use of nukes is subject to change if a crisis erupts. It's not like he signed a contract with rogue states allowing them to get a court injunction to prevent him from pushing the button.

Our enemies know that if they attack us, 1) we will have more military options than any country on earth, 2) all will be on the table, and 3) whichever one we choose will put them in a world of hurt.

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.


NEXT: Hot Pursuit

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  1. Good Morning reason!

    1. Guten Morgen Suki.

  2. This policy changes nothing.

    1. The good morning policy or the nuke policy?
      Both are insidious.

      1. Only one can reduce you to ash before breakfast.

        1. I haven’t even used my real magic yet . . .

          1. Are you saying your womanly goodness is the real “Nuclear Option”?

            1. Are you threatening me?

            2. I play my cards very close to my breasts.

  3. I’m thankful for stories like these. They remind me of why I hate Republicans. I was getting a little too cozy with them after their rejection of Obama’s domestic policies.

  4. Sounds pretty reasonable when you think about it.


  5. Yeah, those evil republicans. How dare they disagree with the Commander-In-Chief? I remember when democrats were that insidious.

  6. Also, anonybot must die. Probably a republican.

  7. I seem to recall a little recent loose talk equating “cyber attacks” with nuking. Don’t hold your breath about non-proliferation or “arms reduction” in that arena, though.

  8. Why isn’t the headline for this piece “President Obama’s nuclear policy is excellent”? Because, it sound like it pretty much is. I think it wouldn’t kill “Reason” to give Obamaman a thumbs-up headline when he gets it right.

    But what I really like about Obama’s nuclear policy is that I know that if he ever decides to murder me, he won’t use a nuclear weapon to do it, unless he totally has to.

    1. He can’t do that without due process as you’re an American citizen.


      1. Wrong!

      2. Got your “due process” right here.

        1. You can process me anytime sweetcheeks!

          1. Me on top! Me on top!

            1. Rahm…You on top?? Who are you kiddin’? Even with all the swearin’, you’re still the twinkiest bottom I know. You’ll always be my little naked ballerina. *chuckle, chuckle*

              1. Bill, is that Elmer’s glue splattered all over the desk in your office?

      3. Nuh-uh, J sub D. Obama has already put out a hit on an American citizen, ” American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki,” currently in Yeman. Glenn Greenwald will fill you in here:…..index.html

        Actually, as long as you stay in the U.S., they’ll probably arrest you first. And the real secret, of course, is not to have a funny accent. Also helpful: no facial hair, “American” clothes, an American name, and relatives, a Mom and Dad in particular, who speak unaccented English to beg for your release.

        1. I see you have an interest in my work. Perhaps too much. A word please?

    2. Excuse me sir, but your premise sounds rather familiar. A word please?

  9. It’s great that we can unclench a little with the Russians, maybe we will also stop challenging them in their own backyard too.

    1. Half the planet is their back yard.

      1. With all of it being ours, you can see the inevitable conflict.

    2. Exactly, all those countries Russia occupied and exploited belong to Russia. We need to keep our hands off other people’s possessions and get our own like Canada, Mexico, Central and South America.

  10. Confidence in a weapon’s reliability to work when needed will degrade over time. I cant see how any serious person can truly believe our nuclear deterrence can be upheld without at least some form of testing.

    FYI, the 2002 report by the National Academy of Sciences was chaired by John Hodren (yeah that John Hodren).

    1. Si vis pacem, para bellum.

  11. Paper-rock-scissor-nuclear weapon with my little brother won’t be as much fun without my ace-in-the-hole.

    Whatever. World peace, blog-blog-blog..

  12. “Rudy Giuliani lamented that Obama bases his security policy on the charming belief that ‘we can all hold hands, sing songs, and have peace symbols.'”

    Where is the black box, Rudy?

  13. I love how Chapman first notes that “some people take [Obama] literally”, but then claims his about face on chemical/biological response is OK because “it’s subject to change if a crisis erupts.” Apparently Chapman doesn’t understand that the idea of deterrence is to avoid the crisis in the first place. The idea is to intimidate any potential attackers into inaction, not to ambush them after an attack.

    Before we held out a plausible threat of nuclear annihilation in response to bio/chem attack. Obama is removing that threat. I’m sure that takes a load off the mind of anyone contemplating a chemical attach, but how does that help the rest of us? Sure, we’ve got an impressive military anyway, but it’s though to be as intimidating as 50 megatons of TNT.

    Ultimately this is not that big a deal. It’s probably an unimportant hand in the card game of life. But that’s no excuse for playing it stupidly.

    1. +1

  14. You state that the new START treaty will place “puts absolutely no limits on anti-missile weapons.”

    Unfortunately that is not true.

    Article V, Section 3 states:

    Each Party shall not convert and shall not use ICBM launchers and SLBM launchers for placement of missile defense interceptors therein.

    “Shall Not” sounds like a restriction to me. This is plainly a limit on submarine launched missile defense interceptors.

  15. LOL – Oh, oh Steve. Obama didn’t do something totally and completely wrong? Mr Cool Black Leather Suit is going to be really, really angry with you.

  16. “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. And no matter how great the obstacles may seem, we must never stop our efforts to reduce the weapons of war. We must never stop at all until we see the day when nuclear arms have been banished from the face of this Earth.” Ronald Reagan

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