Monday, May 12, 2008

Cocked Locked and Loaded

I was saying to Jeremy earlier today that if Obama decided to put Sam Nunn on the ticket, he wouldn't have to worry so much about the disarmament debate.

Sam Nunn delivered a speech at the beginning of George W. Bush's first term that articulates almost precisely the same position on threat reduction and ultimately disarmament that Obama presents in that video (which almost certainly will be appearing as a negative spot in the fall, if not before). Nunn is not considered a dangerous radical. He is, rather, a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the author of the landmark Nunn-Lugar threat reduction legislation, which has resulted in the deactivation of over 5,900 warheads. Despite that legislation, the status quo 18 years after the fall of the Soviet Union remained somewhat bizarre, as Nunn said in 2001:

Two months ago, a new President took office. One of the first rites of initiation for any new President is to receive a briefing on the nuclear war plan. If you will permit me a moment of poetic license, I would like to suggest what a military briefer could have said in such a briefing to the President:

--Our primary mission, Mr. President, is to deter a nuclear attack against the US and our allies. This mission has remained essentially unchanged for the last 50 years.
--Our deterrence strategy depends on the unquestioned ability of our nuclear weapons to survive a massive Russian nuclear strike, and still to be able to retaliate with enough force to destroy Russia, literally and absolutely.
--To support this strategy, the United States maintains more than 2,000 nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to launch within minutes. So does Russia.
--Once launched, we have no capacity to divert missiles or destroy them in flight. Neither does Russia.
--Mr. President, Russia can no longer afford to keep most of its submarines at sea or its land-based missiles mobile and invulnerable.
--This reduces Russia's confidence that its nuclear weapons can survive a first strike and makes it more likely Russia will launch its weapons not after an attack, but after the mere warning of an attack.
--Russia's early warning system has eroded dangerously, and this increases the chance that a warning could be false.
--We worry that Russia's command and control of its nuclear weapons will also erode.

... As President Reagan's former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle has recently observed, a man from Mars comparing the US nuclear posture today with that at the height of the Cold War would find them essentially indistinguishable. ...

Not only are the threats today different; the means to meet them are different. We addressed the Cold War's threats by confrontation with Moscow, and over the long term, we cannot rule out a possible return to this confrontation. But most of today's greatest threats we can address only in cooperation with Russia. This is the overarching present day reality of our relationship. ...

Obama's views, in other words, are not dangerously out of the mainstream; they're simply unfamiliar. The reason for this is that Democrats have been, as Danny Concannon once put it, totally bumfuzzled on national security. Democrats running for national office are afraid to discuss our nuclear posture, fearing that Republicans will paint them as weak and dangerous. But that's ridiculous. Maintaining those weapons on high alert to counter the Russian Menace is itself dangerous, anachronistic, and oddly irrational. There's no reason why pulling US and Russian nuclear weapons off of hair trigger alert should be politically untouchable. Obama should say so, and he should use his substantial political skills (which are, sadly, not evident in the youtube clip Jeremy posted) to make the Republicans look silly if they choose to oppose him.

No comments: