If the Nuclear Posture Review -- a congressionally mandated document which evaluates the state and purpose of America's nuclear forces -- was a battle between Secretary Gates and President Obama, Gates won.
But just barely.
The document, released Monday, didn't come close to appeasing the dyed-in-the-wool disarmament movement. It preserved both the structure and readiness of America's nuclear force, as the missile-bomber-submarine triad will remain intact, and there will be no "de-alerting" of ICBMs. Additionally, the NPR acknowledged that rapidly developing security scenarios may require a nuclear first strike. First strike, alerted ICBMs, and a three-system nuclear triad were all key bugaboos that the go-to-zero egalitarians wanted gone. Gates left them disappointed.
No doubt to their eternal annoyance, the secretary took the NPR a step further. He acknowledged that missile defense will play a critical role in America's security future. He called for follow-ons to the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine and the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (which has been on alert since the Nixon administration). Gates also clearly dictated the need for significant life extension to the current inventory of nuclear weapons, a proposal that prompted nose turning from the Obama White House.
While these are all positive developments that should be applauded, there was the rather perplexing issue of Obama's nuclear declaratory policy. The NPR includes a line which states, clearly, that members in compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be immune to a U.S. nuclear strike. Chemical and biological weapons, which share the WMD stage with their nuclear cousins, are not included in the NPT and thus could presumably be used against U.S. interests without fear of a devastating nuclear counterstrike. Obama instead has insisted that massive conventional retaliation will be used in the stead of America's atomic arsenal.
This is, in a sense, true. It would take an extraordinary -- unprecedented, really -- chem or bio attack for the United States to tap into its nuclear inventory. The problem is the fact that Obama has tampered with a simple, effective nuclear policy that keeps the bad guys in check. That is, use a WMD of any sort on the U.S. or her allies and the response will be apocalyptic in its devastation. That doesn't necessarily have to be true, it just has be to perceived as true by potential adversaries. Deterrence is predicated on fear of force, not force itself. It's classic Sun Tzu -- "to subdue your enemies without fighting is supreme excellence."
In the 2010 NPR, the White House unnecessarily tinkered with that proven policy -- and for what? They believe it will offer the carrot needed for Iran to sign the NPT, open its enrichment facilities to inspectors, and join the community of responsible nations. That's pure fantasy. There's no indication that U.S. nuclear policy has had a shred of influence on rogue states, nor will it ever. Iran will not abandon a program that has cost them billions of dollars simply because Obama pinky swears that he won't drop the bomb on them if the mullahs play nice.
It would have been better for the U.S. to preserve the ambiguity in our nuclear usage policy, and thus kept our enemies guessing. Fear of violence, more so than violence itself, has helped prevent World War III for six decades. If Obama continues to unbalance that successful deterrence equation, the consequences could be dire.