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Obama's Nuke-Free Vision Impacts with Reality

2:33 PM, Jan 4, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Today's LA Times has an admirably even piece on the shadowy barfight between Pentagon officials and White House staffers over the future of our nation's nuclear arsenal.

President Obama's ambitious plan to begin phasing out nuclear weapons has run up against powerful resistance from officials in the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies, posing a threat to one of his most important foreign policy initiatives.

Obama laid out his vision of a nuclear-free world in a speech in Prague, Czech Republic, last April, pledging that the U.S. would take dramatic steps to lead the way. Nine months later, the administration is locked in internal debate over a top-secret policy blueprint for shrinking the U.S. nuclear arsenal and reducing the role of such weapons in America's military strategy and foreign policy.

Obama made some bold statements about nuclear weapons while on the campaign trail, pledges that were ideologically grounded and too simplistic to match complex reality. The new multipolar world's relationship with nuclear weapons requires a carefully tailored strategic calculus, but the White House is using algebra. Obama's core premise, that the US can't make an effective case for a nuke-free world without first shedding our massive arsenal, is ridiculous. Our strategic nuclear forces are 20 percent of what they were two decades ago, but global nuclear proliferation has continued to spread like a bad virus.

This was an inevitable confrontation between the military and the administration. Defense planners are pulling their hair out trying to balance rising nuclear powers like China, North Korea, and Iran, while maintaining the razor thin deterrence equation with Russia that has kept America safe for six decades. Targets are skyrocketing, nuclear assets needed to neutralize targets are plummeting. The military is tackling the nuclear posture review with hardnosed strategic realities, like counterforce planning, contingencies in the event that deterrence fails, and continued protection of non-nuclear allies, while the White House seems to be running their whole nuclear-disarmament initiative off a grossly simplified talking point, that nukes are bad.

If the White House's stance on disarmament is indeed that elementary, we might have a real problem. For better or for worse, America's mighty strategic vanguard has served as one of the most powerful global stabilization tools in history. We shouldn't abandon it simply to appease a gaggle of Scandanavian peaceniks, nor should we sacrifice America's security because we're off chasing utopian fantasies.