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More Nuclear Nonsense

The "amusing" and "pitiful" nuclear warrior

3:45 PM, Jan 12, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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I mentioned in an earlier post that there's an abundance -- perhaps over abundance -- of opinions about U.S. nuclear forces, but a shortage of expertise. In an exquisitely timed op-ed, James Carroll makes my point for me:

The political requirement for national leaders to appear tough, the pressures of defense contractors that draw billions of dollars from this status quo, the callowness of politicians who refuse to cut weapons budgets because of constituents’ jobs and industry campaign contributions, the turf protection of military services - such are the broad factors than have kept the demonic structures of the Cold War in place across the two decades since the Cold War ended. But the narrow reality is that the strategic nuclear strike personnel, whether tending warheads in missile silos, bomb bays, or the launch tubes of submarines, are a match for the left-behind Japanese soldiers who emerged from Pacific island caves and jungles years after World War II was over. Bedraggled, dazed, and still convinced of a duty to protect a regime that was long gone, such men were figures of amusement and pity.

So am I to read this as America's nuclear warriors being "figures of amusement and pity?" One thing's for certain, you'd be hard pressed to find any sailors in the "launch tubes of submarines."  

I can't really fault the Boston Globe, like I mentioned earlier, most Americans don't really understand the importance of the deterrence mission. Since the Cold War ended, our nuclear forces are increasingly seen as too violent, too anachronistic, too uncivilized for the 21st century. To someone who isn't staring at daily threat and intelligence briefings, it's easy enough to say "let's just be done with nukes."

That's around the point when wishful thinking becomes reality. Carroll's justification for killing our strategic forces are way off target. The nuclear force remains relatively cheap to sustain. "Turf wars" haven't been an issue since the days of Curt LeMay, all those greedy politicians with bellies full of Pentagon pork have ratified three disarmament treaties while aiding the Pentagon in two decades of steady, sustained cuts to our nuclear forces. And as for all those "demonic structures" of the Cold War? They're down to roughly 20% of their mid-1980s strength.

So perhaps it's in the realm of possibility that nuclear weapons still perform a valuable function when it comes to our nation's defense? Perhaps they do indeed play a role in deterring potentially aggressive nations, many of which are either developing nuclear weapons of their own or drastically upgrading their strategic forces and delivery systems? And maybe, after all those years standing nose to nose with the Soviets, nuclear weapons played some small part in ensuring that a third World War never transpired?

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