Strategic Obfuscation | | 04.12.10

From all health care reform all the time, the Obama Administration has turned to all nukes all the time.

Over the past six business days the White House has debuted a three-act nuclear extravaganza, from release of the Nuclear Posture Review last Tuesday to signing of the new US-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on Thursday, to a Cecile B. deMille-scale Nuclear Security Summit.

Yet as with so much in the Obama years, nothing is quite what it seems in this theatrical package of global happenings.

For example, the Nuclear Posture Review – the Congressionally mandated periodic statement of national nuclear arms policy – turns out to be an exercise in what former National Security Council speechwriter Michael Anton calls in the current Weekly Standard “strategic obfuscation.” (see: )

Many have noted that the Administration renounces employing nuclear weapons if the U.S. is attacked with chemical and biological weapons, except that, quoting the treaty, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.”

Not chemical weapons, mind you, just biological weapons – unless a country is out of compliance with the non-proliferation treaty and then we will do whatever we please.

Anton concludes, “The new policy is deliberately designed to sound softer than the old, but is also qualified to the point that the new softness will appear to any semi-careful reader to be highly questionable. What is the real policy? It is impossible to say from reading the report.”

A similar slipperiness of language was part of the new START agreement.

Kori Schake, who was an aide to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, writes on the Shadow Government blog that, under the agreement, “The administration is laying claim to a 30 percent reduction in strategic nuclear weapons while actually permitting an increase in the force.” A key reason: twenty warheads on a B-1 or B-2 bomber count as one. (See: )

Yet, as Schake also notes, by counting platforms instead of warheads, the treaty limits our ability to redeploy bombers and missiles for non-nuclear, precision strike tasks.

And despite assurances from throughout the administration, the START treaty also bans using current land and sea-based launch silos for missile defense interceptors.

Senior people in the global security world report that the Kremlin continues to consider the U.S. as its primary adversary and regards the top two threats coming from us as ballistic missile defense and precision guided weapons.

So while not actually reducing warheads, the treaty has effectively limited the weapons that most worry Russia. Again, we find the administration looking soft, until the layer is pulled back to reveal a hard policy, until that layer is pulled back to reveal a soft one. And again, what is the real policy?

This questioning of the real policy also hovers around the Nuclear Security Summit. It is not too much to say that the most effective U.S. action in recent years to control the spread of nuclear weapons was the invasion of Iraq. That unambiguous act led the Libyans to abandon their nuclear program, the Pakistan to shut down the A.Q. Kahn nuclear proliferation network, and even the Iranians slowed their development program for a time.

On issues of nuclear weapons, global confidence in U.S. strength matters. For decades many countries have not acquired weapons and have remained content to live under our protective umbrella – and others have feared to provoke us. Yet the administration has spent the last year communicating weakness and indecision, particularly through its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether, in both cases, we have made clear our intent to leave on schedule, whether we have finished the job or not.

Throughout the Cold War and since, American clarity has been a major source of American strength – and a major global stabilizer. If obfuscation really is the order of the day, we will surrender that advantage.

We may have all summits all the time. But if the world cannot trust that American words match American intentions, how can we expect others to follow us?

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