Free Beacon's One-Sided Report On Nuclear Reductions

Blog ››› ››› MIKE BURNS

The Washington Free Beacon reported today that President Obama "has decided to seek deeper cuts in deployed strategic nuclear weapons to as few as 1,000 warheads, sharply below the target of 1,550 warheads required under a 2010 U.S.-Russia arms treaty." The Free Beacon quoted critics who argue that deeper cuts will undermine U.S. strategic deterrence, but ignored that many experts, including senior national security figures, actually support large nuclear reductions.

From the Free Beacon's article, headlined: "A Cut Too Far: Obama Set To Seek Deeper Cuts In Nuclear Arsenal":

President Obama has decided to seek deeper cuts in deployed strategic nuclear weapons to as few as 1,000 warheads, sharply below the target of 1,550 warheads required under a 2010 U.S.-Russia arms treaty, U.S. officials said Monday.

Critics say the steep cuts, which the administration will seek in new talks with a growing anti-U.S. government in Moscow, would undermine U.S. strategic deterrence for the United States and its allies in Asia and Europe.

The lower warhead levels also would be contrary to recent congressional testimony from a strategic forces commander who said further cuts would weaken the ability to deter nuclear states like Russia and China.

A U.S. strategic nuclear force posture of 1,000 strategic warheads has not been seen since the early 1950s. At the height of the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union had as many as 30,000 nuclear weapons.

The Free Beacon went on to quote Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official John Bolton as saying that deeper cuts "[reflect] blind ideology, not strategic analysis of U.S. defense needs," and The Washington Times columnist and former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney as saying that the potential cuts are a "matter of ideology and not national security." The Free Beacon also quoted retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a Fox News military analyst who has expressed doubts that Obama is a natural born citizen of the U.S., as saying that the Obama administration is trying for unilateral nuclear disarmament, "the most dangerous thing I have ever seen an American President attempt to do."

But what didn't make it into the Free Beacon's reporting is that many experts, including senior national security figures, have said that the United States should significantly reduce its nuclear arsenal, which was built up to fight the Cold War.

In a May 2012 report issued by the nuclear policy organization Global Zero, General James E. Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of the U.S.' nuclear forces, and several senior national security officials including Richard Burt, a chief negotiator of the START Treaty under President Reagan; Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska; Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.; and General Jack Sheehan [ret.], former Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic for NATO, proposed that the U.S. significantly reduce its nuclear arsenal to "a maximum of 900 total nuclear weapons," only half of which would be deployed at any one time. From the report:

An illustrative nuclear force that possesses these characteristics would consist of an arsenal of 900 total strategic nuclear weapons on modified alert that could be put in place within ten (10) years (2022). One-half of this force would be deployed, with the remainder kept in reserve.

[...]

The U.S. and Russian arsenals have been steadily shrinking since the end of the Cold War. These reductions should continue. Steep bilateral reductions in all categories of weapons in their stockpiles are warranted and should be pursued in the next round of U.S.-Russian negotiations. An arsenal of 500-900 total weapons on each side would easily meet responsible requirements of deterrence and would set the stage to initiate multilateral nuclear arms reductions involving all countries with nuclear weapons.

In an interview with The New York Times, Cartwright, who chaired the report, said, "The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war," adding, "There is baggage of significant numbers in reserve. There is baggage of a nuclear stockpile beyond our needs. What is it we're really trying to deter? Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century."

Moreover, according to the January 2012 Pentagon strategy document, "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense," "[i]t is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

Likewise, Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, has written that the U.S. could reduce its nuclear stockpile "substantially -- to 1,000 warheads -- while retaining sufficient firepower to deter nuclear attack by any current or potential adversary."

Dr. Gary Schaub Jr., a senior researcher at the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen, and Dr. James Forsyth Jr., a professor at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, have even said that U.S. could "address its conceivable national defense and military concerns with only 311 strategic nuclear weapons":

Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate to advocate approval of the so-called New Start treaty, signed by President Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia last month. The treaty's ceiling of 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 missiles and bombers will leave us with fewer warheads than at any time since John F. Kennedy was president. Yet the United States could further reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons without sacrificing security. Indeed, we have calculated that the country could address its conceivable national defense and military concerns with only 311 strategic nuclear weapons. (While we are civilian Air Force employees, we speak only for ourselves and not the Pentagon.)

This may seem a trifling number compared with the arsenals built up in the cold war, but 311 warheads would provide the equivalent of 1,900 megatons of explosive power, or nine-and-a-half times the amount that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara argued in 1965 could incapacitate the Soviet Union by destroying "one-quarter to one-third of its population and about two-thirds of its industrial capacity."

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