The Lazy Case for Nuke Cuts

What do we need all these nuclear weapons for? What good have they ever done? I mean, we have so many, and don’t you know the Cold War is over?

Supporters of radical cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal have become so confident and cocky in the case for ever more cuts that they no longer even bother to make the case. Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell takes a break from Twitter to offer the graph below comparing the U.S. arsenal to North Korea’s. “Call me crazy, but I think we can handle the cuts,” he says.

I don’t think he’s crazy, just lazy. I’m sure Hounshell has little respect for the views of knuckle-dragging neocons like me, so I will defer to Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who endorsed the reductions of the New START treaty, but only when tied to the modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent:

“(Given) the clear risks and the elusive benefits inherent in additional deep cuts, the burden of proof should be on those who advocate such reductions to demonstrate exactly how and why such cuts would serve to enhance U.S. security. Absent such a demonstration, we should not pursue additional cuts in the mistaken belief that fewer is ipso facto better.”  (emphasis added)

Of course the Obama administration has since demonstrated its commitment to modernize our nuclear forces was nothing more than an empty promise offered to jam through a treaty that offered the United States no discernible benefits. And without modernization, the U.S. nuclear stockpile will necessarily rely on quantity of warheads, since the quality of those warheads cannot be assured.

Our warheads are no longer tested (unfortunately) and they are old and getting older. On the other hand, Russia, China, and Pakistan all have significantly-sized nuclear arsenals that are improving in quality. Our nuclear arsenal exists to uphold the world order, North Korea’s exists merely to terrorize its neighbors and blackmail the United States—comparing the two doesn’t make a lot of sense. And finally, the size of our nuclear force allows the United States to target military combatants rather than civilians—counterforce targeting rather than countervalue targeting. I’m fine with targeting civilians; Hounshell and his allies may feel differently, though.

Republicans foolishly allowed the New START treaty to be ratified with just a promise of future dollars for modernization. They won’t make that mistake again. If Obama wants more nuke cuts, Republicans will quite reasonably ask him to make a better case than the chart below offers—and they will demand real modernization as the price.

Foreign Policy