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COIN: Know when to say when

What am I missing on this new "nuclear use" strategy?

I've always been a fan, when talking about national defense and deterrence, of telling potential enemies what our strategies are. It helps them formulate their plans on how to best attack us without receiving the most devastating response. For instance, our new unilateral nuclear use strategy:

It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war. For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.

Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.

Well if that's true, Mr. Obama, why change our nuclear strategy? You see, in terms of a nuclear arms strategy, "ambiguity" is a feature, not a bug. But when you announce to anyone who can put anthrax in an envelope - or better yet weaponize it and introduce it into the US population via terrorist proxies - that if we find out who you are, you don't have to worry about nukes, well that may make such an attempt at least appear to be survivable. And for zealots and other nutballs, that's all it takes.

Certainly nuclear weapons are fearsome, but their history - their two uses - show them to be another method of killing in war. For instance between Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the two cities bombed with nuclear weapons - about 105,000 died. That's a horrific total granted, until you consider the 149,000 to 165,000 estimated to have died in the  conventional bombings of Tokyo and Dresden. Obviously Tokyo was done over an extended period but Dresden wasn't.

I also know that nuclear weapons are significantly more powerful now than then - significantly. But they come in various sizes, yields and means of delivery. No one wants to use them but that "ambiguity" about their use has certainly served us well to this point, hasn't it? So why the change? What is served - in terms of our national security - by changing it? How are we made safer when you tell potential enemies "hey, if you're in compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and decide to use chem or bio on us, we will not nuke you?"

"Oh," they answer, "well then let's see how we can comply with that new strategy shall we?"

Obama claims he would retain the right to reconsider the use of nukes. Really? So what is the new strategy again? Is that unambiguous ambiguity I hear?  At what level of casualties would that "reconsideration" take place.  How many American lives puts it at the "reconsideration" level?

He also claims that his strategy will "edge" the world closer to making nuclear weapons obsolete. Will it? What it will most likely do is make chem and bio weapons the next bad guy growth industries.  Oh, and if you don't have nukes, there's no reason to fear them. If you use those chem and bio weapons on us - just as long as you're in compliance with the non-proliferation treaty, mind you - we'll only respond conventionally (since we don't have chem or bio weapons with which to retalitate in kind).

This isn't a strategy, it's a unilateral weakening of our national security. If the law of unintended consequences runs true to course, we'll see that played out in a chem or bio attack on America or Americans somewhere. 

Our enemies and potential enemies need to understand that if they strike us they will reap the whirlwind - potentially.  When the whirlwind is unilaterally downgraded to a dust devil, it makes them think an attack (a chem or bio attack for heaven sake) may be survivable, and that's not a thought we should be putting in their heads.

 Tell me where I'm wrong.

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