Even some members of the Obama team seem to recognize that there are risks to such steps. The Nuclear Posture Review, while de-emphasizing the need for numerical parity, does contain a caution about going too far. Published by the Defense Department prior to the ratification of New START, it notes that “large disparities in nuclear capabilities could raise concerns on both sides and among U.S. allies and partners, and may not be conducive to maintaining a stable, long-term strategic relationship, especially as nuclear forces are significantly reduced.”
Translating this code language: Nuclear weapons remain vital to our national security. They provide an essential component of our efforts to deter rogue states in regions of critical U.S. interest — states that have acquired or are aggressively pursuing their own nuclear weapons. They provide an essential component of extended deterrence — giving credibility to our security guarantees to friends and allies in those regions and thereby undercutting incentives for them to seek their own nuclear capabilities. And finally, nuclear weapons provide an irreplaceable safeguard against the strategic uncertainties associated with the future of Russia and China, which, although no longer our enemies, continue to view the United States with deep suspicion while developing new nuclear and other asymmetric capabilities with us in mind.
New START has made the nuclear disparity worse. Further unilateral steps in this direction will only aggravate the fears of allies and undermine stability in our relationship with Russia.
One can argue, mistakenly I believe, that conceding superiority to Russia in nuclear arms is acceptable in today’s strategic environment. But one cannot argue, consistent with the facts, that we are not making this concession. As Russia, China, North Korea, and other states continue to build their nuclear arsenals, and as Iran aggressively pursues a nuclear-weapons capability, the warning of the Posture Review and the hard realities of the world we live in stand in stark contrast to the president’s utopian vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
— Robert G. Joseph is a senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy. He served from 2005 until 2007 as under secretary of state for arms control and international security. This article appears in the October 17, 2011, issue of National Review.