In recent days, the Obama administration has fired a salvo of national-security initiatives: a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a new National Security Strategy (NSS), and this week’s Nuclear Security Summit attended by more than 40 heads of state. What do they add up to? Perhaps the outlines of an Obama Doctrine. And certainly cause for concern.
Start with START. It reduces the strategic nuclear forces of both the U.S. and Russia by about 30 percent. The idea is to set an example and send a message that a nuclear-free world is achievable. That’s a lovely vision, but which do you think is more likely: that rogue regimes will see these reductions as virtuous and emulate them? Or that they will see these reductions as an opportunity and exploit them?
START also misses this point: The size of America’s nuclear arsenal is of concern to global predators — but it’s reassuring to those who seek protection from them. As for Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons, they were a primary focus of U.S policy during the Cold War, but in the current era, the critical threats to both national and global security are the fanatic Islamists in Iran who are developing nuclear weapons and the fanatic tyrant in North Korea who already has them.
Despite U.S. diplomatic efforts, China has been protecting Pyongyang while Russia is actively assisting Tehran. Both Russian and Chinese rulers oppose crippling sanctions — the only remaining non-violent means for changing Iran’s behavior. At best, START is like worrying about the guy smoking a stogie in the living room while ignoring the fire engulfing the kitchen.
Next, consider the new NSS, from which such terms as “Islamic extremism” have been stripped. Last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote a letter urging the administration to “identify accurately the ideological source” of the threat against the United States. “This is not honest and, frankly, I think it’s hurtful in our relations with the Muslim world,” Lieberman said on a Sunday news show. “It’s absolutely Orwellian and counterproductive to the fight that we’re fighting.”
Imagine if President Roosevelt had decided not to speak about German Nazism, lest he offend Germans who were not Nazis, nor utter the words “Italian Fascism” since not all Italians were of the Fascist persuasion, and of course refrained from mentioning Japanese militarism . . . you get the idea.
Since the days of Sun Tzu, military strategists have stressed the importance of understanding one’s enemy. America, Israel, India, and other free nations are attempting to defend themselves against regimes and movements waging what they call a “jihad,” justified by their interpretation of Islamic scripture. Not acknowledging this reality is worse than fighting with one hand tied behind our back. It’s fighting with a blindfold over our eyes.
Move on to this week’s Nuclear Security Summit. Little progress appears to have been made toward its goal: devising new and better ways to clean up “loose nukes,” weapons-grade plutonium and uranium that terrorists could fashion into bombs. And most of the leaders and rulers assembled in Washington chose to willfully ignore the more serious problem: that Iran and North Korea may simply give nuclear devices to terrorists.
Last and maybe least is the NPR, which pledges that America will not modernize its nuclear arsenal and suggests that the U.S. may refrain from using its aging nuclear weapons even against an enemy that attacks us with biological or chemical weapons. Such decisions actually provide our adversaries with an incentive to accelerate development of offensive capabilities. They clearly do nothing to strengthen deterrence.
And deterrence, along with defense, has long been the core of America’s national-security strategy. Deterrence requires persuading hostile powers that attacking America will not bring a measured and “proportionate” response; on the contrary, it will give us license to make the rubble bounce.
Defense is being diminished as well. Take missile defense: Vice President Joe Biden said last week, “Because of advances in conventional capabilities and technologies such as missile defense, we need fewer nuclear weapons to deter adversaries and protect our allies than we did even a decade ago.” And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on NBC’s Meet the Press last weekend that the U.S. needs “more missile defense.”
Yet President Obama has scrapped a missile-defense system for eastern Europe, cut the number of planned deployed ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California from 44 to 30 (these provide the only protection to the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missiles), cut $1.5 billion from the missile-defense budget (then, curiously, restored about $600 million), and nominated a missile-defense opponent, Philip Coyle, as his top missile-defense adviser.
What’s more, the new START treaty may limit our ability to deploy additional missile defense. The Russians point to a clause in the preamble declaring that “current strategic defensive arms” may not “undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms.” That would seem to imply that America’s missile defenses must not provide protection against Russian missiles. Other treaties the Obama administration is negotiating — e.g. PAROS, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space — unquestionably would restrict America’s right to construct a solid missile-defense shield.
Assemble all these pieces and an Obama Doctrine begins to take shape. It might be summed up this way: Ignore the great threats and cloak the lesser threats in faux unity, pomp, and circumstance; talk incessantly and carry a shrinking stick. Somehow, I doubt that’s the change most Americans have been hoping for.
– Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.