Nuclear Roulette: The Obama Doctrine
Nuclear strategy can be as vague as it is dangerous. The good news is that the new Obama Doctrine turns out to be a lot vaguer than first, unreliable reports indicated. The administration may talk of restricting the use of nuclear weapons to those cases in which nukes are used against us, but it has left a loophole in its Nuclear Posture Review large enough to launch a nuclear-tipped missile through.
For example, the president specifically exempted rogue states like
This new policy paper, it's reported, has been in the works for months and months, and is the product of some 150 meetings, including 30 initiated by the president's own
Strategic ambiguity has its uses. Those who think about making war on the West should know that there's no telling how those cowboys in
In the end, instead of declaring that the "sole role" of America's nuclear arsenal would be to deter nuclear attack, the final version of the policy paper refers to the "fundamental" role of nuclear weapons in our defense. Which leaves open the possibility of using relying on it in general.
Surely more refinements, ad-lib responses to unpredictable circumstances, quiet warnings and loud posturings are yet to come in the months and years ahead. It's that kind of world.
Rest assured, any administration that includes
Some of the president's comments are nevertheless troubling, as if he had attended too many Ban the Bomb rallies in his youth, unaware that banning this country's nuclear weapons would be the surest way to invite a nuclear attack. Nuclear war won't be deterred by holding hands with our enemies and singing Kumbaya. There's a reason world wars ended after the atomic bomb was introduced. The object lesson of
As far back as the 1950s, a promising student of nuclear deterrence named
Nuclear weapons were to be considered just one more if final option. Instead of being used to back up a threat of "massive retaliation" if this country were attacked using even conventional weaponry. But for such a deterrent to be convincing, so must the commander-in-chief's willingness to use it. And when
It's happened before, this conflict between the theorists and those who've actually commanded armies in war. Like
At about the same time,
But the prospect of universal destruction will deter only if it is convincing. If a potential aggressor is assured he will be spared nuclear retaliation should he employ "only" biological or chemical weapons, then the incentive to use them will increase.
The old concept of a balance of power, as Churchill pointed out in his Iron Curtain speech just after the dawn of the atomic age, is no longer sound. For the strategic objective must be to amass such an aggregation of power on the side of peace and stability, including nuclear power, that it will deter the forces of aggression. Peace through strength, in short. For that kind of deterrence to be convincing, strategic ambiguity must be preserved, not lessened.
There is nothing wrong with talking about America's nuclear forces -- so long as nothing very specific is said about how they would or would not be employed. Let aggressors have to guess. There's a reason for that old Irish toast, "Confusion to our enemies!"
A favorite Eisenhower story: During one of those recurrent crises in the
No problem. Ike took his press secretary aside and assured him, "Don't worry, Jim, I'll go out there and confuse 'em." Which he did. At length. The fighting dribbled out, peace was preserved. The old general proved inarticulate like a fox. Maybe what
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Nuclear Roulette: The Obama Doctrine | Paul Greenberg
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