Nuclear Disarmament

Keith Payne, Director of the Graduate School of Defense and Strategic Studies at Missouri State University (oh yeah, also a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense), had some thoughts on this in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal earlier this week.

Read the whole thing; I just want to focus on one small remark.

Realists point out that foreign leaders base their decisions about nuclear weaponry largely on their perceived strategic needs, not in response to US disarmament.

He’s on the right track here, but I disagree with him to an extent. Foreign leaders—especially our enemies’ leaders—also base their decisions about nuclear weaponry on the perceived value of those weapons. That value goes up as we disarm and render ourselves less and less capable of answering their nuclear blackmail or outright attack.

We haven’t been attacked with nuclear weapons, ever in our history? Since the early 1950s (I discount the interval between the Manhattan Project and that period for its lack of numbers of nuclear weapons and effective delivery means), the US has had the nuclear weapons with which to respond, not merely in kind, but devastatingly and decisively. In that environment, only one other nation in the world—the USSR—thought extensive nuclear weapons worth the price. The PRC didn’t start getting serious about its own nuclear force development and expansion until after we’d already severely cut our own forces and development capability.

With a nuclear armed Russia “preparing to bring its nuclear weapons into play” over Crimea, a nuclear armed People’s Republic of China seizing the East and South China Seas as their private lakes, and a soon-to-be nuclear armed Iran sworn to destroy Israel and with a long history of arming terrorists, disarming today is utopian folly. Full stop.

2 thoughts on “Nuclear Disarmament

  1. I agree with your basic premise, but I think your timeline is off. The Chinese detonated their first atomic bomb in 1964, and their first hydrogen bomb in 1967. While the Cultural Revolution delayed their build-up, they were committed to nukes by the mid-1960s. The US arsenal remained fixed (in devices) beginning in 1967, although with MIRVs, the number of independently targetable warheads (and thus the threat) continued to rise. SALT I was agreed in 1972, and SALT II in 1979.

    • I stand by my claim on the PRC timeline. Their demonstration of a capability is not the same thing as taking seriously their expansion of their nuclear force (including building their extensive tunnel networks for their mobile nuclear systems). That expansion didn’t get going until after we’d begun our disarmament. The Cultural Revolution might be an excuse; it’s not a reason.

      Eric Hines

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