April 14, 2010


Nuclear Fallout: Behold, the Obama doctrine (and its limits). (Michael Crowley, April 13, 2010, New Republic)

Call it the Obama doctrine. The central theme of Barack Obama’s foreign policy to date has been simple: He wants to lower the risk that a nuclear weapon will be exploded inside the United States.

Interestingly, it's an obsession he shares with Ronald Reagan, but
there's even less threat now and there was rather little then.

Think Again: Nuclear Weapons: President Obama’s pledge to rid the world of atomic bombs is a waste of breath. But not for the reasons you might imagine. (JOHN MUELLER, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010, Foreign Policy)

In his first address to the U.N. Security Council, U.S. President Barack Obama warned apocalyptically, "Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city -- be it New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And it would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life." Obama has put nuclear disarmament back on the table in a way it hasn't been for decades by vowing to pursue a nuclear-free world, and, with a handful of big treaty negotiations in the works, he seems to think 2010 has become a critical year

But the conversation is based on false assumptions. Nuclear weapons certainly are the most destructive devices ever made, as Obama often reminds us, and everyone from peaceniks to neocons seems to agree. But for more than 60 years now all they've done is gather dust while propagandists and alarmists exaggerate their likelihood of exploding -- it was a certainty one would go off in 10 years, C.P. Snow authoritatively proclaimed in 1960 -- and nuclear metaphysicians spin fancy theories about how they might be deployed and targeted.

Nuclear weapons have had a tremendous influence on the world's agonies and obsessions, inspiring desperate rhetoric, extravagant theorizing, and frenetic diplomatic posturing. However, they have had very limited actual impact, at least since World War II. Even the most ingenious military thinkers have had difficulty coming up with realistic ways nukes could conceivably be applied on the battlefield; moral considerations aside, it is rare to find a target that can't be struck just as well by conventional weapons. Indeed, their chief "use" was to deter the Soviet Union from instituting Hitler-style military aggression, a chimera considering that historical evidence shows the Soviets never had genuine interest in doing anything of the sort. In other words, there was nothing to deter.

Instead, nukes have done nothing in particular, and have done that very well. They have, however, succeeded in being a colossal waste of money -- an authoritative 1998 Brookings Institution study showed the United States had spent $5.5 trillion on nukes since 1940, more than on any program other than Social Security. The expense was even more ludicrous in the cash-starved Soviet Union.

And that does not include the substantial loss entailed in requiring legions of talented nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians to devote their careers to developing and servicing weapons that have proved to have been significantly unnecessary and essentially irrelevant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2010 4:10 PM
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