Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 7, 2010

A NEW NUCLEAR POSTURE.... The Obama administration released its Nuclear Posture Review yesterday, outlining -- and limiting -- the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. It's "an important down payment on a saner nuclear policy," and the first meaningful shift in U.S. thinking since the end of the Cold War.

Naturally, Republicans are "outraged." They always are.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose understanding of national security issues is a fantasy of media bookers, told CNN yesterday, "I think the only thing that would work with Iran is they're thinking that there's a military consequence that could be faced if they become nuclear, and the farther he moves away from that, the more difficult his role with Iran is going to be."

It's as if the right doesn't bother to learn about the policy before condemning it.

Obama and administration officials, however, argue that the new policy sends exactly the right signal to Iran and North Korea, that by not complying with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and pursuing nuclear weapons, they are less safe.

"I actually think that the NPR [Nuclear Posture Review] has a very strong message for both Iran and North Korea," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday. "We essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT."

The message to these countries, Gates said, "is that if you're going to play by the rules, if you're going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you, and that's covered in the NPR. But if you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you."

Nicholas Burns, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Bush administration, agreed, saying that the new policy should be welcomed and that it maintains "a very tough line" on Iran.

"The president is clearly signaling that we are really decades away now from the end of the Cold War," he said. "That the real threats are no longer just those nuclear weapons states that bedeviled us in the past but they're the terrorist groups, and they're the renegade states like Iran and North Korea that are truly disruptive and a threat to the world.

"It seems to me that this new nuclear policy review by the Obama Administration strengthens the ability to the United States to counter that threat and safeguard American interests."

Fred Kaplan also had a good piece on the Nuclear Posture Review, including an explanation of how the administration perceives the purpose of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal.

Obama's strategy carves out a novel, and very intriguing, chunk of middle ground. It rejects "no-first-use," noting that the United States is "not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons." However, it does declare that the United States will not fire nuclear weapons first at any country that has signed, and is in compliance with, the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The distinction may seem semantic, but in fact it's substantial.... Obama is now saying that in conflicts with countries that don't have nuclear weapons and aren't cheating on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, all options are not on the table. We don't need to brandish, much less use, our nukes. We can launch sufficiently devastating attacks with conventional weapons and defend ourselves against whatever those countries might throw against us.

Such an approach hasn't even been considered since the start of the Cold War. It's a welcome and overdue change.

Steve Benen 11:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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Comments

If you want peace, prepare for war. And let your enemies know you are preparing for war. And be prepared to go to war. Anything else is dangerous fantasy.

Posted by: Al on April 7, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

the menace is proliferation -- and jonathan schell has the best article on our nuclear annihilation status (as usual for schell) in his Nation cover story this week.

Here's the spoiler (last para):

What would nuclear weapons then be for? They almost tell us themselves. "We are here," they say, "to abolish ourselves, and -- a big bonus -- to put up a barrier to major power war forever after into the bargain. For even after you are rid of us, we will hover in the wings, as a potential that cannot ever be removed." The bomb is waiting for us to hear the message. It has been waiting a long time. If we do not, it can always return to what has always been its plan B, and abolish us.

Posted by: neill on April 7, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Al's coming around. He just agreed with Obama.

Posted by: Paranoid Floyd on April 7, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

I found this collection to be rather useful. I am using it in a report I am article at college.

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Posted by: la martina on April 7, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

I don't believe I've seen this said in such a way before. You really have made this so much clearer for me. Thanks!

Posted by: Coach Purses on April 7, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Why use nukes when we can hover over you in gunships and gun down your unarmed citizens a dozen at a time. Nukes just take all the fun out being a budding psychopath.

Posted by: doubtful on April 7, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Always fun to watch Giuliani turn himself into the living embodiment of every rotten old anti-Italian "joke" ever told.

I must say as someone who has lived 65 of 66 years under the threat of nuclear annihilation that I never ever thought I would see the day when responsible leaders were really taking these kinds of steps, to dial back the threat of killing the earth. Bravo to Obama and all who work with him on this.

Posted by: TCinLA on April 7, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Obama says 'We won't nuke you unless we really want to' and the world is supposed to be reassured. What's next the Kellogg-Briand Pact redux?

Posted by: Michael7843853 on April 7, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

"A World Free of Nuclear Weapons"
George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger and Sam Nunn
The Wall Street Journal
January 4, 2007
Nuclear weapons were essential to maintaining international security during the Cold War because they were a means of deterrence. The end of the Cold War made the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence obsolete. Deterrence continues to be a relevant consideration for many states with regard to threats from other states. But reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.

http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=2252&issue_id=54

Read the whole thing. Conservatives were for this policy before they were against it.

Posted by: Jordan on April 7, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

You've got to love these people: if you comply with non-proliferation rules, when we invade your country, we won't use nukes on you. Such a deal !

Posted by: rbe1 on April 7, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Benen - you should stop pretending to have expertise in foreign policy and understand that The Chosen One is wrong on this policy.

In his published, in-depth analysis of what the U.S. nuclear weapons policy should be, Rudy Guliani struck just the right tone when he said that:

"Either you are with us or you are 9/11 against us. If you are 9/11 against us, we 9/11 deserve the 9/11 right to nuke you."

With Rudy's insight, how can you even consider the possibility that The Chosen One is correct. Besides that, Obama is a democrat and everyone knows that democrats are weak on foreign policy.

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on April 7, 2010 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah but just yesterday Rush Limbaugh said Egypt (a non-nuclear state, abiding by the non-proliferation treaty) might attack us with biological weapons, and we wouldn't be able to nuke 'em back.

Seriously, he explained that in great detail.

Posted by: Stuck with "Big John" Cornyn on April 7, 2010 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

I voted for Obama because he seemed to have a strong grip on non-ideological, pragmatic, informed common sense. I differ with him on some decisions, but this isn't one. By and large, he's exactly who I voted for, and I appreciate it.

Detractors like Guiliani really expose their fundamental ignorance when they fail to grasp that this new policy focuses our nuclear deterrent even more sharply and specifically on rogues like Iran and N. Korea. They have been singled out, and they know it.

Posted by: Jon on April 7, 2010 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

There are two pieces of good news here for progressives:

(1) For the first time we ban "first use" of nuclear weapons against nations complying with the nonproliferation treaty.

(2) Pledges to end "bunker busters"

These are the real headlines.

So yes, we defend ourselves from wingnuts who talk about Iran, saying that Obama excluded Iran/NKorea, then turn around and say, that's not progress, it's status quo... but people should read the full document, and you will find that President Obama should be applauded - he's finally earning that Nobel Prize thing, at least on the nuclear front.

Posted by: Ohioan on April 7, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

The Republican measure of outrage at Obama initiatives is how difficult each will be to reverse or roll back once power is regained. It has nothing to do with whether or not it's good for America or for the world, and reading/understanding it in excrutiating detail would not alter the Republican position at all.

They relexively oppose everything he proposes, to see if they can kill it before it breathes. When that fails, their outrage is calibrated to how much work will be involved in overturning it later. By this measure, it looks pretty solid.

Posted by: Mark on April 7, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

"reflexively" oppose, I meant. I swear words change themselves during electronic transmission, because I proofread that and didn't see a thing wrong with it.

Posted by: Mark on April 7, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

So Israel is fair game?

OK.

Posted by: JM on April 7, 2010 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans aren't outraged at the policy, they're just outraged that it's more than three words long. If it can't fit on a bumper sticker, they get confused.

Posted by: Cazart on April 7, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

"We essentially carve out states like Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with NPT."

Could someone ask Gates just how Iran is in non-compliance with its NPT obligations and what evidence there is for this claim?

Posted by: blowback on April 7, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Israel has not signed the nuclear treaty... and has (about) 300 weapons. (only 1 tested by SAfrica). How did they get these weapons? Where did they buy the uranium? Why was the US silent?

So, why is this missing from a nuclear policy?
Is the grip of AIPAC that firm on congress? (yes)

Public finance of campaigns... the only answer.

Posted by: Buford on April 7, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

It is with patriotic pride that I join my fellow republicans in denouncing this latest America-hating action by the socialist, Kenyan Muslim.

Real patriots know that Obama hates America almost as much as he hates whites and that any nuclear weapons policy he supports will be wrong for our country.

Throughout our lives, I and my fellow republicans have consistently displayed our patriotism. Coming of age in the 1960s, it was patriotic to stay in college to avoid the draft. When that failed, we followed the patriotic action of using our family connections to get into the National Guard.

With my displayed patriotism and my family connections, I was able to be appointed to the local draft board where my patriotism was further shown by drafting America-hating hippies and blacks into the military.

Even now, I and my fellow patriotic republicans show our high level of patriotism by putting three Chinese made 'Support Our Troops' stickers on each of our SUVs.

Posted by: ProudWhiteAmerican on April 7, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

"by not complying with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and pursuing nuclear weapons, they are less safe."

Iran isn't the only Middle East country in noncompliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty that has an atomic weapons program. I would hope that the same restrictions apply to ALL such countries.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on April 7, 2010 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Iran is not in noncompliance with the NPT. Much political hay is being made with Iran's enrichment of uranium, but the NPT specifically authorizes this for its signatories (of which Iran is one) for peaceful purposes, such as production of reactor fuel to generate electricity for domestic use.

Uranium enriched to reactor-fuel grade is enriched to something less than 20%, usually around 18%. Uranium enriched to weapons grade is enriched to something more than 80%, typically around 89%.

Although one pile of enriched uranium may look pretty much like another to the layman, I promise you that IAEA inspectors have the capability of distinguishing between the two, and to date no weapons-grade enriched uranium has been found in Iran. By the letter of the law as well as the spirit, then, Iran is compliant with the NPT, and no evidence whatever has been produced to contradict this position.

This is nothing more than the usual drawing of the wool over the eyes of the electorate, by making a simple issue sufficiently complicated to confuse it. Sadly, this rarely proves difficult.

Posted by: Mark on April 7, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Mark: "Uranium enriched to reactor-fuel grade is enriched to something less than 20%, usually around 18%."

In the power plant where I worked (PWR), the enrichment level went from about 3% to 4%+ when we went from an 18 month fuel cycle to a 24 month fuel cycle. Don't know about the 18% number.

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