Nuclear summit means hard work for Obama

This week, President Obama welcomes leaders from more than forty countries to the United States for a nuclear security summit. Most of the discussions will focus on the president’s vision to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world by 2012 and reinforcing existing commitments, but the signing of a new nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia and the release of the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review will garner significant attention. Considering all of these elements, this summit will require some heavy lifting by President Obama and his national security team.

First and foremost, the president must convince U.S. citizens that the weapons reductions and nuclear policies outlined in the new START Treaty and Nuclear Posture Review will strengthen America’s national security. Our nation’s nuclear arsenal and industrial complex are aging and must be modernized in order to ensure continued safety, security, and reliability. The president should be able to reassure American citizens that their government will take the necessary steps to ensure the U.S. retains an effective nuclear deterrent.

Second, the president must convince our allies that the United States will continue to provide a robust nuclear umbrella to the more than thirty-five countries that rely upon it today. The Strategic Posture Commission recently remarked that a robust U.S. nuclear deterrent is still required “to assure allies of the U.S. commitment to their security.”

While the Nuclear Posture Review acknowledges that “the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons…contribute to [NATO] cohesion and provide reassurance to allies and partners who feel exposed to regional threats,” press reports suggest that President Obama’s administration has also been quietly exploring whether the United States can remove its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. The president should not work against his own Nuclear Posture Review, which calls for retaining the capability to forward-deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical aircraft in Europe.

Third, the president must rally the international community to force crippling sanctions upon countries that covet membership in the nuclear club. Fundamentally, the administration believes that U.S. nuclear reductions will “restore our moral leadership” to encourage others to do the same. However, the weakness in this approach is that it assumes regimes like Iran and North Korea will curb their nuclear ambitions; Pakistan and India will reduce their nuclear arms; and Russia and China will be more inclined to support sanctions against Iran, as a result of U.S. stockpile reductions.

It would be unwise to base America’s nuclear policy and corresponding national security on such faulty assumptions. The United States has reduced its nuclear stockpile by nearly 80 percent since the end of the Cold War. During that time, Iranian or North Korean nuclear ambitions have shifted into overdrive.