Nukes are essential to US security

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John Q. Public is no arms control expert, but his views on nuclear weapons are grounded in common sense.

A recent Rasmussen national survey reveals that most Americans feel a strong nuclear arsenal is essential to assuring our national security.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is moving U.S. policy in the opposite direction.

The Rasmussen survey of 1,000 adults found 51 percent agreed that nuclear weapons are “very important” to the country’s national security.  Only 4 percent said they are “not at all important.” Yet the administration is ardently committed to “getting to nuclear zero,” and the way in which the White House is pursuing this vision demonstrates a near total disconnect from mainstream America.

According to Rasmussen, 57 percent of the American public believes the United States should not reduce its nuclear arsenal. Yet the Administration argues that decreasing America’s nuclear stockpile equals a safer United States. Thus, the president’s transmittal letter to the Senate presenting the New START arms control agreement between the United States and Russia asserts: “The Treaty will enhance the national security of the United States. It mandates mutual reductions and limitations on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.”

Such language, paired with arbitrary reductions of nuclear weapons, can foster dangerous misperceptions and miscalculations among our adversaries. It can also produce insecurity among our friends and allies, who may become worried about the strength of U.S. commitments to defend them.

Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Japan have no nuclear weapons of their own.  All rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. But if they begin to perceive the United States as weak, every one of them is capable of rapidly developing their own nuclear capabilities. In an odd twist, the “path to nuclear zero” can lead to increased nuclear proliferation.

Rasmussen also found that only 31 percent of Americans think we should halt nuclear weapons development.  The Obama Administration did not get the memo.  The United States is not producing any new nuclear weapons, nor is it modernizing our aging warheads or delivery systems.

The sad fact is that America’s nuclear weapons infrastructure has been atrophying since the end of the Cold War.  Increasingly, it’s a struggle just to maintain the safety, security, reliability and military effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal.

Elsewhere, it’s a far different situation. Russia and China are busy modernizing their nuclear arsenals and developing new classes of nuclear weapons fitted for the 21st century.

Moscow is developing high-precision, low-yield nuclear weapons and upgrading its RS-24 mobile multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile.  By 2016, the RS-24 will be the mainstay of Russia’s strategic forces.

And the Pentagon’s just-released report to Congress notes that China’s nuclear modernization program is busily expanding production of its DF-31 and DF-31A.  These road-mobile delivery systems can launch missiles capable of striking well within the continental United States.

Only 37 percent of the people polled by Rasmussen think it is “very likely” or even “somewhat likely” that other countries will reduce their nuclear arsenals or rein in their nuclear programs if the U.S. does so first.  And history confirms that to be mere wishful thinking.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have dismantled over 75 percent of their nuclear weapons. Yet nuclear proliferation has continued apace.  Pakistan, India, and North Korea have all developed the bomb.  And states such as Iran and other rogue actors continue to pursue nuclear weapons, despite international opposition.

The Obama Administration’s “road to zero” is a dangerous path. The New START treaty represents yet another step in the wrong direction.  The White House would do far better to heed the voice of the people — and the lessons of history — and reverse course now.

Owen Graham is research and operations coordinator and Michaela Bendikova is research assistant for missile defense in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.