For these and other reasons, the president is likely to forgo the treaty route in pursuit of an agreement with Russia. Doing so would be inconsistent with the conditions the Senate set for its consent to New START. Yet the president seems determined to go to lower numbers, either by circumventing the formal treaty process with an executive agreement or, if that fails because of Russian objections, by unilateral reductions.
The Obama administration’s intention to “lead by example” reflects its deep ideological commitment to disarmament. No other country is following the U.S. lead. None has followed in adopting a policy of developing no “new nuclear warheads.” None has followed in allowing its nuclear weapons infrastructure to rust out from within as a consequence of budget cuts and policy neglect. And none will be persuaded by the latest presidential endorsement of “nuclear zero.”
More cuts will only increase the risk to U.S. security and that of our allies. Going to 1,000 deployed warheads will further weaken the perception of U.S. capability and resolve held by adversaries and friends alike. It could encourage China to increase its nuclear forces to match those of the United States, as the Russians noted in their initial reaction to the speech. And it would certainly undermine the credibility of U.S. security commitments, contributing to further proliferation and a more dangerous world.
Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy gave a forward-looking but realistic speech in Berlin that offered a more constructive relationship with the Soviet Union. His remarks recognized the United States’ central role in global politics and the essential need for U.S. power. He specifically acknowledged the requirement to fully fund the nuclear arsenal. Kennedy committed the United States to maintaining, in his words, a nuclear capability “second to none.” This policy has been followed by every president until today.
Eric Edelman was undersecretary of defense for policy from 2005 to 2009. Robert Joseph was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2005 to 2007.