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April 10, 2014

U.S. Nuclear Cuts Announced Just as Russia Flexes Muscle

New START compliance announcement is poorly timed at best.

In December 2010, the U.S. Senate ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, known as New START. Barack Obama was so bent on pushing it through while Democrats still had a sizeable majority that it became the first treaty ratified by a lame-duck Senate. It was an essential part of Obama’s “reset” with Russia, after all, and it was also a fine example of the kind of “flexibility” he wanted to offer his buddy Vladimir Putin more than a year before he made those comments.

The treaty, as we wrote at the time, is “woefully inadequate in the ‘trust but verify’ department, and it could critically hobble our missile defense.” But if there’s anything Obama wants to do more than weaken the U.S. military generally, it’s his lifelong goal to specifically disarm the U.S. of nuclear weapons.

So, fast forward to April 2014 and Obama has finally found a law that he’ll work to keep as-is. To comport with New START, Reuters reports, “[T]he U.S. military will disable four missile launch tubes on each of the 14 U.S. nuclear submarines, convert 30 B-52 nuclear bombers to conventional use and empty 50 intercontinental ballistic missile silos, senior administration officials said. The Pentagon, however, will not retire a missile squadron as some lawmakers had expected.” The treaty has other caps that Obama will work toward as well.

Worse, writes The Wall Street Journal, “To the surprise of defense analysts, the Pentagon will make the sharpest cuts in the submarine and bomber legs of the nuclear triad, while mostly preserving the silo-based Minuteman ICBMs. This means that the U.S. will maintain a stationary, and vulnerable, nuclear force on the ground while largely dismantling what remains of our second-strike capability at sea and in the air. A crucial part of deterrence is convincing an adversary that you can survive a first strike. It does not help U.S. security to dismantle the most survivable part of the U.S. arsenal.”

Are the Russians holding up their end of the bargain? That depends on trusting Putin and being able to verify what he says. Moscow has violated the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and we doubt New START is any different.

The Obama administration’s announced cuts may have been determined by the treaty three years ago, but the announcement comes at a particularly inopportune time – not to mention four years before compliance is required. You might recall that Putin is making moves toward rebuilding the Soviet sphere, if not the empire, by seizing Crimea from Ukraine and making further advances in eastern Ukraine. In short, he is flexing his muscles and showing strength while the U.S. is projecting weakness. Obama can claim all he wants that it’s Putin who’s acting out of weakness, but Obama’s only fooling his own sycophants.

Furthermore, why make the effort? Even Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia who is the self-described author of the “reset” policy, admitted this week, “The reset ended a long time ago.” A stopped clock is right twice a day.

The bottom line problem is not necessarily the specific number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal, though we certainly ought not to have an inferior nuclear stock to Russia – even more so if it’s only a “regional power” as Obama claims. The U.S. must maintain a level of military readiness that is sufficient to secure peace. Unfortunately, Obama has disarmed America simply by virtue of his position as commander in chief.

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