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January 29, 2016

When ‘Going Nuclear’ Isn’t an Option

U.S. nuclear deterrent capability is rapidly waning, with no remedy in sight.

One of the ultimate underwriters of U.S. global power and national security is the capability of its nuclear arsenal. Rogue states, nations that sponsor terrorism as a matter of policy, and openly belligerent countries are all held in check by the threat of America’s nuclear power, which holds the definitive answer to such nations’ use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). As most international arms experts concur, without this worldwide deterrent against states large enough to back large-scale terrorist organizations, these organizations’ use of WMD would be substantially more likely and considerably less restrained. Given this, we’d like to think our federal government would be first in line to safeguard and maintain this arsenal. But we would be wrong.

We recently learned from a top Obama administration official that U.S. nuclear deterrent capability is rapidly waning, with no remedy in sight. In a letter not released to the public, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz asked White House budget director Shaun Donovan to revise the fiscal 2017 budget proposal, effectively implying that the nation’s nuclear capabilities were at stake as a result of a projected $5.2 billion shortfall, which as yet has not properly been addressed in the budget. Even Moniz, normally a reliable shill for the administration, has recognized the critical importance of the shortfall.

In the arcane language of government financial programming, this problem is known as “broken glass”: a program that is “unexecutable” — i.e., dead — without additional funding. In this case, that’s a lot of glass. Some of the critical infrastructure Moniz references in his missive includes the roughly half of all nuclear facilities that are approaching half-century-old milestones, as well as the geriatric strategic computer systems that bear directly on the efficacy and reliability of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Of course, there’s also the fact of the aging ballistic sub fleet; the more-than-half-century-old B-52 fleet; the halting of new warhead design, construction and testing by the administration’s peace-at-all-costs arms-control wonks; and a host of other “minor” issues associated with U.S. nuclear surety, but we don’t want to haggle over a few billion dollars’ worth of restoration to critical national defense. We’ll simply note in passing that all of them have been ignored for the better part of a decade, and we’ll leave it at that.

Apart from the criminally negligent abandonment associated with the commander in chief’s most important job — namely, protecting the nation — are the outright lies. Recall in the 2010 “New” Start Treaty with Russia, His Worldpeacedness secured Senate ratification to a 30% cut in warheads only after the Senate made him promise to modernize existing warheads and facilities. Setting aside the foolhardiness of relying on an unsecured future promise from anyone in the Obama administration — let alone from the head of the rotting fish itself — not only did Obama break his word to the Senate, but he has also accelerated the decline of the very warheads and facilities he promised to modernize.

As evidence, witness the testimony of Obama’s former secretary of defense, Bob Gates, who last fall told Congress that Obama’s “political aspiration” is “to get rid of nuclear weapons.” Obama hasn’t changed much since he was a dope-smoking young peacenik. As a result, then-Secretary Gates was unable even to “[try] to make the ones that we already have more reliable and safer.”

Notwithstanding the current crisis, the bigger question is, who, if anyone, will fix it? With “The Donald” not even knowing what the “nuclear triad” is — forgivable for a layman, but a presidential candidate? — and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders unwilling to preserve the remainder of that triad, we have little reason for optimism. And what if, in the dead of some otherwise calm night, an “unscheduled sunrise” suddenly appears over an American city in the not-too-distant future? Then all bets are off. What will we respond with then?

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