When I was a little girl, at the height of the Cold War, I used to wish, deeply and fervently, that nuclear weapons had never been invented. An accompanying fantasy placed me at the center of world events. Just as the two superpowers were preparing to launch a devastating exchange of nuclear weapons, I would step between the two. Seeing an innocent child, the hard-boiled men of the world would soften and reconsider their terrible course.
In other words, at the age of seven or eight, I was a liberal. As I grew, I came to understand a) that it was not possible to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle; and b) that the way to safety lay not in arms control but in strength prudently pursued.
Liberal approaches to foreign policy continue to rely more on wishful thinking than on realism or maturity. But even in the context of liberalism, President Obama’s recent policy declarations on the matter of nuclear weapons are juvenile and disturbing.
Speaking in Prague, the president declared, “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Has the president really thought this through? Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that all of the existing nuclear powers agreed that their weapons were more of a threat to “peace and security” than they were worth, and voluntarily destroyed them all. Would the world immediately become a safer place? No. It would become far more dangerous. The North Koreans would have lied about destroying their weapons, just as they lied repeatedly, for years, about building them. So, one outcome might be that North Korea would instantly become a superpower. And surely the prospect of becoming nuclear-armed would be all the more enticing to the mullahs of Iran if only North Korea would be in possession of similar weapons. Who would want to live in that world?
“I’m not naïve,” the president continued. “This goal will not be reached quickly. . . . But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’” That’s security policy by bumper sticker.
The president followed up in April by signing a pact with Russia limiting warheads and launchers, and is now planning to sign a new pact on civilian nuclear cooperation.
At the same time, the administration announced in its Nuclear Posture Review that the U.S. will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “This revised assurance is intended to underscore the security benefits of adhering to and fully complying with the NPT and persuade non-nuclear weapon states party to the Treaty to work with the United States and other interested parties to adopt effective measures to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.”
So as Iran closes in on a nuclear weapon — a result the administration has repeatedly declared to be “unacceptable” — the administration is getting really serious by . . . setting a good example. That’s right. Last week, the State Department revealed the number of nuclear weapons in our arsenal (it used to be classified). “We think it is in our national-security interest to be as transparent as we can about the nuclear program of the United States,” Secretary Clinton explained. “We think that builds confidence.” Ah, but whose confidence?
Underlying all of these naïve gestures is the belief that it is weapons that threaten the peace, not their owners.
But not even naïveté can explain the administration’s infatuation with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Last week, President Obama agreed to join the other four permanent members of the Security Council in a statement calling for a “nuclear free Middle East” and urging Israel, Pakistan, and India to submit to the treaty’s terms.
This is a fatuous distraction from the main issue — Iran. It is also a transparent attempt to gang up on Israel (whose nuclear weapons, it is well known, serve only a defensive purpose). But above all, it ignores the glaring fact that the treaty has been a total failure. North Korea signed the treaty, flouted it, and then withdrew. India and Pakistan never signed it. Syria did, and Israel destroyed a secret nuclear reactor there in 2007. Iran signed it.
Speaking to the NPT Review Conference in New York on May 3, President Obama said, “For four decades, the NPT has been the cornerstone of our collective efforts to prevent the proliferation of these weapons. . . . I therefore made it a priority of the United States to strengthen each of the treaty’s key pillars.” In a child, naïveté about world peace is understandable. In a leader, it is frightening.