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Pajamas Media: Obama’s Non-Nuclear World

October 2, 2007

My favorite blogger, Wretchard of The Belmont Club, looks at Barack Obama’s plan for a world without nukes:

Pajamas Media: Obama’s Non-Nuclear World

It’s a serious response to a serious sounding proposal, very much in the vein of unintended consequences. Wretchard elaborates further in the comments:

The problem is that the focus of the [non-proliferation treaty] has already been one of preventing the production of fissile material for weapons. That is precisely what international pressure has trying to achieve with Iran with so little success to date. If the international community, led by nuclear-armed states cannot now compel Iran not to produce fissile material under the current NPT how can plans be laid to enforce the ban on fissile materials with the current great powers substantially disarmed? If you cannot do it while you are strong why should you succeed when you are weak? One must ask whether the prohibition of fissile materials production is better achieved by an America wielding a big stick or one in which it has put down the stick and hopes others will follow by example.

Finally, the reason current US arsenals depend on a Triad (bomber, land missile, submarine missile) is to ensure that the nation’s retaliatory power cannot be taken out in a few hits. And as weapons numbers decrease (as Obama plans) an element of instability will eventually creep into the deterrence. Care must be taken so that all weapons holdings go down together, otherwise someone may hold back until US weapons numbers are low enough to “go for it”.

None of this is to say that removing nuclear weapons from the world is necessarily a bad idea, but it can lead in certain circumstances, to a more dangerous world, not a safer one.

The problem with ideas like the one Obama is proposing is not that they are obviously wrong but they sound so appealing. Even I am tempted to hope that if we just believe hard enough, all the bad stuff will go away. But we all know that even if we put away our scary stuff, our enemies will not.

The idea of “putting down the big stick on the hopes others will follow by example” is doubly appealing for a Christian who believes in a God who came in weakness and gave himself for others. The flower-power ethic of the baby boomer generation will also ensure that this is an idea that will not go away easily.

What I’m really hearing in Obama’s proposal is ultimately more of a expression of a disposition rather than anything that will result in something like a concrete change in our nuclear arsenal. For if he really means that the disarmament will not be unilateral, then he means that disarmament on our part will never happen, because the drive to possess nuclear weapons is increasing, not decreasing in the world. Obama just means to say, if I take him correctly, that he really wishes they would go away, as contradistinct from say, the Republicans. It’s an emotional statement that would have no real-world impact, and part of the reason I consider him to be such a shallow yet appealing candidate.

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