James Carroll penned a great op-ed about a little-noticed document slipped into the president’s in-box as the financial meltdown distracted everyone:
Last week’s financial metaphor was also last week’s all but ignored real problem, as America was encouraged to take a large step in the direction of the ultimate meltdown of nuclear war. Over the signatures of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, the government released the statement “National Security and Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century.” In brief, the two officials argue that the time has come for the development of a new nuclear weapon, the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead. Because “nuclear weapons remain an essential and enduring element” of American military strategy, the aging arsenal of several thousand deployed nukes (and many more “stored”) must be replaced.
Gates-Bodman are correct to want this issue on top of the next administration’s agenda, and they are correct in their implicit argument that the time has come for US ambivalence to end. But they are dead wrong in how to end it.
The world was given a rare second chance on the nuclear horror when the unlikely Ronald Reagan joined Mikhail Gorbachev in proposing abolition. That second chance is not quite gone. What has to happen now is clear. In the near term, no new weapons. The nuclear arsenal must quickly be reduced to minimal levels (dozens or hundreds, not thousands). Against Gates-Bodman, who see nuclear weapons as deterring against conventional assaults (nukes as just another weapon), the United States must reaffirm that nukes deter against nukes, period. This weapon is in a class by itself, which requires the long-overdue adoption of “no first use.” And against Gates-Bodman, who imagine, if deterrence fails, an actual use of nuclear weapons to “defeat” an enemy, the United States must return to the Cold War recognition that once nuclear war begins, all notions of victory and defeat are meaningless. That is why it is urgent, for the longer term, that Washington reaffirm the policy that began with Truman – that these weapons are to be eliminated as soon as possible.