By RALPH PETERS
New York Post
April 7, 2010
Nuclear weapons are not evil. Terrifying, yes. But their horrific capabilities prevented a Third World War. It all depends on whose finger is on the button.
Until yesterday's formal announcement of the administration's new Nuclear Posture Review, nukes also kept us safe from a range of threats short of a doomsday scenario: Our enemies risked going only so far. Nukes didn't prevent all wars -- but wars remained local.
Yesterday, we threw away a significant part of history's most successful deterrent.
This looks like an act of reckless vanity on the part of the administration, but let's allow that this weakening of our national defense is the result of misguided idealism. The important thing isn't the politics, but the practical consequences.
Summarizing the changes in a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates looked weary and chastened. The new posture emerged only after months of bitter argument between realists and activists. Without Gates, it would have been even worse.
Still, it must be painful to Gates -- a great American -- to accept that this policy went into effect on his watch.
Of all its malignant provisions, from accomodating Russian demands to preventing overdue updates for our arsenal, the most worrisome is the public declaration that, if the US suffers a biological, chemical or massive cyber attack, we will not respond with nukes.
This is a very real -- and unilateral -- weakening of our national security. In the past, our ambiguity made our enemies hesitate. The new policy guarantees that they'll intensify their pursuit of bugs, gas and weaponized computers.
Intending to halt a nuclear arms race, we've fired the starter pistol for a rush to develop alternative weapons of mass destruction.
Will this policy be the inspiration for an engineered plague that someday scythes through humankind? Chemical attacks are horrible, but local; cyber attacks are potentially devastating. But an innovative virus unleashed on the world could do what Cold War nuclear arsenals never did: Kill hundreds of millions.
This change leaves us far less safe. If a thug has a knife, but knows you're packing a gun, he's considerably less likely to attack you. Why promise him that you won't use the gun -- and might not use your knife?
Idealism has devolved into madness.
The left has never been willing to accept that deterrence works. In the left's world-view, hostile foreign actors aren't the problem. We are. If we disarm, surely they will . . .
This no-nukes obsession dates back to the early Cold War, when the Soviets used every available means, from dollars to earnest dupes, to persuade Western leftists that America's nuclear weapons were about to wipe out humanity. The USSR couldn't expand its European empire in the face of US nukes -- so the Soviets brilliantly portrayed us as the aggressors. (And the left praised Stalin as a man of peace.)
Massive ban-the-bomb demonstrations filled Western streets for decades (but not the streets behind the Iron Curtain). The left rejected deterrence as a security model.
The seeds sown by the deceased USSR put down durable roots. Pursuing a nuke-free world became a litmus test for the left.
Now we have a president who's taken on that goal as his personal grail. He's absolutely right that nukes have horrifying power -- but the paradox of deterrence is that, the more monstrous the weapons you possess, the less likely you are to ever need to employ them.
The new policy won't stop Iran and other rogue states from pursuing nukes (even though Iran and North Korea were singled out as policy exceptions). But it will accelerate the proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction. And it certainly won't reduce the probability of war.
It will also ensure that our aging arsenal will have to be content with a few Band-Aids; that we won't develop new, safer nuclear weapons -- and that we'll increasingly have to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Idealists just invited the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ride a little closer.
Ralph Peters' new book is "Endless War."