Before the week is over you’ll hear a lot of liberals calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by a new nickname: “Doctor Strangelove.” The Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review — “NPR” — is not a plan to stop worrying and love the bomb. Rather, it evolves the way we look at nuclear weapons — how and when to use them, and how to defend against them — beyond Cold War dogma. Rumsfeld’s report says that nuclear war is possible in too many places. Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea and Libya are among the most likely. An Iraq-Israel fight could escalate to nuclear all too quickly. Rumsfeld wants the president to be able to deal with these threats. He’s no Dr. Strangelove, just one hell of a realist.
Nuclear weapons have been with us for almost fifty years. They have been used only twice, both times by us, to end World War II. The fact that nuclear weapons have not been used since then was the MAD — mutual assured destruction — doctrine of deterrence. Neither we nor the Soviets used nukes because each had the power to destroy the other in response, and nobody had a defense against massive retaliation.
MAD no longer works. Nine-Eleven proved that America’s nuclear deterrent doesn’t deter terrorists and others who rightly believe that we cannot use nukes to retaliate against anonymous killers. Deterrence only works when the attacker is sure that the guy being hit will know where the attack came from. It also only works against nations, not terrorist groups who fade into the hills and don’t give a damn if you nuke somebody’s capital. The new NPR — a top-secret report to Congress leaked to the press last week — recognizes the death of MAD and puts nuclear weapons on the table as tools to respond to — and to attack — new categories of threats.
George Senior built the foundation for that strategy in 1991 when he warned Saddam that use of chemical or biological weapons against our troops in the Gulf War would trigger a no-holds-barred response. Even Saddam wasn’t too dense to know that this was a promise to nuke Baghdad if he used weapons of mass destruction. Right after that war, Gen. Chuck Horner, who had been Air Boss in the Gulf War, wrote that he expected that our enemies in the Middle East would not attack us again without the use of WMD. According to the Pentagon report, 12 nations have nukes, 28 have ballistic missiles, 13 have biological weapons, and 16 have chemical weapons. There is a list of bad guys who will use WMD if they can. Saddam isn’t alone on it: the Iranians have said they’ll use a nuke on Israel if they can. Can anyone doubt that Osama bin Laden and other terrorists will use one against us as soon as they can? There is an obvious need for a new operational doctrine, and a new deterrent that can reach these threats.
Rumsfeld’s new plan takes George Senior’s threat to the next logical step. Part of what we do is to adapt our nuclear weapons technology to be able to use it. The NPR says that new low-yield nukes should be developed to destroy deeply-buried hard targets that can’t be reached by conventional weapons. If such weapons can be developed, and used without any significant collateral damage, there is no reason they should not be used. The moral bar against using them — the wanton destruction of innocent lives — would be removed. Think about that. It’s hard to get around.
Against ballistic missile attack, we will deploy a defense. It won’t be perfect, but it will so reduce the likelihood of a successful strike that nations such as China will not attempt suicide by attacking us openly. But the not-so-open threats, including the small nuclear weapon that can be smuggled across our borders, pose a threat that no one has been able to answer.
When the Chinese got a good look at the technology of our W-88 warhead, they got all they needed to produce a truly awesome weapon that will fit into grandpa’s two-suiter. That technology is just one of several, including a Russian suitcase-sized bomb that was perfected in the 1960s. Lord knows who has these things by now, how many are being made, or how many are already on the loose. I believe that within the next two or three years, a weapon like that will be smuggled into the United States. Unless we take action to find and destroy these weapons before they come here, it is likely that one will be detonated in a major city. This is the most urgent national security problem we face.
In an oblique reference to just that problem, the NPR plans the use of major nuclear weapons in response to “surprising military developments.” Retaliation is fine if you know who to bomb. But we need to stop these weapons before they kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. There are only a couple of things we can do. First, we need to take a crack at creating a deterrent that will address the new threat. We should announce that nations exporting nuclear terror shall be attacked, both preemptively and in retaliation, with whatever weapons we think necessary to terminate the threat. Permanently. If we can make the threat credible enough, then maybe nations who pay for and export terror — the whole pig pen full of them — will have a motive to end their support of it, and take tough measures to stop what is going on within their own borders. That’s hard saying, but we can’t expect these guys to heed the warning if we don’t give one.
Second, we need to turn our intelligence resources to the task. I’m sure we are already devoting enormous resources to this, but unless and until we locate and destroy the porta-nukes that are out there, and make sure no more are being made, we face the greatest danger to our homeland that we have ever faced. Whatever it takes, wherever we need to go, we have to neutralize the weapons and the people who mean to use them before they can take an enormous number of American lives.
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