Trump should undo Obama’s disastrous nuclear policies

Over the past quarter-century, America’s nuclear weapons capability has deteriorated to a grave degree. We are at high risk in a dangerous world. The Trump administration must take two actions to initiate our recovery – one immediate, one follow-on.

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the U.S. nuclear weapons capability was superb, unequalled in the world. As the Soviet Union collapsed after 46 years of threatened global thermonuclear war, it seemed no enemies were in sight. America relaxed. We reduced our defense budget and looked forward to a peace dividend. We declared a nuclear freeze and ceased all work on new nuclear weapons.

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Seventeen years later, Obama became president, and for the next eight years America’s goal was to lead humanity to “a world without nuclear weapons.” The U.S. nuclear capability was actually forced backward. That’s where we are today. Our nuclear weapons are long past the end of their design life. Since they were all designed specifically for mutual assured destruction, they’re unable to deter many of today’s most serious nuclear threats. We don’t even have the production facilities needed to produce new nukes.

 

Unfortunately, during these same years the rest of the world moved in the opposite direction. Russia and China have vastly modernized and increased their nuclear arsenals, making scientific breakthroughs in several areas. Both are aggressively expanding, Russia westward, China eastward, while making nuclear threats. India and Pakistan have also improved and increased their nuclear forces, and they are currently in conventional conflict. North Korea and Iran – rogue states – have been driving to produce nukes for over two decades, and they’re on the verge of success. The Mideast is in total chaos, and terrorists of every description are seeking nuclear weapons.

It sure seems as though someone should do something.

The immediate step needed is for the president to clarify, for Americans and for the world, just exactly what our national goal is. In 2009, President Obama publicly declared it was America’s objective to reduce and eventually abandon our nuclear weapons to encourage other nations to give up theirs. He worked very hard at it, and he made great progress – here.

The “crown jewels” of our nuclear weapons complex (scientists and engineers with extensive experience in testing nuclear weapons) are gone. What young person with advanced technical degrees wants to be a curator in a nuclear museum? Obama succeeded in moving America backward, but he failed in every other nuclear nation. We must be realists. Nuclear weapons aren’t going away – ever.

President Trump must immediately issue an executive order making it clear that henceforth, nuclear weapons will be the preeminent foundation of America’s national security. Unsurpassed nuclear weapons strength – not weakness – must be our goal.  The twelve presidents before Obama, six from each party, all established a similar, or stronger, policy.

Trump’s follow-on action must be to guide the Nuclear Posture Review (which he has already ordered). 

America is entering an entirely new era, and we should have a totally new Nuclear Posture Review. It must establish – clearly and concisely – U.S. national policy for nuclear weapons. Obama’s NPR took 15 months to write, and the unclassified version is 68 pages long. The Trump NPR is needed within a few months, and the unclassified version should be less than ten pages in length. Since Obama’s version was focused totally on “a world without nuclear weapons,” nothing about it is applicable, and it should NOT be used as a starting point, or model, in any sense. Start with a clean sheet.

The Trump NPR should emphasize the following, in rough priority order.

Firstly, and with high priority, we should totally re-build American nuclear deterrent capability.

Second, we should immediately resume underground nuclear testing, and publicly urge the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China to do likewise. The world’s only hope for long-term coexistence with nuclear weapons lies in having these five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council rigorously ENFORCE nonproliferation, with military force, collegially or individually. The number of nuclear weapons states must never exceed the current eight.

Third, initial nuclear testing should focus on the three over-age warheads on which we now depend most heavily. This should be followed by research and development of advanced and specialized warheads for today’s and tomorrow’s deterrent needs.  

Fourth, a robust plutonium pit production facility must be built, with round-the-clock work.

Fifth, design and production of these new nuclear weapons should be accomplished as rapidly as possible. We will eventually replace our entire current stockpile with new-design weapons.

And finally, the Defense Department must be totally “re-nuclearized.” The Defense Nuclear Agency should be re-established, to lead the recovery of the vital military science of nuclear weapon effects, including this Department’s underground nuclear testing.

Obama’s NPR reduced – ill-advisedly – the role of U.S. nuclear weapons. It prohibited nuclear testing. It prohibited development of new nuclear weapons. It prohibited any new nuclear missions. It prohibited any new nuclear capabilities. It establishes the totally unacceptable “negative security assurances.” And it praised the disastrous New START Treaty and promised reductions in the number of weapons. None of these should be included, in any form, in the Trump NPR.

Robert R. Monroe, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is a former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.


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