The United States has a long history of not dealing effectively with different cultures, and this inability is about to be compounded by a change to its long-standing nuclear use doctrine. The present U.S. administration appears readying to make an end-run around the Congress in order to make “no first use” the official policy regarding American nuclear weapons. Given North Korea’s nuclear posture, that appears a very bad idea at this time.
The impetus behind the Obama administration push to declare that the U.S. would not ever use nuclear weapons first is a desire to create something for his legacy. But in a thought-provoking essay from the prestigious Brookings Institute, two East Asian policy experts expose the faults of such an endeavor: for such a legacy would come at the expense of world stability in general and in Northeast Asia in particular.
It is understandable that this effort comes in the final months of Obama’s administration, for his preceding seven-plus years have been unmitigated foreign policy disasters. As examples, Obama’s so-called red line in Syria has been breached so often that it is no longer news. His “breakthrough” in Cuba is no diplomatic achievement, for the chilly rapprochement is due to the desire for American tourist dollars. The nuclear accord with Iran is breaking down as that country continues with its missile tests and seeks more nuclear equipment.
So to compensate for those failures, Obama wants to rewrite U.S. nuclear doctrine as the capstone of his presidency.
Declaring that the U.S. renounces the first use of nuclear weapons emboldens our enemies, undermines the deterrence of nuclear weapons, and destabilizes international relations in key areas of the globe. It is akin to showing all your cards to your opponents in a high stakes game of Texas Hold ’Em poker.
Stated bluntly, it is just plain dumb. This is no legacy; it is a blueprint for misadventure.
A WAY TO A REALLY BAD DEAL
War is not pretty and it is naïve to think of it as something civilized because it is supposedly bounded by accords and constrained by conventions. There is an old English proverb that these days is most often phrased as, “When there is a will, there is a way,” meaning that if a person wants something bad enough, a way to get it will be found. There is a corollary, however, that states if a person wants a deal badly enough, what the person will get is a really bad deal.
The current U.S. president needs something to establish a positive legacy, a legacy that is currently devoid of any constructive international achievement. A self-confessed advocate of a nuclear-free world, Obama’s intention to change U.S. nuclear policy to one of no first use is in hopes that other nations would follow suit. The ones that might do so are not the ones we need to worry about in the first place. The ones that we do need to be concerned with are those that are the least likely to reciprocate in abandoning their nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
In light of Kim Jong Un’s threats of using his own nuclear weapons, no first use is a very foolish step
That makes for a really bad deal. No right-thinking nation in the world of today announces the conditions under which it would use one of its most powerful weapons. In light of Kim Jong Un’s threats of using his own nuclear weapons, it is a very foolish step.
There seems to be difficulty in discriminating between when Pyongyang is merely posturing and when it is issuing a valid warning. Rattlesnakes often rattle before they strike and occasionally they rattle without striking – but they sometimes strike without rattling. Do we fully understand how this is analogous to North Korea?
THE TRUTHS OF WAR
The Geneva Accords attempt to inject a bit of civility into an inherently uncivilized activity. Often referred to as the Rules of Warfare, the Accords establish limits on hostile actions and behavior during a war. Those limits are often enough, however, in conflict with the very purposefulness of war, for which there are two fundamental truths:
Truth 1. The only way to wage war is to win.
Truth 2. There are no exceptions to Truth 1.
These elementary truths ought to be self-evident, for if any would-be belligerent sees that a potential conflict is unwinnable, then the rational state would take action to avoid that war at practically all costs. After all, why start something that would end in defeat?
Further, it should be obvious that in any diplomatic effort, one does not take negotiating points off the table before discussions have even begun, and one does not reveal one’s fallback position until the end game – and then only if necessary for successful negotiations. It should be equally obvious that one does not disclose weapons strategies at any time – not before, not during, not even after conflict, for there will always be another enemy at another time to deal with.
It is imperative that Kim Jong Un is made to understand that he faces the destructive power of our entire weapons arsenal at all times when it comes to threatening the U.S. or its allies with a “sea of fire.” One reason that nuclear deterrence has worked up until now – and no one can say that it has not – is that enemy countries of the U.S. did not know one way or the other whether the U.S. would employ nuclear weapons first, either during hostilities or preemptively.
It is imperative that Kim Jong Un is made to understand that he faces the destructive power of our entire weapons arsenal at all times
WAITING FOR THE NEXT COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF
It has been that uncertainty about first use that makes an enemy think twice about engaging the U.S. in war. In case the point is missed, this is precisely why Pyongyang is working feverishly to perfect its nuclear weapons – they may already have achieved that – and the delivery systems for those devices.
The current U.S. Commander-in-Chief is only the latest in a long line of putative statesmen who, despite having risen to the pinnacle of American politics, still lacked substantive skills with regard to international affairs. Life in much of the West has become easy, and its citizens are often a reflection of that. We need another Greatest Generation, one just a bit more like the Spartans than the Athenians of more than two millennia ago. Perhaps the next U.S. president will have the requisite intelligence, leadership, and resolve.
Headline image: U.S. Navy, modified by NK News
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