Hyperventilating Over President Obama’s Nuke Policies

Also published here.

Today, in Prague, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev signed a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START. I’ve written quite a bit about New START; in one of my posts, I described it as a “maintenance agreement”. It’s a big deal that they’re signing it, but it’s also routine. It has to be done, and the arms reductions will be maintained, as they were after the first START treaty was signed in 1991.

Since the signing of the treaty was announced last week, and since the Obama administration released the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review on Tuesday, there has been a hell of a lot of misinformation and confusion blurted out across the airwaves and the internet. Some of it was intentional; some of it was just misunderstandings.

It’s the deliberate distortions that I’d like to bring to your attention, especially those perpetuated by the likes of FOX News and garden-variety columnists out there. I’ll just address a couple of points, namely the ones you’re most likely to hear via propagation across Twitter, Facebook, and the blogs.

MYTH: This treaty, and the Nuclear Posture Review, say that the United States is “unilaterally disarming” and Russia gets to keep all their nukes.

That is absolutely untrue. You’d have to have a brain more dense than uranium to think that it’s true.

Here is a summary of the strategic warhead numbers, courtesy of Pavel Podvig (who has literally written the book on the Russian forces) and the White House fact sheet on New START:

2010: operationally deployed launchers
(total launchers)
2020: est. operationally deployed launchers
(total launchers)
2020: est. total warheads
UNITED STATES 798 (897) 686 (797) 1,550
RUSSIA 571 (603) 396 (396) 1,258

It is very important to note that this is only a summary; please go to Podvig’s site, Arms Control Wonk, the Federation of American Scientists, and Nukes of Hazard to see how much more complex it actually is.

My point is this: even by 2020, we are not going to be free of all of our nuclear weapons. Neither will the Russians. We will have plenty left on either side, and those are just the strategic nukes. We still have tactical nuclear weapons on both sides too, which is a topic for another time.

MYTH: The New START Treaty, and the Nuclear Posture Review, will severely limit US missile defense systems.

Here’s a newsflash: regardless of how much controversy Jake Tapper or various columnists tried to stir up before the New START treaty was signed, the truth is that the White House and the State Department have repeatedly stated that, no, the New START treaty will not limit US missile defenses. There is a chance that Russia will issue a unilateral statement, but as of now, no one except the highest-level officials even knows what’s in the treaty, so trying to create drama for the sake of it is irresponsible.

As for the Nuclear Posture Review, it explicitly states that missile defense will be an important part of our defensive posture for years to come (mentioned multiple places in the Nuclear Posture Review report, 72 page pdf).

MYTH: Obama’s policy is “no nukes, period”.

Well, I’ll just point you to the table above, and you’ll see that’s not true. His speech in Prague a year ago has been repeatedly misinterpreted by people on both the left and the right; in summary, yes, he, like Ronald Reagan and a number of other people, thinks the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but he also realizes the reality of the real world, which is that there are a lot of nukes out there, and deterrence is the realistic approach and will remain so for a long time.

MYTH: President Obama does not have the support of top military brass on his nuclear weapons plans.

Not true. I’ll just point you to comments from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Cartwright upon the release of the Nuclear Posture Review. That other important (former military) guy, Secretary of Defense Gates, also has good things to say about the Nuclear Posture Review as well as the New START treaty.

Got all of that?

There will be a lot more distortions as time goes on. I think Rudy Giuliani’s comments over the past few days are just a preview. Media Matters has been on top of some of the things the far right-wingers have been saying.

All in all, I think the hysteria from FOX News that we are somehow “less safe” even though we’re going to have thousands of nuclear weapons on hand for the near future, is pretty ridiculous, but it’s also sinister, because people start to believe it.

Let’s try to keep the fact separate from the fiction, shall we?

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