Oops. Late last Friday afternoon POLITICO discovered that a draft copy of the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) 2012 platform had been posted on the RNC’s website.
The National Security Network’s superstar leader Heather Hurlburt has already thoroughly dissected the national security section, and while portions of it are surprisingly reasonable, much of it is unsurprisingly ridiculous. The platform’s discussion of nuclear weapons and missile defense falls under the “ridiculous” category. The Kyl/Turner wing of the GOP appears to have co-opted the RNC on these issues.
Below is a quick response to the subsection titled “Nuclear Forces and Missile Defense Imperiled”, with the original text in italics.
We recognize that the gravest terror threat we face–a nuclear attack made possible by nuclear proliferation–requires a comprehensive strategy for reducing the world’s nuclear stockpiles and preventing the spread of those armaments. But the U.S. can lead that effort only if it maintains an effective strategic arsenal at a level sufficient to fulfill its deterrent purposes, a notable failure of the current Administration.
Me: Read separately from the second sentence, the first sentence of the opening paragraph appears as if it could have been written by Nukes of Hazard (and it also happens to be true). Alas, the virtues of this statement are quickly squandered by the implication that the Obama administration is not sustaining “an effective strategic arsenal to fulfill its deterrent purpose.” What the hell does that mean? That US adversaries are not deterred and US allies are not assured by the current US arsenal of approximately 5,000 nuclear weapons? That the United States must build more nuclear weapons? Good luck convincing other nuclear powers such as Russia and eventually China to meaningfully reduce their stockpiles absent US reciprocity. In any event, the number of US military leaders who believe that the current US arsenal is not “sufficient to fulfill its deterrent purposes” is very small. The same goes for leaders in Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang.
The United States is the only nuclear power not modernizing its nuclear stockpile. It took the current Administration just one year to renege on the President’s commitment to modernize the neglected infrastructure of the nuclear weapons complex—a commitment made in exchange for approval of the New START Treaty. In tandem with this, the current Administration has systematically undermined America’s missile defense, abandoning the missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, reducing the number of planned interceptors in Alaska, and cutting the budget for missile defense. In an embarrassing open microphone discussion with former Russian President Medvedev, the current President made clear that, if he wins a second term, he intends to exercise “more flexibility” to appease Russia, which means further undermining our missile defense capabilities. A Republican President will be honest and forthright with the American people about his policies and plans and not whisper promises to authoritarian leaders.
Me: Ah, my favorite red herring of red herrings: “The United States is the only nuclear power not modernizing its nuclear stockpile.” This is a gross distortion, as I first argued in 2009; before the Obama administration pledged to devote still more resources and attention to the nuclear weapons enterprise.(UPDATE 8/29: Examples of this modernization include the B61 life extension program, the Ohio Class replacement program, and life extension programs for the Minuteman III ICBMs and Trident II D-5 missiles. The list goes on.) Nor has the administration reneged on this commitment. The FY 2013 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons activities account is an increase of $363 million above last year’s level – no small feat given that many other security and non-security programs suffered decreases. As Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta noted in a recent joint report to Congress: “We fully support the FY 2013 budget request for NNSA, which is reasonable, responsible, meets military requirements, and maintains funding for the most critical programs and capabilities.” And let’s not forget that last year House Republican appropriators cut the administration’s budget request for this account!
And then there’s another one of my favorite misrepresentations: the charge that the Obama administration abandoned the missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic to appease Russia. This is among Romney’s go-to criticisms of the administration’s national security policy. The reality of course is that the Czech government was unwilling to approve the radar necessary for the 10 interceptors that were to be placed in Poland, the schedule for the planned deployment was moving to the right, the proposed interceptors had not even been built, much less tested, and the system would have left most of Europe unprotected from Iran’s existing short and medium-range ballistic missiles. As Heather notes, the administration instead put together an alternate plan based on interceptors/radars that actually exist and to initially combat threats that actually exist in an attempt to rectify these problems. (UPDATE 8/30: And recall that Poland is slated to host interceptors as part of this alternate plan.)
Like candidate Romney, the RNC also claims that the Obama administration has underfunded U.S. national missile defense programs. The reality is that the President continues to robustly fund this program (also known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system). The administration’s budget request for missile defense programs this year is $9.7 billion, including approximately $900 million for the ground-based midcourse defense system. This is an enormous investment. By their own admission, adding additional millions to the budget would not allow military leaders to accelerate solving the technical problems that continue to plague national missile defense.
A strong and effective strategic arsenal is still necessary as a deterrent against competitors like Russia or China. But the danger in this age of asymmetric or non-traditional warfare comes from other quarters as well. With unstable regimes in Iran and North Korea determined to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States, with the possibility that a terrorist group could gain control of a nuclear weapon, it is folly abandon a missile shield for the country.
Me: Leaving aside the fact that the administration is robustly pursuing missile defense, the RNC is right to be wary that a terrorist group could get its hands on a nuclear weapon, but it would be highly unlikely to deliver it via a ballistic missile. Moreover, US intelligence and military leaders do not believe that the Iranians have made the decision “to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of reaching the United States.”