By U.S. Senator Deb Fischer
June 27, 2013

The Brandenburg Gate served as an iconic backdrop for the 20th-century struggle between freedom and oppression. Standing before the gate in the long shadow of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, President Barack Obama made a remarkable — and indeed a historic — announcement last week that could drastically alter the course of the 21st century for the United States and our allies.

Before thousands of German citizens, the president announced our nation was effectively abandoning the long-standing policy of “peace through strength.” Instead, Obama pledged to pursue a policy of “peace with justice.” “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream might be,” Obama explained. Reducing our nuclear arsenal by one-third, he argued, brought us closer to this lofty goal.

Following the president’s speech, the Pentagon quickly released a report on the new nuclear strategy, which succeeded in making one thing clear: The world is increasingly unstable. It states, “the risk of nuclear attack has increased”; it cites nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation as key threats; and it expresses concern with Russian and Chinese nuclear modernization and the “growth of China’s nuclear arsenal.”

In an age of persistent nuclear proliferation, it is puzzling as to why the commander in chief would endorse shedding a third of our deterrent power. Responsible national security policy requires a realistic recognition of the world as it is, not as we hope it to be.

It is naive to believe terrorists and rogue nations will be swayed by the philosophical righteousness some may attach to the president’s new policy. And count me among the skeptics in believing that China or Russia will abandon its own nuclear modernization plans.

Moreover, deep reductions in strategic weapons could actually undermine the stability that characterizes current force levels. Russia is estimated to maintain several thousand tactical nuclear weapons, which are exempted from current arms reduction agreements, compared with a few hundred such devices in U.S. inventories.

The Department of Defense report notes, “large disparities in nuclear capabilities could raise concerns … and may not be conducive to maintaining a stable, long-term strategic relationship, especially as nuclear forces are significantly reduced.” In short, as the number of strategic weapons diminishes, other nuclear weapons become more important. When potential adversaries hold greater numbers of these weapons, the U.S. and our allies are less secure.

Perhaps the president is motivated by cost reductions — a pitch to fiscal conservatives like me — reasoning that fewer weapons could save us tax dollars. This, too, is unconvincing. Testifying earlier this year before the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Water, Don Cook, the deputy administrator for Defense Programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, stated that “not much savings will be achieved” by nuclear reductions. I received similar assessments
from the directors of our national weapons labs.

Some argue deep cuts are necessary because nuclear weapons pose a threat to humanity. Lesser is better, they insist. The president suggested a similar view in his Berlin speech: “So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.” I disagree.

Our freedom, security and prosperity are all contingent upon the United States maintaining a position of unquestioned strength. Since World War II, nuclear weapons have provided the bulwark of American national security. Nuclear deterrence is not academic; it is real. For example, the administration’s recent decision to order a nuclear-capable aircraft to the Korean region earlier this year clearly reaffirmed the power and
relevance of our nuclear deterrent.

The president also failed to acknowledge his previous commitments to nuclear modernization. When the Senate ratified New START in 2010, the president pledged to provide critical funding to modernize our aging nuclear forces (some still have 1960s vacuum tubes) and supporting laboratories. The reasoning was clear: As we retain fewer weapons, we must exponentially increase our confidence in their ability to fully function — deterrence depends on it. This promised funding has not materialized.

The Senate should not consider additional arms reductions when we have not achieved the modernization guaranteed in exchange for the last round of cuts to the arsenal.

Despite the president’s pledge to pursue the “dream” of a world without nuclear weapons, the truth is that dreams don’t always match reality. The frigid reception from Kremlin officials to Obama’s call for further Russian nuclear reductions was telling. Moreover, history has proved the current Russian president isn’t exactly a good-faith

It’s no secret that we live in a dangerous world and national security decisions must be made to bolster — not weaken — our ability to counter a growing array of threats. A strong, safe America requires a nuclear deterrent that is modern and effective, not aging and depleted. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously warned, “This is no time to go wobbly.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)