Learning to Love the Bomb — Again

Perhaps the height of Official Washington’s madness is the casual decision to invest $1 trillion in a new generation of nukes, including a downsized, easy-to-use variety, with almost no debate, a danger that Michael Brenner addresses.

By Michael Brenner

By now we are accustomed to bizarre foreign policy moves from the White House. The last 15 years have seen a series of initiatives that defy reason and good sense. The pattern is so well established that on the very rare occasions when a President follows a policy that is eminently logical – like Barack Obama’s decision not to bomb Iran – it is met with shock and awe.

Against this backdrop, the program to spend $1 trillion on developing an upgraded arsenal of nuclear weapons with expanded capabilities suggests a return to “normal” – that is, the bizarre. Yet this vast expenditure for no apparent strategic purpose has generated little debate whether within the Obama administration, political circles or the public.

A scene from "Dr. Strangelove," in which the bomber pilot (played by actor Slim Pickens) rides a nuclear bomb to its target in the Soviet Union.

A scene from “Dr. Strangelove,” in which the bomber pilot (played by actor Slim Pickens) rides a nuclear bomb to its target in the Soviet Union.

This fits a by now recognizable pattern: critical decisions are taken on matters heavy with consequence without explanation of why that course of action is chosen and it then goes unremarked by the politicos and media. That double failing is making a mockery of our supposedly democratic governance. Furthermore, it allows to slip under the radar costly – potentially dangerous – initiatives that cannot hold up under scrutiny.

We have 70 years of history with nuclear weapons. The accumulated experience includes decades of Cold War dealings with the Soviet Union, nuclear arms spread to nine other countries, the refinement of our thinking about all aspects of their strategic role, and rigorous exercises on the logic of deterrence, of coercion, and compellence. No subject has been received as concentrated critical examination.

The understanding and wisdom acquired, though, seems to have largely eluded those who have chosen to head down the path of elaborating our nuclear capabilities and doctrines for their use. Why? We haven’t been…

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