Sunday, November 23, 2008

Secretary of Defense Gates Speaks on Nuclear Weapons in This Century

Secretary of State Robert Gates gave a lecture, entitled “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in the 21st Century” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on October 28. Though Gates serves the Bush administration currently, he is one of the candidates for the Secretary of Defense in the next administration of President-Elect Barack Obama (“Who's in the running for Obama administration jobs”; AP; November 20, 2008). Whether appointed or not, his viewpoints on nuclear non-proliferation represent vital bipartisan agendas for the United States. Therefore, it is worth watching the video of this event (see this link).

Secretary Gates talked on intertwined domestic and international challenges to US nuclear policy. Also, the Secretary spelled out the relationship between aging US nuclear infrastructure and credibility of deterrence.

To begin with, Secretary Gates outlined post Cold War nuclear strategy of the United States. Having cut outdated arsenals like B1 bombers and stopped nuclear tests unilaterally during the Clinton era, the United States reviewed strategic posture under the Bush administration. Gates says that it is necessary to reduce reliance on nuclear deterrence, and increase capability for non-nuclear deterrence and responses to potential threats. The reviewed posture consists of the following triad.

(1) Strike capabilities, both nuclear deterrence and conventional attack capabilities
(2) Defense capabilities including ballistic missile defense
(3) Infrastructures to support (1) and (2)

Though security environment has changed in view of 9-11, grave nuclear threats are posed by resurgent powers like Russia and China, and rogue states like Iran and North Korea.

Though Gates is concerned with nuclear modernization by Russia and China, and its implications to security of the Free World, he does not regard them as adversaries to us. To my regret, he has not articulated why Russia and China are not adversaries. Certainly, the United States needs to cooperate with Russia in order to cut a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons in both countries. Economic ties with China are growing important. Still, both Russia and China are challenging our liberal democracy, and such ambitious powers are strengthening nuclear capabilities. I feel his attitude to both powers somewhat soft.

Quite importantly, Secretary Gates pointed out the problem of aging nuclear weapon systems of US forces. The media rarely mention such a critically dismissible issue. He says, “No one has designed a new nuclear weapon in the United States since the 1980s, and no one has built a new one since the early 1990s.” This is a serious issue to keep US nuclear deterrence trustworthy. Nuclear weapon engineers are retiring and current stockpile of nuclear arsenals need to extend their life span. The Secretary says that the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy work together to “reduce aging stockpiles by balancing the risk between a smaller number of warheads and an industrial complex that could produce new weapons if the need arose.”

At the Q & A session, Secretary Gates stressed vital interest of defending US allies in Europe and the Pacific region.

The most focused issue at the Q & A session was the missile defense issue. Secretary Gates said anti-ballistic missiles in Europe were against Iran, not Russia. He explained American efforts to form credibility and security building measures with Russia. Though Gates did not mention missile defense in Asia at this event, we can infer that what he has in his mind is North Korea, not Russia and China. However, I wonder what Secretary Gates thinks of possible conflict over the Taiwan Strait. Any intimidation by China on the Strait will endanger sea lane security to Japan and South Korea, vital allies to the United States in the Far East.

I do not agree everything with Secretary Gates regarding Russia and China. Also, it is a pity that Gates did not talk sufficiently on North Korea. However, I am pleased to hear Secretary of Defense Robert Gates quote Theodore Roosevelt, and said “It would be a fatal thing to leave ourselves unarmed against the despotisms and barbarisms of the world.” This lecture is very helpful to understand America’s agenda on global non-proliferation. I hope President-Elect Barack Obama, the very icon of global leftists, understand the quotation very well, whether he appoints Robert Gates to the Secretary of Defense or not.

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