Will over at the League has picked up on two completely contradictory NRO responses to Obama’s nuclear posture review announcement. The first response from Giuliani is suitably hysterical and preposterous, which is what we would expect from him, and the second from Henry Sokolski is appropriately sober and credible. Giuliani proclaims the announcement a disaster, and Sokolski acknowledges that there has been no real change in policy. Only one of the two can be right, and it isn’t hard to determine which one that is. One need only read the relevant passage carefully to see that Obama has not so much removed ambiguity as he has stated the obvious:
For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [bold mine-DL], even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.
In other words, Obama has committed to not escalate any future conflict to nuclear war in the improbable event that Brazil or South Africa or Japan decides to attack us with other unconventional weapons or cyber-warfare. Oh, the wretched appeaser! How will we ever survive the long night of Brazilian domination? Ahem.
Will’s contrast of the two also helps to set the stage for discussing Roger Kimball’s rather silly post on the same subject. Naturally, Kimball falls into the Giuliani camp of hysterical over-reaction:
The posture in question, though, is self-abasement. Nuclear weapons are fearsome things. We wish they didn’t exist. Therefore we will take steps to reduce our threatening posture in order to appear more emollient. Has no one in Obama’s inner clique heard of the Roman military historian Vegetius: “Si vis pacem, para bellum“: “if you want peace, prepare for war.” The possession of weapons facilitates war: no doubt. But history demonstrates that pacifism and signs of weakness precipitate war. The choice, in other words, is between rhetoric that celebrates peace and comity, and policies that actually achieve it. Obama has once again plumped for the former.
The frustrating thing about all of this is that there is a reasonable conservative reaction to this announcement, which is basically to shrug one’s shoulders, but it is inevitably drowned out and overwhelmed by the cacophony of foolishness that passes for foreign policy commentary on much of the right. I could even understand the criticism that there is no need to make an announcement when nothing has actually changed, but that isn’t flashy and provocative enough when responding to a dull, reasonable Obama decision.
Coming back to Kimball, it isn’t at all clear how more or less preserving the status quo in this case sends a sign of weakness to anyone. Unless the North Koreans are under the mistaken impression that they are in compliance with a treaty they withdrew from years ago, this announcement will make absolutely no difference to North Korea. The administration is still promising overwhelming retaliation against any state that would attempt this, which will certainly keep the Ukrainians on their toes, and the threat of a massive conventional response should manage to keep the Kazakhs and Belarussians in check. In fact, pretty much every state to which this statement applies is either a client, a purchaser of U.S. arms, or a member of some treaty or partnership organization to which the United States belongs, so it seems unlikely that there would ever be a conflict with any of them that would require a future administration to have to follow through on this commitment.