07 Mar Tough Issue #4
Nuclear Deterrence / International Leadership
Your humble blogger really thought he was past the issue of nuclear war when they stopped holding “duck and cover” drills at his elementary school in Spirit Lake, Iowa, around 1970.
Alas, some five decades later and even 60 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, we now have these very recent developments: (1) Russia openly threatens use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and its helpers, and has suspended complying with the requirements of its New Start arms control treaty with the United States; (2) North Korea warns of an “exponential” increase in its atomic arsenal; and (3) the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has reset its “Doomsday Clock” at 90 seconds to midnight—the closest point ever.
No, we are not past the need to avoid nuclear devastation, which still presents a tough issue for any national government.
International and Nuclear Basics
What the issue is: Who can stop the world from blowing itself up, and what deterrent is most effective?
Why this issue it is difficult: The consequences of evil actions or senseless mistakes are life and death times eight billion, while the outcome largely remains in the hands of unpredictable foreign actors.
Where the issue stands today: Nuclear weapons have been launched against an enemy only twice in history. Those two events occurred three days apart and 78 years ago, in August of 1945, when the United States bombed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 200,000, leading to the surrender of Japan, and thus, ending World War II. The Cold War era that followed produced close calls, but it did not lead to further ruin.
By the 1980s, however, people in the United States, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere had been living under the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) for decades. Ironically, MAD was supposed to be the good news—a strategic silver bullet, so to speak—based on universal knowledge that any world leader who launched a nuclear attack would be committing national (and personal) suicide. This was billed as comforting, because, in theory, it would stop anyone from firing first.
Today, the Doomsday Clock is ticking faster, as rogue nations like North Korea and Iran build capabilities, joining Pakistan, India, Israel, China, and Russia, along with the traditional Western nuclear powers of the United Kingdom, France, and, of course, the United States. It is impossible to know whether the leaders of all of these countries are deterred by the prospect of world destruction. Nor can we know that atomic weapons will not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals rather than leaders of nations.
To negate evil and avoid an atomic catastrophe, the world needs leadership. To lead, a nation needs both strength and strong allies.
Principles involved: The governing principles that apply directly to this question are freedom and protecting the vulnerable. America also will be well served by elected federal officials who follow the leadership principles of peace, respect, and understanding, as this blog wrote in National Defense: Applying Principles to the Issues (June 22, 2021), and Foreign Relations: Applying Principles (Sept. 14, 2021).
Solutions: Step one of leadership is appointing a nation to be the leader, an appointment that has to be earned to be legitimate. As Principle Based Politics views the world, there are three candidates—China, the European Union, and the United States of America. To be blunt, China is unworthy of a leadership role because it cares only for the good of the Chinese Communist Party. Europe is too weak, in large part due to being fractured. That leaves the USA, which earned the role over the past century as a result of possessing the strongest economy and military in the world. We are the only world power that is not authoritarian or imperial. America must lead.
Nevertheless, before it can lead effectively, the United States must truly embody the qualities and principles it always has claimed. We are talking about life, liberty,* and the idea that all people are created equal. Our government also must be competent and have integrity.
*America already embodies the pursuit of happiness fully.
The United States cannot lead alone. We must work sincerely with the United Nations, NATO, and alliances in the Pacific and the Americas (particularly with Mexico and Canada).
Regarding China, it always is much better to be friends than enemies. America should remain open to China, helping it see that we have common defense interests—notably including nuclear proliferation and terrorism. If America leads well, China will realize that it and its Communist party are better off forming partnerships with a strong Western world than with Russia, Iran, North Korea, or other bad actors.
Lastly, America should increase its military efficiencies (more bang for the buck, literally) through technology, innovation, financial oversight, and accountability. As necessary, it also must increase military spending commensurate with GDP, leading our allies to do the same. National security is and always will be paramount.
As Ronald Reagan famously said in 1980, “War comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak.” The same is even more true regarding nuclear war. There is nothing unclear about that.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.