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Six Essential Truths about U.S. Nuclear Policy

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Phil Taubman writes in the Sunday New York Times what many people in Washington think about our outdated nuclear policy, but few say. He makes six key points.

Taubman knows what he is talking about, having spent years as the Times bureau chief in Moscow and Washington. He has spent the last three years writing a critically acclaimed book, The Partnership, that tracks the efforts of five former Cold Warriors to change the policies they once championed but they now see as outdated, dangerous, and counter to U.S. national security interests.

He is stunned by the grip that Cold War thinking still has in Washington. "Over the last three years, as I delved into the world of American nuclear weapons," he says, "I felt increasingly as though I had stepped into a time warp."

He is frustrated that President Obama's officials have not implemented the policies the president declared in Prague in April 2009.

Barack Obama took office determined to change that. He has made progress on many fronts. Last week, he outlined a new, no-frills defense strategy, downsizing conventional forces. He now needs to double down on his commitment to refashion nuclear forces. He should trim the American nuclear arsenal by two-thirds to bring it down to a sensible size, order the Pentagon to scale back nuclear war-fighting plans so they are relevant to contemporary threats, remove most American intercontinental, land-based missiles from high alert and drop the quaint notion that a fleet of aging B-52 bombers can effectively deliver nuclear weapons to distant targets.

Here are the six key take-aways from Taubman's analysis:

  1. The Defense Department remains enthralled by cold war nuclear strategies and practices.
  2. There is not a national security rationale for an arsenal of some 5000 warheads.
  3. The U.S. could live quite securely with fewer than 1500 warheads, half in reserve.
  4. This agenda is not only desirable, it is doable without undercutting American security.
  5. If Obama pushes back against the defenders of the old order at the Pentagon, he can preserve American security and make U.S. a more credible leader.
  6. There is a high-powered, bipartisan alliance that will provide political support as Obama reshapes nuclear policy while running for a second term.

I agree with all these points. In fact, I have written a similar analysis that will be published later this week. But do yourself a favor and read Taubman's full article. And then go write your representatives to demand they do something about this.

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