Round and Round We Go . . . Where We Stop Nobody Knows


Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman              Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder

High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives!

E-Mail Message 130203

Charlie Brown and LucyHigh Frontier’s email report last week noted that our reliance on diplomacy to block the persistent drive of North Korea and Iran to gain nuclear armed ballistic missiles was like “Lucy and the football.”  We “huff and puff” in response to their bad behavior and then give in to some less than satisfying demand; after rewarding them for their intransigence, they back off for a bit—and then later resume their persistent effort.  And the cycle begins again. After watching its repetition so many times, one might imagine it will go on until one day they both achieve their goals after accumulating the benefits of numerous concessions from the West.

Would that this was the only important area in which our leaders seem oblivious to reality and permit predictably bad consequences from repetition of past failed accommodation of less than desirable conditions.  Consider two that either have recently appeared, or will appear in the near future, as evidenced in recent hearings for President Obama’s nominees for Secretary of Defense and Secretary of  State:

  • The first relates to our policies in dealing with Iran
  • The second relates to our policies in dealing with Russia

Then there’s our unfolding relations with China . . . and al Qaeda continues to metastasize . . .

Our Dealings with Iran.  Last Thursday, we witnessed how this numbing repetition confuses even very important folks.   Among many controversial exchanges between Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), one stands out in this regard.  The former Senator from Nebraska and former member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) seemed resigned to Iran getting nuclear weapons—no doubt as are many others. In responding to a question by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R- NH), he said we should include “containment” as a policy option—a view suggesting he thinks Iran inevitably will get nuclear weapons; so, our policy should be to prevent them from using nuclear weapons against us or our allies.

Hagel’s position may not be illogical since “containment” worked for us during our Cold War stand-off with the Soviet Union.  But our policy position for years has been to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, not to seek to contain them after they get nuclear weapons. SASC Chairman Carl Levin explicitly clarified that we did not favor containment—no doubt reflecting the President’s repeated statement that he intends to block Iran from getting nuclear weapons.  

 Senator Hagel’s misstep no doubt troubles our Israeli friends since Iranian leaders have long declared their intent to destroy the “Little Satan” Israel.  And if they get nuclear weapons, we also will be in their cross-hairs as the “Great Satan.”  So certainly our policy of prevention is preferred to containment. 

But so far, we have at best been ambiguous in defining just how we will underwrite this preferred policy . . . and our stand-off relations with Israel, which leaves them to fend for themselves, certainly does not help.

In any case, a very real issue for us is how to deal with the possibility that our prevention policy may fail, particularly if Iran gets nuclear weapons and mates them to ballistic missiles of any range greater than a few hundred miles.

Having effective missile defenses is critically important in that case—whatever the then potential merits of “containment.”  Certainly, we should not repeat the Cold War mistake of choosing to be defenseless as a matter of policy. The unhappy legacy of that policy continues to haunt us today.

And we should extend our apparent singular focus on them getting nuclear capable long-range Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to include their easier option of mating a nuclear weapon to a short or medium range ballistic missile and launching it from a vessel off our coasts, possibly to detonate a hundred miles up, creating an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) creating the conditions that, within a year, kills up to 90-percent of all Americans. See High Frontier’s webpage for previous discussion of this important vulnerability, especially for our friends around the Gulf of Mexico.

Our Dealings with Russia. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared in his confirmation hearing before his former colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and had a few interesting comments that remind us of “Lucy and the Football.”

Then Nominee Kerry was questioned about the Obama administration’s failure to live up to its nuclear modernization commitments made during its 2010 Lame Duck Congress negotiations with Senators over the ratification of the New START Treaty. As Chairman of the SFRC, Senator Kerry led the pro-ratification contingent, which convinced a few reluctant Republican senators to go along with the President’s promises. 

Nominee Kerry acknowledged that the funding currently programmed to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex is “slightly below” the levels to which the President committed, and said this is not a sign that the White House isn’t keeping its word. “I think it’s fair to say this—that we have made significant progress toward a full funding of the amount of money that was committed,” he noted in his testimony to the SASC. “I don’t think we’re so far off that any senator ought to sit there and say somebody hasn’t kept faith,” he added.

The Administration in 2010 pledged some $85 billion out to Fiscal 2020 to modernize the nuclear weapons complex in order to win bipartisan support for the ratification of the New START Treaty with Russia. Kerry observed, “I made the commitment in a serious way,” and conceded that “It is important for any Administration to keep faith with the commitments it makes to senators and particularly in the course of an agreement to a treaty.”

Air Force General Robert Kehler, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command which includes all our nuclear deterrent forces, recently told the Council on Foreign Relations, “Of all the elements of the nuclear enterprise, I’m most concerned with the potential for declining or inadequate investment in the nuclear weapons enterprise itself—some declining investment that would result in our inability to sustain the deterrent force.” He added, “Our weapons are aging, and we face the continued erosion of the nuclear enterprise’s physical and intellectual capital.” And he noted that the “long term credibility and viability” of our nuclear deterrent depends on the commitment to maintain the nuclear stockpile and its aging key infrastructure.

We’ll soon see how future “Lucy and the football” moments go as congress debates further defense cuts in their Sequester negotiations, but don’t be surprised by the likely further failures of the Obama administration to live up to its promises—as sometimes has been the case in the past. 

And these failures, as our nuclear capabilities atrophy, will no doubt be antagonized by negotiations with Russia to further reduce U.S. strategic capabilities—likely getting a boost in Munich yesterday when Vice President Joe Biden met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.   These talks, which are already troubling to at least some Senators and many others, no doubt involve post U.S. election “flexibility” as promised to former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by President Obama last spring, during a summit in South Korea. 

President Obama was caught on a “hot mic” asking for a delay in negotiations, “particularly with missile defense.” He stated, “This is my last election . . . After my election I have more flexibility.” Mr. Medvedev replied, “I will transmit this information to Vladimir” . . . a reference to Vladimir Putin who has since reclaimed Russia’s presidency. 

History has shown that senators should have paid more attention to the likely “Lucy and the football” moment during the 2010 Lame Duck Session. The current Senate should be conscious of such moments in current and future negotiations. Indeed, the Senate should be proactive in heading off such moments, which seem likely to soon be the case.

A major concern is President Obama’s likely use of “executive agreements” that actually should be Treaties requiring the Senate’s Advice and Consent.  The Senate should jealously guard its legitimate role under the Constitution and not permit such subterfuge. 

Then there’s ChinaChina’s geopolitical role seems destined to grow. Its economy is second only to ours, yet our leaders seem comfortable with trends whereby China covers more and more of our debt, growing at a rate of over 40-cents of every dollar the Government spends.  We are shipping more and more business to China—including in high technology, while our undesirable jobless situation continues, including among technically qualified college graduates.

And China is modernizing its military capabilities across the board. Their aspirations in military and civil space technology are notable and  there are growing indications of China’s hostile cyber threat to the U.S. government and our private sector . . .  to which the Obama administration is seeking a counter

Some still think of China only as a lesser power—not as a potential strategic peer, likely to give rise to the potential for many “Lucy and the football” moments in the future.

We’ll consider these issues further in future messages, particularly in the context of the Obama administration’s recently announced “Pivot to the Pacific” policy that alleges to deal with the new strategic realities.   

And al Qaeda continues to metastasize. Finally, we should not forget al Qaeda, which has not gone away in spite of Obama administration claims to the contrary during its recent electioneering.  As emphasized by Ambassador John Price’s prescient article “Bin Laden’s death hasn’t stanched metastasizing of al Qaeda,”  Bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa lives on: “The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it . . .”  

And as noted in our past emails, al Qaeda has enough money to purchase nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles if they are for sale.

More “Lucy and the football” moments on many fronts, anyone????  Hardly a recipe for “Peace through Strength,” Ronald Reagan’s motto which sent a clear message to friend and foe alike.   Stay tuned. 

If you find these email reports to be of interest, please forward them to your friends.  And let us know what you think.

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