be prepared to reimagine and reshape the nuclear era and, against strong opposition, break free from cold war thinking and better address the threats America faces today.In my opinion, this article is a combination of wishful thinking, denial of reality, and shaky assumptions. Taubman writes
the nuclear establishment remain enthralled by elaborate deterrence theories premised on the notion that the ultimate defense against a variety of military threats is a bristling nuclear arsenal.That would be because nuclear weapons are in fact an "ultimate defense." There is currently no way to effectively counter a nuclear strike, except through retaliation. The sheer power and destructive potential of these weapons can't be matched by anything else at present. Taubman points out that nuclear weapons can't deter a terrorist attack by stateless groups. That's true, but so what? That doesn't mean they've lost their usefulness against other threats. He argues that
An achievable immediate goal should be to cut the United States’ and Russia’s nuclear stockpiles down to the bare minimum of operational warheads needed to backstop conventional forcesWhy is that at all desirable? It's always better to have more weapons than you need, rather just than barely enough. The author talks quite a bit about getting away from a Cold War mentality, but has bought into the Cold War myth that reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles somehow makes us safer. This is an assumption that often goes unchallenged, but which makes little sense if you actually examine it. If countries retain arsenals large enough to be a strong deterrent -- capable of obliterating any possible enemy -- does it really matter exactly how many such weapons they have? If Russia has just enough weapons to annihilate the U.S., are we now safer than if they had twice as many? Taubman also makes the laughable assertion that
the more you want to engage the world in arms reduction and prevent proliferation, the more you consider radical cuts.
U.S. & Russian cuts in nuclear weapons, which is primarily what he's talking about, have little to do with worldwide arms reduction, and virtually nothing to do with proliferation. Countries don't want nuclear weapons because the U.S. and Russia have too many of them. States like Iran couldn't care less about U.S. nuclear arms reductions. They have obvious reasons for wanting their own stockpile. Those reasons will remain no matter how many weapons are in the U.S. and Russian arsenals.
As long as we have no effective defense against nuclear weapons other than deterrence, it is necessary and useful to keep a substantial arsenal well above our estimated needs. Arms control agreements that make minor cuts in stockpiles are no problem. They allow us to get rid of old inventory and make the naive feel safer. But feel-good diplomacy is unfortunately no substitute for raw power. Let's not pretend that arms control actually makes us safer.