President Barack Obama's dreams of a smaller nuclear arsenal could have the opposite effect, bringing the world to the brink of a new nuclear challenge.
At least that's the assessment offered Tuesday by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who notes that a reduction in U.S. weapons would take place at a time when other nations are adding to their nuclear stockpiles or seeking to develop nuclear programs.
According to Stephens, President Barack Obama wants to cut the number of U.S. strategic warheads to about 1,000, far below the 1,500 warheads called for in the 2010 New Start Treaty. Obama also wants to spend less than the $80 billion promised to modernize the country's nuclear-weapons infrastructure.
The reduction would be accomplished unilaterally through the use of the president's executive powers or through an informal agreement with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Having just 1,000 nuclear weapons would put the United States at parity with Russia, but would potentially make China the world's leader in nuclear weapons, a situation that would almost certainly make Russia nervous.
In his column, Stephens quotes Viktor Esin, a former Soviet general, who says if China fails to halt its own nuclear expansion, Russia would have no other choice but to consider abandoning the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
If Russia abandons the treaty, the United States would likely follow suit, starting a nuclear arms race all over again.
But this time, Stephens writes, the additional threats posed by North Korea's nuclear program would only make things worse. In addition, he says other nations, even Japan, which has been under nuclear protection of the United States for nearly 70 years, could also enter the race.
Japan, he notes, is already bringing a reprocessing plant online that can produce eight tons of weapons-capable plutonium a year.
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