Arms Control and Deterrence Beyond “New START”

CHRISTOPHER FORD | THE HUDSON INSTITUTE
Posted August 11, 2011

Note:  Below follows the text of Dr. Ford’s remarks on August 3, 2011, at the Symposium on “21st Century Deterrence Challenges” at the U.S. Strategic Command (a.k.a. STRATCOM) in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Other participants on this panel were Keith Payne, Steve Pifer, Ted Warner, Sergei Rogov, and Barry Blechman.)

Good morning, everyone, and my thanks to General Kehler and the rest of you at STRATCOM for inviting me to this symposium.

The organizers ask important questions about the relationship between arms control and deterrence.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to give answers, since  forward-looking deterrence analysis is a field in which certainty commonly outruns analysis and evidence.

I’ll offer you my own take on post-“New START” strategic arms control in a moment, but let me first reemphasize this caveat about uncertainty – for it is, in itself, an important point.  Uncertainty in deterrent calculations is not a new problem, of course.  In the “bad old days” of the Cold War, however, it was comparatively easy to cope with it by erring upwards.  (If doubt arose about whether you had enough to deter the adversary, you just built more weapons.)  It usually seemed safer to err on the high side – perhaps quite so.

But that’s not the game today.  For the last two decades we’ve been dramatically reducing the size of our strategic nuclear force, and in arms control circles it is now the aspiration to discern how little we can get away with possessing.  This presents different challenges, for it matters that we now approach some hypothesized “minimum deterrence” point from “above,” rather than from “below.”

If I have a few too many weapons, I just have a few too many.  Over-capacity presumably still deters, and neither my allies nor my adversaries are likely to object if I dismantle what is clearly excess.  But under-deterrence is more problematic.  I think of this as Pascal’s Wager as applied to strategic deterrence: having too much might make you look like a spendthrift paranoid, but having too little is catastrophic.  Why not err high?  This is perhaps an important general point, and in the context of Cold War-era strategic build-ups, this incentive structure may have had something to do with how large arsenals grew to be.  Nevertheless, it bears emphasis that when some hypothetical optimal minimum deterrence point is approached from “below,” subsequent calibration (e.g., by building more or cutting back) is relatively unproblematic.

But now we’re talking about reductions to some point of “minimal” deterrence, which the conventional wisdom deems must be done through agreements that set binding force limits.   This changes the dynamic considerably, because while build-ups are essentially policy choices that can be accelerated, slowed, or reversed at national discretion, it is precisely the point of legally-binding arms reduction agreements that they form a one-way ratchet downward that precludes any subsequent upward recalibration.

Consequently, when it is not clear precisely what deters, there are reasons to “hedge high” when negotiating, or even to avoid agreements altogether.  Approaches stressing binding numerical limits may thus sometimes be counterproductive, and cuts may actually be safer and more likely to approach some hypothetical “minimum deterrence point” when they are not mandatory – that is, when they are merely policy choices subject to adjustment if things change, or as understandings mature about what deterrence really requires.

But let me go a bit further, and question the implicit arms control assumption that numbers are the most important element of stable deterrence in the first place.  Does everyone think of numbers the way we do?  How confident are we about what deters?  And – especially if nuclear deterrence someday needs to function on a multilateralized basis against several potential deterrent “targets” or combinations thereof – how confident are we about what deters whom?

If one is being honest, it is hard not be somewhat skeptical about our ability to predict deterrence, especially where we’re talking about what is minimally necessary for deterrence.  Looking back at the Cold War, one could certainly make a case that that nuclear deterrence “worked.”  As an analytical proposition, however, this isn’t terribly useful, for it is not so clear exactly what aspects of whose strategic choices deserve how much credit for the non-appearance World War III.  Moreover, even if correct, the conclusion of Cold War deterrent success rooted in force posture tells us little about how many fewer weapons, if any, would also have “worked.”

So, even with all the advantages of hindsight, it is hard to distinguish over-deterrence from minimal deterrence, or to identify where precisely the latter may have lain hidden all along.   How much more problematic must it be to think we can predict the minimum force that will deter potential future adversaries – particularly new players who did not figure in the massive but essentially bipolar balances of yesteryear?

Having said all that, however, what are my own thoughts on where strategic arms control should go after “New START”?  For one thing, I am not convinced that numbers, per se, are at present nearly as important as the conventional wisdom would have it.  This is not an argument, mind you, that numbers cannot be important, or that it doesn’t matter how much we cut and how low we go.  Clearly, one wouldn’t want to underestimate deterrent requirements, especially when approaching reductions through legally-binding one-way ratchets.

My point is merely that while numerical theories of deterrence have a pleasantly seductive reductionist clarity to them, I’m not convinced that stability can always be boiled down to a question of numbers – or even to aspects of the weaponry itself. Perhaps other things are important too, and given that we can realistically devote only limited amounts of time and political capital to strategic negotiating, are numerical force limits really the most important thing for the United States to worry about in 2011?

My own suspicion is that though this is by no means always the case, traditional numerical arms control can be both an impediment to progress and a distraction from working on what might actually do more good.  It may be becoming an impediment, in the sense that we seem to be approaching some kind of limit on how far reductions can go as bilateral negotiations.  It’s becoming clear that if we don’t somehow deal with the “third party problem” of a growing and ever more sophisticated Chinese arsenal, it will be increasingly difficult to contemplate more negotiated reductions on our present course.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, for the numerical-reduction agenda faces longer-term problems from the still-growing nuclear arsenals of other powers, not to mention the fact that the international community seems quite unable to prevent new players from joining the nuclear game.  Multiplayer deterrence is likely to be qualitatively different from the bipolarity we knew during the Cold War, but we do not really understand how.  Nor are all the players in such games likely to be behavioral mirror images of each other.  How confident are we about the “minimum deterrence” point for each player in such a shifting web of relationships?

And what are we to make of possible combinations?   In contemplating the multi-polar strategic world of late-19th-Century Europe, Bismarck brooded darkly about the “nightmare of coalitions.”  How are strategic planners to approach analogous nuclear possibilities in the future?  In the “bad old days” of the Cold War, nuclear coalitions were not too much of a problem, because all the rest of the world’s nuclear holdings together amounted to only a small fraction of each superpower’s arsenal.  In tomorrow’s world, however, that will no longer be true.

Focusing arms control upon reductions to nice round numbers like “1,000 deployed warheads” or somesuch may have political appeal, but we should be careful to ensure that anything we contemplate is actually driven by serious thinking about what deters whom from doing what, why this is, and how confident we feel we can be in such conclusions.  At any rate, it seems to me that simply proceeding on autopilot toward more numerically-fixated bilateralism is a dead end.

So much for “impediment.”  What about “distraction”?  My guess is that the best arms control “bang for the buck” lies not in chasing additional numerical limits but in improving transparency and strategic confidence.  To my eye, today’s key strategic relationship problems have less to do with numbers than with concerns about plans, intentions, and understandings.

Chinese strategic programs, for instance, have become a factor affecting U.S. and Russian strategic planning not primarily because of what Beijing has but because of uncertainty about where Beijing is going, and how Chinese leaders really think about nuclear deterrence and other key strategic questions.   As the only Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear weapons state to be building up its nuclear arsenal – and by far the least transparent of the five about nuclear matters – China is becoming strategically disruptive principally because it is not clear what this all means.   Its forces aren’t really the problem, at least not yet.  Rather, it’s uncertainty about Beijing’s trajectory that elicits suspicion and “hedging” strategies.

Something of the same sort of undertainty-destabilization argument could be made about Russian and Chinese claims to fear U.S. anti-ballistic missile or “conventional prompt global strike” programs – which is basically the point that Sergey [Rogov] just made.  Or in connection with U.S. concerns over what has been described by the U.S. Strategic Posture Review Commission as “apparent” Russian yield-producing nuclear tests.

It may be that the most productive arms control agenda is to try to shine more light on the issues that create strategic worry, and which drive force planners into “erring” higher than would otherwise be the case.   In some cases, the truth may be reassuring.  In others, perhaps not.  I have no illusions that it will be possible to dispel all the ghosts that haunt strategic planning cells around the world, but why not dispel those that can be?

Under present conditions – when our numbers have already come down to a small fraction of Cold War levels and we wrestle principally with how little we can get away with retaining – such uncertainties probably have more impact upon stability than whether or not Russo-American force levels are adjusted down another notch.  (These uncertainties may, in fact, help preclude further such adjustments anyway.)  Rather than simply plunging robotically ahead into yet another round of numerically-fixated confrontational bargaining, why not do what we can to reduce these uncertainties?  For these reasons, I suspect that the next strategic arms deal would do better to focus more on transparency and confidence-building – or perhaps on the kind of norm-building “rules of the road” approach Ted [Warner] discussed in his presentation – than on force limits.

Dr. Christopher Ford is the Director of the Center for Technology and Global Security and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

Message to Obama: We Will Not Let You Reduce American Sovereignty

John R. Bolton |  Conservative Political Action Committee

These excerpts are taken from a speech given to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 2010, by AEI senior fellow and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton.

On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama was not qualified to be President of the United States. Today, actually 13 months later, Barack Obama is still not qualified to be President of the United States.

Let’s look at where the President derives his foreign policy. First, he doesn’t care that much about foreign and national security policy. It’s not what energizes him when he gets up in morning. . . . That makes him very different from almost every other American President since Franklin Roosevelt, but it’s a fundamental fact. He’d rather talk about restructuring our healthcare system, restructuring our financial system, restructuring our energy system.

The President does not really see the rest of the world as dangerous or threatening to America. He made that clear during the campaign. He’s made it clear in any number of his actions since then. . . .

I believe he sees the inevitability of American decline as a kind of natural phenomenon. And this combination of views: He doesn’t care that much about national security to begin with and he doesn’t think the world is a very threatening place ties directly into the next characteristic:  . . . He brings to the presidency a belief in multilateralism unequaled since Woodrow Wilson.

Listen to what the President said in September at the United Nations: “It is my deeply held belief that in the year 2009 more than any point in human history . . . the interests of nations and peoples are shared. In an era where our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group or people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold.”

Now listen to Woodrow Wilson. “The interest of all nations are also are own.” He advocated in WWI “peace without victory” Sounding familiar? President Wilson said “there must be not a balance of power but a community of power. Not organized rivalries but an organized common peace founded on the moral force of the public opinion of the world.”

This fits in with the final defining characteristic of President Obama: He is what I have called the first post-American President. Now let’s be clear: Not un-American. Not anti-American. Post-American. Beyond all that patriotism stuff. I think it’s clear because fundamentally the President doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism. But we’ve believed in the exceptionalism of America right from the founding government.

John Winthrop of the Plymouth Bay Colony said, “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.” Ronald Reagan in his amenable way amended that to say the “shining city on a hill.” . . .

American Exceptionalism

The President was asked on his first trip to Europe if he believed in American exceptionalism and he gave a classic answer. He said in the first third of his answer “Yes, I believe in American exceptionalism.” And in the second two-thirds of his answer he contradicted himself by saying, “Just as I believe the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism.”

Now there are 192 members of the United Nations. He could have gone on, just as the Ecuadorians believe in Ecuadorian exceptionalism. . . . Just as the Papua New Guineans believe in Papua New Guinean exceptionalism. Obviously, the real answer that he gives is that he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism . . .

Reagan was all about America. Obama is “we are above that now. We’re not just parochial. We’re not just chauvinistic. We’re not just provincial. We stand for something,” says [Newsweek senior editor] Evan Thomas. “In a way, Obama is standing above the country, above the world. He is sort of God. He’s going to bring all the different sides together.”

Now leaving aside the reference to God, which is a little over the top, even for our establishment media, the description of Obama’s view of himself is I think very much on point. . . . His philosophy represents a pretty deep-seated strain inside the left of the Democratic Party. . . .

Let’s look at some of the specific examples of the failure of the Obama Administration today . . . And let’s start with Iran.

We have seen over the past 13 months in many respects a continuation of the failed Bush Administration policy of believing we could negotiate Iran out of its nuclear weapons program. . . . Iran is well on their way to nuclear weapons. They’re not going to be talked out of that program. Sanctions that are being proposed are not going to be adopted by the UN Security Council. Iran will continue to make progress just as it continues to be the world’s largest financier of terrorism.

And yet the President says . . . that the possibility is still open for Iran to come back to negotiations. If you’re the regime in Iran, if you’re Mahmoud Ahmadinejad working your way toward a nuclear capacity to fulfill your dream of wiping Israel off the face of the map, what conclusion do you draw from an American President who keeps saying “I want to negotiate with you”? The conclusion is you’ve got no difficulty at all.

Obama’s Weakness

In the face of this policy, the president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy has been heard to say several times, “Why is Obama so weak?” Now when the president of France criticizes an American President, you know we’re in trouble. Even where the President takes decisions that I think are sensible, as in the case of increasing our troop levels in Afghanistan and as in recognizing that we need more Pakistani involvement in the struggle against the Taliban. . . he couples it with the promise that he’s going to begin withdrawing American forces by the summer of 2011, conveniently right at the beginning of the 2012 election cycle.

This is another signal to al Qaeda, to the Taliban, to terrorists around the world, that if you just wait long enough, this administration will run out of patience and find something else to do . . . We have a similar problem in Iraq where the President seems wedded to a withdrawal timetable rather than to a continuing assessment of U.S. strategic interest in Iraq. And if people think that you’re going to withdraw pursuant to a timetable, they’re going to let you do it and wait till the American forces have withdrawn. . . .

Let me conclude with the Middle East peace process where 13 months of fruitless effort by the administration have actually left the United States in a weaker position in the Middle East and left Israel more in jeopardy than when we first started. When the U.S. expends its political prestige in a negotiating effort and fails, we do not end in the same position that we started. We end up in a worse position because everyone concludes that we’ve made this effort and couldn’t succeed. That’s exactly what the President did. . . . The efforts in the Arab-Israeli circumstance certainly have complicated America’s national security not just in the Middle East but also around the world.

Now the President has three years left. . . . As difficult as this first year has been, I think there’s worse ahead.

No 1: The President will announce, any day now, a new arms control agreement with Russia that will substantially reduce both our operationally deployed strategic nuclear capabilities and our delivery systems. I think that this is something that will reduce the American deterrent around the world. It will trouble our allies—Japan, Europe, and others who depend on the American nuclear umbrella. I think it’s consistent with the President’s unbelievably naive idea that if we could just get to a world without nuclear weapons, if the U.S. could somehow dispose of its nuclear weapons, Iran and North Korea would give up their nuclear weapons and peace would break out all over.

This treaty that he is negotiating is something that we need to draw a line in the sand over in the Senate when he sends it up and defeat it if we have the chance. Even worse, there are reports that the President in this treaty will agree to limitations on our ability to construct national missile defenses. . . .

But the President isn’t going to stop there. Vice President Biden announced that the administration will resubmit the comprehensive test ban treaty which would prevent us from testing the safety and reliability of our existing nuclear weapons, prevent us from testing to develop new nuclear weapons. This treaty was defeated in the Senate during the Clinton Administration, the first major treaty defeated since Versailles. . . . When that treaty comes to the Senate, it should be defeated again.

Arms-Control Theology

This is an administration that believes in arms control as if it were an element of theology. We’re going to see a fusion material cutoff treaty, a treaty on the prevention of the arms race in outer space, efforts to strengthen . . . the non-proliferation treaty. . . . America’s national security rests on a strong nuclear umbrella, it rests on defenses. We cannot give in on any of these points.

Second major thing coming from the Obama Administration is the continued pursuit of what today is euphemistically called global governance. . . Many of these proposals will result in palpable reductions in American sovereignty and need to be resisted. . . .

We’re going to see more efforts on climate change. The collapse in Copenhagen has not discouraged the advocates. . . The people who support the sort of state controlled, state regulation, and international taxation that were being talked about in Copenhagen would advocate those same policies whether the problem was global warming, global cooling, or the Earth’s temperature wasn’t changing at all. This is a statist agenda that we have to reject.

The threats to American sovereignty are going to come in a variety of other areas. I foresee at some point that the President will find in some way to once again sign the treaty creating the International Criminal Court. . . Again, in the Bush Administration, we took the U.S. signature off that treaty, which was a direct threat to American sovereignty… We obviously can’t stop the President if he resigns the treaty. But if he submits it to the Senate, this is another die-in-the-ditch issue for conservatives. That treaty needs to be defeated by the biggest majority we can make.

The President has made it clear he wants to see a lot more of American foreign policy run through the United Nations system. And he also wants to see the U.S. perceived as more engaged internationally. So there are a lot of treaties out there that have withered for a long time. I think at the appropriate moment, the administration will make another effort to get them ratified by the Senate. . . As Americans, we are capable of passing our own laws on these subjects. . .

International Taxes

One that I know is important is the threat of international taxes. The UN and other international bureaucracies despise the American system where Congress has to appropriate money to pay our assessments and pay expenses to these organizations because Congress is so uncooperative. So they have looked for years to find ways to fund international organizations without having democratically elected representatives make decisions.

Prime Minister Brown of the United Kingdom is proposing an international bank tax. The French are proposing taxes on international airline tickets. The whole point is, banks and airlines don’t pay taxes, you pay taxes and you would on bank transactions and the purchase of these tickets.

It’s a way to get a way of funding whether it’s the climate-change organizations, the International Monetary Fund, the UN itself. These various taxes come in complex guises. They’re often hidden. Whenever anybody identifies, it doesn’t matter what the purpose is, it doesn’t matter how grave the situation . . . once the American people lose the ability to determine where they will be taxed, we have lost the revolution my friends. . . .

What we need to do is keep up the debate for the next three years, not be distracted by other issues. We need a sustained, unremitted effort until 2012 when we can evaluate our presidential candidates based on their ability to defend our national security and our message to President Obama in the meantime should be this: We will not let you reduce American sovereignty. We will not let you make America vulnerable. . .

More Mr. Nice Guy

John R. Bolton |  Weekly Standard

In his lengthy State of the Union address, President Obama was brief on national security issues, which he squeezed in toward the end. International terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even America’s relief efforts in Haiti all flashed past in bullet-point mentions. On Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama emphasized neither victory nor determination, but merely the early withdrawal of U.S. forces from both. His once vaunted Middle East peace process didn’t make the cut.

Nonetheless, during this windshield tour of the world, the president found time to opine more explicitly than ever before that reducing America’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems will temper the global threat of proliferation. Obama boasted that “the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades” and that he is trying to secure “all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.”

Then came Obama’s critical linkage: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous–but far from the only–nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities.

We have no need for further arms control treaties with Russia, especially ones that reduce our nuclear and delivery capabilities to Moscow’s economically forced low levels. We have international obligations, moreover, that Russia does not, requiring our nuclear umbrella to afford protection to friends and allies worldwide. Obama’s policy artificially inflates Russian influence and, depending on the final agreement, will likely reduce our nuclear and strategic delivery capabilities dangerously and unnecessarily. (Securing “loose” nuclear materials internationally has long been a bipartisan goal, properly so. Obama said nothing new on that score.) Meanwhile, Obama is considering treaty restrictions on our missile defense capabilities more damaging than his own previous unilateral reductions.

What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang. Obama’s insistence that the evil-doers are “violating international agreements” is also startling, as if this were of equal importance with the proliferation itself.

The premise underlying these assertions may well be found in Obama’s smug earlier comment that we should “put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.  .  .  .  Let’s leave behind the fear and division.” By reducing to the level of wayward boys the debates over whether his policies are making us more or less secure, Obama reveals a deep disdain for the decades of strategic thinking that kept America safe during the Cold War and afterwards. Even more pertinent, Obama’s indifference and scorn for real threats are chilling auguries of what the next three years may hold.

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades–vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

Neither Bush nor Obama administration efforts toward international sanctions have had any measurable impact. The first Security Council sanctions on North Korea after its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests in 2006 did not stop Pyongyang from conducting further missile launches and a second nuclear detonation in 2009. Nor have the measures imposed after that second test, about which Obama boasted, impaired the North’s nuclear program or even brought Pyongyang back to the risible Six-Party Talks. Three sets of Security Council restrictions against Iran have only glancingly affected Tehran’s nuclear program, and the Obama administration’s threats of “crippling sanctions” have disappeared along with last year’s series of “deadlines” that Iran purportedly faced. In response, Tehran’s authoritarianism and belligerence have only increased.

With his counter proliferation strategies, such as they were, in disarray, Obama now pins his hopes on moral suasion, which has never influenced Iran, North Korea, or any other determined proliferator. Perhaps it would have been better had the president’s speech not mentioned national security at all.

 

Bam, Wake Up and Smell the War

John R. Bolton |  New York Daily News

The evidence is mounting that President Obama is following not merely an erroneous anti-terrorism strategy, but one that is increasingly incoherent and incompetent. Two recent developments highlight his failure:

First, senior administration intelligence and homeland security officials testified to Congress that they were not aware in advance that the Christmas Day terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, would be read Miranda rights, arrested and charged with crimes. Stunningly, it appears that these decisions were essentially made wholly inside the Justice Department.

Second, the administration has conceded that some 50 terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay could neither be safely released nor tried and would therefore be held indefinitely. This flatly contradicts repeated Obama promises to close Gitmo. It also undercuts the rationale for Obama’s planned civilian trials for other terrorists and previous decisions–including some by the Bush administration–to release far too many who simply reverted to terrorism.

Obama has strained mightily to move away from former President George W. Bush’s “global war on terror,” changing many of its underlying policies and even sidelining the phrase “war on terror.” That Obama has not fully succeeded in reversing Bush’s policies is not for lack of trying, but only because global realities have made it impossible for even someone so determined to succeed in just one year.

However, make no mistake: Obama has not given up. He remains determined to revolutionize America’s conceptual basis for dealing with terrorism. His approach is a throwback to the pre-9/11 paradigm of treating terrorism as a problem to be handled through conventional law enforcement channels. That means full constitutional rights, including Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections and evidence restrictions, public jury trials and more.

But it is the President’s attempt to reframe the war on terrorism that should be on trial. The protections we afford criminal defendants are important to us as citizens of a constitutional civil society, where lawbreaking is an aberration, a problem to be handled largely by postcrime punishment of offenders. We reluctantly accept the existence of crime as inevitable because overly intrusive measures to prevent it are too threatening to highly prized liberties. Americans vigorously debate the balance among these competing interests, but the overall theory is almost universally shared.

The war paradigm that Bush tried to follow after 9/11 is radically different because it sees the terror threat differently. Doubtless, the Bush administration did not get everything right. But at its core, the war paradigm recognizes that terrorists aren’t looking simply to harm our citizens, as thieves and even murderers are; they are seeking to injure or destroy the society itself. This is why terrorist attacks are acts of war, not criminal acts. Perhaps the most visible evidence of the distinction is that terrorists proudly boast of their intentions and accomplishments, using trials as propaganda vehicles–unlike criminals, who approach trials trying to beat the rap or minimize punishment

Obama argues that prosecuting terrorists in civilian courts and closing Guantanamo Bay demonstrate America is committed to the rule of law and thus eliminate important terrorist recruiting tools. In fact, it is the very idea of America, not some incidental manifestation, that motivates terrorists. Critically for us, therefore, the “war on terror” paradigm is entirely consistent with our deeply held commitment to the rule of law.

One need only recognize reality: War necessitates a different legal framework than common crime does. Terrorism obviously differs from war between countries, but that hardly means it is simply an aggravated form of bank robbery. Indeed, much terrorism is state-sponsored, which is why the sponsors should be as much at risk of retaliation as terrorists themselves.

Take Abdulmutallab as a case study. By treating him like a common criminal and affording him the rights to remain silent and consult a lawyer, the Justice Department assisted a terrorist in sealing his lips. Instead of interrogating him fully about other potential terrorist threats and terrorist networks, thus gaining real-time, actionable intelligence, Abdulmutallab’s information was lost, perhaps forever. This is the perfect proof that we are fighting the terrorists with one arm tied behind our backs.

We need a new public debate on the war paradigm versus the law enforcement paradigm, cutting through legalisms and concentrating on basic policy questions. Obama does not want such a debate, and for good reason: He is on the losing side, both from a national security perspective and politically.

Global Threats

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

Although President Obama spent much of his first year in office trying to revolutionize the U.S. health care system, the external world often inconveniently intruded. As the attempted Christmas mass murder of passengers flying from Amsterdam to Detroit demonstrates, our adversaries have not been idle. Nor will they be idle in 2010.

A critical question, therefore, is whether the president has learned anything during his first year, or whether he will continue pursuing national security policies that leave us at greater risk. The outlook is not promising. Too often, Mr. Obama seems either uninterested in the global threats we face, unpersuaded that they constitute dangers to the country, or content simply to blame his predecessors.

When he does see international threats, his instinct is to negotiate with them rather than defeat them. Facing totalitarian menaces in 1939, British politician Harold Nicolson said of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his closest aide that they “stepped into diplomacy with the bright faithfulness of two curates entering a pub for the first time; they did not observe the differences between a social gathering and a rough-house; nor did they realize that the tough guys assembled did not speak or understand their language.”

Nicolson could be writing today about Mr. Obama. Consider some of the issues lying ahead:

1. The global war on terror: Despite the administration’s verbal about-face on the effectiveness of our antiterrorism efforts within days of the unsuccessful Christmas attack, its fundamental approach remains flawed. Mr. Obama himself has led the charge in shifting from a “Global War on Terror” toward a law-enforcement paradigm, continuing, for example, to press for closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Even today, the administration is treating would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than an enemy combatant, thus losing the chance to gain enormously valuable information on al Qaeda activities and plans.

Al Qaeda-style terrorism has never been susceptible to law-enforcement methods. It is not simply a crime like bank robbery, which is why military and intelligence agencies have undertaken much of our antiterrorist activity since Sept. 11, 2001. And it is why sidelining them now can have potentially catastrophic consequences for the United States and our allies.

Mr. Obama should articulate some grand strategy for countering terrorism. Withdrawing from Iraq, mixed signals in Afghanistan (surge troops in 2010, but begin withdrawing in 2011), and public defenders for airplane bombers is a prescription for failure. Indeed, the Christmas near miss demonstrates that more, not less, attention must be devoted to al Qaeda in Yemen and elsewhere, such as Somalia.

2. Nuclear proliferation: Iran and North Korea, the two gravest nuclear proliferation threats, have so far spurned Mr. Obama’s “open hand.” This is truly remarkable, since both rogue states have skillfully used prior negotiations to their advantage, buying time to advance their nuclear and ballistic missile efforts, and extracting tangible economic and political benefits from America and others. Accordingly, their current unwillingness to talk shows they think they can extract an even higher price from Mr. Obama before even sitting down, a truly discouraging sign.

In fact, neither Iran nor North Korea will be negotiated out of the nuclear weapons programs (or their chemical or biological weapons, which are not even on the horizon for discussion). Moreover, we cannot be content merely trying to “contain” nuclear rogue states, since so doing simply leaves the initiative entirely with them, given their asymmetric advantage of threatening or actually using their weapons. These countries, each for its own peculiar reasons, are not subject to the Cold War deterrence principals. Still worse, the risks of further proliferation are both palpable and threatening if Pyongyang and Tehran keep their nuclear capabilities. There is simply no sign Mr. Obama understands these ever-growing risks.

Instead, Mr. Obama is negotiating drastic nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, even as he eviscerates our missile defense capabilities, apparently believing unilateral strategic arms cutbacks will entrance Moscow and persuade rogue proliferators to dismantle their programs. This is naive and dangerous.

3. Global governance. Although the Copenhagen Conference on climate change failed to achieve anything like its sponsors’ objectives, their under lying push for greater international control over the economies of the world’s nations, and their tax and regulatory systems, continues unabated. In fact, as the president’s speeches–especially those given at the United Nations in September–demonstrate, he entirely buys into the notion of “global governance,” with the United States in time subordinating elements of its sovereignty to international authority.

This worrisome predilection has only been whetted by the failure at Copenhagen, and we can anticipate far more activity in 2010 and beyond, not only on climate change but in a host of areas traditionally considered “domestic” policy (such as abortion, firearms control and the death penalty).

Frustrated by their failures in the United States, the American left has increasingly resorted to international treaties and conferences to advance its agenda. Mr. Obama’s administration is filled with people who share that worldview, including the president himself.

In short, if you were concerned in 2009 about America’s increasing international vulnerability and its decreasing global influence, you will find little to celebrate in the coming year. Our adversaries sense weakness across the board in Washington, and they will not hesitate to take advantage of it.

Importantly, whatever national security decisions Mr. Obama makes in 2010 will undeniably be his, as the passage of time diminishes his ability to blame President Bush and the situation he inherited. Happy New Year, Mr. President.

Decade in Review

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will remain the greatest physical threat to America’s security. The greatest political threat is to representative governments like ours, and whether they will prevail in defending individual liberty and their own national security, or whether they will sink into the miasma of “global governance” and bureaucratic control.

These issues converge when deciding how to prevent proliferation, whether by states or terrorists. Shall we engage in endless negotiations in international fora, and trust to pieces of paper to protect us, or shall we unapologetically pursue safety for America and its allies through all means necessary, including pre-emptive force and regime change where appropriate? We wasted much of this decade pursuing the globalist route, so unfortunately time is now very short to determine whether a resurgent United States can yet save the day.

Israel, the U.S. and the Goldstone Report

John R. Bolton |  Wall Street Journal

The U.N.’s Human Rights Council (HRC) voted overwhelmingly on Friday to endorse the recommendations of the lopsidedly anti-Israel Goldstone Report. The report, named for former South African judge Richard Goldstone, who chaired the underlying investigation, concluded that Israel’s 2008-2009 military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas was actually aimed against Gaza’s residents as a whole. Thus it was an illegitimate exercise of “collective punishment,” an extraordinarily amorphous legal concept.

The report alleges numerous specific human rights violations by both Israel and Hamas. But by attempting to criminalize Israel’s strategy of crippling Hamas, the report in effect declared the entire antiterrorism campaign to be a war crime. Mr. Goldstone recommended that Israel and the Palestinians should each conduct their own investigations, failing which the Security Council should refer the entire matter to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution.

In the month since the report’s release, it has roiled the Middle East peace process. An Israeli spokesman said “it will make it impossible for us to take any risks for the sake of peace,” perhaps foreshadowing Israeli withdrawal from negotiations while the report remains under active U.N. consideration.

The HRC resolution endorsing the report’s recommendations repeatedly lacerated Israel, leading Mr. Goldstone himself to cringe, saying he was “saddened” the resolution contained “not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report.” A U.S. State Department spokesman conceded that the adopted text “went beyond even the scope of the Goldstone Report itself.”

The U.N. General Assembly created the HRC on March 15, 2006, to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, which had spent much of its final years concentrating on Israel and the U.S. rather than the world’s real human rights violators. The Bush administration voted against establishing this body and declined to join it, believing, correctly, that it would not be an improvement over its predecessor. President Barack Obama changed course, and the U.S. won election to the HRC in May. Mr. Obama argued that engagement would be more effective than shunning the HRC and attempting to delegitimize it.

The Goldstone Report thus provides a stark test of Mr. Obama’s analysis. Predictably, the administration blamed the report’s underlying mandate and its stridently anti-Israel tilt on America’s earlier absence from the HRC when the investigation was authorized and launched. Yet the new administration’s diplomacy had no discernible impact on the HRC’s disgraceful resolution.

Twenty-five of the HRC’s 47 members voted for the resolution (including Russia and China), six voted against (Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Ukraine and the U.S.), and 11 abstained (Japan, South Korea and several European governments among them).

Five didn’t vote at all, including Great Britain and France. Press reports indicated that London saw its inaction as a “favor” to Israel, a position simultaneously inexplicable and gutless. It is hard to know just how much real politicking the Obama administration did before this vote, but the loss of key allies is telling.

The Goldstone Report has important implications for America. In the U.N., Israel frequently serves as a surrogate target in lieu of the U.S., particularly concerning the use of military force pre-emptively or in self-defense. Accordingly, U.N. decisions on ostensibly Israel-specific issues can lay a predicate for subsequent action against, or efforts to constrain, the U.S. Mr. Goldstone’s recommendation to convoke the International Criminal Court is like putting a loaded pistol to Israel’s head–or, in the future, to America’s.

Mr. Obama has now met the new HRC, same as the old HRC, thus producing a “teachable moment,” a phrase he often uses. Quasi-religious faith in “engagement” and the U.N. has run into empirical reality. When the administration picks itself up off the ground, it should become more cognizant of that organization’s moral and political limitations.

Although it will be hard for Mr. Obama to swallow, the logical response to Friday’s debacle is to withdraw from and defund the HRC. Otherwise the Goldstone Report will merely be the beginning, next time perhaps with Washington as its unmistakable target.

Erring on the Side of Incaution

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

President Obama’s decision not to deploy anti-ballistic missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic is unambiguously wrong. It reflects an unrequited concession to Russian belligerence, an embarrassing abandonment of two of America’s strongest European allies, and an appalling lack of understanding of the present and future risks posed by Iran. Worse, this unforced retreat of American hard power clearly signals what may well be a long American recessional globally.

First, Mr. Obama’s capitulation was about Russia, not about Iran. Russia has always known that former President George W. Bush’s national missile defense project was not aimed against Russia’s offensive nuclear capabilities, neither in scope nor in geographical deployment. To the contrary, our common interests in defending against threats from rogue states should have led to missile-defense cooperation, not antagonism.

What has really agitated Russia was not that the sites were for missile defense, but that they were an American presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, Russia’s now-defunct sphere of influence.

Now, without anything resembling a quid pro quo from Moscow, Washington has dramatically reduced its presence and isolated its own friends. In Russia and Eastern Europe, the basic political conclusion is straightforward and worrying: Russia, a declining, depopulating power, growled, and the United States blinked. This devastating reaction extends worldwide, especially among our Pacific allies, who fear similar unilateral U.S. concessions in their region.

Second, Mr. Obama’s proposed new missile defense deployments will not protect the United States against Iranian ICBMs, for which the Eastern European sites were primarily intended. Protecting Europe was only an ancillary, although welcome side effect, one intended to help calm European concern that the United States would abandon Europe and embrace isolationism behind national missile defenses.

Western Europe, not surprisingly, seems largely content with the Obama-projected alternative, which, if implemented, would protect Europe, but would have few tangible benefits for America.

Thus, despite Mr. Obama’s rhetoric about replacing one missile defense design with a more effective one, the systems in question are aimed at two completely different objectives. Of course, it also remains to be seen whether and exactly how the administration will actually implement its projected deployment, and what new risks are entailed.

For example, U.S. ships deployed in the Black Sea would be fully exposed to Russia’s naval capabilities, in contrast to more secure bases in continental Europe. Failure to implement the new plan aggressively will be seen as yet another failure of American will.

Mr. Obama’s public explanation omitted any acknowledgment that the Eastern European deployments were never intended to counter existing Iranian threats, but rather were to protect against threats maturing in the future. Obviously, to be ahead of the curve and ready before Iran’s threat became real, we had to begin deployment now, not in the distant future. Instead, Mr. Obama’s decision effectively forecloses our ability to be ready when the real need arises.

Third, although purportedly based on new intelligence assessments about Iran’s capabilities, Mr. Obama’s announcement simply reflected his own longstanding biases against national missile defense. He has never believed in it strategically, or that it could ever be made operationally successful.

The new intelligence “estimate” agreeably minimizes the threat posed by Iranian ICBMs, thus facilitating a decision to cancel that had been all but made during last year’s campaign. The assessment, as briefed to Congress immediately after the president’s announcement, involved no actual new intelligence, but only a revised prediction of Iran’s future capabilities.

The new “assessment” also confirmed the administration’s often-expressed and so far frustrated desire to negotiate with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. That schedule has slipped badly, leaving Mr. Obama running out of time for diplomatic endeavors.

Moreover, stronger economic sanctions, his fallback position, are increasingly unlikely to be comprehensive or strict enough to actually stop Iran’s nuclear program before completion.

How convenient, therefore, to suddenly “find” more time on the missile front, thus facilitating a diplomatic strategy that had been increasingly headed toward disastrous failure. Moreover, whatever the available intelligence, it does not determine what levels of international risk we should accept. Mr. Obama has too high a tolerance for such risk.

He is too willing to place America in jeopardy of Iran’s threat, a calculus exactly opposite from what we should use. It is far better to err on the side of U.S. security than on the side of greater risk of nuclear devastation. There is no harm in deploying our missile defenses before Iran’s ICBMs can reach America, but incalculable risk if Iran is ready before we are.

Mr. Obama’s rationale for abandoning the Eastern European sites ignores the important reasons they were created, underestimates the Iranian threat, and bends the knee unnecessarily to Russia. This all foreshadows a depressing future. Our president, uncomfortable with projecting American power, is following the advice of his intellectual predecessor George McGovern: “Come home, America.” Both our allies and adversaries worldwide will take due note.

President Obama’s Big UN Adventure

John R. Bolton |  New York Daily News

President Obama’s upcoming visit to the 64th UN General Assembly, which opened yesterday, will be nothing if not entertaining. Substantively, Obama should be delighted. A confluence of recent events has brought to fruition his campaign promises to launch diplomacy with our adversaries: Negotiations without preconditions are blooming everywhere.

Whether these negotiations will benefit the United States is, of course, a different question. Nonetheless, Obama’s UN appearances will showcase that he now unambiguously “owns” (as he likes to say) our foreign policy.

The President’s speech to the General Assembly a week from today is his first major UN public event, and we can predict he will receive a rapturous reception. This was not true for President George W. Bush, who described his annual UN remarks as a “visit to the wax museum” because of the audience’s unenthusiastic response.

And why should we not expect a visible demonstration of Obamamania at the UN? He is giving them pretty much what they ask for, as did President Bill Clinton.

As Obama speaks, the General Assembly will be chaired by former Libyan Foreign Minister Ali Abdessalam Triki, who was elected president of that body yesterday. Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy himself addresses the General Assembly right after Obama, and they will certainly have a chance to speak together in the cozy waiting area just behind the General Assembly podium. This would be an excellent opportunity to discuss the health of recently released mass murderer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, convicted of destroying Pan Am Flight 103 and killing 270 people, including 189 Americans, and now free in Tripoli, Libya.

Even if their paths don’t cross then, Khadafy will be only a few seats away from Obama at the Security Council table on Sept. 24, when the President chairs a meeting on nonproliferation and disarmament. Khadafy can easily walk over to Obama and present him, a la Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, with a copy of the “Green Book,” Khadafy’s 1975 best seller (in Libya at least). They will certainly have a chance at the Security Council to muse about eliminating the U.S. and Israeli nuclear stockpiles, always popular subjects at the UN.

There is no word yet whether Khadafy is invited to our President’s traditional reception for heads of state and government. But certainly, now that the U.S. has accepted Iran’s offer for open-ended diplomacy with the Security Council’s five permanent members (and also Germany), there is no reason why Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should not be on the guestlist.

Perhaps he and Obama can have a photo together as Ahmadinejad goes through the receiving line and begin those direct, unconditional talks that Obama promised during the 2008 campaign. Ahmadinejad might well offer a few thoughts on his overwhelming presidential reelection victory on June 12, and his techniques for handling partisan opposition. Even if Ahmadinejad’s invitation gets lost in the mail, there are still photo opportunities in abundance, perhaps at the UN secretary general’s annual luncheon for visiting heads of state.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is unlikely to attend the opening festivities, because, due to unfortunate “technicalities,” his country is still at war with the UN, and has been since it invaded South Korea in 1950. Nonetheless, the Obama administration has enthusiastically embraced negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program, so perhaps Kim can be persuaded to come next year for a proper presidential photo.

With so many opportunities for a handshake and a big hug with authoritarian leaders, so many compromises and concessions to make and so much adulation to receive, it will be a busy time for the President.

One interesting question, especially for New Yorkers: Will Secretary of State Clinton be with Obama at all the key meetings, public and private, or will she be hard at work at her desk in Washington?

Did O Drop the Ball?

John R. Bolton |  New York Post

Back from summer recess, Congress faces continuing outrage over Scotland’s release of Libyan terrorist Abdel Bassett al-Megrahi, convicted of destroying Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. How did this happen? How is it possible, at the supposed height of “Obamamania” worldwide, that Great Britain, our closest ally, would free a terrorist who killed 270 innocents, 189 of them Americans? What does this mean for our policy against terrorism?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s own ministers now concede, despite earlier denials, that Megrahi’s triumphal return to Tripoli was linked to British interest in greater trade and investment with Libya.

In the United States, polls show over 80 percent of Americans opposed to the release. That disgust spilled over to Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy’s impending visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly opening in two weeks. Khadafy had wanted to pitch his tent, literally, on Libyan-owned property in a New Jersey residential neighborhood. Vociferous popular opposition blocked that idea, and Khadafy’s looking elsewhere for a place to stay.

Now Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and others are calling for congressional probes. Writing to Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lautenberg asked for “a hearing and investigation to uncover whether justice took a back seat to commercial interests.”

Significantly, Lautenberg’s letter also asks the committee to consider whether Megrahi’s release “violated the international agreement between the US and the UK.” This important question may well reveal a critical failure of Obama administration foreign policy.

US interests in British or Scottish decisions about Megrahi are palpable and justifiable–and our feelings, and those of the victims’ families, could surely be communicated in powerful terms. Did President Obama, in fact, really make plain to Prime Minister Brown his opposition to freeing Megrahi? Was the administration too worried about offending Libya, and if so, why? Or did the administration simply drop the diplomatic ball?

In the Clinton years, the United States made two key concessions in exchange for Libya turning over Megrahi and another defendant to Scotland for prosecution. The first was explicit: The trial would not be used to undermine Libya’s regime, which was uniformly understood to mean that prosecutors wouldn’t seek to tie Khadafy directly to the decision to blow Pan Am 103 out of the sky. The second was implicit: By agreeing that trial would be under Scottish, rather than US law, the maximum sentence could only be life imprisonment. (The death penalty is not available in Britain.)

Given this history, America obviously had a profound and continuing stake in Megrahi’s status, after the conviction as well as before. Indeed, because of the Clinton concessions allowing for Scottish jurisdiction, the US victims’ families were assured at that time that Megrahi would serve his sentence in Scottish jails–not in a specially created “UN prison,” as some proposed, and certainly not in Libya.

Now Megrahi’s commutation from any incarceration makes a mockery of all these supposedly good-faith arrangements.

It is simply inconceivable that Britain and Scotland would free Megrahi if President Obama had clearly and forcefully articulated his opposition.

Here, the White House’s public explanation has been inconsistent. First, spokesmen quickly asserted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had worked for “weeks and months” to avert Megrahi’s release, and that Attorney General Eric Holder heard about clemency for Megrahi as early as June. Some contend that Obama’s national-security transition team was briefed well before the inauguration.

Yet now the administration spin is that Megrahi’s release blindsided Washington, and that it is appalled by the decision.

These widely different administration versions of reality are separated by one important fact: the vociferous outpouring of anger and dismay by the Pan Am 103 victims’ families, and by the public generally. That is likely what truly blindsided Obama–how much more convenient, therefore, to blame the British rather than admit his own administration’s failure. Not surprisingly, officials in Britain are now responding testily that the US government was kept fully informed throughout.

Why was the president so diplomatically reticent–or so obviously ineffective–in opposing Megrahi’s release? Prompt, public and thorough Senate hearings would surely uncover the real answer.

Until then, we can only speculate that Obama just didn’t think keeping this mass murderer in prison was worth much effort or political capital. If that speculation is wrong, even the administration should welcome a congressional investigation.