Last May, President Obama clearly stated, "I don't take options off the table when it comes to U.S. security, period." Unfortunately, his new Nuclear Posture Review does just that. It delivers a muddled message that weakens the strength of our deterrent.
According to the Obama administration's new policy, if a country is a nuclear proliferator, the United States will seek to deter the offender's actions with the threat of nuclear weapons. If it is not, the president promises never to use nuclear weapons — even if the United States is attacked with biological or chemical weapons. Confusingly, the president reserves the right to change his mind.
Our nuclear deterrent serves an important role in protecting the United States from would-be aggressors. Telling our adversaries that we are unwilling to use the full extent of our assets to protect our nation is either disingenuous or dangerous. Also, the U.S. extends this protection to over 30 allies and friends who have agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons in exchange for U.S. nuclear guarantees. This policy affects them as well.
When it comes to defending the United States against a devastating attack, our message should be clear and simple: If our nation is attacked, we will use all means necessary to defend ourselves. Period. This is the essence of nuclear deterrence: The message should be that the cost of attacking the United States will be greater than the benefit.
Though the new START treaty has yet to be ratified by the Senate, the Nuclear Posture Review suggests even deeper reductions will follow, beyond the new 30% START cut. But the rationale for more cuts is unclear and, as the administration acknowledges, the threat to the United States has not been reduced.
Underpinning the president's drive for U.S. nuclear reductions appears to be an expectation that others will follow. There is no historical basis for this assumption. Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has reduced its nuclear arsenal by nearly 80%, but such cuts have not curbed Iran or North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Nor have they led to reductions in Pakistan, India, or China's nuclear arms.
The president has brought world leaders to Washington this week to address the grave threat of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation. While North Korea now has nuclear weapons and Iran is proceeding to become a nuclear power, the test for this president will not be the size and role of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Instead, it will be whether he has reduced the nuclear threat from others to our nation.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, is the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.