by TAJ HASHMI*
While people across the world for the last three years have been watching the unbelievable resurgence in state- and non-state-actor-sponsored violence and terror across the Arab World – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Gaza, and of late, Iraq – the Obama Administration’s recent decision to ramp up its nuclear capability has almost remained unnoticed to most analysts, let alone the common people. Even if, very similar to what happened during the Cold War, America’s ramped up nuclear capability does not lead to a nuclear conflagration, this is going to signal further nuclear proliferation, arms race and a new cold war. Some American analysts find it unbelievable, that “a president who campaigned for ‘a nuclear-free-world’ and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy”, has thumbed up a massive revitalization for new generation of nuclear warheads and weapon carriers. The price tag is estimated to be a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. The justifications for the “modernization of nuclear capabilities” – apparently not synonymous with increasing nuclear warheads – are baffling.
While Russia is alleged to be on the march; China is assumed to be pressing further its territorial claims to the detriment of its neighbors; and Pakistan is “expanding” its arsenal. Gary Samore, Obama’s nuclear adviser in his first term, has singled out Putin’s “invasion of Ukraine” as “the most fundamental game changer” in regard to America’s ramping up its nuclear capability. One assumes, thanks to the growing influence of the hawks in Washington, soon Iran’s purported nuclear capability will further rationalize America’s nuclear modernization program.
As a New York Times editorial (Sept 24, 2018) has pointed out, during the past six years Obama promised to make the world eventually nuclear arms free. And that his promises have substantially de-escalated the arms race: 13 countries so far have completely eliminated their nuclear materials, and 15 have destroyed portions of their stockpiles. Nevertheless, there are about 2,000 nuclear weapons located in 14 countries, and 25 countries have the materials and technology to build their own bombs.
What is apparently baffling is Obama’s raising the nuclear modernization budget from $70 to $84 billion a year. Interestingly, having no qualms with spending a trillion dollars to build a dozen nuclear submarines, 100 new bombers and 400 land-based missiles, and spending billions on weapon upgrades, the Congress hardly debated the issue.
As we know, in accordance with the “Weinberger Doctrine” (Weinberger was Reagan’s Defense Secretary), America does not want to commit the Vietnam mistakes. Now, it favors using overwhelming force for a swift and decisive victory, as it achieved in Iraq in 1991 and 2003. In 2011, America spent $739.3 billion on defense, equivalent to more than 45% of what the rest of the world spent on defense that year. Obama’s latest volte-face indicates two things: a) either he has started believing in American hawks who love to see their country as an empire, which should be on the path to “permanent war”; or b) he is too vulnerable to the overpowering influence of the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) on the Congress.
We have reasons not to blame Obama for his “ambivalence” towards arms race and nuclear escalation. The Nobel Laureate in Peace is anything but the “most powerful man in the world”. He cannot overpower the hawks and the MIC, who, as one analyst believes, want at least one major war every ten years in some distant part of the world. The hawks are good at generating fear among the bulk of Americans about the unknown or least known enemies, such as the ISIS and the Khorasan Group in Iraq and Syria.
In view of Obama’s latest “backsliding on nuclear promises”, one may argue as to why his administration and the beneficiaries of the “permanent war” should spend another trillion dollars in the next three decades on nuclear modernization while America has slowly and steadily entered into the arena of another long war in the Middle East against the ISIS, who seems to have appeared from nowhere, and despite its meager resources and manpower, captured substantial territories in Syria and Iraq. As America’s latest war is being planned – albeit with tepid support from five Arab autocracies, one of them (Saudi Arabia) also regularly behead people in the name of Islam and Shariah like the ISIS extremists – should make the hawks and MIC happy. So, why should the Obama Administration go for the nuclear modernization?
We believe the nuclear option is not for containing Russia, China or Iran. It is all about the “profits of war”. Another cold war or “cold peace” may lead to further arms race, even nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, America and its Western allies would remain dominant militarily in the foreseeable future. It seems, America’s latest military adventure in the Arab World gives credence to what General Wesley Clark said about the Pentagon’s long-term plan to invade several countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria and Iran, without any specific reasons but – as one would guess – for the benefit of the MIC alone.
Similarly, one may argue that investing a trillion dollar on nuclear modernization would further benefit those who benefit from conventional wars as well. Conversely, one is not sure if the nuclear modernization in the long run might be more profitable (for the MIC) than waging unpopular wars against Syria and Iran! However, America’s ramping up the nuclear capability is likely to end the so-called unipolarity; and might usher in another cold war and “cold peace” hurting food supply, human rights, democracy and development across the world, especially in the Third World. Last but not least, nuclear modernization would eventually lead to nuclear proliferation. And there is no guarantee that terrorists and terrorist-states would not have access to nuclear technology.
Related link: The Overblown ISIS Threat: Prelude To Another Long War?
* The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee. Sage has recently published his Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.