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The Nuclear Illusionist

Dec 2, 2017
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A timely reading assignment from today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. It would be an understatement to say that the Journal’s editorial writers hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head. A few particularly salient paragraphs:

“Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

So declared President Obama Sunday in Prague regarding North Korea’s missile launch, which America’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice added was a direct violation of U.N. resolutions. At which point, the Security Council spent hours debating its nonresponse, thus proving to nuclear proliferators everywhere that rules aren’t binding, violations won’t be punished, and words of warning mean nothing.

Rarely has a Presidential speech been so immediately and transparently divorced from reality as Mr. Obama’s in Prague. The President delivered a stirring call to banish nuclear weapons at the very moment that North Korea and Iran are bidding to trigger the greatest proliferation breakout in the nuclear age. Mr. Obama also proposed an elaborate new arms-control regime to reduce nuclear weapons, even as both Pyongyang and Tehran are proving that the world’s great powers lack the will to enforce current arms-control treaties.


The truth is that Mr. Obama’s nuclear vision has reality exactly backward. To the extent that the U.S. has maintained a large and credible nuclear arsenal, it has prevented war, defeated the Soviet Union, shored up our alliances and created an umbrella that persuaded other nations that they don’t need a bomb to defend themselves.

Unfortunately, such distinctions are lost on Mr. Obama and his advisers. With the right amount of persuasion (and few economic carrots), they believe that anyone can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapons program and the required delivery platforms. And when rogue states break their promises (helloooo, North Korea), it’s time to head back to the bargaining table.

History teaches that many dictators like to talk, particularly when those discussions are a substitute for more concrete action. In the late 1930s, diplomatic overtures from British politicians like Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain were hailed across Europe as the best way to deal with Adolf Hitler. Both Baldwin and Chamberlain remained popular until the Nazis invaded Poland, and the continent exploded into World War II.

Seventy years later, we can only wonder that cataclysmic event–or events–will prompt the political and chattering classes to finally appreciate the folly of Mr. Obama’s policies.

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