When Barack Obama nominated former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, I assume that he knew what he was getting into. The debate over Hagel’s nomination won’t be about whether he is qualified to run the Pentagon and to negotiate budgets with Congress, but about Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran. Initially, some of Hagel’s critics charged that he was an anti-Semite. But these charges rightfully met with derision.
Thirty years ago I wrote a tiny book in defense of nuclear deterrence. Against the nuclear freezers and the nuclear war-fighters, deterrence was not hard to defend: my argument was drearily sensible. But I was nervously aware that I was urging good sense about a strategic situation that was senseless, because it was premised upon the credibility of a threat of holocaust. I was careful to note my discomfort in my book: deterrence, I said, may be supported but not celebrated, because it is another term for an unprecedentedly lethal danger, which it elects to manage rather than to abolish.
Peter Scoblic comes via Arms Control Today, which is not the usual stepping stone to our magazine, and has been studying the issue deeply for a long time. With the START treaty signing, it happens to be a very good time to have a nuclear weapons expert in house. Peter's cover story is a definitive essay on the future of the bomb. The most compelling question about this subject is whether nuclear deterrence still works against madmen. He says it can: That is, in the face of the most aggressive, most highly armed, most revolutionary power the United States has ever known, deterrence worked.
The nuclear order seems to be falling apart. Gone is the uneasy balance between the cold war superpowers. We now face a slew of new nuclear actors. North Korea has reprocessed enough plutonium for perhaps ten bombs, in addition to the two it has already tested. Iran’s centrifuge program seems poised to produce weapons-grade uranium. And Syria was apparently constructing a clandestine nuclear facility, before it was destroyed by Israeli air strikes in 2007. It’s not just enemies that pose a problem.