Last week, I interpreted a harsh background quote by an Obama aide toward the Pentagon as a sign of a possible rift. This week you don't even have to read between the lines. Time's Mark Thompson reports on a difficult-to-reconcile split over nuclear weapons:
While serving under former President George W. Bush, Gates had repeatedly called for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program to be put into operation, because the nation's current nukes — mostly produced in the 1970s and '80s — are growing so old that their destructive power may be in question.
"The Reliable Replacement Warhead is not about new capabilities but about safety, reliability and security," Gates said in a speech in the week before last November's election. In an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, released in early December after Gates was tapped by Obama to stay on at the Pentagon, Gates repeated that refrain. "Even though the days of hair-trigger superpower confrontation are over, as long as other nations possess the bomb and the means to deliver it, the United States must maintain a credible strategic deterrent," he wrote. "Congress needs to do its part by funding the Reliable Replacement Warhead program — for safety, for security and for a more reliable deterrent." RRW basically trades explosive force for greater assurance that new warheads would work predictably in the absence of tests, which the U.S. has refrained from conducting for nearly two decades to help advance nonproliferation goals.
But Obama doesn't buy that logic. Shortly after taking the oath of office on Tuesday, he turned what had been a campaign promise into an official presidential commitment: the new Administration "will stop the development of new nuclear weapons," the White House declared flatly on its website, with no equivocation, asterisks or caveats.
The Gates position does have a certain logic to it. But, as Thompson notes, not necessarily one that applies to the world we live in. I think I'll defer to Scoblic on this...