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Modernize Nuclear Arsenal?
Not. Gonna. Happen.

At the Wall Street Journal, Melanie Kirkpatrick explains how and why USAF General Kevin Chilton is sounding the nuclear alarm regarding our aging arsenal. (With thanks to Glenn Reynolds.)

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear weapons program has suffered from neglect. Warheads are old. There's been no new warhead design since the 1980s, and the last time one was tested was 1992, when the U.S. unilaterally stopped testing. Gen. Chilton, who heads U.S. Strategic Command, has been sounding the alarm, as has Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So far few seem to be listening.

The U.S. is alone among the five declared nuclear nations in not modernizing its arsenal. The U.K. and France are both doing so. Ditto China and Russia. "We're the only ones who aren't," Gen. Chilton says. Congress has refused to fund the Department of Energy's Reliable Replacement Warhead program beyond the concept stage and this year it cut funding even for that.

Gen. Chilton stresses that StratCom is "very prepared right now to conduct our nuclear deterrent mission" -- a point he takes pains to repeat more than once.

Modernize our nuclear arsenal by replacing old weapons with new designs? Three words: Not gonna happen.

During the campaign, Barack Obama famously made a forceful pledge that, "I will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. To seek that goal, I will not develop new nuclear weapons, I will seek a ban on the production of fissile material, and I will negotiate with Russia to take our ICBM's off hair-trigger alert and to achieve deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal." See the full statement in context below.

Still atop the Foreign Policy page at BarackObama.com is the #1 listed priority; a fanciful pledge of securing "all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years" and banning all new nuclear weapons production. In the real world, the former is a wholly unattainable ideal rather than an achievable pledge, and the latter is achievable only unilaterally.

Obama and Biden will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years, and will negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

So, while President-Elect Obama has been accused by supporters of "selling out" on Foreign Policy within the context of Iraq, going against his campaign promises there (which we applaud), it is highly unlikely he would go against his campaign pledge to not develop any new nuclear weapons.

For one reason, modernizing our nuclear arsenal will cost a not-so-small sum of money while government tax receipts are in decline. For another, it provides Obama no political advantage. The nuclear arsenal can be ignored - or even shrunk, as Obama pledged - without any short term consequences. For politicians, think of stewarding the aging American nuclear arsenal as managing Social Security program, only with far more dire potential consequences. It is, nevertheless, a rusty can that can be kicked down the road for someone else to inherit. Just like... Social Security.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jules Crittenden and Glenn Reynolds for sharing this with their readers. Jules, while concluding similarly, has much more on this.