For the past few weeks, the U.S. response to Iran’s 11th-hour nuclear weapons threat has been focused on red lines. Israel — whose very existence is at stake — has urged us to establish such lines by warning Iran that crossing them will trigger a strong U.S. reaction. President Obama has refused.
This is yet further indication that Mr. Obama denies the fundamental American defense strategy of deterrence, which has kept us safe since the dawn of the nuclear era. The 11 presidents prior to Mr. Obama, five Democrats and six Republicans, staked our nation’s life on deterrence — and won. It’s important for every American voter to understand exactly what the president is doing in abandoning this cornerstone of American foreign policy and national security.
It seems clear that Mr. Obama doesn’t understand deterrence. Deterrence isn’t something you have, like nuclear weapons in silos. It’s something you do, with words and actions. Deterrence is based upon fear. The very root of the Latin word (de plus terrere) connotes not just fear, but terror. We use deterrence to convince an adversary to comply with our wishes without resorting to violence.
There are two steps to deterrence: First, we directly threaten our adversary with consequences so terrifying and so certain that they vastly outweigh any gain he might have thought possible from his intended actions. Second, we embark on a major series of reinforcing measures to convince him beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have the capability, the will and the intention of carrying out our threat without delay.
In the case of Iran, our president should threaten that if the Iranian government doesn’t terminate its nuclear weapons program immediately and disassemble all of its nuclear facilities, we will be forced to destroy them by military action.
Our reinforcing measures with conventional forces, all highly publicized, should include such activities as:
Accelerated research and development of improved weapons specialized for this mission.
Visible weapons testing on evening TV.
Rapid modification or procurement of these weapons.
Construction of mirror-image Iranian target arrays at our test ranges.
Intensive training against these ranges.
Focused counterproliferation exercises.
Announced surge deployments.
Elevated worldwide alert levels
As a backdrop to these activities, our reinforcing measures must include nuclear forces as well. Although we should not threaten to use nuclear weapons on Iran, they provide fearsome, credible support for our conventional forces. Because they’re so devastating and unique, nuclear weapons are the real power in our deterrence. Our reinforcing measures with nuclear forces should include immediate resumption of underground nuclear weapons testing, as well as accelerated design, testing and production of new nuclear weapons with very low yield, great accuracy, reduced collateral damage and increased security and control. Individual designs should be tailored for earth penetration, chemical-biological agent defeat and reduced residual radiation — all with no attempt at secrecy.
Look back at our proven track record of deterrence. For half a century deterrence kept us safe. We’re all here today because it works. Throughout 40 years of the Cold War — the most deadly confrontation of nuclear-armed superpowers in history — deterrence worked. Those decades saw hundreds of crises, dozens of hot wars, yet America’s bold, firm, unwavering policy of deterrence was 100 percent effective in preventing use of a single nuclear weapon. We won the Cold War.
Iran today represents a whole spectrum of threats. A rogue state — irresponsible and belligerent — is about to acquire the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has already threatened to use them to destroy Israel, and may well give them to proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda for use anywhere. Worst of all, Iran is triggering a global cascade of proliferation that will make nuclear weapons and material easily available to terrorists and criminals, leading to a world of nuclear horror and chaos from which there can be no return.
Diplomacy and sanctions have failed for two decades. It’s time for action: We must use the immense power of deterrence. We’re at a critical moment in history, and our president has just failed the red line test. This is no time for timidity, weakness and indecision. America needs the clear-eyed courage and boldness of a Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan.
Retired Vice Adm. Robert R. Monroe was director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.