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The Unicorn with Ten Thousand Horns

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Rush Limbaugh is still fighting the Cold War:

The Associated Press is reporting that Obama could cut our nuclear weapons arsenal by 80%. That is just staggering. This would amount to unilateral disarmament. Three hundred nuclear weapons would take us back to levels not seen since 1950. If we cut our nuclear weapons down to 300, Russia will have five times, 1,550 nuclear warheads. If we reduce to 300, we will have fewer nuclear warheads than the ChiComs. The only thing you could say in response to this, "Well, Rush, we don't have anything to fear from the Russians or the Chinese or anybody in the Middle East." No, of course we don't. The last time we had 300 warheads was in the fifties and that's when we were making them as fast as our technology and materials would permit us to make 'em. We weren't stopping at 300.

300 warheads is not disarmament. It is 300 warheads. Nowhere in his rant did Limbaugh consider how many are necessary, or even sustainable:

During the Cold War, the United States, in an effort to achieve and maintain an advantage in the nuclear arms race, invested large amounts of money and technical resources into nuclear weapons design, testing, and maintenance. Many of the weapons designed required high upkeep costs, justified primarily by their Cold War context and the specific and technically sophisticated applications they were created for.

Limbaugh must think the Defense Department has its own herd of unicorns that can fart fissile material:

Our number of warheads peaked at 12,000 in the late eighties. And let me tell you something. That number of nuclear warheads is what helped us win the Cold War. That number of nuclear warheads sent a message to every other nation, particularly at that point in time, the Soviet Union, "You hit us, it doesn't matter. We've got enough left to wipe you out in retaliation." That many nuclear warheads was a deterrent.

He’s talking about Mutually Assured Destruction. Trouble is, the United States has no large nation-state to deter anymore. The two prospects we’re rattling sabers at now, Iran and North Korea, are both assumed not to care about being blown up themselves. By the neocon stereotype of terrorist enemies, Mutually Assured Destruction is a win for the bad guys.

When we faced enemies who we assumed wanted to survive, military technology was much less sophisticated. The huge number of warheads was necessary because we expected an enemy first strike would wipe most of them out. We relied on fixed-silo missiles and big lumbering bombers, both of which were little more than targets. The bulk of the “second strike” capacity which was the essence of deterrent was carried on submarines.

There was no practical or effective defense against a first strike. That has changed. The latest iteration of the Aegis system can destroy ballistic missiles in flight. The “Star Wars” technology that was mocked at the end of the Cold War is now a reality. A small or rogue nuclear nation would see their attack defeated before any damage was done.

Meanwhile, as our defenses improved, our ability to deliver weapons past enemy defenses has also improved. If the United States were to launch, the targets would be hit.

I can’t offer specific warhead count that is justified by current conditions. We certainly want to retain the ability to inflict catastrophic damage; unilateral disarmament will not lead to peace. An prospective enemy may have dozens of hardened military targets (setting aside the MAD concept of blasting cities). And the entire arsenal is never operationally ready. There must be an allowance for maintenance and failures.

People like Limbaugh and Hannity (and most of the Republican Party) seem to think American exceptionalism is measured by our warhead count. They want thousands, because thousands were once necessary. Today we need only hundreds. Excessive spending on useless force will help compromise what’s left of our exceptional country.