Have the U.S. nuclear numbers been released yet? Watch your newsfeed for this major strategic development. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration is planning to declassify the exact number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. inventory and announce it to the public at the NPT conference that opens today. Says the Post: “[T]he administration is seeking a dramatic announcement that will further enhance its nuclear credentials as it tries to shore up the fraying nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”
The Post notes objections from intelligence and defense officials who worry about forensic analysis by terrorists. But the revelation of previously classified numbers isn’t what matters here. Unclassified public estimates will turn out to have been pretty accurate. The policy problem is the Obama administration’s apparent belief that more transparency from the U.S. is what the nonproliferation effort needs.
North Korea and Iran have pursued nuclear-weapons programs for years without any effective response from the UN under the auspices of the NPT. Russia and China proliferate at will for their own purposes. Now Egypt proposes to make the Obama NPT policy a forum for confronting Israel and linking both Israel’s and Iran’s nuclear programs to the WMD-free Middle East initiative. The NPT is alternately ignored when it’s inconvenient and exploited when it makes a ready diplomatic weapon against regional rivals. And the Obama administration thinks the problem here is that the U.S. hasn’t published the nitty-gritty numbers on our nuclear arsenal?
In fact, of all the things the U.S. could do, this one has the least relevance to Obama’s avowed purpose of keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists. Terrorists certainly won’t be impressed by bureaucratic gestures. And even if another national leader had the surreal sense of invulnerability that seems characteristic of Obama, and were willing to publish his country’s actual numbers, there would be no benefit for nonproliferation in a paroxysm of national revelations.
On the other hand, this kind of gesture is just the sort of thing critics of Israel can endlessly berate the Israelis for not making. Assuming that India and Pakistan also decline to follow the U.S. lead, they will have another grievance against each other to add to their lists. Elements of Obama’s domestic constituency can celebrate the action, of course, and their counterparts in Europe can nod approvingly. Perhaps that’s what it’s really all about in the end: requiting the inchoate longings of the Nuclear Freeze movement Obama applauded in college. That movement saw America as the world’s big problem. Much of it still does.