The Republican Party platform would have you believe that the strongest nation on Earth has decided to hang it up. "The United States is the only nuclear power not modernizing its nuclear stockpile," the party's 2012 platform warns.
Nonsense. All the major nuclear powers -- China, Russia, and the United States -- are modernizing their nuclear forces. While the Cold War has been cold for two decades now and the world no longer sits at the brink of conflagration, nuclear weapons enjoy a strange momentum. Bombs, warheads, and the means to deliver them are being refurbished and created anew so they will remain potent well into this century.
How do we know anyone in 2050 will want them? We don't, but we are delivering them nonetheless. A gift for the next generation.
It's true that in his Prague speech in 2009, President Barack Obama vowed "to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." But he immediately qualified it, saying, "This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime."
His policies have not exactly been a rush to disarmament.
In his 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the president kept intact the land-sea-air strategic triad, and backed off his pledge to take nuclear missiles off high alert status. He did eliminate one weapon: a sea-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile.
Obama also negotiated an arms treaty with Russia, limiting both sides to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads by the treaty's end, after seven years.
But the treaty's reductions from previous levels were modest. Moreover, there are more nuclear weapons outside the treaty than are covered by its limits. This includes about 2,000 strategic warheads in the U.S. non-deployed "reserve" and thousands more Russian tactical nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War -- which have never been covered by any arms control treaty.
When it comes to spending on nuclear weapons, and the complex of laboratories and facilities that support them, Obama has been downright generous in tough fiscal times.
When he submitted the New START arms reduction treaty to the Senate, the president laid out a congressionally required 10-year plan for modernizing and maintaining U.S. nuclear forces, including the warheads, delivery systems, and related infrastructure. Over the decade, the plan envisioned about $88 billion in spending for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous unit of the Energy Department, and $125 billion for updating strategic delivery vehicles, such as submarines, missiles, and bombers.
There's been some grumbling among Republicans that the president didn't keep his promise on this score. The GOP platform declares, "It took the current Administration just one year to renege on the President's commitment to modernize the neglected infrastructure of the nuclear weapons complex -- a commitment made in exchange for approval of the New START treaty."