The events of August 1945 that brought a conclusion to World War II 70 years ago are not to be forgotten. With the expected loss of millions of lives -- American and Japanese -- if Allied forces invaded the islands of Japan, President Harry S. Truman made the decision to use a new weapon in the American arsenal: the atomic bomb.
The bombs dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9 changed world history beyond ultimately leading Japan to surrender. The nuclear age was launched. The decades after 1945 brought the Cold War and the promise of Mutual Assured Destruction as the primary deterrent against any nuclear nation using what became massive stockpiles of weapons vastly more powerful than those that destroyed the Japanese cities. Primarily, the Soviet Union knew that a nuclear attack on the West would mean a massive response. The West equally knew that any nuclear attack on the Soviet Union or the countries it occupied would lead the Russians to strike with nuclear weapons.
As frightening as the Cold War was and as near as the world came to nuclear war on at least a couple of occasions, MAD was an insurance policy against using nuclear weapons. The collapse of the Soviet Union was welcomed by the free world, but a price has been the spread of weapons to other countries and, most dangerously, to groups with money to spend and a willingness to use the weaponry in acts of terrorism.
The spread of nuclear weapons is a major threat to American security.
When he was president, Barack Obama said: "Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one."
Former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger; former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry; and former Sen. Sam Nunn wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2010: "The four of us have come together, now joined by many others, to support a global effort to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, to prevent their spread into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately to end them as a threat to the world. We do so in recognition of a clear and threatening development. The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and nuclear material has brought us to a tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands."
Today North Korea and Iran are at the forefront of the debate over the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The United States and Russia could be on the verge of a new nuclear arms race, with China added as a significant players. President Donald Trump faces these challenges while ensuring that nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of extremists.
Though eliminating nuclear weapons is the ideal, the nation cannot afford to relinquish its ability to strike with devastating nuclear force. That remains a deterrent to use of nuclear weapons on a large scale by any nation. Our nuclear arsenal must remain as strategically modern as conventional forces. As threats change, the weaponry needed to respond must change. The nation must spend enough to ensure nuclear superiority in any world scenario, but we must not "overspend" on nuclear weapons in the context of holdover thinking from the Cold War.
As far back as 2002 when he was secretary of state, former National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell summed up the situation: "We have every incentive to reduce the number. These (nuclear weapons) are expensive. They take away from soldier pay. They take away from O(perations) and M(aintenance) investments. They take away from lots of things. There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the nation."
Answering the question of what the country needs is where disagreeing Democrats and Republicans must find an answer. On this issue, they have an obligation to balance priorities and act with nothing less than a national survival mentality: not too much, not too little. Their decision pales in comparison to the difficulty of Truman's in 1945, but the course today's leaders choose to follow is no less crucial to safeguarding American lives.