Do Neocons Comprehend English?

Nuclear weapons huggers are tripping over themselves to claim that last week’s op-ed by the “four horsemen” — George Schultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn (all global zero advocates) — has struck a blow to the President’s effort to get a new START treaty. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Frank Gaffney both claim that the four leaders came out in support of building a new nuclear warhead. That would be a real problem for the President if those leaders had done that. But they did no such thing.

Despite the fact that there is nothing written in the op-ed that says anything about building a new warhead (in fact it actually rebuffs Kyl on a number of points), Kyl and Gaffney both infer that the four statesmen — by endorsing the congressionally mandated Strategic Posture Commission report that came out last May — are, by extension, endorsing the construction of new nuclear warheads. Kyl in a letter to the Wall Street Journal makes the logical leap, as he says the four statesmen:

deliver a clarion call for the “necessity to maintain the safety, security and reliability of our own [nuclear] weapons.” In so doing, they have associated themselves with…the experts on the bipartisan Perry-Schlesinger Commission, who have urged significant and immediate funding to develop a modern warhead and repair our decrepit Manhattan Project-era nuclear infrastructure.

There are two catastrophic problems with this claim.

First, the Perry-Schlesinger Commission NEVER advocated building a new warhead. It just didn’t. Kingston Rief at Nukes of Hazard, who happened to be on the staff of the Strategic Posture commission, corrects the record:

The Commission, simply does not say that the U.S. needs new warheads … Instead it notes that existing life extension programs and new warhead designs represent opposite ends of a spectrum of options. What we have learned about our nuclear weapons to date suggests that existing life extension programs, not new warhead designs, make the greatest technical and strategic sense.

Three possibilities arise from Kyl’s totally fraudulent claim that that the commission “urged significant and immediate funding” for a new warhead. Either Jon Kyl and his staff, along with the Wall Street Journal, and other conservatives have not read the Strategic Posture report; or they read it, but lacking proper reading comprehension skills they misunderstood it; or finally — and most likely — they are knowingly and deliberately lying about what it says.


Second, Kyl, Gaffney, et al. don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “modernize.” They interpret the word modernize to only mean the replacement of something with something else. Therefore when reports call for the “modernizing” of US nuclear forces they assume that this can only mean the construction of new nuclear warheads. This is nonsense.

To modernize something does not have to entail replacing it, it can just as easily entail refurbishing, or renovating. Using the online Webster’s dictionary I discovered that modernize means, “to bring up to date in style, design, methods.” Modernizing a nuclear weapon therefore does not mean that one has to build an entirely new one. Thus, the Perry-Schlesinger commission, the Obama administration, and the four horsemen can all be for modernizing the US nuclear arsenal, while simultaneously being against a new nuclear warhead. Stephen Pifer of the Brookings Institution explained the distinction:

We [the US] take a missile frame and we modernize it, and we refurbish it, whereas the Russian practice is to take a missile, they use it for 15 years and then they replace it completely. So you’ll see new numbers coming up on the Russian side and you may think that, gosh, the Americans are still deploying these 1970s missiles. I suspect when they retire the last Minuteman III in 2030, it may have three of the original bolts on it from 1970 but it’s going to be a very different missile.

While conservatives can try to argue wrongly that this type of modernization is insufficient, it is simply a lie to argue that the Perry-Schlesinger commission report that calls for modernizing the nuclear arsenal is arguing to build a completely new nuclear warhead.