Polling Data Doesn't Support the Nuclear Abolitionists

There is no greater threat to the national security of Western nations than the nuclear abolitionist movement.  If you want to talk about radical extremists who live among us, the Global Zero crowd are the most radical, the most extreme, and the most dangerous.  They pose a far greater civilizational threat to the West than radical Islamists, radical environmentalists, and radical anti-capitalists combined – although many of these other categories also play a role in the anti-nuclear weapons movements.  And yes, Ronald Reagan's crazy talk about seeking a world without nuclear weapons was dangerous, naive fantasy land dreaming, assuming he actually believed what he was saying.

These weapons of mass destruction undoubtedly played the single largest role among all options in keeping the West safe since the end of WWII.  The moment we rid the world of nuclear weapons, our adversaries (e.g., China, Russia, Iran, and pretty much the rest of the planet) will ramp up conventional weapons production, increase the number of their military personnel, and then move across what will then be "the part of the world formerly known as the free lands."

WWII would look like an easy time for the West compared to what a conventional-warfare WWIII would be.  In WWII, the West essentially faced just Germany and Japan, two relatively small but highly militarized societies.  Imagine simultaneously facing down China and other hostile states in Asia, Russia, much of the Middle East, a good portion of South and Central America, an unknown fraction of Africa, and probably portions of Europe in a nuclear weapons-free world with only conventional weaponry, our much smaller population base, their much more rapidly growing economies, and the fairly level conventional technology playing field.  It would not be pretty for us.

And despite what the liberal commentators claim, polling data is most definitely not clearly showing that the public wants to abolish nuclear weapons.

In 2010, CNN conducted a poll asking Americans about their views regarding President Obama's goal to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons.  On the question involving which is a more desirable goal between "the elimination of all nuclear arms in the world [and] for a few major countries including the U.S. to have enough nuclear arms so no country would dare attack them," it was an even split.  In other words, as many Americans want to keep their nuclear weapons as eliminate them, an increase in favor of keeping nuclear weapons from 1988 – when 41 percent were in favor of a few nations keeping them while 56 percent preferred complete abolishment.

Three quarters of respondents in 2009 indicated that the elimination of nuclear weapons is impossible.  Once again, this was an increase from previous polling data in 1987, where 61 percent said it was impossible.

A Rasmussen poll of Americans from mid-2013 indicated that "[m]ost voters still view nuclear weapons as critical to the country's safety, and just one-in-four agree with President Obama's call for a reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal."  These more recent results suggest even stronger support for retaining a strong nuclear deterrent than the 2010 CNN poll suggested.

Only 3 percent believed that nuclear weapons were "not at all important" to the nation's security, versus 45 percent who rate them "very important."  More than three quarters of respondents ranked nuclear weapons as at least "somewhat important" to national security.

The Roper Center at the University of Connecticut did a good job contextualizing historical support for nuclear weapons in the United States:

As the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons, America holds a unique position in debate over the use of nuclear arms. In August 1945 the U.S. obliterated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to bring WWII to a close and obviate the need for a prolonged and bloody US ground invasion. The following month, after the bombs' power had been demonstrated, 4% of respondents in a NORC survey said they would not have used them at all, 26% only on uninhabited areas, and 44% on one city at a time. Twenty-three percent said they would have wiped out all Japan's cities. Two decades later, 70% told a Harris poll that we did the right thing, while 17% were sorry, and in 1982 Harris found those numbers at 63% and 26% respectively.

In other words, one quarter of Americans in 1945 would have used nuclear weapons (had the U.S. enough in their arsenal at the time) to destroy each and every city – not just Hiroshima and Nagasaki – in Japan.  Based on the demographics in Imperial Japan, such an attack would have immediately killed upwards of 16 million people – with likely the remainder of Japan's 72 million people in 1945 dying soon thereafter from the resulting nuclear fallout and breakdown of society.

In 2002 and 2010 polling, both surveys showed that only 22 percent of Americans thought the U.S. should never use nuclear weapons under any conditions, whereas 55 percent would use them in response to a nuclear attack, and 21 percent felt that "in certain circumstances, the US should use nuclear weapons even if it has not suffered a nuclear attack."

Over in Britain, they have had recent debates surrounding what to do with their nuclear weapons.  A July 2013 YouGov poll revealed overwhelming support for the U.K. retaining its nuclear deterrent.  Only 24 percent thought Britain should give up nuclear weapons entirely, while the majority thought that the aging Trident nuclear weapons should be replaced with an equally powerful nuclear weapons system (26 percent) or a less expensive/less powerful nuclear weapons system (35 percent).

Nuclear weapons cannot be abolished.  The knowledge genie cannot be put back in the bottle, and all nuclear weapons-capable states would always retain a rapid capacity to rebuild their nuclear arsenals in the event of the geopolitical winds blowing against them.  Thus, under the Global Zero fantasy, we'd just end up in the nonsensical (and more counterproductively dangerous) position of destroying all current nuclear weapons but then rebuilding an equal – more probably, greater – nuclear stockpile when international tensions increase again (which they inevitably will).  Furthermore, if the West ever got into a serious kinetic war with a major power again, public support for nuclear abolition would drop to effectively zero.  Under the nuclear weapons peace dividend umbrella, many indulge in such utopian ideologies.  The minute geopolitics gets hot again, these infantile wishes will harden into pro-nuclear weapons realpolitik.

Time to stop dreaming of unicorns and have the nuclear abolitionists join the real world.  In the meantime, it might also be useful for our security services to investigate them for linkages to our adversaries.  We've seen this movie before, like when the Soviets were financially backstopping nuclear disarmament movements in Europe and elsewhere during the Cold War.  The sequel should be canceled.