Panetta’s Loose Words Warrant Washing His Mouth Out With Soap

This month, former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta – he of minimal loyalty to his bosses — published his memoir “Worthy Fights,” in which he criticizes Obama’s national security strategies and in particular how the administration has dealt with Iraq and Syria.  

In his book, Panetta decries the “Red line” debacle of 2012 when President Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line for us.” Panetta suggests that Obama’s failure to enforce the red line, when chemical weapons really were used a year later, undermined U.S. credibility amongst Syrians and the rest of the world.

Ironically, Panetta’s book makes a serious semantic blunder of its own when Northeast Asian news outlets took a keen interest in this sentence:

“If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korean forces and defend south Korea – including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary.”

The sentence garnered attention from South Korean media and even prompted a response from Pyongyang, which promised to bolster their nuclear deterrent to counter the U.S. policies toward North Korea.

World order hanging in the balance of your every word is pretty difficult, isn’t it, Mr. Panetta?

The importance of rhetoric cannot be overplayed. Need you be reminded of the infamous “16 words” (“the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”) spoken by President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address that were used to justify war in Iraq.

Or Ronald Reagan’s joke before a Saturday radio address: “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Panetta’s words are alarmist. Threatening the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a conventional attack only heightens the importance of these weapons that should only serve as a nuclear deterrent.  

If there is a North Korean conventional attack on South Korea, the United States has ample non-nuclear means at its disposal to respond. According to Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard, Jr., Chair of the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, U.S. conventional weapons would be sufficient to defend South Korea from North Korean forces.

Gard writes, “Stopping the attack of poorly trained and ill-equipped North Korean forces does not require the use of nuclear weapons.”

He goes on to say, “Should North Korea be able to bypass the demilitarized zone by moving some troops by air or through tunnels into South Korea, an option that has been threatened, they obviously would have to be killed or captured by conventional means. Employing nuclear weapons in densely populated South Korea brings to memory the parallel concept of destroying a city in order to save it. And since the war plan for defense of South Korea envisions invading North Korea and seizing Pyongyang, the capitol, attacking the North with nuclear weapons would endanger our own troops, as well as causing massive casualties on the long-suffering North Korean population.

“There is no justification for threatening to break the generally accepted barrier between the use of conventional high explosive munitions and nuclear weapons in the defense of South Korea. The only practical utility of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter their use by other nations against our vital national interests and, by extension, against our allies,” concluded Gard.

Perhaps Panetta’s ill-considered words deserve the old bar of soap to the mouth treatment a la Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”  

Front and Center: An Update on Arms Control, National Security and Politics


An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.


We’re Hiring!
Know any accounting experts interested in working at a mission-oriented non-profit? Because the Center and Council are looking for a full-time financial controller to join our team. Please share the job description–applications are due by October 20!


Planes, Trains, and Mobile-Basing?
Cold War ideas of where to house our nuclear weapons—such as hiding missiles on trains and trucks—are beginning to re-surge. Writing on the Center blog, Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn reminds us that “mobile-basing”—like nuclear weapons themselves—is an expensive and dangerous idea that is better left in the past. [10/2]

Don’t Forget About the Other ‘Rogue State’:
For over a year, the U.S. has been all eyes on Iran, but is this distracting us from states that already have nuclear weapons—such as the ever-unpredictable North Korea? On the blog, Sarah Tully suggests that the DPRK’s nuclear program is “flying under the radar” while the U.S. spends its days engaging Iran and refusing to engage North Korea. [10/2]

Who’s Minding the Nukes?
It’s no secret our nuclear weapons enterprise has been under fire this year for a truly inexcusable culture of complacency. Katie McCarthy underlines the irony that poor management in the NNSA has arisen despite the NNSA’s initial mission: to escape poor management. However, the incoming NNSA director, Frank Klotz, may come as a ray of hope for much-needed reform. [10/3]


Almost to 5,000 Followers!
Just last week, the National Security Council’s WMD advisor cited the Nukes of Hazard Twitter handle and blog as an “expert source” at the Military Reporters & Editors Conference. Make sure you follow Nukes_of_Hazard on Twitter for all your nuclear and national security related news!

ICYMI: the Iran Talks on Buzzfeed
When it comes to these complex international negotiations, sometimes it helps to dumb down the wonk for a moment and just have some fun. That’s why we teamed up with our friends at Win Without War to break down the talks with quotes from the 2004 hit film, Mean Girls. If you’re ready for a laugh, check out our BuzzFeed article—and don’t forget to give it a share on Facebook and Twitter!

Don’t Forget About the Other “Rogue State”

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is busy trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear problem, our further Eastern “rogue state” foe is cruising under the radar. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s nearly three-year tenure has been marked by an expansion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear program.

Park-Xi Summit and Outcomes

On July 4, Chinese president Xi Jinping concluded a two day summit in Seoul, South Korea. During the summit, Xi met with South Korean president Park Geun-hye to discuss, among other matters, the pressing issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.

America’s Massive Missile Defense Mistake

This week, The National Interest published an op-ed by Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert Gard and Phil Coyle on the implications for U.S. missile defense of the successful test of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system last Sunday. The authors argue that one successful test of the GMD system every five years and one-half years should not justify the deployment of more flawed interceptors.

As Another North Korean Nuclear Test Looms, What’s Washington’s Response?

This week, OtherWords published a piece I wrote alongside Lt. General (USA, Ret) Robert Gard on the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy toward North Korea. Here is an excerpt:

It’s time to put North Korea back on the foreign policy agenda and re-engage it in serious and responsible negotiations.

Given Chinese support for North Korea, heavy sanctions won’t compel Kim Jong Un to comply with American preferences or engage in negotiations on dictated terms. However much the United States may detest the authoritarian North Korean regime, it’s in America’s interest to engage in a dialogue to protect its national security and that of its Asian allies.

Refusing to negotiate with the North Koreans unless they make concessions dictated by Washington is counterproductive. Watchful waiting simply results in further advances in the North Korean nuclear weapons program, making America and its allies less secure. Kim Jong Un is willing to talk, and it’s in America’s interest to pick up the phone and call him.

Read the full piece here.

Nukes, Missiles and Feints: The Real Deal on Iran and North Korea

A Conversation about the Current Situation in North Korea and How it Differs from Iran

Washington DC – April 16, 2013– Press Advisory– The rhetoric from North Korea has become increasingly hostile. Last Friday, the country warned that “nuclear war is unavoidable” and declared that Tokyo would be its first target in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula. This statement is just the latest in an escalating war of words and rising tensions between North Korean officials and the United State.

Join Truman Project President Rachel Kleinfeld – just back from Japan – and an expert panel as they discuss the current situation in North Korea, how the situation differs from that of Iran, and how we can better understand Asian hard security and the nuclear challenge?

L. Gordon Flake, executive director, Mansfield Foundation
Laicie Heeley, senior policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation ?
Alexandra Toma, founder, Fissile Materials Working Group
Moderator: Rachel Kleinfeld, President of the Truman Project

When: Friday, April 19th, 9:30am-10:45am ET

Where:Center for National Policy
One Massachusetts Ave. NW Suite 333
Washington, 20001

Breakfast will be served.

RSVP here


The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a Washington-based non-profit think tank working to reduce the number of nuclear weapons stockpiled across the globe, increase international nonproliferation programs targeted at preventing the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism, redirect U.S. military spending to address 21st century security threats and halt the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons.