Good news: the Obama Administration is seeking to ensure that the U.S. remains the world’s sole superpower. Contrary to the views expressed by critics on the right and left, the administration’s ostensible efforts to reduce nuclear weapons on the way to its announced vision of a world without them, is neither an idealistic pipedream nor a criminal attempt to weaken U.S. deterrence. Rather, it is a clever ploy designed to leverage current U.S. superiority in such areas as long-range precision strike, air and missile defenses, ISR and sea control into enduring strategic preeminence.
The administration’s new Nuclear Policy Review (NPR) provides the outlines of the clandestine strategy for U.S. global military dominance. According to this document it is the combination of current U.S. conventional preeminence, our growing missile defense capabilities and the ability to counter chemical and biological weapons threats that permits a reduced reliance of nuclear weapons for deterrence and defense. In addition, the NPR proposes the development of new conventional capabilities such as prompt global strike that would provide equivalent effectiveness to nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles against even hardened military targets. Similarly, the Obama Administration’s various strategy reviews also call for the deployment of a network of missile defenses that could neutralize regional non-nuclear ballistic missile threats from countries such as North Korea, Iran and even China. In addition to missile defenses the United States is building the world’s only fifth-generation fighters, the F-22 and the F-35. The latter will be provided to key U.S. allies allowing them to contribute to maintenance of regional air dominance. Add to these capabilities ten nuclear powered aircraft carriers, and the new Virginia class nuclear attack submarines capable of firing land-attack cruise missiles and we may be looking forward to a generation of U.S. military dominance of the world.
It is a bit puzzling that the NPR would place such emphasis on continuing U.S. conventional preeminence as a critical pillar supporting U.S. denuclearization objectives when this is precisely the area that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said we could take additional risk because we were over invested as compared to other areas such as irregular warfare. So, on the one hand we can take risk here because our conventional warfare capabilities are less critical now than in the past but, on the other hand, these same conventional capabilities plus new ones are even more important for deterrence and reassurance purposes as we reduce nuclear weapons. If we need to rely more heavily in the future on advanced conventional capabilities and missile defenses why cancel the F-22, Kinetic Energy Interceptor or the Airborne Laser? Why delay development of a new long-range bomber? Why dismantle the Future Combat System? Seems a bit contradictory to me.
Other countries recognize the current global military situation and U.S. efforts to make its conventional superiority a permanent condition. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin pointed out back in 2008 that “developed countries, exploiting their technological supremacy, channel enormous funds — several times larger than our disposable means — into the creation of new defensive and offensive systems.” I wonder who he had in mind. The 2010 Russian military strategy document identifies the creation and deployment of missile defense systems and high-precision conventional weapon systems as among the main threats to that country’s security. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov made a public statement just the other day warning that U.S. conventional preeminence stood in the way of achieving zero nuclear weapons. “To move toward a nuclear-free world, it is necessary to resolve the question of non-nuclear-equipped strategic offensive weapons and strategic weapons in general, which are being worked on by the United States, among others.” One reason the Russian defense strategy sees tactical nuclear weapons as continuing to have utility is because of the disparity in that country’s conventional capabilities in comparison to those of the United States and its allies. U.S. preeminence in conventional military power may also be a spur to the WMD programs of countries such as North Korean and Iran.
Critics of the NPR and opponents of the new strategic arms reduction treaty would be smart to focus on the requirements set forth in the NPR for conventional preeminence, missile defenses and means of countering chemical and biological threats. With additional missile defense deployments, prompt global strike and chemical/biological weapons countermeasures years away, perhaps it would be wise to delay reducing our strategic nuclear arsenal until our new capabilities are well in hand. When it comes to strategic deterrence, the policy should be that associated with wing walking. Never let go of the capability in hand until a new, equivalent one is within reach. The administration is taking a tremendous gamble.
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