U.S. nuclear strategy is focused mainly on deterring rational leaders in full control of their arsenals from contemplating aggression. When foreign leaders aren’t rational or aren’t in full control of their arsenals, it doesn’t work so well. Nor does it work well if they are accident-prone, or given to miscalculation in crises. All of which points to the fact that there are some ways a nuclear conflict might begin that can’t be deterred. In those situations, only missile defense is likely to save America from nuclear armageddon. Unfortunately, the very modest defensive system America has today, called Ground-based Midcourse Defense, could not cope with sizable attacks. What is needed is to add sites while constructing a second layer of defenses based at sea where it can be more survivable. The obvious candidate for the latter job is a variation on the hull of the San Antonio class of amphibious vessels, which has sufficient volume to host a large number of interceptors. If each layer in a two-tier defensive system is 90% effective, then only one in a hundred incoming warheads will actually reach U.S. soil. The Trump administration is currently conducting a ballistic missile defense review that should seriously consider that option. I have written a commentary for RealClear Defense here.
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