Yesterday, the Obama Administration released its much-anticipated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The report is actually a remarkably restrained and sober document that makes only modest changes to U.S. nuclear policy and force structure. It could have been much worse. Even administration critics and those who consider the President’s idealistic goal of a world without nuclear weapons farfetched should at least damn the report and the new policies with faint praise.
The NPR makes some very useful contributions to U.S. security. It reaffirms the traditional U.S. security goals of deterrence and reassurance. But if the United States is to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons to deter attacks and reassure allies, both we and they must invest in additional conventional capabilities. This is the NPR’s essential conclusion. Although the United States is today the preeminent conventional military power in the world, this is not enough. More must be done, according to the NPR in the areas of missile defenses, improved conventional capabilities and new means to counter or negate chemical and biological weapons.
The administration addressed the subject of missile defenses in its Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR), a companion piece to the NPR. The BMDR called for tailored regional deterrence strategies in which expanded missile defenses, both U.S. controlled and in the hands of key allies, is an essential component. Regional missile defenses would be based on a combination of sea- and land-based Aegis missile defense systems, the THAAD and Patriot systems and possibly, in the future, on advanced capabilities such as air-launched hit-to-kill systems.
The NPR places new burdens on U.S. and allied conventional forces. Potential aggressors must be made to understand that they can be denied the fruits of any conventional attacks and that the consequences of such an action (or of the use of chemical or biological weapons) would be devastating retaliation. But in order to put forth a high-confidence conventional deterrent, new investments in conventional forces are required. One of these, for the United States, is conventional prompt global strike.
Looking across the NPR, BMDR and the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, it is clear that the administration needs to develop a strategy for promoting robust regional deterrence. This goes beyond current plans for building partnership capacity. To this end, the U.S. and its allies should move aggressively to create regional integrated air and missile defenses. The BMDR identifies some steps in this direction. The international partnership for the F-35 is another. Some allies have deployed the Aegis missile defense system on their ships and others such as Saudi Arabia are considering doing so. They should be encouraged to move in this direction. A number of U.S. allies needing to replace their aging fighter fleets would benefit from acquiring current generation F-16 and F-18 fighters.
Robust regional deterrence requires new and expanded conventional offensive capabilities. Precision strike systems are the key to U.S. convention preeminence. The administration should consider expanded sales of U.S. systems such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition, Small Diameter Bomb, Joint Stand-Off Weapon and Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile to allies be part of the program. Also, the U.S. must also examine what can be done to improve allied capabilities for ISR to support precision strike.
Finally, robust conventional deterrence means improved capabilities to deal with chemical and biological threats. This is the weakest area in the NPR. Despite its claims to the contrary, the United States has made relatively little progress in dealing with either chemical and biological threats. Some allies have better capabilities than U.S. forces do. A major collaborative program is required in the detection, characterization and neutralization of chemical/biological attacks.
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