I wish to thank Mr. Hughes and the Strategic Posture Commission for this opportunity to speak on an issue of great and growing importance to U.S. national security. This effort is long past due if the United States is to maintain a credible and viable strategic force posture, make the most of the opportunities provided by strategic defenses and, at the same time, achieve progress on arms control.
Despite the continuing desire on the part of many to see a nuclear free world, I believe that such a vision is a dangerous pipe dream. We can no more disestablish the reality of nuclear weapons than we can plan for the end of history.
The current strategy and posture places us in limbo. While there is virtual unanimity that the security environment has changed, the U.S. strategic posture looks remarkably similar to what it was more than a decade ago. It is important to recognize that by not taking steps to modernize the existing elements of the posture, we are making a choice with respect to our future military strategy and deterrent policy.
The Commission is confronted by two clear and mutually exclusive paths to the future. The first is one that, while hoping for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, believes that day is far off, if ever. In the meantime, nuclear weapons will continue to play an important role in U.S. security. Although the first path could be achieved with a reduced strategic nuclear arsenal, that force, both delivery systems and warheads, would have to be modernized.
An equal or even more important role will be played by strategic defenses. These include not only defenses against ballistic missiles but air defenses and homeland security, as well. Many of the measures being undertaken to protect against terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or to increase the resilience of the U.S. infrastructure will serve double duty in the event of a deliberate attack on the homeland by a state actor.
The second path seeks complete and total denuclearization within a relatively short period of time, perhaps twenty years. This goal is necessitated, advocates argue, by the dangers created by a proliferated world. Unless all nuclear weapons, materials and knowledge are placed under strict international controls, it is inevitable that the United States will be struck by either a state or non-state actor.
In order to pursue this second path, nuclear weapons need to be devalued, their utility marginalized and their use inhibited. Moreover, the pursuit of a global no-nukes goal means that the United States and Russia must take the lead in this process. They must reduce their arsenals, eschew modernizing their forces and avoid any measures, however slight, which might give pause to other nuclear states or would-be proliferators.
The problem is that any steps taken to enhance the U.S. strategic posture, whether by modernizing nuclear forces, deploying strategic defenses or even providing for enhanced security of the homeland against WMD, undermines the pursuit of the zero nukes goal. Nuclear forces cannot be modernized, even for purposes of enhanced safety and security, without a loss of credibility in the zero nukes goal. Strategic defenses are also anathema because they could encourage others to increase the size of their nuclear arsenals. Even homeland security must be carefully controlled lest it create the potential for survival in the event of a nuclear attack.
The two paths are mutually exclusive. In fact, even support for the eventual goal of total denuclearization makes it difficult to argue the case for modernizing the force in the interim. The greatest danger is that the United States will be able to achieve neither a modernized strategic posture nor zero nuclear weapons. This would be the worst outcome because the United Stats would be forced to continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for its security with a strategic posture that is obsolete, of uncertain performance and able only to wreak massive damage.
This still may be the preferred strategy to that of failed denuclearization. In order for the zero nukes strategy to be successful it must achieve an unprecedented level of intrusive monitoring and inspection. Moreover, these controls must extend not just to nuclear weapons and materials but to biologicals and even possibly to cyber “weapons.” No system of controls can guarantee 100% against the possibility of surreptitious breakout or the acquisition of a WMD by a non-state actor. Thus, pursuing the zero nukes path is more dangerous for U.S. security than continuing to allow its strategic posture to erode.
Despite assertions regarding the dangers of a proliferated world for U.S. security, it is not clear that those dangers outweigh the risks created by a denuclearization path that is only partially traversed. I would go so far as to assert that the potential threat of a single nuclear weapon in the hands of a non-state actor would pose less of a threat to U.S. security than would a brittle and potentially failure prone strategic deterrent.
There are a number of other actors that argue for the retention of a strong and capable nuclear deterrent. These include the growing nationalism and even militancy of Russia, China’s large-scale investments in its military most notably in anti-access capabilities unquestionably intended to deny the U.S. a military presence in the western Pacific, and Iran’s race to acquire a nuclear weapon. The members of the so-called nuclear club are not about to give up their nuclear capabilities. Indeed, some such as Russia have made it clear that they intend to rely heavily on nuclear forces for their security.
U.S. nuclear weapons will continue to serve five important functions. First, they are the ultimate guarantor of a nation’s security. Second, as part of a properly structured military posture they can reduce the likelihood of conflicts at lower levels of intensity. Third, they can perform missions unachievable by any other means. Fourth, together with effective defenses, they can provide reassurance to friends and allies, thereby reducing the risk of proliferation. Fifth, they serve as a hedge against strategic and technological surprise.
At the same time, U.S. strategic thinking needs to fully appreciate the reality of strategic defenses. The development of highly effective strategic defenses, coupled to measures intended to protect the homeland against terrorist use of WMD, could support a goal of damage limitation against the limited threats to the homeland posed by rogue regimes.
Absent the ABM Treaty, it is now possible to build effective defenses, certainly against relatively simple ballistic missiles in smallish numbers. New capabilities – land and space-based sensors, high speed boosters such as the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), fractionated HTK warheads, airborne defenses (notably the Network Centric Airborne Defense Element or NCADE) – can significantly expand our ability to deal with theater missile threats.
The concept of strategic defense needs to be expanded to include many of the measures now being taken to protect the homeland against WMD terrorism and to assist in response and recovery in the event of a successful attack. Improving control over the Nation’s borders by deploying a network of automated sensors to detect biological and nuclear threats is as much a part of strategic defense as is creation of a long-range missile defense system. So too are efforts to expand the capabilities of first responders, improve the resilience of critical infrastructure and enhance the collection of intelligence.
What should be the elements of a new strategy and associated posture? First, the new strategy would recognize that the United States no longer faces the kinds of threats it did during the Cold War. The strategic concerns of that era, those which caused the U.S. and USSR to agree to limit strategic defenses – the need to secure our allies against a Soviet conventional threat and the existence of massive strategic arsenals – are absent today. So too are many of the strategic concepts associated with the nuclear stalemate of that era.
Second, at the same time, we need to consider the possibility that classic deterrence may not always be applicable. The threat to turn nations such as North Korea or Iran into “sheets of glass” may be emotionally satisfying to some but are likely to prove irrelevant as well as unacceptable.
Third, confronted with the threat posed by rogue regimes, the idea of inflicting nuclear devastation on innocent, subject peoples seems increasingly to be both an ineffective deterrent and an immoral act. The search for conventional capabilities that can serve in lieu of nuclear weapons is laudable and should be continued. However, in the face of well-documented limitations on conventional strike capabilities and countermeasures already being pursued by adversaries, it is by no means certain that a credible all-conventional deterrent can be developed.
This does not mean that the United States must resign itself to a damage infliction retaliatory strategy. The reduction in the strategic offensive arsenals of the major powers and the capabilities provided by strategic defenses hold forth the prospect for an objective denial strategy, one that would leave one side initiating an exchange with no prospect of success and the potential for unilateral disarmament.
Fourth, it is important to develop responsive capabilities that can address uncertainty with respect to threats. At the same time offensive and defensive deployments should not create incentives for nuclear states to expand their arsenals.
Fifth, because it is likely to be difficult to adequately project the location and timing of future threats, the U.S. will need flexible and adaptable strategic forces. The offensive force implications of this might include elements of the posture dedicated (and identified as such) only for deterrence of regional threats. With respect to missile defenses this will mean systems that deploy globally but operate locally.
Sixth, a new strategy needs to include plausible nuclear war waging scenarios. While there can be no winner in the event of a large-scale exchange between the major powers, we need to consider the possibilities for limiting the damage that would be inflicted. Against the threat posed by rogue nations, a strategy of damage denial may well be the preferred approach.
Our strategic posture must avoid structural instabilities that could lead to first strike incentives. This is likely to require balancing the requirement for offensive capabilities and our desires for strategic defenses. It also means continuing to maintain secure basing modes.
Strategies with the goals of objective denial and damage limitation would make it desirable to exchange much of the current arsenal for lower yield weapons.
The United States will require a credible, reliable and flexible strategic offensive posture for decades to come. Therefore, it is imperative that a plan be developed to provide for next-generation delivery systems. This means a new nuclear-capable strategic bomber and a follow-on ballistic missile submarine with a new missile. The land-based missile force has recently completed a refurbishment program. However, it is important to take the steps necessary to preserve the industrial base and design capabilities that support the ICBM force.
There is also an almost desperate need to maintain the Nation’s nuclear infrastructure. That infrastructure once produced hundreds of new weapons a year. Now it is lucky to be able to refurbish a dozen. We are also in danger of losing the design skills gained over many decades. Such knowledge, if allowed to dissipate, cannot be easily acquired. At a minimum, there must be a program to design and build a new generation of more reliable weapons.
There is clearly an opportunity to pursue strategic arms control. The United States needs to be more innovative than heretofore in its approach. Arms control must focus on more than merely reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons. It should pursue the goal of changing the scale and scope of the potential destructiveness of the major powers’ residual arsenals and devalue the forces of emerging nuclear states. A new offense-defense compact should be established. One potential approach is to allow nations to trade lower levels of strategic offensive forces for larger deployments of strategic defenses.
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