Following its success in negotiating a new START Treaty with Russia, the Obama Administration and the Global Zero posse are energized to move forward on their plan for the elimination all nuclear weapons. Those who think that it is a bad idea for the U.S. to pursue further deep reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, potentially down to zero, needn’t worry. Neither Russia nor China will help the Obama Administration reach this arms control nirvana. Russia’s sense of its own continuing weakness and dreams of a return to its former international glories depend almost solely in its status as a nuclear superpower. China, with a defensive nuclear posture, no overseas friends and allies to reassure and a very small nuclear arsenal has no reason to do more than sit on the sidelines until Russia and the United States reduce their arsenals by an additional 90 percent.
For Moscow, nuclear weapons are all that stand between Russia and third-class status in the international community. Russia sees itself as a weak nation besieged by more powerful, aggressive countries including the United States, NATO, Japan and even China. Russia lacks the conventional capabilities that provide the United States and NATO with an alternative to nuclear weapons for deterring aggression. Russia sees nuclear weapons, particularly its advantage in theater nuclear weapons, as offsetting this Western advantage. Russian military doctrine over the past decade has placed emphasis on greater reliance on nuclear weapons for that country’s security. According to a senior U.S. defense official, “… if you read recent Russian military doctrine they are going in the other direction, they are actually increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons, the role of nuclear weapons in their strategy.” Absent abandoning NATO and its other alliances, the United States cannot persuade Moscow that the West does not constitute a threat that must be defended against by the only means at Russia’s disposal, nuclear weapons.
China’s position on the matter of global zero is rhetorical support without practical help. And why should Beijing help when it has only deployed a handful of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles and its total nuclear arsenal is not even a tenth of what the United States and Russia will retain after new START is fully implemented. In addition, in a direct shot at the United States, Chinese defense analysts are quick to point out that deep reductions in nuclear forces preceding global zero will also require that nations “disentangle” from political or strategic commitments and interests that require security guarantees. They may well be right. Of course, once the U.S. abandons its allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia why won’t these nations make a beeline towards their own nuclear deterrent?
Deep reductions in nuclear forces will require dealing with the twin problems of advanced conventional forces and theater missile defenses. Russia fears the current U.S. conventional force posture. Yet, according the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), it is precisely because of our conventional superiority — which we fully intend to maintain — that we can rely less on nuclear weapons for our security. China too is pursuing an advanced conventional force posture based on networked forces, precision strike systems, integrated air defenses and related capabilities. The Secretary of Defense says the United States must respond to Chinese developments with investments in a new generation of even more sophisticated conventional forces, ones that can defeat both China’s advanced force structure and Russia’s obsolescing one. We plan on pursuing force posture improvements that make it less likely Russia will feel secure enough to reduce its nuclear stockpile further.
With respect to missile defenses, the United States has made it clear in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the NPR, that theater missile defenses have an essential role to play in enhancing deterrence and reassuring U.S. allies. But those same defenses can impact negatively on the abilities of Russia and China to deter regional threats. Moreover, U.S. plans for a phased, adaptive defense of NATO against missile threats from the Middle East include the eventual sowing of interceptor sites like wildflowers across the European Continent. Eventually, the sheer number of such sites plus improvements in interceptor technologies will have to reduce the value of the Russian theater deterrent. How can the U.S. both deploy needed theater missile defenses and achieve deep reductions in nuclear forces? Unless, of course, we allow Russia to hold on to additional nuclear weapons as compensation. But, that defeats the whole effort.
So, in order to get to global zero the United States needs to disarm conventionally, not deploy theater missile defenses, abandon its alliances and grant Russia status as a global power that it retains now solely due to its possession of a large nuclear stockpile. Even then, others such as France, Israel, Pakistan, India and even Iran may choose not to join the pilgrimage, thereby undermining the whole exercise. But long before we have to worry about the smaller nuclear powers, Russia and China will effectively put a stake through the heart of this really bad idea.
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