Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to offer my views on the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review.
I’d like to spend a few minutes this morning explaining why the findings of the review are valid, and if implemented will bolster the nation’s security.
Before doing so, though, allow me to provide some historical context.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of a major development in American nuclear strategy.
On May 5th, 1962, defense secretary Robert McNamara revealed in a secret meeting with NATO allies that the Kennedy Administration was replacing the Eisenhower strategy of “massive retaliation.”
The nuclear war plan the new administration had inherited contained only one option — an all-out attack against every major city in Russia, China and Eastern Europe that would kill between 360 and 425 million people.
There were no provisions for withholding a strategic reserve, or preserving control over forces once war began, or trying to induce restraint in Soviet behavior.
McNamara thought massive retaliation was lunacy — dangerous and unbelievable — so in spring of 1962 he approved a new war plan that focused on limiting the damage from a nuclear exchange.
The new plan contained several options, including that of avoiding attacks on Russian cities to encourage similar restraint on the other side.
Although today we remember Robert McNamara as the father of “mutual assured destruction,” the possibility of restraint reflected in his 1962 war plan remained national strategy for the rest of his tenure, and beyond.
When President Nixon directed a revision of nuclear strategy in 1969, he added additional warfighting options aimed at controlling escalation and limiting destruction, a practice followed by every subsequent administration.
I have two reasons for mentioning these matters today —
— first, to demonstrate that major revisions in nuclear strategy are nothing new; and
— second, to argue that the findings of the Nuclear Posture Review are fully consistent with the values and goals of past administrations.
The Nuclear Posture Review is the beginning of a long-term effort to modernize the nation’s nuclear strategy and forces so that they remain effective in a radically transformed global security environment.
But its goals are identical to those of past strategic revisions: to minimize the likelihood of massive attack on the United States and its allies, and to limit the damage if such attacks occur.
How does it do that?
Step One: Defining the Threat
It begins by acknowledging the changes that have occurred in the security environment since our current nuclear posture came into being during the Cold War.
The Soviet Union is gone, and the nuclear force inherited by its democratic successors is shrinking fast.
In the eight years since the Clinton Administration conducted the first post-Soviet nuclear review, 4000 warheads and 800 delivery vehicles have been removed from the Russian operational force — roughly a 40% reduction.
The motivation of Russian leaders has changed too — their empire and ideology have ebbed away, to be replaced by the normal concerns that any nation has about sovereignty and security.
U.S. military planners today are more concerned about Russian nuclear accidents or theft than they are about deliberate aggression.
But while the defining threat of the Cold War has disappeared, new dangers have emerged that are more diverse and less understood.
These include half a dozen rogue states with programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist movements such as Al Qaeda that may be able to secure the means of mass murder in global commerce.
Some of the new aggressors are beyond the reach of traditional deterrence; some are accident-prone; and all have options afforded by new technology that were not available to earlier enemies.
With the political and technological landscapes changing rapidly, the Nuclear Posture Review concluded that many of the assumptions of Cold War nuclear strategy may no longer be valid.
Step Two: Determining Requirements
Recognizing the unpredictability of challenges even in the near-term, the review abandons the traditional threat-driven approach to nuclear planning in favor of a more flexible, capabilities-based approach.
In other words, it identifies the military capabilities necessary to cope with the widest range of hypothetical adversaries.
In the words of the Quadrennial Defense Review, those capabilities include the capacity to reassure allies, dissuade competitors, deter potential aggressors and defeat actual enemies.
Because the spectrum of actors that must be influenced is large, the required capabilities are correspondingly diverse.
First, the U.S. must have offensive nuclear forces suitable for surviving surprise attack and then responding in a measured way to many different contingencies.
Second, it must have non-nuclear offensive forces that can hold at risk key enemy assets when a nuclear response would be disproportionate to the provocation, or counter-productive.
Third, it must have active and passive defenses to blunt the consequences of an attack on America and its allies, both to bolster deterrence and cope with its failure.
Fourth, it must have the resilient command networks necessary to maintain control over all of its forces under the most trying circumstances.
Fifth, it must have an intelligence system that can find and target the most elusive elements of an enemy’s military capabilities.
And finally, as if all this were not enough, it must meet these requirements while facilitating the further shrinkage of the Russian nuclear arsenal — which even today represents the vast majority of nuclear weapons outside the U.S.
Step Three: Delineating a Posture
The force posture derived from these requirements has been called a “triad,” but it is very different from the collection of planes and missiles that made up the Cold War nuclear triad.
Only one of its three legs is offensive weapons; the other two legs are defensive measures and a revitalized nuclear infrastructure.
Moreover, the offensive leg consists partly of conventional strike systems, with the remaining nuclear weapons representing only a small fraction of the Cold War force.
And just as the administration prefers to develop a tiered or multilayered approach to missile defenses, so it proposes a tiered offensive force consisting of three layers:
— operationally deployed weapons;
— reserve weapons that can be quickly returned to operational duty; and
— inactive weapons awaiting destruction that could be refurbished.
The existence of a large reserve that acts as a hedge against unforeseen dangers enables the Nuclear Posture Review to embrace major reductions in the nuclear arsenal.
As agreed to by the Russians earlier this week, the review envisions reducing the current operational force of 6000 warheads by a third over the next five years, and by two-thirds over the next ten years.
Whether these reductions actually occur will depend on global security trends, but recent progress in the development of precision-guided conventional weapons suggest nuclear cuts might proceed even if threats do not diminish correspondingly.
For example, the Air Force is considering development of a satellite-guided glide-bomb that could penetrate 60 feet of extremely hardened material, reducing the need for nuclear weapons in attacking deeply buried bunkers.
As of today, the U.S. has no plans to develop new nuclear munitions, and is proceeding with plans to eliminate whole classes of nuclear delivery systems such as the MX missile and B-1 bomber.
Assessing the Advantages
The force structure recommended by the Nuclear Posture Review will materially enhance global security.
First, it will preserve a stable structure of nuclear deterrence while facilitating huge reductions in the U.S. and Russian arsenals.
Second, it will reduce reliance on deterrence by acquiring offensive and defensive capabilities for coping with accident-prone or irrational adversaries.
Third, it will provide future Presidents with the widest possible range of options, both nuclear and non-nuclear, for meeting emergent security needs.
And finally, it will retain the flexibility to restore nuclear capabilities if necessary by establishing a strategic reserve and revitalizing the nuclear infrastructure.
In the latter regard, it is important to bear in mind that the end-state the administration envisions for offensive nuclear forces would, on a typical day, consist of only eight ballistic-missile submarines at sea and 500 single-warhead Minuteman missiles on alert.
The rest of the land-based missile force would be gone, the bombers would be dedicated primarily to conventional missions, and many of the subs would be in port.
We may decide in the future that such a force is too small, so it is necessary to maintain a reserve force, especially until we rebuild our moribund nuclear industrial base.
For the time being, though, the Bush Administration has fashioned a prudent and progressive posture that reflects a fair amount of optimism about the future of world politics.
—Loren B. Thompson is Chief Operating Officer of the Lexington Institute and teaches in Georgetown University’s Strategic Studies Program, where among other things he has taught nuclear strategy.
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