Toward a New Deterrent: Analysis and Recommendations for the Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States

Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview
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Toward a New Deterrent: Analysis and Recommendations for the Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States



America's nuclear deterrent, which has kept us safe for over 60 years, is in grave danger of failing. Our nuclear strategy - still that of the Cold War - has little relevance to today's principal adversaries and threats. The nuclear weapons that make up our stockpile are also virtually irrelevant and well beyond the end of their design life. Our experienced personnel are retiring, and our nuclear facilities are antique and deteriorated.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently stated that "no one has designed a new nuclear weapon in the United States since the 1980s, and no one has built a new one since the early 1990s. . . . The United States is the only declared nuclear power that is neither modernizing its nuclear arsenal nor has the capability to produce a new nuclear warhead."1 To make matters worse, if we start a modernization program immediately, pursue it vigorously, and resume essential underground testing, it will still take about two decades before we could begin replacing our stockpile. Thus, the relevant issue is not whether our nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, and reliable today, but what actions we must take today to ensure its effectiveness in 20 years, in an uncertain and dangerous world.

After years of denying funding for nuclear initiatives, Congress last year created a 12-person Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, chaired by Bill Perry, former secretary of defense, and cochaired by Jim Schlesinger, former secretary of defense, secretary of energy, and director of central intelligence. The commission started work in summer 2008, delivered an interim report in December 2008, and will submit a final report in spring 2009.

Quite separately, in early 2008 the New Deterrent Working Group, an informal coalition of experts in national security and nuclear weapons, sponsored by the Center for Security Policy, became concerned that the commission would have only two "nuclear programs" to consider: one the unannounced "nuclear freeze" the United States has followed during the 18 years since the Cold War ended, and the other the "world without nuclear weapons" initiative recommended by Perry, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn for the past two years. Both programs would lead to unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United States - the first unintentionally, the second intentionally. To outline a third program, that of a strong nuclear deterrent, the working group prepared the following remarks and provided them to the commission in the summer of 2008.

America's Failing Nuclear Deterrent

The United States is at a critical moment in its history. To an extent largely unknown to the American people and even to many US policy makers, the nuclear deterrent that has served as the backbone of our defense posture for 50 years is becoming obsolete, unreliable, and potentially ineffective. This is the direct and predictable result of the practice of essentially "freezing" our nuclear-weapons strategy and stockpile over the past 18 years since the end of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, we may freeze weapons policies and modernization programs, but our doing so does not preclude changes to the arsenal itself. To the contrary, such a nuclear freeze serves to ensure that the combined effects of aging and changing strategic circumstances go unaddressed, resulting in an inexorable reduction in capability and relevance to the nation's deterrent requirements. We have even refrained from making much-needed improvements to the stockpile's safety, security, and control rather than undertaking new designs that we could validate only by underground testing.

The problem is not confined to the weapons themselves. At the nuclear labs and plants operated by the National Nuclear Security Administration, the human and physical infrastructure essential to our deterrent is in real jeopardy.

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Toward a New Deterrent: Analysis and Recommendations for the Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States


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