The Doctrinal Basis for Reinvigorating and Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise

Article excerpt

Reinvigorating and sustaining the nuclear enterprise relies on a foundation of sound doctrine that provides the guiding principles for (1) ensuring that the United States presents a credible deterrence and (2) fostering a culture which promotes confidence and eliminates the risk of nuclear surety incidents. The new Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-12, Nuclear Operations, offers this foundation.

Nuclear operations remain essential to the national security of the United States. As affirmed in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (2006), "Safe, credible, and reliable nuclear forces continue to play a critical role."1 Requisites of an effective nuclear deterrent strategy include a credible capability and the willingness to employ that capability as perceived by those whom one intends to deter. The willingness to employ is a political decision whereas the credible capability is a military responsibility, the preponderance of which the US Air Force shoulders.

Two well-publicized nuclear surety incidents raised questions about the Air Force's ability to present a credible capability and served as indicators of a systemic, corporate decline of that service's nuclear enterprise. One incident, the unauthorized weapons transfer from Minot AFB, North Dakota, to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, occurred in August 2007. The other incident involved the misshipment of four forward-section assemblies used on the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).2 Several investigations and reports followed these incidents, among them the Air Force's strategic plan titled Reinvigorating the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise, which establishes reinvigoration of the nuclear enterprise as the Air Force's highest priority. Recommendations from this plan include restoring the culture of compliance, rebuilding our nuclear expertise, investing in our nuclear capabilities, organizing to enable clear lines of authority, providing sustained institutional focus, and reinvigorating the Air Force's nuclear stewardship role.3

In keeping with these fundamental precepts of strategic deterrence and the Air Force's highest priority of reinvigorating the nuclear enterprise, the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, recently published the aforementioned AFDD 2-12. That document contains guidance for the Air Force's nuclear operations, based on a body of knowledge gained from experience and lessons learned in organizing, training, and equipping nuclear forces. This new doctrine covers a spectrum of topics that includes fundamentals of nuclear operations, command and control (C2) of those operations, planning and support considerations, surety, and training. In the process of covering these topics, AFDD 2-12 presents doctrinal principles for reinvigorating and sustaining the nuclear enterprise. This article briefly reviews some of those principles and highlights changes from the previous doctrine of nuclear operations, published in 1998.

Deterrence and Effects

AFDD 2-12 begins by examining Air Force nuclear operations within the context of the service's day-to-day role as an element of deterrence and as a provider of strategic effects, emphasizing key ideas in boldface. Early in the document, one such statement asserts that "although nuclear forces are not the only factor in the deterrence equation, our nuclear capability underpins all other deterrent elements, and the fundamental purpose of the US nuclear arsenal is to deter an enemy's use of its nuclear arsenal or other WMD [weapons of mass destruction]."4 This statement underscores the critical role of nuclear operations in deterrence and, consequently, the importance of maintaining a credible nuclear capability.

AFDD 2-12 also addresses the matter of extended deterrence, another important policy construct. Through alliances and treaties, the US strategy of extended deterrence provides friendly and allied nations a nuclear umbrella that assures them of its commitment to their security. …