Deterrence in a New Security Environment

By Habiger, Eugene B. | Strategic Forum, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Deterrence in a New Security Environment


Habiger, Eugene B., Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* One cannot quarrel with those who seek the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, provided the necessary preconditions are met ... those prerequisites do not exist today.

* Public debate on nuclear arms control tends to focus on numbers of weapons ... the most important criterion in assessing prospective arms control measures is whether or not they contribute to stability and security.

* The United States and Russia have achieved many advances in arms control and strategic stability since the end of the Cold War.

* Radical reductions in forces or the wholesale removal of forces from alert may create situations which could be dangerously destabilizing in a crisis.

* States with the potential to threaten the United States and its allies continue to seek nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

* The United States must be prepared to pose unacceptable risks to any potential adversary ... at the moment, nuclear weapons are an indispensable part of that capability.

* In a way not always appreciated, America's nuclear forces also complement efforts to restrict nuclear proliferation by extending an important deterrent guarantee to our allies.

* The important issue is not the weapons with which one might fight the next major war, but to ensure that such a war does not occur ... deterrence will continue to be an indispensable element of national strategy.

The Role of Nuclear Weapons

The role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policy following the Cold War has been the subject of much public discussion recently. The issues are complex--much more so than the headlines suggest. It's important that these issues be debated--it's essential that citizens in a free society understand them. The Cold War is over. It is important to recognize the many advances in arms control and strategic stability achieved by the United States and Russia in recent years. Following the 1993 Bottom-Up Review of our overall defense requirements, the Department of Defense embarked on a comprehensive review of the Nation's Nuclear requirements. That Nuclear Posture Review-completed in September 1994--noted "the reduced role nuclear weapons play in U.S. security" and held out the possibility of further arms control reductions. At the same time, the Review reaffirmed the importance of a triad of strategic nuclear forces-land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers--and stressed that, "as long as nuclear weapons remain a factor in international life" deterrence of attack on the United States and our allies "must be our objective."

A common criticism of the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review is that it appears to endorse the status quo by affirming many of the principles that existed in the Cold War. What has often not been appreciated is the extent to which America's nuclear posture has changed since the end of the Cold War. Consider, for example, the following:

* In September 1991, President George Bush took our strategic bombers off alert--up to that time, some 30% of those forces sat on strip alert, with weapons loaded on the aircraft and crews ready.

* Also in late 1991, President Bush announced that the United States was no longer developing any new nuclear weapons. The United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since that time and has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

* President Bush also removed all nuclear weapons from America's ground forces, and put into storage the remaining non-strategic nuclear weapons. Following the recommendations of the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, President William Clinton directed the Navy to abandon the capability of even employing nuclear weapons from its surface fleet. Overall, the United States has unilaterally reduced its non-strategic nuclear arsenal some 90% from Cold War levels.

* In 1993, Presidents Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed not to target each other's nations with ballistic missiles, an arrangement that went into effect in May 1994. …

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