A Perfect Storm over Nuclear Weapons

By Monroe, Robert R. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

A Perfect Storm over Nuclear Weapons


Monroe, Robert R., Air & Space Power Journal


America faces a critical decision point in history. The nuclear deterrent that kept us safe for the past half century has deteriorated to the point of near failure, and we face a confluence of dangers- a "perfect storm"that threatens our very existence as a nation. Our nuclear perfect storm is far more complex and dangerous than the meteorological perfect storm of 1991, which added this term to our vocabulary. Ours has been building for two decades since the Cold War ended, and today we are engulfed in the convergence of five immense challenges:

* Rapidly increasing nuclear threats of new and different types

* A lapsed and totally out-of-date strategy of nuclear deterrence

* An old, virtually irrelevant, and dying nuclear-weapons capability

* Unchecked nuclear proliferation on the verge of triggering a cascade

* Ill-advised and dangerous disarmament proposals designed to implement the vision of "a world without nuclear weapons"

Our overarching need, of course, is to meet all the interlocked challenges effectively. This article addresses each of these five and then suggests an integrated approach whereby national leadership can realize a successful outcome for all.

Nuclear Threats

Nuclear-weapon threats to the United States and its allies have steadily increased over the past 20 years, but because they're so different from the global thermonuclear threat of the Cold War, they have gone virtually unnoticed. Russia tops the list. First, it is still the only nation capable of destroying the United States. Second, Russia must increase its nuclear-weapons capability, as this is the only reason for its being considered a superpower. Third, over the past decade, the Russians have changed their military strategy to one based on the early use of nuclear

weapons in all military conflicts, large or small. Fourth, they have preserved thou- sands of Cold War-era tactical nuclear weapons- a force unmatched by any Western power. Fifth, they have a robust, active industrial base for producing nu- clear weapons. Sixth, for two decades, they have focused on researching, devel- oping, testing, designing, and producing advanced, highly usable nuclear weap- ons: very low yield, radiation intensive, and relatively "clean" but still immensely destructive. Seventh, they plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in several ways, including the launching of cruise missiles from submarines. The US- Russian nuclear arms-control treaty now being negotiated to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) covers none of these tactical nuclear weapons. Finally, Russia is modernizing its strategic nuclear forces.

China poses a different type of nu- clear threat. Chinese leaders recognize that they have now become a global, rather than regional, economic power. To advance to true superpower status, China must become a global military power as well. Thus, it has embarked upon a huge strategic-modernization program, rang- ing from space warfare and cyberwar ca- pabilities to aircraft carriers and- most notably- nuclear weapons. The latter include greater numbers of advanced, high-yield strategic missiles with in- creased range to reach US targets, as well as nuclear antiship missiles. An early Chinese objective calls for gaining full access to the Pacific through control of Taiwan, doing so peaceably if possible but through force if necessary. Since the United States has aligned itself to oppose such an action militarily, China intends to make any US action so extremely costly that we will opt for international pressure rather than armed combat.

Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, and it is modernizing them. Its political situation is so unstable that those 100odd weapons could soon fall into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, for many of whom America is the principal target. North Korea and Iran are rogue states, well on their way to becoming nuclear-weapon powers, and, to date, the world has chosen not to stop them. …

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