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One-Sided Arms Control April 26, 2010

Posted by SV in Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations, Uncategorized.
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[This article was first published by the Center for Vision and Values here: http://www.visandvals.org/One_Sided_Arms_Control.php]

President Obama signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Prague on April 8—and did so to global accolades. It was the culmination of years of negotiations and a major triumph to finally achieve agreement with Moscow. Unfortunately, President Obama’s signature was attached to a naïve arms control treaty that threatens the strength of the U.S. nuclear umbrella that defends over 30 friends and allies. It compromises American interests while benefiting the Russians and weakening international security and stability.

On the surface, START looks like a reasonable albeit constrictive treaty. The 800 delivery-vehicle limit on bombers and missiles is about 100 below what is currently deployed. The 1,550 nuclear-warhead limit can easily be achieved by retiring some aging B-52s and changing the way they are counted. The treaty provides for telemetry exchanges (information from missile test launches), which promotes mutual trust. It also contains no overt constraints on missile defense or the ability to deploy non-nuclear systems with global reach.

A quick glance at the treaty’s effects is more troubling. The 800 delivery-vehicle limit will cut valuable systems used to defend the United States and reassure its allies. Conversely, Russia only has to continue already planned decommissioning of obsolete missiles and submarines. The U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force will probably have to be reduced from 450 to 400 deployed missiles. The most survivable nuclear platforms, stealthy ballistic-missile submarines, will shrink by two submarines to remove four dozen missiles from accountability.

The bomber fleet will be limited to 18 stealth B-2s and dozens of 50-year-old B-52s. The remainder will be converted to conventional-only capabilities or simply eliminated. The future triad of missiles, submarines, and bombers will therefore be smaller, less flexible, and less capable of reassuring America’s friends and allies in threatening environments.

These cuts may seem minimal, but when the missile reductions are combined with the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program, they could severely weaken the already decimated industrial base. The solid-rocket-motor industry is particularly vulnerable to collapse. An inability to sustain and replace valuable systems like ballistic missiles will have long-term negative consequences for our scientific and deterrent capability.

While the new warhead limit is 30 percent below the Moscow Treaty of 2002 limit, complicated counting rules give the Russians a whopping advantage. Each Russian bomber can carry eight warheads on cruise missiles, with the potential for more in the bomb bay. Under the New START, those 76 bombers count as only 76 warheads. Therefore, Moscow could deploy 500 or more warheads above the 1,550 limit, which would put it equal or above the Moscow Treaty limits. The United States, with its strict adherence to treaty law, will not imitate such devious accounting to ignore the 1,550 limit. Can we say the same for the Russian Federation?

The Bush administration began talks on a successor to START in its final years. The Obama administration publicly designated negotiations as the centerpiece of its “reset” with Russia and rushed negotiations in such a manner that the Russians knew exactly who wanted the treaty more. As former Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker has argued, you do not go to a car dealer and say “I absolutely positively have to have that car and I need it today, how much is it?” However, that is exactly what the president has done. In an effort to meet arbitrary deadlines, the American negotiators made multiple unnecessary concessions, most notably abandoning the missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Now Russia is objecting to any future missile-defense deployments, saying they would be cause to withdraw from the New START.

This treaty is different from past nuclear reductions in one important aspect: It is meant as a “down-payment” on President Obama’s pledge for moving toward a “world without nuclear weapons,” rather than to primarily improve U.S. national security. President Obama needs START to (among other things) justify his Nobel Peace Prize. He will push senators to provide their advice and consent for ratification of a bad treaty. Although many senators will want to avoid the pro-nuclear weapon label, the existence of these weapons has guaranteed American security for over 60 years.

The New START has turned out to be a golden missed opportunity. Instead of negotiating a treaty with modest reductions and extensive verification provisions, the administration opted for a bold approach. Proponents argue that the United States no longer needs the nuclear force structure it has from the Cold War. They assert that America’s conventional superiority can increasingly fulfill the mission of nuclear weapons. Conventional weapons, however, do not have the same deterrent effect provided by nuclear forces. As Margaret Thatcher observed, “There are monuments to the futility of conventional deterrence in every village in Europe.” Until the international security environment is severely improved, drastic reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons will not make the world more secure. Address the root causes of conflict between states, and wider nuclear reductions will be more successful and constructive.

The CTBT Revisited: Has Anything Really Changed? September 22, 2009

Posted by SV in China, Iran, Israel, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, Science, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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[This article was picked up by the Center for Vision and Values and is available here: http://www.visandvals.org/New_Life_for_the_CTBT.php]

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an agreement which would ban all nuclear tests, may soon be revived from its purgatory in the Senate.   It was signed by President Clinton in 1996 and rejected by the Senate in October 1999.  The arguments that denied ratification by a 19 vote margin still ring true today.    In his Prague speech, however, President Obama called for prompt U.S. ratification of the treaty.  He is expected to do the same at the UN later this month.

In rejecting the CTBT, Senate opponents listed several concerns that motivated their decision.  They believed the CTBT was unverifiable and that others nations could easily cheat; the ability to enforce the treaty was dubious; the U.S. nuclear stockpile would not be as safe or reliable in the absence of testing; and the benefit to nuclear nonproliferation was minimal.[i]

Ten years later, many of these concerns are still relevant.  The issue of verification has been improved but not settled.  The CTBT Organization has set up a network of 228 monitoring stations around the world, but significant gaps still exist.[ii] There are no stations in India or North Korea, and only one in Pakistan and Turkey.  Sixty-one stations detected North Korea’s nuclear test in May 2009, but none detected radioactive gases to corroborate the seismic data.[iii] If North Korea was able to conceal such radiation, there is no reason to believe China or Russia could not as well.

As the continuing crises with North Korea and Iran illustrate, enforcing treaty obligations or punishing rule-breakers is not always effective.  It is often, in fact, completely ineffective due to a lack of international cooperation.  If a nuclear test were detected in Pakistan, India,[iv] or China, what would happen next?  If the record with Pyongyang or Tehran is any indicator, the violating state would take some rhetorical heat and little more than a toothless UN Security Council resolution (if that).  The CTBT will not immediately change other states’ policies.

The last decade has not been kind to the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.  Though the Stockpile Stewardship Program has successfully replaced older components, confidence in reliability has declined as the warheads age.[v] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has stated that a credible U.S. deterrent cannot be maintained without testing or modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons.[vi] If modernization is not pursued, many experts believe testing will be needed to guarantee the weapons’ reliability.

Most significantly, the treaty’s perceived benefits toward enhancing nuclear nonproliferation are still debatable.  Pro-CTBT voices have made several valid claims to consider.[vii] They argue that without the CTBT the nuclear arms race will continue, especially in Asia, with more states hedging their capabilities to be able to assemble a nuclear weapon quickly.[viii] Treaty advocates are quick to point out that the U.S. has already received a benefit for pursuing ratification – the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995.  The NPT, which divides the world into five nuclear weapon states (NWS) and the rest as non-NWS, is up for review in May 2010. The non-NWS are likely going to insist on CTBT ratification in exchange for nonproliferation cooperation.[ix]

These arguments still do not explain how the CTBT will be good for nonproliferation.  For one, the existence of a nuclear arms race (outside India and Pakistan) is suspect, given the fact that the U.S. and Russia are reducing their nuclear stockpiles.  Nuclear hedging is a problem to be tackled by IAEA monitoring; not by attempting to ban nuclear tests (the NPT already does this for non-NWS).  Though the non-nuclears may insist on entry into force of the CTBT, there is little reason to believe they will take tougher actions on Pyongyang and Tehran once the U.S. ratifies it.  If unilaterally and bilaterally reducing nuclear arsenals and not testing for 17 years have done nothing to convince non-NWS of U.S. leadership, why will the CTBT?

The CTBT is simply not in the U.S. national interest.  The U.S. would not be guaranteed a seat on the Executive Council, which geographically would be unfriendly to Washington.[x] Since it requires North Korean, Pakistani, and Egyptian ratification (to name a few), the U.S. would be binding itself to a treaty unlikely to ever enter into force.  Though there would be a growing ability to detect nuclear tests, there would be no effective way to enforce the treaty.  The U.S. stockpile would continue to atrophy as explosive testing for reliability would be prohibited, which could spur proliferation.  The CTBT needs to be rewritten to mitigate these drawbacks, not “immediately and aggressively”[xi] brought before the U.S. Senate.


[i] Kathleen Bailey and Robert Barker, “Why the United States Should Unsign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Resume Nuclear Testing,” Comparative Strategy 22 (2003): 131.

[ii] Kathy Sawyer, “Experts say new sensing tools could help ease concerns on Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty,” AAAS News Release, 10 August 2009.

[iii] http://www.ctbto.org/press-centre/highlights/2009/experts-sure-about-nature-of-the-dprk-event/

[iv] “No CTBT, India needs more nuclear tests; Pokhran II coordinator,” Hindustan Times, 27 August 2009.

[v] William Perry and Jim Schlesinger, America’s Strategic Posture, May 2009.

[vi] “Inside Obama Administration, a Tug of War over Nuclear Warheads,” Global Security Newswire, 18 August 2009.

[vii] Raymond Jeanloz, “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty and U.S. Security,” in Reykjavik Revisited, 2008.

[viii] For a discussion on nuclear hedging, see Ariel Levite, “Never Say Never Again: Nuclear Reversal Revisited,” International Security 27, no. 3 (Winter 2002/03), 59-88.

[ix] William Perry and Brent Scowcroft, commissioners, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” Council on Foreign Relations, 55.

[x] “The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty,” available at http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/ctbt/text/ctbt1.htm

[xi] See text of President Obama’s “Prague Speech.”

America’s Nuclear Deterrent 64 Years After Trinity July 16, 2009

Posted by SV in China, History, Iran, North Korea, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, Science, U.S. Government.
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Today, July 16th 2009, marked the 64th anniversary of the Trinity nuclear test in Alamagordo, New Mexico.  That test brought the world unambiguously into the Atomic Age.  Since that day nuclear weapons have played a critical role in U.S. defense policy, first as the ultimate tool with which to win the Second World War and almost immediately thereafter as a critical tool to deter aggression against the United States and its allies.  This mission became of even greater importance with the Soviet testing of an atomic bomb in August of 1949.

Despite serving as the most powerful deterrent against threats to the U.S. homeland and its allies, and by preventing a massively destructive conventional (or nuclear) war between the major powers, the nuclear deterrent of 2009 is atrophying and declining in reliability and safety.  As the Congressionally-mandated Strategic Posture Commission pointed out in its final report, the current nuclear weapons complex suffers from a lack of funding, a lack of emphasis on maintaining the intellectual base, and an almost hostile attitude by policymakers.  Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Jon Kyl and former Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle charged the president with neglecting to support a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent as well as endorsing the unverifiable Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the Senate rejected in 1999.

As the U.S. nuclear inventory continues to age, life-extension or stockpile stewardship programs continue in their attempt to increase the weapons’ service lives.  However, with each further modification, the weapon design is taken farther from the actual model that was proven successful through testing.  Also, each passing year sees more scientists who had experience with nuclear testing retiring.  Therefore the hands on expertise that was produced through a rigorous and scientific development and testing process is declining precipitously.  Crucial skills and knowledge, some of which may only be understood through testing, are being lost.

Though the proponents of a CTBT argue that it will strengthen Washington’s hand in promoting nonproliferation and tougher sanctions toward Iran and North Korea, there is little evidence to support this.  No matter if every other third-party nation suddenly endorsed U.S. nonproliferation efforts, as long as Russia and China continue to block effective measures, which have been within their interests, no amount of political good-will generated by CTBT ratification will stop proliferation.  Therefore, the CTBT could only bring into question more the reliability of America’s nuclear deterrent.  If the U.S. is to deter aggression and assure its allies (so that they do not develop their own weapons), it will eventually have to test a new, modern, safe nuclear warhead design to replace the Cold War-era stockpile.

If one wants to reach a compromise position, I would suggest following the French example.  France conducted its last nuclear test in 1995, providing it with a modern, reliable, and proven warhead design that would serve French purposes for decades to come.  Within the next year it signed and ratified the CTBT.  The U.S. could develop a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) that would have  a service life of decades, test it to verify its reliability and effectiveness, and then ratify the CTBT.  Though a skeptic or pessimist may still argue that the U.S. may need to test a new or different design in the future, there is a “supreme national interest” clause in the CTBT that would allow the U.S. to withdraw if it served to further U.S. national security.  International agreements, after all, should only be abided to in order to further the national interest.

Alamagordo brought the world, willing or not, into the Atomic Age, which we remain in.  The Trinity test was the epitome of the scientific process.  Theorize, hypothesize, predict, and finally test.  Testing, as with any military weapon system, is a crucial option to have available.  Theory with testing is science.  Theory without testing is theology.

Trinity Test

Obama’s Moscow Summit – Which Way to START? July 5, 2009

Posted by SV in Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are meeting in Moscow to discuss a successor to the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).  On the table for consideration (according to U.S. and/or Russian officials) are levels of deployed and stockpiled strategic nuclear warheads, strategic delivery systems (intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, and bombers), and missile defense.  Off the table are nonstrategic (short-range) nuclear weapons, which the Russians hold in abundance.

Truly understanding the situation between Washington and Moscow requires a brief look at the numbers.  The United States deploys around 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads (and ~ 2,500 reserves) on less than 1,000 missiles and bombers.  Russia deploys about 2,700 strategic nuclear warheads (and thousands in reserve) on roughly 650 missiles and bombers.  In nonstrategic nukes, Russia holds a massive advantage (3,000-5,000) over the United States (400-500).  In terms of strategic delivery systems, the U.S. still has decades before most of its systems will need replaced, while many Russian systems will reach the end of their service lives within the next decade, reducing their numbers to around 330.

The Obama Administration, in its rush to conclude the START follow-on by the current treaty’s expiration date on December 5th, is therefore playing into the Russians’ hands.  By pushing for deep warhead cuts (the Russians will not go below 1,500 deployed) and considering a further reduction in the permitted number of strategic delivery vehicles, U.S. negotiators are essentially getting nothing for something.  Since the Russians will have to eliminate many of their aging warheads, missiles, and bombers with or without an arms control treaty, they are trying to maintain parity with the United States through a new START accord.  In return, the U.S. is getting something it would have gotten without having to reduce the survivability and flexibility of its nuclear arsenal.

Until recently, the Obama Administration was seemingly giving credence to Russian objections to a third missile defense site in Central Europe.  Even former Secretary of Defense (and nuclear abolitionist) William Perry (D) stated in House testimony that trading missile defense for Russian promises was absolutely unreasonable.  The president’s special assistant, Michael McFaul, stated last week the U.S. was “not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense.”  This is a step in the right direction.  Tying defensive conventional systems to offensive nuclear systems, which President Medvedev is still insisting on, is a relic of the Cold War “mutually assured destruction” thinking.

Therefore, the U.S. approach to the START follow-on has been fundamentally flawed.  By agreeing not to include nonstrategic nuclear weapons in the limits, the U.S. allowed Russia to maintain its biggest geopolitical advantage.  Many experts believe it is these “battlefield” nuke stockpiles that will be the likely source of any future nuclear terrorism or nuclear use by a state (Russia explicitly states they would be used to “de-escalate” an invasion of their homeland).  Furthermore, once U.S. warhead and delivery system levels have been drastically reduced, Washington will little leverage to urge Moscow to reduce its tactical nukes.

The arms control process is also misguided in the link some are attempting to make between a new START and “global zero,” the nuclear abolitionist movement.  The bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission determined that complete nuclear disarmament required a “fundamental transformation of the world political order.”  Guiding a new treaty along what optimists consider a decades-long goal is a recipe for miscalculation and bad decisions.  The Obama Administration needs to take a step back, assess U.S. interests over the long term, and proceed with a modest START follow-on from there.  Idealism is one thing.  Dealing with the Russians about nuclear weapons is entirely different.

North Korea Conducts Another Nuclear Test May 25, 2009

Posted by SV in China, North Korea, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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On 25 May 2009, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its second nuclear test in three years (as well as three short-range missile tests).  While South Korean security experts currently estimate the test was only several kilotons, Russian defense sources believe it to have been 10-20 kilotons (about equivalent to the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki).  If this latter estimate is indeed true, or closer to the mark, it will signify a marked improvement in the DPRK’s nuclear capability since its October 2006 test.  For the full stories on the test so far, see here and here.

The question arising now is how the international community will respond.  President Obama has stated the DPRK is “directly and recklessly challenging the international community” and that it “constitutes a threat to international peace and stability.”  He further notes that “such provocations will only serve to deepen North Korea’s isolation.”  Thus while there is a clear recognition of the seriousness of these events, there appears to be no clear strategy for responding to them.

This problem cannot be laid entirely at Obama’s feet, however.  During the Bush Administration, Washington placed several clear redlines to North Korean behavior (stop the nuclear program, no more missile tests, and finally no nuclear tests).  When Pyongyang broke every one of these, the U.S. response was to call for a new round of Six-Party talks – which spent half their time trying to get the DPRK to the table.  In fact, it became evident that a clear motivation for North Korea to take these actions was that it received substantial aid (food, energy) in exchange for it showing up at the negotiations.  (If you go farther back, you can blame Former President Jimmy Carter for rushing to North Korea in 1994 to establish the Agreed Framework when the Clinton Administration was about to get really tough with the Kim clan).

Regardless of the history, the United States is now faced with a growing challenge.  Though North Korea has likely not miniaturized its nuclear warheads to the point when they could fit on a missile, it may only be a matter of time.  And though they may have only 6-10 nuclear devices, they may see that as enough to deter U.S. intervention in their attempt to force reunification of the peninsula.

How should the Obama Administration react to these developments then?  Reinforcing the importance of the Six-Party talks is a waste of time.  This should only be pursued if Washington has an absolute guarantee from Beijing and Seoul that they will cut off all aid and assistance to the DPRK.  Emphasizing irrelevant steps like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is also detrimental to U.S. security.  The U.S. has not conducted a nuclear test in over 15 years, and still the DPRK conducts tests – ratification of the CTBT will give the U.S. nothing in its toolbox to deal with North Korea while unnecessariliy constraining U.S. options (especially as its nuclear deterrent atrophies).  So unless President Obama wants to do this same song and dance throughout his presidency (DPRK provocation, 6-Party Talks, DPRK aid), he will have to take forceful and concrete steps now, whatever they may be.  North Korea is one of the most isolated nations in history, sanctions to isolate it further are next to impossible to enact.  Exhibit leadership, consider all U.S. options, for the good of the national interest.

The Illogic of “Going to Zero” in Nuclear Weapons February 4, 2009

Posted by SV in China, Japan, Middle East, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
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President Obama has announced his intentions to cut the number of nuclear warheads by around 80%, bringing the total down from the approximately 5,000 in the inventory to about 1,000.  This intention flows from his hope in achieving a nuclear weapons-free world, a philosophy that is very attractive and has gained a lot of support, especially with the influential article “The Logic of Zero” by Ivo Daalder and Jan Lodal.  There were indications that Sen. John McCain even supported this idea.  The reason for its broad support is clear.  Who wants to have nuclear weapons around anyway?  They are massively destructive, they are indiscriminate, they damage the environment, they haven’t been used in war in 64 years anyway, and the only reason states still have them is because of the massive US and Russian stockpiles.   It is an attractive argument, but in the next five points I’ll attempt to point out its inherent flaws and lack of foresight in this argument and in President Obama’s plans for deep reductions.

First, the American nuclear arsenal is growing more obsolete and unreliable by the day.  Since it has been several decades since the last US nuclear test (due in part to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), there is growing uncertainty over the reliability of the US nuclear arsenal.  The failure of the Congress to approve the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which would have updated US warheads to make them safer (for storage, maintenance) and more, well, reliable, has brought into question the credibility of Washington’s nuclear deterrent.  If a problem were discovered in one of our warhead designs, the US could lose up to one-third of its operational capability while the problem was being fixed.  The US is currently the only nuclear weapons state that is neither producing new weapons nor actively upgrading its existing ones.

Second, the arms race action-reaction cycle in which the US is the cause of other states building nukes has been disproved.  This was the logic behind much of the Cold War-era arms control negotiations, and the Logic of Zero debate, that holds that the rest of the world continues to pursue and build nuclear capabilities because the US, the most powerful state in the system, has them.  The fallacy of this should be evident immediately.  As President Carter’s Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, stated (here) when talking about the US and Soviet Union arms races: “when we build, they build, and when we stop building, they continue building.”  Currently, notes Adam Hebert of Air Force Magazine, “despite 16 years of American cuts and testing moratoriums, rogue states such as Iran and North Korea have not slowed their own [nuclear] programs.”

Third, such a move will greatly disadvantage the US in terms of the balance of nuclear forces.  By going to 1,000 warheads, and assuming the Russians comply with their obligations to do likewise, the US will be in a vastly weaker situation in East Asia.  China currently has approximately 200 warheads, and is building more, so it is imaginable that by the time the US has reduced to 1,000 warheads, China will possess close to 250.  That would give the US a scant 4-1 advantage over Beijing (and some US nuclear forces will not even be in the Asian theater), compared to its more than 25-1 current advantage.  Such a drastic change will likely give the regime in Beijing the ability to exercise a freer hand in East Asia, particularly with regards to US allies like Japan and Taiwan.  North Korea, which currently faces over a 300-1 disadvantage, would find itself in about a 60-1 disadvantage, which could only help but make Pyongyang feel more secure.

Fourth, such deep cuts to the American inventory will actually cause nuclear proliferation to speed up.  Already, US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, doubtful of the strength of the diminished US nuclear umbrella in the face of a nuclear Iran, are making decisions to pursue the foundations of their own nuclear programs.  If the US brings its numbers so low that China will be close to achieving parity, allies such as Japan, South Korea, or even Taiwan may decide to go nuclear (For those who think a China with a 4-1 disadvantage would not be a threat, keep in mind the USSR had a 6 or 7-1 disadvantage with the US at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis).  Therefore the goal of reaching a nuclear weapons-free world will be self-defeated as more countries decide to pursue a nuclear capability.  The world is simply too dangerous a place for states to give up their nuclear weapons.

Fifth, and finally, eliminating (or drastically cutting) nuclear weapons will only make the world safe for conventional warfare.  For decades during the Cold War, America’s nuclear forces deterred aggression, reduced the risk of conventional attack in Europe and elsewhere, and held invulnerable enemy targets at risk.  The death toll of the 20th century before 1945 was tragic, with war deaths in the tens to a hundred million range.  After 1945, the death toll due to war was kept around 1 million a year, most of that due to low-intensity proxy wars or ethnic conflict.  The truth is, nuclear weapons have kept great powers from going to war, and this promise should be enough to continue to maintain them for an effective deterrent posture.  Conventional war is ugly, nuclear war may be uglier, but the existence of nuclear weapons produces a higher probability of preventing either from breaking out on a massive scale.

The Cold War may in fact be over, but the world is still a dangerous and far-from-perfect place.  As US Strategic Command commander Gen. Kevin Chilton has noted, the security environment today is different “purely [in] intent – not capability… intent can change overnight.”  As long as intent can change overnight, because nations cannot trust each other completely, then the US needs to maintain an effective, robust, and significant nuclear deterrent.  Nonsolutions to securing the strategic environment, like reducing nukes to zero, only will hurt the national security of the US, and lead to nuclear proliferation and the increased risk of war.

Avoiding the ‘End of History’ Syndrome: The US Military of the 21st Century December 22, 2008

Posted by SV in Asia, China, History, Iran, Nuclear Proliferation, Russia, Terrorism, U.S. Government.
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The New York Times ran an op-ed recently (“How to Pay for a 21st-Century Military”) that erroneously recommends how to modernize the US military. The NYT uses the Global War on Terror as the basis for its suggestions of how to cut costs and increase effectiveness in the military. To do so is to repeat the error made by Francis Fukuyama in the 1990s of suggesting we had reached “the end of history” with the fall of the Soviet Union. GWOT is a temporary divergence from the norm of warfare, and the military must remain prepared to engage in inter-state war if America is to remain the strongest power.

Why the New York Times article is wrong (it would be beneficial to read the original op-ed):

1. Great power war is still a possibility. The recommendations to halt production of the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, cancel the DD-G 1000 Zumwalt class destroyer, and stop churning out Virginia class submarines are all naive in the extreme. These weapons systems have critical roles to play in the contingencies of great power conflict.

The F-22 is the top of the line fighter that can achieve air supremacy and defeat an enemy air force more quickly and efficiently than the slightly-less capable F-35. As the F-16s age and grow increasingly less effective for counterinsurgency and inter-state operations, the F-22 is needed to maintain the Air Force’s comparative advantage over a host of possible rivals.

The Zumwalt class destroyer, which the Navy is only getting two of, would play a vital role in a conflict in which the US had long sea-lines of communication (i.e., in the Middle East or Asia). The Navy’s current program seeks to maintain a fleet of 313 ships, close to an all-time low. To cut it even further risks stretching it too thin to respond to a range of possible crises.

The writers’ recommendation to cancel production of the Virginia class attack submarine also reflects their lack of understanding of future conflict. Though they rightly point out that it is a public works project and designed for operations against China, they neglect why these are positive aspects. After a US nuclear submarine sunk with crew and engineers on board, after the US had stopped building submarines regularly, it was decided that we needed to continuously build subs so that the technical experience, facilities, and infrastructure were not lost. Also, subs would play a pivotal role in a conflict with China, and more are needed if that contingency would occur.

Regarding their criticism of “premature deployment of missile defenses,” see my post on “Defanging Deterrence.” The Marine Corps’ V-22 Osprey, though there is almost no comparable aircraft, could likely be cut without impacting the Corps’ overall effectiveness. It has had 25 years to be perfected, and still has safety and reliability issues.

2. Reducing nuclear weapons further would contribute to proliferation. After the Moscow Treaty of 2002 that set the number of nuclear warheads for the US and Russia at 1700-2200, there were opposing calls to cut the numbers further or to stop cutting them. Though it is fashionable to believe nuclear weapons no longer have a role to play, they are essential to deterrence and non-proliferation.

Cutting the inventory further would undermine deterrence because without a diverse and robust arsenal, other nations may not find our deterrent as credible as it once was. Also, reducing the reserve stockpile could be disastrous. Since the US has not tested any of its nuclear weapons since the early 1990s, if a problem were discovered with one of the few types of warheads, the reserve would have to temporarily fill-in on the missiles until the error were fixed. Cutting the reserve requires an end to talks of a comprehensive test ban treaty, something the NYT is unwilling to discuss.

Reducing the number of nuclear warheads in the US arsenal is also something many of our allies will not tolerate. Under the “deal,” the US would retain nuclear weapons so that they would not need to. If the US cuts its numbers further, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Germany, and Poland may decide to acquire a nuclear capability. Many of these allies were upset with the Moscow Treaty, and do not want the US to cut its inventory further. To stop proliferation of nuclear weapon states, the US needs a large arsenal.

3. The Global War on Terrorism is not the defining model of warfare for the 21st-century. Though it has dominated the first decade, the GWOT will likely remain a low-intensity, long-term action that will not warrant drastic changes in the military.

Increasing the size of the Army and Marines is a good step towards modernizing the US military, but not at the cost of the Navy or Air Force. All services play an important and interconnected role in conducting operations. Like a three (or four)-legged stool, if one of the legs is shortened or lengthened while the others are not, it will not remain efficiently functioning.

The editors’ calls to expand the Navy’s littoral combat ships and resupply the National Guard and Reserves are all important actions, but they cannot expect to cut vital weapons programs to meet those goals. America still has very dangerous potential enemies in the world, and terrorists, while a considerable threat, are not an existential threat.

In conclusion, the writers of this op-ed are still stuck in the “end of history” thesis. They believe that because most of these weapons systems were designed for conflict with the Soviet Union, they are now obsolete. They ignore the peril posed by aggressive states like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and potential adversaries like Venezuela or Pakistan. If they want to cut costs or make the military more effective, they need to focus their attention on bloated bureaucracies, red tape around weapons development, and cutting select programs like the Osprey, airborne-laser, etc.

Warfare for thousands of years has normally been between states or nations. To suggest that this notion is obsolete in the 21st-century is to neglect the lessons of history. Similar feelings were the rage in Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, after WWII in 1945, and with the fall of the Soviet Union. Even President Jefferson believed in the future states would wage war solely through economic means. History has not come to an end, and neither has traditional warfare, therefore the United States should be prepared to fight and win any conflict that erupts, whether counterterrorism or inter-state.

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