Pen­tagon chief an ex­pert on nukes but says lit­tle about them

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Robert Burns AP Na­tional Se­cu­rity Writer

WASH­ING­TON >> As de­fense sec­re­tary to a pres­i­dent who fa­mously en­vi­sioned “a world with­out nu­clear weapons,” Ash Carter has said re­mark­ably lit­tle about them.

He has been quiet on a range of nu­clear is­sues, in­clud­ing the Pen­tagon’s $8 bil­lion ef­fort to cor­rect an ar­ray of morale, train­ing, dis­ci­pline and re­source prob­lems in the Air Force nu­clear mis­sile corps, re­vealed by The As­so­ci­ated Press in the last three years. Nor has he pub­licly ex­plained in de­tail the util­ity of nu­clear weapons in an age of at­tacks by non-state ac­tors like the Is­lamic State to build sup­port for spend­ing hun­dreds of bil­lions on a new gen­er­a­tion of them.

When asked, he has left no doubt that he sees nu­clear weapons as the “bedrock” of U.S. se­cu­rity. But he rarely re­veals the un­der­pin­nings of his think­ing.

This is all the more no­table be­cause Carter, a physi­cist by train­ing and pol­icy wonk by rep­u­ta­tion, cut his pro­fes­sional teeth on nu­clear weapons dur­ing the Cold War. He prob­a­bly knows more about them than any de­fense sec­re­tary since Wil­liam Perry, a long­time nu­clear ex­pert, led the Pen­tagon a gen­er­a­tion ago.

This quiet ap­proach is ex­pected to end when Carter vis­its Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on Mon­day. There he plans to de­liver a speech on nu­clear de­ter­rence, the no­tion that a ro­bust and ready U.S. nu­clear force will make clear that the cost of hit­ting the U.S. would out­weigh any ben­e­fit. It will mark his first visit to a nu­clear weapons base since be­com­ing de­fense chief in Fe­bru­ary 2015.

Minot is home to Min­ute­man 3 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal ballistic mis­siles that stand in un­der­ground si­los, ready for nu­clear war. A por­tion of the Air Force’s B-52 bomber force, in­clud­ing a num­ber equipped to carry nu­clear bombs, also are at Minot.

Like the three other men who have run the Pen­tagon for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, Carter has plenty of other high-pri­or­ity is­sues to con­sume his time and at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing the war against the Is­lamic State group. Carter also has cho­sen to fo­cus on what he calls the “force of the fu­ture” — a set of pol­icy ini­tia­tives meant to mod­ern­ize the way the de­fense es­tab­lish­ment re­cruits and de­vel­ops mem­bers of the armed ser­vices. And he has given a great deal of at­ten­tion to Sil­i­con Val­ley and other tech­nol­ogy hot­beds that he sees as po­ten­tial keys to trans­lat­ing civil­ian in­no­va­tion into U.S. mil­i­tary ad­van­tage.

Nu­clear weapons is­sues have taken a back seat, at least pub­licly. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter, ac­com­pa­nied by Joint Chiefs Chair­man Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton. As de­fense chief for a pres­i­dent who fa­mously en­vi­sioned “a world with­out nu­clear weapons,” Ash Carter has said re­mark­ably lit­tle about them.

“Sec­re­tary Carter has not said much on nu­clear weapons, but his ac­tions speak vol­umes,” says Joe Cir­in­cione, pres­i­dent of the Ploughshares Fund, an ad­vo­cacy group that ar­gues for nu­clear re­duc­tions and against the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to com­mit hun­dreds of bil­lions to build a next-gen­er­a­tion nu­clear ar­se­nal. “He has been the Dr. No of nu­clear re­duc­tions, de­fend­ing ev­ery pro­gram con­tract and re­sist­ing ev­ery cut in the nu­clear force.”

A spokesman for Carter dis­putes that the Pen­tagon chief has been quiet about nu­clear is­sues.

“He reg­u­larly speaks about the im­por­tance of the nu­clear triad to our se­cu­rity, its im­por­tance in re­as­sur­ing our al­lies and de­ter­ring po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries, and the need to en­sure that we main­tain and mod­ern­ize that ca­pa­bil­ity,” said Gor­don Trow­bridge, the Pen­tagon’s deputy press sec­re­tary.

Carter has talked quite a lot about the nu­clear weapons of other coun­tries. He chas­tised Rus­sia for nu­clear “sabre rat­tling,” en­dorsed the U.S. nu­clear deal with Iran and crit­i­cized what he has called North Korea’s nu­clear “pur­suit and provo­ca­tions.” But when it comes to Amer­ica’s own weapons, he has mostly lim­ited him­self to broad ref­er­ences to their im­por­tance.

Be­fore this week, Carter had not given a speech about nu­clear weapons nor vis­ited a nu­clear weapons base. His im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Chuck Hagel, vis­ited two of the three Air Force bases that op­er­ate Min­ute­man 3 mis­siles, plus one of the two Navy bases for Tri­dent nu­clear sub­marines. Hagel also vis­ited a B-2 bomber base to high­light his sup­port for an Air Force’s plan to build a new nu­clear bomber.

Among Carter’s most sub­stan­tial re­marks about nu­clear weapons was his re­sponse ear­lier this month to a ques­tion from a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford in Eng­land af­ter Carter spoke about the Amer­i­can de­fense re­la­tion­ship with Bri­tain. Carter was asked whether he wor­ries that im­por­tant nu­clear is­sues are be­ing ig­nored or ne­glected.

“Well, it’s a bless­ing to be able to take the pub­lic’s mind off the nu­clear ques­tion,” Carter be­gan. He said he was thank­ful that nu­clear is­sues are “not in the head­lines.”

He called de­ter­rence the cor­ner­stone of U.S. strate­gic de­fense pol­icy be­cause “we’ve never found an­other way to man­age the un­prece­dented risk in­her­ently posed by the tech­nol­ogy of nu­clear weapons.” He added, “we’re go­ing to have nu­clear weapons as far into the fu­ture as I can see. And they need to be safe, they need to be se­cure, they need to be re­li­able.”

“For­tu­nately you don’t see us us­ing” nu­clear weapons, Carter said in re­sponse to a ques­tion last week from a sailor at the Pen­tagon. “And that’s a good thing.” Nu­clear weapons, he said, are “there in the back­ground as a guar­an­tor of our se­cu­rity.”

Dur­ing his long ca­reer as a na­tional se­cu­rity spe­cial­ist, Carter has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about nu­clear weapons is­sues. In a 1985 ar­ti­cle ti­tled “The Com­mand and Con­trol of Nu­clear War” he dis­sected the in­tri­cate is­sue of how wartime de­ci­sions would be com­mu­ni­cated to and ex­e­cuted by the nu­clear force. He was the lead au­thor of a re­port, “Cri­sis Sta­bil­ity and Nu­clear War,” in 1987, again ex­am­in­ing nu­clear com­mand and con­trol is­sues.

Dur­ing Bill Clin­ton’s first term in the White House, Carter served as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of de­fense for nu­clear se­cu­rity and coun­ter­pro­lif­er­a­tion.

“We’re go­ing to have nu­clear weapons as far into the fu­ture as I can see. And they need to be safe, they need to be se­cure, they need to be re­li­able.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The war­head-con­tain­ing nose cone of an inert Min­ute­man 3 mis­sile is seen in a train­ing launch tube at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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