Amer­ica’s nu­clear de­ter­rence hol­i­day

Neg­li­gence can no longer be jus­ti­fied in the face of Rus­sian and Chi­nese nu­clear buildup

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Colin S. Gray and Keith B. Payne Colin S. Gray is the Euro­pean di­rec­tor and co-founder of the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Public Pol­icy, and pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of strate­gic stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Read­ing. Keith B. Payne also is a co-founder of the Nat

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is be­queath­ing an ex­tremely dan­ger­ous se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment to Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump and his nom­i­nee for de­fense sec­re­tary, re­tired Marine Gen. James Mat­tis. For ex­am­ple, the de­part­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempted “re­set” of re­la­tions with Rus­sia col­lapsed quickly after Moscow got all it could want in the 2010 New START Treaty from a supine United States. Now, Rus­sia poses a greater dan­ger to its West­ern neigh­bors than any time since the worst years of the Cold War. Rus­sian lead­ers rou­tinely make ex­plicit nu­clear threats and openly dis­cuss the first-use of nu­clear weapons in a con­ven­tional con­flict, in­clud­ing in sup­port of an ex­pan­sion­ist foreign pol­icy. Cor­re­spond­ingly, Rus­sia is years into its nu­clear ex­pan­sion pro­grams, in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous up­dated nu­clear sys­tems and some that are en­tirely new and un­prece­dented.

China sim­i­larly is years into a nu­clear buildup, pur­sues an ex­pan­sion­ist foreign pol­icy at the ex­pense of U.S. Asian al­lies, and is creat­ing and mil­i­ta­riz­ing is­lands in the South China Sea in the process. China does so un­der the im­plicit and oc­ca­sion­ally ex­plicit cover of nu­clear threats.

The post-Cold War world has taken a very dan­ger­ous and gen­er­ally un­ex­pected turn. There are nu­mer­ous steps that the new pres­i­dent and de­fense sec­re­tary can and should take given th­ese harsh re­al­i­ties, but the first must be to un­der­stand how to de­feat Rus­sian and Chi­nese strate­gies of nu­clear co­er­cion and es­ca­la­tion. This is a par­tic­u­lar dan­ger we must ad­dress promptly. Un­less the United States and al­lies shut down any plau­si­ble ex­pec­ta­tion that nu­clear threats or use will com­pel the West to back down in a con­ven­tional con­flict, there will be a gap­ing open­ing for prospec­tive West­ern de­feat and foes will­ing to ex­ploit that open­ing. U.S. and allied nu­clear de­ter­rence ca­pa­bil­i­ties must be the foun­da­tion for all other re­me­dial steps the West may take in re­sponse to a new and ex­ceed­ingly dan­ger­ous threat en­vi­ron­ment.

Un­for­tu­nately, the United States has been on a two-decade hol­i­day from nu­clear prepa­ra­tion — pre­fer­ring in­stead to be­lieve that post-Cold War re­la­tions with Rus­sia and China were so be­nign that nu­clear weapons had be­come relics of a by­gone age, and that the high­est pri­or­ity of U.S. nu­clear pol­icy should be to elim­i­nate them. It is now man­i­festly ob­vi­ous that be­lief was an il­lu­sion, and we must now re­cap­i­tal­ize nu­clear forces that have lan­guished for far too long. The com­pre­hen­sive mod­ern­iza­tion of our nu­clear forces should have be­gun un­der the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, but did not. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion largely con­tin­ued the hol­i­day un­til Rus­sia’s nu­clear en­thu­si­asm and ex­pan­sion could no longer be ig­nored and adamant Rus­sian op­po­si­tion to fur­ther ne­go­ti­ated re­duc­tions es­sen­tially pre­cluded con­tin­u­a­tion of the hol­i­day.

The West­ern nu­clear re­build­ing pro­gram must in­clude the strate­gic triad of land-based and sea-based mis­siles, and heavy bombers, and U.S. nu­clear forces de­ployed abroad. Fur­ther de­lay at this point would be a de facto de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate th­ese nu­clear sys­tems — which would be grossly im­pru­dent.

For ex­am­ple, the 46-year-old U.S. Min­ute­man ICBM sys­tem must be re­placed, to in­clude fu­ture op­tions to en­sure its con­tin­ued sur­viv­abil­ity against at­tack. We must also re­place the 35-year-old, sea-based nu­clear force, and the strate­gic bomber force that in­cludes air­craft that now range from 27 to 55 years of age. Some rec­om­mend sim­ply elim­i­nat­ing one or more of th­ese triad legs rather than spend­ing the ap­prox­i­mately 5 per­cent of the de­fense bud­get nec­es­sary to re­build U.S. ca­pa­bil­i­ties com­pre­hen­sively after so long a hol­i­day. This ad­vice is im­pru­dent, even reck­less. The de­ter­rent ef­fect of th­ese three strate­gic sys­tems com­bined is much greater than the sum of its parts.

The years ahead present some ob­vi­ously se­vere nu­clear per­ils, and al­most cer­tainly ad­di­tional se­vere threats that are now un­seen. To ad­dress th­ese threats, we will have only those forces in-hand at the time — which is why there is great value in the flex­i­bil­ity and re­silience in­her­ent in a triad of forces. Now is not the time to ex­per­i­ment with min­i­mum de­ter­rence strate­gies and the elim­i­na­tion of the triad. In truth, no one knows the an­swer to the perennial ques­tion, “How much U.S. nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity is enough for de­ter­rence?” The an­swer al­most cer­tainly waxes, wanes and other­wise changes de­pend­ing on the op­po­nent, time, place and cir­cum­stance — hence the sig­nif­i­cance of the triad’s flex­i­bil­ity and re­silience. Main­tain­ing that triad is not a re­treat to Cold War think­ing; it is pru­dent prepa­ra­tion for the in­creas­ingly se­vere, dy­namic and ul­ti­mately un­pre­dictable threat en­vi­ron­ment of the 21st cen­tury.

The com­pre­hen­sive mod­ern­iza­tion of the nu­clear triad and U.S. nu­clear forces abroad is not an in­ex­pen­sive un­der­tak­ing. How­ever, the fail­ure to re­store this spec­trum of cred­i­ble West­ern nu­clear de­ter­rence ca­pa­bil­i­ties is not an op­tion — it lit­er­ally would place our sur­vival at greater risk. In an era once again un­der the shadow of mul­ti­ple nu­clear threats, 5 per­cent of the de­fense bud­get is not too much to ask to re­dress decades of U.S. nu­clear in­do­lence.

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