May 15, 2007

Executive Memorandum #1026

Post-Cold War security requires a new nuclear weapons policy, operational doctrine, arsenal, and infrastructure. The Bush Administration, which announced a new strategic policy with the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in 2002 and issued a draft of the new Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations for the mili­tary in 2005, is now moving to construct a nuclear arsenal to meet the needs of the new policy and doctrine, which directs the field­ing of both offensive and defensive strategic nuclear and conventional forces to reduce to an absolute minimum the possibility that any hostile state will be able to launch a successful stra­tegic attack on the U.S. or its friends and allies.

While the Bush Administration does not use the term, this constitutes a damage-limitation strategy. In this context, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on March 2, 2007, that a joint Department of Defense and NNSA Nuclear Weapons Council had selected a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory design for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). The RRW is to be provided to the Navy to replace existing warheads on a portion of its submarine-based nuclear-armed missiles.

The NNSA's description of the requirements behind the design and the design itself, however, seems to indicate that meeting the requirements for military utility and effectiveness was not the most important consideration in the selection process. This should set off alarm bells on Capitol Hill. An effective nuclear deterrent force remains essential to the protection of U.S. security. An RRW design that fails to meet the requirements for the dam­age-limitation strategy, which is dra­matically different from and more taxing in certain ways than the Cold War strategy for deterring the Soviet Union, would not only be of limited capability, but could also be coun­terproductive insofar as it bolsters a perception of effectiveness that is a delusion.

A Question of Emphasis. The NNSA's announce­ment listed seven attributes of the RRW program as important achievements reached through the de­sign competition:

  • Assuring long-term confidence in the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile,
  • Enhancing the security of U.S. nuclear weapons,
  • Improving the safety of the stockpile,
  • Developing a responsive infrastructure,
  • Sustaining nuclear weapons design and produc­tion skills,
  • Reducing the size of the weapons stockpile, and
  • Decreasing the likelihood of the need for an explosive nuclear test.

All of these attributes are appropriate for a suc­cessful RRW program, and all but the last two are essential. None, however, speaks to the issue of how the RRW will meet the needs of the new dam­age-limitation strategy that presumably involves entirely new targeting requirements, more urgent timelines for conducting operations, and mating of the warhead with new delivery vehicles beyond the existing Navy missiles.

Acting NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D'Agostino, in testimony before the House Sub­committee on Strategic Forces on March 20, 2007, indicated that ensuring the utility of the RRW in meeting new military requirements has been all but ignored: "We are pursuing the RRW strategy to ensure the long-term sustainment of the military capabilities provided by warheads in the existing stockpile, not to develop warheads for new or different military missions."

Need to Focus on Military Utility. It appears that Congress needs to remind the NNSA Adminis­trator that the NPR and the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations have already designated new military missions for nuclear weapons and that it is the NNSA's responsibility to design and build the warheads needed to fulfill those missions.

This does not mean that Congress should with­hold support for the RRW as was done by the House Armed Services Committee in its May 10 mark-up of the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization bill. The Committee took the short-sighted action of reduc­ing funding for the RRW program by 40 percent. Rather, Congress should accelerate the program and broaden its purpose. Specifically, Congress should:

  • Provide the NNSA with the full $6.5 billion re­quested for weapons activities in fiscal year 2008.
  • Direct the NNSA to refine the RRW's design and build it to provide the military with the capabili­ties to hold at risk enemy targets that require nuclear weapons and that constitute the means to attack the U.S. and its friends and allies with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. This includes both hardened and mobile targets.
  • Direct the NNSA to design and build the RRW so that it can be mated to delivery systems that can strike enemy targets quickly and accurately enough to limit the damage that otherwise would be imposed on the U.S. and its friends and allies.
  • Give the NNSA the explicit authority to pursue the RRW as a new warhead design and conduct explosive tests as necessary to field nuclear weapons with these capabilities.

Conclusion. Nuclear weapons are no less essen­tial to the security of the U.S. and its friends and allies than they were during the Cold War, but the requirements are different. Current and projected circumstances will allow the U.S. to maintain a smaller active nuclear arsenal and stockpile of war­heads, in part based on the deployment of effective conventionally armed strategic strike weapons and defenses. This smaller U.S. nuclear arsenal, how­ever, makes it more important that the arsenal is fully modernized and tailored to meeting the demands of the damage-limitation strategy.

U.S. strategic forces should not be used to exact revenge on an enemy foolish enough to attack the U.S. or its friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. They should be used to deter that enemy from attacking by making it clear that such an attack will fail.

Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Alli­son Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for Interna­tional Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.


Eric said...

The number of issues raised by Pinky and the Brain's interesting set of posts today is very large.

In the hopes that there will be lots of discussion, here is my first question.

If a major role of nuclear weapons is to deter foreign aggressors against the U.S. (as stated in this article), but the current and most likely aggressors are not nation states, cannot make nuclear weapons on their own, and are 'the undeterrables' (see Thomas Friedman about 2 years ago) because they embrace their own death as a release from this world, then how is the deterrance rationale supposed to protect you and me?

RedBadge said...

There is an excellent article by Chalmers Johnson here.
It should be required reading for every American. Here's a snippet, with statements added by me in bold.

Many other aspects of imperialism and militarism are undermining America’s Constitutional system. By now, for example, the privatization of military and intelligence functions (including national labs) is totally out of control, beyond the law, and beyond any form of Congressional oversight. It is also incredibly lucrative for the owners and operators of so-called private military companies (like Bechtel) — and the money to pay for their activities ultimately comes from taxpayers through government contracts. Any accounting of these funds, largely distributed to crony companies with insider connections, is chaotic at best. Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, estimates that there are 126,000 private military contractors in Iraq, more than enough to keep the war going, even if most official U.S. troops were withdrawn. “From the beginning,” Scahill writes, “these contractors have been a major hidden story of the war, almost uncovered in the mainstream media and absolutely central to maintaining the U.S. occupation of Iraq.”

America’s massive “military” budgets, still on the rise
(in no small part due to a significant increase of management fees to national lab managing corporations) , are beginning to threaten the U.S. with bankruptcy, given that its trade and fiscal deficits already easily make it the world’s largest net debtor nation. Spending on the military establishment — sometimes mislabeled “defense spending” — has soared to the highest levels since World War II, exceeding the budgets of the Korean and Vietnam War eras as well as President Ronald Reagan’s weapons-buying binge in the 1980s. According to calculations by the National Priorities Project, a non-profit research organization that examines the local impact of federal spending policies, military spending today consumes 40% of every tax dollar.

If you think this is outrageous, read the whole article.

RedBadge said...

Sorry about the bad link above. Here's the
correct link.