The arms control community is upset says William Broad of the New York Times.
The administration in whom they had trusted to begin the process of eliminating nuclear weapons is not following the script. It is sticking to a plan to fully modernize our arsenal of nuclear weapons even while reducing our weapons to the lowest level of deployed strategic weapons since the Eisenhower administration.
While one may have thought the arms control community wanted to reduce nuclear warheads and thus would be pleased that we have reduced such weapons dramatically since the end of the Cold War and by 30% since the Moscow Treaty with the 2010 New Start Treaty, their real ambition is to diminish the capability of America’s nuclear arms that remain after reductions.
This is largely because the arms control community sees America’s nuclear weapons as tools for bullies.
After all, as Hans Blix complained to me during a Senate briefing of defense legislative assistants, the US, France and Great Britain had no more rights to have nuclear weapons than did Sweden. And as Senator Markey complained years ago during a debate on the nuclear freeze while he served in the House, the real goal of the 1982 nuclear freeze was “to take away Ronald Reagan’s precious bargaining chips”!
In short, its always been about the weapons, not the numbers.
When President Truman used two nuclear weapons to end the war with Japan, the critics always claimed Truman just wanted to intimidate the Russians by showing them the power of nuclear weapons.
Given the current defense budget caps, and despite the massive modernization efforts of both Russia and the Chinese, the opponents of a modern US nuclear arsenal are pushing hard to stop the current US modernization effort, trying to kill or at least delay for another decade both the upgrade of our strategic bombers and the land based ICBM force, as well at a minimum reducing the buy of Ohio replacement strategic submarines from the planned 12 to 8.
Much of these proposals are being sold as just a matter of good budgeting, under the claim that nuclear modernization over the next decade will be unaffordable while also being unnecessary.
Let’s look at the facts.
First, the current cost of the entire nuclear modernization effort is $23 billion a year, about 5% of the base defense budget, and less than one-half of one percent of the Federal budget which is approaching $4 trillion. And at $23 billion the nuclear budget is about a third of the nuclear deterrent budget at the height of the Cold War that exceeded $65 billion.
Second, our deployed strategic nuclear deterrent of 1550-1800 warheads is 90% less than it was at the peak of the Cold War and our delivery platforms of submarines, bombers and ICBMs are 54% lower. Our B2 bomber is 25 years old. The Minuteman III land based missile force was first deployed in 1973. And the first modern Ohio class Trident nuclear armed submarine went into the water in 1989 and will be replaced starting in 2031 when it is 42 years old, the oldest submarine fleet in US naval history.
As General Garret Harnecak warned in a September speech to a seminar of the nation’s 200 leading nuclear experts, if we fail to modernize we will have 80 year old bombers being refueled within 70 year old tankers being escorted or protected by 50 year old fighters. He noted his USAF son is now flying exactly the same B52–the same tail number — as the General did during his bomber flying days. Today USAF planes average 25 years of age compared to 12 years at the time of the hollow military when President Reagan was elected.
The US went on a procurement holiday when it came to our nuclear deterrent at the end of the Cold War and gave little thought to planning for the eventual subsequent follow-on modernization.
To modernize these three Triad platforms–subs, bombers and ICBMs– will annually cost $8.5 billion. The USAF portion for a new strategic bomber and land based missile will be less than 5% of the total USAF budget according to the commander of the Global Strike Command, Lt Gen Stephen Wilson. He told me that is a bargain. But without such modernization, our entire Triad of nuclear forces would, as Clark Murdock of CSIS has warned, “rust to obsolescence”.
Some argue we can modernize the force but it can be dramatically smaller. But the level of warheads we need is based on a calculation of what our secure retaliatory capability should be. This means that in a crisis a US President need not worry about an adversary striking US nuclear forces first in an attempt to “get the drop on us.”
Even with no warning, our Triad is sufficiently survivable that we can still retaliate with many hundreds of warheads which could completely destroy an adversary and the military power upon which that adversary relies, including its nuclear forces.
This means that in a crisis over the Korean peninsula, the Taiwanese straits, Ukraine or the Persian Gulf, there is no need for any President to be rushed into a decision to use such awesome weapons. Under any scenario the bad guys can draw up, the use of nuclear force against the United States will always result in Armageddon–for them.
In short, an adversary faces total destruction by a US retaliatory strike if nuclear weapons are used against the US first. The prudent alternative which is that the “nuclear gun remain in the holster” during a crisis becomes the rule of the day.
This secure retaliatory capability is needed and is provided by a modernized Triad. This is why we have kept such a nuclear Triad for over half a century and it remains why nuclear weapons have not been used in anger for nearly 70 years. An excellent study by Clark Murdock and Michele Flournoy –CSIS Reports, “Revitalizing the US Nuclear Deterrent”, July 2002, concluded that maximizing the number of US platforms would significantly deter an adversary’s attempt at a disarming first strike, as well as preserve US reconstitution options into the future and ensure a secure retaliatory capability.
Modernizing our nuclear enterprise–reducing 8 warhead types to 5, eliminating thousands of warheads in the stockpile, upgrading and modernizing the secure platforms upon which these warheads are safely deployed and updating the nation’s related command and control capabilities–will probably require expenditures of $27-$32 billion a year, which is still projected to be 5% of the defense budget in 2025 even under the defense budget caps established in 2021.
Over thirty years, the full modernization effort will cost roughly $800 billion. But the modernized force will then last for another 30 years.
But in the next thirty years, the Affordable Care Act at today’s cost will require $7.5 trillion, while still leaving 30 million uninsured. Food stamps just at current levels will cost $2.5 trillion.
Fraudulent tax payments under the earned income tax and child tax credit programs would exceed $600 billion if just continued at current levels. And 28 job training programs identified by GAO as not doing their job will cost $540 billion over the same period—if the current price doesn’t increase by one dime for the next 30 years. Eliminate this waste and you could pay for the entire nuclear modernization effort and at the same eliminate nearly 80% of this year’s budget deficit.
It is not as if the US is modernizing its deterrent in a vacuum. The Chinese and Russians together are modernizing their nuclear forces to an extent and at a level of effort not seen at any time during the entirety of the Cold War.
Russia claims it will nave fully modernized its nuclear forces by 2021 after having spent $200 billion in the interim or $30 billion annually.
China according to new assessments by former defense official Philip Karber has spent over the past 3 decades $50-$100 billion just to build tunnels in which its Second Artillery missiles and their associated launchers can hide, an expenditure that along with much of the program does not show up on any “official” estimates of PRC nuclear expenditures.
Both Russia and China are building new nuclear armed submarines and their associated missiles, as well as new road mobile ICBMs and new cruise missiles with ranges exceeding 1200 miles.
Just so we get the message, the Russians and Mr. Putin have threatened NATO and the West within the use of nuclear weapons some 20 times since 2009 while China has let us know it can now target Americas largest cities with nuclear warheads exceeding 20 and 30 times the power of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
The Secretary of Defense in late September has said that nuclear modernization remains the nation’s most important national security requirement.
That nuclear deterrent as former Senator Jon Kyl emphasized, provides a nuclear umbrella over at least 31 of our NATO and East Asian allies. This allows them to forgo the building of their own nuclear deterrent and thus reduces fairly dramatically the proliferation of new nuclear weapons.
For these reasons the Administration and Congressional agreement to pursue the plan adopted in December 2010 for the sustained modernization of our nuclear enterprise is both necessary and affordable.