Commentary of the Week by The ICBM EAR: MAKING UP NUCLEAR GHOST STORIES
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By Peter Huessy, President of GeoStrategic Analysis, Potomac, Maryland - Senior Warrior Maven Columnist
Top Nuclear Story of the Week
MAKING UP NUCLEAR GHOST STORIES
On March 10, Slate published an essay by Fred Kaplan arguing that GBSD is not needed, and if any ICBMs are required for deterrence, that mission can be achieved through the life extension of the existing Minuteman III missiles at some number but not necessarily at the current force of 400.
Here follows in bold face my analysis along with the text of Kaplan’s essay.
Kaplan alleges the military industrial complex invented the need for TRIAD modernization to piggyback on the New START ratification process; that Strategic Command invented the idea of a “ICBM nuclear sponge” to justify the ICBM force, and that a MMIII SLEP is cheaper than a new GBSD ICBM force.
PRH ANALYSIS OF & COMMENT ON:
The Missile Trap
Congress’s ICBM caucus is taking aim at the White House
Slate.com, 10 Mar 21 Fred Kaplan
For the first time in two decades, the Pentagon is considering, and Congress is debating, whether to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a new nuclear-armed missile.
THE LAST TIME THE US CONGRESS DEBATED WHETHER TO BUILD A NEW ELEMENT OF THE C WAS WHEN THE US WAS CONSIDERING THE PEACEKEEPER MISSILE, WHICH WAS INITIALLY DEPLOYED IN OCTOBER 1986, WITH A THE KEY VOTE TO GO FORWARD IN MAY 1985, SOME 36 YEARS AGO, NOT TW0 DECADES.
HOWEVER, THE INITIAL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPENT FUNDING FOR THE PEACEKEEPER/MX STARTED IN 1974 NEARLY A HALF A CENTURY AGO.
The new weapon, called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), would replace America’s 400 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at an estimated cost of $264 billion over the next few decades.
THIS COST ESTIMATE BY KAPLAN IS PURE FICTION. BUT IT IS OVER 65 YEARS WHICH HARDLY QUALIFIES AS A “FEW DECADES.”
THE COST IS ACTUALLY $87 BILLION FOR THE ENTIRE RDT&E AND ACQUISITION FOR GBSD OVER NEARLY 15 YEARS.
The debate is particularly fierce, and will become more so once the Biden administration releases its defense budget sometime next month, because one faction in this debate—with adherents in the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House—want not only to halt funding for the GBSD but to dismantle some or all of the 400 existing missiles.
Last fall, the Trump administration gave Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion sole-source contract to begin engineering and development on the new missile, in an attempt to lock in the project and make it harder for anyone to kill it outright. Northrop had lined up more than a dozen subcontractors—including fellow giants such as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, which are normally its competitors—in order to widen support for the project in Congress.
CONGRESS SUPPORTED THE GBSD PROGRAM BECAUSE IT WAS NEEDED TO PROTECT OUR NATIONAL SECURITY. AS FOR THE CONSORTIUM OF COMPANIES IN THE GBSD PROGRAM, EACH COMPANY BRINGS A CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AND SKILLS TO THE PROGRAM AND WENT THROUGH A NORMAL BUT THOROUGH COMPETITIVE PROCESS TO WORK ON THE PROGRAM.
Coordinating this support are the members of the “ICBM Coalition,” legislators who represent the states that house the ICBM bases (Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming) and the Air Force’s Global Strike Command (Louisiana). Last summer, when Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) proposed shifting $1 billion of the GBSD’s seed money to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a very vocal member of the coalition, accused him of shilling for China.
MR. KHANNA LOST 14-43 VOTE IN HASC AND 166 TO 266 ON THE HOUSE FLOOR. GBSD SUPPORT WAS BI-PARTISAN AND OVERWHELMING. THE KEY ARGUMENT WAS ALL PREVIOUS SERIOUS ASSESSMENTS CONCLUDED THAT GBSD WAS THE BEST WAY FORWARD AND A LIFE EXTENSION FOR MINUTEMAN MADE NO SENSE.
This coalition is also aided by several hawkish legislators who view the nuclear Triad—the three “legs” of the U.S. arsenal that include land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and long-range bomber aircraft—as tantamount to the Holy Trinity. Remove any one of those legs, they insist as a matter of dogma, and the entire edifice of nuclear deterrence will fall apart.
Last week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said he would vote down the nomination of Colin Kahl as undersecretary of defense for policy because Kahl would not kowtow unthinkingly to the GBSD. (Under questioning, Kahl, a former official in the Bush and Obama administrations, said that he supported modernization of the Triad but would have to examine classified material before taking a position on the GBSD. To Cotton, this was heresy.)
YOU CANNOT BUILD MMIII AGAIN OR EXTEND ITS LIFE AS IT WON’T TECHNICALLY BE CAPABLE MUCH BEYOND 2030, IT WONT MEET THE DETERRENT REQUIREMENTS OF THE COUNTRY AND IT WILL COST FAR MORE TO SUSTAIN AND OPERATE THAN GBSD.
The existence of the Triad is an accident of history. There were three branches of the U.S. military—Army, Navy, and Air Force—and so, there are three separate platforms for nuclear weapons: the Army built land-based missiles, the Navy built missiles for submarines, and the Air Force built bombs to drop from airplanes. (In the late 1950s, the Air Force beat the Army for the ICBM contract, so the Army built short-range missiles for deployment in Europe and Asia. When those missiles were deactivated toward the end of the Cold War, the Army got out of the nuclear business.)
As often happens with historical accidents, theories were crafted afterward to rationalize the way things turned out. It was noted that submarines could roam beneath the ocean’s surface for long stretches of time, undetectable and invulnerable; therefore, the subs ensured that, if the Soviets launched a nuclear attack on the U.S., the U.S. could fire back, thereby deterring the Soviets from attacking in the first place. Land-based ICBMs were more responsive to commands, and they were much more accurate than submarine-launched missiles, enabling the U.S. not only to smash Soviet cities, but to hit specific targets, such as enemy missile bases. Bombers could be recalled to their bases (unlike missiles, which, once fired, were irretrievable), reducing the chances of an accidental war and giving leaders time to de-escalate in a crisis.
There was logic to this argument, for a while, but in the 1990s, the rationale for the land-based ICBM started to unravel. The Navy deployed a new submarine-launched missile, called the Trident II, which, unlike earlier models, was powerful and accurate enough to destroy pinpoint targets, such as the Soviet Union’s blast-hardened ICBM silos. Command-control systems also improved, so that the president could more reliably send launch orders to a submarine out at sea.
THE ICBM FORCE HOLDS AT RISK KEY RUSSIAN RESERVE ASSETS THAT OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE TRIAD MAY NOT BE ABLE TO DO. ALSO, THE SUB FORCE IS ONE THIRD ON ALERT AND THUS WITH SOME 360 WARHEADS THUS MAKING GBSD AT 400 WARHEADS, HIGHLY COMPLIMENTARY AND EQUAL IN HOLDING KEY RUSSIAN ASSETS AT RISK REQUIRED FOR MAINTAINING DETERRENCE.
ICBMs were becoming not just superfluous but destabilizing. They were at once highly accurate and highly vulnerable—capable of destroying, but also of being destroyed by, Russian ICBMs. In short, their very existence increased the likelihood of a nuclear war. In an escalating crisis, one side would have an incentive to launch a first strike before the other side launched a first strike.
ACTUALLY, AS THE NUCLEAR POSTURE REVIEW OF 2018 AND RECENT REPORTS FROM FAS AND CARNEGIE ALL CONCLUDED THERE IS “NEAR ZERO” CHANCE FOR THE RUSSIANS TO ATTACK THE UNITED STATES ICBM FORCE, THUS FINALLY THROWING OUT THE FOOLISH IDEA THAT ICBMS ARE INHERENTLY DESTABILIZING. AN ATTACK BY RUSSIA ON THE ICBM FORCE OR THE ENTIRETY OF THE US NUCLEAR FORCE WOULD BE SUICIDAL.
There were fevered debates about all this in the 1980s and early ’90s, but as the Cold War wound down, so did the fear of nuclear war and the intrigue over abstract discussions of nuclear strategy. The U.S. and Russia did reduce their ICBMs through a series of arms-reduction treaties (the U.S. used to have 1,054 of them), but they didn’t dismantle those missiles entirely.
AT THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR THE US HAD OVER 500 BOMBERS AND OVER 600 SEA LAUNCHED MISSILES AND 1054 LAND BASED MISSILES. THUS, ALL ELEMENTS OF THE TRIAD HAVE BEEN REDUCED BY BETWEEN 60-90%, WITH ICBMS THE LEAST REDUCED OF ALL 3 LEGS OF THE TRIAD. AS FOR THE SERIOUS CONCERN WITH SOVIET SUPERIOR NUCLEAR CAPABILITY, THAT FIGHT BEGAN IN THE THE 1970s A DECADE BEFORE KAPLAN’S CLAIM.
Still, time, decay, and dwindling enthusiasm for the nuclear enterprise meant funding would be cut, possibly drastically, over time. So, when President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START treaty in 2010, the ICBM Coalition took out the old playbook. They told Obama that they would not ratify the treaty—an act that required two-thirds of the Senate—unless Obama agreed to modernize all three legs of the Triad.
THE CHOICE IS NOT BETWEEN ARMS CONTROL VS NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION. BOTH ARE REQUIRED. EACH LEG OF THE TRIAD WILL LITERALLY GO OUT OF BUSINESS STARTING AT THE END OF THIS DECADE UNLESS REPLACED.
THE MMIII ICBMS, SAYS THE VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF, WILL LITERALLY BEGIN FALLING APART AROUND 2030; THE SUB HULLS WILL NOT LAST BEYOND 42 YEARS AND THE OLD STRATEGIC BOMBERS WILL EVENTUALLY NOT BE ABLE TO PENETRATE TO THEIR TARGETS.
THE NEW START TREATY WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY TO ACCOMMODATE THE CURRENTLY PLANNED TRIAD AND WAS AGREED TO PRIOR TO OR BEFORE THE MODERNIZATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND THE SENATE WAS CONCLUDED IN DECEMBER 2010.
THATS WHY 700 SNDVS WERE ALLOWED UNDER NEW START. OTHERWISE WITHOUT THE ICBM FORCE, THE US SNDV LEVEL WOULD BE 250 STRATEGIC NUCLEAR DELIVERY VEHICLES MADE UP OF 192 SEA-LAUNCHED BALLISTIC MISSILES AND 60 STRATEGIC BOMBERS. WHY THEN WOULD THE TREATY ALLOW 700 SUCH SYSTEMS IF THE US HAD NO NEED FOR ANYTHING BEYOND 250?
Obama finessed the demand, pledging in a written statement to “modernize or replace” all three legs of the Triad. “Modernize” could mean any number of things: installing new software or better communications gear; it didn’t necessarily mean buying whole new systems.
THE DIMENSIONS OF THE MODERNIZATION PLAN WERE DETAILED IN A REPORT REQUIRED BY THE SENATE DEFENSE BUDGET AND DID IN FACT INCLUDE EVERY PART OF THE CURRENT MODERNIZATION EFFORT. KAPLANS ASSERTION ARE SIMPLY BALONEY.
But exploiting this concession, Senate Republicans started rolling out a list of new weapons— new ICBMs, new bombers, new submarines, new cruise missiles, and a few different models of new warheads—which they said would cost a total of $1.3 trillion over the next 30 years.
AGAIN, KAPLAN DOESNT UNDERSTAND DEFENSE BUDGETS. THE $1.3 TRILLION IS A FALSE NUMBER. AND THE REQUIRED NEW SYSTEMS WERE NOT INVENTED BY REPUBLICANS TO PAD THE DEFENSE BUDGET.
A NEW ICBM HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS FOR TWO DECADES AS HAS FUNDING FOR THE NEW COLUMBIA CLASS SUBMARINE AND THE B-21 BOMBER. ALL THREE SYSTEMS ARE NEEDED TO REPLACE AGING AND EVENTUALLY OBSOLETE CAPABILITIES. AS ADMIRAL RICHARD, THE HEAD OF US STRATEGIC COMMAND HAS EXPLAINED THE CHOICE IS BETWEEN MODERNIZATION OR THE USA GOING OUT OF THE NUCLEAR BUSINESS. THERE IS NO CHEAP LEGACY SYSTEM ALTERNATIVE FOR ANY LEG OF THE TRIAD, INCLUDING NUCLEAR COMMAND AND CONTROL OR NC3, AS WELL AS THE NEED TO REBURBISH OUR WARHEADS AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS INFRASTRCUTURE. WORK ON THESE KEY ELEMENTS OF THE TRIAD HAVE BEEN GOING ON LONG PRIOR TO NEW START.
But exploiting this concession, Senate Republicans started rolling out a list of new weapons— new ICBMs, new bombers, new submarines, new cruise missiles, and a few different models of new warheads—which they said would cost a total of $1.3 trillion over the next 30 years. When Trump took office, Pentagon officials misleadingly, but very cleverly, referred to this plan as “the Obama program of record.” Since no one under Trump would dare propose spending less than Obama on a defense program, this guaranteed that the largest nuclear building plan since the Reagan administration would proceed unimpeded.
THE $1.3 TRILLION IS NOT FOR MODERNIZATION BUT ALL SUSTAINMENT AND SUPPORT FOR 30 YEARS PLUS MODERNIZATION. THE ENTIRE RESEARCH,
DEVELOPMENT AND ACQUISITION BUDGET FOR THE THREE NEW TRIAD PLATFORMS—THE B21 BOMBER, THE COLUMBIA CLASS SUBS AND THE ASSOCIATED D-5 MISSILES AND THE GBSD WILL IN FY2021 RUN ABOUT $8.5 BILLION OUT OF A DEFENSE BUDGET OF $741 BILLION, OR 1.1%. OR A MINISCULE 0.3% OF THE CV—& PORK & BAILOUT BILL.
But the ICBM still needed a rationale, so a team inside U.S. Strategic Command came up with something called the “sponge” theory. Without any land-based ICBMs, this theory posited, the enemy could launch a highly effective nuclear first strike by destroying a mere six targets inside the United States—two submarine ports, a few bomber bases, and the “national command authority” (meaning Washington, D.C.). However, if we still had ICBMs, the enemy would have to hit them as well; hitting 400 ICBMs would require launching 800 warheads; by any standard, that would be a “major” attack, killing several million Americans; any American president would have to launch a retaliatory attack; therefore, the Russians wouldn’t dare launch a first strike.
NO ONE DREAMED UP THE SPONGE THEORY EXCEPT THE DISARMAMENT COMMUNITY—-TO JUSTIFY THEIR FAILED MULTIPLE DECADES LONG OBSESSION WITH KILLING ICBMS.
KAPLAN GETS ONE THING RIGHT AND THAT IS IF THE RUSSIANS WANTED TO TAKE OUT THE MINUTEMAN FORCE THEY WOULD NEED TO ATTACK WITH 800+ WARHEADS. RUSSIA WOULD ALSO BE USING ITS BEST HARD TARGET KILL WARHEADS AND ONLY TAKE OUT 400 USA WARHEADS AT BEST.
DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR, THE WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY WAS INDEED A TOP CONCERN BECAUSE THE SOVIETS 11500 WARHEADS WERE MORE THAN ENOUGH TO TAKE OUT ALL 1054 US ICBMS AND HAVE CLOSE TO TEN THOUSAND REMAINING WARHEADS AVAILABLE TO HOLD AT RISK KEY REMAINING USA MILITARY ASSETS AND US CITIES.
THE FEAR WAS SUCH A SOVIET ATTACK OR THREAT OF SUCH AN ATTACK WOULD COMPEL THE US TO STAND DOWN IN A CRISIS. A KEY EFFORT TO OVERCOME THIS VULNERABILITY WAS TO MAKE THE ICBM FORCE MOBILE. HOWEVER, WITH THE (1) BAN ON MULTIPLE WARHEAD LAND BASED ICBMS IN START II, (2) THE DOWNLOADING OF OUR ICBMS TO ONE WARHEAD EACH, (3) ARMS CONTROL AGREEMENTS REDUCING SOVIET AND THEN RUSSIAN WARHEADS BY 90%, AND (4) WITH THE END OF THE COLD WAR, THAT WINDOW OF VULNERABILITY WAS SHUT.
There are at least three flaws to this argument. First, it is very strange. A few decades ago, the people who came up with the “sponge” theory were arguing that the Kremlin’s leaders would have little hesitation launching 2,000 warheads against 1,000 U.S. ICBMs; the core of our nuclear strategy assumed that they would. Now these people, or their intellectual heirs, are saying that firing fewer than half that many warheads would be too large and too destructive for the Russians to consider. The threat-scribes have altered their premises to fit the conclusion they want to reach.
THE SITUATION TODAY IS VASTLY DIFFERENT. THOUGH RUSSIA HAS A VERY LARGE FORCE CAPABLE OF DEPLOYING 3400-4400 STRATEGIC WARHEADS IN AN OUTBREAK FROM THE NEW START TREATY, WITHIN THE NEW START TREATY RUSSIA HAS 1490 MISSILE WARHEADS.
TO ATTACK THE UNITED STATES ICBM FORCE INCLUDING LAUNCH CONROL FACILITIES AND ALL 45O SILOS. TO CONDUCT SUCH AN ATTACK, RUSSIA WOULD HAVE TO PLACE ITS FORCES ON HIGHER ALERT. THIS WOULD GIVE THE USA AND ITS ALLIES SUCH AS GREAT BRITAIN AND FRANCE, ADVANCED WARNING OF ANY ATTACK. THIS IS A BIG CHANGE FROM THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. AS NOTED DEPLOYED RUSSIAN WARHEADS NOW ARE DOWN 90% UNDER NEW START.
Second, the six targets that the enemy, presumably the Russians, would have to hit, if we didn’t have ICBMs, are close to cities; Washington is a city; tens of millions of Americans would die in this “limited” nuclear strike. It is implausible that a Russian leader would take the chance that an American president would simply surrender without retaliating. And the American president could send the retaliatory order to the many submarines that would be out at sea (half of them are at sea at any one time, all the time), and to the several bombers that would have taken off from their bases in the early stages of a crisis.
KAPLAN DOESN'T UNDERSTAND: IF THE RUSSIANS WERE INTERESTED IN DISARMING THE UNITED STATES THEY WOULD NOT ATTACK THE PRESIDENT OF THE USA OR DESTROY MAJOR USA CITIES. TAKING OUT 2 SUB-BASES AND 3 BOMBER BASES WOULD NOT REQUIRE THE USE OF A SINGLE NUCLEAR WEAPON.
WITH ZERO ICBMS IN THE US ARSENAL, THE RUSSIANS WOULD NEED TO TAKE OUT NOT OVER 500 TARGETS BUT JUST 13 TARGETS TO DISARM THE UNITED STATES. THIS WOULD INCLUDE SOME 6-8 SUBS IN TRANSIT TO THEIR BASE OR IN THEIR PATROL AREA, PLUS THE 2 SUB AND 3 BOMBER BASES NOTED ABOVE. NOT A SINGLE NUCLEAR WEAPON NEEDS TO BE USED AS ALL THE TARGETS ARE SOFT TARGETS AND COULD BE ELIMINATED USING CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS.
Finally, let’s say that there is something to the sponge theory—that we should present the Russians or Chinese or whomever with more than a half-dozen targets to hit if they were contemplating a first strike. Do we need to present them with 400 extra targets? Would 100 be enough? How about 50 or a dozen? The sponge theorists should be asked to make the case that fewer than 400 would be too few.
HERE KAPLAN UNDERSTANDS HIS ARGUMENT IS FULL OF HOLES. HE CHANGES HIS ARGUMENT TO ADMIT HAVING HUNDREDS OF ICBM SILOS SPREAD THROUGHOUT FIVE MIDWESTERN STATES DOES INDEED MAKE THE CHANCE OF A RUSSIAN STRIKE NEAR ZERO. BUT ALL OF SUDDEN ITS NOT 400 MISSILES THAT DO THE STABILIZING JOB BUT 300, or 200 or 50 SAYS KAPPAN.
BUT THE 400 ICBM WARHEADS ARE WHAT THE USA NEEDS TO HOLD AT RISK VERY IMPORTANT RUSSIAN NUCLEAR ASSETS NOT THE NUMBER NEEDED TO SOAK UP ATTACKING RUSSIAN WARHEADS.
Nor does the sponge theory require those ICBMs—however many there are—to be new. Yes, some of the existing Minuteman missiles have been sitting in their silos since the 1970s. But they haven’t been doing much that causes wear and tear; they’ve undergone several “service-life extensions” over the decades—new warheads, software, avionics, guidance systems, command- control receivers, etc.—and there’s no reason they couldn’t undergo more. The 76 nuclear-armed B-52H bombers in the fleet have been around since the 1950s, and they’ve been flown and otherwise jostled a lot. They too have undergone a lot of service-life extensions, and they’re in fine shape.
THERE ARE IMPORTANT REASONS AN EXTENSION OF MMIII ICBMS IS NOT THE RIGHT ALTERNATIVE: (1) OTHER ICBM TECHNOLOGIES INCLUDING THE GUIDANCE AND PROPULSION SYSTEMS NEED TO BE REPLACED; (2) THE CURRENT SYSTEM EVEN IF REBUILT DOES NOT MEET THE STRATEGIC COMMAND REQUIREMENTS FOR DETERRENCE; AND (3) THE ICBM INFRASTRUCTURE AND COMMAND AND CONTROL ALL NEED TO BE MODERNIZED AS WELL.
In other words, there is no good reason to buy the GBSD and several good reasons not to.
Usually, this wouldn’t matter. Congress tends to defer to military commanders on what weapons are “required,” especially when it comes to the nuclear Triad. Sen. Cotton said in another recent hearing, “It’s very expensive and hard to win an arms race, but it is much better to win an arms race than to lose a war.” OK, but Cotton and others who think like him should be asked how not building the GBSD heightens the risk of losing a war. They should also be asked to consider whether sparking a new arms race might heighten the risk of starting a war.
THERE IS NO USA LED ARMS RACE. DOES KAPLAN NOT UNDERSTAND THE USA NUCLEAR FORCES ALL FIT EXACTLY WITHIN THE NEW START TREATY FRAMEWORK. IT WILL HARDLY MAKE SENSE TO SIGN ONTO A NEW ARMS CONTROL TREATY IF IT ALLOWS A SUBSEQUENT ARMS RACE. AND IT IS ESPECIALLY HARD TO MAKE THE CASE THAT AN OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ARMS TREATY IS NOW INSTIGATING AN ARMS RACE!
It is quite possible that the likes of Cotton will find themselves on the losing side of the argument this year. First, the Biden administration may not ask for full funding of the GBSD. Biden himself has long been skeptical of the nuclear priesthood. His midlevel political appointees working on nuclear problems in the National Security Council and the Defense Department are skeptical as well. And his secretary of defense, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, spent his career in a branch of the military—the Army—that hasn’t had any involvement with nuclear weapons for decades.
Finally, after just spending several trillion dollars to recover from the economic ravages of the pandemic, Congress might be less casual about spending trillions more on nuclear weapons, especially since other military ambitions—a larger navy, a stealthier air force, a more robust cybersecurity effort—might strike some, including inside the military, as more urgent.
DOES THE CURRENT NUCLEAR DETERRENT COST TRILLIONS AS KAPLAN ALLEGES? ACTUALLY, THE CURRENT ENTIRE ANNUAL NUCLEAR ENTERPRISE COSTS $44 BILLION.
Long ago, a Pentagon official told me, only half-jokingly, that, when contemplating the numbers involved in nuclear weapons and nuclear war, it’s best to “chop off the zeroes”—the nine zeroes denoting billions of dollars and the six zeroes marking millions of deaths. This may have been a sound option during the Cold War; it was too unsettling to stare straight into the abyss. But this past year we’ve been immersed in an abyss that’s disturbing enough, not least because it’s been real, and so it may be a fine time to ask how many nuclear weapons we really need—and to make those who say we need to build more explain very clearly just why.
AS FOR HOW MANY NUCLEAR WEAPONS THE US NEEDS THAT IS ESTABLISHED BY A VERY DELIBERATE POLICY OF TAKING A PRESIDENT’S OBJECTIVES, DEVELOPING A STRATEGY TO ACHIEVE THEM, AND THEN ACQUIRE THE FORCE STRUCTURE THAT ALLOWS FOR THAT STRATEGY TO BE CARRIED OUT UNDER A MYRIAD OF CONDITIONS.
FOR YEARS IT HAS BEEN UNDERSTOOD THAT RUSSIA’S NUCELAR STRATEGY IS NOT TO LAUNCH EVERYHTING THEY HAVE AT THE UNITED STATES IN AN IRRATIONAL SPASM.
MOSCOW IS NOW RELYING UPON VARIATIONS OF WHAT TOP EXPERTS HAVE DESCRIBED AS AN “ESCALATE TO WIN”THREAT TO USE LIMITED NUCLEAR STRIKES FOR COERCIVE PURPOSES. THE US ICBM FORCE THUS WILL BE AVAILABLE TO RESPONSIVE, RETALIATORY STRIKES AGAINST RUSSIA’S MOST PRIZED NUCLEAR RESERVE ASSETS.
OUR ICBM FORCE WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO TAKE OUT SUCH RUSSIAN RESERVE FORCES—A RUSSIAN FORCE THAT WOULD REMAIN IN A SANCTUARY FROM WHICH TO ATTACK THE UNITED STATES IF NOT HELD AT RISK BY THE PROMPT RETALIATORY LAUNCH ICBM CAPABILITY.
THUS, MINUTEMAN COULD BE USED IN A VARIETY OF RETALIATORY STRIKES BUT WITHOUT HAVING TO FIRST ABSORB AN ALL-OUT RUSSIAN ATTACK, IMPLYING A VERY SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF ICBMS WOULD BE AVAILABLE FOR DETERRENT PURPOSES. THESE FACTS KNOCK KAPLAN’S SPONGE THEORY OFF ITS HORSE, AS IT DOES THE ENTIRE NARRATIVE OF ICBMS ONLY BEING A DESTABILIZING AND HAIR TRIGGER WEAPONS SYSTEM.
Peter R. Huessy – Mr. Huessy is the President of Geostrategic Analysis, a Potomac, Maryland-based defense and national security consulting business, and Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute, a Senior Fellow at ICAS, a senior consultant with Ravenna Associates, and previously for 22 years Senior Defense Consultant with the National Defense University Foundation at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C.He is and has been a Guest Lecturer at the School of Advanced International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, at the Institute of World Politics, at the University of Maryland, at the Joint Military Intelligence School, at the Naval Academy and at the National War College.
Image: Lockheed Martin