Warrior Column: THE MIRAGE OF NUCLEAR RESTRAINT
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By Peter R. Huessy - Senior Warrior Maven Columnist
There is a divide within the nuclear policy community over whether unilateral restraint by the United States would yield big dividends in arms control and nuclear stability. A considerable number of disarmament specialists are convinced that if the United States unilaterally terminated its land based ICBMs, cancelled the long range cruise missile for the strategic bomber force and significantly reduced the number of planned new nuclear armed submarines, the Russians and the Chinese would follow suit and the supposed arms race would end and eventually a global zero-nuclear world would emerge.
On the other side of this divide are most professional nuclear analysts who believe a robust and credible nuclear deterrent must be maintained, especially in the face of both Russian and Chinese major force enhancements that have already been largely completed or well on their way to first deployment.
Congress and administrations of both parties also have largely concurred that a US nuclear deterrent force--as it has for the past 60 years-- be a nuclear triad consisting of strategic bombers, land-based ICBMs, and nuclear armed submarines. The consensus is also that such a deployed Triad is consistent with verifiable arms control that is shaped to enhance the US deterrent and strategic stability.
A new book not yet published but given to me to review lays out the dangers of historical nuclear restraint as is now advocated by those in the US disarmament community.
Titled “From Berkeley to Berlin: How America Averted a Nuclear War”, the book to be published next year by the Naval Institute Press, lays out in detail how America’s nuclear deterrent was created and how it was also a near thing that the United States got things right. The US was urged decades ago by many in the nuclear business to abandon multiple efforts to enhance our deterrent, but wiser heads prevailed. The US, luckily, did keep her powder dry and maintained a nuclear deterrent force second to none.
As the author and Lawrence Livermore scientist Tom Ramos explains in vivid and extraordinary detail, the end of World War II did not automatically lead to a United States nuclear deterrent springing naturally from the nuclear scientist and policymakers of the Manhattan project. The US was lucky to have secured a nuclear weapons capability prior to the Soviets and Nazis. There were no guarantees.
In fact similarly to the arguments currently proposed within the nuclear disarmament community, there were those who after the end of WWII either opposed or thought it futile for the United States to seek new technologies: (1) a formidable nuclear deterrent including pursuit of the H bomb; (2) a small warhead capable of being fitted in submarine launched and silo based land base missiles; and (3) revolutionary solid fueled missiles as opposed to the large, easy observed, liquid fueled land-based rockets the United States relied on for the first 17 years of the nuclear age.
Again, as Ramos details, two nuclear crises almost led to World War and nuclear Armageddon over Berlin in 1961 and Cuba and 1962. President Kennedy resolved both peacefully, and he personally thanked the nuclear wizards especially those at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for keeping the peace through the development of two key nuclear technologies. Those
were developing nuclear warheads small enough to fit on a missile delivered by submarine, and solid-fueled, highly alert land-based missiles able to reach out and touch the Soviets in under 30 minutes.
Kennedy was convinced the Polaris submarine launched missiles, able to be submerged for lengthy periods of time and invulnerable to Soviet pre-emptive strikes, gave the United States the leverage to avoid a nuclear war over Berlin. Especially since Khrushchev had specifically threatened Kennedy at the Vienna Summit in 1961 that the Soviet Army would kick the US military garrison out of Berlin. As Ramos details, Kennedy responded that such Soviet action would most likely trigger a “very dark winter” from the United States.
The next year, as President Kennedy later explained, the new Minuteman I missile, deployed and going on alert the very same October 1962 day that Kennedy announced that Soviet nuclear armed missiles were deployed in Cuba, was said the President, “my ace in the hole.” The new MM missile in silos could reach the Soviet Union in under 30 minutes, and being solid fueled, did not have to take hours to fuel and thus was safe from being targeted. This capability, despite Soviet bluster to the contrary, the Soviets did not have.
And as Ramos explains, the extraordinary talent at LLNL including then a young Dr. Johnny Foster and Dr. Harold Brown, (both of whom would rise to senior defense positions later in their careers), gave the US the added technology superiority that saved the country from Armageddon and destruction over Berlin and Cuba.
In fact, there was serious doubt by for example General Curtis LeMay that a warhead could be constructed small enough to fit on then top of a missile launched from a submarine. And to the surprise of many, Dr. Edward Teller enthusiastically said yes, let us see if this can be done.
So too with ICBMs. The first effort to move in that direction was before the Soviets launched Sputnik, but nevertheless President Eisenhower, after being briefed in 1956 on the subject, gave the go ahead to the research and development programs named Thor, Atlas, Titan and Jupiter, culminating as we have noted with the deployment of a solid rocket motor MMI in October 1962.
Today the United States finds itself some 23 years from the last new nuclear deployment—the B2 bomber in 1997. The next deployment of a new nuclear platform will be ironically the B21 in 2029, some 32 years after the B2 was terminated. The last ICBM still in the force—MMIII-- was deployed in 1970 and is now half a century old, scheduled to be replaced in 2029-30 with the new ground based strategic deterrent or GBSD. The Ohio class submarine IOC was 1982, and its replacement, the first Columbia class submarine, goes on patrol in 2033, some 50 years later.
The procurement holiday on which the US embarked at the end of the Cold War was unprecedented in the entirety of the 75-year nuclear age. This recent USA restraint for three decades was met not with a corresponding restraint or moderation by the Russians. In fact, from the Cold War ending to the last Russian new type of nuclear platform deployed in 2027, the Russians will have put into the field 31 new types of nuclear bombers, cruise missiles, submarines, sea-launched and silo launched strategic ballistic missiles, a pace just modestly less than followed
by the Soviets during the entirely of the Cold War.
The lesson as laid out by Tom Ramos in his exciting new book is to keep our guard up, fully furbish our deterrent, and don’t believe the fairy tales that if we sing Kumbaya, the bad guys will suddenly join the choir.
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.