Update (1/8/08): Consensus statement here.
First, some procedural stuff. I invited bloggers and others to contribute their thoughts to the development of US nuclear weapons policy. The next step, the one you see here, is that I would summarize the ideas, agreements and disagreements. Although I think my leanings on this subject are obvious to those who have been reading WhirledView, I have tried to do this in an even-handed way. I have rephrased some of what’s been said, but I don’t want to misrepresent. Please comment or send me an e-mail if you think I’m too far from what you said.
This summary is a bit lumpy. It's not yet possible to smooth everything out; we need some negotiation. I’m asking that contributors try to work toward a consensus in their next round of posts.
I have promises (promises, promises!) from a few more potential contributors. Contributions are still welcome, starting from scratch or responding to points already raised, on a single point or a grand unified theory, from bloggers, commenters, or others who want to participate. You can send a contribution to me via e-mail or post it on your blog.
I’ll summarize our progress again on January 7, unless more earthshaking events intrude.
My questions and comments are in italics. I have divided up topics somewhat arbitrarily, but I think they make sense. This probably does not represent a final organization.
Contributors so far:
Michael van der Galien
As I formulated this discussion, I considered whether I should invite bloggers from outside the US to participate. So far we have one: Michael van der Galien. His conclusion is
The world is a Hobbesian place. We’d better realize that and behave accordingly. This means that the United States should build more, not less, nuclear weapons.Van der Galien is the only participant so far to express this view, and it is not easily integrable with the other views, so I’m just going to note it for now.
“[T]here’s something to be said for trying to clarify what I think, and why I think it, even if it ultimately benefits no one but myself. (Also, I have a charge to keep: if woefully uninformed people refrain from grappling with the great problems of our age, the Blogosphere as we know it will wither and die.)” (Phila)
Non Partisan Pundit begins with a basic consideration that nuclear weapons strategy is part of a broader US strategy. “It is my contention that nuclear policy differences among experts are not primarily rooted in disputes over nuclear policy itself but represent disputes over broader US strategic policy and the role the US should and will play on the world stage in the 21st century.” It is “a coherent and defendable strategic vision or plan for the 21st century” that the US lacks, not just a nuclear weapons strategy.
He(?) also suggests that future uncertainty plays into the consideration of nuclear weapons strategy. “In strategically ambiguous circumstances [which he says is the current case], nations will hedge their bets.” “[I]t appears both the US and Russia intend to "hedge their bets" against future uncertainty by keeping more weapons than one might argue are rationally required for their strategic needs.”
The effect of the future on the present is something we need to think about and resolve some discrepancies; if arsenals are sized to meet an unknown future but we keep goals short-term, we will not have a coherent strategy.
Dave Schuler wants short-term goals. “[T]he abolition of nuclear weapons should not be an objective of our policy with respect to nuclear weapons. The only goals we should set for our policies are achievable ones.” But James and Jason Sigger take a longer view. “I believe that the US goal in the post Cold War era should begin with containing nuclear weapons and make elimination of them the goal.” (James) “The Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not say that Russia and the United States must completely disarm their nuclear stockpiles; rather, it states that nuclear-owning nations need to “pursue negotiations in good faith” toward that end-state. It may be that we will never see a nuclear-free global community, but it is not a bad vision to pursue. Visions are important motivators because of their long-term and idealistic nature. (Sigger) “So long as we live in a world ruled by conflicting interests, total disarmament will never be a practical solution.” (Deichmans) “[S]ince total unilateral disarmament is a nonstarter in many circles it’d be counterproductive to insist on it.” (Phila)
“The really difficult step is to realize that nuclear weapons aren’t representative of our power, but of our vulnerability. In particular, the alleged obligation to retaliate – to indulge in ambiguously retributive violence simply because it’s expected - ties our hands, limits our options, and may ultimately put us precisely where our enemies (foreign and domestic) want us.” (Phila)
…it seems to me that, at some point, we need a bipartisan consensus on what the labs are supposed to do in post-arms race world. And that requires a vision of what it is that nuclear weapons do in that world. (Lewis)
In today’s world, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) is no longer useful. “We now realize that no nation can suvive the destruction of a dozen of its major cities and remain a Great Power.” (James) But the nations that have nuclear weapons “want to preserve their ‘exclusivity.’” (Deichmans)
[T]he US government will always need nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrent against other countries that have nuclear weapons; 2) the US government needs to minimize the possibility of a future nuclear conflict between other nations as well as between the United States and another major power; and 3) there is no such thing as a tactical nuke. (Sigger)
Need to say more about Sigger’s #3?
“‘Great power war’ has faded in likelihood. But we “can never put the nuclear djinni ‘back in the bottle’” and so must maintain “a credible deterrent.” (Deichmans)
“Without nuclear weapons, the United States would remain a superpower, but Russia would not. Therefore we can expect that Russia will not give up its nuclear weapons any time soon…. [A]s long as Russia continues to maintain its nuclear arsenal, our nuclear weapons will continue to have a deterrent value and we should, sadly, recognize that we need to continue to improve upon our arsenal.” (Schuler)
“A transnational terror organization lacks the resources to develop their own program, so they would have to resort to theft in order to obtain a weapon…Therefore, in order to minimize the likelihood of an al-Qa'eda-like organization obtaining a nuclear weapon, we should focus our attention on stockpile management.” (Deichmans)
“Looking at the threats we currently face, it seems pretty clear that nonstate groups like AQ are preeminent, both in terms of seeking nukes, and in being willing to use them regardless of consequences…Fortunately, the threat of nuclear terrorism seems to be pretty small (though perhaps not as small as it seemed a couple of days ago). And it can probably be staved off indefinitely through diplomacy and cooperation, as well as aggressive - in the sense of competent and thorough - nonproliferation and interdiction measures. (If it can’t, that’s too bad, because we really don’t have any other plausible tools in the shed.)” (Phila)
Any other threats?Want to rank them?
There seems to be a general agreement that deterrence isn’t what it once was. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, MAD is no longer the predominant scenario and is irrelevant against perpetrators who have no geographic stake to lose. Also, the lack of coherent policy (or the unwillingness to enunciate policy) on the part of the US is damaging deterrence, which requires an understanding on both sides of what they are risking.
“Although we have the material of deterrence in hand the psychological component of deterrence has languished through lack of attention. We need to restate our policy forthrightly and frequently. If we give the impression that our nuclear arsenal will never be used under any circumstances, we undermine whatever deterrent we have.” (Schuler)
James argues that MAD is no longer operative because even a few nuclear strikes will effectively destroy even the larger countries. Further, “nuclear weapons are not needed to deter conventional forces; what's more, using them this way encourages proliferation since it leaves smaller nations without a viable defense against the Great Powers. It forces them into permanent client-state status and will cause the world to divide into camps behind the nuclear states, thus ushering in a new Cold War.”
Deichmans’s statement, “the logic of nuclear warfare is that you can never logically use them” recalls the joint Reagan-Gorbachev statement “A nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.”
“As long as Russia and China have these weapons, we will need equivalent capability to ensure freedom of maneuver and freedom of the marketplace across the world. We probably need a number of nuclear weapons to counter current regional powers such as India, Pakistan, and Israel, as well as future nuclear powers such as Iran and North Korea.” But we “should invest in non-nuclear strike capabilities to the fullest extent possible.” (Sigger)
“I’ve never been entirely convinced that our stockpile prevented attacks by rational governments, who'd presumably have other compelling reasons not to launch a first strike…The threat of reprisal can’t reliably deter irrational attacks, and may even make them more likely. (If a well-heeled fundamentalist cult can wipe out two or more cesspools of urban depravity by detonating one bomb, why shouldn’t they?)…Which is pretty much what one would expect. As the excesses of globalization inspire national, ethnic, and religious identities to assert or reassert themselves, mutual assured destruction becomes less a threat than a promise: God will know his own.” (Phila)
“There's earnest talk of the need for a new and improved military deterrent, but I suspect that this concept of deterrence is very close to being outmoded; it's our military superiority, after all, that's driven the present trend towards drastic forms of asymmetrical warfare. In this sense, the "freedom" we're spreading militarily and economically is the freedom to act without being constrained by the fear of death. This problem can't be solved by force.” (Phila)
“It won’t always be the case but right now developing nuclear weapons really requires a state. We are badly in need of an update to our deterrence doctrine to discourage states from colluding with non-state actors or other third parties in developing and proliferating nuclear weapons…We need to promulgate something along the lines of the Kennedy Doctrine to discourage present or future possessors of nuclear weapons from conveying those weapons to non-state actors. Ideally, this would be announced and promulgated with the concurrence and even the participation of Russia which is at substantially greater hazard from radical Islamist terrorists than we are.
“We need to discourage the pursuit of nuclear weapons using a three-pronged approach of increasing the costs of their development, the hazards of their development, and the value of developing them. The primary stumbling block in developing nuclear weapons is obtaining the fissible material and I think it’s reasonable to suspect that our most efficient path to increasing the cost of developing nuclear weapons is by further tightening access to those materials.” (Schuler)
“Governments and international organizations must continue to maintain the position that nuclear weapons are not part of ordinary military planning. Attempting to ‘domesticate’ them or produce low-yield ‘usable nukes’ would tend to undermine the marginalization of nuclear weapons that is essential to maintaining nonproliferation.
“It is important to remember that we are dealing with fifty-year-old technology. Nonproliferation through sanctions alone is bound to fail eventually. Immunizing non-nuclear states against nuclear attack under all circumstances gives them a strong positive reason to avoid pursuing nuclear weapons and to cooperate fully with the IAEA. This should be reinforced through systematic reductions in existing arsenals down to the minimum means of reprisal. (Sigger)
“As long as nuclear weapons are seen as a rational means of pursuing a nation’s interests, nations will continue to pursue their development and acquisition. A 21st century nuclear weapons policy for the U. S. needs to recognize that and make the case carefully and explicitly that nuclear weapons are too costly, risky, and ineffective to be worth pursuing.” (Schuler)
“Overall, our strategy should be one of ‘de-escalation.’ Removing non-nuclear states from the list of targets and remembering that in a more complex world nation-states are more fragile than they once were leads to the conclusion that only small, residual arsenals are needed.” (James)
Treaties, Negotiations, Verification
There is a lot of agreement on reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons through negotiation.
“We should negotiate nuclear arms reductions with Russia.” (Schuler) “A new, verifiable arms control treaty reducing strategic stockpiles is called for, rather than further development of unnecessary and destabilizing weapons of mass destruction.” (James) “The NPT remains a noble vision…, in that it will continue negotiations with nuclear states on reducing stockpiles and opening communications to reduce the chance of an aggressive action… the US government must engage Israel, Pakistan, and India as seriously as Iran and North Korea on the issues of reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles and reducing the chance of a nuclear exchange.” (Sigger)
The question of what the number should be is dealt with in a later section.
Dave Schuler suggests continuing negotiations on “reduction, security, and prudent maintenance of the existing stocks of nuclear weapons.”
Jason Sigger: “The US government should redouble its diplomatic efforts in nonproliferation and regional engagement.”
Non Partisan Pundit considers verification: that elimination of nuclear weapons “cannot be 100%” verifiable. “Ensuring that a country does not have a few weapons or material hidden away is virtually impossible given the nuclear history and accounting practices of many of these states. Therefore, any agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons will require a relatively high degree of trust sans verification - a condition which states of all stripes will find difficult to accept.”
Why “trust sans verification”? Verification has worked well in the past, and Russia wanted to include it in the Moscow Treaty. Can cheaters be deterred using conventional weapons?How big is the “cheater” problem likely to be?
He then goes on to consider delivery systems. “The presence of ballistic missiles aggravates that verification difficulty because even a few weapons that a nation might hide are an imminent nuclear threat when mated to missiles…If the delivery means were limited to aircraft…then a few weapons are not nearly as great a threat because there is time and opportunity to…prevent delivery to the target….
“So, one way to provide a significant reduction to the threat posed by nuclear weapons is to limit or eliminate ballistic missiles. Furthermore, restriction or elimination of ballistic missiles (especially long-range missiles) is arguably easier from a verification standpoint than nuclear weapons…Taken together, reducing both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is reinforcing and should be pursued in concert.”
Additionally, he mentions the current danger of alerted missiles. “Both nations [Russia and the US] have large numbers of warheads on alerted missiles that can strike virtually any target on the planet with impugnity in less than forty minutes.”
Should we do something about that alert status? Schultz et al. suggest we should.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and Beyond
"International institutions and treaties born at the end of WWII will decline in importance and influence unless they are amended or reformed, particularly the UN itself and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The principle reason is that both are discriminatory and the discrimination was based on conditions and a strategic situation that are no longer relevant or are rapidly becoming so…Increasingly, nations like India are asking why they do not have…the status and benefits as a nuclear-weapon state under the NPT…” (Non Partisan Pundit)
“One of the ‘core values’ of a relevant nuclear policy for the 21st century is to continue emphasizing non-proliferation.” (Deichmans)
“The NPT loophole for ‘peaceful’ use seem to be me to be flawed (and not just because I’m one of those dirty fucking hippies who’d prefer to see people using solar-thermal power). If we’re serious about nonproliferation, we ought to discourage the construction of new reactors, period.
“Since that’s probably not going to happen, I’d go along with the idea of an international fuel bank. (But I can’t help adding that we might have more carrots to offer nuclear-leaning nations if we’d devoted our considerable national resources to alternative energy technologies a few decades back.)” (Phila)
“The utility of bilateral treaties is greatly diminished as is the importance of US - Russian arms control in general….arms control objectives will be best met through multilateral agreements. The CTBT is an excellent example as it applies to all states - even those without nuclear weapons. A similar global agreement might cap the number of weapons every nation could legally posses and provide a schedule of regular, verifiable reductions that would apply to everyone.” (Non Partisan Pundit)
What is said about policy can be as important as the policy itself. Cold War deterrence, for example, depended on both sides’ knowing what to expect from the other. It’s not clear whether the lack of clarity in US nuclear policy follows from excessive secrecy or lack of policy.
“US policy makers need to stop the practice of “deliberate ambiguity” as a diplomatic threat against other nations who are doing something the US government doesn’t like…The message needs to be clear and simple: If you have nuclear weapons, you are now a target on our Single Integrated Operational Plan.” (Sigger)
“…the US government needs to continue to pursue a strong nonproliferation strategy with both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. Part of this strategy must include acknowledgement that Israel has nuclear weapons, and that they are a part of the problem within the Middle East.”(Sigger)
“Any ambiguity as to the US employment of nuclear weapons ought to be removed, to include articulating that non-nuclear states that attack US interests or allies with chemical or biological weapons will be engaged with non-nuclear strike weapons.” (Sigger)
“An important part of strengthening what Robert G. Spulak gratingly called ‘the nuclear stigma philosophy’ would be to give up our strategic ambiguity in regards to first use, nuclear response to chemical attacks, and so forth, and acknowledge that the most serious threats we face are from accidents, or being provoked by terrorists into overreaction (i.e., into doing their bidding). At the risk of sounding utopian, I think that a leader worthy of the name could and would explain this to the public, and be understood.” (Phila)
“[I]t should be the policy of the US that nuclear weapons are intended solely to deter and respond to a nuclear attack. This creates a stark choice for would-be proliferators:…they will be "fair game" for a counterforce strike that would include command and control facilities that would take out their conventional forces as well. Essentially, it would create a strategic environment in which the possession of nuclear weapons is a liability rather than an asset.” (Sigger)
“We ought not threaten non-nuclear nation-states with nuclear weapons, as we did against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Retaliating against chemical-biological weapons with nuclear weapons is not justifiable; this counters basic Cold War (Schelling) logic of rational deterrence.” (Sigger)
“I do think it’s necessary to delegitimize (redelegitimize?) nuclear reprisal, especially in the event of a terrorist attack. While it may be impossible to override the demand for retaliation, we’ll have a much better chance if we collectively recognize the point at which our power is, or becomes, our weakness.” (Phila)
“The other part of nonproliferation is a strategy to address the concern over a ‘cascade’ of proliferating states as the result of Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Japan, or Venezuela becoming a nuclear state…I would suggest that a successful strategy is possible through agreements of protection under the US nuclear ‘umbrella’, sponsorship of regional military/economic agreements, and expansion of programs such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction effort beyond the former Soviet Union. All of this requires the US government engage both allies and potential adversaries on an international, not unilateral, stage.” (Sigger)
“Non-nuclear strike capabilities are definitely worth investment, as they both reduce the need for nuclear weapons and retain an ability to place adversarial nation-state interests at risk.” (Sigger)
The supreme obstacle, as I see it, is that the defense industry and its political sockpuppets benefit simultaneously from overdramatizing the problems we face, and overstating our ability to solve them by building new weapons systems - nuclear and otherwise - and launching new wars. In addition to undermining democracy and bankrupting the country, promoting this giddy blend of panic and overconfidence gives enemies like AQ an opportunity to set our own power in motion against us through various forms of information warfare and symbolic attack. Without serious new restrictions on defense-industry lobbying, profiteering, and the privatization of conflict, nonproliferation will remain a much harder road than it has to be. (Phila)
The New Triad
The old triad was land-based ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, and ballistic missile submarines. The new triad, introduced in 2002, comprises 1) nuclear and non-nuclear offensive strike systems (the old triad), 2) active/passive defenses (largely missile defense), and 3) a “revitalized defense infrastructure,” which largely means the nuclear weapons labs and production facilities.
Deichmans notes that “The skill sets needed to preserve and maintain a credible stockpile are scarce” and sees the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) just-released ‘Complex Transformation’ plan as “the right plan for continuing to convert our nuclear stockpile to one that is relevant and sustainable for the 21st century.”
The NNSA, however, has bounced around somewhat in its planning, and it’s not clear that Congress likes this latest plan, which is not the first. The current unrest at the national laboratories is related to the lack of policy we are addressing. How many nuclear weapons in the stockpile determines how big the complex must be.
Jason Sigger says we should “maintain a minimal R&D effort in nuclear warhead reliability, safety, and efficacy (i.e., no RRW [Robust Replacement Warhead] until it’s clear when current warheads will become unreliable). The DoE labs are an important resource that ought to be utilized to research both nuclear and non-nuclear global strike and defense capabilities.”
Jeffrey Lewis emphasizes just-in-time nuclear weapons as a future deterrent and sees the NNSA currently moving in that direction. He has also declared the RRW dead on the basis of Congress’s recent actions. He cites a paper by Ted Gold and Richard Wagner, a recent statement by the head of the NNSA,
“Because our nuclear weapons stockpile is decreasing, the United States’ future deterrent cannot be based on the old Cold War model of the number of weapons,” said Thomas D’Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Rather, it must be based on the capability to respond to any national security situation, and make weapons only if necessary.”and comments by Joe Martz (here and here), who has worked on weapons at Los Alamos.
Missile defense is part of the new triad, the “active/passive defenses.” The two discussants who mentioned it are on opposite sides. I’m wondering how necessary it is to overall nuclear strategy. (And I won’t make any secret that I think it’s a long shot at best, far in the future if at all)
“We also need to continue to pursue technologies aimed at reducing the utility of of nuclear weapons. Effective missile defense systems are one piece of the puzzle…Other components of such defenses are improved monitoring of incoming aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons and improved detection of weapons that might be smuggled into the country.” (Dave Schuler)
“The push for US missile defense platforms in Poland and the Czech Republic is a foolish, transparent attempt to protect US global interests at the cost of alienating friends and further aggravating adversaries….We ought to pull back on the idea of a global missile defense capability (specifically, plans for sites in Europe) and instead invest those funds into increased regional military/economic security discussions.” (Sigger)
Existing Stocks (Weapons and Materials)
“We should maintain and secure nuclear arsenals….Simple proportion requires that we devote serious attention to the reduction, security, and prudent maintenance of the existing stocks of nuclear weapons, almost all of which are in the hands of the United States and Russia…The sheer numbers of devices involved increases both the cost of maintenance and the potential vulnerability of the arsenals…” (Schuler)
“Since the end of the Cold War, many old weapon systems have been dismantled in order to diminish the U.S. arsenal -- both to abide by international treaty obligations, and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars…This is an area where international cooperation should continue to increase -- especially between Russia (which has the largest cache of weapons in the world) and the United States.” (Deichmans)
“Immunizing non-nuclear states against nuclear attack under all circumstances gives them a strong positive reason to avoid pursuing nuclear weapons and to cooperate fully with the IAEA. This should be reinforced through systematic reductions in existing arsenals down to the minimum means of reprisal.” (James)
“…one former DepSecDef suggested that we ought to zero out the inventory and justify every weapon system added to the US stockpile, if we are to have that honest debate.” (Sigger)
“Plans ought to be realistic and avoid excessive multiple targeting of single sites to ensure success (standard AF target planning). This number will be classified, but the methodology needs to be articulated clearly.” (Sigger)
“The number of nuclear weapons should be adequate to 1) influence Russia, China, and two regional actors from considering first-strikes against US interests; and 2) protect US allies from nuclear attack.” (Sigger)
“In order to model good behavior, encourage transparency, and win concessions from other countries, it makes sense to reduce our nuclear stockpile to a minimum that would still deter “rational” states from launching a first strike (with some sort of surplus included to allow for redundant targeting, malfunctions, and so forth)…Three or four hundred nuclear weapons would be adequate for this purpose, I think.” (Phila)
“Now, don’t get me wrong — a “virtual swords” concept should not be an excuse to fund an infrastructure better sized to a nuclear weapons stockpile of 10,000 than 1,000…But I can see how prudent investments in our defense industrial base, most importantly the people, can provide a hedge that enables deep reductions in our bloated nuclear stockpile that could safely number in the hundreds, rather than thousands, of weapons.” (Lewis)
Looks like we are moving toward a consensus of “hundreds” of weapons. Want to make that more specific? And all arms control treaties so far have counted only “deployed” weapons: those sitting on missiles, bombers or submarines. Are we talking hundreds deployed or hundreds total?