The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how and nuclear material has brought us to a nuclear tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.  The steps we are taking now to address these threats are not adequate to the danger. With nuclear weapons more widely available, deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous. – Shultz, et al, WSJ 15 Jan 2008

Yesterday we published an article by an Indian strategy analyst making the case for India’s nuclear deterrent.  When the next Administration takes the reins of power in January 2009 it will face a different nuclear landscape than its immediate predecessors in the post-Cold War environment.  As such, it will be incumbent upon that Administration – whatever the party; to undertake a thorough review of the nuclear strategy of the United States and hopefully, in the process, avoid the temptation of pouring old wine in new flasks. 

There will be no lack of those volunteering advice, some sage, others – not so.  One of the more intriguing efforts has been led by a panel of experts whose portfolios in nuclear matters are long and deep – as well as bipartisan.  The quote above that led off this post began a follow-up article this past January by these four experts (George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn) who were certainly no shrinking doves in their former capacities.  Yet rather than sit around and wring their hands in anxiety over things the way they are, they have proposed a detailed course of action – first in 2007 and expanded in 2008;  that has gained a degree of visibility and support both domestically and abroad from allies and former foes.  Indeed, we strongly suspect that we shall see elements, if not the whole cloth, taken aboard as one or the other party candidate’s proposed initiatives in the nuclear realm.

Among the proposals in the 2007 article were changing the Cold War posture of deployed nuclear weapons to increase warning time (and reduce the danger of an accidental or unauthorized use of a nuclear weapon), eliminating (not just withdrawing from deployment and stockpiling) short-range nuclear weapons designed to be forward-deployed, halting the production of fissile material for weapons globally; phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium in civil commerce and removing weapons-usable uranium from research facilities around the world and rendering the materials safe.  To this they added in 2008 extending key provisions of the START I Treaty (scheduled to expire in Dec 2009), undertaking negotiations toward developing cooperative multilateral ballistic-missile defense and early warning system, and discarding any existing operational plans for massive attacks that still remain from the Cold War.  Any one of these would constitute a major step – together, it is a major change of course.  The question is would this be a path that is in the best interests of the US?

We’ve been given to much thought along those lines of late, prompted in part by our reading of Rhodes’ latest volume.  The genesis though is traced back to the Maritime Strategy which we were reviewing for another issue.  In the course of that read we were drawn back to two phrases – "(w)e believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars" and "(w)hile war with another great power strikes many as improbable, the near-certainty of its ruinous effects demands that it be actively deterred using all elements of national power."  There has been much written lately about the follow-on aspects of the MS, namely the force structure, but there is also an upward link to  national strategy that has not been fully explored. 

Consider – the second quote above is linked to one of the six strategic imperatives in the MS – ‘Deter Major War.’  Our national strategies (including the Nuclear Posture Review) call for capability- vice threat-based forces.  The section in the MS that describes the deterrence imperative goes on to say "(w)e will pursue an approach to deterrence that includes a credible and scalable ability to retaliate against aggressors conventionally, unconventionally, and with nuclear forces" (emphasis added).  Since we have removed tactical nuclear weapons from our ships we presume that alludes to the SSBN deterrent patrols.  Yet that is a mighty broad brush wielded in the previous sentence – what is the context of the aggressors?  Aggressors against the US? Or against some third party? Link back to the opening sentence, the one about preventing wars –  it leaves us pondering a situation where the Navy might be called upon in a brewing crisis between a nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.  In that context how credible is the current context of nuclear deterrence?  How would a conventionally armed force seek to deter war between two nuclear armed regional powers?  These are some of the issues that bear further examination and which seem to be overlooked in the force structure food fight.  To that end we are going to propose something a little different and at the same time, hopefully give voice and a platform to those of you who want to expand your views beyond  the comments block.  To wit:

  • Review the articles we will be posting over the next several days – some will be current, others older but no less relevant.  Most (hopefully) will be thought provoking and likely controversial – that is the intent.  For reference documents, see those posted in the Virtual Library especially in the "National Security Policy" and "WMD/Missile Defense" aisles (periodically check for updates – one of our tasks during this week of TDY is to spend time updating and adding documents to the library beginning with items like unclassified portions of the Nuclear Posture Review, etc.);
  • Consider the following three questions:

            1.  In the context of a nuclear multi-polar, post Cold War world, what is the relevance of nuclear weapons?

            2.  What is the deterrent value of nuclear weapons in that environment and what are the implications for conventional deterrence (especially as written in the MS)?

            3.  Is there still a role for arms control in this environment and if so, what form should it take (i.e., a series of bi-lateral agreements or an expansion of the START or START-like convention to a multilateral forum)?

If you are so moved (and we hope you are) provide your thoughts in a separate document and we will post it as a Guest Author with attribution as you see fit.  Specifics:

– Please keep to  700-900 words max

– send to steeljawscribeATgmailDOTcom – (you know what to change). 

– Provide the name you wish it published under. We will screen for gross spelling and grammatical errors and contact you directly if there are any subsequent issues with content change – we will not edit material because of content (so please, keep it professional) A page will be created for keeping track of posts in this category just as we have for Flightdeck Friday and other running topics.  (BTW – you needn’t be a nuclear wonk, or wonkette, to participate…)

Why are we doing this?  In part, because of an idea some of us have been discussing offline about how to generate wider discussion and what kind of venue to host therein.  Still very much in an embryonic stage so if you have ideas along those lines we would be interested as well (contact us offline for further discussion).  There won’t be an end date – at least as we see for now, and fully expect as we move through the general electoral season and into the transition period, more discussion will follow.  As the saying goes — stay tuned…  – SJS