Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The U.S. Nuclear Deterrent and the Gathering


Nuclear Storm

On the heels of aggressive actions from North Korea, Iran, and Russia, a news piece from CBS and one from the Wall Street Journal paint an alarming picture of the growing nuclear threat to the United States.  Both make the case for a strong, credible, and reliable deterrent in the face of the gathering nuclear storm.
In addition to outlining some of the risks from potential nuclear attacks, these news stories also draw needed attention to the credibility of the U.S. deterrent itself.  The disturbing fact is that our nuclear deterrent is at risk because the facilities and infrastructure that support it are quite literally falling apart.  You can view a recent CNN story about the sad state of Americas nuclear facilities here.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently acknowledged these external and internal threats when visiting Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where he discussed the future of America’s nuclear capability.  Calling nuclear deterrence, the bedrock of our security, and the highest priority mission of the Department of Defense, the Secretary stressed innovation, improvements, and investment across the enterprise. Congressional leaders are emphasizing the same needs, drawing attention to the results of decades-long underinvestment in our nuclear capabilities.
You can read excerpts of both pieces below.  You can access full articles by clicking on headline links.
CBS NEWS: Risk of nuclear attack rises 25 Sep 2016
The following is a partial transcript from The New Cold War which aired on Sept. 25, 2016. David Martin is the correspondent. Mary Walsh and Tadd Lascari, producers.
President Obama’s nuclear strategy states that while the threat of all-out nuclear war is remote, the risk of a nuclear attack somewhere in the world has actually increased.  When that was written three years ago the risk came from a rogue nation like North Korea. Back then, the U.S.
and Russia were said to be partners but that was before Russia invaded Crimea, using military force to change the borders of Europe. And before its president, Vladimir Putin, and his generals began talking about nuclear weapons. For generations, nuclear weapons have been seen as a last resort to be used only in extreme circumstances. But in this new Cold War the use of a nuclear weapon is not as unlikely to occur as you might think.

WSJ OP ED: The Gathering Nuclear Storm

Lulled to believe nuclear catastrophe died with the Cold War, America is blind to rising dragons.

By MARK HELPRIN

Even should nuclear brinkmanship not result in Armageddon, it can lead to abject defeat and a complete reordering of the international system. The extraordinarily complicated and consequential management of American nuclear policy rests upon the shoulders of those we elevate to the highest offices.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s transparent hostility to America’s foundational principles and defensive powers is coupled with a dim and faddish understanding of nuclear realities.
The gravest danger we face is fast-approaching nuclear instability. Many believe it is possible safely to arrive at nuclear zero. It is not. Enough warheads to bring any country to its knees can fit in a space volumetrically equivalent to a Manhattan studio apartment. Try to find that in the vastness of Russia, China, or Iran. Even ICBMs and their transporter-erector-launchers can easily be concealed in warehouses, tunnels and caves. Nuclear weapons age out, but, thanks to supercomputing, reliable replacements can be manufactured with only minor physical testing. Unaccounted fissile material sloshing around the world can, with admitted difficulty, be fashioned into weapons. And when rogue states such as North Korea and Iran build their bombs, our response has been either impotence or a ticket to ride.
Nor do nuclear reductions lead to increased safety. Quite apart from encouraging proliferation by enabling every medium power in the world to aim for nuclear parity with the critically reduced U.S. arsenal, reductions create instability. The fewer targets, the more possible a
(counter-force) first strike to eliminate an enemy’s retaliatory capacity. Nuclear stability depends, inter alia, upon deep reserves that make a successful first strike impossible to assure. The fewer warheads and the higher the ratio of warheads to delivery vehicles, the more dangerous and unstable.
The way to avoid such a tragedy is to bring China into a nuclear control regime or answer its refusal with our own proportional increases and modernization. And to make sure that both our nuclear and conventional forces are strong, up-to-date, and survivable enough to deter the militant ambitions of the two great powers rising with daring vengeance from what they regard as the shame of their oppression.


Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, is the author of Winter’s Tale, A Soldier of the Great War and the forthcoming novel Paris in the Present Tense.

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