A Deeply Flawed Review

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Thank you, Chairman Biden, Senator Helms and Members of the Committee for the privilege of testifying before you today. I base my remarks today on the publicly available excerpts of the Nuclear Posture Review and on official and press comments on the review.

Summary

The Nuclear Posture Review conducted by the Department of Defense and submitted to Congress on 31 December 2001 is a deeply flawed document and if adopted as government policy could cause irreparable harm to the national security of the United States. Many of the recommendations in the review incrementally adapt policies begun in previous administrations. However, taken as a whole, the proposals represent a radical change in nuclear weapon policy totally disproportionate to the threat. The proposed policies could make the use of nuclear weapons by the United States or other nations more likely.

Adoption of the policies recommended in the review could be construed as a material breach of United States obligations under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. If the United States maintains ten thousand nuclear warheads for the indefinite future, develops new nuclear weapons and new use doctrines against non-nuclear targets, and ends the negotiated arms control process, then many will say that our nation has abandoned its thirty-year commitment in the NPT "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament." This may encourage other nations to reconsider their commitments to the treaty. This would greatly complicate U.S. non-proliferation goals and President Bush's campaign against weapons of mass destruction.

The greatest disappointment in the study is its failure to break with Cold War doctrines. The review advocates maintaining a substantial force of high-alert nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. This encourages other nations, particularly Russia, to maintain or construct larger forces then they otherwise would. It therefore increases the danger of nuclear weapon accidents, miscalculations and theft or diversion of weapons into terrorist hands.

In a great leap backward to the discredited nuclear policies of the 1950s, the review sees nuclear weapons as simply another weapon, part of a continuum of military options merging seamlessly with advanced precision-guided munitions. The U.S. Army and Navy have long since dismantled their nuclear artillery, landmines, bazookas, rockets, torpedoes and depth charges conceived and developed in this earlier nuclear age. Most officers know that we now have adequate conventional weapon alternatives and, as Secretary of State Colin Powel wrote in his biography of tactical nuclear weapons use in Europe, "No matter how small these nuclear payloads were, we would be crossing a threshold. Using nukes at this point would mark one of the most significant political and military decisions since Hiroshima."

Unfortunately, the Nuclear Posture Review does not, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asserts in his foreword to the review, put "the Cold War practices related to planning for strategic force behind us." There is a severe disconnect between the expressed policy goals of the Administration and the proposed operational force structure.

The secretary claims that "as a result of this review, the U.S. will no longer plan, size or sustain its forces as though Russia presented merely a smaller version of the threat posed by the former Soviet Union." The Secretary may believe this to be true-and it would be consistent with the expressed aim of the president-but the force structure detailed in the review remains configured for large-scale, counter-force attacks against a broad array of targets in Russia.

There is no strategic justification for maintaining thousands of weapons on high alert and a reserve force of thousands more weapons ready for re-deployment other than to target Russia. Other target sets are added on to, not substituted for, the Russian targets. The real mark of a new relationship with Russia will not be when we no longer sign arms control agreements, but when we no longer maintain elaborate plans to target and destroy Russian military, political and industrial sites-and when Russia no longer does the same for U.S. targets.

The Nuclear Posture Review and the new treaty that President Bush will sign shortly with President Putin, will unfortunately not "liquidate the legacy of the Cold War," as the president has said. The review and the treaty do not liquidate any weapons. Ten years from now, when the treaty expires, the large deployed nuclear forces we inherited from the Cold War will still be very much with us. The posture review perpetuates this Cold War posture. As these systems - conceived, designed and built to deter or wage global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union - reach the end of their operational lives, the review calls for the production of a new generation of missiles, bombers and submarines.

Rather than breaking with Cold War rationales for the size and purpose of the nuclear force, the review leaves them in place, downsizing and rationalizing the force, and adds in new nuclear missions. The review basically carries forward nuclear reductions already planned for and approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the START I and START II treaties and announced as the goals of the START III treaty in 1997. In addition, the review expressly advocates the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear targets in states that do not possess nuclear weapons, such as Syria and Libya.

The review, in summary:

  • Validates the reductions agreed upon by the United States and Russia in 1997
  • Advocates a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons for the next 50 years;
  • Advocates new designs for new types of nuclear weapons;
  • Advocates new uses for nuclear weapons;
  • Brings the country closer to testing new nuclear weapon designs;
  • Increases dramatically the funding for and capacity of nuclear weapon production facilities

Taken together these represent a dangerous affirmation of the military utility and necessity of nuclear weapon in conflicts large and small. It sends a dangerous message to other nations contemplating development of nuclear weapons. If the most powerful nation in the world says it needs nuclear weapons to defend against chemical weapon attacks or to attack underground bunkers, why don't other nations?

The Committee should consider working with the administration to conduct a new review next year, but one that involves a broader range of military and strategic thinkers. The nation can never be assured that we have received the best, most objective review until those representing a broad range of American national security and foreign policy expertise perform these reviews from the top down, not from the bottom-up.

Continuity and Change in the U.S. Nuclear Force

The United States is the most advanced nuclear-weapon state in the world. It maintains a diverse arsenal of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, as well as large stocks of weapons-grade nuclear materials. After reaching a high point in the mid-1980s, the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been shrinking as part of a negotiated arms reduction process with the Soviet Union and, its successor, Russia.

The Nuclear Posture Review outlines plans to continue the reductions in strategic forces, continue efforts to develop missile defenses and begin the development of new, low-yield nuclear weapons. The initial warhead reductions follow those planned during the Clinton administration. By 2007, the Bush administration plans to reduce down to approximately 3800 operationally deployed strategic warheads, as did the previous administration. This will include reductions of 500 warheads from the 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs, 800 from the 96 missiles carried on four Trident submarines that will be converted to carry conventional cruise missiles, and 1,000 from the removal of two warheads from each of 500 Minuteman III ICBMs, as called for under the terms of the 1993 START II treaty.

The review preserves and continues the majority of the current operationally deployed nuclear force. Aside from the Peacekeeper ICBM and the four Trident SSBNs, no additional strategic delivery platforms are scheduled to be eliminated from strategic service.

By 2012, the administration plans to field 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic warheads. This represents a slower pace of reduction then envisioned by the previous administration. In 1997, the United States and Russia agreed on a reduction goal of 2000 to 2500 deployed strategic warheads by the end of 2007. The lower number proposed by the Bush administration is derived by no longer counting warheads on submarines or bombers in overhaul as "operationally deployed." Two Trident submarines, with 192 warheads each, are usually in overhaul at any given time, as are several bombers with dozens of weapons, thus allowing lower numbers without changing existing nuclear force plans. (The number of warheads on each Trident missile will decrease over the next 10 years.)

The warheads will be deployed on:

  • 14 Trident SSBNs,
  • 500 Minuteman III ICBMs,
  • 76 B-52H bombers and
  • 21 B-2 bombers

Some warheads removed from delivery vehicles will be dismantled, but the majority will be maintained in the active stockpile for potential return to delivery systems on short notice (weeks or months). This "responsive force" of stored warheads could be re-deployed, should strategic conditions change. There are almost 8,000 warheads in the active stockpile today, stored apart from delivery vehicles but maintained in a ready-for-use configuration with tritium and other limited life components installed. There is also an inactive stockpile of warheads that do not have limited life components installed, and may not have the latest warhead modifications. These warheads are kept as possible replacements for active warheads and as a "hedge" against the discovery of a problem with a large number of active warheads.

The exact size of the future active stockpile or responsive force has not yet been decided but it would apparently number in the thousands. These are needed, according to the review, to augment the operational deployed force to meet potential contingencies. The potential contingencies are categorized as "immediate, potential or unexpected." The review identifies specific countries that could be involved in these nuclear contingencies, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya.

The Missing Threat Assessment

One of the goals of the proposed START III treaty, however, had been to require warhead dismantlements to make future reductions transparent and irreversible. It appears this is no longer a U.S. goal. The review does not explain why thousands of deployed nuclear weapons, augmented by thousands of additional nuclear weapons in reserve, would be needed to respond to a military engagement with Syria or Libya or any of the other nations. The lack of any concrete threat assessment is a glaring weakness in the review. The review picks up a disturbing trend in other defense department programs-to abandon a "threat-based" planning in favor of "capabilities-based" planning. This essentially allows for the development of any size force or any weapon system that is politically attractive, whether or not the threat justifies these capabilities.

Russia Is Still the Target

The sole justification for maintaining a large, dispersed force of nuclear weapons on high alert has always been and remains the need to target military, industrial and political sites in Russia. The Committee should ask the administration to clarify this matter. If Russia is not still the target of U.S. nuclear plans, then what is the rational for the large size of the force? If Russia still is the target, then would negotiations for deeper reductions in Russian nuclear weapons, such as those offered by President Putin, allow the United States to further reduce its forces, saving funds for other, more pressing military needs?

In the most authoritative public statement on the rational for maintaining large numbers of deployed forces configured as they were during the Cold War, then-commander-in-chief of the Strategic Command, Admiral Richard Meis, argued in July 2001 that burden of proof fell on those who advocate reductions to demonstrate exactly how and why such cuts would serve to enhance U.S. security. "There is a tyranny in very deep numerical reductions that inhibits flexibility and induces instability in certain situations," he said. "We must preserve sufficient deterrent capability to respond to future challenges, to provide a cushion against imperfect intelligence and surprises, and to preserve a reconstitution capability as a hedge against unwelcome political or strategic developments."

Maintaining and Modernizing the Current Force

These views apparently prevailed in the Nuclear Posture Review. The Defense Department concluded that there will be a need to maintain thousands of deployed nuclear weapons in a triad of bombers, submarines and land-based missiles for the indefinite future. The diversity is required to "complicate any adversary's offensive and defense planning calculations while simultaneously providing protection against the failure of a single leg of the triad," according to Mies.

Admiral Mies does not mention Russia by name, but Russia is the only country that has the potential, if not the desire, to launch a sudden, large nuclear attack on the United Statess. Thus, U.S. forces must remain capable of withstanding a first-strike and responding after the attack with an overwhelming and devastating nuclear counter-attack.

Meis explained:

  • "Intercontinental ballistic missile continue to provide a reliable, low cost, prompt response capability with a high readiness rate. They also promote stability by ensuring that a potential adversary takes their geographically dispersed capabilities into account if contemplating a disarming first strike…

  • [T]he strategic submarine force is the most survivable leg of the triad, providing the United States with a powerful, assured response capability against any adversary…The United States must preserve a sufficiently large strategic nuclear submarine force to enable two-ocean operations with sufficient assets to ensure an at-sea response force capable of deterring any adversary in a crisis…

  • Strategic bombers…allow force dispersal to improve survivability and aircraft recall during mission execution. The low-observable technology of the B-2 bomber enables it to penetrate heavily defended areas and hold high-value targets at risk deep inside an adversary's territory…the B-52 bomber can be employed in a standoff role using long-range cruise missile to attack from outside enemy air defenses."

As current forces reach the end of their operation lives, a new generation of systems would be built to replace them. The posture review calls for the development of a new ICBM to be operational in 2018, a new strategic submarine and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to be operational in 2029, and a new heavy bomber to be deployed in 2040. This recommendation is strongly endorsed by the current commander-in-chief of the Strategic Command, Admiral James Ellis, in his February 2002 testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee:

"The first finding [of the Nuclear Posture review] I'd like to highlight is the recognition of a pressing need for investment across the full range of our strategic capabilities. As we work to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads, this investment is needed to sustain and improve our aging operating forces, to recapitalize our infrastructure, which has atrophied over the last ten years, and to refine and enhance current systems."

Expanded Nuclear Production

The review details plans to expand the capacity and capability of the Pantex Plant in Texas to meet the planned workload of some 600 warheads (assembled or dismantled) per year, up from the current capability of 350 warheads per year.

The review also notes plans to expand the capacity and capability of the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee to meet the planned workload for replacing warhead secondaries, and other uranium components. It further argues for the new modern production facility to deal with the large-scale replacement of components and new production of plutonium "pits."

New Weapon Designs

As a result of the review, the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administrations (NNSA) will undertake several initiatives in the design and development of new nuclear weapons. The NNSA will reestablish advanced warhead concepts teams at each of the national laboratories and at the headquarters in Washington to explore options including:

  • possible modifications to existing weapons to provide additional yield flexibility in the stockpile;
  • improved earth penetrating weapons to target hardened and under ground facilities;
  • low-yield warheads that reduce collateral damage.

Preparing to Restart Nuclear Testing

To test some of these designs, the review also recommends shortening the time required to restart nuclear testing. Currently it would take an estimated 2 to 3 years to resume underground testing of nuclear weapons after a decision to do so. The posture review finds this unacceptable. Shortening the time needed to test, the review argues, will enable the United States to initiate research into whether there is a need to develop an entirely new capability-one that is not a modification of an existing weapon-in time to counter any surprise development. The review says this will also better guard against any problems that might develop in existing warheads. The study recommends substantial funding increases for the nuclear laboratories to enhance test readiness, train new and existing personnel, conduct new field experiments and a variety of other projects it terms urgent.

Negative Impact on Non-Proliferation Efforts

Taken together as a whole, the steps called for in the Nuclear Posture Review make the use of nuclear weapons by the United States more likely, even in response to non-nuclear threats or attacks. The review states that the United States must rely on nuclear weapons to deter and respond to threats from weapons of mass destruction, defined in the review to include not only nuclear weapons, but chemical and biological weapons, and even conventional explosives.

Within the new nuclear use policy, there are few if any military contingencies that might not allow the United States to respond with nuclear weapons. This policy raises concerns that, by threatening the use of nuclear weapons, even against conventionally armed adversaries, we would actually increase the incentive for states to acquire nuclear weapons, if for no other reason than to deter the use of such weapons by the United States.

Another more subtle, but equally important development in the review is the closer integration of conventional and nuclear force planning. The review argues that by more closely linking intelligence, communication and force operational planning for nuclear and conventional operations, that conventional forces can more easily replace operations previously limited to nuclear options, making the use of nuclear weapons less likely. It is possible, however, that this linking of operational capabilities will also work in the reverse, making it easier to target and use nuclear weapons in missions previously reserved for conventional missions.

These changes to operational integration, in combination with more direct planning to consider the use of nuclear weapons against states including China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and others, reverses the trend of de-emphasizing nuclear weapons and could make the use of nuclear weapons far more likely and actually encourage, not discourage, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by additional states.

It remains to be seen what affect, if any, the views of the active military will have on these policies. Traditionally, the uniformed military in the United States has widely resisted anything that would counteract the traditional conventional superiority of the United States, or that might complicate military planning by forcing troops to operate in contaminated battlefields (i.e., chemical or biological weapons or radiation). These concerns have been driving factors in the development in the United States of advanced conventional capabilities as opposed to modern, battlefield nuclear weapons. It is possible that the process of integrating the top down directives of the review will be difficult and that the position of the uniformed military may lead to further modification of these policies.

When the review became public in March 2002, senior administration officials downplayed the significance of the review. Vice President Dick Cheney said in London that it was a routine review of the type done every few years. The Committee should consider working with the administration to conduct a new review next year, but one that involves a broader range of military and strategic thinkers.

Reviews performed by those with a vested interest in the forces and requirements under review will inevitably recommend preserving and expanding those forces and increasing funding for their programs. The nation can never be assured that we have received the best, most objective review until those representing a broad range of American national security and foreign policy expertise perform these reviews from the top down.

 

United States Nuclear Weapons, from 2012

Category
Number of Warheads
Operationally deployed force
1,700-2,200
Missile warheads on 2 Trident Submarines in overhaul
~240
Strategic missile and bomber warheads in responsive force
~1,350
Nonstrategic bombs assigned to US/NATO conventional/nuclear capable aircraft
~800
Nonstrategic sea-launched cruise missile warheads retained in the responsive force
~320
Spare strategic and non-strategic warheads
~160
Intact warheads in the inactive reserve force
~4,900
Sub-Total Intact Warheads
~9,470-9,970
Stored plutonium and HEU components that could be reassembled into weapons
5,000
Total of All Warheads and Components
~14,470-14,970

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council "Faking Nuclear Restraint" 13 February 2002, analysis of the Nuclear Posture Review

End of document

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The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an internationally acclaimed source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament. Its multinational staff stays at the forefront of nuclear policy issues in the United States, Russia, China, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.

 
 
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2002/05/16/deeply-flawed-review/3fs7

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