On March 20, 2007, Dr. Dunn presented the findings of the SAIC report, Foreign Perspectives on U.S Nuclear Policy and Posture: Insights, Issues and Implications, co-authored by Mr. Gregory Giles, Dr. Jeffrey Larsen, Mr. Thomas Skypek, and with research support from the Monterey Institute for International Studies. The report was sponsored by the Advanced Systems and Concepts Office (ASCO) of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
Dr. Dunn provided an outline for the report, and explained that they were asked by ASCO to do something novel: to write about what other countries thought about U.S. nuclear policy writ large. The scope of the report covers foreign perceptions of U.S. nuclear policy since the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the new nuclear triad. The report also covers more broadly how other countries perceive the role of deterrence, missile defenses, and other nuclear related issues in U.S. policymaking. The co-authors of the report utilized existing articles, testimony, books, and speeches and also conducted 75-100 interviews with foreign individuals, including government officials, retired government officials, some affiliates with foreign NGOs, and other foreign experts.
In his remarks, Dr. Dunn grouped the report’s findings of foreign perceptions of U.S. nuclear posture and policy under four general categories: misperceptions, agreements, uncertainties, and disagreements.
The first category in the report’s findings encompasses misconceptions about U.S. nuclear posture. Dr. Dunn stated that the most common misconception of U.S. nuclear policy abroad is that the U.S. has placed heightened emphasis on nuclear weapons. Through his interviews with foreign individuals, he found that many saw the U.S. shifting from a policy of nuclear deterrence towards a policy of nuclear use or preemption. Foreign perceptions following the U.S. articulation in 2001 of the “new nuclear triad” are that the U.S. is lowering its nuclear threshold. Dr. Dunn remarked that foreigners are dramatically understating the U.S. nuclear threshold, which still is quite high. He also indicated that a source of the misperception is that foreigners view two simultaneous occurrences, U.S. Strategic Command’s (STRATCOM) publicized construction of ballistic missile defenses (BMD) and the 2001 NPR, resulting in an exaggeration of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy. Noting that no senior U.S. official has made a policy statement on U.S. nuclear weapons policy since 2002, Dr. Dunn recommends that the U.S. clarify its position on nuclear weapons. Using the example of low-yield nuclear weapons, Dunn stated that these “new bunker busters” received a great deal of negative attention in foreign countries in the recent years, yet the U.S. nuclear stockpile has included low-yield options for some time now.
The second category of foreign perceptions is areas in which foreign countries disagree with U.S. nuclear posture and policy. He stated that foreign countries are increasingly tolerant of ballistic missile defenses (BMD) placed on their soil. There is a greater readiness in these countries to see that the 1999 fears that BMD would destabilize the security environment were not realized. Dr. Dunn offers one caveat that Russia and China are still watching closely the development of U.S. missile defenses. Another area of agreement between foreign individuals with U.S. policy is the idea of extended deterrence. For example, Japan prefers that the U.S. provides it a nuclear guarantee. Moreover, after the North Korean nuclear test in October 2006, South Korea pressed the U.S. to reaffirm its nuclear guarantee. In the case of NATO, where the practice of U.S. extended deterrence began, the current perceived value of extended deterrence varies. In some of the original member states, there is a view that U.S. extended deterrence carries political importance and should be continued, but in other NATO states, there are remaining questions of whether extended deterrence is still necessary.
The third broad category of foreign perceptions covers realms of uncertainty. While it is clear to most countries that the U.S. does not want to enter in deterrence relationships with countries such as Iran and North Korea, there are some countries that are uncertain and fearful that the U.S. may view them in a similar way. Using China and Russia as examples, Dr. Dunn stated that these countries’ strategic modernization plans are influenced by U.S. policy decisions.
The fourth category of foreign perceptions of U.S. nuclear policy covers areas of disagreement. Dr. Dunn remarked that virtually all materials that the co-authors used for the report, including the overseas interviews, reflected opposition to U.S. development of low-yield weapons. These weapons are viewed by foreign countries as politically divisive and as having an adverse effect on nonproliferation efforts. Dr. Dunn mentioned one exception to this by noting that some individuals in Japan mused that these weapons could perhaps play a role in deterring Kim Jong Il. Secondly, Dunn outlined the widespread concern of American friends and allies that the U.S. is undermining the NPT and allowing for the decline of arms control agreements.
Dr. Dunn presented five main implications of the report’s findings. First, it is clear that US officials need to do a better job of articulating and explaining U.S. nuclear posture. Second, while he pointed out that clarifying our policy will be to our benefit, he also indicated that key disagreements will still exist. Third, he argued that the U.S. should step up to proliferation challenges in Asia and the Middle East. Dr. Dunn states that there is a need to make nuclear reassurances to prevent a nuclear chain reaction. For example, the US should strengthen the US-Japanese strategic relationship and discuss “things nuclear.” Also, even though the U.S. has “bad memories” of its relationship with Turkey, it should now consider options of extending security assurances in light of Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, in response to Middle Eastern countries that are fearful of a nuclear Iran, the U.S. should think creatively to develop options to deal with their security concerns. Fourth, the U.S. should engage in robust strategic dialogue with China and Russia. Dr. Dunn remarked that this dialogue could either be defined narrowly by covering greater transparency measures or more broadly in terms of how the countries should move their relationships forward in the future. The fifth implication of the report’s findings is that the U.S. needs to expand its nuclear debate and agenda and engage in international dialogue to discuss issues such as the relevance of nuclear disarmament and how to define an environment that is needed for the elimination of nuclear weapons to occur.
This summary was prepared by Caterina Dutto, Research Assistant in the Nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Endowment.