That is not to say we should just dismantle every weapon and platform, but rather examine what we need, and what we in fact can do without.
Our nuclear arsenal is our ultimate last resort against overwhelming force. It is not, and never can be, a deterrent against insurgent groups or rogue regimes seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. We should be realistic about these weapons and establish an effective and practical nuclear posture for the 21st Century.
There are four steps that the administration and the nuclear security establishment need to take.
First, the politics of arms control have proven so insidious that progress in negotiations comes at a snail’s place. We should invest in the nuclear reduction process, so that success has a chance--not only with Russia but with China as well as nuclear weapons states. We need to have tough and verified agreements in place so that we know how many they have, so that we can plan our forces appropriately.
Second, we need to be realistic about the practicality of our nuclear triad. A proposed new strategic bomber fleet could cost $18 billion over the next ten years; the new SSBNX submarine program would cost $ 347 billion over its lifetime. In this day and age, do we really think we will ever drop a nuclear bomb from a fundamentally vulnerable plane? If we face facts, we can actually save money and therefore increase our security.
Third, we have to take a hardnosed look at the reasons why countries choose to develop their own nuclear programs, and work with many other countries to lower proliferation risks. Nuclear programs are expensive and very risky for countries. Countries don’t want these weapons as a show of bravado, though no doubt some part of the reason is pride, but rather as a deterrent to conventional attacks from others.
As such, the reducing and deterring nuclear programs is best achieved by using carrots as well as sticks. Carrots, such as the offer to create cooperative defense systems with economic independent zones is one alternative to sticks. Use of these new kinds of “carrots” will require a change in our thinking in Washington - using all the tools in our national security portfolio—not just the threat of military action.
Fourth, we must still be tough on our adversaries. If these defense and economic systems fail or countries cheat on their obligations, we and our international partners must be swift and tough in response.
In the end, the less we hold on to outdated nuclear forces and concepts the more we can face up to today’s challenges, and the more America has to gain.
Brig. Gen.Cheney USMC (Ret.) is the CEO and Terri Lodge is Director for Nuclear Security at the American Security Project, a non-partisan think-tank based in DC.