It's high time for America to get ready for a world with 40 nuclear states
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When the Cold War ended in 1991, no enemies were in sight. Nuclear weapons budgets were slashed, and we entered into an unannounced nuclear freeze. Arms controllers and leftists seized the opportunity and produced restrictive laws, regulations, and funding denials. Few conservative voices were raised in dissent, initially because of political correctness, later because the American people had lost interest in nuclear weapons.

The continuing depredations have virtually destroyed the foundations of U.S. nuclear capability. Only the strategic deterrent was spared. This freeze continued for almost two decades; and it was followed by eight years of even greater nuclear reductions in response to President Obama’s “world without nuclear weapons” vision.

Here’s how we stand today. The overall U.S. nuclear weapons capability has deteriorated beyond comprehension. We have not tested a nuclear weapon in a quarter-century; nor have we designed or produced nukes. We have no production facility for essential plutonium pits.

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Our scientists, designers, engineers, testers, and key production managers are without experience in their professions. All the weapons in our stockpile are years beyond their design life. They’re unable to deter many of today’s most serious threats; and their condition ranges between deteriorated and unknown.

 

The Department of Defense has been almost completely “de-nuclearized,” except for the strategic deterrent. The essential foundation of nuclear science and technology that underlies all Defense nuclear capability has been closed down. The Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), which managed the Defense Department’s nuclear weapons and this science base is gone. Also gone are many hundreds of nuclear weapons specialists and subspecialists, many with advanced degrees in nuclear technology, who formerly provided nuclear expertise to units, staffs, and commands worldwide.

DNA also managed the essential military science of “nuclear weapons effects,” which guided all nuclear requirements, strategy, and tactics. DNA also conducted the vital underground nuclear tests (now halted for 25 years) which established the survivability requirement for every U.S. weapons system, finds vulnerabilities, and develops vital hardening techniques. All this (and much more) is gone.

While this atrophy has been taking place, the nuclear weapon threat to America has been intensifying geographically, technologically, and numerically. Russia has followed exactly the opposite course. It has focused on low-yield weapons research, design, testing, and production. It has pursued advanced concepts, and greater use of fusion, less of fission (possibly achieving pure fusion). Such weapons might well emit only neutrons and gamma rays, and their tactics of use would be ones we've never seen. Russia is modernizing its triad legs; abandoned its “no first use” policy; and adopted a military strategy of preemptive, early use of nukes in all conflicts. It issues frequent nuclear threats.

Other nuclear threats abound. China is in the midst of an immense strategic modernization program, shrouded in secrecy. It may have far more nuclear weapons than we estimate. It’s adopted a hostile, aggressive stance. India and Pakistan are improving their nuclear arsenals, while threatening each other. The Mideast is dissolving into chaos, and Israel is readying its nukes in self-defense.

But the greatest disaster lies elsewhere. For two decades two rogue states have pursued a determined effort to produce nuclear weapons, and they’re near success. When North Korea succeeds, and sells nukes to any buyer, it will trigger proliferation in Northeast Asia. Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran makes this #1 terrorist supporter a threshold nuclear weapons state, causing other Mideast states to follow suit. Growing international availability of ICBM technology will soon make it a global proliferation cascade.

By mid-century we’ll have about forty nuclear weapons states, and that’s just the beginning. Nukes will be widespread, uncountable, many inadequately protected. They’ll be available to aggressors, failed states, terrorists, criminals, extortionists, even disaffected individuals. And they’ll be used. The globe will be dotted with the deserted, radioactive ruins of cities. And there’s no way back.

America faces a nuclear weapons crisis. Nukes aren’t ever going away. And unless America prevents it, they’re going to be used, starting very soon. We must, today, start rebuilding our nuclear strength.

America’s new Nuclear Posture Review is being drafted now. Here are the actions it should direct: 

  • Educate America to the national view that nukes are the greatest force for peace that exists.
  • Establish the national goal of paramount nuclear weapons strength.
  • Prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons absolutely, using military force if necessary. Strike North Korea today. Afterwards, strike Iran, if our threats have not succeeded.
  • Resume underground nuclear testing in Nevada. Do this today, starting with legacy nukes.
  • Build a plutonium pit production facility with a throughput of 80-100 per year.
  • Pursue a robust research development test & evaluation program to advance nuclear technology and avoid technological surprise. 
  • Design, test, and produce a new stockpile of advanced nuclear weapons, many low-yield.
  • By these actions, rebuild the Department of Energy's nuclear scientists, designers, engineers, testers, production managers, to a high level of professional competence.
  • Re-establish the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) to manage the “re-nuclearization” of the Department of Defense.
  • Resume DNA’s underground testing program, to rebuild the vital military science of “nuclear weapons effects.”
  • Through decades of American diplomacy, convince the world that it can live comfortably with nuclear weapons, long-term, if the five UN-approved nuclear weapons states accept the responsibility, individually or collectively, of preventing proliferation, following the U.S. example.

All but two of these were U.S. national policy for the Cold War’s half-century. They should be again.

Robert R. Monroe, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.