Americans – our public and our leaders – have no understanding of how seriously the United States’ nuclear weapons capability has been damaged over the past 25 years. Today we risk losing our country unless President-elect Trump launches a virtual nuclear weapons revolution to reverse the ill-advised policies that have been in place and rebuild our capabilities. Here’s what has happened and what actions are needed.
When the Cold War ended in 1991, our nuclear arsenal was #1 in the world. We had just defeated the Soviet Union in a 45-year conflict and saved the world from nuclear holocaust.
At that point there were no enemies in sight. Everlasting peace was decreed. We went into a nuclear freeze and declared a peace dividend. Nuclear weapons budgets were slashed in the Energy and Defense Departments, and all ongoing work was stopped. Soon, arms controllers started establishing policies to prevent any new nuclear weapons activities from being re-started.
In DOE, research on new weapons was outlawed (literally). Nuclear testing was banned. Our stockpile of nuclear weapons soon became overage and unable to deter the new nuclear threats we face. Essential nuclear facilities were closed without replacement. Our president signed the very unwise Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Senate overwhelmingly refused to allow its ratification, but the signed treaty continued its immensely damaging influence. Our experienced scientists, designers, and engineers – tired of being curators in a nuclear museum – retired or left for other work. Their replacements, denied nuclear testing, had no way to learn.
In DOD, the department was stripped of its vital nuclear scientific and technical expertise, military and civilian, which had taken half a century to create and organize. The complex science of nuclear weapons effects – an essential military skill – was shut down. The crucial replacement of our aging nuclear weapons delivery systems was denied.
This freeze lasted seventeen years! But what followed was even worse. In 2009, President Obama announced his vision of “a world without nuclear weapons.” For eight more years, he made immensely damaging denials, limitations, reductions, and delays of all types in a failed attempt to lead the world to his dream.
Because of these two null periods, an entire generation of American citizens and their leaders has little interest in, or knowledge of, nuclear weapons. Nor do they recognize the immense increase in nuclear weapons threats we now face.
Russia and China have followed an exactly opposite course. For 25 years they have accelerated their research and have developed advanced nuclear weapons. They have produced increased arsenals of weapons much more relevant to today’s warfare scenarios. They are becoming aggressive in their actions and prone to issuing nuclear threats.
Other nuclear weapons states – India, Pakistan, and Israel – have been advancing their arsenals apace during this quarter-century. Rogue states North Korea and Iran are on the verge of producing and making use of nukes.
America is running terrible risks. Nuclear weapons research, development, design, testing, and production is a performance skill. You must actively do it, on a daily basis, to remain competent.
The Trump leadership team will have to reverse our national nuclear weapons policies instantly and initiate a crash course of actions if America is to survive. At the national level, we must take four major actions:
- Eliminate Obama’s national goal of “a world without nuclear weapons,” and re-establish nuclear weapons’ superiority as the nation’s #z1 objective.
- Use deterrence (issue threats, create fear) on major foreign policy issues, such as Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities.
- Immediately stop the cascade of nuclear weapons proliferation that Obama has stimulated; and convince the world that nonproliferation must be enforced militarily, if necessary.
- Most importantly, immediately resume underground nuclear testing, non-existent since 1992. This is urgently needed for five purposes: In DOE to validate the reliability and effectiveness of our existing stockpile; to expand our knowledge of nuclear weapons’ science and technology; and to design and test advanced nuclear weapons of all types. In DOD to validate the survivability of our weapons and sensors; and to increase our understanding of nuclear weapons effects, for offensive and defensive purposes.
Within DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration we must take two major actions:
- Design, test, and produce an entirely new stockpile of advanced nuclear weapons.
- With great urgency, build a modern plutonium pit production facility with a throughput of about 80 pits per year.
Within DOD we must take three major actions:
- With great urgency design and produce replacement nuclear weapons’ delivery systems for the Triad.
- Re-establish the Defense Nuclear Agency, with the same roles and missions it had throughout WWII, the Cold War, and until disestablishment in 1997. DNA created and maintains DOD’s entire nuclear weapons’ scientific and technology base, which is now virtually nonexistent.
- Re-create DOD’s vital mission of establishing the military requirements for the nation’s new nuclear weapons (non-existent for the past 25 years).
There’s an immense urgency about these nine recovery actions. Changes of this magnitude require decades, and the nuclear threats America faces can strike with great suddenness. A revolution is truly vital.
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.