‘Fortress America’ needs alternatives to aging nukes

‘Fortress America’ needs alternatives to aging nukes
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U.S. modernization of its nuclear triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), missile submarines and bombers armed with safe, reliable and effective nuclear weapons, in numbers sufficient to maintain rough parity with at least the Russian nuclear triad, is imperative to the deterrence of world war and survival of the free world.

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As proven during the long, dangerous trial of the Cold War:

  • The triad of land- and sea-based missiles and bombers maximizes survivability, flexibility and credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent;

  • U.S. rough numerical parity with Russian strategic nuclear warheads, deliverable to their homeland, is the absolute minimum necessary to deter the world’s most powerful nuclear menace from exploiting Moscow’s big advantages in conventional and tactical nuclear forces with  aggression against overseas U.S. interests, allies and the United States itself;

  • Any doubt about the safety, reliability and effectiveness of U.S. nuclear weapons significantly diminishes their deterrence and operational value.

Dr. Keith Payne, president of the National Institute for Public Policy and one of the free world’s foremost nuclear strategists, warns that long neglect of the U.S. triad may invite nuclear aggression by Russia.

“Russia appears to have lowered the threshold for making nuclear threats to include preventing Western actions that seem to have little to do with threats to Russia’s survival,” he says in a Jan. 2 essay. “… Moscow appears to believe that it can employ limited nuclear strikes against U.S. allies, and possibly against the U.S. itself, to prevent a cohesive, powerful Western response to Russia’s use of hard power in support of its expansionist goals.”

Payne’s article notes that, in 2015, NATO’s deputy military commander, Lt. Gen. Sir Adrian Bradshaw, cautioned: “Russia might believe the large-scale conventional force it has shown it can generate on very short notice … could in the future be used not only for intimidation and coercion but potentially to seize NATO territory, after which the threat of escalation might be used to prevent reestablishment of territorial integrity.”

Payne calls for resurrection of the bipartisan consensus on U.S. strategic nuclear forces modernization that made victory possible during the Cold War, recognizing the enormity of this political challenge.

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Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithImpeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem 'Marketplace of ideas' turns 100 — it's not what it used to be MORE (D-Wash.), the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that drafts the defense budget, personifies the broken bipartisan consensus on nuclear deterrence. Smith recently endorsed the agenda of the extremist anti-nuclear Ploughshares Fund. Smith’s  vision:

  • Eliminate two of three nuclear triad legs — no ICBMs or nuclear-armed bombers — and retain only missile submarines, halving ballistic missile submarine numbers from 12 to six;

  • Abandon strategic nuclear parity with Russia for minimum deterrence, reducing U.S. nuclear weapons from 1,500 to 300, with the goal of eventually eliminating them completely;  

  • Adopt a general nuclear “no first use” policy (with exceptions), something the United States rejected throughout the Cold War because it cancels nuclear deterrence of adversary aggression using conventional, chemical and biological weapons; and
  • Constrain presidential “first use” nuclear launch authority by requiring consent from Congress.

John Hopkins, former chief of the Los Alamos nuclear weapons program, and co-author David Sharp, who was chief scientist of the Science, Technology and Engineering Directorate of Los Alamos, in “The Scientific Foundation for Assessing the Nuclear Performance of Weapons in the Stockpile” (Perspectives, Winter 2019), join many nuclear weapons scientists who doubt that U.S. nuclear weapons, now decades old and untested, are still safe, reliable and effective. They assert it’s “not correct” to claim that computer models can verify nuclear weapons will work.

Thus, while modernization of the U.S. nuclear triad is crucial and must be attempted, the United States faces possibly insurmountable problems, unlike Russia, China and North Korea. These include:

  • Deepening U.S. political and cultural divisions, including over the morality and utility of nuclear weapons, may make resurrection of a bipartisan consensus supporting the nuclear triad impossible;

  • Absent such a bipartisan consensus, since modernization and sustainment of the nuclear triad requires decades, and because the White House and Congress inevitably change hands, necessary political support for the triad seems improbable; and

  • Obsolescence of U.S. legacy nuclear weapons, the only ones we have, will inexorably erode the safety, reliability, effectiveness and credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

Accordingly, if only as an insurance policy against failure to modernize the nuclear triad (at an estimated cost of $700 billion), the White House should immediately launch programs to deploy space-based missile defenses and harden U.S. critical infrastructures against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and cyber attacks.

Space-based defenses such as Brilliant Pebbles could render adversary nuclear missiles obsolete, at an estimated cost of $10 billion to $20 billion, and could be deployed before the end of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE’s second term, if he is re-elected. EMP hardening would mitigate worst-case cyber and other threats to the electric grid (at a projected cost of $2 billion to $4 billion) and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures (costing $10 billion to $20 billion) — using private money, at no cost to government. On a crash basis, much could be accomplished in six months.

Together, these active and passive defenses could be a revolution in military technology, shifting strategic advantage away from nuclear aggressors to the United States. Perhaps a new bipartisan consensus can be built around strategic defenses, with the long-term Reagan-Obama goal of “a world without nuclear weapons.”

At minimum, absent a credible nuclear triad, we will need a “Fortress America.”     

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry was chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission. He served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA. He is the author of a new book, “EMP Manhattan Project: Organizing For Survival Against An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe.”