U.S. Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Getting it Right

D. Missile Defenses Must Be an Integral

Part of the American Deterrent

In today’s strategic environment, credible and effective U.S. nuclear deterrence also requires another form of “hedging” to supplement the stockpile and mitigate shortcomings – real or perceived – in the U.S. offensive forces: the development and deployment of a robust missile defense capability.

In their Final Report, every Democratic member of the  Strategic Posture Commission joined every Republican member in agreeing to findings and recommendations that affirm the need for such a deterrent based on an offensive/defensive mix:

•     “Missile defenses are an integral part of the strategic posture of the United States after the Cold War.”79

•     “Ballistic missile defense capabilities can play a useful role in support of the basic objectives of deterrence, broadly defined, and damage-limitation against limited threats…These capabilities may contribute to deterrence by raising doubts in a potential aggressor’s mind about the prospects of success in attempts to coerce or attack others.  They may contribute to assurance of allies, by increasing their protection and also reducing the risks that the United States would face in protecting them against a regional aggressor.”80

•     “The Commission strongly supports continued missile defense cooperation with allies.  It lowers costs for all and strengthens the potential for collective defense.”81

•     “Missile defenses effective against regional nuclear aggressors, including against limited long-range threats, are a valuable component of the U.S. strategic posture.”82

•     “The United States should develop and, where appropriate, deploy missile defenses against regional nuclear aggressors, including against limited long-range threats.  It should also develop effective capabilities to defend against increasingly complex missile threats.”83

For his part, STRATCOM Commander General Chilton in March 2009 declared his strong support for capable American missile defenses:

•     “U.S. missile defense capabilities provide a critical deterrent against certain existing and potential threats, increase the cost of adversaries’ already expensive technologies, and reduce the value of their investments.”84

•     “Sustaining a viable missile defense and filling our prompt global strike capability gap remain essential to broader deterrence.”85

E. A Real Capability to Perform  Underground

Tests of Nuclear Weapons is Required 

Permitted underground nuclear testing is the hub of the nuclear weapons “wheel.”  It is the way the United States has historically pursued science; the way it trains weapon designers; the way it validates designs; the way it certifies warheads; the way it finds problems; the way it identify fixes to those problems; the way it verifies with high confidence that such fixes have, in fact, solved such defects; the way the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and the Defense Department are integrated into a tightknit producer-user community; and the way key weapons systems are hardened to survive the effects of nuclear weapons.  With the hub gone, what is left of the wheel is of greatly diminished effectiveness, and the deterrent supported by that “wheel” of much reduced credibility.

Senior U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the cumulative effect of a lack of testing:

•     NNSA Administrator D’Agostino (February/April 2008):  “Keeping this stockpile healthy is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge.  Periodically we identify problems with warheads that in the past would have been resolved with nuclear tests.  Our SSP has worked well so far to help us to avoid that prospect.  The considered judgment of the national weapons laboratories directors, however, is that maintaining certification of the finely-tuned designs of an aging Cold War stockpile through the LEP effort and absent nuclear testing involves increasing risk.”86

“The one certainty we do know is that warhead certification in the absence of testing will become more difficult, especially as life extensions and component aging move the warhead further away from originally-tested designs.”87

“The collective judgment of the Directors of our national weapons laboratories is that maintaining certification of the finely-tuned designs of the aging Cold War stockpile through Life Extension Programs (LEPs) only, absent nuclear testing, necessarily entails increasing risk overtime.”88