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

VI. WHAT SHOULD THE UNITED STATES DO NOW?

 

A. Address the Needs of the 

Nuclear Enterprise 

The New Deterrent Working Group has proposed a comprehensive approach to rectify the status quo and restore to the United States the nuclear deterrent appropriate to – and required by our times.  Broadly speaking, it tracks with the results of the interim and final reports of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States.  A notable exception is the Working Group’s recommendation to reject U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a position shared by all the Republican Commission members but opposed by its Democratic members.

The following are among the most important elements of the approach of rejecting CTBT ratification, presented as recommendations to policy-makers and legislators responsible for assuring the future viability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal:

1: Conduct Research  and Development

“We must reestablish a continuing, robust research, development, test and evaluation program. Currently, we should focus on cutting-edge technology in  research, exploratory development, and advanced development across dozens of fields relevant to advanced designs for nuclear weapons.”95

“This scientific approach is absolutely essential if the United States desires to understand the possibilities—for us and for potential adversaries—in physics, weapons effects, materials, explosives, diagnostics, and so forth. Verifiable evidence indicates that our peer adversaries are working very hard to develop new and more usable systems in order to exert leverage over the United States and further their strategic interests. If we allow them to continue unchallenged we may lose our world leadership position. At the very least, without a corresponding US research and development effort, America’s deterrent cannot possibly remain commensurate with the emerging nuclear threat.”96

“We must revitalize the Pentagon’s national research and development program for examining the effects of nuclear weapons. The survivability of American weapons systems (conventional and nuclear); our command, control, communications, and computer systems; and our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems against a wide range of nuclear weapons effects depends on our successfully hardening and testing these systems. Good design and simulator testing can help, but actual underground nuclear testing is essential in order to assure survivability. Such test and evaluation is also indispensable for assessing and correcting the vulnerabilities of critical parts of the country’s civil infrastructure against such threats as electromagnetic pulse.”97

 

2: Cultivate and Maintain  Critical Expertise

“We must adopt a new national commitment to design, test, and produce, on a continuing basis, new nuclear weapons. We can maintain expertise in these ‘performance arts’ only by engaging in them. Simply put, the extreme complexity and hazards of the work are  such that there is no substitute for competent, integrated management, which, in turn, requires continuing, hands-on experience. Although the throughput in terms of numbers of weapons may amount to tens per year (rather than the hundreds routinely in the pipeline at the height of the Cold War years), we can realize no credible deterrent over time without an active pipeline that includes a ‘hot’ production line.”98 As an initial step in this process, DoD should immediately re-commence and continue the process of submitting requirements for new nuclear weapons to DoE/NNSA (very low yield, highly accurate, intrinsically secure, reduced collateral damage, reduced residual radiation, and with tailored military capabilities – earth penetration, chem-bio agent-defeat, EMP, suppressed EMP, etc.)

 

3: Modernize the Complex

“The United States must immediately commence the comprehensive modernization of its nuclear-weapons infrastructure. We have debated the measures necessary to do so for years and have proposed plan after plan. We have done little, however. Meanwhile, our facilities become ever-more antiquated, dilapidated, and unsafe. We most urgently need a modern fabrication facility for the “pits,” the heart of a warhead, with adequate flexibility to produce several designs simultaneously and a throughput capacity sufficient to permit replacement of the stockpile’s obsolescent weapons at an acceptable rate.”99

“The Defense Department must recommit to the need to maintain,  for the foreseeable future, both an appropriate nuclear arsenal and the competencies necessary to field and exercise it. Doing so will entail preserving America’s existing nuclear weapons platforms and capabilities as well as planning, budgeting, and performing the longrange actions needed to contend with an uncertain nuclear future.”100