Nuclear Weapons and U.S. National Security
It isn’t much of a hot topic, but the number of U.S. nuclear weapons, resulting from both unilateral disarmament and arms control agreements, is ready to go as low as it’s been since the 1950s.
And President Obama is one of those who can be categorized as a global zero: that is, he wants a world without nuclear weapons.
As for me, I’d like a world without death and taxes, an equally plausible outcome.
For nuclear weapons to go away, the world must either come to 1) possess weapons of greater significance and power than their nuclear brothers-in-arms or 2) for all-the-world to possess ways to effectively and efficiently negate the effects of nuclear bombs. By the way, these above conditions are necessary but not sufficient (see the links at the bottom) for the global zeros.
Is either likely? No. The “solution” to the first part of the issue would likely lead to directed energy and biological weapons. And negating the effects of nuclear weapons is largely limited to missile defense, which while having an important role, does not provide assured survival.
Is it possible to go too low in the weapons count? The short answer is yes. The lower the nuclear weapons count the more effect (and value) each individual will have and the greater the incentive to cheat on arms control and/or to attack preemptively.
Henry Kissinger, who could introduce strategy and uncertainty into a coin-toss, and Brent Scowcroft are effectively begging the Administration to stop their numbers based arms control strategy and to instead use a strategy-based strategy. A numbers-based strategy effective says (for example) “The United States will go down to 300 nuclear weapons.” A strategy-based strategy says, “After careful analysis, we believe the United States needs approximately (fill in the blank) nuclear weapons to provide strategic deterrence, stability, re-strike as required, redundancy, address technical risk, etc.
Here are five article I wrote while at Air University which address and amplify the Kissinger/Scowcroft concerns:
- Minimal Deterrence Makes Minimal Sense (And Here’s Why)
- Thinking Through Nuclear Security
- A Nuclear Apologist on the Nuclear Atheists
- Clausewitz on Warheads
- The Tactical versus Strategic Distinction: It’s A Big Deal, Right?
You can never really prove nuclear deterrence works—it’s a theory, after all—but it does possess plausibility, credibility, and explanatory power.