Nukes And National Security

With the announcement last week of the United State’s new nuclear posture, and the opening this week of the 47 nation nuclear weapons summit, President Obama has opened the door to an old debate; nuclear weapons and national security. In addition, the Senate will now consider the ratification of the arms control treaty agreed to by President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Medvedev. All three of these steps have opened the door for fresh criticism of the President and his policies by the opposition Republican party.

The question for us; what should everyday Americans look for when reading or listening to news reports on strategic national security? What separates spin and political branding from honest reporting? The steps for quick analysis of what our government is doing are straightforward; understand the threats, grasp the basic responses to those threats, and compare the results to the specific policies adopted by the Administration. A short review is available after the jump.

Strategic Threats and Rationales

  1. Nuclear deterance is still a mission for U.S. strategic forces. The principle of deterance, mutually assured destruction, is the idea that an enemy knows that major conventional confrontation or the release of nuclear weapons will be met with a massive nuclear counterattack. While the strategy is nihilistic, it still retains value in a world lacking stability. Russia, China, and probably India can engage in this strategy.
  2. Tactical nuclear strikes are an option for preemptive actions against fortified high-value targets (like a potential Iranian bomb site). Russia, China, Great Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel can all employ this strategy.
  3. Terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons remains the most frightening application, as well as being the hardest to deal with. Basically, it only takes one; one cell who can get the material together in the right place to employ a dirty bomb (or worse, a fully functioning atom or thermonuclear device). Securing nuclear material (plutonium and enriched uranium) is the only way to deal with this threat.
  4. Lastly, the threat of conventional war with a major enemy (Russia, China, or India) must be considered.

The President issued orders limiting nuclear release to preemptive or retaliatory strikes against nuclear nations or those non-nuclear nations in violation of non-proliferation treaties. Iran, North Korea, and possibly Syria fit into those categories, along with all of the countries who can or do present the United States with strategic risk. The change in nuclear posture ends the attempt to further develop applications for nuclear weapons, and puts a hold on the evolution of current nuclear weapons. It is not clear to the Rational Middle how this order in any way limits our ability to defend ourselves and our allies, but the RM will be open for comments as always.

The new arms treaty with Russia will be a subject of heated debate, but the truth of the document is that it does little to change the number of warheads that either country can deploy. It does not reduce the number of warheads deployed by the United States in tactical applications; this means that no changes are mandated for weapons deployed by carrier task groups or within continental Europe. While the number of strategic platforms (bombers, missiles, and missile boats) are limited, the number of weapons these platforms can carry and release are not. The math is fairly simple on this folks; only one U.S. Ohio-class SSBN has ever been tracked by a foreign power, and that was by the British Royal Navy. It only takes five of these ships on station to ensure that any strategic targets within an enemy country could be destroyed within 20 minutes of the order. Don’t think that other nations do not know these facts. We have not even considered the land-based missiles and bombers. With more than 1200 warheads permitted by the treaty, the United States will still have twice as many warheads as many analysts feel is necessary for maximum nuclear security.

Non-proliferation is the reason that the treaty with Russia was signed, as it is a continuation of work started by Reagan and continued by Clinton. The efforts at diplomacy were also continued via a sit down with both Pakistan and India regarding their nuclear showdown. Those two nations have been in a nuclear cold war for many years, meaning that South Asia is the likely springboard for nuclear problems in the future. That conflict, and the ongoing Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurrections, are what this whole week has been about; the diplomacy necessary to get all nations focused on their own self-interests regarding nuclear weapons and their spread.

I would encourage all to follow the news coming out of the conference closely (The PBS News Hour again providing the purest news available). There are a number of sources available to read about the START treaty, one of which was linked above. It is important that we be well-versed in this material before the Senate begins consideration on the treaty, because the partisan brand war will likely flare up again, and facts will be the victims.

The Rational Middle is listening…