Dana Priest’s article on nuclear weapon modernization


Writing in the Washington Post on Sunday, September 16th, Dana Priest penned a lengthy article explaining why the modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal is necessary and what work will that entail. Priest explained the old age and dilapidated condition of the nuclear weapons themselves, their delivery systems, and the nuclear facilities that support them; chronicles the decades of neglect that caused this crisis; and explained why delaying modernization will cause the eventual and unavoidable costs to go still further.

Nonetheless, the opponents of a strong defense, including anti-nuclear nuts, still refuse to recognize these facts and the need for a large, survivable, modern nuclear deterrent for America and its allies. Priest writes that:

“For their part, many anti-nuclear activists favor disarmament by atrophy, which would mean not repairing or extending the life span of the current arsenal. For now, the administration and its supporters argue that the country must maintain its nuclear assets as long as other nations are nuclear-armed.

Still, a growing number of former senior administration officials from both parties argue that more substantial cuts would encourage nonnuclear states to abandon their nuclear ambitions, making the world safer from political miscalculations and saving money for defense items that are actually used.

Among the members of this eclectic group are former Reagan administration officials George Shultz, Robert “Bud” McFarlane and Frank Carlucci; Clinton’s former defense secretary William Perry and ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering; and retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Obama and a former commander of U.S. nuclear forces.

“There are a growing number of my peers on the uniformed military side, and especially among civilian analysts and those on the policy side,” who believe a smaller and more modern force is appropriate, Cartwright said in an interview. “What we have is way more than what we need.””

This is utter garbage. The US does not have “way more” what it needs – the nuclear arsenal’s size is barely adequate at best. It stands at a paltry 5,113 warheads, most of them in storage. Under New START, the US is allowed to have only 1,550 strategic warheads deployed, the same as Russia; and America’s tactical nuclear arsenal is in the low hundreds (compared to Russia’s over 10,000 tactical warheads). China’s arsenal consists of up to 3,000 nuclear warheads, according to former DOD nuclear strategist, now Georgetown University professor, Philip Karber.

No, the US does not have “way more than what we need”. Not even close.

Further deep cuts to the US nuclear arsenal would gravely jeopardize national security and weaken the US military (as all deep defense cuts do, but pacifists still haven’t learned that). At this time, further deep cuts would be especially foolish as the US would be cutting well below the size of Russia’s and China’s nuclear arsenals. Doing so would invite a Russian or Chinese disarming first strike.(1) That’s because a far smaller arsenal would be far easier for America’s enemies to destroy and thus far less survivable. Destroying only a few hundred warheads stored in just a few facilities or on just a few submarines and planes is far easier than destroying thousands of them dispersed among many bases and deployed on 14 subs, 96 bombers, and 450 ICBMs at three different bases in 450 separate siloes.

In order to be survivable, a nuclear arsenal HAS to be large. That is an unavoidable reality.

Furthermore, the idea that unilateral (or bilateral, with Russia) cuts of America’s nuclear arsenal would somehow encourage nonnuclear states like Iran to forego development of atomic weapons and prevent miscalculations is a dangerous, cretinous, liberal fantasy. It is no surprise that liberals like George Shultz, William Perry, Thomas Pickering, and Obama’s favorite general James Cartwright believe in this fallacy; these liberals have repeatedly proven that they cannot distinguish their ideological fantasy from geopolitical and military realities. It is even more foolish than Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” fantasy.

Why is this notion a fantasy?

Because other countries pursue these weapons out of their perception of their self-interest and of what benefits they’d accrue from developing them. (America’s soft foreign policy towards rogue regimes hasn’t helped; it has shown that if you defy the US, like North Korea and Iran have, you are immune and the US won’t challenge you. North Korea is now untouchable, and Iran wants the same status.) Unilateral disarmament/nuclear arsenal cuts by the US won’t change this and thus won’t discourage other countries from weaponizing the atom; in fact, it would only encourage them further by showing that any idiot can build a few hundred nuclear weapons and achieve nuclear parity with the US. I repeat: unilateral disarmament/arsenal cuts would only ENCOURAGE more countries to “go nuclear”.

If the US cut its arsenal deeply, other countries, including Iran, would take that as a sign of weakness and appeasement (which it would be) and only be encouraged in nuclear weaponization, as there would be even more to gain from it than before: having, within a decade or so, a nuclear arsenal of a similar or equal size to America’s. This would significantly INCREASE, not reduce, the potential for miscalculations. Iran could eventually include that America is so weak militarly that attacks on her – or her allies – can go unpunished, and conduct such attacks.

Don’t take my word for it. Review the record of the last 21 years: since the Cold War’s end, the US has dramatically cut its nuclear arsenal, by over 75%, to just 5,113 warheads. Meanwhile, Pakistan and North Korea have joined the nuclear club, China has radically increased its own arsenal, and Iran is racing to build its own (and has made substantial progress on that). So deeply cutting America’s nuclear arsenal has already been tried repeatedly, and this policy has abysmally and spectacularly failed. Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Indeed, it is insanity to believe that if the US cut its nuclear arsenal deeply, other countries (including America’s enemies) would be nice enough not to weaponize the atom.

The liberals who believe this – including Shultz, Carlucci, Perry, Pickering, and Cartwright – live in a kumbayah world, a world of make-believe, a fantasy world.

But I live in the real world. I cannot use wishful thinking or ideologies in my analysis.

Moreover, further cuts in America’s arsenal would cause America’s allies – who depend on it for protection – to doubt its credibility. This would force them to develop their own nuclear weapons, thus making the proliferation problem much worse. Besides me, former Under SECDEF for Policy Eric Edelman and CSBA analysts Andrew Krepinevich and Evan Montgomery have also pointed this fact out.

Russia and China are threats to many but protectors to no one. America is responsible for providing a nuclear umbrella to 30 allies so that they won’t have to develop their own.

The claim that cutting the nuclear arsenal would mean “saving money for defense items that are actually used” is also a lie. The nuclear arsenal is employed everyday… although warheads aren’t exploding. It deters America’s enemies from nuclear and conventional attacks against America and its allies. It’s what enables 308 million Americans and millions of their fellow free men to peacefully go to work, school, or home everyday. It is literally America’s life insurance.

It protects America and its allies against the most catastrophic, most disastrous threats – those of a nuclear or massive conventional attack, thus preventing war, deaths, and the huge financial costs associated with wars. It prevents war so that America won’t have to fight it at all (thus proving the “peace through strength” principle everyday).

There can be nothing more important than maintaining and modernizing the nuclear deterrent and thus protecting America and Americans against catastrophic threats. Furthermore, this can be done without cutting funding for other crucial weapon programs.

Priest wails about the costs, but these costs are as big only if you total them over a decade, like Priest has. Annually, these costs are relatively small compared to the defense budget’s size, and as shown here, don’t have to be high. For example, basing the next SSBN class on the Virginia class would save $32 bn, costing taxpayers only $28 bn for 12 boats.

(1) Of course, unilateral disarmament by atrophy would guarantee a Russian/Chinese first strike.

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