What the LA Times got right – and wrong – about nuclear modernization


The Los Angeles Times has recently published an article on the upcoming modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, which is long overdue since the US hasn’t fielded any nuclear-capable delivery systems or warheads since the early 1990s, and the arsenal the US currently has is aging and nearing the end of its service life. Therefore, nuclear modernization is of utmost priority.

The LA Times – despite being a leftist newspaper – invokes many arguments for nuclear modernization. But it also gets four things badly wrong:

  1. It repeats the utterly false claim of the far-left nuclear disarmament advocate Jeffrey Lewis that nuclear modernization will cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years. His figure is a gross exaggeration designed to scare the public and policymakers into thinking that it’s unaffordable.
  2. It falsely claims that next year China will deploy missiles capable of hitting the Continental US for the first time. This is clearly false; China deployed the first such missiles, the multi-warhead DF-5 ICBMs, in 1981, over three decades ago! Not only that, but since then, China has also deployed the DF-31A and DF-31B, which can also hit all of the CONUS, and has already deployed JL-2 SLBMs (capable of hitting at least a part of the CONUS if launched just east of Japan) on its Jin-class ballistic missile submarines. (See the map below.)
  3. It falsely claims that the most common security threats are insurgencies in distant lands and domestic terrorist attacks. This is completely false. BY FAR the biggest threats to America’s and its allies’ security are the nuclear and ballistic/cruise missile arsenals of Russia, China, and North Korea. Nothing, ESPECIALLY not insurgents in faraway lands or even domestic terrorist attacks, comes even CLOSE to being as grave a threat as Moscow’s, Beijing’s, and Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile arsenals. North Korea, with its small arsenal, could still kill millions of Americans and devastate part of US soil. Russia and China could both nuke all of the US and kill everyone in the US with their large nuclear arsenals.
  4. Finally, it wrongly claims that Russia’s newest submarine-launched ballistic missile, the RSM-56 Bulava, can deliver an “unprecedented” 10 warheads. It can deliver 10 warheads to the CONUS alright, but it’s hardly unprecendented: since the 1960s, Russia deploys land-based ICBMs that can deliver that many warheads (plus penetration aids) to the CONUS; and since 2012, it also deploys Liner SLBMs that can deliver even more (12) warheads to the Continental US. It’s hardly “unprecedented.” The simple fact is that Russia can deliver many thousands of warheads to the Continental US, and is expanding that capability still further.

PLA_ballistic_missiles_range

All in all, by LA Times standards, this is a good article, as it nicely underlines the nuclear threats the US is facing, and thus the need for modernization of the US nuclear arsenal.

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