Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump's Statements About Needing More Nukes Is Wrong and Dangerous

In an interview with Reuters yesterday, President Trump made some stunning comments about nuclear weapons.  He suggested (and not for the first time) that he wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  As Reuters reports, "he wants to ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal is at the "top of the pack," saying the United States has fallen behind in its weapons capacity." In addition, he called the New Start Agreement with Russia "a one-sided deal," and elaborated that it was "[j]ust another bad deal that the country made, whether it's START, whether it's the Iran deal ... We're going to start making good deals."

This is so wrong, and misinformed, that I hardly know where to begin.  Perhaps I should start with this fact:  in my five years as Air Force General, I never once hear any military leader suggest that we needed more nuclear weapons.  Mind you, I heard Air Force Generals complain about other parts of our force structure:  I heard plenty about the need for more aircraft used in conventional warfare, but not even a hint that we needed more nukes.  Even more remarkably, I served on the Air Force Nuclear Enterprise Board, and was part of the discussions about how the Air Force would comply with the New Start Agreement (which required a reduction in our ICBMs), and did not hear even a hint that the New Start reductions were a problem.  To the contrary, the New Start Treaty was endorsed by the entire membership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , the Commander of Strategic Command, which is the command that is responsible for the military arsenal, and seven former Strategic Command Commanders.  This should have been no surprise because the limits in the Treat were based on the rigorous analysis conducted by Department of Defense planners in support of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.

The New Start Treaty placed equal limits on Both Russia and the U.S., but gave each side a great deal of flexibility in how they used these limits.  The limits are:

  • 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments;
  • 1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments (each such heavy bomber is counted as one warhead toward this limit);
  • 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
Our nuclear forces have two main purposes--to deter a nuclear attack against the United States and to provide a deterrent "nuclear umbrella" for our allies as well.  Our military experts ar confident that the current nuclear forces are more than adequate to achieve these objectives.  The suggestion that we should jettison the New Start Treaty, which would allow Russia to increase its nuclear capabilities without limit, is just madness.

Right now the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals far exceed (by a factor of four) the number of nuclear weapons of the other countries.  There may well come a time when another country's arsenal (such as China) becomes significant enough that the U.S. arsenal does not provide a deterrent.  At that point, we will either need to include China in a three-way agreement, or once again add to our arsenal.  Until then, building more nuclear weapons (and thereby abrogate New START) is unnecessary and unwise.

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