Robert R. Monroe, Wall Street Journal
13 July 2015
The next president must restore America’s aging arsenal to face a world of new atomic threats.
None of the presidential candidates is talking about it, but one of the most important issues in the 2016 election should be the precarious decline of America’s nuclear forces.
When the Cold War ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the U.S. began a debilitating nuclear freeze, establishing ever-broader antinuclear policies and largely ignoring the growing threat posed by these massively destructive weapons.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military strategy focuses on early use of these weapons in conflicts large and small. China is in the midst of an immense strategic modernization. India and Pakistan are expanding and improving their nuclear arsenals. North Korea issues nuclear threats almost weekly. The Mideast is dissolving into chaos, and Iran’s advanced nuclear-weapons program has been on the front pages for two years.
To address these multiplying threats, U.S. nuclear policy must undergo radical changes. Because policies as important as this require White House and congressional agreement and the support of the American people, a full-scale national debate is essential. I propose we begin with the following five changes:
• Discard President Obama’s goal of a “world without nuclear weapons.”
Such an impossible vision can be expressed as a hope, but as U.S. policy it is nonsensical and terribly damaging. America’s pre-eminent national goal – on which U.S. survival depends – must be paramount nuclear-weapons strength.
Since the dawn of the nuclear era, 12 U.S. presidents – six Democrats and six Republicans – have specifically stated nuclear superiority as U.S. policy. Mr. Obama reversed it upon taking office and has accelerated the deterioration of America’s nuclear arsenal.
• A return to legitimate deterrence in U.S. foreign policy.
Deterrence is based on fear. You threaten your adversary with intolerable consequences if he does not comply with your demands. Then, through reinforcing actions, you convince him that you have the will and capability to carry out your threat. For five Cold War decades the daily practice of deterrence kept the U.S. safe from Soviet attack and the devastation of nuclear war. But for the past two decades nuclear deterrence has been missing from the U.S. toolbox. Bring it back.
• Establish effective, rather than counterproductive, nonproliferation policies.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat like no other. Yet for decades U.S. nonproliferation policy has been misguided and inept. Our leaders have passively allowed the valuable Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970, to be distorted into a useless nuclear-disarmament treaty.
Most important, we’ve failed to emphasize – nationally and internationally – that nonproliferation requires enforcement. Hand-wringing and sanctions won’t work. There must be a cop on the beat, and military force must be used if necessary. Finally, our attempted nuclear agreement with Iran is counterproductive; if signed it will trigger a global cascade of proliferation.
• Modernize America’s nuclear arsenal.
President Obama’s policy doesn’t permit research, design, testing or production of new, advanced nuclear weapons. Our current nuclear weapons – strategic and tactical – were designed and built decades ago to meet different threats, and have gone untested for decades.
With great urgency, the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration must be freed to produce an entirely new nuclear-weapons stockpile, including specialized low-yield advanced weapons. Production and testing facilities – atrophying for decades – must also be built on an accelerated schedule.
• Also with great urgency, recover the Pentagon’s nuclear-weapons capabilities.
These have also suffered from Mr. Obama’s policies. Hundreds of nuclear-weapons specialists have left the U.S. government without replacement. Research into the effects of nuclear weapons, a critical field of military study, is virtually nonexistent. Nuclear-weapons strategy and tactics are rarely included in military exercises. Worse, U.S. leaders have failed to plan and budget for the next generation of nuclear-delivery systems – intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bombers.
If these policies seem tough, recall that the U.S. observed them all for a half-century, just a generation ago. Today’s nuclear threats are as dangerous as those during the Cold War. Change can’t wait. Even if reform begins in 2017 under the next administration, it will take decades to regain America’s once dominant nuclear capabilities and re-establish a viable policy of deterrence.
Mr. Monroe is a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy and a former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency (1977-80).