A Modern Nuclear Force Driven by Strategy, Not Abstraction

Apr 23, 2012
Defense Drumbeat
Kissinger, Scowcroft Warn of Further Nuclear Reductions

Maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent is vital to the security of our nation and that of our allies. That deterrent must be safe, secure, and effective. Our nuclear weapons policy is crucial to the strategic stability that has preserved peace and prevented the use of nuclear weapons for decades. Now as the Obama administration is weighing cuts to America’s nuclear forces, senior leaders and lawmakers are insisting that any such changes be driven by strategy, not preconceived notions of “global zero.”

In a Washington Post op-ed published Sunday, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft warned of the dangers of pursuing nuclear reductions for their own sake.

“The Obama administration is said to be considering negotiations for a new round of nuclear reductions to bring about ceilings as low as 300 warheads. Before momentum builds on that basis, we feel obliged to stress our conviction that the goal of future negotiations should be strategic stability and that lower numbers of weapons should be a consequences of strategic analysis, not an abstract preconceived determination.

“Regardless of one’s vision of the ultimate future of nuclear weapons, the overarching goal of contemporary U.S. nuclear policy must be to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used. Strategic stability is not inherent with low numbers of weapons; indeed, excessively low numbers could lead to a situation in which surprise attacks are conceivable.”

Going forward, Kissinger and Scowcroft offered guidelines for future policy.

“The precondition of the next phase of U.S. nuclear weapons policy must be to enhance and enshrine the strategic stability that has preserved global peace and prevented the use of nuclear weapons for two generations.

“[S]trategic stability requires maintaining strategic forces of sufficient size and composition that a first strike cannot reduce retaliation to a level acceptable to the aggressor…[T]he United States cannot assume that potential enemy will adhere to values or calculations identical to our own. We need a sufficient number of weapons to pose a threat to what potential aggressors value under every conceivable circumstance.”

Senators Jon Kyl, Bob Corker, and Kelly Ayotte wrote in a Politico op-ed Sunday that our strategic forces cannot be defined by numbers alone. They called on Congress to restore the commitment to nuclear modernization basic to New START.

“President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request to modernize our nation’s aging nuclear weapons and laboratories falls about $370 million short of what the Senate deemed necessary when it supported the 2010 New START treaty…

“Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is concerned about the funding cuts that Congress has contemplated. ‘It would be tremendously shortsighted,’ Panetta said last year, ‘if they reduced funds that are absolutely essential for modernization…If we aren’t staying ahead of it, we jeopardize the security of this country…’

“Congress has an opportunity to restore the funding and schedule for the nuclear modernization plan. It is important that we do so – not only to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent but also, as the chairman of the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee said last week, ‘to safely reduce the number of deployed nuclear weapons. We must, at a minimum, ensure our infrastructure can maintain these fewer numbers of weapons so they are safe, secure, and military effective.’”

112th Congress