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Rebuttal of Chris Preble’s/CATO’s blatant lies

On January 10th, CATO Institute Vice President for Foreign and Defense Studies Christopher Preble will hold a pacifist event at CATO titled “Overkill: The Case of Reevaluating U.S. Nuclear Strategy”. Leaving aside the fact that US nuclear strategy was reevaluated just 2 years ago, in 2010-2011, and more recently in the just-completed NPR Implementation Study, the fact is that Preble calls for far more than reevaluation: he calls for deep unilateral cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent. And that is absolutely unacceptable.

CATO falsely claims that

“The United States has far more nuclear weapons and delivery systems than deterrence requires. The triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bomber aircraft reflects bureaucratic Cold War planning, not strategic vision.”

Those are blatant lies.

Firstly, the US does not have more – let alone far more – nuclear warheads and delivery systems than deterrence requires. As the current STRATCOM commander, Gen. Bob Kehler, and his predecessor, Gen. Kevin Chilton, have testified, the current arsenal is “exactly the right size” needed for nuclear deterrence. (Remember that Gen. Kehler has spent his entire career working on nuclear weapons and their carriers.) And, as former Secretary of Defense and Energy James Schlesinger has testified, the current arsenal is “barely adequate”.

The reason why the current arsenal is the bare minimum needed is that it is barely adequate for 1) surviving a possible enemy first strike; and 2) threatening the vast majority of Russia’s, China’s, North Korea’s, and Iran’s military assets. To be able to do that, it must be no smaller than the nuclear arsenal of America’s largest nuclear adversary (currently, Russia).

Russia has 2,800 strategic warheads (1,492 of them deployed and 1,308 in reserve), untold thousands of tactical nukes, and a huge fleet of delivery systems: 434 ICBMs, 14 ballistic missile subs, over 240 strategic bombers (64 Tu-95s, 16 Tu-160s, 171 Tu-22Ms) with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and thousands of tactical nuclear delivery systems. Its ICBM fleet alone can deliver 1,684 warheads to the US, while its SSBN fleet could deliver 2,240 warheads to America if need be. Its 58 SS-18 Satan heavy ICBMs alone can deliver 580 warheads to the US.

Russia’s huge tactical nuclear arsenal (estimated by the Obama Administration to be 10 times larger than America’s) can be delivered by a very wide range of delivery systems, including short-ranged ballistic missiles, ship- and air-launched cruise missiles, surface warships (nuclear depth charges), artillery pieces, tactical strike aircraft (e.g. Su-24s, Su-25s, Su-27s/30s/33s/35s, and Su-34s). Russia has at least 1,040-2,000 deployed tactical nuclear warheads (according to various estimates listed here on p. 6), and 2,000-4,000 tactical nuclear warheads in total according to ASDEF for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon (p. 6).

Russia currently plans to significantly grow its arsenal of ICBMs and bombers. This year, the Russian Government tripled ICBM production, and by 2020, it will procure 400 new ICBMs – partly to grow the fleet and partly to replace older ICBMs. It is also developing a new heavy ICBM (to replace the SS-18 Satan), a new 100-ton missile with a “global range” and a conventional warhead, a new middle weight ICBM called the Avangard, and a new rail-based ICBM (which will likely be an RS-24 Yars derivative). None of these ICBMs will be limited by New START. Russia is also building additional Tu-160 bombers from stockpiled components. Because Russia was below New START ceilings, and because that pathetic treaty has many loopholes large enough to drive a truck through them, Russia is allowed to significantly build up its strategic arsenal. The US is not.

Overall, Russia plans to spend 21 trillion roubles (i.e. $770 bn) on new equipment during the next decade.

Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal alone justifies the current size of America’s nuclear arsenal and constitutes the single largest threat to US national security, as documented in more detail here and here.

Furthermore, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher has admitted that “Russian overreliance on tactical nuclear weapons should be a signal to the US that some Russian officials are still acting and reacting according to a Cold War mentality.” Note that she said that about Russian, not American, officials.

China has at least 1,800, and up to 3,000, nuclear warheads, and possesses at least 36 DF-5, 30 DF-31/31A, and a number of DF-41 MIRVable ICBMs, plus 6 ballistic missile subs with a collective capacity to deliver at least 72 SLBMs (JL-1s and JL-2s). It has recently acquired the Tu-22M production line and intends to procure 36 such bombers, each of which can carry 6 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. It is rapidly growing its arsenal of ICBMs, MRBMs, SRBMs, and land-attack cruise missiles (which can be launched for airborne, seaborne, and ground platforms alike and have a range of up to 4,000 kms).

Yet, under New START, the US will be allowed to maintain only 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and only 700 deployed (plus 100 nondeployed) strategic warhead delivery systems. Tactical nuclear weapons and their delivery systems (in which Russia has a huge lead over the US) are not covered, and neither is China’s large nuclear arsenal, which is not subject to any inspections or limitations, even though Russian generals such as Viktor Yesin (ret.) have called for China to be included in nuclear arms limitation treaties. China, however, has persistently refused to participate in such treaties or even to discuss the issue or disclose the size of its arsenal. In fact, the US is the only country in the world to have publicly disclosed the precise size of its nuclear arsenal: 5,113 warheads, deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical. (Per New START, only 1,550 strategic warheads can be deployed).

Last but certainly not least, the US has to deter North Korea and Iran as well, and has to provide a nuclear deterrent not only for itself, but also for over 30 allies who rely on it for their security and their very existence. Further significant cuts to it would force these allies to develop their own nuclear weapons, because they cannot bet their security and their existence on America breaking free of its “unilateral nuclear disarmament will make us safer” kool-aid.

CATO’s claim that the US nuclear arsenal and its triad structure (ICBMs, SSBNs, and strategic bombers) is a relic of Cold War bureaucratic planning is also a blatant lie. The nuclear arsenal’s size, as demonstrated above, is the bare minimum needed for the nuclear threats of today (if anything, it should be larger).

Furthermore, the nuclear triad is NOT a relic of Cold War bureaucratic planning; it is THE most survivable arrangement for any nuclear arsenal (more legs of the nuclear triad mean more layers of defense and more targeting problems for the enemy) and the only credible kind of a nuclear deterrent. Only such a deterrent can survive a Russian or Chinese nuclear first strike – thus ensuring that such first strike never happens.

Moreover, the nuclear triad has been repeatedly confirmed by the highest levels of the US government as the right arrangement for the nuclear deterrent: in the 1994, 2001, and 2010 Nuclear Posture Reviews, in the New START Senate resolution of ratification, as well as recentlyby the entire US Senate when it unanimously adopted Senator John Hoeven’s FY2013 NDAA amendment stating the Senate’s commitment to maintaining the nuclear triad and its belief that this is the best arrangement for the nuclear deterrent. Likewise, the House has passed an NDAA which – as House Republicans trumpet on the HASC’s website – upholds the House’s commitment to the nuclear triad and provides for the maintenance and modernization of all three of its legs.

Moreover, the US nuclear arsenal and fleet of delivery systems are already vastly smaller than they were at the end (let alone the peak) of the Cold War. In 1991, the US had over 20,000 nuclear warheads; today it has only about 5,000. In 1991 the US had over 1,000 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers; today, only 450 ICBMs (going down to 420), 14 SSBNs (not all of which are at sea at any time or are fully loaded), and just 96 nuclear-capable bombers (B-52s and B-2s). The US nuclear arsenal is less than 1/4th of its 1991 size, i.e. more than 75% smaller than it was at the end (let alone the peak) of the Cold War.

Thus, CATO lied when it spoke of “the need to bring it [US nuclear strategy] into the 21st century”; that strategy, and the nuclear deterrent, have already been brought into the 21st century.

“Join us as Christopher Preble, the Vice President of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, discusses U.S. nuclear strategy, and the need to bring it into the 21st century.”

CATO also wrongly asks:

“Can the United States achieve an effective nuclear program which makes us safer, while adapting to the need for a smaller defense budget?”

Firstly, the US already has a very effective nuclear program which keeps America safe 24/7/365. Furthermore, cuts (let alone deep cuts) in America’s nuclear deterrent would make America MUCH LESS secure, not more, for the reasons stated above. Furthermore, there is no “need for a smaller defense budget”; the total FY2013 military budget (as authorized by Congress in the FY2013 NDAA) is only $633 bn, i.e. just 4.2% of GDP and less than 18% of the total federal budget. By both measures, it’s the lowest level of US military spending (excluding the late 1990s and early 2000s) since FY1948. Even Jimmy Carter spent a larger percent of GDP and the federal budget on the military.

Moreover, the entire nuclear arsenal, along with its supporting facilities, costs only $32 bn per year to maintain (per the Stimson Center), which is only 5% of the total military budget. So, even as the defense budget is being reduced, there is no need to cut funding for the nuclear deterrent. In fact, such cuts would be foolish and suicidal.

Further recommended reading: http://missilethreat.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/WebPage.pdf; http://missilethreat.com/russia-developing-new-long-range-ballistic-missile-2/.

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