The US nuclear deterrent, and in particular, the nuclear triad, are under constant attack from the pro-unilateral-disarmament Left, whose goal, of course, is to unilaterally disarm the US and expose it to attack.
The latest round of this attack was conducted recently in the Diplomat e-zin by James R. Holmes, the Diplomat‘s resident wannabe defense expert, calling himself “the Naval Diplomat” (in reality, a defense issues ignoramus). Mr Holmes questions the nuclear triad’s rationale for being because, he says, the US nuclear arsenal will continue to shrink under treaties such as New START. He also falsely claims that China’s nuclear arsenal is small and so there is no need for a US nuclear triad.
Meanwhile, Obama’s top arms control negotiator, Rose Goettemoeller, a longtime advocate of disarming America unilaterally and completely (“We are not modernizing. That is one of the key principles of our policy.”) and Vice President Joe Biden are lobbying for a unilateral cut of the US nuclear deterrent to just 300 warheads – far less than even what China has. Obama is sympathetic to those views.
But they – and others who seek to dismantle the nuclear triad – are dead wrong. Here’s why.
Firstly, Russia still has a huge nuclear arsenal, and contrary to Holmes’ lies, that arsenal is GROWING, not shrinking, even under New START, signed in Prague in 2010 by Barack Obama. That treasonous treaty allows Russia to GROW its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal – and Moscow has done so and continues to do so.
Moscow has 2,800 strategic nuclear warheads (according to the Federation of American Scientists), of which 1,500 are deployed and 50 further will be soon, and around 4,000 tactical nuclear warheads (many of which can be delivered against the US).
To deliver them, Russia has over 410 ICBMs, 13 ballistic missile submarines, 251 strategic bombers (Tu-95, Tu-22M, Tu-160), and around 20 attack submarines capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles anywhere in the world. To deliver its tactical warheads, Russia has those attack submarines plus short-range ballistic missiles, attack aircraft, surface warships, artillery pieces, and IRBMs such as the Yars-M, the Iskander-M, and the R-500.
Russia’s ICBM fleet alone can deliver at least 1,684 warheads to the Continental US; Russia’s ballistic missile submarine fleet, at least 1,400 (which will grow to 2,000 when new Russian missiles enter service); Russia’s bomber fleet, over 1,700. Russia’s tactical delivery systems can deliver additional thousands of nuclear weapons.
Moscow is rapidly modernizing its nuclear arsenal, introducing at least three new classes of ICBMs (the Yars, the Rubezh, and the Sarmat), a pseudo-ICBM with a 6,000 km range, a new class of ballistic missile subs (the Borei class), new short- and intermediate-range missiles (Yars-M, Iskander-M, R-500), a new submarine- and air-launched cruise missile (the Kh-101/102 Koliber) a new theater nuclear strike jet (Su-34), and is developing a next-generation intercontinental bomber (PAK DA, i.e. the Prospective Aircraft Complex of Long Range Aviation).
On top of that, Russia has up to 4,000 “tactical” nuclear warheads, many of which can be delivered to the US by cruise missiles carried by the 20 submarines of the Akula and Oscar-II classes (12 Akulas, 8 Oscars). In fact, a few years ago, one Akula class submarine, probably armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, sneaked close to the US East Coast!
To scrap the nuclear triad in the face of this huge, and growing, nuclear thread would be worse than foolish; it would be utterly suicidal.
As for China, it has at least 1,600, and up to 3,000, nuclear warheads, according to former Russian missile force chief Gen. Viktor Yesin and Georgetown Professor Philip Karber (who was the DOD’s chief nuclear strategist under President Reagan).
To deliver them, Beijing wields 75-87 ICBMs (and is adding more every year), 120-160 strategic bombers, 6 ballistic missile subs, over 120 MRBMs, over 1,200 SRBMs, and 280 tactical strike aircraft. On top of that, it has hundreds, if not thousands, of nuclear-capable cruise missiles (ground-, air-, and sea-launched), such as the CJ-10, the CJ-20, and the DH-10. Note that China, like Russia, is adding more nuclear weapons and delivery systems (and more modern ones) every year.
Moscow and Beijing not only have large nuclear arsenals, they’re quite willing to use them. In fact, in the last 7 years, Russia has threatened to aim or use nuclear weapons against the US or its allies on 15 separate occassions, and in the last 2 years has flown nuclear-armed bombers into or close to US and allied airspace. In May 2012, when its bombers overtly practiced a nuclear strike on Alaska, the Russian Air Force said to the press it was “practicing attacking the enemy.”
Not only that, but in its military doctrine Russia openly claims a right to use nuclear weapons first – even if the opponent does not have any nuclear weapons! And it says it will never give up its nuclear arsenal because it considers it “sacred.”
Moreover, the US now has to deter not only Russia and China, but North Korea and Iran as well. North Korea already has ICBMs capable of reaching the US and miniaturized warheads fittable onto such missiles, and Iran is projected by the US intelligence community to have such missiles by 2015.
On top of that, the US has to provide a credible nuclear deterrent not only to itself, but to over 30 allies around the world: all NATO members, Israel, Gulf countries, and Pacific allies such as the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea. These allies are watching the state of the US nuclear arsenal closely and will develop their own if the US cuts its umbrella further. Thus making the problem of proliferation – which the CNS and Ploughshares falsely pretend to be concerned about – that much worse.
Already, 66% of South Koreans want their country to obtain its own nuclear arsenal, and Saudi Arabia, fearing Iran, has ordered nuclear weapons in Pakistan and DF-21 ballistic missiles in China – both of which are quite happy to oblige, because Saudi Arabia pays in hard cash.
The truth is that the need for a large nuclear deterrent, and the nuclear triad, has never been greater. America needs them now more than ever. In this 21st century threat environment marked by three (soon to be four) hostile nuclear powers, two of them with large nuclear arsenals, it would be utterly suicidal and foolish to cut the US nuclear arsenal further, let alone deeply so.
And it is absolutely NOT true that the US nuclear arsenal will inevitably continue to shrink. It will be cut further only if Congress allows Obama and his successor (who will likely be Hillary Clinton) to continue disarming the US unilaterally. Congress has many means at its disposal to stop the White House from disarming the US and thus stop any further cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent, as it should.
Disarmament is a choice (and a foolish and suicidal one at that). There is nothing inevitable about it. Republicans can stop it – and House Republicans work every day of every year on Capitol Hill to indeed stop it.
Last but not least, if a nuclear triad is such a redundant and obsolete arrangement, why do the Russians, the Chinese, and the Israelis continue to maintain, modernize, and even expand their nuclear triads, with new aircraft, missiles, and submarines?
Quick! Someone better tell the Russians, the Chinese, and the Israelis that they’re wasting their money on an obsolete arrangement!
The truth is that a nuclear triad is BY FAR the most survivable, most effective, most powerful, most deterring, and most cost-effective arrangement in nuclear deterrence. Nothing else will ever provide the same degree of security at the same or lower cost. Nothing else will ever suffice to replace it – not a dyad, not a monad, not missile defense, not conventional weapons.
James R. Holmes is dead wrong, as usual. The nuclear triad and a large nuclear arsenal are STILL needed, and will be needed for many, many decades to come.
And as for the New START treaty – in light of the fact that it requires nuclear arsenal cuts only of the US, its onerous restrictions on US missile defense development, its pathetically weak verification regime, the fact that Russia is an aggressor who has illegally invaded and occupies two sovereign countries, and the fact that Russia has violated EVERY arms reduction treaty it has ever signed – the US should IMMEDIATELY withdraw from that pathetic treaty, as well as all other arms reduction treaties. IMMEDIATELY. Not tomorrow, but today.
Additionally, the US should:
- Impose harsh sanctions on Russia if it continues to violate the INF treaty (as it likely will);
- Withdraw from the CFE Treaty and encourage US allies to do the same;
- Refuse to ever ratify the CTBT;
- Assist Ukraine in developing its own nuclear weapons, or at least take Ukraine under the protection of the US nuclear umbrella.