Nuclear weapons are not relics of a bygone era

The Left, led by pro-disarmament organizations such as the Ploughshares Fund and stridently leftist “journalists” such as Robert Burns of the Associated Press, is currently trying to mislead the public into thinking that nuclear weapons are relics of a bygone era, the Cold War. Leftists such as Burns and 44 stridently liberal House Democrats have even gone so far as to claim that America’s nuclear arsenal makes the US less secure and that nuclear weapons are “liabilities rather than assets”. Ploughshares’ president Joseph Cirincione even claims that the benefits of America’s nuclear weapons are outweighed by the “threat” they pose.

But all of that is rubbish. And in this article, I will demonstrate why.

Firstly, I’ll demonstrate the need for nuclear weapons in general.

Contrary to the Left’s unceasing siren song that “we’re in the 21st century”, that nuclear weapons are “relics of the Cold War”, and so forth, there is actually a huge need for a large, diverse American nuclear deterrent. The mere fact that the Cold War is over and the Berlin Wall has fallen does not mean that nuclear weapons are no longer needed, or that America’s deterrent can be safely slashed further.

The need for that deterrent is, of course, generated by America’s potential adversaries and their military (especially nuclear) capabilities.

What are these?

Russia has a very large strategic nuclear arsenal (2,800 warheads, 1,500 of them deployed and 1,300 in reserve) and the means to deliver it:

  • Over 250 strategic bombers (64 Tu-95s, 16 Tu-160s, and 151-171[1] Tu-22Ms), each capable of carrying six nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and a nuclear freefall bomb;
  • 14 ballistic missile submarines (5 Delta III class, 7 Delta IV class, 1 Typhoon class[2], and 1 Borei class submarine[3]), which can carry 16 ballistic missiles each (the Typhoon class boat can carry 20); these missiles include the 12-warhead Liner SLBM and the 10-warhead Bulava SLBM;
  • 434 ICBMs, including (numbers in parentheses refer to the maximum warhead carriage capacity):
  1. 58 SS-18 Satan missiles (10 warheads and 30 penetration aids each);
  2. 136 SS-19 Stiletto missiles (6 warheads/missile);
  3. 171 SS-25 Sickle (RT-2PM Topol) missiles (single-warhead);
  4. 74 SS-27 Sickle B (RT-2UTTH) missiles (single-warhead);
  5. at least 18 SS-29 (RS-24) missiles (4 warheads/missile).

The Satan fleet alone can carry 580 warheads to the CONUS. Russia’s ICBMs are not currently loaded with the maximum possible number of warheads, but can be thus loaded at any time, if the Kremlin so orders.

Russia also has a huge tactical nuclear arsenal – far larger than that of the US. It is estimated to have at least 1,000-4,000 tactical nuclear warheads – by any measure, far more than the US has (about 500). These are warheads of various types: missile warheads, aircraft bombs, nuclear depth charges, nuclear torpedo warheads, nuclear artillery shells, etc. They are deliverable by a wide range of systems, including aircraft (e.g. the Su-24, Su-25, Tupolev bombers, and the Su-27/30/33/34/35 Flanker family; Russia plans to procure 200 Su-34s), short-range ballistic missiles (e.g. the SS-26 Stone), surface warships, submarines, and artillery pieces.

So Russia alone has a huge nuclear arsenal which America must defend itself and its allies against. It has, in recent years, made repeated threats (over a dozen in the last 4 years alone) to use these weapons against the US or its allies if they don’t succumb to Russia’s demands on various issues.

Thus, the Russian threat, by itself, is huge and justifies the retention of a large US nuclear arsenal.

But let’s also look at other nuclear threats to US security.

Despite the false claims of Western disarmament advocates (who make such false claims to lull the American public into a false sense of security)[4], China’s nuclear arsenal is far larger than they claim and than the DOD admits. How large is it? No one knows for sure – China refuses to disclose its size – but three very credible, impartial, objective studies have been conducted on this subject to date.

Georgetown University professor (and former chief DOD nuclear weapon strategist) Dr Philip A. Karber and his students have done a holistic, unbiased study which concluded that based on China’s 3,000 mile long network of military tunnels and bunkers for its missiles and warheads, China has up to 3,000 nuclear warheads. (Their length alone should tell us that China has far more than 300-400 nuclear warheads. You don’t build such a vast network of tunnels to hide only 300 warheads; such a huge construction project for such small purposes would’ve been financially unfeasible (in other words, a huge waste of money). The Chinese wouldn’t have built it for just 300 warheads (and the fact that they did is documented and has been publicly admitted by the DOD). You don’t build 10 miles of tunnels for one warhead. Common sense alone should tell you that such a network has been built for a far larger arsenal of warheads and missiles.)

Former Russian Strategic Rocket Forces chief of staff Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin (who has close ties to the Kremlin and is privy to classified information) has done his own study in which  he concludes that China has 1,600-1,800 nuclear warheads, if not more. He based this conclusion on current Russian estimates of China’s delivery system inventories and of China’s stockpile of fissile material (weapons-grade uranium and plutonium), which he estimates to be sufficient for 3,600 nuclear warheads (but says not all of it has been used so far to build actual warheads, only half of it). He also takes China’s vast tunnel network – called the Great Underground Wall of China – into account.

Yours truly has conducted his own study, based on the most accurate and up-to-date estimates of China’s fissile material stockpile size and delivery system inventories (or, where such estimates were unavailable, conservative assumptions), as well as targeting possibilities  and its underground tunnel network. Based on this, I have concluded that China has at least 1,119 intercontinental and medium-range delivery systems capable of delivering, at minimum, 1,274 warheads.

WRT delivery systems, China currently has:

  • 36 multiple-warhead DF-5 heavy ICBMs, at least 30 [5] DF-31/31A ICBMs (3-4 warheads each), and at least one DF-41 heavy ICBM (capable of carrying 10 warheads)[6];
  • 20-40 single-warhead DF-3 MRBMs, 20 DF-4 IRBMs (3-4 warheads each), and at least 80 DF-21 MRBMs;
  • Over 1,600 SRBMs plus hundreds of nuclear-capable Land Attack Cruise Missiles (although most of these are probably conventionally-armed);
  • 440 nuclear-capable strike aircraft and bombers (Q-5s, JH-7s, H-6s); and
  • 1 Xia class ballistic missile submarine (with 12 single-warhead JL-1 SLBMs) and 5 Jin class SSBNs (armed with 12-24 JL-2 SLBMs each; one JL-2 can carry 4 warheads over a distance of 8,000 kms).

Then there are North Korea and Iran. North Korea has ICBMs capable of reaching the CONUS (as demonstrated by its December 2012 test of such an ICBM and its announcement of a planned test of the KN-08 ICBM) and can mate nuclear warheads to them. It also has thousands of SRBMs and MRBMs, as well as some BM25 Musudan-ri IRBMs with a range of 4,000 kms – enough to strike Okinawa and Guam. North Korea is currently estimated to have ca. 12 nuclear warheads.

Iran does not have nuclear weapons yet, but it’s well on its way to the nuclear club.

Moreover, we must remember that while Russia, China, and North Korea are threats to many and protectors to nobody, the US has to provide a nuclear umbrella not only for itself, but also for 30 allies, many of whom would likely go nuclear if that nuclear umbrella was dismantled or taken away from them. That would make the nuclear proliferation problem worse, not better. In the past, several US allies, such as Japan, South Korea, and Poland, have repeatedly warned the US against further cuts in its nuclear umbrella and have reaffirmed the great importance they attach to it.

The question that the proponents of America’s nuclear disarmament should be forced to ask is: if nuclear weapons are really relics of the Cold War and liabilities for the US, why do so many allies attach such a great importance to America’s nuclear umbrella, and why are so many countries interested in acquiring nuclear weapons?

Answer: because they know that nuclear weapons, far from being relics of a bygone era, are useful and vital assets.

No, nuclear weapons are not relics of the Cold War, irrelevant weapons, or liabilities. They are vital, indispensable assets. America must not reduce its nuclear arsenal any further.

[1] Reputed analyst Sean O’Connor estimates Russia to have 171 Tu-22Ms; Wikipedia says Russia has 151 (93+58).

[2] Russia also has 2 additional Typhoons in reserve. It is not clear what it intends do to with these boats: scrap or recommission them.

[3] The first four boats of the Borei class will have 16 missile tubes each. All successive boats of this class, however, starting with the fifth, will have 20 missile tubes each, meaning that the Russian submarine fleet’s SLBM carriage capacity will increase as the 5th and every consecutive Borei class boat enters service.

[4] Among them are people such as longtime Danish pacifist Hans M. Kristensen, who has spent virtually his entire adult life campaigning for the West’s unilateral disarmament, having joined Greenpeace in 1982, during the height of the Soviet military buildup, at the age of 21.

[5] The figure of 30 DF-31/31A ICBMs comes from 2009. Almost four years have passed since then, so China has certainly increased its DF-31 inventory by a significant margin.

[6] The DF-41 was first photographed in 2007 and has been tested since then, and although the PLA did not parade it during the parade commemorating the 60th anniversary of the PRC’s founding, it’s reasonable to assume that the DF-41 is in service today.

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