The Obama Administration just rolled out its Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG), which outlines priorities of the U.S. military after the Budget Control Act of 2011.
While it will have significant negative impact for the entire U.S. force structure, readiness, and training, the DSG mentions nuclear weapons to state that “it is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.” This is a mark of a wishful, rather than strategic, thinking. In addition, there is no justification as to why the document arrived at this conclusion.
Assuming that U.S. deterrence goals are still the same—most importantly, to deter an attack on its homeland, forward-deployed troops, and allies—the U.S. should be modernizing its arsenal and developing new weapons designs capable of securing its interests around the world. Nuclear modernization is important because more nuclear-armed countries emerged since the end of the Cold War. Some of these countries—e.g., North Korea and nuclear-wannabe Iran—are openly hostile to U.S. interests. The U.S. should develop capabilities to deter and defeat these actors.
The U.S. response to other countries’ nuclear modernization plans has been inadequate. Instead of developing new nuclear weapons suited for deterring what the leadership of new nuclear weapons states values—power and means of attack—the U.S. stopped its nuclear weapon testing entirely. This left the country with Cold War–style high-yield nuclear weapons designed to kill as many people as possible. But people are clearly not what North Korea’s leadership values.
The U.S. is the only country in the world without a substantial modernization program. After Russia signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which unilaterally reduced U.S. forces, Moscow announced the largest nuclear modernization program since the end of the Cold War. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues on the path of unilateral disarmament, this time under the cloud of budgetary constraints.
While the Obama Administration has agreed on the importance of revitalizing the nuclear complex during the Senate debate over the New START last year, it did not take long for the Administration to renege on its promises. While the Administration requested $7.6 billion for nuclear weapons activities, the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee cut $400 million from the President’s budget request, and its Senate counterpart has cut $440 million. The Administration has made very little effort to prevent these cuts. But nuclear weapons are not the cause of the country’s fiscal troubles.