The Global Zero Nuclear Policy Commission Report recently proposed that the United States cut the total number of its nuclear warheads to 900 from today’s level of about 1,700. In his most recent blog, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs visiting fellow Peter Huessy argues that this nuclear posture would make the use of nuclear weapons more likely.
The report proposes to eliminate intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs). This would be a mistake. ICBMs are the cheapest, most reliable, and most responsive leg of the U.S. nuclear triad. In addition, as the overall force level shrinks, it is more important to preserve each of the legs of the triad, as the bipartisan congressionally mandated Strategic Posture Commission recognized.
If ICBMs were to be eliminated, the number of aim points for the Russian or Chinese missiles would be reduced from about 460 to six. This is insanity, given that both countries continue to expand and modernize their strategic arsenals.
Huessy points out another contradiction in the Global Zero report. While it claims that nuclear reductions are safe because of U.S. prompt global strike capabilities, missile defenses, and strong conventional capabilities, these capabilities and Russia’s own weaknesses are reasons why Moscow increases importance of nuclear weapons in its strategic doctrine. In addition, draconian defense budget cuts under the Budget Control Act undermine research, development, and deployment of the capabilities the Global Zero relies upon for nuclear reductions.
Yet dismantling hundreds of nuclear weapons is not enough for the supporters of the Global Zero. They also propose de-alerting remaining warheads. Not only is it unlikely that U.S. adversaries would follow the U.S.’s example, but proponents of the Global Zero would be the first ones to argue that re-alerting would exacerbate a potential crisis. De-alerting would deprive U.S. policymakers of options to signal intent and willingness to resolve before a crisis becomes disaster. This would impact not only U.S. security but also that of our allies, as the U.S. provides nuclear security guarantees to more than 30 nations around the world.
Disarmament should not be the central driver for arriving at recommendations regarding U.S. nuclear posture. Rather, the U.S. needs to evaluate strategic environment and build a posture that will keep its adversaries deterred and its allies assured.