Space, Nuclear Weapons, and Ballistic Missile Defense–The New Triad
Michaela Dodge /
In April, the Independent Working Group (IWG) on Missile Defense and the Space Relationship held an event on the new triad—space, nuclear weapons, and ballistic missile defense—and its importance for the United States. It explored the fundamental importance and the relationship among the different elements of defense. The United States currently does not have a strategy that would integrate these elements in a synergistic manner.
Robert Butterworth, president of Aries Analytics, pointed out that the intelligence community developed the military space systems the United States operates today. That community, however, has fundamentally different interests than the military. The United States needs to better articulate and determine what U.S. future military capabilities will be and what space systems would best address their requirements. U.S. nuclear policy suffers from a similar lack of coherent vision, which makes the recent push for yet another round of nuclear reductions questionable. The current guidance is full of contradictions: The U.S. has a plan for new delivery vehicles, but it must use old nuclear warheads and cannot test them.
Keith Payne, president of the National Institute for Public Policy and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy, noted that according to the Nuclear Posture Review, President Obama’s top goal is nonproliferation. The Administration assumes that missile defenses work against this goal by discouraging future reductions (note Russia’s recent threats of a preemptive strike if the U.S. deploys its missile defenses to Europe). This leads to an irreconcilable tension between a drive to “nuclear zero”—a world without nuclear weapons—and missile defense, plus the need to sustain nuclear forces. In addition, with fewer nuclear weapons, the Administration would be required to move toward counter-value targets (training missiles at an adversary’s populations). This approach, rejected for more than five decades, has been considered immoral and illegal. Resilience and adaptability, necessary to adapt to future threats and assure allies, are lost when the U.S. has a lower nuclear capability.
Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, emphasized that the United States will not move to the most effective and cost-efficient interceptors in space without strong presidential leadership. Such leadership is lacking in the Obama Administration. While the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is gone, limits on the missile defense program remain. For example, so far the successive Administrations since the withdrawal from the treaty have not taken steps to make Aegis capable of countering short-range as well as intermediate-range ballistic missiles. In addition, the Aegis program can be accelerated to give it the ability to counter long-range missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Rob Soofer, the Strategic Forces Policy Advisor for Senator Jon Kyl (R–AZ), provided a congressional perspective by mentioning three issues that are a priority for the GOP leadership. First, the Administration’s commitment to the nuclear weapons complex is fading, as the President’s defense budget request this year is below what the Administration agreed to provide in concurrence with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). A loss of scientists without nuclear weapons design experience is equally concerning. Second, reductions below the New START level will not be possible unless the Administration provides funding for nuclear modernization. Third, while the Administration emphasized regional missile defense, Republicans in Congress would like to see more resources invested in homeland defense.