The notion of a unilateral U.S. cut completely disregards Moscow's large-scale nuclear modernization that has been going on since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the effort in April 2000. Pictured: A Russian ballistic missile on parade in Moscow in 2017. (Image source: kremlin.ru)
The disarmament community in the United States -- made up of organizations such as Global Zero and the Ploughshares Fund -- believes that America's nuclear modernization program is "stoking a new arms race."
Downplaying threats from North Korea, Iran, China and Russia, pro-disarmament groups want the U.S. unilaterally to eliminate more than 90% of its strategic nuclear delivery vehicles and drastically reduce strategic nuclear bombers, submarines and silo-based missiles.
The notion of a unilateral U.S. cut completely disregards Moscow's large-scale nuclear modernization that has been going on since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the effort in April 2000. It is a build-up that includes thousands of additional theater nuclear systems, as well as deployments that directly violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) between the U.S. and Russia.
Sadly, this is not mere speculation. During his state-of-the-nation address on March 1, Putin boasted of technological breakthroughs in Russia's nuclear-weapons capabilities, which have rendered NATO's U.S.-led missile defense "useless." Four years earlier, in 2014, Putin announced that Russia's nuclear capabilities would be 100% modernized by 2021. Meanwhile, America's nuclear upgrades -- including a new bomber, submarine and land-based missile -- will not go into the field until 2027 at the earliest, and will not be completed before 2042.
Nevertheless, a Global Zero position paper, published in September by Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, offered an appalling "alternative" to the latest U.S. Defense Department's legislatively-mandated quadrennial Nuclear Posture Review, which revealed "an unprecedented range and mix of threats [to the U.S.], including major conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space, and cyber threats, and violent nonstate actors."
The pro-disarmament "alternative" to the Defense Department's pragmatic assessment was as follows:
"The United States should adopt a deterrence-only policy based on no first use of nuclear weapons, no counterforce against opposing nuclear forces in second use, and no hair-trigger response. This policy requires only a small highly survivable second-strike force and resilient nuclear command, control, and communications (C3). Five new strategic submarines (SSBNs) backed by a small reserve fleet of 40 strategic bombers would fully support the policy, which requires a robust capability to destroy a nuclear aggressor's key elements of state control and sources of its power and wealth. All other existing U.S. nuclear forces, including silo-based missiles (ICBMs), should be phased out and all other planned U.S. nuclear force programs should be canceled."
As if this were not preposterous enough, and article on the Defense One website went as far as to accuse U.S. President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, of engaging in "a serial killing spree of arms control agreements." The author of the article, Joe Cirincione -- president of the Ploughshares Fund and author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late -- claimed that, after engineering the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran "nuclear deal," Bolton's "next victim will be Reagan's entire START nuclear reduction process." Cirincione went on:
"The obscurely named Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987 was a historic breakthrough. Negotiated by Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev, it was the first arms control agreement to reduce, rather than limit, nuclear weapons. The two leaders physically destroyed a total of 2,692 missiles after the treaty entered into force.
"The agreement banned an entire class of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles held by the two nations, not only in Europe where the majority of them were deployed, but anywhere in the world. Because of Reagan's diplomacy, neither nation is allowed to field ground-based weapons whose reach falls between short-range and the ocean-spanning ranges of strategic weapons..."Now Bolton is about to dismember this security arrangement — for no good reason. He apparently has convinced an uninformed and uninterested president that a likely Russian violation of the INF Treaty is reason to destroy the agreement."
In other words, "a likely Russian violation" is not a "good reason" to destroy the agreement. Instead, apparently, it is a "good reason" to curb American nuclear-weapons advancement.
It is also particularly striking that Cirincione referred to Reagan as the "greatest arms control president in American history."
This is a total distortion of Reagan's legacy. In fact, Reagan's successful policies involved not the elimination of all nuclear weapons, but the simultaneous modernization of all legs of America's nuclear Triad in a manner that enhanced national security and strategic stability. He also deployed nuclear cruise missiles (SLCMs) on naval ships, and medium-range nuclear missiles and new nuclear artillery in Europe.
At the time, the disarmament community was in thrall to a Soviet proposal of a nuclear freeze -- an idea totally beneficial to Moscow, which had completed its nuclear modernization deployments, while Washington had truncated, delayed or stopped its own efforts.
Reagan stuck to his guns, however, deploying INF-range missiles in Europe -- in cooperation with Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany -- and rebuilding America's nuclear arsenal with new Peacekeeper ICBMs, 28 Ohio class submarines and a new class of B-1 and B-2 strategic bombers. It is a force upon which the U.S. still relies, having foregone strategic nuclear modernization for decades.
Reagan's policy, which led to a U.S. victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, was "peace through strength." The disarmament community's position appears to be "peace through paper."
So far, both the current administration in Washington and Congress have supported the effort to modernize U.S. nuclear capabilities. Unlikely as it may sound, the previous administration also supported most of this modernization effort, and the number of nuclear warheads being deployed today is exactly the same as it was when Barack Obama was president.
Let us hope that the new House of Representatives gets on board with this as well, and does not succumb to calls for reversal. America's peace and strength depend on it.
Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, as well as Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. He was also for 20 years, the senior defense consultant at the National Defense University Foundation.