The new US Department of Defense nuclear handbook notes that since 1997, the US has not designed and built a single new nuclear armed missile, submarine or bomber, and will not do so until 2029 at the earliest. Pictured: The ballistic missile nuclear submarine USS Rhode Island. (Image source: U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Rebecca Rebarich)
Dr. William Perry is considered one of the fathers of stealth aircraft; he started directing research on the B2 program when a senior official in the DOD back in the 1970s.
He later became secretary of defense from 1994-1997 during the Clinton administration and was often seen in Ukraine at photo-ops where Soviet-era ICBM silos were eliminated, both between Russia and the USA, as part of the 1992 Nunn-Lugar and 1991 Start treaty.
Perry has a new book, The Button, about US nuclear policy and his support for global nuclear disarmament. He makes numerous proposals that he claims will lessen nuclear dangers and bring us closer to global zero, the end state when presumably all nuclear weapons have been destroyed.
Unfortunately, his proposals are seriously misguided and his numerous assumptions about US nuclear deterrence are unfortunately plain wrong.
His proposals (1) ignore the current Russian and Chinese nuclear threats, (2) widely exaggerate the costs of US nuclear modernization and (3) would actually so upset the nuclear balance as to make a nuclear attack on the US more likely.
He starts with pushing for the unilateral elimination of the US land-based Minuteman missiles, cutting the submarines that the US is acquiring from 12 to 10, and lopping off 25% of America's 100 new bombers while stopping all related cruise missile production.
The effect would be for the US to rely solely on one key technology -- submarines at sea -- for a timely deterrent, as bombers would take multiple hours to fly through heavy enemy defenses and then to find targets only long after nuclear conflict will have begun.
Russia, China, India, Israel and Pakistan all are moving to, or already possess, nuclear deterrent forces that are a Triad -- made up of submarines, bombers and land-based missiles -- which the US has maintained for 60 years. No major US nuclear adversary is moving to a single nuclear technology.
Moreover, nowhere does the author call for any nuclear armed adversary of the US to eliminate any of their current or projected nuclear forces. Such demands made only of the US.
Perry further proposes to make the US cuts unilaterally, amounting at least to one-third, and possibly to more than one-half, of the US day-to-day on-alert nuclear deterrent.
For some strange reason, Perry does not ask for cuts from Russia or China, perhaps heralding a new faith-based arms control strategy? Both countries are completing massive nuclear modernization build-ups. Putin's defense minister announced Russia's nuclear modernization would be nearly 90% complete by the end of 2020, while China is on pace to double its nuclear forces by 2030.
By contrast, the new US Department of Defense nuclear handbook notes that since 1997, the US has not designed and built a single new nuclear armed missile, submarine or bomber, and will not do so until 2029 at the earliest.
For more than 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the US became so complacent, it apparently believed that its security would take care of itself.
The cost of nuclear deterrence is, of course, critical. But the land-based ICBMs Perry wants to discard do not cost $150 billion, as he claims. According to USAF and industry studies, the ICBM leg of America's nuclear triad is the least costly to build and operate -- and at $65 billion over 20 years, it is a bargain.
Moreover, the entire planned 30-year US nuclear modernization effort, overall, costs half of what it now costs just to operate and maintain the current legacy nuclear forces without any modernization at all. In short, old forces cost a lot to keep, and as these platforms are in danger of "rusting to obsolescence," modernization is an imperative.
Is this modernization affordable? Here Perry's fuzzy math needs correcting. Even counting everything nuclear, the cost would be $850 billion over 30 years, not the $2 trillion claimed by Perry.
At its peak, then, the complete nuclear enterprise would amount to 6-7% of the defense budget to modernize, operate and maintain, while modernization alone would be 3%. This still is some one-third of what it was at the height of the Cold War, when the US economy was far smaller and the defense budget a fraction of what it is today.
The key to Perry's push to get rid of America's ICBMs is his long concern that because America's ICBM silos are in known locations, the Russians, in a crisis, might strike them. Therefore, an American president who feared losing them would launch US missiles first. Perry has described this potential problem as a "hair trigger" phenomenon too dangerous to keep.
During the 75 years of the nuclear age, however, these American missiles have been on alert, ready to deter, for 65 million minutes, but not once has an American president ever ordered them launched. President John F. Kennedy, in fact, said the just-deployed nuclear-armed Minuteman missile force at the time of the Cuban missile crisis "Was my ace in the hole" that ended the crisis without any missiles having to be launched.
As the USAF Chief David Goldfein explained recently, the 400 Minuteman missiles pose an insurmountable obstacle to the Russians: they cannot, with their current nuclear arsenal, effectively target all of them or avoid a certain retaliatory response from US bombers and submarines and surviving ICBMs, as the Scowcroft Commission report of 1983 concluded when supporting keeping America's ICBMs silo-based.
Although Perry says that such a Russian strike on US missile silos is not likely to occur, he nonetheless proposes that the US eliminate the ICBMs, apparently out of a concern that in a crisis, the Russians would attack the American ICBM silos first.
He also proposes to hamstring US commanders. He pushes the adoption of a no-first-use nuclear policy while still allowing Congress -- with one exception -- the power to fight wars if nuclear force is involved. His view seems largely postulated on a conviction that it is necessary to rein in the US, meanwhile doing nothing to curtail any real aggression by Russia and China.
Finally, Perry would reduce America's nuclear deterrent from more than 500 key assets to roughly a small number of submarines on patrol at sea, with America's other nuclear forces stationed at two submarine and three bomber bases. Altogether, the US would have fewer than 10 key nuclear assets. If they were eliminated, that would put the US out of the nuclear business. As soon as the US eliminates its ICBM force, Russia and China will get back in the business of seeking to disarm the United States, one top admiral reminded Gatestone.
In conclusion, Perry's idea of a nuclear-free world is simply not going to happen. One certainly does not get there through wishful thinking and initially disarming the US.
We would be wiser to follow the lead of President Ronald Reagan, who created a revolution in strategic affairs.
Reagan reversed the Carter administration's failed policies of near-zero nuclear force modernization. Carter agreed to arms deals that allowed huge increases (not reductions) in Soviet nuclear warheads and continued the ban on all US missile defenses. Reagan successfully fully modernized a more effective (and eventually smaller) nuclear force, all the while calling for both the deployment of global missile defenses and verifiable major reductions in nuclear arms -- to a Russia in severe economic decline. That is how he ended the Soviet empire and won the Cold War.
President George W. Bush ("43") unburdened the USA of the ABM treaty in 2002-2003, and, surprisingly, the subsequent Moscow and New Start nuclear deals followed, reducing nuclear warheads by another 70%. The surprise was that despite near the universal conventional wisdom and "expert" opinion that US missile defenses were incompatible with arms reductions, Bush both secured reductions and built defenses.
The good news is that the US today is once again following President Reagan's lead.
The Senate Armed Services Committee last month overwhelmingly passed the defense bill by a vote of 25-2, which included $8.5 billion for a new strategic B-21 bomber, new Columbia-class submarines and a new land-based missile -- exactly what the administration requested.
In addition, in the new defense bill, the administration and Congress are building better missile defenses, including space-based sensors, and advanced national and regional systems. Combined with the newly initiated discussions in Geneva with the Russians on arms control measures, the US is on the right path.
Peter Huessy is Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute. He is also senior consulting analyst at Ravenna Associates, a strategic communications company.