Although the U.S. spends $16 billion to fund the Department of Defense portion of U.S. nuclear deterrent, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked at the Aspen Security Forum on July 18, 2013, he also noted that the US nuclear deterrent is a relatively small portion of the defense budget -- less than 3% -- and as such does not offer a great deal of room for budget savings.
They argued that, to the contrary, tens of billions could be cut from U.S. nuclear deterrent accounts without diminishing U.S. security. Although they both appear to support the effort to reduce levels of nuclear weapons to the currently planned 1550 strategic warheads under the New START treaty of 2010, they state that major parallel nuclear budget cuts, other than warheads, should be adopted as well.
Major cuts in the U.S. military have historically been the focus of the Arms Control Association and the Council for a Livable World, even at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviets were convinced that the "correlation of forces" was going their way. In the 1970s alone, well over a dozen countries fell either to Communist subversion or totalitarian rule, in part due to this imbalance of power between the U.S. and the Soviets.
Communist insurgencies funded by the Soviet KGB, for example, toppled governments in Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, Congo-Brazzaville, Nicaragua, Grenada, Benin, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, among others. The lack of investment by the United States in America's national security played a large role in these trends. (See Ashbrook Center, "The Correlation of Forces", by Mackubin Owens, February 2001).
Today, although the Cold War is over, the U.S. still faces major threats. If arbitrary defense budget cuts during the height of the Cold War were dangerous, the automatic budget cuts to defense today -- across-the-board cuts, which are not carefully calibrated defense policy choices -- could also be dangerous. But rather than objecting to thoughtless sequestration cuts in maintenance, readiness and operational accounts, Reif and Collina propose that additional cuts should fall on America's nuclear programs even more than now planned, and hack away at its nuclear deterrent to the tune of $45-$48 billion over the next decade. They support, over the next ten years, the $500 billion in sequester defense cuts, which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey has correctly warned will devastate US security.
Such cuts, if implemented, would not only significantly undermine the nation's nuclear deterrent but possibly lead to a significant decrease in crisis stability, as U.S. nuclear defenses will be weaker and less robust. In a potential confrontation over Syria or North Korea, for example, the danger is that a nuclear power such as Russia might conclude it could risk using nuclear weapons. Since the Cold War, the U.S. has sought in arms control agreements to lower the ratio of nuclear warheads the Russians could aim at each American target, so that the temptation to "launch first" would be as low as possible.
Yet with the proposals by Reif and Collina to reduce American nuclear force platforms of submarines, bombers and land based missiles by a third, the outcome could be that the Russians could easily maintain a higher ratio of their warheads to U.S. nuclear targets, a complete reversal of years of explicit arms control and nuclear deterrent policy. Policies that have prevented the use of nuclear weapons, despite widespread conventional conflicts, for well over half a century, could thus be ignored and undermined. Is that a trend the U.S. should encourage?
Reif and Collina support cutting our warheads by a third beyond currently planned cuts, from 1550 to 1000. This alone would save very little money. So in order to claim nuclear weapons cuts would save significant defense dollars, they both have to support a big cut in the platforms on which the warheads are deployed.
In the past, however, when the U.S. went from 6,000 warheads under START I to the 2,200 warheads under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, it kept the vast majority of its platforms. Similarly, when the U.S. reduced that number to 1,550 warheads in the 2010 New START agreement, the US kept nearly its entire 450 Minuteman, 14 submarines and 60 strategic bomber platforms that were part of the allowed Moscow Treaty force. The number of U.S. nuclear platforms remained stable even as warheads levels were cut significantly.
The casual reader might ask well, did not President Reagan and all subsequent American President's favor nuclear weapons reductions? And are not nuclear weapons "Cold War" weapons and not very useful anymore? What is different today? Should the U.S. not just keep cutting?
These questions assume that all reductions are the same. As Kier Lieber and Daryl Press argue, reducing nuclear warhead levels does not mean the U.S. should automatically eliminate similar numbers of platforms on which warheads are deployed, or cease future modernization -- replacing old platforms with new ones or extending the life of existing ones.
In 1981, President Reagan proposed an across-the-board modernization effort coupled with a 50% reduction in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. Similarly, President Obama has secured a 30% reduction in warheads under New START, but the U.S. has maintained in the field, and probably will continue to do so, nearly 90% of its platforms under the Moscow Treaty of 2002, while modernizing the force as well.
In 1981, President Reagan laid out in detail that the U.S. would maintain an explicit number of land based missiles, submarines and their associated ballistic missiles, along with a mixture of strategic bombers which could launch missiles hundreds of miles from the target, and penetrating warheads dropped from above the target, deep into enemy territory.
Today, it is unclear if the U.S. will maintain its current nuclear deterrent platforms, the essential currency of strategic stability. This uncertainly is due to both the "Global Zero" push for fewer and fewer warheads, and the effects of automatic budget sequestration on the size and capability of the nuclear force.
If one wants, for example, only a few nuclear weapons and a small nuclear budget, it would be easy to deploy a few hundred warheads on just a handful of submarines. A Trident submarine can carry 24 missiles, each armed with 8 warheads. Four hundred warheads, roughly the mid-point between what a Maxwell Air University study and a Global Zero assessment recommended the U.S. maintain for deterrence, could be deployed on just two submarines. Such a reduction in platforms would indeed annually save billions of dollars. But it would be foolish to adopt.
An adversary able to find one U.S. submarines at sea and the remaining submarine in port could easily and surreptitiously eliminate the entire American strategic nuclear deterrent in a small, non-nuclear attack. Such a U.S. force posture or structure of just submarines alone would be an invitation for U.S. enemies to "Come Get Me" -- as former National Security adviser General Brent Scowcroft and former Director of Central Intelligence Ambassador R. James Woolsey wrote some years ago about deploying vulnerable nuclear assets, as the U.S. moved to lower levels of nuclear warheads.
Such a deployment is also not as fanciful as one might believe. Former President Carter is reported to have proposed similar limits to the U.S. nuclear deterrent in 1977. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 25, 2012, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, an advocate of Global Zero, called for relying solely on submarines for U.S. deterrence, and eliminating all land based missiles.
When Ambassador Pickering was asked why he would support such a risky scheme, he claimed there was no threat to the survivability of our submarines. That very day, however, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, had warned in an essay published by the premier Navy journal Proceedings, that U.S. adversary anti-submarine warfare [ASW] developments were at the top of his concerns, and that they could make U.S. submarines at sea vulnerable.
He also urged that the U.S. should take steps to counter that possible development by keeping U.S. submarines invulnerable through better stealth technology, and by maintaining a complimentary fleet of land-based ICBMs, such as the Minuteman III, to ensure the retaliatory capability even in the most adverse circumstances.
Even more noteworthy was the Global Zero report's own conclusion: that if an ASW breakthrough did occur, which they say would happen, but only after 2035, the proposal for eliminating the U.S. land based Minuteman missiles would not make any sense.
FAST FORWARD 30 YEARS
The U.S. finds itself today with the arms control community pushing hard for significant further reductions not just in warheads, but in platforms, as well. They also support the goal of "global zero," the verbal shorthand for a world without nuclear weapons. This has the unfortunate effect of portraying all reductions as "progress" toward zero rather than a possible movement toward instability.
Similarly, it assumes that as America moves to lower levels of deployed nuclear warheads it would save many billions of dollars. Thus while Reif and Collina support a third reduction in our nuclear platforms today, tomorrow we will doubtless hear another argument for why we should cut that force even further.
As the U.S. moves to significantly lower levels of nuclear weapons, however, the remaining force can, if shrunk too rapidly, become too small in numbers and thus a tempting target for America's adversaries to attack.
The opposite issue -- that Russian nuclear forces are deployed on so few platforms that the U.S. could pre-emptively take them out -- has been the subject of some analyses. Daryl Press and Kier Lieber, for instance, argue that the currently planned U.S. nuclear force structure would give the United States the eventual capability to remove most of the Russian nuclear assets pre-emptively and leave Moscow defenseless.
Unfortunately, Press and Lieber assume -- contrary to practice -- that Russia's leaders would leave all their submarines in port; their mobile ICBMs unmoved from their shelters, and their bombers snug in their hangars, even during crises, all able to be easily targeted by American nuclear warheads. In a crisis, however, Russia would move its nuclear platforms into more survivable positions, including sending its in-port submarines to sea, and moving mobile missiles out of their shelters.
But the point raised by Press and Kier is that the safer the Russians and the U.S. feel from a pre-emptive attack, the less likely it is that either side would use nuclear weapons in a crisis. Contrarily, for fear of "use 'em or lose 'em," the Russians might conclude that unless they launch their nuclear weapons first, they risk having them destroyed by incoming U.S. nuclear warheads while their own remain sitting in their silos or submarines. The more survivable a leader believes his nuclear warheads are from being attacked, the more confident he can feel that he will have at hand a secure, second strike retaliatory capability. This is good for everyone: with highly survivable nuclear platforms no one would seek to use nuclear weapons first because no one would gain an advantage by so doing.
The way the U.S. deploys its nuclear forces, therefore, is as important as the number it deploys. Submarines at sea and mobile land-based missiles are so difficult to strike, they are virtually invulnerable to attack; and since they survive, they are still theoretically available for retaliation. Submarines in port are easily targeted: they cannot quickly move to sea. But a high percentage of submarines, usually at least a third, are at sea at any given time during peacetime and therefore are survivable. This assuredness is the essence of deterrence. In a crisis no one is tempted to go first: there is the understanding that a retaliatory strike would be coming back with devastating effect. But if in the future U.S. submarines at sea could be found and destroyed, the possession of land-based missiles available to strike back is the insurance provided by a Triad of nuclear forces -- even under the worst of circumstances, if attacked first, the U.S. would have more than one way to strike back.
The deployment of U.S. nuclear platforms must therefore be balanced against Russian nuclear modernization plans, as explained by Mark Schneider and this author. This means deploying our forces in such a way that in a crisis the Russians -- or any other nuclear power -- cannot today or in the future feel confident that they could destroy our nuclear forces first before they could even be used.
During the 1970s, the Soviets believed that both the relative weakness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and the massive Soviet nuclear modernization then under way, would allow Russia in a crisis to order America around. This "correlation of forces," or the balance of conventional and nuclear forces, favored the Soviets. The leadership in Moscow even explicitly said that it gave them the confidence to invade Afghanistan, topple governments throughout Africa and Central America, and deploy massive numbers of new nuclear SS-20 missiles in Europe and Asia without America taking effective action to stop the offensive. In 1975, for instance, "the correlation of world forces," according to the senior Soviet military leader General Yevdokim Yeogovich Mal'Tsev, as he wrote in 1975, "has changed fundamentally in favor of socialism and to the detriment of capitalism." The aim was apparently to intimidate or bully the U.S. -- by means of what might be called "coercive diplomacy" -- to back down from trying to stop Soviet aggression.
In a crisis, Moscow might threaten to use nuclear weapons, especially if the number of American nuclear platforms had shrunk to such a low level that the Russians concluded that a first strike could hypothetically eliminate most of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and prevent America from effectively retaliating. Such a capability would fundamentally undermine deterrence by tempting our adversaries to "go first:" to engage in reckless behavior in the belief that the U.S. would not try to counter an assault. If Moscow, however, thought a retaliatory U.S. strike were possible, it probably would not strike first. That is the essence of deterrence.
Reductions in nuclear weapons, therefore, can sound like a nice thing to do: everyone supports fewer weapons. Given, however, that no one has any idea how to verify an agreement to go to zero, the U.S. had better, at least for the time being, continue to maintain nuclear deterrence at some level. The current administration has agreed to 1550 deployed warheads under New START, but has also proposed reducing that number to 1000 if the Russians agree.
The failure of the U.S. to go toward zero as quickly as possible -- a goal the US administration has endorsed -- then becomes an excuse for other nations, such as China, to claim that the U.S. is secretly opposed to zero, and intends to break out of established arms control limits. This claim then becomes a convenient excuse for China to rapidly to build up its own nuclear forces while refusing any steps toward transparency or arms control for its own forces. When confronted with the idea of eliminating his nuclear weapons as part of a hypothetical agreement to go to zero, Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean dictator sarcastically replied: "You first."
Given that no one knows how to get to zero, especially with respect to rogue nuclear powers such as North Korea or Iran, let alone nuclear nations such as China, Pakistan, and India, why is the U.S. pursuing reductions that are only pursued because they are on the way to zero? None of these countries is part of the U.S.-Russia formal arms control process. And transparent reports on such nations' nuclear stockpiles are impossible to find -- they do not exist.
If going to zero therefore makes no sense, the level of U.S. nuclear forces should be calibrated on the basis of America's deterrent needs. Today, the U.S. nuclear deterrent force is getting old and requires major modernization. America also faces a formidable Russian nuclear modernization program already underway.
The U.S. has such a modernization roadmap for its own forces, agreed to by both the administration and a majority in Congress. This plan was put forward by former Senator Jon Kyl, who secured the nuclear modernization pledges from the administration in section #1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2010, before the New START Treaty was ratified.
The combination -- reductions and modernization simultaneously -- did not sit well with the arms control community, as they saw the modernization element as an unnecessary "bribe" to secure ratification of New START rather than based on a requirements analysis of U.S. nuclear deterrent needs.
Far from being a bribe, however, the force modernization required contained in section #1251 of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act [NDAA] mirrors the bipartisan and unanimous recommendations of the 2008-9 William Perry and James Schlesinger Commission.
NEW START AND BEYOND
Currently, the U.S. has to build down to reach the warhead levels allowed by the New Start treaty, while the Russians can actually build up to the new levels. This is hardly the basis for claiming, as the Ploughshares Fund has, that American is making too great an effort to modernize even while adhering to the new START treaty limits.
Ironically, on the day the Treaty went into effect, the Russians were below the limits established by New START on deployed warhead and delivery systems. Still the Russians had long planned an aggressive program of modernizing all elements of their nuclear triad on land, sea and air. Their long-announced program also entails building up their strategic weapons -- as they are doing across the board.
This Russian build-up has led to the subsequent complaint by some within the arms control community, notably the Ploughshares Fund, that the Russians are being forced to build a new multiple-warhead "heavy" or "big" land-based missile as a replacement for their older, also multiple-warhead "heavy" SS-18 missile, to keep up with the United States.
Historically, the U.S. has always been worried that such big missiles, capable of carrying 10, 12 even 24 warheads, could be built up to the point where thousands of additional warheads could be deployed quickly and destabilize the strategic balance. This concern was codified in the START II treaty, signed by U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on January 3, 1993, which eliminated such multiple warhead missiles because of the feared dangerous impact on the strategic balance.
For most of the cold war, heavy or very big ICBMs were indeed the Soviet Union's main weapon for a nuclear first strike. But as nuclear expert Mark Schneider has explained, nothing in the New START agreement requires Moscow to build such a new heavy ICBM. Many years before the decision to develop and deploy a new heavy ICBM, Russia had programs underway to deploy about 2,000 modernized strategic nuclear weapons without such a weapon. So even to build up to the New START limits, Russia does not have to build new "heavy" ICBMs.
It should be noted that the Russians have up to 4,000 tactical nuclear weapons, compared to 400 for the US. These U.S. weapons, however, deployed on short and medium range delivery vehicles, can strike many of the same targets as Russia's strategic nuclear weapons. Russia has maintained all the types of nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had during the Cold War, while the U.S. has eliminated all its tactical nuclear weapons other than a single type of nuclear bomb, only a few hundred of which have been retained.
While tactical nuclear warheads have traditionally been attached to short-range missiles and bombers, and are therefore not included in what are termed "strategic" arms control agreements, the warheads have the same physics package of any other nuclear warhead and thus could with some modification be placed on longer-range nuclear missiles or bombers, thereby giving the Russians an added advantage -- upwards of 225% more weapons than the entire U.S. deployed strategic nuclear arsenal -- which they might then use in a conflict.
Moreover, China is fully modernizing its nuclear forces and refuses even to discuss with the U.S. the number and type of nuclear weapons it has deployed. And there is no evidence that U.S.-Russian arms control agreements have had any major impact on moderating, or making more transparent, the nuclear weapons programs in, for example, North Korea, Iran and Pakistan -- a benefit the U.S. will get, it is often told, by reducing our own weapons.
With that as background, how should the U.S. proceed with its current nuclear deterrent force structure? And in what nuclear forces should the U.S. invest?
What is missing from the arms control community arguments today, including those of Collina and Reif, is any assessment of the following four questions: What deterrent force is first technically sustainable over the long term? Second, what would further lessen the chances of nuclear weapons from being used in a crisis? Third, what would not rely solely on a key capability that could be compromised by an adversary's technology development, as in, say, anti-submarine warfare? And fourth, what is required to allow a required increase in warheads that might be needed if the strategic environment changed for the worse? Just cutting force structure by some arbitrary number does not give good answers to any of these questions.
NUCLEAR DETERRENT SPENDING: THE RIGHT NUMBER
It should be understood that the U.S. nuclear deterrent has not been recently modernized. In addition, the U.S. is spending far less on nuclear deterrence than it used to at the height of the Cold War, roughly 70% less. For the past twenty years, as USAF Lt General Garrett Harencak explained, the US has gone on a "procurement holiday," repeatedly delaying and postponing the required modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
So it is a mystery why Collina and Reif are critical of Deputy Secretary Ash Carter, who has underscored that the nuclear deterrent of the U.S. requires the DOD to spend a relatively small amount of the nation's treasure on keeping the nuclear peace.
Dr. Ash Carter estimates the platforms and communications aspects of the Triad cost $16 billion, in addition to Department of Energy and labs costs of roughly $7-8 billion annually, indicating a total cost of $23-24 billion. Inexplicably, however, the minimum annual U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent budget assumed by Collina and Reif is $31 billion. What constitutes the difference?
One explanation is that this $31 billion estimate is based in part on the figure mentioned by former Congressman Edward Markey and endorsed by many within the arms control community. Markey claimed the U.S. nuclear deterrent was costing the US taxpayer more than $70 billion a year, a figure in excess of what America was spending at the height of the Cold War.
Markey's estimate is not even close. Many in the arms control community, including Markey, "cook the budget books" when it comes to nuclear spending estimates, usually by including annual costs such as those for U.S. missile defense ($9 billion) and conventional bombers ($4-5 billion). Collina and Reif do this as well. But missile defense is primarily aimed at dealing with non-nuclear regional missile threats, and U.S. bombers are largely conventional in nature. They cannot be described as "nuclear" forces and counted as "nuclear expenditures" by any stretch.
What is the right number? The US spends $12 billion a year on strategic bombers, Trident submarines, and Minuteman ICBMs -- programs that Collina and Reif want to cut. But even this $12 billion includes over $4 billion annually that could easily be attributed to the conventional bomber force. A new bomber is now being funded that will have both a conventional and nuclear mission role.
Taking these into account, that would bring the actual nuclear Triad nuclear platform costs to a little more than $8 billion a year, less than what Americans spent for movie tickets in 2009. It should also be noted, as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller correctly explained, that the nuclear component of the proposed new bomber acquisition is only 3%, or $540 million, of the estimated $18 billion ten-year cost estimated by Collina and Reif.
To be fair, there is also some $4 billion spent annually on nuclear-related command, control and communications of U.S. forces. However, such costs do not decline with cuts in the stockpile. This expense is largely fixes at any level of nuclear warheads.
Nuclear deterrent funding for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is another budgetary factor, but allocated for the maintenance, security and safety of U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile and the stockpile stewardship -- a fancy name for taking care of the nuclear warheads and their associated laboratories and related facilities.
The key roles for the NNSA program are thus "insurance" and "assurance" -- insuring that the U.S. can build up warhead levels if needed, and assuring U.S. allies that the U.S. deterrent "works" and remains credible. Each year, for example, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command must verify to the President of the United States that the U.S. nuclear stockpile is "credible" -- meaning it works. Such a requirement is thus not a "nice to have" option -- it is a "must have" requirement.
U.S warheads may, for instance, encounter technical challenges, and in a crisis, may need to be replaced in the field. This insurance stockpile -- like your spare tire in your car's trunk -- is just that, despite the often-heard claim that "insurance weapons" are actively deployed, which they are not. The U.S. needs spares if it might, over time, have to build up its nuclear warheads to levels higher than presently allowed by both current arms control agreements and U.S. policy.
Just as, after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. took a procurement holiday from rebuilding nuclear delivery platforms, it did so as well with its nuclear warheads and the laboratories where they are made and maintained. The U.S. now has a plan, supported by both Congress and the administration, to reduce the number of different U.S. warhead types from eight to five, and to make the warheads safer, more secure and sustainable.
One of the weapons to be funded in the proposed plan is the B61 bomb, first produced in the mid 1960s. Collina and Reif want to cut its funding by 50% or eliminate it entirely, which in their estimation saves another $3-6 billion over a decade.
But the B-61, deployed as it is within NATO, is required for the US extended deterrence in Europe. The B-61 is the nuclear weapon the U.S. puts on its theater airplanes in NATO; the B-61 also provides a tactical nuclear deterrent against other nuclear-armed powers, and it plays a critical role in the view of U.S. NATO allies. The advocates of arms control recommend unilaterally ending this program, thereby giving the Russians a monopoly on shorter range theater nuclear weapons on the European continent.
It is sometimes argued that the U.S. could use its American-based strategic nuclear forces to defend Europe, and that the nuclear weapons deployed or based in Europe are not necessary. But former Senator Jon Kyl says these warheads are needed by our European allies: these weapons, which have kept the peace on the European continent, are part of what is known as "extended deterrent." They provide a nuclear umbrella for over 30 countries, with the benefit that such countries do not have to build their own nuclear weapons. The Collina and Reif proposal to cut or eliminate the B-61 would thus be a major policy change to current unanimous NATO policy, not a simple budget adjustment.
NUCLEAR DETERRENT CUTS AND CRISIS STABILITY
Collina and Reif cannot save $45-48 billion by just reducing warheads from the New START levels of 1550 down to the 1000 notional proposal put forward by the Obama Administration. And since they leave untouched the command and control aspects of the U.S. nuclear deterrent force, they concentrate on cutting the nuclear force structure on which warheads are deployed.
They assume that a one third cut in warheads from 1550 to 1000 translates neatly into a cut of roughly one third in the current and projected platforms, (bombers, submarines and ICBMs). They also assume that such cuts have no bearing on deterrence requirements or strategic stability, and that the cuts can be adopted even if the Russians do not go along. But their analysis is deeply flawed.
A deployed nuclear deterrent force of 12 submarines, upwards of 420 Minuteman missiles (and their associated launch control facilities) and 60 nuclear capable bombers are projected to be in U.S. Triad force when the New START treaty is fully implemented by 2018.
Collina and Reif are pushing for a force of 1000 warheads, and also argue that far fewer platforms than we will maintain under New START are necessary for deterrence. They argue for 8 rather than 12 submarines, and thus 128 instead of 192 submarine-launched missiles; 300 rather than 400 Minuteman ICBMS; and, with the new bomber acquisition put on hold, an unknown but lower number of strategic bombers.
What is the strategic impact of such reductions?
First, the proposed U.S. force structure -- or number of deployed in the field bombers, submarines and land-based missiles -- increases the ratio of Russian warheads to U.S. nuclear force targets.
Second, in all previous nuclear reduction agreements, the ratio of Russian warheads to American nuclear assets has gone down, not up. Why reverse that? Even if your goal is zero, getting there is going to be difficult, and in the interim, deterrence -- as the administration has acknowledged -- must be maintained.
Third, there is no reason that 1,000 warheads cannot be maintained with the same platforms the U.S. currently has. With fewer warheads deployed or arrayed against the same number of U.S. nuclear targets, the Russians, or any other adversary, would have an even more difficult time in a crisis considering disarming the U.S. by a first strike.
Fourth, under the proposed plan, the U.S. would be repeating the mistakes of the 1970s, when Soviet nuclear deployments, between 1972 and 1980, primarily under the SALT "arms control" agreements, increased the Soviet warheads that could be targeted on every American missile silo, bomber base and submarine pen. This strategic flaw became known as the "window of vulnerability" and was a centerpiece of the Reagan presidential campaign against President Carter's weak strategic deterrent policy.
Fifth, Collina and Reif confuse a one-third cut in strategic deployed warheads with the number of platforms needed for a stable deterrent. If the U.S. previously had cut U.S. platforms by a similar percentage as we cut warheads since 1981, for example, the 90% cut in deployed warheads -- from 12,000 to 1,550 -- would have left the U.S. with no more than 100 platforms today, a highly unstable and dangerous geostrategic condition. Yet that is implicitly what they propose to do.
What is an ideal number of nuclear weapons? First, as many as affordable, and definitely the number that, when examined by military planners in Russia or China, causes them to conclude, "Not today, comrade."
In 1981, for example, nuclear freeze advocates insisted the U.S. abide by the 1979 SALT II treaty limits although the treaty had not been approved by the U.S. Senate. This allowed the Soviet Union to deploy nearly 12,000 strategic nuclear weapons against roughly 1600 U.S. nuclear targets, and in Moscow's view gave them a significant geostrategic advantage. In 1981, the ratio of Soviet nuclear weapons to U.S. targets stood at 8 to 1, while under the George W. Bush era 2002 Moscow treaty and through the New START treaty of 2010, the ratio has remained stable around 3 to 1.
PHANTOM BUDGET SAVINGS
Having made the mistake of assuming that the US can safely cut U.S. nuclear platforms, Collina and Reif compound this mistake by miscalculating the savings they impute to cutting the U.S. force structure. It should be also noted that while military leaders have been cited as supporting the new warhead levels if the Russians reduce their force as well, there is no indication these military officials also support such platform reductions.
Take, for example, the new Ohio class submarine to replace the Trident fleet. The first of the force of 12 new submarines is scheduled for deployment in 2031; the eighth submarine would be finished around 2038-40. The final four submarines would not be built and deployed until beyond that period, and that is when the acquisition cycle would stop at 8 submarines, not before. To have a new submarine ready to go in 2031, the U.S. must start building it now. Presently, the U.S. has only started to build one submarine to be ready in 2031. America cannot cut the budget by a third and still have the new submarine ready on time to replace an existing "old" Trident.
So any savings in the budget would take place at the end of the building cycle -- not in the next decade as Collina and Reif claim. If you were starting to build only one car a year, and you had to start now to deliver the first car in 2031, and you were building a total of 8 cars rather than 12 cars, you would stop building when you finished the 8th car, not when you were building the first one. Similarly, material provided to the author by senior experts in the Trident program confirms there would be budget savings only after 2038-42, some three decades from now. So $18 billion worth of projected savings claimed by Collina and Reif over the next decade are actually nonexistent.
This, of course, says nothing of their proposal to more add more warheads to each submarine-launched missile, so that fewer overall submarines can carry more warheads than a larger number of submarines. The purpose of this is to make a cut from 12 to 8 submarines not look so bad. To do so, however, would move the U.S. in the opposite direction to the one in which it has been going since START I -- which is to reduce the number of warheads per missile deployed, so each part of the U.S. nuclear force is a less attractive target. In a trend accelerated at the end of the Cold War, spreading out warheads improves the stability of the strategic environment by putting fewer eggs in each nuclear basket.
Since 1981, the U.S. has had a policy of deliberately lowering the multiple warheads it deploys on each missile. The U.S. Minuteman ICBM fleet, for example, is now, or will shortly be, composed entirely of single warheads. And submarine-based missiles will generally carry half or less of their warhead capability.
In addition, the eight submarines Collina and Reif support would have serious difficulty patrolling both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans or deterring Russia and China from just one ocean. To deploy sufficient warheads to cover current targets in both Russia and China, one has to deploy more than eight submarines in both oceans. Too few submarines, such as eight, means only one ocean, or the other will not have enough submarines "on station," ready to cover all the targets necessary to maintain deterrence. A "two-ocean" submarine deterrent has been axiomatic for the U.S. nuclear force for half a century.
Collina and Reif argue that since the US does not need a new bomber until 2045, it should suspend its bomber program until that time. This idea ignores both the need for military preparedness and the realities of weapons procurement. By 2045, a significant number of the current US bomber force will have to be retired and we will need an immediately deployable replacement force. To wait until 2045 to develop new bombers is like waiting until you fall off a cliff before remembering to bring rope.
This is similar to the arms control community's apparent blind spot on missile threats to the United States. Missile defense critics often appear to believe that until a North Korean missile test actually lands in the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the North Koreans do not have any "proven capability" to launch long range missiles that could reach the United States. However, once Pyongyang demonstrates such a capability, it is too late then to call up the US Department of Defense, looking for missile defenses the U.S. can buy.
Collina and Reif also miscalculate the nuclear costs of U.S. bomber force. The new bomber is being built primarily for conventional purposes. As required by Congress, it will be certified nuclear capable two years after initial deployment. Thus, as mentioned earlier, only $540 million of the estimated $18 billion total bomber cost estimated by Collina and Reif can be attributed to nuclear deterrent requirements.
The argument, therefore, that delaying the nuclear modernization of the bomber force saves tens of billions is erroneous -- the money will be spent for conventional modernization in any event. If the U.S. delays this acquisition, American conventional and nuclear capability will suffer and the U.S. will be unable to maintain a credible deterrent.
Taking all this into account means that of the $45-48 billion in nuclear cuts they propose over the next decade, at least $35.5 billion are "phantom savings" or not real.
In addition, as with submarines, the research and development costs of U.S. bombers, unlike acquisition costs, do not change with the number of bombers acquired. A delay in acquisition simply increases the eventual cost of the program and eliminates assumed savings; and cutting the number of bombers would not realize any savings until the end of the acquisition cycle, after 2045.
The same logic applies to the U.S. ICBM fleet of 450 Minuteman missiles, which may be reduced to 400-420 under New START. However, cutting the eventual force of Minuteman missiles to 300, as Reif and Collina propose, would have no savings over the next ten years for research and development or procurement costs.
The proposed ICBM cut destabilizes the U.S. strategic stability, is not required for arms control, and only saves funding beyond the 2030-40 time-frame, when Minuteman needs to be either replaced with a new missile, or given another service-life extension.
From an investment point of view, such a cut also makes little sense. The current 450 missiles have all been modernized over the past 20 years, their propulsion and guidance systems upgraded from 1993-2013.
Ultimately, the research and development for determining the future modernization path for Minuteman is a fixed cost. Those costs will be the same over the next decade whether the United States will keep 300 or 400-420 Minuteman missiles. The ICBM's 450 silos and 45 launch control centers were bought and paid for in the 1960s, do not need to be replaced, and are now relatively inexpensive to maintain at a cost of tens of millions each year.
Although a decision has not been made, the Minuteman fleet would reasonably need a new research and development, sustainment and modernization package beginning probably no earlier than 2018, and possibly around 2023, to be able to extend the use of the ICBMs well beyond 2030. However, all evidence from current USAF monitoring and flight testing is that Minuteman would remain effective and credible up to, and even beyond, that date.
Irrespective of the number of Minuteman missiles eventually deployed, the level of research and development investment is independent of the eventual number of Minuteman missiles deployed. Over the next decade, the primarily cost of Minuteman will be R&D. Thus a cut in Minuteman missiles deployed over the next 20 years would not result in budget savings for the U.S. (For an excellent look at the cost of Minuteman, see the Stimson Center 2012 study directed by a former top Senate defense staffer Russell Rumbaugh, "Resolving Ambiguity: Costing Nuclear Weapons", September 17, 2012).
In addition, closing a portion of each Minuteman base to deploy only 100 missiles in each of 3 bases (to reach 300 deployed missiles) -- whatever the basis for such a proposal -- will not initially save money because of the costs incurred in closing a part of each base. Base closing commission studies by the GAO, for example (see Seattle Times, July 5, 2012, "GAO Report Says Base Closing Costs High"), show that savings estimates are usually 40% too high compared to initial base closing savings estimates: such closings incur very large up-front costs and save money only a decade after the base is closed.
Taking these facts into account, there is no basis for claiming $3 billion can be saved over the next decade by cutting the Minuteman fleet by one-third, bringing Collina and Reif's ten-year phantom savings to $38.5 billion.
NUCLEAR DETERRENCE IS A BARGAIN
All of these points reinforce the arguments made by Deputy Secretary Ash Carter and Assistant Secretary Madelyn Creedon, that looking for major budget savings in the nuclear enterprise is not going to be a worthwhile exercise. This argument, however, does not mean such that inefficiencies and savings, consistent with maintaining the nation's deterrent, should not be pursued. A new joint USAF and Navy cooperative effort on seeking cost-effective solutions to building strategic ballistic missiles is being based at the NavSea Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, and has the full support of both senior DOD and Congressional leadership.
As explained by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs Madelyn Creedon, the $12 billion allotted to the modernization costs of the nuclear Triad represent less than 2% of the defense budget – 0.3% of the Federal budget, or 0.02% of all U.S. federal, state and municipal outlays.
Even at relatively low levels of spending, the U.S. nuclear deterrent must remain effective against a number of adversaries. What critics often overlook is the expansive nuclear rearmament programs in both China and Russia, emerging threats in North Korea and Iran, and the instability of the nuclear stand-off between India and Pakistan.
Cruise missiles, bombers, submarines, submarine launched ballistic missiles, road, rail and fixed ICBMs -- all are being built by Russia and China in a combined modernization effort not seen even during the height of the Cold War. Both are adding capability. Also important to note is that Russia has a four-to-one -- and as high as a ten-to-one -- advantage in non-strategic nuclear weapons. (The range of available official and un-official estimates is discussed by Amy Woolf in "Russian Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons," December 19, 2012, Congressional Reference Service.)
The U.S., on the other hand, is largely replacing old, less safe and less effective nuclear weapons systems with more credible, safe, stable and effective nuclear systems. These improve security and deterrence, even with lower levels of nuclear weapons. Old weapons may not work, and are less safe to store and move. Older submarines and missiles wear out, and thus cannot be certified effective or credible by our military planners. Modernization would take care of that.
The new weapons would also last for the next 50-70 years, so the total cost, estimated over their lifetime, is considerably less than when examined during just the years the weapons platforms are being built. Looking into the future, it is reasonable to assume there will be roughly 25 years of investment and modernization, but the resulting force structure will last roughly twice as long as the initial modernization period. Built in to this modernization effort would be improvements in the stealth technology of the submarines and bombers, as well as the guidance and propulsion technology of land-based missiles, to help guard against possible future threats.
Over the lifetime of the assets being bought, the annual cost of the nuclear deterrent, including the DOE and the command and control costs, can thus be estimated at between $3-4 billion a year. As General Larry Welch, the former head of the Strategic Air Command and Chief of Staff of the USAF told a Hill audience this summer, "That is quite a bargain."
NUCLEAR DETERRENT INVESTMENT: WHAT IS THE RIGHT AMOUNT?
If you are looking for money in the search for budget cuts, the US nuclear deterrent is the wrong place to look. While at the height of the Cold War, nuclear modernization spending reached in excess of $65 billion annually, today it is around $23 billion.
At the end of the Cold War, the defense budget was $300 billion, and the nuclear deterrent comprised 22% of the defense budget. In 2013, while the U.S. spends 70% more ($525 billion) on the DOD base budget than in 1990, ($302 billion), most of that is a result of the additional costs of health care, personnel, operations and management. By comparison, the nuclear expenditures have been already cut by 67%, and since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1990, the deployed nuclear force has been cut by 75%.
Nuclear deterrence costs today are 2% of the defense budget, contrasted with 22% in 1990. The nuclear deterrent investment is a small fraction of the $5.7 trillion spent by the all federal, state and local governments just this year -- roughly 1 out of every 500 dollars.
WHAT DETERRENCE DOES
Significantly cutting U.S. investments in its nuclear deterrent does not make strategic sense. The nuclear deterrent has worked perfectly for nearly three quarters of a century. It has deterred wars between the nuclear-armed powers of the earth and today, despite some 400 conflicts of one kind or another in 62 countries, the nuclear peace still holds.
As explained by General Larry Welch, (Ret), the former commander of the Strategic Air Command, "The primary role of U.S. nuclear weapons for well over half a century has been to prevent their use. To that end, we have used them every second of every day since the first deterrent systems were deployed. They have worked perfectly. The nuclear deterrent is the only weapons system we know of that has worked perfectly without fail, exactly as intended, for their entire life span. And because they have been so successful, then there may be some who have forgotten why we need them."
Although the Soviet Cold War is over, threats remain. According to a DOD nuclear expert, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in October 2011, the Russians, from 2007-2011, have 15 times made explicit nuclear threats against the United States and its allies. Accordingly, who is to say that the conflict in Syria -- where the Russians are the number one weapons supplier and are deploying Navy surface warfare ships -- will not at some future time bring Moscow and Washington nose to nose in a crisis situation?
Would a second-rate, less credible nuclear deterrent suffice to keep the peace? Would a weakened nuclear force suffice in the face of Chinese threats to use nuclear weapons if the US came to the defense of the Republic of China or Taiwan, or in the face of threats from North Korea and Iran, or the instability that could drive India and Pakistan into armed conflict?
PROVIDING FOR THE COMMON DEFENSE
The US constitution explicitly calls upon its leaders and citizenry to "Provide for the Common Defense." It does not say: Only if you can do it inexpensively. It does not say: Only if the Russians or Chinese or an adversary of the United States will go along or not object.
Above all, if there is anything the U.S. has learned over the 238 years, it is there are serious risks to security of the country. In the past, the U.S. has disarmed and lulled itself to sleep, convinced that saving money, or spending the "peace dividend" was the right thing to do. After WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War, the U.S. dramatically disarmed, cut U.S. defense capabilities significantly, and paid a heavy future price.
The defense budget by 1950, for instance, was but a fraction of our budget during World War II. The budget was also 16% less than the 1949 budget, even as the gathering storm of the Cold War was evident. Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin was convinced the U.S. was in retreat, and the U.S. declared that the Republic of Korea was not within its defense perimeter. In June 1950, communist North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea, a war that would cost the U.S. over 35,000 soldiers, and kill upwards of 2 million Koreans.
For a U.S. nuclear deterrent, the U.S. need only invest one out of every $500 the U.S. spends on government every year in America. That indeed is a bargain.
There are no budget savings that could justify, after the fact, the cost of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers.
Just as for the past fifty years the U.S. succeeded in providing an effective nuclear deterrent, for the next fifty years, with the right support and leadership, the U.S. can do so again.