U.S. Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century: Getting it Right

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c. A Nuclear Failed State 

Yet another grim reality is that dangerous nonstate actors may soon have unprecedented access to nuclear weapons.  For example, on May 18, 2009, the New York Times reported with regard to Pakistan:

“Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency…Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question…in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony.  Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.  ‘Yes,’ he said quickly…”45

Even as Pakistan is building additional nuclear arms, the world has been shaken by the possibility that at least some of these weapons may soon be under new management.  In the period before the Pakistani government reversed its disastrous decision to surrender control of the Swat Valley to Taliban forces, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations  John R. Bolton warned of the danger that could flow from the unchecked rise of Shariah-adherent forces within a few hours’ ride from the capital of Islamabad:

“Often known as Pakistan’s ‘steel skeleton’ for holding the country together after successive corrupt or incompetent civilian governments, the military itself is now gravely threatened from within by rising proTaliban sentiment.  In these circumstances – especially if, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified recently, the nuclear arsenal has been dispersed around the country – there is a tangible risk that several weapons could slip out of military control.  Such weapons could then find their way to al Qaeda or other terrorists, with obvious global implications.”46

“The second scenario is even more dangerous.  Instability could cause the constitutional government to collapse entirely and the military to fragment.  This could allow a well-organized, tightly disciplined group to seize control of the entire Pakistani government.  While Taliban-like radicals might not have even a remote chance to prevail in free and fair elections, they could well take advantage of chaos to seize power.  If that happened, a radical Islamicist regime in Pakistan would control a substantial nuclear weapons capacity.”47

The bottom line is that, whether due to the internal dynamics and nuclear ambitions of totalitarian regimes, the growing insecurity perceived by America’s allies or the acquisition of one or more nuclear weapons by the likes of the Pakistani Taliban, proliferation is a fact of life – no matter what the United States may want or seek to encourage by its words or deeds.

As the New Deterrent Working Group put it in “Towards a New Deterrent”:

“Like it or not, there are already tens of thousands of nuclear arms around the world, and neither they nor the know-how and capability to make them is going to go away. Knowledge, once gained, cannot be washed away by treaties, let alone by unilateral US nuclear disarmament. For generations to come our lives and civilization will depend on effectively countering these threats.”48

The bipartisan  Strategic Posture Commission unanimously arrived at a remarkably similar conclusion in its final report – surprisingly, given the strong support its chairman, former Clinton Secretary of Defense William Perry and several other commissioners have given to exemplary U.S. leadership in “ridding the world of nuclear weapons”:

“The conditions that might make the elimination of nuclear weapons possible are not present today and establishing such conditions would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order.”49

In the absence of such a transformation, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States explicitly and repeatedly declared what is required in the way of an America nuclear capability:

•     “For the indefinite future, the United States must maintain a viable nuclear deterrent.”50

•     “The United States should adapt its strategic posture to the evolving requirements of deterrence, extended deterrence, and assurance.”51

•     “Force posture design and arms control should keep stability and U.S. credibility as their central objectives.”52

•     “The need to reassure U.S. allies and also to hedge against a possible turn for the worse in Russia (or China) points to the fact that the U.S. nuclear posture must be designed to address a very broad set of U.S. objectives, including not just deterrence of enemies in time of crisis and war but also assurance of our allies and dissuasion of potential adversaries.  Indeed, the assurance function of the force is as important as ever.”53

Center for Security Policy

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