Friday, February 07, 2014

The Enduring Requirements of Deterrence: Principals to Keeping the Peace

On November 8, 2013, Franklin Miller, Principal in the Scowcroft Group, underscored in his remarks, at the  Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, entitled "Sustaining the Triad: The Enduring Requirements of Deterrence in the 21st Century," that the current radical campaign of Global Zero to undo the deterrent principals of the past three-quarters century was largely based on faulty assumptions and dangerous recommendations. Miller noted that the deterrent equation of the 21st century may indeed have to resemble that of the 20th century, not because anyone wants to return to the "Cold War", but because those deterrent qualities worked and preserved the peace between the nuclear armed powers of the globe. Global war which had engulfed humankind twice in the first half of the 20th century was avoided. Remarkably as well, the average number of deaths from warfare dropped significantly from 2% of the world's population per year to less than .2%, a drop of 90%, a not inconsequential achievement, a point made by the former Commander of the US Strategic Command, Admiral Ed Mies. Here are Franklin Miller's remarks.

MR. FRANKLIN MILLER:  I want to thank the Camden Partnership, the Camden Kings Bay Council of the Navy League and the Camden Country Chamber of Commerce, and Peter Huessy, for inviting me to appear at this breakfast.  And my goal this morning is to start your day off right.  Peter Huessy is surely an unsung hero in our campaign to keep our nuclear deterrent.  In the current public debate in Washington on our nuclear deterrent is completely unbalanced and intellectually empty.
Last year's report by the Global Zero organization was built on faulty assumptions, questionable if not downright incorrect assertions, and dangerous recommendations.  But you can't find a mainstream publication which ever seriously analyzed it.  We are routinely subjected to stories sneeringly referring to our existing deterrent posture as Cold War-like.  But no one steps forward to explain why, just maybe why, the nuclear deterrence equation in the 21st century may have to resemble that of the 20th century.  But Peter, by keeping his speaker's series going, provides a forum where some small degree of balance can be introduced into the debate.  So thank you for that, Peter.
Peter asked me to speak this morning about the challenges to maintaining strategic stability.  And let me give you my views as a former American official, not as an academic, the view of a practitioner.  I take strategic stability to mean the absence of state-to-state armed conflict involving any of our allies; the absence of overt military threats to the United States or our allies' vital interests; the absence of military or political blackmail against us or our allies; and finally, the management of regional security issues so that the risk of armed conflict is minimized to the maximum extent possible.
Please note, I did not use the word nuclear in any of the above.  Nuclear stability, is a lesser included case, and it is critical to remember that.  But nuclear weapons clearly still play a very critical role in allowing us to maintain strategic stability.
Our nuclear weapons serve to deter direct military attack by a major state power against us or our allies.  They serve to deter nuclear blackmail or intimidation against the United States or our allies.  They serve to moderate great power behavior.  In essence, in crude terms, they serve to make war among the major powers too dangerous.  Their purpose is to prevent war.

This means that our advanced conventional weapons cannot reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons because advanced conventional weapons are war-fighting weapons, not war preventing weapons.  So what must we do, and what must we do differently, to preserve nuclear strategic stability?  My starting premise is that critical to nuclear stability is our ability to maintain a credible retaliatory capability which threatens potential enemy leadership's most valued assets, even in worst-case scenarios for us.
This means we and our allies have to have confidence in our deterrent, and potential adversaries must have respect for it.  But we will have neither confidence nor respect if we continue along our current path.  We are in serious danger, as my friend and CSIS colleague Clark Murdoch has said, of rusting away into disarmament.
The last time the triad was modernized was in the 1980s.  Triad modernization is essential.  The president promised the Congress, as part of the agreement to ratify the New START Treaty, that U.S. strategic nuclear forces would be modernized.
But that's not happening.  The program to build a new SSBN has suffered a two year delay, although thanks to Admiral David Hudson and his team, it is back on track.  The Air Force has said that the new bomber will have a nuclear role someday, but not at its initial operating capability, and when that will be is left unclear.  The Air Force has a program to choose a successor to the Air-Launched Cruise Missile, but the way that program is structured, seeking to procure only a few hundred nuclear-only missiles, makes it almost certainly unaffordable.  Both of these lagging efforts, by the way, are from the administration which, when it negotiated New START, resurrected what's called the bomber counting rule, thereby making a modern and sizable air-breathing force a political necessity.
The Air Force is studying - studying Minuteman life extension, and will soon begin studying a Minuteman replacement to include, according to the administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, underground and mobile basing modes.  Well those of us with gray hair have seen that movie a few times before in the 1970s and 1980s, and we know it doesn't end well.  And the administration has yet to announce the composition of its New START strategic deterrent force, so we have absolutely no idea how that reduced force might be allocated among the three triad legs, and that directly affects stability.
The fact is, we need a strategic triad, in spite of the nonsense from Global Zero that we should eliminate the ICBM force and reduce the number of SSBNs to a point where it would be difficult to maintain one at-sea in each ocean at all times.  Why do we need a triad?  Well, with our current force structure any Russian leadership in a future crisis - and remember we're not talking about tomorrow - we're talking about a hugely dangerous future crisis in which the use of military force is being contemplated in the Kremlin, including the use of pre-emptive nuclear strikes, as Russian doctrine calls for.  That Russian leadership would have to consider launching a huge attack in order to neutralize our ICBM force, as well as our other triad legs and our national command and control.
But if you eliminate the ICBM force, the problem becomes dramatically easier for the Russian planner.  To succeed, you only have to destroy two SSBN bases, two bomber bases, and Washington, and then demand a ceasefire.  And even a small nuclear power can figure that out.
So let me put it more personally, the existence of several hundred ICBMs makes Kings Bay a less attractive target in a crisis.  So keeping a strategic triad, some elements of which are always on alert, remains vital.
By this point, some of you are surely concluding that I have reverted to type and that I'm spouting Cold War rhetoric.  But I'm going to urge you to look around your world.  And that look around the world should convince you that another thing we have to change is the misbegotten belief that the world's nuclear weapons states either already agree or shortly will agree, given that we have blazed a path and thereby enlightened their benighted minds that nuclear weapons should be eliminated one day, and that the role nuclear weapons play in their respective national security postures should be reduced now.
You will recall that in 2009 the president, speaking in Prague, called on the world's nuclear weapons states, and I quote, "To put an end to Cold War thinking," close quote.  He announced that the United States, quote, "Will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same," close quote.  Well, the scorecard is in four years after the Prague speech, and the answer except for here in the United States is, it ain't happened.
Actually, the reverse is happening.  Russia is deploying a new class of SSBNs, two new types of sea-launched ballistic missiles, a new type of ICBM with two variants, a new air-launched cruise missile, and has placed nuclear weapons at the heart of its security policy.  It continues to threaten nuclear weapons use against its neighbors.  And just last week, President Putin played a conspicuous role directing a Russian strategic nuclear force exercise.
And just to put a coda on that, he sent two Blackjack strategic bombers first to Venezuela and then to Nicaragua.  But you won't read that in the New York Times or the Washington Post.  Reduced role?  Exactly the opposite.
The Chinese government refuses to engage in any discussion of its nuclear policy, maintaining a total opacity except for making the operationally empty statement that it has a no first use policy.  That, of course, is meaningless, since such a policy can literally be changed in an instant by the Central Committee.  And it's worth noting that the Soviet Union had a no first use declaratory policy and a first-use operational policy.
China is deploying two new types of ICBMs.  It is building a new class of SSBN, a new type of SLBM, and refuses to accept any limits on the growth of its nuclear forces.  And in case you missed it - and again, you probably did because it's not carried in the U.S. press - Chinese state run media, and let me emphasize state run media, carried stories last week complete with photos and graphics describing with great relish the ability of Chinese nuclear forces to destroy various named U.S. cities.  Reduced role?  Not apparent.
India is now deploying the sea-based element of its nuclear deterrent, completing a nuclear triad.  And Pakistan is doubling its fissile material production capacity and is deploying a new class of short-range nuclear weapons.  Reduce role?  Exactly the opposite.  The subcontinent resembles a nuclear tinderbox.
North Korea continues its missile and nuclear development programs.  Reduced role evidently doesn't translate well into Korean.  (Nor into Farsi ?), since Iran continues its missile development and deployment programs and continues to move closer to a nuclear weapons capability.  It is not possible - it is not possible to maintain strategic stability if your policy does not reflect the global realities, and those global realities are moving in a different direction than our aspirations.

I'd like to pivot now and take a few moments to discuss with you some of the arguments against maintaining a nuclear deterrent which are prevalent inside the Washington beltway.  One of the arguments most frequently used against our nuclear deterrent is that it is said to be irrelevant to the threats of the 21st century.  Global Zero smugly points out that our deterrent did not prevent the September 11 attacks or the various terrorist plots we have uncovered since then.
But nuclear weapons are not, indeed never have been or never will be, an all- purpose deterrent.  They are not useful for deterring terrorism, even WMD terrorism by stateless entities, or piracy, across border drug trafficking or even low level insurgencies.  And it's a cheap rhetorical trick - let me say that again - it's a cheap rhetorical trick to suggest that nuclear weapons have outlived their usefulness by pointing to attacks they failed to deter when they were not intended or deployed to deter such attacks in the first place.
To meet the new threats of the 21st century, which are very real and which must be deterred or defeated and destroyed, the United States must continue to rely on and to modernize its conventional forces, its ballistic missile defense forces, its special operations forces, and its space and cyber capabilities.  And I urge you to remember that nuclear weapons were not designed to serve this role and they can't.  They can, however, prevent the big war and allow us to use our other tailored capabilities to deal with more proximate and daily threats, threats which are more proximate and daily precisely because nuclear deterrence has made the threat of great power conflict less proximate.
You will also hear it said that non-nuclear forces are also far more credible instruments for providing 21st century reassurance to allies whose comfort zone in the 20th century resided under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.  Well clearly some left-wing American philosophers believe so, but the allies aren't buying it.  And try as the philosophers might, and they have done so mightily, our allies still continue to make clear that they want the reassurance provided by our nuclear umbrella.  This is still the case in Asia.  And it is still the case in NATO, where twice in the last three years the leaders of the alliance have reaffirmed this.
And speaking of proliferation, we are told ad nauseum that our nuclear weapons are contributing to the threat of nuclear proliferation.  Once again, the evidence shows that that is clearly not true.  Our nuclear arsenal, in fact, is an anti-proliferant because we protect allies who otherwise might and could build their own nuclear weapons.
And it is fundamentally important to recognize that the often discussed linkage between the continued existence of the nuclear arsenals of the nuclear weapons states and further proliferation does not exist.   The history of the last 20 years is that the U.S., British, French and even Russian nuclear arsenals have declined dramatically over the last 20 years, while over the same period the Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and North Korean arsenals have grown.
North Korea has not pursued a nuclear weapons program because of our nuclear arsenal.  It has pursued one because it seeks to intimidate its neighbors and to deter U.S. conventional military action.  And while the continued existence of the nuclear weapons states arsenals makes for a convenient talking point in international and domestic nonproliferation circles, it is factually wrong and intellectually patronizing to believe that proliferant governments are mindlessly aping the policies of the nuclear weapons states.
Let me conclude by leaving you with three final thoughts.  First, in thinking about nuclear deterrence it is absolutely critical that we remember that our task is to deter a potentially hostile foreign leadership which possesses nuclear weapons.  Our task is not to deter these states today.  It is to deter them in a future crisis when they are contemplating the use of military force, including nuclear weapons, against us or our allies' vital interests.
In such a perilous situation, U.S. policy must reflect the fact that we deter hostile leaderships by threatening what they value most, not what we value most.  We value our people and our society.  Hostile authoritarian leaderships value their ability to stay in power, and a security apparatus which enables them to do so, and the military forces and the industrial capacity to sustain war.
And so it is a strategic mistake of enormous proportion to believe that an effective deterrent in a future crisis can be based on a few hundred weapons which threaten a potential enemy's cities.  That strategy would be both immoral and self-defeating.  Mirror imaging is a dangerous an fundamentally flawed approach to deterrence, and we must never, ever fall into that trap.
Second, there are those, including many former senior officials who should know better, who would eliminate or dramatically scale back our nuclear deterrent because they say eliminating the deterrent would accelerate the movement to a world without nuclear weapons, and this will increase global stability.  The assumption that somewhere in the future there must be a world in which the instability of nuclear deterrence is replaced by the stability of conventional deterrence, reveals that its proponents neither study history nor pay attention to the policies of governments who just might not be content to turn away from aggression.  My study of history from 1945 shows that the world before 1945, a nuclear weapons free world, was not particularly stable.  Nor was deterrence based on conventional forces ever particularly effective.
There is a quote popularly attributed to Ms. Thatcher, and if she didn't say it she should have.  Speaking of all the war memorials in France, she said, there's a monument to the failure of conventional deterrence in every French village.  Since 1945, however, the major powers have avoided war with one another, a sharp contrast to the average of five to seven wars per century between the major powers from 1648 to 1945.
Something happened in 1945.  Nuclear weapons made war between the major powers too dangerous.  And that was, and remains, a good thing.
Finally, when you encounter a proponent of nuclear zero, you'll likely be asked, how can you support a nuclear deterrence policy which is based on weapons which will never be used?  Don't be drawn into a debate of hypothetical warfighting scenarios.  They just love that.  Just answer plainly, we use them every day.  We preserve peace and freedom for us and our allies.
Thanks, again, for the Camden Community.  And thanks, again, particularly to the members of the Kings Bay Base Trident force present here today,  for what you do now and every day.  Thank you.

Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland , a defense and national security consulting firm.

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