How The Nuclear Arms Control Lobby Actually Killed Arms Control

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Peter Huessy Mitchell Institute On Aerospace Studies
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We have heard much about how the United States can unilaterally reduce its strategic nuclear deterrent to 1,000 warheads from the current 1,550 (plus additional bomber weapons not counted) because the number of secure, retaliatory survivable weapons would be the same — essentially 4-5 submarines at sea at any one time irrespective of the number of other warheads deployed on land based missiles and bombers, both legs of the Triad that are not considered “survivable.”

Is this true?

To help break the code on the idea that 1,000 warheads are entirely sufficient to deter Russia under current and all future conditions, let’s look at what we are not being told.

First, this idea is based on a few assumptions that if publicly put forward by any administration would be rejected out of hand by the U.S. Congress — under its current makeup to be sure.

The major assumption is all submarines now at sea will survive and will remain invulnerable so reducing other warheads by 550 doesn’t effect this (The New Start level of 1,550 reduced to 1,000).

Other assumptions are: (1) all 1,000 warheads would be deployed on submarines (otherwise survivable, retaliatory warheads are cut in half); (2) the ICBM leg of the Triad would disappear; and (3) bombers would count as no more than 40-60 warheads (as the cruise missiles or gravity bombs they carry would not be counted).  

For the ORP, the Ohio Replacement Submarine program, that means the 16 missiles on 12 submarines (or 192 missiles) would each carry 5 warheads to reach the roughly magic number of 1000 warheads.

The scenario assumes there will never be a future threat to the submarines — while the space and land domains have become transparent, the seas never will be. This also assumes the survivable portion off the Triad — upward of 5 submarines worth — are sufficient to deter our adversaries and cover all targets needed to be covered.

So all our nuclear eggs would be in one basket.

Smart idea, no?

If you want to bet the farm on the submarines always being survivable then you can go this way.

But there is more hidden from the American people.

The same folks who want to unilaterally go to 1,000 warheads also want to reduce our submarine force from 12 to 6-8 submarines. But that would include only a maximum of 128 missiles, and all missiles would be maxed out at carrying 8 warheads to have 1,000 deployed (that is the maximum number of slots available in the planned missile replacement for the current D-5 sub based missile).

But the 6-8 submarines could not effectively patrol both the Pacific and the Atlantic, making it even easier for the bad guys to try and find our submarines at sea.

This also means there is no hedge or upload capability to add more warheads to our deterrent, in case the arms control limits under New Start or any future arms control agreement are breached by our adversaries.

That means the end of strategic nuclear weapons arms control — meaning these same arms control enthusiasts have in their very clever but unintentional way — ended the chance of further bilateral arms control deals with Russia or any adversary.

For what future U.S. Senate is going to approve a treaty where the USA ends up behind the nuclear 8-ball, subject to being hammered by the bad guys because we can only dismantle, rather than build up, our nuclear forces.

Well, unless it doesn’t matter who has more nuclear warheads.

But ironically, after urging on us a nuclear freeze and unilateral nuclear reductions of all kinds, why is the so-called arms control enthusiasts now claiming that there is no significant impact if the Russians have more nuclear warheads than we do? This came out as news reports were that Russia has deployed nearly 200 more warheads than the U.S. even as Moscow has breached the 2018 New Start Treaty limits.

Well, I guess that raises an interesting issue — why have arms control agreements at all if the relative level of nuclear weapons doesn’t matter?

One arms control enthusiast recently wrote how happy he was with the prospect of Russia having deployed a couple of hundred strategic nuclear warheads more than the United States even as Moscow was above the level allowed by the New Start Treaty.

He was ecstatic that now we could test whether the U.S. nuclear deployed strategic arsenal should be “second to none” as many deterrent experts have insisted or whether we could just have less.

If Russia doesn’t nuke us tomorrow he wondered, doesn’t that prove the lower deployed number for the USA is indeed insignificant?

We could test that theory over and over again. Let’s just reduce 100 warheads every month. By next year, June 2017, we can get to the goal of zero. Sounds like a great idea, right?