Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association, now want to kill another US nuclear weapon. This time it’s the option of having low-yield nuclear warheads on our D-5 sea-launched ballistic missiles. Unfortunately, Perry and Collina, in their rush to downsize our nuclear arsenal on the way toward their adopted goal of zero nuclear weapons, miss the entire point of the newly proposed low-yield nuclear variant.
First, they appear to have no problem with low yield weapons, as the USA according to their own essay has 1000 low yield weapons in our arsenal which they think do the needed deterrent job just fine. So that cannot be the problem.
Second, the issue that Perry and Collina miss is quite simple: the gap in American deterrent capability is that Russia feels it can threaten to use low yield theater nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict in order to coercive or pressure the United States and its allies to stand down in a fight. In short, Moscow wants to brandish or use nuclear weapons to get the United States to surrender. We need to deter that. And obviously the Russians are not now deterred from making such threats.
Third, what bothers Perry and Collina is the use of nuclear weapons by the United States, even though we would be retaliating against Russian nuclear first use. They claim it is not possible to use only a few nuclear weapons. In fact, they claim that any use of nuclear weapons by the United States–even in retaliation to the INITIAL use of nuclear weapons by Russia– will immediately escalate into all-out war or Armageddon.
So, they are saying if Russia does carry out its multiple threats to use nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict, and be the first to do so, the United States would have only two moral options: fight a nuclear war being waged against us with conventional weapons and commit national suicide or alternatively surrender.
Fourth, General Chilton spoke recently about the folly of the US discarding using nuclear weapons in response to our being attacked with nuclear weapons, and use instead conventional forces. For example, if Russia used just a 20 kiloton nuclear weapons against NATO forces protecting, say, one of the Baltic countries, to match that firepower we would have to sortie 8000 B52s carrying 80,000 conventional gravity bombs, simultaneously. And we would have to do this magically with less than 100 aircraft.
Fifth, just as Perry and Collina have repeatedly called for the elimination of the GBSD land based modernization program and the cruise missile for the new bomber, their opposition to giving our current submarine launched D-5 missile a low yield bomb capability is consistent with their wrong-headed thinking once again being buttressed by a an obsessive push to kill some element—any element–of our nuclear deterrent modernization program, even those elements such as the GBSD and LRSO supported by every administration since 1958.
Sixth, Perry and Collina fail to ask how long it takes for the United States to get its low-yield theater nuclear capability to the conflict in order to prevent any further aggression.
The current conventional US NATO deployed airplane using B-61 gravity bombs has to penetrate Russian air defenses plus get to the conflict in a timely basis to be able to deter the Russian threat or actual use of nuclear weapons against our regional allies.
Seventh, the problem is that today, the president has no good timely capability to retaliate with low yield weapons. Adjusting the yield on our D-5 submarine-based missiles would give the US an added and flexible capability to give the president some better options including getting to the conflict on time.
Eighth, and of utmost importance, as Strategic Command head General Hyten has explained, the Russians announced this “escalate to win” nuclear strategy in 2000, long before the United States put forward its own nuclear modernization effort. According to Russian expert Mark Schneider, Russia has threatened to use low-yield nuclear weapons 16 times in just the past few years.
Perry and Collina apparently think the Russian red reset button in 2009 actually worked to make friends out of the Russians. In fact, the reset button didn’t work and now Russia believes it can get away with using nuclear weapons against the United States—again more ominously in that they would use such nuclear weapons first.
Ninth, Perry and Collina claim our existing low yield capability is all we need. However, that is not true given the new Russian strategy of using nuclear weapons first in a conventional conflict. Our current low yield weapons that could counter Russian nuclear recklessness would have to be launched either from the continental United States—taking many hours to get to their targets—or from Europe, and would involve B-52 and F-15 aircraft that will not have the necessary advanced stealth capability to fly through heavily defended Russian airspace.
Tenth, years ago, in fact in 1983, Dr. Perry was a member of the Scowcroft Commission that recommended that the Reagan nuclear modernization plan be approved and fully implemented. In 2009, he was co-chair of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, with Dr. James Schlesinger, a former Secretary of Defense, and Director of the CIA. He signed the report and its recommendation that the US nuclear arsenal be fully modernized, including a new land-based missile, a new cruise missile and low yield characteristics.
Eleven, since that 2009 report, Russia and China have been building nuclear weapons like sausages while the USA doesn’t produce its first new bomber until 2027, its first new ICBM in 2028, and its first new submarine in 2031.
But by 2021, the Russians say their nuclear forces will be 70% modernized. What then is Dr. Perry and Mr. Collina not able to see? The threat today is worse than in 2009 and comparable to 1983. In a new development, China has become a major nuclear armed adversary of the United States. And Russian air defenses are improving and are compelling the US to build a new B-21 “Raider” bomber to have the stealth capability to penetrate the air defenses of the bad guys.
Twelve, former top Democrat defense experts and officials such as former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Brad Roberts, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense John Harvey, and former Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose, have all told me personally they endorse the low yield option proposed by the new 2018 nuclear posture review. These officials understand deterrence and have embraced the administration’s nuclear posture review in a welcome bipartisan show of support for America’s security.
In summary, we need the low-yield nuclear deterrent the Administration seeks to secure from Congress because its: (1) necessary to meet new Russian threats, (2) fills a niche which current American nuclear deterrent over time may not; (3) increases the nuclear threshold over which nuclear weapons might be used; and (4) deters potential reckless Russian strategy from being carried out.
Peter Huessy has spent the past 38 years consulting with consecutive presidential administrations, the U.S. Air Force and the Nuclear Aerospace industry about foreign nuclear threats, arms control, proliferation and strategic deterrence. He is now the director of strategic deterrent studies at the Mitchell Institute of the Air Force Association, Since 2012, he has been a guest lecturer at the US Naval Academy on U.S. nuclear deterrent history.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.