Briefing on the Future of the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal: Issues and Policy Options
Friday, January 20, 2012
9:30am to 11:00am
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.
The Pentagon's new strategic guidance released on Jan. 5 by President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta said: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."
In the coming weeks, President Obama will review options for revising the presidential guidance that determines the U.S. nuclear force structure and nuclear employment policy.
The process creates an opportunity for the president to fulfill his April 2009 pledge to "put an end to outdated Cold War thinking," reduce the enormous cost of maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and open the way for deeper U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions.
Please join ACA for presentations from three leading experts on the issues and the options for the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Morton Halperin served served in the Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton administrations working on nuclear policy and arms control and was a member of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which released its report in 2009.
Hans Kristensen is director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists and co-author of "Reviewing Nuclear Guidance: Putting Obama's Words Into Action," in the November issue of Arms Control Today.
Amy F. Woolf is a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service. She is the author of "Modernizing the Triad on a Tight Budget," which will appear in the Jan./Feb. issue of Arms Control Today.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of ACA.
To RSVP contact Tim Farnsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-463-8270, ext. 105
The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to addressing the challenges posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.
Federal News Service
DARYL KIMBALL: Well, good morning and happy New Year. I’m Daryl Kimball. I’m executive director of the Arms Control Association. We’re an independent membership-based organization. We’ve been around since 1971. We’re dedicated to providing information about the risks posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons – and nuclear weapons are among those most dangerous weapons, if you didn’t notice already. And we’re also dedicated to offering practical policy options for reducing and eliminating those risks.
Welcome this morning to our briefing on the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. We’re going to be discussing a number of timely issues, but to start let me just bring you back to April 2009, when President Obama spoke in Prague about his vision and the steps for a world without nuclear weapons. And he said in that speech that he would put an end to Cold War thinking by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.
And a year later, in the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, that report outlined the national security rationale for U.S. nuclear weapons. And that document, among other things clarifies that, quote, “The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the U.S. and our allies and partners,” unquote.
Now, in the next few weeks President Obama, his national security staff, with support from the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, are engaged in a so-called post-NPR analysis – post Nuclear Posture Review analysis – a classified review of the requirements for how the military should plan for the potential use of nuclear weapons, the requirements for the number of nuclear weapons, and the requirements for the strategic forces that carry those weapons.
And earlier this month, the administration offered a tantalizing clue about what might be in the works in this review when the president and Secretary of Defense Panetta released the Pentagon’s new strategy for United States defense on January 5th. And that document says, quote, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory, as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy.”
So this is an important juncture in the president’s and the nation’s decision process about the future of U.S. nuclear weapons. And we’ve organized this event to help explain some of the issues and choices before the president and, to some extent, before the Congress on these matters. And we’ve got a great set of people who’ve got vast experience on this issue. Very glad all of them are with us this cold, January morning.
And to start us off, we’ll hear from Hans Kristensen who’s the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. He is the co-author of an article in the Arms Control Association journal, Arms Control Today titled “Reviewing Nuclear Guidance: Putting Obama’s Words into Action,” which is out on the table outside, which lays out a number of these issues very, very well. Hans is going to explain why the presidential nuclear guidance process is so important and what it involves.
Next we’ll be hearing from Mort Halperin, who many of you know. He has served in the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton administrations, working in nuclear policy and arms control issues, and was a member of the congressional commission on the strategic posture of the United States, which released its report in 2009, I believe. Mort is going to be outlining several steps that the president could take to rethink and revise Cold War nuclear weapons strategy in the weeks and months ahead.
And because all of this involves decisions about the future force structure and the costs related to the nuclear weapons force structure, we’ve asked Amy Woolf from the Congressional Research Service to provide us with an explanation of the current plans for maintaining U.S. strategic submarines, ICBMs and strategic bombers, and to explain some of the policy implications of the likely downsizing or the deferral of modernization programs as the Pentagon and the Congress face important budget decisions in the coming year and in years ahead.
And then after all of that, I’m going to be offering a few brief thoughts on how the administration could – if it makes the right policy choices on nuclear weapons strategy – can reduce the cost of maintaining our stockpile of nuclear weapons while still maintaining a formidable nuclear deterrent.
So each of our speakers is going to have about 10 minutes and they’ve defied my request to come up here to the podium. They’re each going to be speaking from their seats, which is actually fine. And then we’re going to take your questions, I’m sure we’ll have a lively discussion because we’ve got a very knowledgeable and expert audience here today. So with that, Hans, the floor is yours. Please start us off.
HANS KRISTENSEN: Thank you and thanks very much for the invitation to come and talk about this – what’s so important and what’s at stake. Yes, this is where the – potentially the rubber meets the road here in terms of the president setting his guidance, his ideas for what – how the military should plan for the potential use of nuclear weapons, and then it goes through a long and complicated process, obviously, to get from his desk to the war planners who are – that are actually drawing up the designs, so to speak, for the – for the various plans.
And we have a couple of indicators. Obviously National Security Adviser Donilon and STRATCOM Commander Kehler, they’ve both spoken early on to this particular process. Donilon talked about potential changes in targeting requirements and alert postures. And General Kehler talked about a review – how to review and revise the nation’s nuclear strategy and the guidance on the roles and missions of nuclear weapons.
And so before I go into it, it’s important to think about two things going on right now. I think there is one element of all this implementation stuff and analysis that has to do with implementing the NPR, the Nuclear Posture Review, a finished product, so to speak, that they’re now producing what’s called an NRP implementer – an actual document that will tell the military, the various services, what has to be implemented out of that document and when. That is one particular plan.
Back in 2001, that particular document took about 14-or-so months to produce from the point that the NPR was completed to the point it was distributed to the services. So we’re about at the time where that document should be finished now. And the other one has to do with additional reductions beyond the NPR and New START, if you will, horizon, in addition to what we have already agreed to. And it seems to me that that’s where most of the targeting review that we’ve been hearing so much about is relevant.
And as Daryl said, we’re now at the end of a 90-day analysis of options. It’s a very much smaller process than we saw during the Nuclear Posture Review, involving much fewer people. But as far as I understand, the president now – or the National Security Council has now been given these options. And they’re reviewing it, preparing for the president to see. I haven’t heard that he has seen, but it’s very close.
And based on that, obviously, he will decide – choose among some of these options. And back to the National Security Council, I assume it will go for some form of rewrite or maybe a new presidential guidance to the military for the mission. And there’s several steps it has to go through and it’ll take a long time, but it’ll go through a lot of interpretation. The president’s guidance will go through a lot of interpretations. It’ll be analyzed. Some people cynically say once in a while it’ll be watered down.
And the first step is the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where they used to produce this document that was called the Nuclear Weapons Employment Plan. It’s now a different document. They have merged about half-a-dozen different, previous forms of guidance documents into one that’s called “The Guidance for the Employment of the Force.” Once that document is complete, it includes a wide variety of options, scenarios that the war planners have to plan for, objectives of particular strike plans.
There is actually one document that has been released in full from the past of this process, back from 1974 – one of these documents that you can go in and you can see in enormous details what kind of categories of targets in which country would have to be struck for what purpose, et cetera; what are the rules and principles for doing it and withholding forces, et cetera.
Once that document is complete, it’ll go to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and they will, based on that and the presidential guidance, build what’s called the Nuclear Supplement to this Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan. That’s a document that allocates the forces, so to speak, to the services to carry out the mission. And with that in hand, the commander of STRATCOM, he issues his guidance to what’s known as the Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike. That’s the unit at STRATCOM of 400 people or so that are actually building the nuclear strike plan and maintaining the strike plan.
That is now known as Strategic Deterrence and Global Strike. It’s operations plan 8010. It was first published in 2008. And the current version that is in effect is a change to that plan that was issued in February 2009. Now, this document, even though it came in 2009 – or this plan, it’s based on previous guidance – guidance for the employment of the force that was issued in May 2008, I think it was. And also it actually goes all the way back to the presidential guidance that was issued by George Bush in 2002. So we still have to see the visions and the policies, if you will, of Obama administration policies make their mark on the strategic war planning.
Now, there are a couple of issues of how that review can – some of the considerations, for example, how can they reduce the role of nuclear weapons? I mean, we know about slashing warheads and delivery systems here and there, but there are other drivers that determine requirements, both the number of warheads and characteristics of delivery systems, et cetera. And for example, one is how many target categories do they have to aim at. How many target categories of what kind do they have to hold at risk, so to speak, or be able to hold at risk with nuclear forces?
If you choose to launch nuclear weapons, what kind of damage expectancy are you required to achieve with a strike? It can be greater or lower, it will affect the requirements to force capabilities, et cetera. What degree of alert posture do you need to have? How great a portion of the forces will have to be able to launch on prompt notice? Can you live with less? We’ve already taken a lot of nuclear weapons off the force over the last decade and a half. Can you go lower? How low? Can you even take entire groups of weapons out of the alert posture?
Can you relax the counterforce focus in the war plan? It’s very much sort of force-on-force planning, if you will, using nukes to hunt down nukes and other military forces, of course. But can you relax that drive in the force, so there is less war fighting, if you will, force-on-force planning, and come up with some other form of how to define a sufficient deterrent posture.
And then, of course, how many options do you need to offer the president? I mean, there seems to be this drive after the end of the Cold War here that, because of the concern of proliferation, the number of options that the president has to be offered seems to have proliferated. And so the question is, can you reduce that – how many things we’re asking the military to be able to do with the nuclear forces?
And then, of course, as was embedded in the Nuclear Posture Review itself, the discussion about how can you reduce the role of nuclear weapons? Can we move toward a sole purpose of nuclear forces? Can you reduce the requirement for the portion of the nuclear posture that has to deal with conventional, chemical, biological scenarios and just focus entirely on just responding or deterring to a nuclear attack? It’s clearly the intention described in the Nuclear Posture Review that the United States should move in that direction.
And then, of course, there is the issue of the forces themselves. How will this drive back and affect the force posture? Amy will talk a lot more about that. You know, we’ve already heard a little about it in the news.
Does the U.S. still need a triad? The NPR says it does. Others have been saying that as we go to lower numbers, we might have to re-evaluate the need for a triad; and in which case, what legs should be cut? Most people sort of automatically tend to say, oh, the bombers. How would an all-ballistic missile nuclear-posture look and how would it function, et cetera? These are thoughts that have to be entertained during this process.
Does the U.S. still need to keep upward toward 800 warheads on alert, which is an enormous force given what’s out there. And what kind of modernizations will be necessary or what is appropriate, if you will? No other nation is building more than 8 ballistic missile submarines, so why do we need to build 12? The Brits have some; the French have some. Russia’s ICBM forces is declining toward somewhere near the range of 200 by the early 2020s. So why do we need to keep up to 420? So these are some of the thoughts that have to be worked through on this.
And then, of course, finishing on what Daryl mentioned from the Prague speech, how does this new review match the pledge in Prague to put an end to Cold War thinking? That’s a high bar. And nobody really has defined what that means. But with that, I’ll pass it on to Mort and I look forward to your questions.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you, Hans.
MORTON HALPERIN: Good morning. Exactly the question I want to talk about: What does it mean to put an end to Cold War thinking about the kind of nuclear force that we need? Because I want to suggest that the answer to that is really the answer to only one question, which is: What kind of force do we need to be able to deter a large-scale surprise Russian attack?
You may remember during the Clinton administration, President Clinton had a line in his speeches that said: And we no longer target Russia with our nuclear forces. And I was talking to a political guy in the White House and he said, you know, that’s the biggest applause line in all of Clinton’s speeches. And I said, well, think of how much applause you would get if you actually did it. (Laughter.) And he was actually quite startled by that and said, but, haven’t we done it? And I said, no, we haven’t done it.
And I want to suggest we still have not done it; that is, the size of the force is utterly unaffected – the need for how big it has to be is utterly unaffected by the purposes of nuclear weapons, because even if we think we’re going to use them first in certain scenarios, that requires a force far smaller than what we think we need to deter a surprise attack. And even if you went to no first use, a sole purpose, the force size would still be guided by this single requirement, which reduces the largest size force, which is a force sufficient to deter a large-scale Russian surprise attack on the United States.
The Nuclear Posture Review deliberately did not answer that question. Because they wanted to get on with the [New] START negotiations, they took the answer from the Bush administration, which produced a number small enough that they could negotiate the START treaty. So that was literally not analyzed and, in my view, is what we need to come to grips with now, because until we change that requirement, we will not get agreement on the possibility of going below the New START numbers. And of course, even if we did go to agreement on that number, we would still have the question of whether we can do it without the Russians. But it would certainly make it possible to propose to the Russians to negotiate a lower number, and I want to come back to that at the end.
Now, what I’ve said is that we have not in fact changed that requirement at all. It is still done the same way – and you had a little bit of it explained to you. We now have one of the documents which shows it. What it says is that in order to deter a Russian surprise attack, we need to be able to absorb that attack and respond by destroying targets in Russia. And it then lays out a set of targets that we need to destroy, none of which are, quote, “cities,” in the sense that we don’t target cities, and I think that’s an issue we don’t have to deal with.
We never will target cities and it makes no difference, because many of the things we target are in cities. And so if you think destruction of population is what’s important to deter, we get that by targeting these targets. But it specifies, as was suggested, what kind of targets we need to hit, with what degree of destruction of the set. If there are 2,000 bridges, do we have to destroy 2,000 or only half? And with what confidence do we need to have that we will destroy each bridge; and what level of destruction of each bridge or other target will we have; and whether we need to put two different warheads on it – that is, one from one part of the troika [ie, triad] and a second one from another part of the troika.
The nuclear guidance that the military has answers all of those questions. And it has not been changed since the end of the Cold War. The basic structure and the basic answers are the answers that we gave when the Soviet Union existed and Russian troops were in Berlin. Now we have made some changes in those numbers, but we’ve made them incrementally.
There is a famous story – maybe apocryphal, but I think real – of Cheney, when he was secretary of defense, wanting to make some change in the nuclear force structure; I think it was taking some bombers out of the strategic war plan. And he was told that he couldn’t do that because then we could not re-meet the requirements for deterring a Russian nuclear attack on the United States. And he said, what do you mean? And they explained it to him. And he said, well, what if I take this category – I think it was bridges – and say, you only have to destroy them with one strategic system and not two? And they said, well, that’s fine. If you do that, then we can go to this lower number. And he said, OK fine, I will make that change in the nuclear force posture.
The changes have all been made that way, incrementally, when the purpose was to be able to justify a particular reduction. I would argue that we need to start from scratch. We need to ask ourselves the question: Under what circumstances might the Russian leadership wake up and say, oh, it’s Easter Sunday; the Americans are at rest; we can launch a surprise attack and it will be successful? What would have to be going on in the world that would make that even conceivable? And how much certainty of how much destruction of Russia would the Russian leadership have to have in order to not be tempted to launch that attack?
I think if we ask that question and we really ask it over again – not say, what can we change in the current posture – but asking that question. Given the current state of Russia, given the state of our relationship, given the places where we confront them, we would come up with a substantially lower number as a requirement for strategic nuclear forces. And I think that’s what we need to do. I hope that’s what we are now in the process of doing. But I am skeptical that that is what we are doing.
Now we also need to confront one other question, which is in the presidential guidance. Presidents, beginning I think back in Roosevelt’s time, have told the military that there needs to be a requirement for prompt launch. Now prompt launch is a euphemism for going, if not a close second, to going first – that is, to launch when we believe there is a Russian attack coming, or at least as soon as bombs start to land. There is presidential guidance that the United States needs to have a capacity for prompt launch, which drives a number of factors in the kind of forces we need and how much they need to be on alert.
I would suggest that the president ought to tell the military that not only there is no requirement for prompt launch, but he does not intend to do prompt launch; that he intends, if there is a threat of a nuclear attack, to make sure there actually is an attack; and even if there is an attack, that he wants the time to assess it and decide how he will respond in kind. That will probably produce more requirements for commander control and for survival – particularly survival of the president, which is the hardest piece of this – but it will also make changes in the kind of strategic nuclear forces that we need.
Now, if we engage in this kind of exercise, which I think is the most important one that we could do, then I think we will reach the conclusion that we need a substantially lower number of deployed nuclear weapons than the 1,500 in the [New] START treaty. I think we easily could conclude that the number could be a thousand or even lower than a thousand weapons. And I think we could then propose to the Russians an amendment to the New START treaty which doesn’t change anything but the number of deployed strategic weapons. And I think we could go to a thousand without worrying about China – and without worrying about the Russian tac nukes, because we would still leave in place the U.S. nondeployed weapons, which numerically roughly balance out the Russian tac nukes.
I think also, just to make sure I say something controversial, that we ought to agree that, if we go to a thousand, we will leave the troika intact, because I believe the major bar for the U.S. going to a thousand is not these actual calculations, but the fear that everybody has who is interested in a particular part of the troika – that if we go to a thousand, their part of the troika will come under threat. So everybody opposes it, fearing their part would be attacked. I think with a thousand we still could and should have the troika, and agreeing to that in advance – I think it would make it possible to go through this exercise I’ve described in a real way and come out with new numbers. Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: Thanks very much, Mort. That’s very helpful. And now Amy Woolf, on the triad – or the troika, as Mort has been referring to it – and the questions therein.
AMY F. WOOLF: Good morning. Thank you, Daryl. My goal, contrary to what Mort just said, is to not say something controversial. (Laughter.) For those of you who don’t know, I work for the Congressional Research Service, and we are nonpartisan, unbiased, required to be so by law. And therefore – and we provide analysis and information to Congress; we don’t offer opinions or advocate outcomes.
So I’m going to start with a disclaimer: If I happen to let an opinion or an advocacy point slip out, do not attribute it to CRS. CRS does not support that. That’s me personally, and I’m in a bit of a box here, because you have something that I wrote personally in front of you. So you’ll evidently be aware of the fact that I have opinions. But I’m going to try not to say something controversial.
As Daryl said, I’m going to talk primarily about the triad, and its aging, and the modernization programs that are planned for it and some specifics on the programs – not deep details on the budget; you can look those up, and I’ll tell you who actually knows them – so not me. But I’m going to talk about the programs and how much they cost, and then weave in a little bit of how you should think about saving money on those programs.
I’m not going to tell you, you should save money; that’s an opinion. I’m not going to tell you how to save money – but the sorts of things you should think about if you’re trying to save money. And I’ll wrap up with some of the policy issues that you ought to think about if you want to change the force to save money. And both Mort and Hans addressed those policy issues, so I’m again just going to give you a way to think about it, rather than answers to the questions.
First I’m going to start by talking about the triad. And I know everybody here knows what the triad is. We have ICBMs, land-based long-range ballistic missiles; SLBMs, submarine-launched long-range ballistic missiles; and heavy bombers based in the continental United States that can reach anywhere around the world. During the Cold War, analysts agreed that each leg was recognized to have strengths and weaknesses, and argued that we should keep the triad so that we could offer redundancy, maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses across the force – complicate attack planning, enhanced deterrence, all those phrases that were used to justify keeping three legs of the triad during the Cold War.
At the end of the Cold War in the ‘90s, we started to hear another justification for keeping the triad as we were reducing our forces. And that justification was a hedge: If something should go wrong in any one leg of the triad, as we were bringing the redundancy down by reducing numbers and reducing systems – and if anything should go wrong in one leg of the triad, we had a hedge of having another leg of the triad that could fill in while we fixed the problem. If we found cracks in the fuel on D5 missiles, we could replace those, repair those while the ICBMs could hold up the deterrent for the time being. That’s the hedge.
Both of those arguments are still made today: the redundancy, the synergy, the strengths-and-weaknesses argument and the hedge argument. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review re-affirmed that the United States intended to maintain a triad for those two reasons. And the New START treaty was written with the maintenance of the triad in mind. In other words, the Pentagon decided we should maintain a triad early in the NPR process; told the New START negotiators, make sure the treaty is written so we can maintain the triad; and when the president submitted his report and officials testified on how the United States would size and structure its force under the New START treaty, top line: We will maintain the triad.
Now, the problem is, all three legs of the triad are aging. They can be extended; they have been extended. You know, you like to hear that the B-52 bombers are older than the pilots. As a matter of fact, they’re older than the pilots’ fathers. They’re probably as old as the pilots’ grandfathers. We can maintain these systems to a certain degree – less true for the submarines than for the bombers or the ICBMs, but we stretch them out.
The fact that they are aging means that the Pentagon, in each of the services, is individually deciding on ways to replace each leg of the triad. This is not seen as a broad strategic goal, although some would argue it should be. It is seen as something each service needs to do to replace its aging leg of the triad.
The Navy is replacing the ballistic missile submarines because, at 42 years, they will fall out of the water. You can’t fall out of the water; they will have to come out of the water. (Laughter.) And that’s based on the reactor age. Each submarine goes through an engineering and reactor overhaul, and at the end of the second 20-year cycle you’re done. They have to come out. The bombers have been upgraded, maintained, extended. The ICBMs just went through a major life extension program where all the rocket motors were repoured and the guidance packages were repaired. Everything has been upgraded. But at some point in time, the services all expect them to collapse, and you need new ones.
So let me talk specifically about the modernization programs for each leg of the triad. And then, as I said, I’ll talk about what you might want to think about if you want to cut these. First, the submarines: Currently we have 14 Ohio-class submarines. They will start coming out of the fleet in 2029 because of this aging problem with the reactor cores. The current plan is to build 12 of a new class of submarine, and each of the 12 new submarines will have 16 launch tubes on it. The current submarines have 24 launch tubes, but under New START we’re only going to use 20 launch tubes per submarine. So we’ll have 12 new submarines with 16 launch tubes per submarine.
The FY 2012 budget contains just over a billion dollars in research and development funding for the new submarine. If you look at the out-years of the budget, that number for research and development ranges from about 1 billion (dollars) to about 1.15 billion (dollars) or 1.2 billion (dollars), for a total of about 10 (billion dollars) to $11 billion in research and development over the planning years of the submarine. The procurement funding – the long lead time procurement funding for the submarine – starts coming in in about 2015 or 2016, at about 700 (million dollars) to 800 (million dollars). It will ramp up eventually, but the long lead time funding comes in.
In FY 2010, the Navy thought that each of these 12 submarines would cost, on average – not including the first submarine, which has to carry the cost of the research and development and design money – about 6 (billion dollars) to $7 billion – way too expensive. So they’re trying to bring down the cost to about 4.9 (billion dollars) to $5 billion on average for submarines two through 12.
They’re succeeding; they’re down to about 5.7 billion (dollars) for the second submarine and hope to bring it down further. And they’re doing that with design changes and by using technologies off the shelf rather than newly developed. One thing they’re doing is building a reactor that can live through the whole life of the submarine, which would again be 40 years. And therefore you don’t need the reactor overhaul in the middle, which can be expensive.
So they’re trying to bring down the cost, but you’re still looking at a submarine program that, as the arms control community likes to say, will cost $350 billion over the life of the submarine – which, by the way, is 50 years – 50 to 70 years, depending on – from the first boat going in the water to the last boat coming out of the water. So that 350 billion (dollars) is not in the next 10 years. In the next 10 years we’re looking at about 10 (billion dollars) to 12 billion (dollars) in R&D costs and some procurement costs.
This program of 12 submarines would allow the Navy to continue to deploy their submarines in two oceans – we have a base in the Pacific and a base in the Atlantic – and to maintain what is referred to as continuous at-sea deterrence, with two to three submarines on station in the Pacific and two submarines on station in the Atlantic.
To maintain that operational deployment pattern, you need 12 submarines, or the Navy would tell you, you need 12 submarines – because at any given time, you have those submarines on station – which means they’re in range of the targets they’re supposed to shoot at and ready to shoot; prompt response – that you would have that, you’d have some submarines going out to be on station, some submarines coming back in, and some submarines in port for restocking and crew rest. Ohio-class submarines currently spend about 70 out of 90 days at sea. So if you do the math – and the Navy does the math – to maintain the current kind of deployment pattern we have, with the three submarines on station in the Pacific and two in the Atlantic, you need about 12 submarines.
Cost reduction proposals for this program include both delaying the advent of the first submarine in a fleet – as I said, you need to start buying the new submarine, building the new submarine, about 2019 to bring it in in 2029 when the first Ohio-class comes out. But if you delayed it a couple of years, the first Ohio-class could come out in 2029, and the new one would not go in until 2030 or 2031 or a little later. That would bring your fleet down below the 12 at sea, but they think they might be able to manage with a two-year delay. That’ll save you some money in the next 10 years by allowing you to slow down the R&D and delay the long lead time procurement.
You could also reduce the number of submarines in the long run. That won’t save you any money in the near term, because you still have the R&D and the design money. For the near term, it doesn’t matter how many submarines you buy in the long term. It’s like putting an addition on your house; the cost of the architect is the same whether or not you put on three rooms or five rooms. So it doesn’t matter. But that’s a decision you could make later to save money in the life-cycle cost of the program, to have fewer submarines.
Let me turn now to the next-generation bomber. Right now we have, under New START, planned 60 bombers in the fleet under New START; that would be 20 B-2s and 40 B-52s. The Air Force plans to procure between 80 and 100 new – what they call next-generation bombers, first expected to enter into service in the middle of the next decade, 2025 or thereabouts. Now, the current bombers are likely to remain in the force to between 2030 and 2040. So, you ask, why do they need a new bomber in 2025? Has nothing to do with the nuclear mission. Bombers are what is known as the long-range strike force for the long-range strike mission, of which they are looking at a family of systems.
Right now there’s $197 million in the FY 2012 budget for R&D on the new bomber. That’s not very much. But they expect the new bomber – depending on how it’s designed, whether it’s manned, unmanned, nuclear or not nuclear – 550 million (dollars) per copy, which could bring it to 60 (billion dollars) to $70 billion for the fleet – depending, again, on how many they buy and how they design it.
Now it’s important to note that the Air Force really, really, really, really wants this bomber for conventional missions. And the Air Force has already said that, in an effort to save some money in the early years, it’s not going to put the nuclear capability on the bomber right away. That means hardware and software to be able to carry, communicate and launch nuclear weapons. It’s possible the Air Force could delay this problem to save some money in the near term. It’s possible it could never put nuclear capability on this bomber. We’d then, as Hans said, go to a dyad. Or we could keep the old bombers for a long time.
But it’s also worth remembering that any effort you make to save money in the bomber as a way to save money on nuclear weapons really messes with the Air Force’s plan to build – (chuckles) – a conventional bomber. And, therefore, anything that you might do on the nuclear side bothers them on the conventional side. And anything that you might do on the conventional side doesn’t really save you money on the nuclear side.
Finally, the ICBM modernization program: As I said, over the last 15 years, the Air Force has done a lot of work to refurbish, rebuild and extend the life of the Minuteman III ICBM. Originally it planned to replace that in about 2020; now we’re looking at 2030. One could argue they could stretch it even further. If they don’t, they’re going to be buying new ICBMs about the same time they’re buying new submarines and buying new bombers, and that’s unaffordable. There really is no cost estimate on how much a new ICBM would cost because they’re still studying what a new ICBM would look like. But if one wants to save money on ICBMs, one would either stretch the program or buy fewer.
But that’s what you need to think about, as I said – I’m going to talk about how you think about this. If you want to reduce the amount of money you put into the budget in the next year – or the next five years or the next 10 years – on any of these modernization programs, you’re talking generally about slowing them down, stretching them out. The budget funding – the money in the budget for the next several years is all R&D and design money. You don’t start procurement money until the next FYDP, which is five to seven years out.
If you do that, if you slow them down, you don’t actually save money on nuclear weapons. You may actually cost more money in the long run; you just do it later. But if you’re trying to reduce the amount of funding in the budget – the budget request, which is what everybody seems to be trying to do in the Pentagon right now – you want to bring down the budget request – you stretch the nuclear programs.
One reason you stretch nuclear programs, beyond saving money in the near-term budget, is because eventually you may decide you don’t need them as much, and you buy fewer of them in the long run. And that’s where you reduce the cost of nuclear weapons in the long run. But again, how many you buy in the long run is not a decision you need to make now.
I could remind you that, at one point in time, we were going to buy over a hundred B-2 bombers –132; dropped to 75; dropped to 21. We were going to buy 200 peacekeeper ICBMs; dropped to a hundred; dropped to 50; stopped there. We were going to buy 24 Ohio-class submarines; dropped to 21; dropped to 18. We did buy 18, took four out, made them conventional cruise missile carriers; now at 14, dropping the next submarine to 12. It does seem that the longer you wait, the less you need.
So that may be one – (chuckles) – benefit if you’re looking for a way to reduce long-term costs: Drag it out now, and eventually you buy less. But if you’re looking to save money in the budget request now, the number that you eventually buy isn’t going to change that. It’s whether or not you buy it sooner or buy it later. And you can be pretty certain that in the budget debates they’re having in the Pentagon, they are talking about delaying some of these programs to reduce the amount of money you need in the budget request.
Finally, I’d like to conclude with some policy issues. As both Hans and Mort talked about, the size of our force is strongly driven by the presidential guidance on how we need to operate and execute that force. A lot of people like to think about nuclear weapons as an arithmetic game. The treaty allows us to have 1,550 warheads. How can we allocate those warheads across a smaller force – fewer ICBMs, fewer submarines – so that we don’t have to spend all the money on the ICBMs and the submarines and the bombers?
We can have those warheads and concentrate them on a smaller number of systems. But that’s not how we operate our nuclear force. We don’t operate our nuclear force based on arithmetic; we operate it based on guidance. And the guidance says we need to be able to launch promptly against a wide range of targets.
As Hans said, the range of targets – the geographic spread of them – has probably increased in the last 20 years, not just looking at Russia, or Russia and China, but looking at a greater number of countries for counterproliferation reasons. If you decide that you don’t need to spread your force and operate it the way we operate it, with a prompt response requirement, with keeping the submarines on station requirement, with other requirements that lead to keeping weapons on a wider number of ICBMs and bombers – if you change those requirements, you may be able to change how you operate the force.
If you change how you operate the force, you may be able to reduce the number of delivery systems that you purchase, with or without reducing the warhead numbers. But wouldn’t it make sense – and this is an opinion – to make the decision about changing how you operate the force before the budget forces you to do it, because the budget has forced you to reduce the number of delivery systems?
Right now, we’re kind of in that crossover point. The administration is looking at changes in the guidance that might allow you to change how you operate the force and, therefore, buy fewer systems. But the budget pressures, which may win the day, are putting a lot of pressure to buy fewer systems or buy them later, which may then force you to change how you operate the force.
MR. KIMBALL: Thank you very much, Amy. That was a very helpful overview of the many issues and considerations. And I just wanted to offer some thoughts about how, with respect to the policy issues and the budget decisions, the president and the Congress might go about doing this. And there’s an op-ed by my research director Tom Collina and I in the Christian Science Monitor that outlines some of these ideas.
But let me just say, in taking all this into consideration – if as Mort Halperin suggested, the president does indeed undertake a zero-based review of targeting requirements, starting from scratch, and looks again at the old Cold War requirements for prompt launch, it’s pretty clear that the United States could significantly reduce the number of targets and, therefore, reduce the number of deployed U.S. nuclear warheads to – as he said and I agree – 1,000 or below.
And we’ve got to keep in mind that no other county has any more than – other than the U.S. and Russia – 300 strategic warheads. And that country is France, by the way. And China possesses no more than, maybe, 50 nuclear warheads on long-range ballistic missiles. So even at these lower force levels, there’s still more than enough firepower to deter a nuclear attack, or perhaps other types of attacks by potential adversaries.
So in our view, the view of the Arms Control Association, I mean, these changes are prudent and they’re long overdue. And I would agree with Amy that, ideally, the policy should be adjusted before the budget, rather than having the budget drive the policy. But as we said at the outset, the process that is now entering the post-NPR analysis should be concluded this year. And the budget decisions that the Pentagon, the White House, OMB and Congress need to make will be made this year, and next year, and the year after, because these weapons systems are not built in a single fiscal year.
So let me just outline an illustrative scenario. And there are six ways to Sunday to reconfigure the strategic forces and save, in the many ways that Amy outlined. But if the president and the Congress did just three things, we could save at least $45 billion over the next 10 years and still maintain a strategic deployed nuclear force of over a thousand nuclear weapons.
First step would be to downsize the number of nuclear-armed submarines by reducing the overall fleet from 14 to eight or fewer boats, and building no more than eight new Ohio-class submarines. That would save roughly $27 billion over the next 10 years, and as much as $120 billion out of the total estimated cost, $350 billion, over the life of the program.
Secondly, we could and should delay the new strategic bomber program. As we heard, the B-52s, the venerable B-52s, and the B-2s will be in service for several decades more. There is no rush to pursue this new bomber, at least for nuclear warfighting and deterrence purposes. And by doing so, according to the Pentagon, we could save $18 billion over the next decade. So 27 plus 18, that’s 45.
Additionally, third, we could and should reduce the number of land-based nuclear-armed Minuteman III three missiles. That would achieve some marginal operating and maintenance savings. Just, for instance, one squadron could be retired or removed from each of the three missile bases, and we would have a force, instead of 420, to 300. And this would more reasonably align the size of the U.S. ICBM force with that of Russia, and save hundreds of millions of dollars in operations costs.
So those are just three ways to do this, and we think that the president and the Congress need to take a hard look at these options as they connect up with the nuclear policy decisions that the president is going to be making in the next few weeks.
So with that, let me stop. And I hope that you have enough information and provocative ideas to stimulate your questions and suggestions. We’ve got a very well informed audience here, so let me open up the floor to your questions. We have a microphone here. If you could raise your hands, identify yourself, ask your question, we’ll try to answer it and have a discussion. So why don’t we start over here? Kelsey, with –
Q: Yeah, hi. I’m Susan Cornwell with Reuters. There wasn’t any discussion of missile defense, and I just wondered if you deliberately left that out. If – you know, but as a potential point for cost savings, do you want to make any comments on that?
MR. KIMBALL: Well, we didn’t include it because we’d have to have a two-and-a-half hour session, and perhaps longer. Well, I mean, obviously the U.S. missile defense programs are another huge cost element in the defense budget, consuming close to $10 billion if you calculate all the different programs together. There are some in there that are clearly ripe for removal, like the MEADS program, which is a technically troubled and slightly unpopular program at this stage.
And I’m not sure off the top of my head what the exact figure is, but I think there are billions that could be saved over the next decade if that program is phased out. But I think we’ll save our fire and our critique about missile defense programs for another day. But that’s obviously another key part of the Defense Department’s calculations about how to save hundreds of billions over the next decade. Does anybody else want to weigh in on that?
MR. KRISTENSEN: I just, perhaps, want to remark that it does, obviously, have an effect on the type of nuclear relationship, as well, we’re trying to establish both with Russia, but also China – because those two countries look at missile defense capabilities – growing missile defense capabilities – as something that have an effect on what kind of nuclear forces they think they need. So it does have an effect on their long-term planning as well, just to remark there.
MR. KIMBALL: Yes, right up here?
Q: Hi, I’m Sameera Daniels, of Ramsey Decision. I come at this from a lay perspective, because I don’t consider myself an expert. But there’s a broader question as it relates to Hans Kristensen’s question posed about Cold War thinking. And I’m wondering to what extent – and this is for any of you – whether you think that we’ve been able to distinguish what this Cold War thinking is.
And, you know, it’s set off in some of the reports – you know, we have to get beyond Cold War thinking. Have we really identified, you know, the distinctions in a way that is coherent, and then translated that into a practical – I don’t see that. And I actually do read the reports. So this is a persistent question that I’ve had.
MR. KIMBALL: So what is Cold War thinking and how do we move beyond it? And it depends a lot on what it is.
MR. HALPERIN: Well, I think it’s two things, one which I discussed, which is the notion that there is a serious possibility of a surprise Russian attack and that we need to design our force to deter the Russians from deliberately deciding to launch an attack on the United States. That is clearly, in my view, Cold War thinking. And it is the thing, as I’ve suggested, that drives the whole process. So changing that would be enormously important.
The other form of Cold War thinking was the notion that we had a conventional deficit, and therefore we needed to use, or threaten to use nuclear weapons first in various scenarios involving conventional attacks and biological and chemical weapons. And there the administration has moved very far by saying that our goal is to get the sole purpose. They should get the sole purpose. We should understand that nuclear weapons have the sole function of deterring their use by others. So those are, I think, the two dominant elements of Cold War thinking which we need to change. And if we did change, we’d make a big difference.
MS. WOOLF: There’s also the problem that Cold War thinking in the rhetoric, versus Cold War thinking in the planning, are two very different things.
The Bush administration went a long way in its rhetoric to get past Cold War thinking. In their Nuclear Posture Review in 2001, they specifically said, Russia is not an enemy. We are no longer going to size and structure our nuclear force as if Russia were a smaller version of the Soviet Union. Instead, we’re going to size and structure our force so that it can address the capabilities of anybody who might have capabilities that can threaten us.
Q: But that doesn’t change –
MS. WOOLF: Now, yeah, two things happened after that. If you’re – when they did that – when they said anybody could be a threat, and we’re going to make our capabilities responsive to their capabilities, all of the sudden you’re not reducing your own capabilities. You just have a different excuse for maintaining your capabilities.
Also, they said that Russia was not a threat and we weren’t going to structure our force and size our force as if Russia were the Soviet Union – but if you added up the warhead numbers, you could not imagine using 2,000 – 2,200 warheads against anybody except Russia. So there’s a disconnect between the rhetoric of changing Cold War thinking and the planning of changing Cold War thinking.
And what Hans has been struggling with, in describing this to you, is how do you make that connection and go from changing your rhetoric, which this administration is trying to change as well, to actually changing your planning? And lots of people have lots of reasons why we don’t make that leap very well, and I’m not going to offer an opinion.
MR. KRISTENSEN: Yeah, I just wanted to say that one big problem, of course, is that the way it is – as many people in Congress have experienced on many occasions, is that it is very, very hard to get any insight to how the actual planning, on the planning level, is taking place, and how the presidential guidance is being interpreted in terms of the actual strike plan. And it’s a very, very small group of people that are actually allowed to see the war plan, for that matter. And so it’s hard to get a detailed critique going on of the requirements and the principles in that type of planning.
MR. KIMBALL: Well, I would posit that there’s a kind of cultural concept of what Cold War thinking is. And part of it is the concept that we might be willing to engage in an actual nuclear war, and wage a nuclear war. Deterring a nuclear attack is one thing, waging a nuclear war is another thing.
And that is actually still part of the plan. And I think what we have to recognize here, in early 2012, is that Dmitri Medvedev is not Josef Stalin, and Dmitri Medvedev is not going to countenance the possible annihilation of tens of millions of Russian citizens, let alone hundreds. And the same for the United States president. So, I mean, it is a different day and age in that sense. But the war plan is still, on a technical level, a plan for possibly waging a nuclear exchange between these two superpowers.
MR. HALPERIN: I want to make the distinction, which I think is very important and often overlooked, between the war plan and the requirements of the forces that we need to deter. They’re entirely different things. The war plan is developed from the forces we have at every – in any given moment. And it’s developed against the potential targets that potential adversaries have at that moment. And you simply use the forces in the most effective way.
What drives back to the requirements is this requirement for prompt launch. But the question of what size force we need and what targets we need to be confident that we could destroy is a question of what deters the enemy, and is entirely separate from the question of what the war plan is doing with the weapons. So you don’t actually have to see the war plans to come to grips with this question of what kind of force, with what capability to destroy what targets, do we need to deter a Russian attack.
MR. KIMBALL: Other questions? David? Here it comes.
Q: My name is David Hoffman, with Foreign Policy magazine. I’d like to ask all of the panel – you know, sort of the theme of today is, Obama’s got some new decisions to make. And if you look back at the last couple of years, you know, in his campaign he promised to do something about alert status and then he decided not to.
Amy mentioned the strategic reserve. And if you look back really far, you know, half of that reserve was created for geopolitical uncertainty, Bill Perry said in 1994 – even if you look even further back, at all of the SIOP plans that predate the present one and how little presidents have actually been able to change them.
My question to you is, does President Obama have a lot of room – the willpower or the inclination to make change here? Or is he going to be carried along by the same sort of inertia that’s characterized the past? And should he have more unilateral action?
And I mention this because one of the reasons not to move unilaterally, it’s always posited that we have to move bilaterally. And so I ask all of you, should Obama’s decisions wait for some kind of bilateral arrangements with the Russians? Or are there things that he can do unilaterally, or should do, in alert status, in strategic reserves, or in force structure or in targeting? Is there any room for him to move?
MR. KIMBALL: Mort and Hans, you want to –
MR. HALPERIN: Sure.
MR. KRISTENSEN: Go ahead. I’ll go after you.
MR. HALPERIN: I think that the move he has to make unilaterally is on what, roughly, is alert status, which is the requirement for prompt launch. That’s not something you negotiate with the Russians. You can’t. I think the president needs to say to the military, I do not have a requirement for prompt launch – which does not mean that some of the forces won’t be capable of prompt launch. They obviously will be.
But the requirement for a large-scale prompt launch drives a good deal about the question of how many submarines need to be on station at any given moment, for one example, describes – it affects a lot of things. That has to be changed unilaterally. The president ought to do it. I do not believe that would be a major political issue in the United States. He’s not telling the military to change anything. He’s just saying don’t do the alert status because you have a presidential requirement.
On the strategic reserve, what I think we’ve said, which I think is right, is that the strategic reserve has two purposes. One is geopolitical and the other is for massive failure. But it turns out, since one of those requirements comes from the Department of Energy and the other comes from the Department of Defense, we have the same number to do both tasks. So we don’t have some number in the strategic reserve for geopolitical changes and some number for catastrophic failure. It’s the same number.
And each department has said it’s enough because they’re assuming it would all be used for their purpose. So you’d have to change both to change the number. Now, I think we can change it. But what we’ve said is, when the modernization of the nuclear production facilities is moving along and has reached a certain point, then we can reduce that number.
I don’t think it’s urgent, in my view, because the other role of that force is that it balances, in numbers, the Soviet tactical nuclear forces. And if we’re ever going to get agreement on the Russians to reduce their tactical nuclear forces, we need, I think, to say we will reduce that force at the same time. In terms of moving bilaterally, what I’ve suggested is, once the president decides we can do the deterrent function with a thousand and not 1500, which was the conclusion that came out of accepting the Bush rationale, then I think we should negotiate that with the Russians. And I think we could negotiate with the Russians one more agreement before we get to all these complicated issues, which, as I said, leave the treaty exactly the way it is, just change the number of overt weapons to a thousand from 1500.
And whether the president will do it or not, you know, I wouldn’t bet on it. But I think if he understands what the precise issues are and how little cost it would be to him politically to do it, he would do it at least in December, if not in October.
MR. KRISTENSEN: I just – if the past is any experience or any guidance, I think, you know, what he decides will be modest. I mean, it’s just always the way that it had been in the nuclear business. Nobody goes in and makes giant, huge, fast decisions. But I think, looking to the future – the future horizon, I think it’s very important that what he does do is something that puts down the stakes for the road that he is signaling that we’re interested in traveling.
And so I think it’s important that what comes out of it is not sort of a signal to other nuclear powers that now for the next couple of decades, you know, it’s going to be the same as we’ve done in the past, just as – just at lower numbers. We’ll slice a little here, slice a little there, relax this requirement here, but the thrust of it is the same. It seems to me that if putting it into Cold War thinking has to have any meaning on, yes, we have not defined it, and nobody has a good explanation or probably, more importantly, everybody has their own opinion about what it means. But if you – if that sentence means anything, it seems to me that there has to be something more than just slicing a little here and slicing a little there.
MS. WOOLF: I agree with Hans that any changes you see now are going to be modest. They were modest in 2001. They were modest in 1994. But modesty adds up. When you ask if the president can do this unilaterally or bilaterally, I know you meant, does he have to do this by negotiating with the Russians? I think if you’re doing – waiting for a bilateral agreement with the Russians, you’re going to be waiting a long time. When I heard bilaterally, I think does he – can he do this alone, or can he – does he have to wait and do this with the Pentagon? Can he do this alone, or does he have to wait and do this with the Congress?
Does he have to wait and do this with the Pentagon, and there are some things he can do unilaterally and require that the Pentagon follow along? I think he would be very, very cautious in doing that. Just historically, the president has always, in these Nuclear Posture Review situations, taken a lot of guidance from the Pentagon. But as Hans said, you kind of need to push forward and stop just slicing at the edges.
Now, unilaterally or bilaterally with Congress is a whole different issue. And in the current political environment, I would be very, very surprised to see the president do anything more than modest, because of the political pushback and because of the makeup of the debate in Congress. There aren’t a lot of members of Congress who pay attention to these issues, but those who do have very strong opinions. And I’m not certain he wants to get into that debate with Congress right now.
MR. KIMBALL: Well, I would just quickly add that – I mean, while – in my observation of President Obama and the White House and their work on nuclear weapons policy issues, in talking with some of the people who advise him, he is very engaged on these issues. He’s very knowledgeable, I think probably more so historically than most American presidents. So I think, you know, he will have – when the time comes to make these decisions about the nuclear weapons guidance, he will have the tools to make what I would consider to be the right decisions and to unpack some of these issues.
And I would just add, with respect to, you know, your unilateral – can he do this unilaterally question, David, that, you know, these decisions are unilateral decisions, in the sense that these are presidential decisions about the purpose of nuclear weapons, the employment policy, the conditions under which we would. They’re influenced, of course, by all these different factors, but these are his decisions. And how the decisions are implemented in arms control strategy or how the force is structured are decisions, perhaps, for later.
And I would just add to one of the things that Mort said, which is that, you know, if the president decides that U.S. defense requirements do not – defense needs don’t require such a large force or such a large force on prompt launch status, he can decide in this classified process that we can go lower. And that will set up a formal negotiation with Russia in later in 2012 or 2013. Or the other thing he could do very easily, and I would propose, is that he invite the Russian leadership to reciprocally reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads within the New START framework, below the 1550 ceiling that New START establishes. And that would be a way in which to accelerate the process. We would still have the transparency and monitoring and verification benefits of New START. And even as they do that, there could be a formal negotiation involving all types of nuclear weapons – deployed and nondeployed, strategic, nonstrategic.
The next negotiation with Russia, involving all those different types of nuclear weapons, is going to be much more time-consuming than New START. The process for ratifying that treaty is going to be equally complicated. And in my view, there’s no reason to wait another 5, 6 years to take another cut from what is, you know, by any reasonable definition, a Cold War-sized U.S. and Russian nuclear force.
MR. KIMBALL: Yes, Paul. And then, we’ll go back around the horn.
Q: Yeah. Paul Walker with Global Green USA. Thank you all for a very interesting discussion. All of us – I’m sure for most of us in the audience, it’s kind of déjà vu, too, because we’ve being doing these angel – angel with devil counting on the head of a pin sort of calculations, you know, for several decades now.
But I wanted to ask you a question about the triad or the troika, Mort as you say, versus a dyad. I mean, we all know that we’ve thought about going to a dyad for, at least, 20 years since the end of the Cold War. And I know the Department of Defense, in their first Nuclear Posture Review, was challenged a bit back in the early 90s to do this and potentially recommend going to a dyad. In the end, they didn’t. And in the discussions, I think probably a lot of us had, we realized that it was the political pressures that were really brought to bear – the ICBM caucus, the sub and shipbuilding caucus, and the Air Force, you know, bomber caucus. If we didn’t have those political pressures up on Capitol Hill and all the domestic constituencies for sort of nukes for jobs, you know, in bringing the bacon back home in the districts, would any of you think, at this point, it might be worthwhile to go to a dyad? And if so – or even a single – a single nuclear force – and if so, which one would you choose to give up?
MS. WOOLF: If they were not told to do so, the services would gladly give up some of their nuclear capabilities. Over the years, the services have gladly given up their nuclear capabilities. Nuclear weapons, for portions of the corporate Navy and the corporate Air Force, are a pain in the neck. They take time, money, resources, training, crews, people. They would probably gladly, at this point in time, reduce their roles. Top of the list would – not my choice, but I think what the Air Force has already said would be to not have to exercise the bombers in a nuclear mission, but they are told otherwise by the Pentagon, by the Office of Secretary of Defense, by the civilians. So if it were up to the Air Force, it is highly – it’s highly likely – it is possible that we would lose the bombers from the nuclear mission. They’ve never considered them – the nuclear mission to be critical to their desire to have lots of bombers, and that would probably go.
Second, although I don’t think the Air Force would choose to get out of the ICBM business, if they were required to find the money to buy a new ICBM, they may buy too few of them to sustain a fleet. So that might be the second to go, if the Air Force were put in the position of having to pay lots and lots of money and not having the money. The ICBM fleet also cost them lots of human beings. And they are under severe personnel restrictions right now. The Navy – the submarine fleet is somewhat protected in the Navy. It’s – they’ve taken nuclear weapons off the surface fleet and off the attack submarines. The ballistic missile submarine fleet is somewhat protected by having its own protectorate strategic programs office. So I think if we left it up to the services over the next 50 years and the budgets got really tight, we’d have all-SLBM fleet. But I have no personal opinion on which way we should go.
MR. HALPERIN: Yeah. I have a different view of this. First of all, my view is that you do not save any money by cutting out a weapons system, that the amount of money the Pentagon wants to spend is infinite. And it is determined by the political process of what number they can get and not by adding up the weapons systems that they say you want. So I think it is a false notion to say if we cut out the submarines or the bombers or the missiles, we save so much money. What we do is make that same amount of money available to the Pentagon for other purposes, which, in my view, are much less valuable than these weapons.
I would not get rid of the triad even if you could get rid of this political pressure, which of course is you can’t, and therefore is, in my view, a sufficient reason to keep it, because it keeps – what happens is, as I’ve said, people fight going to lower numbers because they fear they’ll lose their leg of the triad, and there’s no way to get rid of that. But also, my view is the most important thing is to get to lower numbers and to get off the requirement for prompt launch and the notion that we need to do prompt launch because otherwise we don’t have a survivable force. And I think having the triad makes it easier to argue that we can go to lower numbers and that we can come off prompt alert and not worry about being able to do prompt alert.
So I would never get rid of the triad, myself. I think it helps us get to lower numbers, which is, in my view, the important thing. It helps us to get off the requirement for prompt launch. Those are two important values. And no matter what size the Pentagon budget is, I would still rather spend the money on the triad. There are lots of different ways that the services would want to send their money. I would trade the submarines for aircraft carriers in a minute. I would trade the nuclear capability of a small number of bombers for this overall size of the bomber force in a second. And the ICBM force, simply not expensive. We can extend the life of it. So my view is there’s not big money here. And the triad makes it easier to argue to go to a smaller force less required to be on alert, and those are the important values.
MR. KIMBALL: I would agree with Mort, that one can make the prudent, necessary changes to nuclear policy and reduce the number of forces, get rid of prompt launch, and have a triad. The Arms Control Association produced a report in 2005 that outlined a force of 500 deployed strategic warheads on a triad. So, I mean, that’s possible. Getting rid of a leg of the triad is not necessary or even preferable in order to get to that point.
But I would say, Mort, that, you know, it – from a broader defense strategy standpoint, it does matter whether we spend $45 billion on pursuing a new bomber and a new fleet of nuclear arms submarines, because that’s $45 billion that might not be spent on destroyers that the Navy wants to build or flak jackets for the troops we want in the field. I mean, there are some Hobbesian choices that the Pentagon is facing and, of course, Hobbesian choices that the federal government as a whole are facing about how to spend federal tax dollars. So you know, $45 billion that’s not necessary to achieve the goal of maintaining a formidable deterrent is $45 billion that we ought to save over the next decade, in my view.
MR. KRISTENSEN: I just want to remark, also, that I think it’s – rather than – I’m less interested in the issue of whether to continue a triad or not, than trying to reduce the requirements to the forces that are on the three legs. And think hard about, how do you, in those three legs, reduce Cold War thinking. And so I think that’s kind of where we are – we’re at now. But I do think it’s interesting that we’ve seen, within the last year, two senior officials – one from the White House and one from the Pentagon – both say that if you reduce to certain levels, at some point, you will have to make a decision about a triad. I don’t personally know whether that’s true or not, but I think it’s very interesting that they say it.
MR. KIMBALL: All right. I think we still have a lot of questions. Why don’t we go over here, and then we’ll come to front. And then, we’ll try to get folks in the peanut gallery. Thank you.
Q: Howard Morland. I understand that deterrence requires the credible threat of actually detonating a nuclear weapon in enemy territory, and that for credibility, you would have to have some practical goal that would be accomplished by doing this. So can anybody describe the situation in which the detonation of a U.S. nuclear weapon in foreign territory would improve that situation? And what would the target set be? Why would it have to be nuclear weapons to destroy the target set? And how would the situation be improved after we detonated these weapons?
MR. KIMBALL: It’s a philosophical question. Mort, you’re best at those I think.
MR. HALPERIN: Yeah, I actually believe we need to start having a debate about precisely this question, and that what we ought to say is that we deter a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies or those we offer our nuclear protection to by the – by the certainty of a prompt and decisive military attack on the country that launches the attack, and that we ought to get away from saying that at least initially that would certainly be a nuclear attack.
I mean, for example, if the North Koreans dropped a nuclear weapon on South Korea, it is hard to imagine a nuclear attack on North Korea that would in the interest of South Korea or the United States or anybody else, including the people of North Korea, who obviously will have had nothing to do with that decision. And so the response to that, in my view, I think needs to be a prompt conventional attack, which removes the leadership of the country, which holds them accountable for it, and which destroys all of their nuclear capability – none of which you need nuclear weapons for, and none of which would nuclear weapons be particularly good at.
Now that’s a radical change in our thinking, because it says not only should we not respond to conventional attacks with nuclear weapons, but we shouldn’t necessarily respond to nuclear attacks with nuclear weapons. But I think, given our overwhelming conventional forces, and given the countries that are likely to use nuclear weapons against us, that we need to start having that debate.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Let’s take three or four questions at once then we’ll try to answer them. If could try to be brief because we’re running out of time.
Q: Thank you, yes. Francesco Fabian (sp), I’m a – (inaudible) – diplomat. I am interested in knowing your thoughts about this withdrawal – the B-61 – I mean, the nonstrategic nuclear weapons that are in Europe – 200 more or less – that are, frankly, to my view, they seem to be absolutely obsolete in a way. They do not guarantee any deterrence for European countries. Deterrence is guaranteed more by their alliance with the United States and the old system of weapons, as Mr. Halperin was saying.
So what are you doing to – and it seems to me that everyone is convinced in America to withdraw those weapons, by the way. There – and there’s no objection to that. So what are you doing in order to get that moving? Because it seems that it is – it’s happening very, very slow, and is expensive, makes no sense. We – (inaudible) – modified to transport those weapons that are obsolete. I mean, is a ridiculous situation, frankly. Thank you.
MR. KIMBALL: Let’s take a couple more questions – then Bruce.
Q: Tom Callan (sp) with Defense Group Incorporated. Got a question or two on China, and with their heavy increase in their research and develop and military, and their open-source stated comments that the use of a high-level nuclear explosion for an EMP does not, in their opinion or definition, cross the nuclear threshold, why is China being summarily dismissed in virtually all the discussions this morning?
MR. KIMBALL: And Bruce.
Q: Bruce MacDonald, U.S. Institute of Peace. I – there have been some defense commentators who have pointed out that the – Russia’s strategic nuclear forces have been declining – were declining regardless because of age and maintenance issues and that sort of thing. My question is, what is the – do we know what the projection is for a continued decline in Russians’ nuclear forces, sort of regardless of negotiations, and what options or opportunities might that present?
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Those are good questions. Hans, why don’t you take a whack at the Russia’s future forces and maybe China, and then we’ll come around.
MR. KRISTENSEN: Well, Russia is in the middle of an overhaul, obviously, of its nuclear force structure – mostly important emphasized by the withdrawal within the next 10 years of all the old ICBMs, including SS-18 and SS-19. So by the early ’20s we’re going to have a force on land that’s entirely of the new Topol-M and the RS-24. There’s no way that Russia’s production as planned of ICBMs can offset that withdrawal – that reduction. So we’re going to see the Russian ICBM force go significantly down, probably to around 200 I think, within that time frame.
They’re thinking about building a new heavy ICBM, liquid fuel, to replace the SS-18 on the other side of the mid-’20s – perhaps earlier, but we’ll see what they can do. But that’s sort of what’s on the pipeline on that. On the sub force, they’re basically replacing the old Delta III with a new Borei class and the Bulava ballistic missile, which eventually will also replace the Delta IV. So they’re going toward some form of sub force that will probably dwindle to about eight or so in the long term.
On attack nukes, there’s a lot of focus on disparity. Much of the Russian attack nuke force is very, very, very old. And I think a significant portion of it will be withdrawn, not only because the systems are too old but also because some of the surface ships and even submarines that are currently equipped with nuclear will be converted to non-nuclear, more capable systems, for the kind of scenarios that they will do. So I think we’ll see a significant reduction in that over the next decade or so.
Oh China – there was a question about China as well. Why has it been omitted? I didn’t intend to omit it, but it’s a factor in the U.S. planning, absolutely, and it has been increasingly so over the last decade and a half. The U.S. is very focused right now, of course, on the general, overall, military modernization but also of what the impact will be of them modernizing of their longer-range forces. But whatever they do, it is a significantly smaller force than we even have after the Russian nuclear forces will decline to where we can foresee them going in the foreseeable future. So it’s just a very, very different factor to plan for.
On the B-61s in Europe, well, I’m for withdrawing them. I don’t think that’s a secret. But – and I think they’re – you know, the end of a posture that used to be there and serve a purpose but doesn’t anymore. And now we just have a lot of officials and some departments of defense who can’t get over it and sort of decide where we move now. And – but I understand it will take some time. There are people who are concerned about the effect that it will have. And so there’s a transition process, I guess.
But it comes back to another issue also – which was mentioned also, about the – where are we going in terms of reducing the triad or what have you. And it is clear in the Nuclear Posture Review that at least, in the way I read it, that part of the thinking of what are bomber – long – the heavy bombers, the purpose they serve, partly, is also in the form of extended deterrence missions, if you will. So there is some sort of a mission there that is related to the future of nuclear weapons in Europe as well, but I certainly do not think it requires deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe anymore.
MR. KIMBALL: OK. Mort, on China and Amy and –
MR. HALPERIN: Let me just say one quick thing on Russia. At the risk of Cold War thinking, I think it is important to try to prevent the Russians from building the new, large, liquid fuel, strategic missile which would have multiple warheads on it, and which would – is not a good weapons systems to have. And that’s one of the reasons I think it’s urgent to try to get a proposal with the Russians, whether we do it by a treaty amendment or by unilateral steps, to go down below a thousand deployed warheads, because I think it would make it more likely that the Russians would not deploy the new missile.
On China I think it’s clear that whatever number of nuclear weapons you think we need to deter China, it’s a far smaller subset of what we need to deter Russia. So the problem of China does not really come into this kind of discussion until we get to much lower numbers. When we start getting to 500, then we need to bring the Chinese in, get them to be transparent, get them at least to agree not to increase beyond their numbers.
As far as Europe, it’s clear those weapons are militarily irrelevant. We ought to say that publicly, and then be guided by our European allies as to what to do. But I think – the U.S. has sort of said it publicly if you hunt, but if we say that publicly, clearly and loudly, the political situation in Europe will make it, I think, impossible for the Europeans not to say, well, then please take them out, which is clearly what we should do.
MS. WOOLF: On the B-61s in Europe, although the United States over the years has had several rounds of reducing nuclear weapons in Europe unilaterally, this administration and every other administration has said that a decision on whether or not to keep those weapons there is an alliance decision, a NATO decision, not a U.S. decision. And to say that everybody agrees that they should go home is not true in alliance circles. There are some who would like to keep them, so the – keep them in Europe.
So the alliance decision and the strategic concept was that although NATO remains a nuclear alliance, it would further consider how many and what types of weapons to keep as a deterrent, and it’s in the middle of doing that right now in the Defense and Deterrence Posture Review. The other thing the alliance said that it would look for opportunities for arms controls reductions with Russia, to bring down both the Russian numbers and the U.S. – NATO numbers of nonstrategic nuclear weapons.
Given the disparity in numbers, that’s hard to imagine how it would happen. So NATO has kind of put itself into a box that would make it very hard to make a decision to take them out, but that decision could come. It’s a NATO decision, though, not a U.S. decision, even though the U.S. has made that decision in the past. This time around we’re waiting on NATO.
MR. KIMBALL: Those are all very good answers. I’ll just add that the Arms Control Association, the British-American Security Information Council, will be coming back to you with further information, ideas, analysis on the tactical nuclear weapons issue as that DDPR, as it’s called, decision point approaches just before the NATO summit in Chicago.
We are at the end of our time here. I want to thank all of our speakers for some great presentations about a very important issue. I want to thank the audience for your rapt attention. And I want to encourage you to continue to check in to the Arms Control Association about these issues. There will be a transcript of this session out on our website, armscontrol.org, in several days.
Thanks and have a good morning. (Applause.)
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