Jeffrey LewisMaintaining Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century

I totally missed that the United States Senate Republican Policy Committee published a position paper entitled Maintaining Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century.

Ivan Oelrich didn’t, though. He’s drafted a five page response, summarized below:

Comments on the United States Senate Republican Policy Committee Position Paper

Maintaining Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century

The United States Senate Republican Policy Committee recently published a Position Paper, Maintaining Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has written a five page response pointing out what we believe are some errors in logic, points of fact, and strategy.

The main points of the response are:

  • The position paper assumes nuclear weapons are the answer and then looks for the right question to ask. If the question is, “How should we best use nuclear weapons to deter aggression?” then the answer will, obviously, always include nuclear weapons. If we ask, “How should we best deter aggression?” the answer will almost never include nuclear weapons.
  • The paper exaggerates the problems of warhead aging. Tests indicate that the nuclear components of weapons (except tritium) are not changing in any significant way with age and the non-nuclear parts can be, and many are being, replaced. Research is continuing on the aging process so our understanding of aging is growing faster than the weapons age. Tritium reserves are adequate for decades.
  • The paper exaggerates the need to destroy deep targets for deterrence. If deterrence depends on the “power to hurt” why should we allow the enemy to define their deep targets as the only way to hurt them? Deep targets are sometimes militarily important but even huge nuclear weapons cannot destroy them; we have no choice but to attack the entrances, which conventional weapons can do.
  • The paper argues that we need a more credible deterrent. The credibility of a nuclear response to a nuclear attack is so high as to be near certain. It can’t get any more credible. In other cases, the logic is inescapable: we cannot make the use of nuclear weapons more credible unless we make the use of nuclear weapon more likely.
  • The paper does not deal in specifics so it defaults to assuming extreme requirements to make certain that any conceivable mission is covered. For example, the paper states, without saying why, that we need increased confidence in our nuclear weapons when confidence is already extremely high.
  • While the Reliable Replace Warhead (RRW) program is not perfectly well defined, FAS agrees with the points made about the RRW.

This debate is extremely important—David Hobson (R-OH), chairman of the Appropriations Energy Subcommittee is serious about initiating a debate on the role of nuclear weapons.

I still have a soft spot for the National Academies 1997 study The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy.