Jeffrey LewisDSB Task Force: Nuclear Weapons Rule!

The Defense Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Capabilities—co-chaired by Johnny Foster and Larry Welch—has released a hilariously retro report on nuclear weapons.

Concerned citizens should be aware, the authors warn, of “an entrenched set of views held by an influential segment of the U.S. population” … crazy views like …

  • smaller, less alert forces would be good;
  • US emphasis on nuclear weapons might encourage proliferation;
  • nonproliferation is more important than deterrence after the end of the Cold War;
  • nuclear weapons should only be used to deter other nuclear threats; and
  • that new nuclear weapons might just generally be a bad idea.

Gee, I don’t even know where to start.

All I could think of, was Mark Fiore’s stoned nuclear weapon, Nick Neutron: “Whoa, what decade is it? Is it, the seventies?”

You might look at what Ivan Oelrich, Hans Kristensen and Cheryl Rofer have said.

The DSB Task Force demurs that the report “is not about which views are right and which are wrong” (uh huh) but rather “about coming to a more complete understanding of complex issues that ultimately frame progress on future nuclear capabilities.”

Ah, yes, I see now, a more complete understanding of just how totally awesome our nuclear weapons are.

Seriously, this report is such a through-and-through hack job, I can’t even begin to take it seriously. (I thought General Welch was better than this.) Just look at the list of briefings and presentations—just three, count ‘em, three “outside” briefings (non-government, non-contractor) from: The National Institute of Public Policy, The National Institute of Public Policy and … wait for it … The National Institute of Public Policy.

because Nikolai Volkoff is awesome, that’s why.

Hmmm, apparently no one at, say, RAND was worth giving a call to address topics such as “Russia and Its Near Abroad: From One Empire to Another?,” “Weapons Policy of the Russian Federation,” and “In Search of ‘New Ideology’ in Russia.”

The subject of Russia, really, is where the report reaches it craziest, Cold Warrior depths. Warning against further nuclear reductions beyong those in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, the Task Force concludes:

Although United States relations with Russia are considered relatively benign at the moment, Russia retains the capability to destroy the United States in 30 minutes or less.

Now, admittedly, arming ourselves to the teeth is one possible way to deal with such a threat. (But what will we do about the polonium sushi?)

Another might be to accept Russian proposals to move to lower force levels, perhaps reducing that Russian ability to destroy the United States or, at the least, making the process take longer than ordering a pizza.

Were a Task Force interested in such a solution, it might have asked David Mosher and the other authors of Beyond the Nuclear Shadow: A Phased Approach for Improving Nuclear Safety and U.S-Russian Relations (RAND, 2003) to cross the street and give a little talk.

But, this isn’t really about hunting bears, is it? (Or, wait, given the Russian connection, maybe it is about hunting bears? Damn mixed metaphors).

The point is: Keith Payne—main author of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, DSB Task Force member and President and co-founder of the National Institute for Public Policy—and his buddies had some lunch and reprised some tired talking points in favor of keeping US forces configured to fight Russia as though it posed a moderately less capable version of the Soviet threat.

Good job, guys.


  1. FSB

    Thanks for posting that punching bag of a report!

    I think Hans Kristensen’s point about the difference in the DSB’s stockpile vision and that of the DoD and DoE is exceedingly important. So now not only do they want to have the RRWs but, you know,…well, they also wanna hang on to the good old nukes which have been, like, ohmygod, tested. And stuff.

    Who can fricken’ blame them? There’s no way that the US stockpile will be replaced with warheads that have never been tested.

    So, mark my words: “R”RW ain’t gonna “Replace” sh*t. It’s just gonna add to the old warheads that we know actually work.

    I hearby re-christen RRW as RAW==Really just Additional Warheads.

    RAW’s going to be a bomb factory so that the younger generation of weaponeers can play with the older generation to learn how make all those, like, totally cool explosions…but only on the screen.

    The DSP report pretty much sez as much on p.39.

    Which reminds me of an excellent article I saw recetly (“Strange Love”) whose thesis was basically that the generation of nuclear weaponeers who actually witnessed nuclear explosions, and thus had some measure of respect for them, is dying out. The current generation of yahoos has no idea of the magnitude of a nuclear explosion never having witnessed one outside their Crays.

    Thus, they don’t know what they are talking about—

  2. Robot Economist (History)

    Hey, I will give the DSB credit for hitwing upon one of the most important issues that has gone unsaid since the 2001 NPR: We need to re-establish national consensus on nuclear weapons policy.

    Bush spent a hot minute on the topic in the opening days of his administration, but has virtually ignored it since Sept 11. Ironically, at the same time that this has kept Keith “Nuclear War is Winnable” Payne on the ropes (where he can do the least amount of damage to nuclear weapons policy planning), it has also allowed Congress to turn things like the RRW into the personal pork playgrounds of Californian and New Mexican legislators.

  3. Haninah

    Aw, cmon, Jeff – we all know RAND is just a bunch of hippies!

  4. Steven Dolley

    Thanks FSB for posting the link to the strangelove article. Always fascinating to hear stories from Ted Taylor, may he RIP.

    I was discussing the potential for direct fusion (no fission trigger) nuclear weapons with Ted some years ago, and watched him get more and more animated as the technical fascination took hold. Then he paused solemnly and said, “I have to stop thinking about this now. I don’t know if I’m describing this type of bomb or INVENTING it.” A truly brilliant guy who was true to his principles to the end.

  5. Nanonymous

    Shouldn’t that be “demurs?” Nothing shy or coy about the opinions in THAT report, after all…..

  6. Jeffrey Lewis

    Demur, as in object, not demure as in “wilting violet.”

    Yikes. This is what happens when one is blogging after 12 hours at work.

  7. John Smith

    I am amazed by both sides of the argument. Russia and China are actively renewing their nuclear arsenals, yet not a single policymaker or commentator have written anything of any substance about this. The crux of the discussion should hinge on developments in hostile nations, not ones in the US.