Jeffrey LewisPosture Commission Interim Report

The Strategic Posture Commission has released its interim report.

For what it is worth, I think Hans K has it backward. The report doesn’t “reinstate Russia at the center of U.S. nuclear thinking” as he suggets, so much as it observes the reality that US strategic planning has not moved on from a Russia-centric model— whatever the Bush Administration might say. Here is the paragraph from the report:

The size of our nuclear deterrent continues to be driven in part by the size of Russian nuclear forces—as well as Russia’s doctrinal embrace of greater reliance on tactical as well as strategic nuclear weapons.

As I read that statement, it is true: The size of the “operationally deployed” force — which corresponds neither to forces available on day-to-day or generated alert — is set to numerical parity with Russia.

One of the report’s stronger arguments is that, of the four “security imperatives” identified, “None … can be achieved unilaterally.”

That’s a big thought and it has profound implications for how we think about the threat posed by Russia. That implication is never made explicit, but one can see glimmers in the description of the threat posed by Russia and China:

Although Russia and China do not pose a nuclear threat to the US, they do have an extensive nuclear capability that could do grievous damage to us (as we to them).

It’s the existence of the weapons that creates a shared danger, which requires cooperation to manage.

Think about that for a little while.


  1. yousaf (History)

    So, initiate negotiations with Russia (and China) on reducing the stockpile to tens of weapons, as none of these countries will use nuclear weapons against each other, and the large stockpiles are hugely expensive.

    It’s largely irrelevant who is the driving function for who’s stockpile numbers as long as the same deterrent value can be achieved with far fewer weapons.

    Why not be inter active instead of re active? These are competitor nations, not adversaries.

    Talk to them.

  2. yousaf

    There are also other weaknesses in the report. e.g.:

    where it says: “Before submission the DOE and DoD should receive from the labs and STRATCOM clear statements describing the future capabilities and flexibility required to minimize the risks of maintaining a credible, safe, and reliable nuclear deterrent without nuclear explosive testing.”

    Why should Stratcom have a say in this? This issue has been addressed already in a 2002 NAS study. As Dick Garwin mentions in a recent commentary:

    The NAS panel concluded that the United States “has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear-weapon stockpile under [a test ban], provided that adequate resources are made available to the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons complex and are properly focused on this task.”

    According to the NAS panel, which included three former lab directors, age-related defects mainly related to non-nuclear components can be expected, but nuclear test explosions “are not needed to discover these problems and…not likely to be needed to address them.”
    Rather, the panel said the key to the stewardship of the arsenal is a rigorous stockpile surveillance program, the ability to remanufacture nuclear components to original specifications, the minimization of changes to existing warheads, and non-explosive testing and repair of non-nuclear components.

    Since the publication of the NAS panel’s report, confidence in existing warheads has increased over time. In March 2007, Thomas D’Agostino, then acting NNSA administrator, said that the SSP is “working. This program has proven its ability to successfully sustain the safety, security and reliability of the stockpile without the need to conduct an underground test for well over a decade.”


    Regarding extended deterrence, new untested warheads (RRWs) would be less credible than tested legacy weapons and would encourage our allies to field more of their own trusted tested designs.

  3. MarkoB (History)

    Two keys parts of the cited text are “in part”. Deterrence for a major nuclear power such as Russia would be predicated on a conception of deterrence geared toward damage limitation and escalation control, meaning it is the damage expectancy criteria of the major attack options of OPLAN-8044 that are relevant here. That is still PD-59 and NSDD-13 like.

    In so far as numerical parity is concerned the big issues are “assurance” and “dissuasion.” See the comments about China and deep cuts. As the report to the Defense Science Board on Future Strategic Strike stated assurance and dissuasion are more size of force issues than operational.

    The other important bit is the “Russia’s doctrinal embrace.” How did that come about exactly? Surely NATO expansion (in terms of both mission sets, i.e. out of area and less defense and spatial) and BMD are at issue.

    That would be related to the point you make at the end. It is the weapons and the doctrinal framework within which they are couched that is the issue. You have made the point, effectively, with your arguments on minimum deterrence at other posts. The weapons would be less of a danger if couched within a doctrinal framework of minimum deterrence and no-first use. Current nuclear strategy is absurd.

    Just another point on “doctrinal embrace.” The National Security Archive has good de-classified documents on Gorby’s proposals for deep cuts at the triad summit between Ronnie, Gorby and Bush the Elder. It was the influence of Cheney, Gates and Rice that played a big part in putting the brakes on, given that they felt that Gorby was pulling a fast one right to the end (see Bechloss and Talbot “At the Highest Levels”).

    At the outer level of speculation it opens up the possibility that Bush the Elder’s unilateral initiatives were designed to head off the possibility of the sort of cuts proposed by Moscow at the triad statement from gathering political momentum.

    Throughout much of the Yeltsin era Russia called for deep cuts, in order to achieve a measure of affordable parity. Having failed to achieve affordable parity through arms control Russia has gone for affordable parity by re-MIRVing.

    This report completely ignores all that history and thereby demonstrates that the strategic posture it is trying to sell is completely unwarranted.

  4. Nick Ritchie (History)

    One of the most important shifts in the document is the acknowledgement that “What we do in our own nuclear weapon program has a significant effect on (but does not guarantee) our ability to get that cooperation [for addressing the threat of nuclear proliferation]. In particular, this cooperation will be affected by what we do in our weapons laboratories, what we do in our deployed nuclear forces, what kind of nuclear policies we articulate, and what we do regarding arms control treaties (e.g., START and CTBT). It is not clear that actions we take on our nuclear program affect the nuclear calculus of North Korea or Iran, or necessarily others, but they do affect the actions of nations whose cooperation we need to deal with North Korea and Iran, as well as other proliferation problems.”

    The existence of an interdependent relationship between US nuclear weapons policies and actions and wider efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons was vehemently denied by the architects of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (other than in a positive way whereby US extended deterrence guarantees are seen as a bulwark against acquisition of nuclear weapons by allies).

    Acknowledgement of this relationship is an essential precursor to rebuilding international trust and confidence in a US-led international nuclear order that takes the goal of nuclear disarmament seriously and any new US nuclear weapons and non-proliferation initiatives.

  5. Distiller (History)

    CTBT is a dangerous thing.

    What is his rational behind wanting Congress to ratify it?

    Instead a one-warhead-per-one-year testing (or call it boasting) cycle should be implemented in accordance with the other strategic powers. As a joint show, like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, invite everybody.

  6. Hans Kristensen (History)

    Jeff, my point about the “reinstating” of Russia is not about planning but message. I for one have argued repeatedly over the last eight years that Russia, despite claims by government officials, has remained central to US nuclear planning – although less so than during the Cold War.

    But while the Bush administration has at least argued that Russia no longer was, or shouldn’t be, a central factor in our planning, the interim report struck me as pointing to Russia as a central planning factor in many of the big themes.

    So the interim report may be more honest or realistic. Fine. But I’m just worried that that could perpetuate a tit-for-tat mentality in planning and policy that will make it harder to change things. HK

  7. Josh

    The fundamental importance of Russia in U.S. nuclear planning seems to be in setting the bottom-line stockpile number(s): the idea is for us to have more than them, where “they” represents the country with the next largest stockpile. Detailed plans can be shaped around that basic desideratum.

    You may draw your own conclusions about why this is so.