Nevertheless, the United States should try to place nuclear weapons in the background, making it known that they are viewed only as a final guarantor of vital U.S. national interests (which include due regard for the security of U.S. allies and friends). The United States need seldom or never explicitly raise a nuclear threat, whereas it should continue to try to suppress nuclear proliferation. Although perhaps not as clear-cut as some would like, this would be a simple, understandable, and believable policy (both for the American people and for those to be deterred). We need not, indeed should not, provide a detailed description of exactly when, under what precise conditions, or against which targets nuclear weapons might be used. In sum, a nuclear force somewhat smaller than today's, in conjunction with powerful conventional forces, should be capable of achieving U.S. security objectives in the world we now foresee.
Some sort of hedge against an increasingly hostile international environment is also important. The Defense Department advocates retaining some nuclear forces in reserve for a nuclear hedge. In addition, the United States should retain a capability to design, produce, and maintain nuclear weapons, although this, too, should be kept only as large as is necessary to meet national needs and should also be moved into the background. The need to do so is being addressed today under the rubric of stockpile stewardship. This program includes the maintenance of a much smaller stockpile than in the past, plus retention of the technical expertise necessary to understand and support the current stockpile. The Department of Energy, with the cooperation of the nuclear weapons complex, is developing a program that tries to fulfill these requirements.
No one knows whether there will ever be another requirement for new, or different, nuclear weapons. The present weapons, which were designed to address Cold War threats, certainly are not what one would design today for the 21 st century. Be that as it may, in the world that prevails, it is only prudent that the United States retain some capability, across the board, to address the concerns or problems of the arsenal as they arise.
If the world situation continues to relax, the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security could again be reviewed and the nature of the nuclear complex required to support it reconsidered. But we should always be cautious with those forces that are the core of our deterrence policy. In this regard it is useful to remember the lesson of the British Ten-Year Rule. Following the allied victory in World War I and the Versailles Treaty, the British Cabinet decided that defense planning could proceed on the assumption that a major war would not occur for the next 10 years. This was a safe assumption at the time, which allowed for significant savings during the interwar years. But the Ten-Year Rule was then allowed to become rolling guidance: the need to begin reconstructing British military forces was constantly pushed at least 10 years into the future. When the new threat did begin to emerge in the early 1930s, the British were perilously tardy in responding. They were too late to deter war, and almost too late to avoid defeat.