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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy 1— Why Change U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy? The debate about appropriate purposes and policies for U.S. nuclear weapons has been under way for more than half a century, since the beginning of the nuclear age.1 With the end of the Cold War, however, the debate about the roles of U.S. nuclear weapons (and those of other countries) has entered a new phase, propelled by the transformation of the international political landscape and the altered foreign policy challenges and opportunities that these changes are bringing about. The committee's first major study of nuclear weapons policy appeared in 1991, early in the transition out of the Cold War.2 Numerous studies exploring or proposing changes in nuclear forces and policies have been conducted since. The U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) completed in 1994 by the Department of Defense has been the basis of current U.S. nuclear policy.3 Among unofficial studies, the series of reports on nuclear weapons issues by the Henry L. Stimson Center and the international studies of the prospects for the elimination of nuclear weapons conducted by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and by the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons have attracted particular notice.4 With the benefit of those studies and others, and the committee's own intensive re-examination of these matters—including wide-ranging discussions of nuclear weapons issues in the continuation of its long-standing series of meetings with counterpart groups in Russia, China, and Europe—the committee now offers a new assessment of the implications of the end of the Cold War and breakup of the Soviet Union for the future of U.S. nuclear weapons policy. The remainder of this chapter first summarizes the reasons for believing that further changes in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons policies are desirable and
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy the prospects for near-term action on the two sides in this direction. Some dilemmas of nuclear deterrence that were instrumental in shaping nuclear arsenals during the Cold War, along with the dangers that resulted, are then briefly elaborated. The committee outlines its case for a regime of progressive constraints to continue the progress that has been made in reducing those dangers since the Cold War ended. The chapter concludes with an orientation to the remainder of the report and a caution about the economics of nuclear arms reductions. THE PROBLEM AND THE PROSPECTS IN SUMMARY Nuclear Weapons During and After the Cold War During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were at the center of U.S. and Soviet national security strategies. Both countries developed large, diverse, dispersed, and accurate nuclear forces that were maintained at high alert levels. (Appendix B portrays the Cold War growth of nuclear forces, as well as the beginnings of their post-Cold War decline.) The officially stated rationales for these forces, in broad terms, were on the U.S. side to deter the Soviet Union from attacking or threatening to attack the United States or its allies with either conventional forces or nuclear weapons (see Box 1.1) and on the Soviet side to deny the United States and its allies any military or political advantage from their possession of nuclear weapons, and to be able to deliver a "crushing rebuff" to any use of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. The actual events of the Cold War period are consistent with the view that the nuclear forces and policies of the two sides were successful in their stated purposes: from 1946 onward, neither side succeeded in consistently imposing its will on the other, neither waged major war against the other, and neither launched a nuclear attack against anyone. Of course, other factors were at work, including the memory of the vast destruction of World War II, nearly all of it accomplished with conventional forces. And proof of cause and effect is always elusive in international affairs, as is, even more generally, proof of why something did not happen. But supposing that the nuclear forces and policies of the two sides were indeed major contributors to the avoidance of full-scale war between East and West in the post-1945 period, it still must be conceded that this outcome was accompanied by enormous risks. These risks included the danger that the nuclear arms competition might continue without limit, endlessly adding to destructive potentials, constantly risking some destabilizing imbalance, and forever tempting additional countries to acquire nuclear weaponry for purposes of protection, or status, in a world of nuclear-armed camps. Above all, the risks included the danger that an accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized launch of one or a few nuclear weapons, or some other escalatory dynamic arising out of political crisis or regional conflict, could lead to full-scale nuclear war and the unimaginable disaster that this would represent for civilization (see Box 1.2).5
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy BOX 1.1 Deterrence Understanding the history of nuclear weapons policy and addressing the challenges of formulating new policies for the future both require an appreciation of the diverse definitions, applications, and dilemmas of deterrence. Because confusion can easily result from insufficient clarity about what is meant by the term in any particular context, the committee shall take pains to try to be clear—here and then throughout this report—about what it means by deterrence in the various forms and circumstances in which the concept has been applied. The words "deter" and "deterrence" both derive from the Latin deterrere , to frighten from. The narrowest dictionary definition of "deter" in English, correspondingly, is "to discourage from some action by making the consequences seem frightening."* Both in everyday language and in the language of specialists in international politics and military strategy, however, ''deter" has long since had a somewhat wider meaning: it is used not only to describe discouraging an action by the prospect of consequences that are frightening, but also for situations in which the restraint arises simply from the prospect of failure to achieve the intended aims, or the prospect of costs exceeding an action's expected benefits. Some writers in the literature of military strategy distinguish explicitly between deterring an attack by the threat of "punishment" (frightening consequences) and deterring an attack by the prospect of "denial" (of the objectives of the attack).** "Deterrence" in the political/military context can refer either to measures taken to generate a credible prospect of punishment for an action, or of denial of its objectives, or of costs exceeding its benefits (i.e., the practice of deterrence) or to the state of restraint induced by such measures and by other factors (i.e., deterrence as a condition). Of course, how much is required in the way of the practice of deterrence to achieve an adequate condition of deterrence depends, among other things, on how attractive the aggressive act would be to its prospective perpetrator in the absence of deterrent measures and on how averse the prospective perpetrator is to punishment, failure, or unfavorable cost-benefit ratios. Certain intrinsic deterrent factors against aggressive acts in general, and against nuclear attack or threat of attack in particular, will generally be operative irrespective of any practice of deterrence. These factors * The New International Webster's Dictionary, (Naples, Fla: Trident Press International, 1995). ** See, for example, Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983).
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy include moral inhibitions, sense of kinship across national boundaries, and fear of loss of domestic political support. Although these are of variable importance from one case to the next and may not, in themselves, suffice to ensure restraint, the bigger they are in a given instance the less will be required of the practice of deterrence to augment them. The practice of deterrence may entail creation of a credible prospect of retaliation in kind against the action that is to be deterred (e.g., the threat of invading an adversary's homeland if he invades yours) or of retaliation in a different (and possibly even nonmilitary) form (e.g., the threat of embargo of critical resources in response to an attack); it may entail erecting defenses, to decrease the chances of success of an attack and/or to increase the cost of a successful one; and often it will include a combination of these ingredients. Of course, the practice of deterrence has costs and risks as well as benefits: not only must deterrent measures be paid for, but they also may stimulate countermeasures by the putative adversary, or by others, that will necessitate still higher expenditures in the future if deterrence is to be maintained; the singling out of prospective adversaries and the brandishing of capabilities against them, which the practice of deterrence often entails, can aggravate tensions; and measures intended to enhance deterrence of premeditated attack (as, for example, by increasing the credibility of a retaliatory response) may increase the danger of war by inadvertence or accident. This report is concerned mainly with nuclear deterrence, where "nuclear" refers to the character of the response that is contemplated, not necessarily to the kind of threat that is supposed to be deterred. In principle, nuclear deterrence could be used to deter not only nuclear attacks but also attacks with conventional forces, attacks with chemical or biological weapons, or even assaults on vital national interests by nonmilitary means. Several terms for variants in the intended scope or mode of operation of nuclear deterrence are encountered widely enough in the nuclear weapons policy literature—and with enough variability and ambiguity in meaning—that it seems worthwhile to try to clarify them here. Specifically: The term extended deterrence has been used to mean extension of nuclear deterrence to deter not only attacks or coercion against the deterring country's own territory but also attacks or coercion against the territory of the deterring country's allies and also to mean deterrence not only of nuclear attacks/coercion but also of attacks/coercion based on conventional, chemical, or biological weapons. (The original U.S. conception of nuclear deterrence of the Soviet Union—even before that country had nuclear weapons—already contained both of these extended dimensions; explicit use
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy of the adjective "extended" to describe what actions are to be deterred only came into use later, after some had proposed that nuclear deterrence should be restricted to deterring only nuclear attack or coercion and, in some arguments, only nuclear attack or coercion against one's own country.) The term minimum deterrence has been used in the literature with two different meanings. One meaning, referring to the scale of the contemplated nuclear response to the aggressive acts to be deterred, is that this scale is as small as possible consistent with still being sufficient to deter. The other meaning, referring to the range of threats to be deterred by the prospect of a nuclear response, is that nuclear deterrence relates only to threats of nuclear attack or, still more restrictively, only to threats of nuclear attack against the deterring country (and not, for example, to threats of nuclear attack against its allies). The term existential deterrence refers to a deterrent effect that arises from the mere existence of nuclear weapons in the possession of the countries or in the possession of their allies—or even from the existence of the capacity of a country or its allies to build nuclear weapons if they wished to do so—without any reliance on the "practice" of deterrence in the form of declared doctrines, specific weapons delivery capabilities, force postures, targeting plans, training exercises, or other actions intended to make it credible that carrying out the aggressive acts to be deterred would result in a nuclear response. Finally, the core function of deterrence, or just core deterrence, in this report means the restricted form of extended nuclear deterrence in which coverage is intended against nuclear threats—and only nuclear threats—to one's own country and to one's allies. (This usage follows that in the committee's 1991 report, The Future of the U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Relationship. The committee does not use "minimum deterrence" for this purpose, although some have done so in the literature, because as indicated above that term also has had other meanings.) Over the course of the Cold War, the two sides negotiated a series of arms control agreements to try to limit the direct dangers of their nuclear confrontation, and they were leaders in the construction of other agreements, with wider participation, intended to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries. As with the argument "from history" for the success of nuclear deterrence itself, it can be argued that the facts are consistent with the view that these arms control and antiproliferation measures succeeded. There were no accidental,
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy erroneous, or unauthorized launches of nuclear weapons and no escalation to nuclear war from a regional crisis—although crises there were. The nuclear arsenals were eventually capped, albeit at the very high levels of 30,000 to 40,000 nuclear weapons each for the United States and the Soviet Union.6 The spread of nuclear weapons into the possession of additional countries proceeded much more slowly than most analysts of these matters had foreseen in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, with the impetus of the end of the Cold War, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia are shrinking significantly, with physical dismantlement of warheads proceeding at a pace of 1,500 to 2,000 per year on each side. A closer look at what happened in some of the crises of the Cold War, however, leaves room to question whether good fortune was not as much a factor as good management in avoiding escalation to disaster on these occasions.7 A look at the sizes, compositions, and postures of the nuclear forces that remain today—and at those that will remain after the arms reduction agreements and unilateral decisions of recent years have been fully carried out—also gives cause for concern; such forces continue to be more formidable and more dangerous than necessary or appropriate for the conditions of the post-Cold War world. The committee has concluded that, under the new circumstances, the security of the United States could be considerably enhanced by undertaking further reductions of nuclear forces globally, with accompanying changes in nuclear weapons policies and operational practices. The committee's conclusions and recommendations to this effect are based on a number of specific propositions—summarized for reference here and elaborated on in the remainder of this chapter and in Chapter 2 and 3—about the roles and dangers of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world. Changing Roles, Circumstances, and Opportunities The principal roles generally attributed to U.S. possession of nuclear weapons are (1) deterrence of premeditated nuclear attack; (2) deterrence of major conventional war; and (3) compensation for possible inadequacies in nonnuclear forces, including for deterrence or response to attacks with chemical or biological weapons. But these roles are less demanding or less relevant in the post-Cold War world than before, because of the following: The likelihood of all-out war between the United States and Russia has drastically diminished, and therefore the role of nuclear weapons can be narrowed significantly. The relative importance of regional conflicts has increased in the aftermath of the Cold War, but for conflicts of this type the practice of nuclear deterrence by the United States or Russia or the other declared nuclear weapons powers is likely to be unnecessary, irrelevant, ineffective, or even harmful in some cases.8
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy BOX 1.2 Accidental, Erroneous, or Unauthorized Use of Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War, U.S. nuclear policies were oriented toward deterring a deliberate, premeditated attack on the United States or its allies. The risk of a premeditated attack authorized by national leaders has diminished greatly with the end of the Cold War, but the risk of other kinds of nuclear attack—accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized—has not gone down proportionately. Although the term "accidental" sometimes has been used in this context to cover a wide array of unintended and ill-considered actions, the committee uses it here in the narrower sense of the term "accident" to connote such events as programming mistakes or mechanical or electrical failures. The United States and Russia, and presumably the other nuclear weapons states as well, have worked very hard to ensure that nuclear weapons could not be launched or detonated as a result of equipment failures or operator errors. The 1994 detargeting initiative by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin addressed this risk directly by agreeing that the United States and Russian would not target their missiles against each other on a day-to-day basis. While one cannot prove that such accidents are impossible, this type of risk probably is less worrisome than others that attend nuclear arsenals. More serious, the committee believes, is the risk of erroneous use of nuclear weapons. Unlike accidents, an erroneous use of nuclear weapons would result from conscious decisions by military or political leaders, but these decisions would be based on incomplete or inaccurate information, faulty reasoning, misinterpretation of the intentions of other countries, and careless or hasty decision-making, perhaps influenced by the unintended consequences of prior actions. Possible examples include a decision to launch nuclear weapons in response to false or ambiguous warning of actual or impending attack, or misinterpreting a demonstration shot, unauthorized attack, or an attack on another country as a massive attack on one's own country. The reported deterioration of Russia's missile attack warning system is particularly troubling in this regard. Another disturbing possibility is the theft or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. Although no nuclear weapons state is immune to such risks, the general decline of morale in the Russian military is cause for special concern. It is generally believed that Russian nuclear weapons are accorded high levels of protection and security, but a further degeneration of the economy, domestic politics, relations with neighboring states, or civilian control over the military could dramatically increase the chance that a group, either inside or outside the military, might try to steal, use, or threaten to use nuclear weapons.
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy The capabilities of U.S. conventional forces are formidable both in absolute terms and relative to the forces of potential adversaries and, with appropriate policies and allocation of adequate resources, will remain so, making it possible for the United States to respond effectively with conventional forces across a wide spectrum of threats, including attacks on the United States or its allies using chemical or biological weapons. The principal dangers usually ascribed to U.S. possession of nuclear weapons (and their possession by others) are (1) nuclear war by accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, or by unintended escalation; (2) the failure of arms control, leading to excessive force levels; and (3) encouragement of nuclear proliferation. These dangers have not been shrinking, in the post-Cold War world, as rapidly as the relevance of nuclear weapons to U.S. security needs. Specifically: The post-Cold War changes in the sizes, compositions, and postures of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces—and in the doctrines governing the purposes and potential uses of these forces—have not kept pace with the changes in the post-Cold War military and political landscape. As a result, the risks of accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons—which could then all too easily escalate—remain unacceptably high (possibly, on the Russian side, even higher than Cold War levels because of deterioration of the military and internal-security infrastructure and of morale). On both sides, the continuing competitive and even confrontational assumptions underlying some official discussions of the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship, when coupled with the postures of the forces and the potential for destabilizing deployments of ballistic missile defenses, pose the risk that the arms control fabric woven during the Cold War and immediately thereafter could in fact unravel. Although the practice of nuclear deterrence by the United States, Russia, and the other declared nuclear weapons states can, in some instances, help inhibit the proliferation of nuclear weapons (by reassuring allies that they will be protected without needing to acquire their own nuclear weapons), in other circumstances the practice of nuclear deterrence is likely to aggravate proliferation dangers (by causing nonallies to feel threatened, by lending respectability to reliance on nuclear deterrence, and by undermining the credibility of the nuclear weapons states in their opposition to proliferation). The committee judges it likely, although it cannot be rigorously proved, that in the post-Cold War world the proliferation-aggravating effects of the practice of deterrence by the declared nuclear weapons states will increasingly outweigh the proliferation-inhibiting effects. Ultimately, it would prove difficult for the United States—the world's most powerful nation in conventional armaments—to continue to
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy maintain that its security requires the possession of a strong nuclear deterrent while denying the validity of that argument for other nations. These post-Cold War conditions and the likely long-term trends mean, in the committee's view, that the conspicuous role given to nuclear weapons during the Cold War can be greatly reduced without significant adverse effect on the probability of all-out war or on this country's capability to cope effectively with regional conflicts where its interests are at stake, and with significant security benefits in terms of improvements for relations with Russia and for the cause of nonproliferation and in terms of reduced risks of erroneous or unauthorized nuclear-weapon use and of inadvertent escalation. In addition, the trends that have made such changes possible and desirable are likely enough to continue that serious study of further longer-term changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy is warranted. The committee has concluded, accordingly, that the United States should pursue a two-part program of change in its nuclear weapons policies. The first part of the program is a near- to midterm set of mutual force reductions—together with accompanying changes in nuclear operations and declaratory policies and with measures to improve the security of nuclear weapons and fissile materials worldwide—to diminish further confrontational and potentially destabilizing aspects of force postures, to reduce the risks of erroneous, unauthorized, or accidental nuclear-weapons use, and to help curb the threat of further nuclear proliferation. The second part of the program is a long-term effort to foster international conditions in which the possession of nuclear weapons would no longer be seen as necessary or legitimate for the preservation of national and global security. Prospects for Progress on the U.S. and Russian Sides In its early phases the first part of the program is largely a bilateral U.S.-Russian one, and cooperation between the two countries is essential to its success. Remarkable progress in this bilateral effort has already been made. A decade ago few could have imagined the scope of the agreements that have been reached or are being considered to cut the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the former Soviet Union (see Box 1.3). The approach to further arms control taken in the NPR in 1994, however, was not sufficiently ambitious. The NPR's mandate was to rethink all aspects of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and it did resolve some pressing force structure questions; but, in the end, it did not go very far toward addressing the most fundamental issues about appropriate numbers, roles, and postures of U.S. nuclear forces in light of the changes brought by the end of the Cold War. Specifically, the NPR did not recommend reductions in strategic forces beyond those already agreed to in the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), and it did not alter the "weapons of last resort" mission for U.S. nuclear forces that allows their first use in response to non-
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy BOX 1.3 U.S. and Soviet/Russian Accomplishments in Nuclear Arms Reductions and Operational Arms Control 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty Bans all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. 1990 Last Soviet nuclear weapons test 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) I signed Reduces the number of deployed strategic warheads from about 11,000 for Russia and 13,000 for the United States to about 8,000 on each side. 1991-92 U.S. and Soviet/Russian unilateral initiatives to reduce nonstrategic weapons All U.S. ground-launched and sea-launched nonstrategic nuclear weapons to be withdrawn to the United States and all Soviet/Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons to be withdrawn to Russia. Thousands of U.S. and Russian weapons to be destroyed. 1991 U.S. takes all strategic bombers and "Looking Glass" airborne command posts off alert 1992 Last U.S. nuclear weapons test 1992 U.S. and Russia begin Cooperative Threat Reduction Program with funding from the Nunn-Lugar Act 1992 Lisbon Protocol Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Belarus agree to adhere to START I as nonnuclear weapons states and to return all nuclear weapons on their territories to Russia. 1993 U.S. and Russia sign agreement for the disposition of excess highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons Low-enriched reactor fuel derived from 500 tons of Russian weapons-usable HEU to be shipped to the United States for sale on the world market.
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy 1993 START II signed Limits the number of deployed strategic warheads to 3,000 to 3,500 on each side. Ratified by the United States in January 1996 but not yet ratified by Russia. 1994 START I enters into force With formal adherence of Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Belarus to the NPT as nonnuclear weapons states. 1994 U.S.-Russian summit agreement not to target nuclear missiles on one another. 1995 Indefinite extension of the NPT 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed by the five nuclear weapons states 1997 U.S.-Russian summit agreement to begin START III negotiations upon entry into force of START II Agreement in principle to limit each side to no more than 2,000 to 2,500 deployed strategic warheads. nuclear attacks.9 (Past and current U.S. positions on these and other aspects of nuclear policy are discussed in detail in Chapter 2.) The March 1997 Helsinki summit agreement to seek a START III treaty with a level of 2,000 to 2,500 deployed strategic warheads on each side is a welcome sign of the importance the U.S. and Russian presidents attach to continuing reductions in the two countries' strategic forces.10 What remains to be seen is how quickly other influential officials and institutions in the two countries will go along. With respect to Russia, there are reasons for concern that progress will not be easy. The post-Cold War diminution in Russian military power, particularly the weakening of its conventional armed forces made evident by their poor performance in Chechnya, have led many Russian military and political leaders to reemphasize the importance of nuclear weapons.11 Some in Moscow see nuclear weapons as providing specific policy options against a range of purported threats, as the response to the prospective enlargement
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy of NATO has made clear. Commentators—including high-level figures such as former Minister of Defense Rodionov—have stressed that, if NATO moves toward Russian borders, Russia might move nuclear weapons westward. This emphasis on the military utility and policy relevance of nuclear weapons, if maintained at a high rhetorical pitch, may make it difficult for Russian policy-makers to pursue further deep reductions, unless the reductions can be portrayed as "correcting" inequalities of past agreements—as the Russians argue that START III should "correct" START II. The utility and relevance arguments also may make it difficult for Russian leaders to pursue the goal of nuclear disarmament. U.S. leaders must take this developing Russian perspective seriously in designing future U.S. nuclear weapons policy, since most if not all of the desirable adjustments require corresponding Russian actions. Conditioning START III negotiations on entry into force of START II gives substantial leverage to the Duma, where opposition to arms reductions is strong. In addition, the severe funding shortages plaguing Russian government operations may limit Russia's ability to bear the costs of nuclear force reductions. Despite the progress made to date, funding for further reductions may be hard to justify domestically if soldiers' wages are inadequate or unpaid. Cooperation with the West for nuclear security and the implementation of force reductions has been helpful and these efforts, in which the United States has played a leading role since 1991 through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, complement other U.S. nuclear policy initiatives. The scope of the problem—particularly improved security for fissile materials—is larger than can be addressed by the cooperative efforts undertaken thus far. It is very much in the West's own security interests to continue this nuclear cooperation, but ultimately, the broader dilemma must be addressed by Russia. Because this committee and other National Research Council committees have offered detailed analysis and recommendations on these problems in other reports, this report concentrates on other nuclear policy issues.12 Fortunately, several ways to address the military problems perceived by the Russians are available, some dependent on Russian actions alone and others requiring action on a reciprocal (and in some cases negotiated) basis. The Russians themselves, for example, have recognized the need to downsize and modernize their conventional forces. If this military reform effort can be gotten under way, it will address the weakness of the conventional forces from within. Adaptation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty is another path that has been opened to address Russian concerns, including, perhaps, those arising from the prospective enlargement of NATO. On the nuclear side, timely and flexible pursuit of further strategic arms reductions should help overcome the obstacles to Russian ratification of START II (about which more is said in Chapters 2 and 3). Attention to nonstrategic and reserve nuclear weapons in these further discussions should also be helpful.13 If the United States and Russia, in full cooperation with NATO, were able to agree
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy to foreclose forward deployments of nuclear weapons in Europe in a mutual, reciprocal, and verifiable manner, this step should contribute to deemphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in Europe. It would be a clear signal that both Russia and NATO are committed once and for all to denuclearization of the former East-West confrontation. The Wider and Longer-Term Issues It is essential that the near-term program for nuclear weapons policy also address the critical global problem posed by the continued risk of further nuclear proliferation. The effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons must employ new approaches and a determined international consensus. Deterrence practiced by two powerful and opposing alliance systems was dangerous enough. Multiple confrontations among the dozens of states that could acquire nuclear weapons, if they chose to do so, could prove unmanageable. If dozens of states do acquire nuclear weapons, it will increase the risk that terrorists or even criminal organizations may obtain them as well. Strengthening the consensus against nuclear proliferation, finding ways to engage the three undeclared nuclear weapons states in arms reductions, increasing the security of nuclear weapons and fissile materials worldwide, and dissuading those few countries still bent on acquiring nuclear weapons must be top U.S. priorities. As for the second, long-term part of the program, the United States is committed through its adherence to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (referred to hereinafter as the Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT) to pursue the goal of eventual elimination of nuclear weapons and, along with the other declared nuclear weapons states, reaffirmed that commitment at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. The committee recognizes that fundamental modifications of international political relationships not now foreseeable will be required to achieve such a goal. Surmounting the multilateral challenge posed by the near-term goal of deep force reductions and changes in nuclear operations, however, will contribute to progress on this second part of the program by demonstrating that a cooperative effort is feasible and by developing the technical monitoring and verification systems required. NUCLEAR WEAPON DILEMMAS AND DYNAMICS The unprecedented destructive power of nuclear weapons fundamentally changed the offense-defense balance in military conflict, since even a single large nuclear warhead that managed to penetrate deployed defenses could destroy a great city. As a result, the standards that defensive measures must meet in order to defend a nation against nuclear weapons are much higher than those sufficient for defense against more traditional military threats, and in fact are unlikely to be attainable against significant offensive forces equipped with countermeasures.
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy Delivery means for nuclear weapons are diverse, and, to be effective, national defenses must protect against all of them. This means that attempts to defend the United States or its allies against nuclear attacks on their populations could be overcome with much less effort than would have to be invested in the defenses. ''Offense dominance" thus prevailed from the time that the Soviet Union acquired the capacity to deliver nuclear weapons with intercontinental ballistic missiles, and in the committee's judgment no subsequent developments have altered that basic situation. In an era in which the hostility of the U.S-Soviet relationship made it seem imprudent to rely on good intentions to preclude nuclear attack and in which, early on, invulnerable basing modes for significant parts of each side's nuclear forces made it impractical to execute a disarming first strike if conflict seemed imminent, the apparently inescapable impotence of defense reinforced inclinations to rely on deterrence through the threat of retaliation. No more effective alternative was apparent. Analysts and political leaders alike soon came to recognize, however, that nuclear deterrence itself was (and is) burdened with an array of contradictions and dilemmas. For example, deterrence is only likely to succeed if there are credible plans for what to do if it fails, but constructing such plans is exceedingly difficult. More specifically, for deterrence to work, the prospective attacker must believe that the threat to retaliate might actually be executed. To increase the credibility of the response, the deterrer constructs a war plan (and the nuclear forces to support it) in which, after suffering an initial attack, the deterrer would gain relative to the undamaged attacker. But this condition is very difficult to satisfy, especially if one assumes that the initial attacker has held back some nuclear weapons for a further strike against the retaliator. Each side in such a confrontation is motivated to try to shore up the credibility of its nuclear deterrent threat by decreasing the vulnerability of its retaliatory forces to a first strike while increasing its capacity to destroy, in a second strike, the remaining nuclear forces of the initial attacker (in order to limit the damage from a counterretaliation). But this simultaneous pursuit of invulnerability of one's own nuclear forces and counterforce capabilities against the nuclear forces of one's adversary is likely to look, to the adversary, like an attempt to gain the capability to carry out a first nuclear strike with relative impunity. Neither side would want to allow the other to achieve such a first-strike capability (or to suffer the delusion that it had achieved it) since, in the kind of hostile relationship that gives rise to the practice of nuclear deterrence in the first place, even the impression that there is a decisive advantage to striking first is extremely dangerous, especially during a crisis. A theoretical alternative to the invulnerability/counterforce approach to shoring up the credibility of the threat to retaliate is to arrange things so that the retaliation would be automatic, as, for example, an arrangement to launch all or part of one's retaliatory nuclear forces automatically upon receipt of electronic
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy warning that an adversary has launched a nuclear attack. Such a launch-on-warning posture, if an adversary believed it had actually been implemented, certainly would increase the credibility of the retaliatory threat. But the increase in credibility would come at the cost of an increased chance of initiating nuclear holocaust accidentally, as a result of false warning or other malfunction in the automated command-and-control system. Survivable basing combined with delayed automatic response would remove some, but not all, of these problems. The dilemmas at the heart of nuclear deterrence, then, arise in part because attempts to make the threat of retaliation credible can be seen as aggressive advantage seeking by the other side. This raises tensions and stimulates countervailing measures, hence arms races, or increases the chance of nuclear war from crisis instability or accident. There is also the dilemma of deciding "How much is enough?" in the sense of how many nuclear weapons, of what destructive power, delivered with what degree of assurance, against what set of targets will suffice to deter a country's potential adversaries, in all the diversity and unknowability of their motivation and mental state. There is the related dilemma of whether an amount judged to be enough, for purposes of making the retaliatory threat, would ever be seen as proportionate or appropriate by the leaders who have to decide whether to carry out the threat after deterrence has failed. The dilemmas of secrecy, wherein the adversary needs to know something of the plans for retaliation in order to be deterred, but must not know too much lest this enable him to take countermeasures that would reduce the retaliation's effectiveness—and, hence, the effectiveness of the threat—also arise. Finally, there is the dilemma, discussed earlier, that the assertion by some countries of a need and right to practice nuclear deterrence may eventually encourage additional countries to assert the same need and right, leading to proliferation of nuclear weapons and, hence, a more dangerous world. These inherent dilemmas of the practice of nuclear deterrence were compounded, during the Cold War, by the U.S. threat of first use of nuclear weapons against a Soviet conventional attack in Europe. Because of the difficulty of convincing both the Soviet Union and U.S. allies that the United States would really use nuclear weapons in this circumstance, and because of the difficulty of devising reasonable targeting strategies for this eventuality given the large-scale destructive potential of nuclear weapons, the U.S. search for ways to shore up the credibility of its nuclear deterrent was even more energetic and wide ranging than it would otherwise have been. In the beginning this aim was accomplished through a massive superiority in strategic weapons, which gave the United States a reasonable prospect of a successful first strike. This strategic superiority was soon augmented by U.S. deployment of thousands of nonstrategic ("tactical") nuclear weapons in Europe. As the Soviet Union attained a survivable nuclear force in the 1960s, however, the threat of a massive U.S. response to limited Soviet attacks was no longer credible. The United States responded by bolstering its conventional defenses and those of its allies, by diversifying and expanding its
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy nonstrategic nuclear deployments and developing limited and selective nuclear options, and by deploying thousands of strategic warheads of greater accuracy to improve the prospects for successful counterforce attacks. The expansion of the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals to tens of thousands of warheads was thus not a consequence of a carefully thought out, fully understood process based on an overarching nuclear doctrine. Although each side articulated the overall purposes that it intended nuclear weapons to serve, details of the nuclear doctrines that ostensibly governed planning and operations for the deployed nuclear forces often followed nuclear deployments rather than shaped them. The size and composition of the two sides' forces were driven by the interactive dynamic generated by the dilemmas of deterrence as just outlined, frequently controlled by technological and financial limitations and opportunities, but further complicated by the interactions of domestic and international politics and by tendencies toward worst-case assessment in the face of uncertainties about the capabilities and intentions of the other side. The result was a nuclear arms race in which the numbers, sophistication, and alert levels of U.S. and Soviet nuclear forces grew to levels difficult to comprehend by anyone other than those who were involved in the process—and often incomprehensible even to them.14 THE CASE FOR POST-COLD WAR REDUCTIONS AND TRANSFORMATIONS This committee has concluded that the continuing dilemmas and dangers of nuclear deterrence as practiced in the past by the United States can and should be alleviated in the post-Cold War security environment by confining such deterrence to the core function of deterring nuclear attack, or coercion by threat of nuclear attack, against the United States or its allies. That is, the United States would not threaten to respond with nuclear weapons against conventional, chemical, or biological attacks. The committee believes that Russia and the other nuclear weapons states can be persuaded to reach a corresponding conclusion. With regard to chemical and biological weapons in particular, as discussed in Chapter 2, the committee has determined that their indiscriminate and often unpredictable effects, as well as the potential for defenses against them, make CBW weapons of restricted utility in achieving strategic advantage in war. If chemical or biological agents were used as weapons of terror by state or non-state actors, the committee concludes that nuclear weapons would be ineffective as a deterrent in advance of such an attack because they would be recognizably difficult to deliver in a timely and targeted manner against the perpetrator. Precise and technically capable conventional weapons could effectively provide the response and would avoid the broader consequences of nuclear use. In all likelihood the United States will consider it necessary to continue to rely on the core function of deterrence as long as nuclear weapons continue to
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy exist in the possession of states that conceivably might consider using them against this country or its allies. The committee assumes that some—although it is hoped not all—other nuclear weapons states will similarly consider it necessary to retain some nuclear weapons for "core deterrence." The size and scope of the efforts deemed necessary to fulfill the core function, however, presumably will shrink in parallel with what the committee hopes is the declining plausibility, over time, that any state would consider mounting a nuclear attack against anyone. There are strong reasons to make every effort to hasten the arrival of international conditions in which threats of nuclear attack are simply no longer thinkable. Under such conditions, the practice of deterrence with all its dilemmas and dangers would no longer be necessary. As long as nuclear weapons exist, this very existence will exert a deterrent effect—existential deterrence—against unrestricted conventional wars among the major powers, since it will be recognized that such conflict in a world with nuclear weapons might well lead to their use, with intolerable destruction as the result. Indeed, even the existence of the idea of nuclear weapons—more specifically, the ability of many states to make them—is enough to create an existential deterrent effect against large-scale conflicts of all kinds. That is not to say that this effect would necessarily always be sufficient to prevent conflict in the future, as it has not always been in the past. But it could provide part of the assurance required, in an international system much different than today's, that all-out wars of any kind are unlikely to occur. If, in the meantime, only the core function of nuclear weapons retains validity, fundamental changes in the nuclear force structures and operational practices of the major nuclear powers become both possible and desirable. The core function can be performed by far smaller nuclear forces than the United States now deploys, provided that these forces are survivable and can reach their targets. There is also both symbolic and political value in having the United States actively pursue further reductions and changes in nuclear operations. As the first country to develop nuclear weapons, the only country to explode them in war, and the country that has consistently taken the lead in efforts to control them, the United States has a unique interest and irreplaceable role in reinforcing the norm that nuclear weapons will not be used for coercive purposes. Benefits of the Proposed Changes Nuclear force reductions and certain changes in nuclear operations would increase U.S. and global security in important ways. First, reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear forces and revising operations for the mission of fulfilling only the core function will decrease the continuing risk of accidental, erroneous, or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons for several reasons. Smaller arsenals will be easier to safeguard and protect from accident, theft, and unauthorized use, not only by virtue of reduced numbers of weapons to
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy monitor at a smaller number of sites but also by permitting retention of only those weapons with the most modern safety and security features. Reducing alert rates, decreasing capacities to use nuclear weapons quickly and with little warning, abandoning plans for the rapid use of nuclear weapons, and deploying cooperative measures to assure states that forces are not being readied for attack should reduce the probability and consequences of erroneous nuclear-weapons use—for example, on false warning of attack—particularly during a crisis. (Of course it is extremely important to take care that reductions in deployed nuclear warheads and dismantlement of the warheads made surplus as a result do not lead to countervailing increases in the dangers of theft and unauthorized use as a consequence of inattention to the challenges of safe storage of these weapons and the nuclear materials removed from them.)15 Second, further reductions will bolster the nuclear nonproliferation regime. If U.S. foreign and defense policy continues to rely heavily on nuclear weapons while attempting to deny others the right even to possess such weapons, the effectiveness of U.S. arguments against proliferation will be weakened. U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions will not in themselves dissuade a state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons; today's undeclared nuclear powers and would-be proliferators are driven above all by regional security concerns. In such cases, the denial of material and technical resources and a combination of political and economic incentives and disincentives would provide the greatest leverage. But U.S. and Russian progress in arms reductions helps shore up global support for anti-proliferation measures; and failure to make such progress can strengthen the influence of those arguing for nuclear weapons acquisition in countries where this is under internal debate. Third, continued actions by the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals—and the roles and missions assigned to the arsenals—will help induce the other declared and undeclared nuclear weapons states to join the arms control process. At the levels planned under the NPR, for example, under which it is estimated that the United States and Russia each would retain a total of about 10,000 nuclear warheads, deployed and in reserve, the other nuclear powers have little motivation to submit their much smaller arsenals to any form of control. Is It Prudent to "Hedge"? A central consideration in the NPR's conclusions was the perceived need to retain U.S. flexibility in the event of the reversal of reform in Russia. As a result, at present the United States has opted to maintain a "hedge" to provide the ability to reconstitute nuclear forces if the need arises.16 Under START II, both sides would retain the capability in a crisis to deploy thousands of additional warheads by increasing warhead loadings on existing missiles and bombers. But in reality the United States has a far greater potential for uploading than Russia because of the technical capabilities of U.S. delivery vehicles.
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy The committee believes that the time has come to reconsider the need for such a hedge. Deploying yet more firepower in the event of renewed political antagonism with Russia would not improve the practical deterrent effect of U.S. nuclear forces. Moreover, the ability to overtly increase strategic readiness—by dispersing bombers and by moving a larger fraction of the ballistic missile submarine force to patrol areas—would provide a hedge against surprise. Increases in U.S. nuclear force levels would be necessary only if massive growth in the Russian force imperiled the survivability of the U.S. arsenal. For the foreseeable future Russia has no realistic capability to make such reconstitution possible. The hedge strategy could become a self-fulfilling prophecy: the substantial stock of reserve warheads that the United States considers prudent could look to Russia very much like an institutionalized capability to break out of the START agreements. Russian legislators, worried about the breakout potential of U.S. forces and the high monetary cost of compliance, are already resisting the ratification of START II, which requires Russia to eliminate all of its multiple-warhead land-based ICBMs.17 To the extent that the United States regards a return to hostile relations as a concern, it should focus on decreasing the probability of such developments.18 Creating a Regime of Progressive Constraints In view of the foregoing, the committee believes that the United States and the other declared nuclear powers can preserve the core deterrent function of nuclear weapons with deployment levels substantially lower than those in current plans. In addition, substantial adjustments can be made in the operational practices governing existing nuclear weapons. The nuclear powers can also achieve higher standards of security for their nuclear warheads and for fissile materials worldwide. The transformation of Cold War deterrent practices to adjust to new international security circumstances requires a balanced program to make many types of changes. The next two chapters develop the arguments for a revised set of U.S. policies that would lead to very low levels of nuclear forces and significantly reduced risk of their use. In addition to force reductions, key features of this proposed set of policies include: Renunciation of the first use of nuclear weapons for any purpose and the restriction of retaliation solely to attacks involving the use of nuclear weapons. Termination of alert practices in which weapons are deployed in configurations ready for immediate use (within a few minutes or hours). Any return of nuclear weapons to continuous-alert status would be renounced; preparing nuclear weapons for immediate delivery would be a result, as well as a signal, of serious military intent to use them.
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy Emphasis on force structures that would guarantee the survivability of a significant portion of the remaining delivery vehicles. Termination of the previous emphasis on preparing for immediate, large-scale retaliation and mass targeting. Targeting preparations would be done as part of contingency planning under the presumption that any actual use of nuclear weapons would be specifically targeted in response to the circumstances at the time. The development and acceptance of high standards of physical protection and accounting for nuclear warheads and for all fissile materials. ORIENTATION AND A CAUTION The remainder of this report elaborates the arguments and findings summarized in this chapter. Chapter 2 reviews current U.S. nuclear weapons policy, U.S.-Russian nuclear relations, and the problem of global nuclear proliferation, laying the foundation for Chapter 3's recommendations for a regime of progressive constraints. These recommendations include proposals for the operational transformation described above and for successive U.S.-Russian force reductions. These reductions would begin with a quick cut to about 2,000 deployed strategic warheads each as envisioned in the Helsinki summit, then move to reductions to a total inventory of about 1,000 warheads each, and finally to a total inventory of a few hundred warheads on each side. Chapter 4 takes up the long-term agenda, exploring the conditions under which it might be possible to prohibit nuclear weapons altogether and the possible paths to reach that goal. In drawing conclusions and making recommendations, the committee was motivated primarily by concerns about national security, international stability, and international obligations—and much less with economics. Advocacy for cuts in U.S. nuclear weaponry has often raised hopes that these reductions might also be a substantial factor in reducing the military budget. Recent studies of past expenditures by the U.S. nuclear weapons program, which include the cost of both the nuclear explosives and of the delivery systems, show how great the past costs have been.19 In the present study, however, the committee is not predicting that nuclear force reductions would save a great deal of money. The cost directly attributable to nuclear weapons would indeed decrease as the role of nuclear weapons is reduced. But there are additional costs associated with such a shrinkage, including the direct costs of dismantling and the verification and other costs associated with the arms control regime necessary to maintain compliance. Most important, however, is the question of the level of conventional forces that this county deems necessary in the face of a deemphasis on nuclear weapons. This is a matter well beyond the scope of this study, and the state of international relations over decisions about overall military requirements will have much more impact on future military budgets than the changes in nuclear weapons posture recommended here.
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy NOTES 1. The debate began among Manhattan Project scientists and, separately, in the top leadership of the U.S. government, even before the Trinity nuclear test in 1945. See, for example, Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Touchstone, 1988). 2. National Academy of Sciences, Committee on International Security and Arms Control, The Future of the U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Relationship (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1991). 3. The Nuclear Posture Review did not lead to a public report; its contents were communicated, however, through a widely disseminated set of unclassified briefing charts. 4. The Henry L. Stimson Center's reports include Beyond the Nuclear Peril: The Year in Review and the Years Ahead (1995), An Evolving US Nuclear Posture (1995), and An American Legacy: Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World (1997) (Washington, D.C.: The Henry L. Stimson Center). The principal Pugwash and Canberra reports are, respectively, J. Rotblat et al. (eds.), A Nuclear Weapons Free World: Desirable? Feasible? (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993); and Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Report of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia, 1996). 5. The distinction among accidental, erroneous, and unauthorized uses of nuclear weapons is elaborated in Box 1.2. 6. See Appendix B. 7. See, for example, James G. Blight and David A. Welch, "Risking 'The Destruction of Nations': Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis for New and Aspiring Nuclear States," Security Studies, vol. 4, no. 4; Scott D. Sagan, "The Perils of Proliferation: Organization Theory, Deterrence Theory, and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons," International Security, vol. 18, no. 4 (Spring 1994), pp. 66-107; and Scott D. Sagan, Moving Targets (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989). 8. By "practice of deterrence" the committee means the measures taken to generate a credible prospect of punishment for an action, or of denial of its objectives, or of its costs exceeding its benefits. See Box 1.1 for a further discussion. 9. This "last resort" formulation, which was promulgated during the Bush administration and formally adopted by NATO in 1990, is the current variant of the first-use-if-necessary policy on the employment of nuclear weapons that served as U.S. and NATO policy throughout the Cold War. See NATO Press Communique S-1(90)36, "London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance, Issued by the Heads of State and Government Participating in the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in London on 5th-6th July 1990." 10. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, "Fact Sheet: Joint Statement on Parameters on Further Reductions in Nuclear Forces," March 21, 1997. 11. See, for example, "Strategic forces now in forefront of Russia's defence—commander," BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Part 1, The Former USSR, December 19, 1996, No. SU/2799, pp. S1/1-S1/2. 12. For recent assessments of some of the major U.S. cooperative programs in this area, see Proliferation Concerns: Assessing U.S. Efforts to Help Contain Nuclear and Other Dangerous Materials and Technologies in the Former Soviet Union (1997) and An Assessment of the International Science and Technology Center (1996). Two CISAC studies of the particular problem of excess weapons plutonium are Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium (1994) and Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options (1995). All were published by the National Academy Press. 13. See Box 2.1 for definitions of strategic, nonstrategic, and reserve weapons. 14. For example, see Herbert F. York, Race to Oblivion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970) and Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark, In Retrospect (New York: Time Books, 1995). 15. As noted above, the problems of safeguarding surplus nuclear warheads and nuclear materials are not treated in detail in this report, notwithstanding their great importance, because they were the focus of a separate, two-volume CISAC study as well as the NRC study Proliferation Concerns. 16. "A significant shift in the Russian government into the hands of arch-conservatives could
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The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy restore the strategic nuclear threat to the United States literally overnight. … The NPR called for an affordable hedge in which the approved force structure could support weapons levels greater that those called for under START should major geostrategic changes demand it." (William J. Perry, Annual Report to the President and Congress, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., February 1995, p. 86). 17. Russia is required to destroy its multiple-warhead SS-18s and SS-24s. It will retain many of its SS-19s, but they will be downloaded to carry only a single warhead. 18. Given the years required for a hypothetically hostile Russia to reconstitute conventional forces capable of challenging the United States and its allies, the time should be sufficient for compensating action. 19. For example, see Stephen J. Schwartz, "Four Trillion Dollars and Counting," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov.-Dec. 1995, pp. 32-52, which summarizes the work of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study project.
Representative terms from entire chapter: