On June 14, 2013, President Obama spoke in Berlin. He used the occasion to announce the completion of a two-year review of American nuclear weapons policy and his related decisions on the next steps in nuclear arms control. Some 75 years before the President’s Berlin speech, two German scientists, working in a laboratory in the suburbs of a Berlin not far from where he spoke, achieved nuclear fission. That passage of time (75 years) suggests one time frame appropriate for thinking about the security environment. Although not easily adapted to security planning, a 75-year horizon does begin to approach the life spans of major strategic weapons systems such as the B-52 bomber and the Minuteman (MM) III missile.1 In the future as in the past, however, rapid political, economic, and technological change may alter priorities in national and thus in Air Force deterrence considerations.
During a period of extreme national emergency in the middle of the 20th century, the United States partnered with its British allies in a secret, expensive, risky, and urgent project, which created the world’s first nuclear weapon. By the time the bomb was available in 1945, Germany had surrendered but Japan was
1 The B-52H and MM III have been in the force since the 1960s. They of course have been refurbished and modified over time to extend their lives and/or improve their performance, a process that continues today. It is thought that they can be sustained until about 2030 (and perhaps beyond, if necessary).
still at war. The United States used the bomb with the intent to shock Japan into surrendering sooner rather than later so as to avoid the need for an invasion of the Japanese main islands.2
During a brief postwar interregnum, the United States proposed the Baruch Plan to place nuclear weapons under international control. The plan failed as the Cold War set in. For the next quarter century, the world was caught in a largely bipolar power struggle, with nuclear weapons at the heart of the competition. The evolution of American deterrent strategy (and its supporting concepts) reflected that reality.3
In waging the Cold War, the United States developed a large nuclear enterprise to design, test, and produce nuclear weapons. At its peak in the mid-1960s, the U.S. nuclear stockpile rose to over 31,000 weapons, including deployed and nondeployed weapons.4 Strategic weapons were deployed briefly on a quadrad of delivery systems, which included intercontinental-range cruise missiles, 5 and then on a triad of long-range bombers,6 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs),7
2 Although there is scholarly debate about how to weigh the different factors that led to Japan’s surrender, the decision came rapidly after the deployment of nuclear weapons. The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. A second bomb was used on Nagasaki three days later. Hostilities ceased on August 14, 1945, followed by Japan’s unconditional surrender.
3 There were a succession of presidential guidance documents issued during the nine American administrations that governed the evolution of Cold War American deterrence planning: National Security Council (NSC) papers NSC-68 (1950), NSC 162/2 (1953), and NSC 5906/1 (1959), National Security Decision Memorandum 242 (1974), Presidential Directive 59 (1980), and National Security Decision Directive 13 (1981). Academics tend to look at the surface of change, using phrases like massive retaliation, flexible response, and mutual assured destruction. Those are phrases grounded in the realities of the time (and especially the desire of new administrations to distinguish their policies from those of their predecessors), but they tend to oversimplify the evolution of American nuclear deterrence policy by suggesting sharp divides, where in fact there was a more gradual evolution and considerable continuity. For instance, the Eisenhower administration already was moving toward flexible response by the time NSC 5906/1 was issued in 1959, and the Kennedy administration kept NSC 5906/1 as policy until it was rescinded in 1963, toward the end of Kennedy’s presidency. In practice, the classified documents often codified changes that already were under way in American policy and strategy. Those changes are reflected in official speeches, news releases, internal memoranda, and the like.
4 Department of Defense (DoD), 2010, Fact Sheet: Increasing Transparency in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, Washington, D.C., May 3.
5 The early intercontinental cruise missile, the SNARK, went on alert in March 1960. It was retired soon after its initial deployment but not before the USS George Washington Polaris missile submarine left on its inaugural deterrent patrol in November 1960.
6 Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers initially were not on continuous 24-hour (24/7) alert. From November 1956 to June 1957, SAC began experimenting with the practice of keeping bombers and tankers on continuous 24-hour alert. The experiments showed that ground alert was feasible, and a large percentage of the SAC bomber force went on routine day-to-day alert in late 1957. They continued this practice throughout the Cold War, and for 8 years, during the crisis atmosphere of the 1960s, a part of the bomber force also was on 24/7 airborne nuclear alert.
7 The first U.S. ICBM, an Atlas missile, went on alert in October 1959.
and submarine-launched ballistic missiles launched from nuclear-powered submarines.8 The United States also deployed a wide variety of so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons at sea (for land, sea, and undersea warfare), with Army missile and tube artillery units and special operations groups, on ground-based Air Force aircraft, and on missiles designed for air and ballistic missile defense.9 The United States also extended a nuclear umbrella to allies.10 It pursued nuclear arms control regimes, which sought to stabilize the bipolar competition with the Soviet Union,11 to constrain (and, where possible, prevent and roll back) nuclear proliferation while allowing the pursuit of peaceful applications of nuclear energy,12 and to protect the environment.13 And notwithstanding the speculation of some early nuclear
8 The first U.S. fleet ballistic missile submarine, the USS George Washington, deployed on its first operational patrol in November 1960. Earlier, the Navy had a submarine equipped with a nuclear-armed cruise missile, the Regulus, which had a relatively short range (less than 1,000 km) and could only be launched while the submarine was surfaced.
9 The United States developed and deployed a large variety of tactical nuclear weapons for a variety of platforms: aircraft, artillery, missiles of various ranges, torpedoes, mines, and so forth. See Amy F. Woolf, 2012, Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons, Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., December 19.
10 In 1949 the United States was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). U.S. nuclear forces were a vital part of NATO planning from its inception. The first NATO strategy-planning document, Standing Group 1, was circulated to the allied chiefs of staff for comment in early October 1949. It assumed that U.S. nuclear weapons would be used at the outset of any NATO war with the Soviet Union.
11 During the Cold War, the United States negotiated a network of bilateral nuclear arms agreements with the Soviet Union. In 1972, the United States completed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) I talks, resulting in an interim agreement on offensive strategic arms and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the interim agreement was followed by SALT II (signed in 1979 and observed until 1986, although never ratified); Intermediate Nuclear Forces (signed in 1987 and still in force); and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START I (signed in 1991 before the Soviet Union collapsed and brought into force following the Lisbon Protocols of 1992). Following the Cold War, the United States negotiated START II, which was signed in January 1993 and repudiated by the Russian Federation when the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, roughly coincident with negotiating the Treaty of Moscow (which used START I verification provisions). The Obama administration entered office shortly before START I expired. The New START treaty was signed in 2010 and entered into force the following year.
12 President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech to the United Nations in December 1953 led to the creation a few years later of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In 1965, President Johnson made the decision that the United States would make it a top priority to pursue a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). By 1968, the NPT was signed, although its entry into force was delayed until 1970 because of the political environment following Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. The NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995 and remains in force today, although some believe its future is problematic if a new wave of proliferation begins.
13 In 1954, an American thermonuclear test contaminated a Japanese fishing trawler, helping spark a worldwide movement seeking the end of nuclear testing. The United States entered into nuclear testing talks with Russia and Britain in 1958. The talks cut across security and environmental issues
strategists that the awesome power of nuclear weapons merely by their existence made major war obsolete, the United States fought major regional conventional wars (Korea, Vietnam) where nuclear weapons cast a shadow over but were not employed in the conflicts.
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and by the end of 1991, the Soviet Union had dissolved. Although there were residual actions required to record the transition (including the question of who would inherit the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons), for all practical purposes the Cold War was over.
The above discussion presents an incomplete picture of a complex environment over the almost 50 years within which U.S. nuclear weapons policy and strategy evolved during the Cold War. Another potential time span for the committee’s deliberations is 25 years (roughly the time that has passed since the end of the Cold War), which, for purposes of deterrence and assurances, spanned a radically different geopolitical world.
As the Cold War was ending, another nuclear era was unfolding. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The United States assembled a coalition to reverse Iraq’s aggression, and following the First Gulf War, helped organize an international inspection regime to dismantle Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The new inspection regime revealed how far Iraq had advanced toward developing a nuclear weapons program, covertly and behind the veil of seemingly legitimate nuclear activities subject to then-routine IAEA inspections. Coinciding as it did with the end of the Cold War, this revelation helped shift U.S. attention toward regional aggression and the dangers posed by nuclear weapons proliferating into the hands of leaders like Saddam Hussein.14
and also came to be seen as a mean of restraining further proliferation. Formal agreements followed: the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963); the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (1974), and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (1976), which were observed but did not come into force until the negotiation of verification protocols in 1990. At the transition from the Cold War, Congress first imposed a moratorium on further American nuclear testing (Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell Amendment, 1992), and the Clinton administration then championed Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) talks, which began in 1994 and resulted in opening a treaty for signature in 1996. The United States was the first to sign, but in October 1999, the Senate rejected the treaty. The CTBT regime remains on the books and, arguably, has created new norms, but it has yet to formally enter into force.
14 For the Air Force, the First Gulf War and the subsequent enforcement of the no-fly zone in Iraq led to a cycle of continuous wartime footing and expeditionary operations that characterized the 1990s and beyond. As for Iraqi WMD, they of course figured prominently in the controversial U.S. decision in 2003 to intervene militarily in Iraq.
That shift was reflected in American nuclear policy and priorities for deterrence and assurance.15 It coincided with a decade of relative American prosperity, with the explosive development of new technologies for military application (e.g., information, precision strike) and with a new age of globalization. Washington championed the development of “net-centric” military operations, which many, but not all, believed had radically transformed warfare. This was an era of U.S. strategic euphoria. It was, some have argued, our unipolar moment in history. It also was a decade when China continued its slow, steady growth.
The United States’ strategic euphoria was shattered on September 11, 2001, when a small group of al-Qaeda terrorists married crude technologies (box cutters) with modern high-technology devices (four fuel-laden jet passenger aircraft) to destroy the World Trade Center, strike and severely damage the Pentagon, and come close to attacking another iconic and high-value target in Washington, D.C. (some speculate it was the White House, others the Capitol). In a matter of hours, security policy shifted radically. Countering nonstate terrorism became the highest near-term priority, with ramifications that continue today.
The United States reorganized its institutions, reoriented its military operations, and went to war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, and globally against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The threat of nonstate terrorists acquiring and using a nuclear weapon dominated Washington’s strategic concerns and coincided with a focus on homeland security and on regional (vice global) problems. Fears that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, and nuclear proliferation in North Korea,16
15 President William Jefferson Clinton took office in 1993 as the first post-Cold War American president. Proliferation of WMD to rogue states became a priority for his administration. In December 1993, in a speech at the National Academy of Sciences, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced a counterproliferation initiative that joined nonproliferation as a U.S. strategy. Counterproliferation concerns quickly were reflected in a new emphasis on ballistic missile defenses to counter the missile programs of the regional rogues.
16 North Korea (formally known as the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, or DPRK) lost confidence in its Cold War patron when, in September 1990, the Soviet Union announced it would establish diplomatic relations with South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK). The end of the Cold War turned North Korea’s world upside down. In 1991, a North–South denuclearization agreement was concluded between the two Koreas along with a North–South reconciliation agreement. Both Koreas were admitted to the United Nations (UN) in 1992, and North Korea established diplomatic relations with South Korea. In the context of continuing insecurity and negotiating tactics, North Korea continued to pursue its nuclear weapons and missile programs, and a complicated web of regional negotiations began. In 1993, North Korea announced it was withdrawing from the NPT. This led to a re-energized American initiative that resulted in the Agreed Framework, which was signed in 1994, but which would collapse in 2002. In October 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. It remains U.S. policy to roll back the North Korean nuclear program, but there is considerable uncertainty whether that can ever succeed. This has placed a premium on U.S. security assurances to North Korea’s neighbors, Japan and South Korea, and on ways to make those assurances credible.
in South Asia,17 and in Iran,18 became major concerns. Meanwhile, China continued its steady growth, and Russian policy took a sharp turn after 2000 under the leadership of Vladimir Putin toward a more confrontational approach to the West.
This was the world inherited by President Obama when he took office in January 2009, in the midst of a major global economic crisis. Within weeks of taking office, in a speech in Prague in April 2009, the President unveiled an ambitious agenda to reduce nuclear weapons. The new agenda was greeted with great enthusiasm in many parts of the world and contributed to President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize later in the year.
The Prague speech was followed by other actions, including a new national security strategy (2010), a range of new accompanying strategy documents in the Pentagon,19 a New START treaty (signed and ratified in 2010), a new Nuclear Posture Review (2010), and a new strategy for modernizing the nuclear stockpile
17 In 1974, 10 years after the first Chinese nuclear test, India conducted what it called at the time a peaceful nuclear explosion (essentially, an underground test). China and India had fought a brief but intensive border war in 1962 and had major unresolved border problems. India’s neighbor, Pakistan, began its own covert nuclear weapons program, which gained notoriety not only because of regional implications but also because of the covert nuclear trafficking network established by the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan. In 1998, India and Pakistan both conducted nuclear weapons tests, which they announced to the world. The nuclear arms race between these two rivals is a continuing source of concern, as are such possibilities as political change in Pakistan that could bring a radical Islamic government to power and Pakistan’s security arrangements with Saudi Arabia (some speculate that if Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia will get nuclear weapons from Pakistan).
18 The United States has a complicated political relationship with Iran, dating to the Second World War. In 1953 the United States supported a coup that kept the Shah in power, and in 1957, it began helping the Shah develop a nuclear program for peaceful purposes under the Atoms for Peace framework and IAEA inspections. Iran signed the NPT in 1968 and ratified it 2 years later. In 1979, the Shah was overthrown and an Islamic government was established in Iran. Relations with the United States deteriorated sharply when Iran seized U.S. diplomats twice in the same year, the second time holding them hostage for over a year. Iran fought a bloody war with Iraq from 1980 to 1988, which included massive missile attacks on Iranian cities and Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iran, which the international community tolerated. In 2002, an Iranian dissident group revealed the existence of secret nuclear facilities under construction in Iran. Iran has maintained that its program is exclusively peaceful. That is disputed by much of the international community. The United States has orchestrated a complicated diplomacy of sanctions and talks, to try to resolve the Iranian challenge while keeping the option of military action against Iran open. Israel, which took unilateral action against the Iraqi nuclear program with its strike on the Osirik reactor in 1981, watches the situation warily, as does Saudi Arabia, where there have been statements that if Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia will as well. This committee devoted a considerable time to trying to understand better the Iranian challenge and its implications for this study.
19 The National Security Strategy guides preparation of the Defense Secretary’s National Defense Strategy and its associated Quadrennial Defense Review and of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s National Military Strategy. For discussion of these reports, and their basis in legislation, see C. Dale, 2013, National Security Strategy: Mandates, Execution to Date, and Issues for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C.
(2012). This provides the contextual prologue to President Obama’s speech in Berlin in June 2013.
The President’s Berlin speech and a nine-page report on the nuclear employment strategy of the United States, which was released in Washington to coincide with the Berlin speech, reaffirmed the key objectives of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and their implicit prioritization. One of the decisions especially relevant to this study was to maintain a nuclear triad and to support continued NATO deployments.
This study acknowledges the policymakers’ expectation that U.S. nuclear forces will continue to be important in both security matters and international relations. In the words of the NPR,
As long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must sustain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal—to maintain strategic stability with other major nuclear powers, deter potential adversaries, and reassure our allies and partners of our security commitments to them.20
The administration also has made clear that the United States will continue seeking to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring nonnuclear attacks,” consistent with its security assurances to others and with continued efforts at negotiating further numerical reductions in nuclear arsenals. 21
Looking forward, this study takes note of what has changed that affects deterrence and assurances, and the analytic approaches needed to support sound deterrence and assurance choices. The principles of deterrence and assurance have not changed, but other factors have.
First, the international context has changed and continues to change. The committee looked at many factors, but found several compelling in their importance for understanding deterrence requirements. There are more states that either are nuclear armed or that could become nuclear armed if they chose. Nonstate terrorists seeking nuclear weapons are a reality. Conventional weapons are vastly more precise than before. Modern warfare is changed by the overlapping effects of conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, cyber, and space capabilities. And the balance of power between the United States, Russia, and China is shifting constantly. Added to all this is the potential for multiparty conflicts, including conflicts among regional nuclear actors other than the United States.
20 Department of Defense, 2010, Nuclear Posture Review, Washington, D.C.
Second, while the need for a U.S. nuclear force capable of deterring Russia and China from executing an existential attack on the U.S. homeland remains, the possibility of regional crises escalating to the use of (or threatened use of) theater nuclear weapons has increased. The latter possibility demands increased examination by U.S. military planners and political leaders.
Finally, the fiscal environment in which the United States moves to sustain an effective nuclear deterrent is currently daunting, even though U.S. nuclear forces have been reduced to a small fraction of the defense budget.22 During the Cold War, the nuclear deterrence capabilities acquired by the United States constituted a defensible and sound investment to overcompensate, given the vast and inevitable uncertainties about adversary nuclear intentions and capabilities. In recent decades, U.S. nuclear forces have been a lower priority for national leaders, and analysis and investment in nuclear deterrence have declined. Major programmatic decisions have been postponed and options reduced. The United States does not have the luxury of robustly and redundantly hedging against an uncertain nuclear future. Resources are constrained. This suggests that the analytic framework the United States needs to sustain 21st century deterrence needs to be richer and more refined than ever before.
Capabilities are important, force levels matter, and the increasing costs of nuclear systems cannot be ignored, but difficult decisions can be made better through sound analysis.
The remainder of the report is structured as follows. Chapter 2 defines concepts, raises issues, poses problems, and indicates the themes that those involved in assessing U.S. deterrence and assurance issues need to consider. The discussion makes clear just how complex the challenges are but ultimately converges
22 The fiscal environment for beginning and carrying through an expensive modernization program for U.S. nuclear forces remains highly uncertain. Budget battles between Congress and the administration often force DoD to cut funds from modernization accounts in order to fund operations and maintenance, in effect trading future capabilities for near-term readiness. This is happening at a time when almost all nuclear delivery systems and the weapons they carry must be modernized or replaced over the next two decades. For background, the committee consulted the following: Congressional Budget Office, 2013, Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces: 2014 to 2023, Washington, D.C.; J.B. Wolfsthal, J. Lewis, and M. Quint, 2014, The Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad: US Strategic Nuclear Modernization Over the Next Thirty Years, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey, Calif.; and T. Harison, 2013, Chaos and Uncertainty: The FY2014 Defense Budget and Beyond, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, Washington, D.C.
on suggested directions. Chapter 3 discusses specific analytic tools, methods, and approaches for deterrence and assurance and points to the need to view these as a collection—that is, as a tool suite—to support analysis plans. Finally, Chapter 4 provides the complete sets recommendations, along with supporting findings and associated rationales.