Lasers! Day One! (Or how I’d rebuild the strategic deterrent)

Devil-Time-BanditsToday, National Interest asked me how I’d rebuild our strategic deterrent from scratch. Echoing the “Evil” character from Time Bandits, I said: missiles, day one. Bombers were a result of the limitations of technology in the 1950s, and we’ve been re-inventing reasons for them ever since:

I would start with land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles buried in silos in North America.

This might seem an odd choice. Why choose such destabilizing weapons? After all, ICBMs are ill-suited for very much besides killing millions of people. They only have an offensive role; they cannot be meaningfully defended; they cannot be recalled once launched; their existence cannot be hidden; their flight times are terrifyingly short. Why not start with something with a little more flexibility?

History and the state of technology in the 1950s did in fact lead to a different conclusion at the time. Before the invention of long-range missiles, the United States and the Soviet Union created huge bomber forces over six decades ago. All of the vices of missiles are reflected – supposedly – in the virtues of bombers: they’re slow, they can be recalled, they have human beings in them who can make real-time decisions, and they can be used for a broad array of missions. They are a prefect nuclear Swiss Army knife, suited for all kinds of missions.

If you want to read why that’s not a good idea anyway, the rest of it can be found at The National Interest here.

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Does NATO need to keep its tactical nuclear weapons? Not really.

Tac nukes PDF

This publication is available to the public for free, co-edited by your host. Click on the pic to get it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior — and by “behavior” I mean his uncontrollable aggression in Ukraine — is giving a lot of people political cover for “I told you so” moments, especially about nukes. And now Brent Scowcroft, Steven Hadley, and Franklin Miller, three distinguished Wise Men (and I do not mean that sarcastically) from previous administrations have now weighed in on the importance of keeping NATO’s small tactical nuclear weapons.

These weapons were meant for battlefield use against an invading Soviet alliance, a massive military machine that no longer exists. The point was to link events in the theater of war to the use of nuclear arms, in order to reinforce the deterrent threat that invading Europe meant a central U.S.-Soviet nuclear war even if no one really wanted one. In other words, they were placed in harm’s way specifically to make them a “use or lose” weapon we’d have no choice but to employ.

Today, I don’t think anyone really has an idea what the mission of these weapons might be, other than as political symbols. Scowcroft and his co-authors admit this, but think we have to keep them anyway, precisely for that reason. I agree that Putin has made it impossible for President Obama to do anything with our European stockpile. (I also think the President’s political capital at this point is so non-existent that he couldn’t pass a resolution to be nice to our moms, but that’s another matter.) That doesn’t mean tactical nukes have any use, it just means we can’t remove them right now.

Read the whole thing here at The National Interest.

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Russia violates the INF Treaty

(AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)For some time now, I’ve been saying it’s not a big deal that Russia is yanking our chain on the INF Treaty. I still don’t think it’s a big deal in military terms; Russia isn’t suddenly going to reemerge as a first-rank power because it tested a ground-launched cruise missile. And I also don’t think that we should do anything about it, not least because there’s nothing to do about it.

I explored this over the weekend at more length in The National Interest. You can read the full version here.

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