By Andy Weber and Christine Parthemore
In the new issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, we recommend a smarter modernization program for the U.S. nuclear weapon enterprise. While some worrisome trends in U.S. nuclear policy began while we served in government, the subsequent 2018 Nuclear Posture Review presented several sharp departures from long-held, bipartisan U.S. leadership in reducing nuclear risks.
In our article, we argue that much of the current modernization plan makes sense for U.S. security and credible deterrence. Yet current plans and policies go far beyond what’s needed. A few key changes are critical for re-establishing strategic stability and responsibly assuring allies.
A robust but responsible U.S. nuclear deterrent does not require what we call new and new-again nuclear weapon capabilities.
Currently-planned new nuclear weapon capabilities include the LRSO (a new long-range standoff air-launched nuclear cruise missile) and a low-yield nuclear warhead for use on submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Some current U.S. leaders and experts also call for resurrecting several nuclear weapon capabilities that leaders such as Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Barack Obama wisely eliminated from the U.S. arsenal. These new-again weapons include a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile and nuclear-capable, intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile systems.
Our nuclear deterrent is formidable without these specific weapons given other, flexible U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities. They are far less important than other defense needs, and their destabilizing qualities may already be worsening the global security landscape for America and its allies.
The good news is that they are in early stages and can all be halted. We recommend these changes, along with some shifts in how we talk about U.S. nuclear weapons policies and postures, to help put our country back on a smarter path.
Read the full Bulletin article here.