By John Moulton
On Tuesday, September 20, 2022, four nuclear weapons policy experts, including CSR Board member the Honorable Rose Gottemoeller, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on nuclear strategy and policy. While the experts addressed many topics throughout the over two-hour period, there was general agreement on three key points:
- The need to replace aging systems across the U.S. strategic deterrent nuclear triad with modernized ones to ensure reliability, but without a need to numerically match everything a potential nuclear adversary does.
- The need to better understand how new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and cyber capabilities, could affect nuclear deterrence.
- The need to engage in discussions with nuclear weapons experts in Russia and China as a way to better understand their programs and intent, and possibly lead to establishing norms and achieving future cooperation on arms control.
Modernization was clearly identified by all the experts as the top priority for the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise — not only so that systems will continue to be safe, reliable, and credible, but so these replacement systems can be modernized and adapted for future threats, as they will likely be in the U.S. inventory for decades to come.
Gottemoeller agreed with fellow expert and former high-ranking defense official, the Honorable Madelyn Creedon, on the need to always have a person “in the loop” regarding nuclear weapons. She identified this topic as an area where normative standards are needed, and therefore as a topic that’s very important to discuss with Russia and China.
Both recommended such nuclear topics as an opportunity to try and influence what Gottemoeller termed as the “direction of travel” behind the opaque strategy and expansion of the Chinese nuclear program. Gottemoeller also described engagement as a way Chinese decision-makers could “recognize the value of negotiated restraint.”
Another key subject discussed was the controversial sea launched cruise missile – nuclear, or SLCM-N. While Ambassador Eric Edelman and the Honorable Frank Miller, the other two panel members, identified re-establishing SLCM-N as “vital for regional deterrence and to reassure U.S. allies,” Gottemoeller voiced disagreement. She held that she did not see the need for such a cruise missile, and that the impact of reintroducing SLCM-N on the Navy’s operational tempo needed to be taken into account. Creedon added to this, identifying that the nuclear weapons enterprise has a fixed warhead production capability, so funding anything beyond the plans that are already in progress would delay modernizing the current nuclear triad systems, or have to occur after modernization was completed. Miller recognized the impact on maritime forces: he stated that the Navy could deploy SLCM-N, having done so from the early 1980s until the end of the Cold War, but agreed that building the trident systems is the priority for the Navy, and that any decision for SLCM-N would be “in the outyears.”
Cumulatively, these experts provided the Committee members with valuable perspectives to help them “think about and better understand how nuclear force structure, policy, and arms control strategies” can help to “prepare our nation for dealing with a dangerous future.” By unanimously recognizing the value of increasing strategic stability, engaging Russia and China in nuclear dialogues, and addressing the impact of new technologies, the testimony of these experts demonstrates three important ways in which this future can be made less dangerous for all.