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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Modernizing US nuc strategy

Anonymously contributed: James Cartwright, the retired Marine Corps general who commanded U.S. nuclear forces from 2004-07, thinks the U.S. should acknowledge that a large nuclear force is of limited value in deterring today's major threats. "No sensible argument has been put forward for using nuclear weapons to solve any of the major 21st century problems we face," including threats posed by rogue states, terrorism, cyber warfare or climate change, Cartwright and his colleagues at Global Zero wrote in a report in May. Global Zero is an organization that advocates a step-by-step process to achieve the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons. The group argues that the U.S. could safely reduce its arsenal over the coming 10 years to 900 total nuclear weapons. That compares with the current U.S. arsenal of about 5,000 weapons, of which 1,737 are deployed. ------ From Cartwright’s paper… “This notional [US nuclear] force would consist of ten (10) Trident ballistic missile submarines armed with 720 strategic missile warheads (360 deployed; 360 reserve) and eighteen (18) B-2 bombers armed with 180 gravity bombs (90 deployed; 90 reserve). The submarine force would offer a high degree of survivability for many decades – no peer competitor currently has any effective anti-submarine warfare capability against U.S. SSBNs at sea and technological breakthroughs that could threaten this survivability are several decades away. Both submarines and bombers would offer a high degree of flexibility… The Minuteman land-based ICBM force would be eliminated. ICBMs can only support nuclear wartime operations against Russia because current-generation ICBMs fired from the existing three (3) bases on their minimum energy trajectories have to overfly Russia and China to reach targets in potentially adversarial third countries (e.g., Iran, North Korea), and fly dangerously close to Russia to reach Syria. U.S. ICBMs would also have to overfly Russia to reach targets in China… Russia and China are not enemies of the United States. If they were, and nuclear planners allocated this 900-weapon arsenal according to Cold War targeting principles, the following (strictly) illustrative categories of targets and warhead assignments would be possible: Russia: WMD (325 warheads including 2-on-1 strikes against every missile silo), leadership command posts (110 warheads), war-supporting industry (136 warheads). Moscow alone would be covered by eighty (80) warheads. China: WMD (85 warheads including 2-on-1 strikes against every missile silo), leadership command posts (33 warheads), war-supporting industry (136 warheads). North Korea, Iran, Syria: Each country would be covered by forty (40) warheads.”


Anonymous said...

Sure, above ground targetting uses fewer warheads than might be available. But if the targets are capable of retaliation and are as speculation runs, in thousands of large multi-kilometer bunkers a mile deep, then how many do you need?

Simple answer. How many do you have?

Anonymous said...

" thousands of large multi-kilometer bunkers a mile deep, then how many do you need?"

How about one to destroy the entrance and collapse the tunnels leading from the surface to the bunkers.

Anonymous said...

There is a simple fact that most ignore. It is that low numbers of nuclear weapons force one to adopt a countervalue targeting approach. In simple terms that means targeting cities. Then one can easily drop to a small number (few tens)of delivered weapons (which raises the ante for missile defense a lot). So those advocating small numbers of weapons are simply returning to the tried strategy of world war II. I hope they enjoy that moral dilemma.

Anonymous said...

The world with dozens of nuclear weapons is a heck of a lot more scary than one with thousands.

Anonymous said...

You need to read his full paper before jumping to the conclusion that he is opposed to nuclear weapons. He does a credible job of looking at the current and suggested future threats and the ability to employ strategic nuclear forces to influence those threats. In conclusion he views a force of about 1000 warheads as optimized for that function. While you may disagree with his conclusion, you should give him credit for having completed a solid analysis of the situation. Unlike some of the people on each side of the debate, he was willing to reexamine the state of the situation in a critical manner.
It is not a call to go to zero, now or in the foreseeable future. Nor is it a defense of the status quo which in large part is legacy from fifty years ago.
His consideration of reduction of the traditional triad carries a lot of weight, since he had command of all those forces in the recent past.
Perhaps also time to get serious about reductions in the NNSA enterprise?

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