On June 19th, 2013, in Berlin, President Obama called for a new 33% reduction in America’s already barely-adequate nuclear arsenal, from 1,550 to just 1,000 deployed strategic warheads. This is intended as a step towards his goal of eliminating nuclear weapons completely.
In Berlin, he claimed that the US could still maintain nuclear deterrence, and its own as well as its allies’ security, even with such a dramatically reduced nuclear arsenal. But the nature of the nuclear competition evident today and evolving clearly challenges the President’s position as articulated in Berlin.
A nuclear arsenal, in order to be adequate, has to be large enough, so as to be able to a) threaten credible retaliation on the vast majority of an enemy’s military bases, units, and assets, and b) survive any enemy first strike. A small arsenal, consisting of 1,000 or fewer warheads, will be capable of neither, considering Russia’s and China’s large arsenals.
The inadequacy of merely 1,000 warheads
Russia has at least 375 ICBMs, all of which except Topol and Topol-M missiles carry multiple warheads; collectively, they can deliver 1,259 warheads to the CONUS. 58 of these are “Satan” heavy ICBMs with 10 warheads and up to 38 countermeasures each.[i] It has just fielded a road-mobile ICBM also capable of carrying 10 warheads: the Yars-M[ii]. Furthermore, it has 251 intercontinental bombers (63 Tu-95s, 16 Tu-160s, 171 Tu-22Ms, though not all of them are combat-capable at all times[iii]) and 14 ballistic missile submarines (5 Delta III, 7 Delta IV, 1 Typhoon, 1 Borei class), all of which can carry 16 SLBMs. Each of these, in turn, can carry 4-12 warheads – the R-29M Sinyeva carrying four to ten, the SS-NX-30 Bulava ten, and the R-29RMU2 Liner twelve warheads each. Russia’s bombers can each carry 3-6 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on its wings and one nuclear freeball bomb in the bay.[iv]
That’s just Russia’s strategic nuclear triad.
Russia also has a significant tactical nuclear arsenal, consisting of, according to various estimates, up to 3,500 deployed warheads and potentially up to 10,000 additional ones in storage. All of these are deliverable by a wide range of systems, including submarines, their cruise missiles, surface ships, artillery pieces, short-range missiles, and tactical strike aircraft.[v] Some of these, namely, Russia’s attack submarines armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, can deliver atomic warheads to the CONUS itself – thus adding to Russia’s intercontinental nuclear striking power.
Russia is now steadily growing and modernizing its nuclear arsenal.
It is developing several new ICBM types: the “Son of Satan” heavy ICBM (10 warheads), a rail-mobile ICBM, the “Avangard”/”Rubezh” medium ICBM, and a “pseudo-ICBM” with a 6,000 km range, in addition to the forementioned Yars-M 10-warhead missile now entering service. Moscow is also developing a new bomber type and fielding a new class of up to ten Borei class SSBNs.[vi]
As numerous experts have observed, Russia has significantly increased, not cut, its nuclear arsenal under New START, and Mark Schneider warns Moscow will actually deploy more strategic warheads than New START’s “notional limits” allow, and that New START places no limits on the size or payload (including number of warheads carried) of the Russian forces. It is also building up its Tu-160 bomber fleet from stockpiled components.[vii] And, the introduction of newer Bulava and Liner SLBMs, capable of carrying – as noted above – 10 and 12 warheads, respectively, will dramatically increase the warhead carriage capacity of its SSBN fleet.
The other major nuclear adversary of the United States with a large arsensl is China.
How large is the Chinese nuclear aresenal?
Former Russian Strategic Missile Force Chief of Staff Gen. Viktor Yesin puts it at 1,600-1,800 warheads, while former Dr Philip Karber estimates it may number up to 3,000 warheads, given the length (3,000 miles) of China’s tunnels and bunkers for nuclear weapons.[viii] Beijing would certainly not have built such a large network only to hide a small arsenal – and no serious person denies that network’s existence or length.
China is currently modernizing and expanding all three legs of its nuclear triad, including the bomber leg, for which it is developing a stealthy intercontinental bomber. Russian and American analysts predict it will be able to strike the Continental US. It is also developing new variants of the JL-2 missile, which will be able to carry 12 warheads over a distance of up to 12,000 kilometers.
In addition to the large aresenal countries targeting the United States, there is North Korea, which plans to increase, not surrender, its nuclear arsenal, and aspirants such as Iran.
To deter these potential adversaries, a larger nuclear arsenal than the President proposed is needed – both to threaten them all with credible retaliation, which requires thousands of warheads, and to survive any first strike by Russia or China.
The Heritage Foundation estimates that America needs about 2,700-3,000 warheads to deter adversaries.[ix]
America cannot deter Russia nor China, nor provide for its own and its allies’ security, if its nuclear deterrent is cut as low as 1,000 deployed warheads.
Fewer nuclear weapons is not ipso facto better. It’s can be considerably worse, if adversaries perceive and act on what they see as US nuclear inferiority. America does not want to face a nuclear analogy to the Crimean land grab.
This is not surprising to those of us who are knowledgeable about defense issues: security and peace can be provided for only through military (including nuclear) strength, not weakness – and cutting America’s nuclear arsenal dramatically will significantly weaken her further. This is not Cold War thinking, this is a timeless truth, which will be proven right many times in the decades ahead.
Contrary to Barack Obama’s stated goals, the US does not rely on a “Cold War posture”. It has already reduced its nuclear arsenal by over 75% since the Cold War’s end. Since 1991, the US has also stopped designing, producing, or testing nuclear warheads; has withdrawn tactical nuclear weapons from surface ships and from South Korea; has unilaterally decomissioned its nuclear-capable cruise missiles and their warheads (W80); and has dramatically deemphasized nuclear weapons while emphasizing conventional ones and BMD systems.
America’s strategic posture could not be more different from that of the Cold War.
Yet, such deep cuts have utterly failed to prevent China from expanding its nuclear arsenal or new nuclear powers from emerging.
Nuclear weapons are not relics of the Cold War: they are highly relevant today, arguably even more so than during the Cold War.
Back then, the US only had to deter the USSR, and to a lesser extent, China. Today, not only do Russia and China both have large arsenals, not only does North Korea have nuclear weapons, not only is Iran racing to acquire them, but all of these adversaries are more, rather than less assertive than a decade ago.
In the last 12 months alone, Russian bombers have practiced simulated nuclear strikes on the US and its friends at least 6 times: first in June 2012 near Alaska, then in July 2012 near California, then near Guam, then over Japan, then, in April 2013, nearby Alaska, and most recently, near Sweden, a neutral country. Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have also had to intercept Russian bombers numerous times since 2007. Also, Russia has, since 2007, made 15 threats to use nuclear weapons against US allies.[x]
Given such Russian aggressiveness, America absolutely cannot afford to cut its nuclear deterrent further.
Nobody else is disarming themselves
But while America has cut its arsenal by 75% since the Cold War’s end, nobody has reciprocated. Moscow did cut its nuclear arsenal under the original START treaty, but, as noted above, since New START ratification has been steadily building back. China, as noted above, has increased its arsenal, reaching up to 3,000 warheads. Pakistan and North Korea have joined the nuclear club, India retains over 100 warheads, and Israel has 200 (and counting).
Indeed, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute highlights that everyone is modernizing their arsenals and nobody is willing to give those up (except Obama’s America, they forgot to add).
Hans M. Kristensen, a blogger for Federation of American Scientists, speaks of “rampant modernization” underway in all nuclear weapon states.[xi] Right-wing analysts such as Adm. James Lyons (ret.), Frank Gaffney, James Woolsey, and Michaela Dodge say bluntly: nobody is following Barack Obama’s lead to “global zero.” Even Jimmy Carter’s Defense Secretary Harold Brown (himself a nuclear scientist) and Clinton CIA Director John Deutch call the notion of nuclear disarmament a “fantasy” – which it indeed is.
As Brown says, “When we build, they build. When we cut, they build.”[xii]
Captain William Hoeft (USN, ret.) has recently demonstrated how utterly unrealistic Obama’s goal is.[xiii] For it to be achieved, a number of unimaginable changes would have to happen:
- Russia would have to give up what it calls “sacred” weapons, its primary instrument of military power and bullying of America and its allies, weapons that play the principal role in its defense strategy;
- China would have to agree to give up its arsenal and open it to intrusive inspections and arms limitation treaties, something it has stubbornly refused to do and continues to reject;
- India and Pakistan would have to bury their decades-long hatchet and give up their nuclear weapons;
- North Korea’s Kim Jong-un would have to suddenly become verifiably sane, break free of all the generals and Kim family members who control him, and give up his nuclear arsenal;
- Israel’s neighbors would have to undergo a Damascene conversion from radical, jihadist Islam to some peaceful religion, stop threatening Israel, and start respecting its right to exist in secure borders before Israel could give up its arsenal (whose very existence it hasn’t even acknowledged);
- Iran would have to verifiably and forever cease pursuing nuclear weapons (currently, it is making steady progress towards weaponization, which the recently-signed nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1 powers will only enable); and
- France and Britain would have to give up world power status, and their only independent insurance against nuclear attack, by scrapping their respective nuclear arsenals.
None of these things, except maybe the last one (if the Labour Party returns to power in Britain), will ever happen.
Yet, if even one of them fails to, Obama’s entire fantasy of a non-nuclear world will be shattered.
The strategic reality is clear.
If America continues to cut its nuclear deterrent, especially as deep as Barack Obama wants to, it will be much less secure, as will its allies, who will have no choice but to develop their own nuclear weapons – and many will probably do that. They cannot afford to, and will not, bet their security, and indeed their very existence, on Barack Obama’s fictionary “world without nuclear weapons” – or on his false assurances that disarmament will make the West more secure. Nor will they pin their hopes on a much smaller, and thus woefully inadequate, U.S. nuclear arsenal of just 1,000 deployed warheads.
It is time for American politicians and policymakers to finally realize there will never be a world without nuclear weapons, stop daydreaming about one, stop disarming the US, and start building back and modernizing its nuclear arsenal.
It is the sole guarantee the US and it allies have against strategic attack – and so far, it has never failed.[i] Pavel Podvig, “Raketneye Vyoska Strategichesko Naznachenya” [Rocket Troops of Strategic Designation], Russian Forces, http://russianforces.org/rus/missiles/, retrieved June 20th, 2013. Note that the FAS says Russia still has 170 SS-19 ICBMs, far more than what Podvig admits. See “SS-19 Stilletto”, Federation of American Scientists, http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/icbm/ur-100n.htm, retrieved June 20th, 2013. [ii] Bill Gertz, “Russia Conducts test of New ICBM Designer to Defeat US Defenses,” Washington Free Beacon, June 7th, 2013, http://freebeacon.com/national-security/russia-conducts-test-of-new-icbm-designed-to-defeat-u-s-defenses/. [iii] Vladimir Karnozov, „In focus: Russia’s next generation bomber takes shape,” Flight International, October 15th, 2012, http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/in-focus-russians-next-generation-bomber-takes-shape-377251/; „Kuda Letit’ Rossiyskaya Aviatsiya”, Kommersant, August 25th, 2008, http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1014592; Sean O’Connor, “Russian Strategic Aviation – An Imagery Overview,” IMINT, December 22nd, 2007, http://geimint.blogspot.com/2007/07/russian-strategic-aviation-imagery.html. [iv] “Russia Test Fires Sineva in Barents Sea,”, RIA Novosti, July 27th, 2011, http://en.rian.ru/military_news/20110727/165419044.html; “Vnezapnyi Liner,” Lenta.ru, August 10th, 2011, http://lenta.ru/articles/2011/08/10/liner/; „Bulava Missile Ready to Deploy”, RIA Novosti, December 27th, 2011, http://en.rian.ru/military_news/20111227/170517515.html. [v] Gunnar Arbman, Charles Thornton, “Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Part I: Background and Policy Issues”, Swedish Defense Research Agency, November 2003, http://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/1903/7912/1/thorntonrussia.pdf. [vi] Mark Schneider, “Russian Nuclear Modernization,” National Institute for Public Policy, July 20th, 2012, http://www.nipp.org/Publication/Downloads/Downloads%202012/Schneider%20Russian%20strategic%20forces%20talkingpoints%20-.pdf. [vii] Schneider, op. cit.; Robert Joseph and Eric Edelman, “Time for Kerry to Face Facts,” Foreign Policy, May 6th, 2013, http://www.csbaonline.org/2013/05/06/time-for-kerry-to-face-facts/; Michaela Dodge, “New START: State Department’s “Facts” Don’t Match Reality”, The Foundry, April 14th, 2013, http://blog.heritage.org/2013/04/14/new-start-state-departments-facts-dont-match-reality/; Schneider, “Russian Nuclear Modernization”, p. 8; Carlo Kopp, “The F-35: Can It Meet Canada’s Needs?”, Air Power Australia, October 19th, 2010, http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-NOTAM-191010-1.html. [viii] William Wan, “Georgetown students shed light on China’s tunnel system for nuclear weapons,” The Washington Post, November 29th, 2011, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-11-29/world/35280981_1_nuclear-weapons-georgetown-students-military-journals; Viktor Yesin, “On China’s Nuclear Potential Without Underestimation or Exaggeration,” transl. Anna Tsiporkina, Georgetown University Asian Arms Control Project, May 2nd, 2012, http://www.asianarmscontrol.com/content/russian-article-chinese-nuclear-potential. [ix] Rebeccah Heinrichs and Baker Spring, “Deterrence and Nuclear Targeting in the 21st Century,” The Heritage Foundation, November 30th, 2012, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/11/deterrence-and-nuclear-targeting-in-the-21st-century. [x] Gertz, „Bears Buzz Alaska Again,” Washington Free Beacon, May 6th, 2013, http://freebeacon.com/national-security/bears-buzz-alaska-again/; Dodge, “New START: State Department’s “Facts” Don’t Match Reality”; Christian Gomez, “Russian Bombers Perform Simulated Strikes On U.S., Sweden,” The New American, May 14th, 2013, http://thenewamerican.com/world-news/europe/item/15387-russian-bombers-perform-simulated-strikes-on-sweden-us. [xi] Hans M. Kristensen, Air Force Briefing Shows Nuclear Modernizations But Ignores US and UK Programs, May 29th, 2013, http://blogs.fas.org/security/2013/05/afgsc-brief2013/. The title of Kristensen’s blogpost is wrong, however, because the Air Force briefing in question did show all of America’s planned modernization programs. [xii] Dodge, “Nuclear Weapons: Hagel’s Misguided Relief in Global Zero”, The Foundry, February 22nd, 2013, http://blog.heritage.org/2013/02/22/reality-crushes-senator-hagels-misguided-belief-in-nuclear-zero/; Frank Gaffney, “No Nukes Could Beget Nuclear War,” Center for Security Policy, April 3rd, 2013, http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2013/04/03/no-nukes-could-beget-nuclear-war/; Gaffney, R. James Woolsey, and James Lyons, “Obama’s Nuclear Zero Rhetoric Is Dangerous,” The Washington Post, April 1st, 2013, http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2013/04/01/obamas-nuclear-zero-rhetoric-is-dangerous/; Harold Brown and John Deutch, “The Nuclear Disarmament Fantasy,” The Wall Street Journal, November 19th, 2007, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119542524645797257.html. [xiii] William F. Hoeft, “Deterrence Now More than Ever,” Proceedings, June 2013, http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2013-06/deterrence%E2%80%94now-more-ever.
Zbigniew Mazurak is a private defense analyst and the Defense Correspondent for Conservative Daily News. He has contributed over 20 articles to the American Thinker, over 190 articles to Conservative Daily News, and numerous articles to other conservative news sites, the vast majority of them dealing with America’s defense issues. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in History and is now working on his Ph.D. in the same field.
Note: The Crimean invasion by Russia against a state which gave up its right to possess nuclear weapons under a signed agreement for which the US was a party as well as the UK and Russia will certainly further enhance the desire of those who have them to ensure that they are credible and modernized.
Crimea is the death blow for sure to the Berlin speech.
Now it is time to get on to a credible and realistic modernization strategy.