The Second Nuclear Age and American Security: Trump Channels His Inner De Gaulle

By Robbin Laird

Notably in the first Presidential debate, Donald Trump directly raised the nuclear threat question and identified it as a much more pressing issue that climate change.

He then highlighted his concerns with Russian nuclear modernization and failure son the US side to modernize effectively.

He then underscored that the Iran-North Korean and Chinese nexus was a critical dynamic in shaping the threat to the United States.

All of these concerns have been highlighted in our treatment of the Second Nuclear Age.

Hillary Clinton represents the current thinking on how to deal with the problem, namely through arms control with such measures as the Iranian agreement.

And she clearly highlighted her continued commitment to the global dispersal of US military forces to deal with global threats.

Very de Gaulle like, Trump focused on the most immediate threat to the United States, namely the nuclear one.

Rather than dispersing resources, perhaps these should be concentrated on shaping real policies and capabilities to ensure deterrence prevails.

Trump also has posed the question of what specialists called extended deterrence.

This is the question of whether Washington would risk Washington DC for the deterrence of a state like Japan?

Without a clear capability where the US with relevant high end conventional and effective nuclear warfighting tools can answer that question by saying: “I can do this without the need to bring Washington DC into the equation” extended deterrence is a concept not a reality.

States will then seek nuclear weapons, which is what Trump has said. The response from Hillary Rodman (Clinton) is very traditionalistic – it is US policy not to see the nuclear proliferation.

But how does this happen if states allied with the United States facing second nuclear age threats do NOT believe that the US has either the will or the capability to respond?

That is the question which (Charles) Donald (De Gaulle) Trump is asking.

The answer can not be simply to provide a mechanical reading of the history of US past policies or asserting that a deeply flawed Iran agreement is reassuring any one who is likely to pursue independent nuclear weapons.

The response to Second Nuclear Age threats is not simply telling us what our ancestors did: It is crafting capabilities and approaches for our own age, one very different from the past twenty years.

When we interviewed the head of NORTHCOM/NORAD, Admiral Gortney, hardly a hot button political animal, it was clear of his growing concern as the central combatant commander.

Both the Chinese and Russians have said in their open military literature, that if conflict comes, they want to escalate conflict in order to de-escalate it.

Now think about that from our side. And so now as crisis escalates, how will Russia or China want to escalate to deescalate?

They’ll definitely come at us through cyber.

And they’ll deliver conventional and potentially put nukes on the table. We have to treat the threat in a global manner and we have to be prepared to be able to deal with these through multiple domains, which include cyber, but that’s not in NORAD or NORTHCOM mission sets.

We clearly need the capacity to have the correct chain of command in order to confront this threat; and if you look at where we are today with NORAD or NORTHCOM, we are only dealing with an air defense threat and managing to that threat.

We are not comprehensive in a manner symmetrical with the evolving threat or challenges facing North American defense.

Admiral Gortney added:

But one has to think through our deterrence strategy as well.

What deters the current leader of North Korea?

What deters non-state actors for getting and using a nuclear weapon?

What will deter Russia from using tactical nuclear weapons in the sequence of how they view dealing with conventional war?

It is not my view that matters; it is their view; how to I get inside the head of the 21st century actors, and not simply stay in yesterday’s set of answers?

Let me put this in stark terms: It is not what the US non-proliferation community believes that is central to deterring nuclear adversaries.

It is about rebuilding US credibility in high end warfare, including nuclear options, which is central to the decade ahead.

At least Trump has raised the core questions rather than citing scripture from the Holy Writ of the High Priests of yesterday’s strategies and realities.

And below are two papers which I wrote whilst at CNA on the French nuclear deterrent:



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