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by Stefan Forss [1]

Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry (WP) and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff General James Cartwright recently presented important views about US nuclear policy in the Washington Post. Their main point is that the USA should abandon the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent program to replace ICBMs, and also forgo development of a new long-range strategic cruise missile, the Long-Range Standoff weapon, LRSO. They want, however, to preserve the sea-based strategic deterrent and the new strategic stealth B-21 Raider bomber program in a dual-capable role, including the B61-12 variable yield nuclear bomb.

One of Dr. Perry’s and General Cartwrights main arguments concerns money. The projected cost of the nuclear programs over the next three decades could according to the US Congressional Budget Office amount to 1.7 trillion USD. This is indeed a huge sum which could significantly divert funding from other urgent sectors. The Russians have understood this very well for quite some time. Their own massive investment in their own nuclear triad, not to speak of medium range dual-capable systems, is a built-in feature in their nuclear policy, also geared to slow down the increase of US conventional military might.

The problem with this WP article is that it looks very much like an endorsement of a variant of the unilateral presidential nuclear initiative of George H Bush in 1991. This was at the time a commendable and straightforward way to come to terms with the problems posed by excessive non-strategic nuclear weapons. The result was that the US rather soon did away with all operational non-strategic nuclear weapons in all other services but the Air Force.

President Bush’s move built on the understanding that Russia would follow suit. Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin both reciprocated, in good faith it would seem, but the implementation of these initiatives on the Russian side remained more or less opaque. When one of the Russian nuclear hawks, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov visited Helsinki in 2000, I therefore asked him to provide specific answers. His response was a long tirade about how Russia has fulfilled all commitments made. It was not very useful, but rather disinformation as the Russians had no intention to live up to these commitments in earnest. That became plainly clear some years into Putin’s presidency. Now the Russian military services again employ nuclear weapons in various roles.

Giving up US ICBM’s and strategic ALCMs unilaterally would be appreciated in Moscow, and would also be perceived as evidence of weakness on the American side. It would give the Russian hardliners exactly what they want, strategic superiority. The Chief of the Russian General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov just recently outlined in detail the progress Russia has achieved in long-range precision strike systems.

Prudent US policy is therefore to go on with the planned programs to renovate all the legs of the triad. That was exactly what President Reagan did – remember the MX/Peacekeeper ICBM and the advanced plans for the road-mobile Midgetman ICBM, as well as the stealth Advanced Cruise Missile, in fact the only one of these strategic weapon systems to be deployed operationally, albeit for a rather short period of time.

Reagan’s recipe for getting Russia back to the negotiating table was to negotiate from a position if strength, which eventually lead to great results. It would be unwise now to give up good bargaining chips for free.

 
The author is professor and a called fellow of KKrVA.

 


Not

[1] The opinions expressed are the authors’ alone

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