Cautious Interim Report From Congressional Strategic Posture Commission

The interim report from the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States appears to reinstate Russia as a center for U.S. nuclear thinking.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States has published an interim report that buys into many of the arguments of the Bush administration, but also appears to accept some points made by the arms control community.

Overall, however, the report comes across as a cautious and somewhat lukewarm report that doesn’t rock the boat; that appears to reinstate Russia at the center of U.S. nuclear thinking; that strongly reaffirms extended nuclear deterrence (but ignores whether that requires U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe); that accepts many of the administration’s key arguments for modernizing the nuclear weapons production complex and building modified nuclear weapons; that accepts a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (if the Stockpile Stewardship Program is revitalized); that recommends additional reductions in deployed and (if the production complex is modernized) reserve warheads; that sees nuclear disarmament as a distant future dream; and accepts that a strong and credible nuclear posture likely will be needed for the “indefinite future.”

The findings will be subject to five months of debate before the full report is published in April 2009. After that the Obama administration is expected to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review.

One thought on “Cautious Interim Report From Congressional Strategic Posture Commission

  1. [Edited] “Cautious” is certainly one way to describe it. The report clearly indicates that little consensus was forthcoming in the committee. The polarized views of the nuclear hawks and doves is evident and the report has little, if any, vision and remains mired in the status-quo. Unfortunate and very disappointing.

    Hopefully some bolder recommendations will be forthcoming in the final report.

    Parts of the report, however, are just plain wrong: e.g. in talking about whether or not to submit the CTBT for ratification the report states —

    ““Before submission the DOE and DoD should receive from the labs and STRATCOM clear statements describing the future capabilities and flexibility required to minimize the risks of maintaining a credible, safe, and reliable nuclear deterrent without nuclear explosive testing.”

    Why should Stratcom have a say in this? This issue has been addressed already in a 2002 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study. As Dick Garwin, a weapons-expert and member of the JASON group, mentions in a recent commentary.

    The NAS panel concluded that the United States “has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear-weapon stockpile under [a test ban], provided that adequate resources are made available to the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons complex and are properly focused on this task.”

    According to the NAS panel, which included three former lab directors, age-related defects mainly related to non-nuclear components can be expected, but nuclear test explosions “are not needed to discover these problems and…not likely to be needed to address them.”

    Rather, the panel said the key to the stewardship of the arsenal is a rigorous stockpile surveillance program, the ability to remanufacture nuclear components to original specifications, the minimization of changes to existing warheads, and non-explosive testing and repair of non-nuclear components.

    Since the publication of the NAS panel’s report, confidence in existing warheads has increased over time. In March 2007, Thomas D’Agostino, then acting NNSA administrator, said that the SSP is “working. This program has proven its ability to successfully sustain the safety, security and reliability of the stockpile without the need to conduct an underground test for well over a decade.”

    So that part of the Strategic Posture report needs to be fixed.

    Also, the report says:

    “Missile defenses appropriate to defend against a rogue nuclear nation could serve a damage-limiting and stabilizing role in the US strategic posture, assuming such defenses are perceived as being effective enough to at least sow doubts in the minds of potential attackers that such an attack would succeed. On the other hand, levels of defenses sizable enough to sow such doubts in the minds of Russia or China could lead them to take actions that increase the threat to the US and its allies and friends.”

    Well, yes, ballistic missile defenses would work for the perfectly tailored “rogue” nation (let’s hope one is on the menu): one irrational enough to commit national suicide by launching nuclear ICBMs at the U.S., yet rational enough to dissuaded by an “appropriately” sized missile defense, that would be just short of offending China and Russia. Oh, but wait, even the planned 10 GBIs in Poland have already angered Russia, so I guess an “appropriate” missile defense will not be possible. Too bad; looks like we have to be forced into saving billions of dollars that we actually need for real defense.

    End of the MDA story? Well, let’s hope they get it right in the final version.

    Lastly, the report needs to address the biggest hoax being perpetrated by the RRW-hawks: i.e. that untested weapons would somehow be perceived by our enemies as being more credible than the well-tested ones! If so, I wonder if the NNSA/DoE/DoD/Stratcom heads would rather take the first test-flight across the Atlantic on the next Airbus or Boeing jet to be designed versus the horrible old 747s made in the 1970s, but that have continually updated?

    In the next issue of the Bulletin I have 2 articles which address the RRW hoax, and also some advice to the Obama admin: Redefining deterrence: Is RRW detrimental to U.S. security calculus? and Redefining deterrence: How the Obama administration should handle RRW

    -Yousaf

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