PBS Newshour Takes On The Holy Nuclear Triad

By February 24, 2016

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Although they forgot to credit, PBS Newshour used FAS updated estimates for world nuclear stockpiles. The full list is here.

By Hans M. Kristensen

It has almost become dogma: the United States needs to keep a Triad of strategic nuclear forces. Therefore, expensive modernization of every leg is necessary plus a fourth leg of non-strategic fighter-jets. Oh, and don’t forget nuclear command and control systems such as terminals and satellites.

Without that, deterrence of potential adversaries will fail and they will use nuclear weapons, allies will loose faith and develop their own, and potential adversaries will win a nuclear war. That’s the picture being painted by a vast and influential community of nuclear warfighters, planners, strategists, defense contractors, and former nuclear officials. They’re having a field day now because of Russia’s misbehavior in Eastern Europe and China’s military modernization.

In reality the situation is less clear-cut: the choice is not between modernization or no modernization, nuclear weapons or no nuclear weapons, but how much and of what kind is necessary for which scenarios. When have strategists and warfighters not been able to come up with yet another worst-case scenario to justify status quo or even better nuclear weapons?

The reality is that if we don’t think carefully about missions and priorities and overspend on nuclear weapons, maintenance and modernization of conventional forces – the weapons that are actually useable – will suffer. And that’s bad defense planning.

The PBS Newshour program does a good job (in the limited time it had) in taking on the Holy Triad, bringing in people from both sides of the isle. This was the third program in a series about the U.S. nuclear arsenal and mission. The others two episodes were: How many ballistic missile submarines does the U.S. really need? from July 2015, and America’s nuclear bomb gets a makeover from November 2015.

Watch them, learn, and think…

The research for this publication was made possible by a grant from the New Land Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Categories: Nuclear Weapons, United States