Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nuclear Posture Review Report - Post #2

As I mentioned a week or so ago, I reviewed the NPR report issued by the Obama administration. You can download the report here.  I finally finished the entire 72-page document.  This post will deal with the second half of the executive summary. Again, before I continue commenting on the NPR, I need to add a disclaimer.  I am employed by Sandia National Laboratories. The views written here are not the official position of SNL and should not be viewed that way. They are my views as a private citizen.

I stopped the previous post at the section entitled "Strengthening Regional Deterrence and Reassuring U.S. Allies and Partners" in the Executive Summary.  Believe it or not, I went almost a page and a half before finding a major issue that I don't really agree with or understand.  On page xiii, we have this item in the list of things that are concluded that the U.S. will do:

  • "Retire the nuclear-equipped sea-launched cruise missile (TLAM-N)."
Although the air-launch cruise missile is not removed from the current stockpile by the NPR, this particular item causes me some heartburn.  It removes an element of our capability to project force.  Here is what I mean.  Imagine that Iran knows that we are no longer be able to station nuclear equipped surface ships or submarines just off their coast or in the Strait of Hormuz. This means our stealthy attack submarines or very visible surface ships do not present as big a deterrent to their nuclear (or other) ambitions. To attack them tactically (I don't think strategic systems make sense in this discussion), we would be forced to fly bombers halfway across the world (risking the crew and aircraft) rather than having the force ready and able on their doorstep.

Now, it could very well be that I don't understand the complete context in which this decision is being made.  However, I don't see how this particular decision does what the title of the section implies. It does not strengthen regional deterrence and it doesn't reassure our allies and partners.  In my view, it weakens both of these things. The very next bullet in the section declares that "no changes ... will be made without close consultations with our allies and partners."  I am not sure that our allies and partners will believe that based on the decision in the previous bullet.  I know that I wouldn't.

As I continued on to the "Sustaining a Safe, Secure, and Effective Nuclear Arsenal" section, I question the decision not to develop new designs (page xiv, bullet 2). I will address this in a future post. To be completely fair, the final two bullets on page xiv seem reasonable.  These items do move the ball forward in assuring that we have a safe and reliable stockpile.  On a personal note, those items provide some job security for me.

The first full sentence of page xv restates something that my colleagues and I have said many times:
  • "As the United States reduces the numbers of nuclear weapons, the reliability of the remaining weapons in the stockpile -- and the quality of the facilities needed to sustain it -- become more important.
Basically, each one becomes more valuable and it is more important that we and our adversaries know that they will function if that nightmare need arises. This section of the Executive Summary seems to be more in line with the traditional outlook for our stockpile stewardship program. I found little to quibble with in the section overall excepting (of course) the no new design policy.

My only note on the concluding section of the Executive Summary ("Looking Ahead:  Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons") is that the outlook presented is incredibly naive.  I will spend some time defining my view of this in the post relating to that chapter of the NPR. The second half of the Executive Summary did not reek havoc with my emotional state (and blood pressure) like the first half did.  However, I still believe that the worldview that produced the document leads to dangerous unintended consequences.

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