AMBASSADOR LINTON BROOKS
Ambassador Brooks (Captain (ret)) is a retired sub- marine officer with significant duty in both SSNs and SSBNs. While on post-command active duty he had extensive nuclear policy experience in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and 011 the CNO ‘s staff. After retirement from the Navy he was Chief Negotiator of the START I Treaty. He served for five years as Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration during the George W. Bush Administration.
The November Presidential election will be decided entirely on issues other than nuclear weapons policy. I’m willing to bet that not a single human being in the country will make his or her decision based on views about nuclear policy. And yet, the election will make a significant difference for nuclear weapons policy, not just because of who becomes president, but because of who the cabinet and sub-cabinet officers are.
Because nuclear weapons underpin American strength and pose-at least in theory-the only real challenge to America’s survival, they are inherently important to security professionals, if not always to voters. So I want to walk through the nuclear issues that whoever is running the federal government on January 21 51 2013 is going to face. In doing so, I will discuss which of those issues are likely to have solutions, and which aren’t. One of the biggest myths in Washington is that just because you can describe a problem, that proves there’s a solution. Those of you who want a really good example, should think of Iran.
So let me give you a thought experiment. It’s January 21st and you are the national security adviser, either because you ‘re who Governor Romney picked or because Tom Donilon decided to go do something else and the President was looking around. You’re trying to answer the question, “what are the nuclear issues that I’m going to have to worry about?” What follows is a partial list.
An immediate-and significant- issue the next president will have to face is funding for the nuclear weapons complex. This administration significantly increased the funding for the Department of Energy Nuclear Security Enterprise (as we now call it) and then was strong-armed by the Senate during the New ST ART ratification debate into increasing it still further. Subsequently, the fallout from the Budget Control Act unincreased it. The Administration responded to the fiscal challenge in a way that I wish I’d had the guts to do when I was the National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator. Rather than stretch out a whole bunch of projects, they selected one major project and deferred it for several years. That’s the kind of tough choice everybody advocates making, until someone actually makes it, and then people get a little grumpy.
The first nuclear budget issue facing the new administration is whether the Chemical, Metallurgical, Radio logical Replacement Facility (CMR-R) in Los Alamos, should be built. It probably should, but not for any of the reasons that people are arguing about. It’s basically a facility that will help continue to keep us up to date in plutonium science. It’s not a pit production facility. Los Alamos makes pits (the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons) next door.
If built, CMR-R will enable increasing the pit production rate. Right now we’ve demonstrated a rate of pit production of 20 a year for a brief period and can probably produce 30 a year. Studies suggest that with CMR-R the nation could make 50 to 80 pits a year. The question is, do you care about that difference enough to increase the weapons budget? And I invite your attention to the fact that we have thousands of pits we’ve already made that are sitting in storage in Texas, although adapting them to current weapons may pose some challenges. Deferring CMR-R is a risk, but probably more to long tenn scientific health than to force structure.
The other major nuclear budget issue facing the new administration, which does pose a risk to force structure, is the life extension program for the B-61 bomb. The B-61 bomb comes in a couple of variants, and the variant that has gotten all the attention is the one that’s deployed in Europe. But our strategic arsenal depends, in part, on another variant of the same basic bomb.
The life extension program for the B61 is probably under- funded, widely believed to be in disarray, and requires both some real management attention, which it’s now getting, and some real money, which we’ll have to see whether it gets. So you’re the national security adviser and you’re faced with either throwing more money at an area or accepting more risk, and how do you decide which to do?
Now we get to the first of the issues where the election result clearly matters-de-alerting. De-alerting is intended to increase the time it takes to launch primarily ICBMS (although the purists want to do it for submarines as well) because requiring more time to respond to an attack on the United States will prevent an over- reaction.
That may have had some logic when we had a lot of ICBMs with multiple warheads. It has no logic on the U.S. side for single re-entry vehicle ICBMs. Further, there’s no evidence that the Russians will follow us in de-alerting because they are so heavily reliant on ICBMs.
De-alerting was initially a fonnal part of the Obama administration position, but got walked back very elegantly in the Nuclear Posture Review. It keeps popping up, however. I think de- alerting is a solution looking for a problem, but there are smart people who don’t and some of them keep raising the issue. So if you’re the national security adviser and you come from a new administration, your problem is how do I put a stake in the heart of de-alerting so we can concentrate on other things? If you come from this administration, doing something about decision time is an IOU that you don’t quite know how to deliver on.
An area that is much more important is our nuclear relation with the Russian Federation. You probably can’t find very many people who worry about Russia as a military threat. But if you look at the Russian military doctrine, you will find that of their top ten threats six of them are associated with the United States and NATO. Whether that’s sensible or not it appears to be the way they really think.
This is likely to pose issues for the next administration in two places. First, the Russians are fanatically paranoid about ballistic missile defense. Russians have always had a very high regard for American technology. Because they are worst-case planners, they also have a tendency to take today’s view graphs and act as though those programs are already here.
So the Russians look at our Phased Adaptive Approach in Europe, which is a four-step process built around increasingly capable variants of a Navy missile called the SM-3. They look at the final phase, which we claim will arrive around 2020, although budget realities will probably push that considerably to the right. The Russians appear to have convinced themselves that this fourth phase could pose at least some threat to their ICBMs.
But then they say, we know how America works. You won’t stop with phase four. There’ll be a phase five. There’ll be a phase six. And you will have all this momentum and all these basing agreements in place with European states and you will expand numbers and you really will threaten our deterrent.
And therefore, even though what America plans in the next five years is aimed at missiles that Russia doesn’t have and we don’t have- so you would think there would be no risk in cooperating- Russia is unwilling to do anything without binding, formal guarantees that American ballistic missile defense isn’t aimed at them. And they say they will only believe those guarantees if America limits the performance of its defensive missiles in a legal way, particularly by limiting the interceptor speed and a few other parameters.
The current administration has absolutely no interest in doing this. The people I know who think they’re going to be part of the next administration have even less interest in doing this . And there is no chance of the Senate ratifying any agreement to limit ballistic missile defenses in any manner.
President Putin, who is going to be the president of Russia for the next six years, has said solving ballistic missile defense is a prerequisite for doing anything else in arms control. So if you ‘re the national security adviser in January, your problem is not “what’s the next step in arms control?” You may or may not need to have a proposed next step for international and domestic political reasons, but that’s not your real problem. Your real problem is, what do you do, given that there’s not going to be any new arms control? Transparency is the suggestion du jour, but the Russians show little interest.
Now this does not mean arms control with Russia is dead. Russia will not want New START to expire without something replacing it. Four years from now when we’re talking about the 2016 election, we can say with a straight face that whoever is elected will have to deal with a Russian arms control plan. But in the next term the odds of anything meaningful happening on the arms control front with Russia are very small.
At the same time, the odds of our going forward with NA TO missile defense are pretty large. And therefore, what the next national security adviser has to do is try and prevent the impasse on arms control and missile defense from inhibiting cooperation with Russia in areas where we might be able to make some progress.
That brings us to NATO. The next national security adviser, like the current one, like the last one, will have to face the difficulty that every time NA TO is asked about whether it wants U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, NATO governments unanimously answers “yes.” But influential Americans, who believe they understand real European attitudes better than the U.S. government does, claim that the NA TO governments don’t really represent the public attitude in their countries.
These individuals periodically assert that everybody wants U.S. nuclear weapons out of Europe, so we ought to reexamine the issue. It’s not unknown in the political arena to not like the answers but to keep asking the question. But twice in the last three years NATO nations have had the chance and have unanimously endorsed retaining nuclear weapons. And most recently at the Chicago summit, they said that the decision to change it would be a decision that had to be made by consensus, which is actually stronger than NATO has said in the past.
So what the next national security adviser will have to do is ask “how do I get the arms control community to stop focusing on this so I can pay attention to the things that actually matter for the defense of the country?” If there were a major negotiation with Russia, then there might be a real issue about whether removal of weapons would be an acceptable outcome to that negotiation. But the idea that somehow we really have to make our NA TO allies happy by unilaterally removing weapons that some of them really care about a lot and all of them formally endorsed strikes me as odd.
In part, this point of view is odd because it is a failure to recognize that extended deterrence-that is the notion that our allies are in some sense protected by American military strength, including American nuclear strength- is still real for our allies. We need to take their views seriously.
There is a recent report by the organization Global Zero that got a fair amount of press because the former JCS Vice Chairman, General Hoss Cartwright, was one of the authors. It says that extended deterrence can be done entirely based on American conventional superiority. General Cartwright has had more thoughtful ideas driving to work than most people have in a lifetime, but I believe he is wrong on this. The French nuclear expert Bruno Tertrais has written that there are monuments to the failure of conventional deterrence in every French village. He’s right. Conventional deterrence is important, but it has not got a perfect track record.
Our allies think that the nuclear component is important. They don’t think that there’s going to be a nuclear war with the Russian Federation. But some of them are not entirely comfortable with living next door to a great big Russia. Remember, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were part of the Soviet Union and have uneasy relations with their big neighbor. When they joined NA TO they didn’t just do it because they liked the meetings. They did it because they thought they wanted to be part of a collective security alliance and that collective security alliance is inherently nuclear.
Extended deterrence means convincing the Russians that we’ll fight if they attack one of our allies. Conventional weapons may be enough to do this. But reassurance-convincing our allies we will defend them if they are attacked-may be difficult. We spent a huge amount of time and energy during the Cold War trying to convince our European allies that we would risk the destruction of the United States to protect them. Today, Russia could devastate the United States. We need to continue to work to convince our European allies that we would still risk that to protect them. The next national security adviser is going to have to deal with ensuring extended deterrence remains credible. It’s already credible to Russia and China. How do we make it credible to our allies? Retaining U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe is one way we symbolize that credibility.
So the national security adviser designate is sitting there and says that’s a pretty good list. Is there anything else? And obviously, now we get into the hard issues.
Iran. Are we going to use military force in Iran? I don’t know. The press tells us 2013 is the year we’re going to have to decide that question but last year some in the press told us that 2012 was the year we needed a decision.
The problem with military force is that because the Iranians have a widely dispersed program the best a military strike can do is set the program back. And the price for setting the program back could be significant. Many believe Iran has not yet made a final decision to actually deploy a nuclear weapon and that there is disagreement within the government over whether to do so. But nothing unites a people more than being attacked. An attack could make the nuclear acquisition decision easy.
So you’re the national security adviser and you’ve got a tough problem. Washington has seen study group after study group that starts by trying to figure out what we’re going to do if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. And on about day two they decide this is too hard and they say let’s figure out how to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And by day three they’ve degenerated to calling for doing what we’re doing now but do it better. Recall my previous comment that not all problems have solutions.
You’re the national security adviser and if you can’t find a way to stop Iran, you’re going to have to help the president decide what to do about an Iran that has a substantial capability. Can we live with that? Can we live with an Iran that can enrich uranium to-pick your level- which means it’s closer to a weapon? Can we live with an Iran that continues to test ballistic missiles? The truth is, you don’t care very much whether Iran has a nuclear weapon. You care a lot if Iran has a nuclear weapon it can deliver on U.S. allies or U.S. forces or the U.S. homeland.
So the national security adviser will probably hedge his or her bets by saying we’ve absolutely got to continue with plans for missile defense in Europe to protect our allies and forces. And then who knows what he or she will decide to do with Iran. The history of the last I 0 years is whoever is in power, the people out of power say what you’re doing on Iran isn’t working. And then we change teams and the people who are now out say what the people who are now in are doing isn’t working. And they’re both right.
But the national security adviser has another hard problem, and that is Pakistan. I don’t subscribe to alarmist views that Pakistan is on the verge of breaking up. But it is clear that relations between the United States and the government of Pakistan are as bad as they’ve been at any time since I’ve been paying attention. And it is clear that Pakistan is on its way to being a very substantial nuclear power. And finally, it’s clear that Pakistan depends for its deterrent effect on what Thomas Schelling referred to as “the risk that leaves something to chance.”
There are people in Pakistan who would not be averse to seeing nuclear weapons in the hands of all sorts of people. Those people aren’t running Pakistan. Still less are they running the army. But if you’re the national security adviser you’ll probably want to worry about them.
You’ll also worry about North Korea. It is unlikely to use nuclear weapons but has shown a great willingness to proliferate. Would that extend to transferring nuclear weapons? Would we know? North Korea is another case where the problem is far clearer than the solution. Military action risks retaliation against our South Korean ally. China probably fears regime collapse more than it fears a nuclear North Korea and will thus limit our flexibility.
Since these are all hard problems, as national security advisor you would like to avoid similar future cases. So you look back at a theory which this administration has embraced and its predecessor did not. The theory goes like this. If the United States shows that we are serious about our commitments to disarmament under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it will be easier to mobilize responsible states to take actions to suppress proliferation. The theory gets characterized as claiming that if we disarm then Iran will not be interested in nuclear weapons. That’s nonsense. Nobody believes that.
The real argument claims that if we show we’re serious about making progress toward disarmament it will be easier to get states to agree that even though they make good money from selling things to Iran, Myanmar, Syria- whoever the bad guy of the day is-they will give up that business in the interest of nonprofit eration. That’s the argument. Unfortunately, it assumes, as the lawyers say, facts not in evidence. The argument sounds right. Smart people say it is right. But we really don’t have any good empirical evidence.
In some ways the next national security adviser would face an easier time if the argument isn’t right. Four years after President Obama’s Prague speech the world is no closer to real progress on disarmament. There’s not going to be a ratified Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the next term, maybe the next two terms. There’s not going to be a fissile material cutoff treaty for a long time. l assert there’s not going to be any more East- West arms control for a few years. Advocates of building international nonproliferation cooperation on the basis of superpower restraint are not going to have an easy next few years. And if you’re the national security adviser you have to figure out what to do about that.
By now our hypothetical national security advisor is wondering why he or she took the job. But there is one more nuclear issue, one that deserves a longer discussion. That’s the question of China. China has a very minimal deterrent they call lean and effective. They asset they only need to be able to reliably deliver a very small number- maybe a single digit number- of warheads to the United States in retaliation for an attack. Much of their modernization can be explained by a desire to preserve that capability.
They’re moving to ballistic missiles at sea for suitability. The so-called Great Wall tunnel system got a lot of press in early as though it had just been discovered. It’s not new; the Chinese announced it several years ago. But it’s a huge investment in mobile missile protection by a long series of tunnels.
When they talk to Americans, Chinese experts often stress that their forces are aimed at the United States homeland as a deterrent, not at U.S. forces abroad or U.S. allies. Our Japanese allies are not quite as convinced of that, which is why the earlier discussion of extended deterrence, reassurance and missile defense apply to Asia as well.
China claims a no first use policy. I am skeptical of no first use policies, but in this particular case there is evidence it really is the way they think internally. They have no warning system at all. So they clearly are dependent on survivable systems that can retaliate after an attack.
They maintain very low peacetime readiness. And their attitude towards transparency- and this is where we get into tensions with them- is very clear and probably what we would have if the situation were reversed. Here’s their attitude: the United States needs to be transparent because it’s big and powerful and it needs to show it is not threatening. China is weak and it is unrealistic of you Americans to expect that we will reveal exactly how weak we are. So while Americans say transparency leads to predictability which in turn leads to stability, the Chinese say transparency reveals vulnerability and thus leads to instability. Besides, the Chinese claim that at the strategic level they’re completely transparent: they have a minimal deterrent and a policy of no first use. As they say, “What else do you need to know?”
The Chinese worry a lot that we don’t acknowledge the reality that they have an effective, though small, deterrent against the United States. Their buzz word for this is accepting mutual vulnerability. This is a problem within the United States. There is consensus between the two political parties on the value of ballistic missile defense to defend against North Korea and Iran. There is consensus in both parties (with a few dissenters) that it is not within our ability to deploy a ballistic missile defense that can prevent Russia from devastating the United States, and therefore we will have to continue to depend on deterrence.
There is not consensus on whether we should think of China as a small Russia to be deterred- that is regard mutual vulnerability as a fact of life-or a large rogue where we could defend the country if we chose to-that is, regard mutual vulnerability as a policy choice. This administration’s clear belief is it’s a fact of life, but they’re unwilling to say so. If Republicans control the next administration, many of them may believe it is a policy choice. But it’s not clear that they’re going to try to give national missile defense a capability against China. The George W. Bush administration chose not to.
This will be a complex issue for the national security adviser. Some think (full disclosure, I am one of them) that the competition with China is going to dominate the 21 51 century, but the nuclear aspect of it is secondary. In this view, we should not focus on nuclear policy but on cyber and space and anti-access and economics. But others think that China aspires to be the new Soviet Union, that there’s going to be a sprint to parity and that we really don’t know how large a nuclear force is in those tunnels. The risk for the national security adviser is we’ll have the rhetoric that we can’t accept vulnerability, which will encourage the Chinese to build up, but we won’t actually invest the money in missile defense.
The final thought that will occur to you when you’ re the national security adviser is this. Nuclear weapons policy has been remarkably consistent between administrations. Specialists see a Jot of change in nuances, but in fact, at any reasonable level of discussion there’s a huge amount of consistency. This is not true for arms control policy. There, there are real differences. But for actual nuclear policy, there’s consistency.
The biggest challenge for the new national security adviser, the biggest challenge for the next president, the biggest challenge for national security professionals, is to guard against the tendency to make issues that have been the subject of consensus split along partisan lines. It is not in our interest to have competing political party views of the fundamental nature of American power and deterrence, especially in a society that’s reasonably closely divided on domestic issues so the parties are going to take turns being in power. It is crucial to rebuild the consensus that we have had historically on issues associated with nuclear policy. If you find yourself in January 2013 as national security advisor, doing so will be your most urgent and most important nuclear task .