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Franklin Miller is a Principal at the Scowcroft Group in Washington, D.C. He served in the White House as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and as Senior Director 011 the National Security Council. He also served for twenty-two years in the Department of Defense in a series of progressively senior positions under seven secretaries. During his career he had unusual influence on the evolution of national deterrence and nuclear targeting policy.


Good to back in Kings Bay again. First came here in the early 1980s ….
I want to thank The Camden Partnership, The Camden-Kings Bay Council of the Navy League and The Camden County Chamber of Commerce and Peter Huessy for inviting me to appear at this breakfast. My goal is to start your day off right.

Peter is surely an unsung hero in our campaign to keep our nuclear deterrent. The current public debate in Washington on our nuclear deterrent is completely unbalanced and intellectually empty. Last year’s report by the Global Zero organization was built on faulty assumptions, questionable if not downright incorrect assertions, and dangerous recommendations … yet you can’t find a mainstream publication which ever seriously analyzed it. We are routinely subjected to stories sneeringly referring to our existing deterrence posture as Cold War – like, but no one steps forward to explain why, just maybe, the nuclear deterrence equation in the 21st century may have to resemble that of the 20th century. But Peter, by keeping his speakers’ series going provides a forum where some small degree of balance can be introduced into the debate.

Peter asked me to speak about the challenges to maintaining strategic stability.

Let me begin, therefore, by giving you my view as to what strategic stability means. The view I will give you this morning is from one who spent most of my career as an American official rather than a detached academic.

I take strategic stability to mean:

  • the absence of state-to-state armed conflict involving any of our allies,
  • the absence of overt hostile military threats to US or allied vital interests,
  • the absence of military/political blackmail against us or our allies, and, finally,
  • the management of regional security issues so that the risk of armed conflict is minimized to the maximum extent possible
    Please note that I did not use the word nuclear in the above.
  • Nuclear stability is a lesser included case. And it is critical to remember that. But nuclear weapons clearly still play a critical role in allowing us to maintain strategic stability.
    Our nuclear weapons serve to deter direct military attack by a major state power against US or our allies’ vital national interests
  • They serve to deter nuclear blackmail or intimidation against the United States or our treaty allies.
  • They serve to moderate Great Power behavior … in essence, in crude terms, to make war among the major powers too dangerous.
  • Their purpose is to prevent war .
  • This means that our advanced conventional weapons cannot reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons because advanced conventional weapons are war-fighting weapons, not war-preventing weapons.
  • So, what must we do, and what must we do differently, to preserve nuclear strategic stability?
  • My starting premise is that critical to nuclear stability is our ability to maintain a credible retaliatory capability which threatens potential enemy leaderships’ most valued assets, even in worst case scenarios for us. This means we and our allies have to have confidence in our deterrent, and potential adversaries must have respect for it.
  • But we will have neither confidence nor respect if we continue along our current path. We are in serious danger, as my friend and CSIS colleague Clark Murdock has said, of “rusting our way into disarmament”. The last time the triad was modernized was in the 1980s. Triad modernization is essential; the President promised the Congress, as part of the agreement to ratify the New START treaty, that US strategic nuclear forces would be modernized. But that’s not happening. The program to build a new SSBN has suffered a twoyear delay. The Air Force has said that new bomber will have a nuclear role but not at IOC: when it will is left unsaid. The Air Force has a program to choose a successor for the ALCM-B …. but the way that program is structured-seeking to procure only several hundred nuclear-only missiles- makes it almost certainly unaffordable. Both of these lagging efforts, by the way, are from the Administration which, as it negotiated New START, resurrected the bomber discount rule, thereby making a modern and sizeable air-breathing force a political necessity. The Air Force is study-ing Minuteman life extension, and will soon begin studying
    a Minuteman replacement, to include, according to the Administration’s 2010 NPR, underground and mobile basing modes. Well, we have seen that movie a few times before in the ’70s and ’80s, and we know it doesn’t end well. And the Administration has yet to announce the composition of its New START strategic deterrent force. So we have absolutely no idea how that reduced force might be allocated among the existing three Triad legs- which directly affects stability. The bottom line is that for clarity we have traded obfuscation; in response to major nuclear building programs in Russia, China, and elsewhere, we have chosen deferral; for action we have traded vacillation and study. This needs to change.
  • The fact is that we need a strategic Triad, in spite of the nonsense from Global Zero that we should eliminate the ICBM force and reduce the number of SSBNs to a point where it will be difficult to maintain one at sea in each ocean at all times.
  • Why do we need a Triad? With our Triad force structure, any Russian leadership, in a future crisis- and remember we are not talking about any of this tomorrow but in a hugely dangerous future crisis in which the use of military force is being contemplated in the Kremlin- including the use of preemptive nuclear strikes as Russian doctrine suggests- would have to consider launching a huge attack in order to neutralize our ICBM force as well as the other Triad legs and our national command and control.
  • If you eliminate the ICBM force the problem becomes dramatically easier: to succeed you only have to destroy two SSBN bases, two bomber bases, and Washington and then demand a cease fire. Even a smaller nuclear power could figure this out.
  • Let me put it more personally: the existence of several hundred Minuteman ICBMs makes Kings Bay a less attractive target to a Russian planner in a crisis
  • So, keeping a strategic triad, some elements of which are always on alert, will remain vital.
  • At this point some of you are surely concluding that I have reverted to type and am spouting Cold War rhetoric. But I urge you to look around the world. And that look around the world should convince you that another thing we have to change is the misbegotten belief that the world’s nuclear weapons states either already agree- or shortly will agree given that we have blazed the path and thereby enlightened their benighted minds- that nuclear weapons should be eliminated one day and that the role nuclear weapons play in their respective national security postures should be reduced now.
  • You will recall that in 2009 President Obama spoke in Prague and called on the world’s nuclear weapons states “to put an end to Cold War thinking”. He announced that “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same”. Well, the scorecard is in four years after the Prague speech, and the answer, except for here in the United States, is “it ain’t happening”. Actually, the reverse is happening ….
  • Russia is deploying a new class of SSBNs, two new types of SLBMs, a new type of ICBMs with two variants, and has placed nuclear weapons at the heart of its security policy. It continues to threaten nuclear weapons use against its neighbors. Just last week President Putin played a conspicuous role directing a Russian strategic nuclear force exercise, and, just to put a coda on that he sent two Blackjack strategic bombers first to Venezuela and then to Nicaragua (although American news media chose not to report that). Reduced role??? No, exactly the opposite.
  • The Chinese government refuses to engage in any discussion of its nuclear policy, maintaining a total opacity except for making the operationally empty statement that it has a “no first use policy”. That, of course is a meaningless statement since such a policy can be changed literally in an instant by the Central Committee (and it’s worth recalling that the USSR had a “no first use” declaratory policy and “first use operational policy”). China is deploying two new types of ICBMs, is building a new class of SSBNs and a new type of SLBM and refuses to accept any limits on the growth of its nuclear forces. And, in case you missed it, and you have because again it’s not carried in the US press, Chinese state run media carried stories last week- complete with photos and graphics- describing with great relish the ability of Chinese nuclear forces to destroy various named US cities. “Reduced role”? Not apparently.
  • Nuclear modernization programs are proceeding apace in most of the other nuclear weapons states as well.

India is now deploying a sea-based element of its nuclear deterrent, completing its nuclear triad. Pakistan is doubling its fissile material production capacity and is deploying a new class of short-range tactical nuclear missiles to give new force to its doctrine of early use of nuclear weapons. “Reduced role”? Exactly the opposite. The sub-continent resembles a nuclear tinderbox.

North Korea continues its missile and nuclear warhead development programs. “Reduced role” evidently does not translate into Korean ….

or Farsi, since Iran continues its missile development and deployment programs and continues to move closer towards a nuclear weapon capability.

It is not possible to maintain strategic stability if your policy does not reflect the fact that global realities are moving in a different directions than your aspirations.

The Arguments Against the deterrent

  • I’d like to pivot now and take a few moments to discuss with you some of the arguments against maintaining a nuclear deterrent which are prevalent inside the Washington Beltway.
  • One of the other arguments used most frequently against our nuclear deterrent is that it is said to be irrelevant to the threats of the twenty first century. Global Zero smugly points out that our deterrent did not prevent the September 11 attacks or the various terrorist plots we have uncovered since then. But nuclear weapons are not. never have been. and will never be. an all- pumose deterrent.
  • They are not useful for deterring terrorism (even WMD terrorism by state-less entities) or piracy, or cross-border drug trafficking, or even low-level insurgencies. And it’s a cheap rhetorical trick to suggest that nuclear weapons have outlived their usefulness by pointing to attacks they failed to deter when they were not intended or deployed to prevent such attacks.
  • To meet the new threats of the 21st century, which are very real and which must be deterred, or defeated and destroyed, the United States must continue to rely on- and to modernize- its conventional forces, its ballistic missile defenses, its special operations forces, and its space and cyber capabilities. And I urge you to remember that nuclear weapons were not designed to serve this role and can’t; they can, however, prevent the big war and allow us to use our other tailored capabilities to deal with more proximate and daily threats-threats which are more proximate and daily precisely be-cause nuclear deterrence has made the threat of Great Power conflict less proximate.
  • You will also hear it said that “Non-nuclear forces are also far more credible instruments for providing 21stcentury reassurance to allies whose comfort zone in the 20th┬ácentury resided under the US nuclear umbrella.” Well, clearly some left-wing American philosophers believe so. But our Allies do not. And try as the philosophers may, and they have done so mightily, our Allies still make clear they want the reassurance provided by our nuclear umbrella. This is still the case in Asia and it is still the case in NA TO, where twice in the last three years, the leaders of the Alliance have reaffirmed this.
  • And, speaking of proliferation, we also are told ad nauseum that our nuclear weapons are contributing to the threat of nuclear proliferation. Once again, the evidence shows clearly that is not true. Our nuclear arsenal is in fact an anti-proliferate, because we protect allies who otherwise might and could build their own nuclear weapons. And it is fundamentally important to recognize that the oft-discussed linkage between the continued existence of the arsenals of the nuclear weapons states and further proliferation simply does not exist.
  • The history of the last 20 years is that the US, British, French and Russian nuclear arsenals have declined dramatically in that time period while over the same period the Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and North Korean arsenals have grown.
  • North Korea has not pursued a nuclear weapons program because of our nuclear arsenal. It has pursued one because it seeks to intimidate its neighbors and to deter US conventional military action. The same holds for Iran. And while the continued existence of the nuclear weapons states’ arsenals makes for a convenient talking point in international (and domestic) NPT circles, it is factually wrong and intellectually patronizing to believe that proliferate governments are mindlessly aping P5 policies.

Concluding Thoughts
Let me conclude by leaving you with three final thoughts. First, in thinking about nuclear deterrence, it is absolutely critical that we remember that the task is to deter a potentially hostile foreign leadership which possesses nuclear weapons. Our task is not to deter these states today; it is to deter them in a future crisis when they are contemplating the use of military force, including nuclear weapons, against our- or our allies’- vital interests. In such a perilous situation, US policy must reflect the fact that we deter hostile leaderships by threatening what they value most, 1101 what we value most. We value our people. Hostile authoritarian leaderships value their ability to remain in power, the security apparatus which enable them to do so, their military forces, and the industrial capacity to sustain war. And so it is a strategic mistake of enormous proportion to believe an effective deterrent in a future crisis can be based on a few hundred weapons which threaten a potential enemy’s cities. That strategy would be both immoral and self-defeating. Mirror-imaging is a dangerous and fundamentally flawed approach to deterrence, and we must never fall into that trap.

Second, there are those, including many former senior officials who should know better, who would eliminate or dramatically scale back our deterrent because they say eliminating the deterrent will accelerate the movement to a world without nuclear weapons, and this will increase global stability. This notion- that somewhere in the future there must be a world in which the instability of nuclear deterrence is replaced by the stability of conventional deterrence- reveals that its proponents neither study history or pay attention to the policies of governments who just might not be content to turn away aggression. My study of history does not reveal that the world before 1945- a nuclear weapons free world- was particularly stable. Nor was deterrence based on conventional forces ever particularly effective. There is a quote apocryphally attributed to Mrs. Thatcher. Speaking of all the memorials to the war dead in France, she said: “there is a monument to the failure of conventional deterrence in every French village”. Since 1945, however, the major powers have avoided war with one another. .. a sharp contrast to the average of five-to-seven wars per century between the major powers from 1648 to 1945. Something happened in 1945: nuclear weapons made war between the major powers too dangerous. And that was and remains a good thing.

Finally, when you encounter a proponent of Nuclear Zero, you will likely be asked “how can you support nuclear deterrence, a policy based on weapons which will never be used?” Don’t be drawn into a silly and pointless debate of hypothetical war fighting scenarios. They just Jove that. Just answer plainly: “we use them every day. They preserve peace and freedom for us and our allies.”

Thanks again to the Camden County community and particularly to those members of the King Bay based Trident force
present here today for what you do every day.

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