By Dr. Peter Vincent Pry
Historically, U.S. modernization of its nuclear deterrent Triad—ICBMs, bombers, and missile submarines—has advanced hand-in-hand with arms control treaties.
Of necessity, the Trump Administration is breaking this longstanding precedent.
Long-delayed U.S. strategic forces modernization proceeds, while the U.S. withdraws from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty because of Russian cheating. The U.S. may not renew the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), on which Russia is also likely cheating, because of growing nuclear threats from China. The U.S. is also reversing course on the Presidential Nuclear Initiative (PNI) virtually eliminating U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, because of Russian non-reciprocity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “peace offensive” calling upon the U.S. to renew arms control negotiations correctly calculates any new negotiations and new agreements will unilaterally constrain the U.S. and benefit Russia—which always cheats.
Likewise, the U.S. arms control community, led by the State Department and their allies in government, academia, and press, who were quiescent about Russian cheating—would launch new arms control negotiations, just when U.S. Triad modernization commences.
Nuclear arms control’s record is one of failure, constraining U.S. programs while adversaries gain advantage through noncompliance. America no longer enjoys such technological superiority over Russia and China that it can afford arms control agreements constraining only the United States.
However, Washington’s commitment to arms control is not based on rational objective cost-benefit calculations, but is deeply rooted in political and ideological factors unique to Western strategic culture.
U.S. Triad modernization has been so long neglected that unflagging bipartisan support will be necessary from the White House and Congress across successive administrations for decades—which may no longer be possible politically.
Can arms control partisans and partisans of Triad modernization be persuaded to compromise? Can they agree on an emergency program greatly strengthening U.S. active defenses (space-based missile defense) and passive defenses (EMP and cyber-hardening critical national infrastructures) as an insurance policy against failures of arms control and possible future failure of Triad modernization?
Arms Control Ideology
Political and strategic reasons account for Washington linking modernization of the nuclear Triad with arms control.
Politically, nuclear weapons are unpopular with many, if not most Americans. Nuclear weapons are antithetical to a constitutional republic that derives its legitimacy from, and values most highly, the people—whose existence is threatened by such weapons.
Arms control provides “political cover” for supporting nuclear deterrent modernization by signaling to the people their political leaders are trying to limit nuclear arms and calm international tensions through negotiation. Winton Churchill’s admonition, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war” is an oft quoted justification for arms control. (However, Churchill did not subscribe to this view as regards Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy or Adolph Hitler’s territorial predations that led to World War II).
Arms control is deeply embedded in U.S. strategic culture.
The State Department, Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, and academia mostly believe arms control really does constrain the nuclear threat by: limiting forces, building confidence through verification, and lessening suspicion and hostility (“convergence”) through negotiations and the arms control process.
Unique to U.S. strategic culture is the “science” of arms control with its own lexicon and theories about “strategic stability” developed over decades in entire libraries of books and journals, and believed by many adherents with something like religious fervor (see the Arms Control Association).
Negotiating differences and compromise is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian culture, antedating Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and his Medieval ruminations over “Just War” doctrine.
Modern nuclear arms control began in 1946 with the U.S. Baruch Plan, proposed by Bernard Baruch to the United Nations, originating from Dean Acheson’s State Department, influential scientists and academics. (Baruch was the U.S. representative to the UN Atomic Energy Commission.)
The Baruch Plan proposed the U.S. and all nations ban atomic weapons, enforced by the UN, and that the UN oversee development of peaceful atomic energy.
Beginning with the Baruch Plan, modern nuclear arms control is championed most vociferously by the State Department, academics, internationalists, globalists, and political Left, who see nuclear weapons as an evil that must be controlled—not evil nations. Since these groups have influence only in the West, their focus overwhelmingly is on “controlling” U.S. nuclear weapons.
Consequently, arms controllers tend overwhelmingly to blame the U.S. for provoking nuclear arms racing. They value so highly the “arms control process” that promises “convergence” that the State Department and its allies in academia and the press are very resistant and slow to acknowledge arms control violations by adversary nations. Indeed, arms controllers often go to great lengths to deny violations, usually blaming the U.S. for failures of arms control.
Arms Control versus Reality
Nuclear arms control began with failure, the USSR rejecting the 1946 Baruch Plan to ban atomic weapons, detonating its first A-bomb in 1949.
Unfortunately, principles of negotiation, compromise, legality, and “win-win” outcomes are alien to totalitarian and authoritarian states. These are led by ruthless elites who have often murdered their way to the top, believe that “power comes from the barrel of a gun” (to quote Mao), and the lives of men and nations is a “zero-sum” game of victors and defeated, of the living and the dead.
Consequently, the presumed benefits of arms control are more fictional than real.
Arms control agreements can limit arms only if the agreements are obeyed, which has generally not been the case for example with Russia, the USSR, or North Korea.
Verification provisions for arms control agreements that are supposedly “confidence building measures” for growing trust between nations typically are woefully inadequate.
Verification provisions for New START, the Presidential Nuclear Initiative, or for any nuclear arms control agreements between Washington and Moscow have never been adequate to confirm with high-confidence the number of Russian (or during the Cold War, Soviet) nuclear weapons deployed operationally or stockpiled. Russia could have thousands of nuclear weapons operationally deployed over New START limits—and we would not know.
Another notorious example of verification inadequacy is the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), allowing inspections of Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities only—not military facilities, where a clandestine nuclear weapons program almost certainly continues.
The Iran nuclear deal epitomizes almost everything wrong with arms control. Iran can be in technical compliance with JCPOA, but according to highly competent U.S. and Israeli experts probably already has nuclear weapons. (“Underestimating Nuclear Missile Threats From North Korea And Iran” National Review February 12, 2016)
The JCPOA, like arms control generally, provides the false illusion of security.
Dr. Mark Schneider, former senior Defense Department official and nuclear strategist, in “Trading Arms Control for Nuclear Modernization: An Old Scam” (RealClearDefense.com June 12, 2019), spent decades at the Pentagon exasperated by arms controller’s dangerous hypocrisy:
“The U.S. arms control enthusiast establishment generally cares little about the substance of arms control agreements, their verifiability, or whether the Russians actually comply with them. They support arms control agreements irrespective of whether the agreements actually accomplish anything useful. They fight against the U.S. determining Russian arms control violations, terminating U.S. compliance with arms control agreements that Russia is violating or responding to them by weapons developments and deployments. Their position on these issues is almost identical to the Russian Federation, and this has been going on for decades.”
As for “convergence”—the promise that arms control will build trust and a safer world—the world is more dangerous because of arms control.
Arms Control Failures
Before “arms control” it was called the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (outlawing war), and the Washington and London Naval Treaties. All of these were violated or exploited by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to prepare for their nearly successful bid to win World War II.
Then as now, advocates of appeasement (before World War II “appeasement” was a policy, not a dirty word) went through extraordinary mental gymnastics to deny or justify ignoring “pocket battleships”, submarines, tank armies, air forces, and acts of aggression that violated what today would be called the “international arms control regime”.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and then the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT I and SALT II) allegedly enshrined the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) for the U.S. and USSR, while supposedly capping numbers of permitted strategic forces, even while allowing modernization.
In reality, the USSR and Russia today never subscribed to U.S. theories about respecting MAD by constraining “destabilizing” offensive and defensive capabilities. Moscow exploited arms control to constrain the U.S. and gain strategic advantages to prevail in nuclear diplomacy and war.
For example, President Reagan’s blue-ribbon General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, in their summary of “A Quarter Century of Soviet Compliance Practices Under Arms Control Commitments: 1958-1983” examined 26 arms control treaties, agreements, and commitments. The USSR violated all the most important arms control treaties of that era, including:
–The ABM Treaty
–Limited Test Ban Treaty
–Biological Weapons Convention
–Conventional Weapons Convention
Today, 25 years after publication of the GAC Report Summary, the State Department should declassify the still classified main report so policymakers and the public see full accounting of the failures of arms control during Cold War years 1958-1983.
During the 1980s through today, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START and New START), and Presidential Nuclear Initiative (PNI) made deep reductions in strategic and tactical nuclear weapons (mostly on the U.S. side) while permitting modernization (almost entirely on the Russian side).
Now the decades-long experiment in nuclear arms control has failed catastrophically, shredded by Russian cheating:
–The INF Treaty is broken by Moscow’s deployment of at least one and possibly four illegal missile types;
–The PNI is broken such that Russia now has an advantage in tactical nuclear weapons of at least 10-to-1.
–START and New START are broken, according to some astute analysts like Mark Schneider and Stephen Blank, by Russia having possibly thousands of strategic warheads over the allowed limits. (Blank, “Russia’s Military Strategy and Doctrine”, Jamestown Foundation, 2019; Schneider, “Does Russia Have 2-to-1 Advantage In Deployed Strategic Nuclear Weapons?” RealClearDefense.com, January 12, 2019)
–Most recently, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Russia has been cheating on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for nearly 30 years, developing new generations of advanced nuclear warheads.
“Convergence” between Washington and Moscow toward mutual trust and a safer more strategically stable world order has not happened, as promised by arms control. The New Cold War with Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran may well be more dangerous than the old.
Yet the arms control community refuses to face these realities.
Instead, they criticize the United States for withdrawing from treaties already broken by Russia. They complain about U.S. modernization of its nuclear deterrent, while for years watching Russia’s illegal nuclear build-up in uncomplaining silence.
Arms Control Costs
Arms control has cost the West a lot more than champagne and caviar for diplomats in Geneva.
The United States and its allies have paid a steep price for their arms control addiction in worsened international security. Specific examples abound, some already described above, of how arms control has constrained the U.S. unilaterally, and given Russia and other potential adversaries significant strategic advantages.
Perhaps even more dangerous is how the ideology of arms control has become second nature to U.S. policymakers, consistently misleading them to disadvantage the United States.
Arms control pretends to an objective “rational actor” model that assumes moral equivalence and makes no distinction between the worldviews, histories, and behaviors of the United States and its arms control “strategic partner”. Indeed, the focus is on controlling arms, especially nuclear arms, not on controlling nations, as if the weapons themselves are the most dangerous variable.
Such thinking, fixated on controlling inherently dangerous nuclear weapons, was a major factor driving the United States to deeply reduce tactical nuclear weapons under the PNI and strategic nuclear weapons under START and New START.
No one in Washington seemed to consider the possibility that U.S. and global security might NOT benefit from deep reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons—to levels where Russia could afford to sustain nuclear parity. Arms control, seeking to maintain the U.S.-Russia nuclear balance, instead forfeited to Moscow (and also possibly to Beijing) numerical and technological superiority they never enjoyed during the Cold War.
If the U.S. had not sacrificed its Cold War inventory of about 10,000 strategic and 15,000 tactical nuclear weapons, perhaps today Russia and China would be so far behind they would not even dream of nuclear arms racing.
Perhaps the costliest national security sacrifice on the altar of arms control is President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and the opportunity through space-based defenses to render nuclear missiles obsolete.
President Clinton would not withdraw from the ABM Treaty and the MAD relationship with Russia, that he deemed “the cornerstone of strategic stability” in order to deploy SDI’s Brilliant Pebbles space-based anti-missile system, then ready to go. Instead, President Clinton canceled both SDI and Brilliant Pebbles—thereby surrendering the only plausibly realistic pathway to achieving the dream of both President Reagan and President Obama for “a world without nuclear weapons.”
Historically, arms control was not even able to ban the crossbow. Technological innovation made the crossbow obsolete—and can “ban” The Bomb.
Arms control has also cost the United States and the world dearly by terminating or stunting peaceful uses of nuclear energy that had potential for revolutionary advancements in technology and science. For example:
–The Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) stopped U.S. and Soviet projects to develop peaceful nuclear explosive devices, that produced little or no radioactive fallout, for a wide variety of purposes, including excavating underground storage facilities, canals, tunnels, making much easier and faster very large-scale construction projects.
–The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) moved the U.S. to de-emphasize the nuclear power industry and stunt development of innovative new technologies, like modular nuclear reactors, abandoning the realizable promise of a global revolution in cheap, clean, safe energy.
–The LTBT also killed a potential revolution in space travel. In the 1950s, programs like the U.S. Project Orion were successfully experimenting with the concept of nuclear-powered propulsion by shockwaves, that could possibly propel enormous spaceships, weighing hundreds of tons and capable of carrying hundreds of passengers, to the planets and beyond.
Arms control may yet cost humanity the ultimate price—extinction.
James Green in “Nuclear Weapons Might Save The World From An Asteroid Strike—But We Need To Change The Law First” (https//phys.org/news/2019-04) argues for stopping NASA and Russian scientists planning to use Russia’s high-yield ICBMs to deflect monster meteor collisions, until international lawyers first negotiate arms control treaties regulating nuclear schemes to save planet Earth. Green acknowledges negotiations could take years.
Do not link U.S. modernization of its nuclear Triad and tactical nuclear weapons to arms control negotiations, if at all possible.
Unfortunately, arms control is so deeply ingrained in U.S. strategic culture that it may be inescapable. The Cold War bipartisan Republican-Democrat consensus that sustained U.S. nuclear parity with the USSR is broken. Arms control was part of that consensus.
Since modernizing the nuclear Triad and resurrecting its scientific-industrial base will require decades, somehow rebuilding a bipartisan political consensus to support this program will be necessary.
However, even the allure of arms control may not be enough to persuade a radicalized Democrat Party to support U.S. nuclear forces modernization.
Congressional Democrats, led by the powerful Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, have advocated for the most radical schemes of anti-nuclear activists. Chairman Smith has voiced support for dismantling U.S. ICBMs and strategic bombers, two of the three Triad legs, reducing U.S. ballistic missile submarines from 14 to 6, and relying on this small Monad of submarines to enforce a new U.S. nuclear strategy of Minimum Deterrence.
Moreover, even if a new bipartisan consensus emerges to support the current program for Triad modernization—it may not be enough to close the technological gap with Russia, China, and perhaps even North Korea (that likely has Super-EMP warheads) in new, advanced generation nuclear weapons.
Astonishingly, the current U.S. plan will modernize only nuclear delivery vehicles—replacing aged missiles, bombers, and submarines with new versions—to be armed with antique nuclear weapons, designed and manufactured decades ago, continually refurbished for 30-40 years. Many experts warn that the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of these old warheads is increasingly doubtful.
In today’s nuclear threat environment—where for example Russian new generation nuclear weapons can generate specialized effects such as Super-EMP for blacking-out critical infrastructures, neutrons for anti-tank and anti-aircraft missions, x-rays for missile defense, “clean” ultra-low-yield battlefield weapons that produce no fallout—U.S. high-yield warheads designed for massive blast, shock, and thermal effects may be irrelevant.
Former Director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, Vice Admiral Robert Monroe, correctly insists that the U.S. must develop new generation nuclear weapons and resume nuclear testing. Politically, this may be a bridge too far. (Monroe, “It’s Time For America To Resume Nuclear Testing” The Hill, November 15, 2017)
Before the U.S. engages in another failed adventure negotiating arms control treaties with Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran—the State Department and larger arms control community should agree to support rapid expansion and strengthening of U.S. strategic defenses.
Space-based missile defenses like Brilliant Pebbles, according to former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, Ambassador Henry Cooper, can be deployed in about 5 years (by 2025) at a cost of $20 billion.
Brilliant Pebbles would close the window of vulnerability to the growing nuclear missile threat from Russia and others much more rapidly than modernization of the U.S. nuclear Triad, mostly to be accomplished after 2030 at a cost of about $700 billion.
Passive strategic defenses, hardening U.S. critical infrastructures against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and cyber-threats, could be accomplished in an accelerated program in 3 years for $2-4 billion.
Strategic defenses could quickly compensate for the catastrophic failures of arms control.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry was chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission. He served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA. He is the author of “EMP Manhattan Project: Organizing For Survival Against An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe.”