Former launch officer warns Trump strategy fuels nuclear arms race

A former nuclear launch officer is warning that President Donald Trump's nuclear weapons strategy is encoura...

Posted: Sep 19, 2018 10:41 PM
Updated: Sep 19, 2018 10:41 PM

A former nuclear launch officer is warning that President Donald Trump's nuclear weapons strategy is encouraging an arms race that could increase the chances of a catastrophic nuclear war.

He argues that the Pentagon should instead adopt a "deterrence-only" approach that phases out land-based missile systems that have served as one leg of the nuclear triad for decades.

Asia

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

East Asia

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Military

Military weapons

North America

North Korea

North Korea nuclear development

Nuclear weapons

Political Figures - US

The Americas

United States

US federal government

US-North Korea summit

Weapons and arms

Weapons of mass destruction

White House

Government organizations - US

US Department of Defense

US federal departments and agencies

Unrest, conflicts and war

Conflicts and wars

James Mattis

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Energy and utilities

Energy and utility policy

Nuclear energy

In a new report released on Tuesday, Global Zero's Dr. Bruce Blair, a former Air Force launch control officer who's a nuclear security expert at Princeton University, argues that the United States' nuclear stance is a "vestige of the Cold War" that creates instability with an unnecessarily hefty price tag.

His proposal is intended to reshape the Pentagon's thinking on nuclear weapons by promoting a "deterrence-only" strategy that supplements sweeping cuts to the US nuclear force with additional options involving conventional weapons that he says are better suited to hit specific targets.

"This alternate nuclear posture review is the first and only analysis in the public domain that uses credible estimates of existing US war plan target requirements and goes on to define the forces needed to meet them, and thus it challenges the Pentagon on its own terms," Blair told CNN.

"It starts from the same place as Pentagon officials and nuclear war planners, offering a different perspective -- one that questions the foundation of nuclear planning. The US shouldn't base decisions on a strategy of nuclear war fighting, it should make decisions based on a deterrence-only role for the nuclear arsenal," he said.

The report also dissects what Blair characterizes as the US nuclear posture's "Achilles' heel" -- the system's communication network.

"Having the ability to absorb an attack and retaliate is the essence of deterrence, and yet the United States has failed to ensure presidential survival and robust communications—both vital to executing a retaliatory attack," the report said.

The Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review released in February focuses primarily on countering threats posed by Russia, and military officials are adamant their plan walks the line between maintaining a nuclear deterrence and encouraging controls on nuclear weapons.

"It reaffirms that the fundamental role of US nuclear policy is deterrence and continues our clear commitment to nonproliferation and arms control," said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

However, Blair argues that the Trump administration's nuclear posture "promotes a nuclear arms race."

"The Trump administration's nuclear posture goes beyond legitimate goals of credible national security, and actually promotes a nuclear arms race and nuclear war fighting," he added.

Blair said some of the Pentagon's nuclear strategies are "dangerous" and contain unnecessary redundancies that may increase the chances of a full-scale nuclear conflict.

"Nuclear war fighting is destabilizing. ... Once it starts, escalation is likely," he told CNN, adding that he would argue against the Pentagon's current war fighting target set and recommend scaling down to a deterrence-only strategy that threatens key targets.

According to Blair, his report lays "out the steps needed to significantly reduce the risk of the use of nuclear weapons by design or accident and the risk of escalation to full-scale nuclear war if conflict happens."

One such recommendation is for the Trump administration to phase out its arsenal of silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles over the next 10 years and adopt a deterrence-only model by dramatically cutting its arsenal of nuclear weapons and bomber force.

Silo-based ICBMs are one leg of the US nuclear triad, which also consists of bombers and nuclear-armed submarines.

According to Blair's report, five US Columbia-class submarines, backed by a reserve force of 40 nuclear-capable bombers, would be capable of retaliating with enough force if necessary, also rendering the third arm of the triad "redundant and dispensable."

The Pentagon's current Nuclear Posture Review calls for at least 12 new Columbia-class submarines and 175 bombers.

"The almost exclusive mission of these missiles is to engage Russia, or Russia and China simultaneously, in large-scale nuclear conflict," the report said. "Such wartime scenarios have become unthinkable. Waging war against both countries simultaneously is a contingency so improbable that US planners can safely ignore it."

Blair also noted that silo locations are "fixed and known," creating vulnerabilities for the weapons.

However, Defense Secretary James Mattis has reiterated the administration's support for the nuclear triad. In September 2017, Mattis argued it is a crucial form of deterrence.

"I questioned the triad, and I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad," Mattis said, according to a report by Military Times. "If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad and its framework is the right way to go."

Mattis has stressed the importance of including more conventional options as part of nuclear war planning and has worked toward overhauling US nuclear communications, a priority listed in Blair's report.

For decades, the military plan for nuclear war has been known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan -- focusing entirely on a nuclear campaign. US Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear defense, is continuing the effort begun by the Obama administration to provide military plans that combine nuclear and conventional options, in order to be able to de-escalate a crisis, defense officials familiar with the effort told CNN in July.

The move to include conventional options as part of planning for nuclear war took on additional importance as tensions rose with North Korea, and the Pentagon leadership was looking for a wide range of military options to offer Trump, officials said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correctly attribute a quote to Bruce Blair rather than Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Terre Haute
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 59°
Robinson
Mostly Cloudy
62° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 62°
Indianapolis
Cloudy
61° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 61°
Rockville
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 53°
Casey
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 53°
Brazil
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 59°
Marshall
Cloudy
59° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Cloud cover returns this afternoon.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1675793

Reported Deaths: 27960
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook63468311202
DuPage1081271376
Will912621126
Lake800101085
Kane68370871
Winnebago41041560
Madison40087596
St. Clair36272596
McHenry34708329
Champaign26998197
Peoria26928368
Sangamon25754285
McLean23012218
Tazewell20647330
Rock Island18854361
Kankakee17910248
Kendall16203113
Macon15305250
LaSalle15030287
Vermilion14371199
Adams13156152
DeKalb12152133
Williamson12054174
Whiteside8297183
Jackson808694
Boone794383
Coles7888124
Ogle756887
Grundy738086
Franklin7330115
Knox7286169
Clinton7124102
Macoupin6951105
Marion6918143
Henry663777
Effingham660299
Jefferson6550143
Livingston597698
Stephenson584592
Woodford576892
Randolph5553100
Christian533682
Fulton526976
Monroe5246103
Morgan5076100
Logan495074
Montgomery491681
Lee478660
Bureau442691
Saline433869
Perry433275
Fayette430664
Iroquois421577
McDonough373761
Shelby347748
Jersey335653
Lawrence332533
Crawford332430
Douglas327337
Union306548
Wayne304063
White279833
Richland279557
Hancock274135
Cass266230
Clark265740
Pike264558
Clay258754
Edgar258049
Bond256925
Warren244066
Ford243959
Carroll236438
Moultrie234533
Johnson228131
Wabash217319
Jo Daviess216029
Massac215550
Mason214252
Washington212228
De Witt205530
Greene205340
Mercer204336
Piatt201614
Cumberland190026
Menard172213
Jasper161221
Marshall141321
Hamilton134022
Schuyler107710
Brown106510
Edwards104018
Pulaski103911
Stark81628
Gallatin7878
Alexander71912
Scott7136
Henderson70314
Calhoun6922
Hardin60116
Putnam5654
Pope5526
Unassigned1702433
Out of IL160

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 1003647

Reported Deaths: 16423
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1351072116
Lake661851159
Allen57674800
Hamilton46217464
St. Joseph44210611
Elkhart35807508
Vanderburgh32162480
Tippecanoe27859258
Johnson25007444
Hendricks23795357
Porter22856365
Madison18694408
Clark18505252
Vigo17393303
Monroe15218199
LaPorte15101250
Delaware15024261
Howard14681289
Kosciusko12260147
Hancock11682175
Bartholomew11548180
Warrick11270189
Floyd11059214
Wayne10946253
Grant10019219
Morgan9438176
Boone8891116
Dubois8249131
Dearborn819893
Henry8174152
Noble8003106
Marshall7891135
Cass7519121
Lawrence7433171
Shelby7171119
Jackson695889
Gibson6567115
Harrison646691
Huntington636899
Knox6360106
DeKalb628699
Montgomery6229109
Miami591498
Putnam577678
Clinton572171
Whitley563455
Steuben558976
Wabash5309103
Jasper527879
Jefferson509297
Ripley498686
Adams479775
Daviess4653114
Scott438473
Greene423596
Wells422588
Clay421360
White417364
Decatur4152102
Fayette405787
Jennings385961
Posey375844
Washington356150
LaGrange356078
Randolph343499
Spencer338743
Fountain333860
Sullivan327852
Starke315570
Owen313970
Fulton309167
Orange292663
Jay283445
Franklin265143
Perry264852
Rush260832
Carroll260633
Vermillion257254
Parke230426
Pike228443
Tipton227259
Blackford191841
Pulaski183157
Crawford159023
Newton156848
Benton150217
Brown145747
Martin138019
Switzerland134811
Warren120816
Union107016
Ohio84213
Unassigned0540