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American Zero

Jun 4, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 36 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
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Even under current plans, there’s reason to worry. There are just three ICBM bases left, but those facilities are extremely hardened; the targets may be known, but they are not at all soft. Preserving—even increasing—the utility of the land-based leg of the triad is actually becoming more, not less, important.

Any serious assessment of the nuclear world of the future argues for keeping the triad and modernizing it rapidly. In a world with fewer nuclear weapon systems but more people and threats to deter, we need more survivability and less firepower: The “diversity premium” is rising. It’s not only the big and aging delivery systems that need fixing​—​the bomber, the D-5 sub-launched missile, and a Trident replacement with fewer launch tubes and more boats—​but the big and aging warheads. Smaller warheads would be a more credible deterrent​—​or, in the latest neologism, “compellent”​—​particularly to the rogue nuclear powers. Over the next decade, we are bound to repeat some of the early Cold War debates about nuclear use, particularly in light of the continued reductions in U.S. conventional forces and the proliferation of technologies that threaten to erode our conventional edge.

Arms control mavens could actually play a useful role in this environment. The Hoss report points out a “basic deficiency in the framework of ongoing nuclear arms talks: the exclusion of everyone except for Americans and Russians.” The relaxation in U.S.-Russia nuclear tensions ought rightly to be viewed as an opportunity to try to “globalize” arms control treaties​—​arguably the single most stabilizing thing that could happen in East Asia would be to limit Chinese inter-mediate-range missiles. Alas, it’s clear that our commander in chief and his favorite general would rather start with “American Zero” than go global.

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