Nuclear Posture Review Looks to Deter War, Policy Chief Says

Feb. 26, 2018 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News
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The goal of the Nuclear Posture Review, unveiled earlier this month, is to deter war, David J. Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said at the Heritage Foundation here today.

“If nuclear weapons are used in war, it is because deterrence failed,” he said. “The goal of the 2018 NPR is to make sure deterrence will not fail.”

Trachtenberg stressed that the review is not a break with the past, but rather a continuation of long-held nuclear doctrine.

VIDEO | 00:27 | Making Sure Nuclear Deterrents Will Not Fail

Situations have changed since the last nuclear posture review in 2010. At that time, U.S. officials thought they could work with Russian and Chinese leaders to bring them into the comity of nations. Engagement would continue progress along the path to ultimate nuclear disarmament, and the officials made recommendations concurrent with that baseline.

Operating Outside International Norms

But Russia and China have since proven they are not following international norms. Russia annexed Crimea and fomented war in eastern Ukraine. They have modernized their nuclear arsenal and almost all aspects of their military. Russia’s support for the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria, its interference with its neighbors, and even its cyber campaign to influence elections, show that it is working against accepted international standards.

China has also shown it is working against the accepted rules-based international order, which has done so much to advance the economic well-being in Asia. China has also modernized its nuclear arsenal and modernized many aspects of its army. China is building islands in the South China Sea in an attempt to cut off freedom of navigation.

This is a return to great power competition, Trachtenberg said, and the U.S. “must field a more modern, ready and flexible force, which reverses the erosion of our military advantages.”

And the heart of American defense is the nuclear arsenal. The 2018 review lays out the path to ensure America’s nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready and tailored to deter 21st century threats and reassure allies, he said.

Not an Arms Race

The review is not a new arms race, nor is it a return to the Cold War. Rather, it is a hard-eyed view of the world as it is, Trachtenberg said.

Nuclear threats also emanate from rogue states such as North Korea, which has made repeated threats against the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Iran’s nuclear future remains uncertain, Trachtenberg said. The regime is still testing ballistic missiles, still engaging in malign activities throughout the Middle East and still trying to gain hegemony in the Persian Gulf, he said.

All this means the United States must increase deterrence efforts. Modernizing the American nuclear triad -- intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable bombers and submarine-launched missiles -- must happen, he said. So, too, must improvements in the command and control system.

Strengthening Deterrence

The posture review spells out how the United States views nuclear weapons and follows the long-held doctrine on the use of them, Trachtenberg said. The aim is to strengthen deterrence and lessen the chances that adversaries may miscalculate.

The review does call for the United States to develop a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile and modification of a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missiles to include a small-yield option, he said, noting that both can be done within current treaties.

These capabilities will help tailor U.S. deterrence strategy to contemporary requirements, he said. “Effective deterrence must shape potential adversaries calculations to ensure they do not see employment of nuclear weapons as a useful option in any circumstances,” he said. “If an adversary believes he can achieve his objectives through the limited use of nuclear weapons, then we risk deterrence failure.”