Strategic Nuclear Deterrence
Preventing Any WMD Attack on U.S. Citizens
Inhibiting the Spread of WMD
While U.S.-Russian relations have been fundamentally altered by the end of the Cold War and while common interests are growing and areas of rivalry are declining, Russia remains the only nation with the ability to destroy the United States. Thus, it is in the U.S. interest to monitor closely Russian implementation of the START agreements, and to promote greater transparency regarding the entire nuclear stockpile--including reciprocal exchange regarding numbers, locations, and other information, as well as greater security for nuclear material. Washington must be prepared to adjust force structure planning if relations sour, if Moscow decides that further reductions are not in Russia's interest, or if the U.S. is prevented from verifying Russian compliance. Further, Washington has an interest in monitoring the progress of China's currently modest forces.
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The substantial reduction in the threat of strategic nuclear war with a peer nuclear power has not necessarily made the U.S. secure from WMD. The bombing of the World Trade Center may portend future terrorist attacks on soft unprotected targets such as cities. In time, U.S. cities will become directly vulnerable to attacks by long-range delivery systems of new nuclear powers. A more immediate concern is that U.S. forces deployed abroad are increasingly at risk from WMD and missile proliferation.
Because it bolsters deterrence, it is in the U.S. interest to maintain a credible ability to respond decisively to WMD attacks. The logic of the Cold War still applies here to some extent: if those who would contemplate the use of WMD against U.S. targets know that this is likely to result in swift, sure, and devastating retaliation, they may well consider the price of such actions to be unacceptably high--which is the essence of deterrence. (In many cases, an overwhelming conventional response may be the preferred option, if it can be swift, sure, and decisive. For example, if the leaders of a rogue regime understand that the employment of WMD against U.S. forces engaged in a limited military action will result in the expansion of that action's objectives to include the destruction of the regime in question, this may be sufficient to deter the regime from using WMD, even in the absence of a threatened in-kind counter-strike.)
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Even though the U.S. government has made preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and minimizing the availability of weapons-grade nuclear material one of its top national security priorities, the task is becoming more daunting. Washington will continue to pursue a range of international agreements and mechanisms to control future WMD proliferation, with the 1995 NPT extension conference being the most notable. The ability of the U.S. and like-minded nations to develop a broad support for the treaty, either by agreement or confrontation, underpins nearly every open issue pertaining to WMD.