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Nuclear Weapons

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States has been engaged in an ongoing debate--internally, with its allies, and with the international community--about its nuclear strategy. This has included vigorous discussion and analysis of the types of weapons that should be built and deployed, the characteristics of delivery vehicles for them, the targets to which these weapons should be assigned, the alert status of forces, and the relationship between how the weapons might be used (employment policy) and what senior government officials should say about their use (declaratory policy). The debate has addressed the requirements for deterrence of adversaries and reassurance of allies and examined the relationship of the U.S. nuclear force posture to the U.S. nonproliferation goals. In recent times, it has focused in detail on how far and how fast nuclear force reductions should proceed. This chapter deals with the nuclear issues that bear on U.S. security in the immediate future, that is, in the next two decades. The discussions of political issues that could shape the nuclear policy are offered in the specific chapters on regional security.

Response Capabilities

For five decades the United States has maintained a large, sophisticated nuclear force, which, until the end of the Cold War, was to do the following:

To achieve these missions, the United States deployed a mix of strategic nuclear forces based on a triad of delivery vehicles: intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. At the height of the Cold War, roughly 12,000 nuclear warheads were deployed on about 2,000 delivery vehicles, all in a high-alert status to preclude the Soviet Union from executing a disarming first strike on U.S. nuclear forces. In addition to these strategic forces, the United States deployed nuclear weapons on the ground, on dual-capable aircraft in Germany and other NATO member states, and on carrier-based aircraft. More than 7,000 nuclear weapons were at one time deployed in Europe. Security guarantees were codified through the declaratory policy of extended deterrence. The United States led NATO's adoption of a flexible response policy, indicating a willingness to use whatever level of force was required to defeat the aggressor. To shore up these guarantees the United States refused to pledge no first use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, implicitly reserving the right to initiate nuclear weapon use should circumstances warrant it.


U.S. nuclear strategy in Europe evolved as relations between the United States and the Soviet Union improved after Mikhail Gorbachev took power in Moscow in 1985. In 1987, the two superpowers completed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe (INF) Treaty, which eliminated deployment in Europe by both sides of all nuclear weapons capable of delivery in the 500- to-5,500-kilometer range. For the West, this was significant, because it eliminated the Soviet SS­20 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) force, which would have been a potent Soviet asset for political coercion or in the event of war in Europe.

Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has undergone considerable rethinking about the roles and missions of nuclear forces. Such rethinking is likely to continue in the next two decades, as the United States adjusts its force posture to emerging international realities.

Overall, the quantitative deployment levels of U.S. and Russian strategic forces are limited by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) I of July 1991, signed by Presidents Bush and Gorbachev. The treaty entered into force in December 1994 and is scheduled to be fully implemented by the end of 2001. Although it calls for numerical parity of forces, this may be misleading. Some students of nuclear forces and policy, noting severe budgetary constraints, decline in equipment reliability, and deterioration of morale that have plagued Russia since at least 1992, believe that the United States enjoys a superiority in operational effectiveness of the forces. If true, that may be a military distinction without a difference, given Russia could still deliver enormous destruction against the continental United States if its leaders chose to do so. Moreover, the humiliating Russian defeat in Chechnya suggests that for some time Russia will derive its "great power" status primarily from its nuclear arsenal and will therefore probably do what it can to maintain a modernized force that could remain impressive to Western analysts. According to Andrei Kokoshin, former Russian Deputy Minister of Defense and, who at this writing is the national security adviser to President Yeltsin, "Nuclear weapons, especially strategic nuclear forces, also play no small role in defining the status of our state, and by that parameter, Russia remains a superpower."

The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review

The NPR completed and extended President Bush's initiatives in several important aspects:

United States

For the United States, the main policy lesson has been the political value of sustaining a nuclear arsenal second to none--numerical parity coupled, if possible, with operational superiority--to complement superiority in conventional forces and in the unparalleled strength of its economic, technological, and industrial base. Some doubt that the United States needs to maintain nuclear forces greater than or equal to Russian capabilities, on the grounds that Russia is no longer a world power and unlikely to become one again for decades. But this reasoning is shortsighted. A vibrant nuclear force posture is the only politically feasible stance that would pass muster before intensive congressional scrutiny and reinforces the overall image of the United States as the only surviving superpower in the post-Cold War world, an image and a reality that serve U.S. strategic interests.

These favorable conditions have, however, permitted the United States to take significant unilateral steps to streamline its forces. In 1991­92, President Bush endorsed a set of nuclear initiatives, which, along with President Clinton's 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, have led to substantial reductions in the scope and character of the U.S. nuclear posture. President Bush cancelled the Peacekeeper rail mobile ICBM, a new small ICBM, and a new short-range attack missile (SRAM II); curtailed production of new warheads for sea-based missiles; ended production of B­2 bombers and the advanced cruise missile; and approved worldwide withdrawal of nuclear artillery shells, Lance missile warheads, and naval nuclear depth bombs.

In November 1997 President Clinton approved a Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) that reaffirmed a force posture based on a triad of strategic forces but required that a nuclear weapon be detonated on U.S. soil before nuclear retaliation would be authorized. The PDD reconfirms that the United States would not use nuclear weapons first in a conflict unless the state that attacked the United States, its allies, or military forces is nuclear capable or is in alliance with a nuclear power or is not in good standing in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The PDD leaves open U.S. nuclear weapon use in response to a biological or chemical weapons attack, but it reaffirms that nuclear weapons are for deterrence and not to be used to prevail in a nuclear war.

Beyond these unilateral initiatives, the disposition of strategic forces has been governed through much of the 1990s by the START I agreements and, potentially, by the START II Treaty signed by Presidents Bush and Yeltsin in January 1993. START I called for the reduction of the total number of deployed strategic warheads to 6,000, roughly half the peak Cold War level. Implementation of the treaty is running ahead of schedule. START II was ratified by the United States in January 1996 but has yet to be ratified by Russia. Until this treaty enters into force, U.S. strategic nuclear forces will include the following:

The START II Treaty, if implemented, would reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 3,000­3,500, roughly half the START I levels. It also calls for elimination of all MIRVed ICBMs, an important contribution to strategic stability, because this would eliminate the most potent and potentially vulnerable systems of each side's nuclear arsenal. If implemented, U.S. nuclear forces would contain:

According to the joint statement on future reductions in nuclear forces issued by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin at Helsinki in March 1997, once START II enters into force, a START III negotiation would commence, to establish a limit of 2,000 to 2,500 deployed warheads for each side by the end of 2007. The START II deadline would then be extended from 2003 to the START III deadline of 2007.

The effect of implementing these arms control agreements would be a dramatic reduction in the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal in 17 years, from 1990 through 2007.


Russia has experienced a similar decline in its strategic forces. Over the next 10 years the United States intends to maintain survivable nuclear forces that are sufficient to retain superiority in the eyes of potentially hostile foreign powers. This is a "hedge" strategy against the accession to power of hostile elements in Russia or the development of a hostile China. The strategy requires forces that provide an effective deterrent within arms-control treaty limitations, plus maintenance of a capability to reconstitute additional forces if needed. It constitutes the near-term concern now driving the immediate requirements of the U.S. nuclear force posture.

What are the implications of this strategy for the forces? For most or all of the next decade the United States will need to maintain a triad of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers to ensure a diversity of delivery vehicles and to continue to deny any potential adversary the ability to launch a disarming first strike. So long as U.S.-Russia political relations remain largely cooperative, these forces need not be on high alert and could be reduced significantly in number and type through both arms control negotiations and unilateral measures. Their modernization rate can be meaningfully slowed, but modernization should not be terminated to hedge against technological surprise by Russia, China, or other powers.

Tammuz­2 reactor at Tuwaitha, Iraq

During the next decade, two concerns for U.S. nuclear strategists will be the status of the command and control of Russian nuclear forces and a possible surge in capability of Chinese nuclear forces. Some students of Russian nuclear weapons policy believe that control of these weapons has seriously deteriorated, that budgetary constraints have led to a decline in the reliability of equipment and systems, and that the probability of accidental or unauthorized launch has increased dramatically since the end of the Cold War. The detargeting agreement reached by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin provides some insurance against an accidental launch. Yet some believe a substantial risk of "erroneous use" of nuclear weapons remains, such as conscious decisions by military or political leaders to use such weapons based on incomplete or inaccurate information, faulty reasoning, misinterpretation of intentions by other countries, or hasty decisionmaking. Reports of a deterioration in Russia's missile-attack warning system lend credibility to these concerns. Therefore, measures to enhance the safety of the forces through "de-alerting" ICBMs and heavy bombers will need to be considered. De-alerting SLBMs is exceedingly difficult unless the ballistic missile submarines were put to sea without their guidance sets, a step that political circumstances do not yet warrant.

As U.S. and Russian nuclear forces are reduced, issues of seemingly less importance rise in value: the role of nondeployed weapons; strategic reserves; and questions of what targets should or should no longer be held at risk.

CSS-2 missle


A surge in Chinese nuclear forces in the years ahead, though by no means a certainty, is plausible. As of 1997, China possessed a modest capability of 17 ICBMs: 7 CSS­4 intercontinental range missiles that have been tested with MIRVs, and 10 older CSS­3 single-warhead ICBMs. China also has one ballistic missile submarine with 12 long-range CSS­N­3 missiles and perhaps 70 intermediate-range ballistic missiles. It has no intercontinental-range heavy bombers. The pattern of Chinese missile development appears cautious, reflecting budgetary or technological constraints or limited political will to invest heavily in such forces. Recent accounts of China acquiring advanced (SS­18, SS­19) missile technology from Russia and the continued growth of the Chinese economy and defense budget suggest that new Chinese nuclear forces will probably be concentrated in more advanced ICBMs, because they are the most reliable, most cost effective, most easily controlled, and most potent.

China seems less likely to invest defense resources in an expensive fleet of ballistic missile submarines, which are a cornerstone of U.S. strategic strength. Even were China to overcome the considerable technological obstacles to field such a force, it would face a considerable U.S. antisubmarine warfare capability that would make its own effectiveness highly uncertain. Relying on more advanced ICBMs gives the Chinese an opportunity to move slowly beyond China's minimum deterrent posture; to derive the political benefits of being a growing nuclear power; to threaten the U.S. homeland in a credible fashion; and possibly to use these forces to deter U.S. retaliation if China were to use conventional forces against Taiwan or in other contested areas in East or Southeast Asia. Because the United States does not now plan to reduce its nuclear arsenal below 2,000 deployed warheads for at least a decade, China has a very long way to go before even a dedicated surge capability would pose a serious threat to the U.S. strategic nuclear force posture.

Shaping the Strategic Environment

The strategic characteristics of the present world are sufficiently amorphous and uncertain that it is often now referred to as "the post-Cold War world." How long will it last? What will replace it and how will it be known? Answers are not yet in view, but the years immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union revealed several important features. The United States is now the unchallenged military leader and predominant economic power, facing no primary threats to its existence for the first time since prior to World War II. Such U.S. primacy and the absence of threat are interrelated. Unless and until Russia and China make a clear-cut transition to political democracies and it becomes self-evident that no other state poses a serious threat to vital U.S. interests--and it may be many years before these conditions are met--the United States is best advised to maintain a nuclear force with a capability and flexibility second to none.

Averting Conflict

As the United States seeks to avert conflicts in the next decade, it will be faced by two primary challenges. The first will be to provide a blend of incentives and disincentives to promote the transition of Russia and China into political democracies and market economies. The reasoning behind this priority is that as Russia and China begin to look more like the Western nations, they will have more at stake in the existing international order and decreasing incentives to pose a threat to the system. Under these conditions of unambiguously reduced threat, the United States can take bolder steps in reducing its nuclear arsenal. Second, in the next decade the United States will most probably be faced by several smaller hostile states armed with WMD. To deal with this threat, the United States must establish credible and effective counterproliferation measures involving passive and active defenses, deterrent measures, and counterforce systems.


Russia, a shell of the former Soviet Union, is undergoing profound political and economic change. By 2008, it will have experienced another decade of decline, reform, and, perhaps, renewal, in a delicate process necessarily to be managed carefully by its leaders and nurtured so far as possible by both Washington and the international community. Nuclear forces will remain important to Moscow, primarily as a domestic and international political symbol of its former superpower status, but in the next 10 years Russia is unlikely to brandish such weapons, much less use them, in a conflict. Although Russian strategic rocket forces retain a practical capability to strike massively at the U.S. homeland, what would be gained? Such action would achieve no sensible Russian strategic objective and would certainly lead to the destruction of the Russian state. To the contrary, the Russian people have already twice democratically elected a leadership committed to joining, rather than destroying, the international community of market economies. Continuation of this pattern is the best insurance policy that Russia's nuclear forces will not pose a serious threat to the West.

Maintaining U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces will guarantee a degree of mutual deterrence, no matter what analysts may term the relationship. This might even be augmented with what some analysts call "mutual reassurance," that is, actions aimed at improving the understanding of each side's nuclear force posture. These actions could include the following: more complete exchanges of information; reciprocal stationing of military personnel at strategic command centers; and a broad-based effort to understand each other's budgets, war planning, operational procedures, and longer term force planning. Continued bolstering of the U.S.-Russian political relationship could make these aspirations, currently somewhat beyond reach, eminently feasible in the next 10 years. Accomplishing this task would in turn bolster Russia's political ties to the international community and help facilitate the closest integration of Russia with the West since the Duchy of Muscovy was founded 1,000 years ago.

Russian conventional forces are in the weakest shape since prior to World War II; their performance in Chechnya demonstrated serious deficiencies in morale, training, and readiness. A massive infusion of funds for many years would be needed to turn this situation around, and Russia will not have the resources to carry out this effort for at least a decade. With an enlarged NATO about to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, Russia, even in 2008, will not be likely to pose a serious conventional military threat to its European neighbors. A U.S. nuclear force posture predicated on the maintenance of a reduced but highly survivable and effective force, coupled with greater interaction in U.S.-Russian planning, would be the best way to ensure that conflict with Russia can be averted in the next 10 years.


China remains more problematic than Russia but for the next decade can be expected to focus on its primary goal of economic development. By 2008, it could move closer toward becoming a world-class economic and perhaps even military power. But these goals can be achieved only in a peaceful international climate. With the exception of Taiwan, there is no rational reason for the Beijing leadership to take on the United States in a military conflict, even in 2008. Taiwan is the exception because its political status strikes at the core of the legitimacy of the Beijing regime. With the reversion of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, under the "one country, two systems" formulation, Taiwan remains the last piece to be put into its political place to complete the 1949 revolution. A move by Taipei toward political independence would be opposed by the leadership in Beijing, or they themselves would almost certainly fall. There is no evidence that the United States would endorse such a provocative act openly or even privately. Although China has significant disputes with many states in East and South Asia, and an abiding distrust of and hatred for the Japanese, it will surely move cautiously in order not to stimulate a U.S. military intervention. This prognosis assumes, of course, that the United States retains a robust nuclear force as well as a forward presence of naval and air forces in the Pacific.

Within the next decade, the United States may expect to see an increase in the number of long-range Chinese delivery systems that could strike at U.S. forces in Japan and perhaps directly at the U.S. homeland. There will be no single answer to this threat. By maintaining the deployment of diversified, high-accuracy delivery systems with nuclear and conventional forces that could strike at highly valued Chinese military and command-and-control targets, the United States has the best chance of deterring Chinese use of their forces and successfully managing any Sino-U.S. crisis that might arise. Ironically, the prospect of deployment of a sophisticated network of theater missile defense (TMD) systems in East Asia or of a credible national missile defense (NMD) system for the continental United States would be used by senior PLA officers to justify operational emplacement of the longer range systems these defenses are intended to negate.

China has already made it clear to the United States that deployment of advanced TMD systems in Taiwan would be considered a provocation. It asserts that such systems deployed in Japan would reinforce the Chinese view that the U.S.-Japan security treaty had shifted from an anti-North Korean and anti-Soviet alliance to an anti-Chinese one. And Chinese officials argue that a network of land- and sea-based TMD systems deployed in East Asia coupled with an NMD system would pose a serious threat to the retaliatory capability of the Chinese nuclear deterrent.

This may be a strategic train wreck in the making. In the next decade the United States will almost certainly deploy TMD systems in East Asia to protect U.S. forces and its allies from missile attack (potentially from North Korea or China) as well as to project U.S. power in the region. The United States needs to join these deployments to confidence-building measures and transparency with some prospect of diminishing Chinese concern. Such measures could include prior announcement of deployments and, perhaps, arms control negotiations, to help communicate U.S. intentions and shape the Chinese force structure. Early efforts of this type, it should be noted, have not fared well, because China has insisted that the United States adopt a doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons before it engages in more detailed nuclear arms control discussions.

North Korea

The threat posed by North Korea to South Korea and Japan remains real. Leaders in Washington will be challenged to sustain a delicate mix of a tough military posture toward the North while seeking slowly to introduce Pyongyang into the family of nations. It will be a demanding task unless and until North Korea collapses and a peaceful transition to Korean unification can occur. Although many in the West believe North Korea will no longer exist by 2008, this is not a certainty, given the continued isolation of the society from most of the world and the sustained level of militancy the regime has instilled in the populace. Deterring North Korean aggression could still be a serious problem for Washington well into the next century. Few know what deters the North Korean leadership, however. A credible conventional military posture in the South, a politically strong bond between Washington and Seoul, plus continued inferences in declaratory policy that Washington might seriously entertain the use of nuclear weapons if the North attacked the South are the best that can be done to avert conflict on the Korean peninsula.


The post-Cold War world is made up of states that fit into four categories:

                                                    Trident II (SLBM) missile

The particular problem with North Korea is an example of a more general problem: the proliferation of WMD--nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; ballistic missiles; and potentially cruise missiles--by rogue states.

North Korea has an active nuclear weapons program, which was ostensibly frozen by the October 1994 U.S.-North Korean nuclear agreement. It has a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, has deployed the 1,000-kilometer NoDong missile, and is developing the much longer range TaepoDong ICBM. Iran clearly has a dedicated nuclear weapons program for which it is seeking Russian, Chinese, European, and expatriate assistance. It has deployed chemical and biological weapons and obtained the 150-kilometer CSS­8 missile from China. Iraq appears still to be conducting nuclear weapons research and has covert chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. Syria has no known nuclear program but has deployed substantial numbers of chemical weapons, is developing a biological weapons capability, and has obtained the 120-km SS­21 missile from the former Soviet Union. Libya has conducted some research on nuclear weapons and has sought to buy them from China, has deployed chemical weapons, and is conducting biological weapons research. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya all possess adequate delivery systems (SCUD-B short-range missiles), obtained from the Soviet Union.

Almost certainly WMD proliferation by rogue states will be a dominant threat to U.S. interests in the next decade. The U.S. response is multifaceted:

Nuclear warhead

One possible step that the United States could consider would be to promote a "no first use of WMD" regime. Although it could not provide airtight guarantees, it might reduce the likelihood that WMD would be used in the first place.

Other conflict situations will surely materialize around the world by 2008; whether the U.S. nuclear force posture will influence their initiation or outcome is not clear. U.S. nuclear weapon power appears remote in the calculations of most Middle East and Persian Gulf leaders. Israel's nuclear weapons program is prompted by motives of national survival and unlikely to be affected unless the country's leaders were to become convinced that a general peace is at hand. No evidence suggests that the world will be any closer to this condition in 2017 than it is today. The calculations of leaders in the various Arab capitals, in Tehran, and among the major non-state groups--Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood--are rooted in some cases in matters of domestic prestige and in a desire to inflict punishment on their neighbors, to destroy Israel, and to remove the U.S. presence from the region. Perhaps some learned from the Gulf War that the best way to deter U.S. intervention is to acquire WMD, including nuclear weapons. Although specific changes in the U.S. nuclear force posture probably would not significantly influence these calculations, the types of measures cited above (increasingly known as the U.S. counterproliferation strategy) could have a meaningful effect on decisionmakers in rogue states.

Middle Eastern decisionmakers opposed to the United States are unlikely to launch attacks on U.S. targets in such a fashion that the source of attack could be easily determined. Their aim would be to cause enough damage to force a U.S. retreat--as did the truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. This threat , which will only grow by 2008, may increase the desire of U.S. national leaders to maintain the tradition of not using nuclear weapons.

The South Asian subcontinent rivalry between India and Pakistan, almost certain to be going strong in 2008, will also be separated from U.S. nuclear forces and doctrine. Both countries have dedicated nuclear weapons programs to meet regional threats and satisfy domestic demand. Their arsenals are liable to grow substantially in the next two decades. Leaders in both capitals know that a conflict in South Asia does not engage core national interests of the United States. Several wars have already been fought between them since independence in the late 1940s, and more may occur. The United States may seek to engage in diplomatic conflict prevention, mediation, and conflict resolution. But the Indo-Pakistani rivalry, based on religious and geopolitical differences, will have to be worked out, irrespective of U.S. nuclear posture. One area of intersection, however, concerns the evolution of international diplomacy concerning the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Although signed by the five declared nuclear powers and many other states, the treaty cannot enter into force unless India is a party to it, but India resists. Will India remain outside this symbolically important treaty while it seeks in many other respects to become a leading player in the international system? The answer will be known within the next few years and it in turn may influence India's nuclear program and even the prospect of conflict on the subcontinent.

Shaping the Threat

There are three overriding issues in the years ahead related to U.S. strategic calculations that could shape the threat posed by Russian and Chinese forces. The first concerns theater missile defense (TMD), the second concerns North Korea, and the third relates to the control of nuclear materials.

Theater Missile Defense

The United States today has under way a robust research, development, and testing program to deploy a mix of theater missile defenses in 2005­10. These programs garnered bipartisan support in Washington in the aftermath of the Gulf War and the demonstrated vulnerability of U.S. forces and allies to Iraqi Scud short-range ballistic missiles. A series of systems is expected to be deployed in Northeast Asia and elsewhere to provide a layered defense of forward-based U.S. forces and those of Japanese and Korean allies, including the following:

There are sound reasons for such deployments. Further, the United States is developing a national missile defense (NMD) capability that could be deployed also between about 2005­10 to protect the U.S. homeland against attacks by small numbers ("tens") of missiles from rogue (i.e., not Russia or China) states.

Consider the probable response of China and Russia to TMD deployments. The Chinese leadership has already expressed concerns. They claim that providing TMD systems to Taiwan would be a brazen act of interference by the United States in China's internal affairs and would push Taiwan further toward political independence. Provision of such systems to Japan would be seen as bolstering a U.S.-Japan anti-Chinese alliance. Deployment of sea-based TMD systems plus an NMD system would seriously degrade the retaliatory capability of the Chinese strategic force. Leaders in Beijing assert that these deployments would stimulate Chinese nuclear force modernization, leading to a proliferation of launchers and warheads, the MIRVing of Chinese systems, the acquisition of penetration aides, and other measures.

The Russian view is that deployment of layered TMD systems in Northeast Asia along with possible NMD deployment would seriously degrade the ability of their SLBMs based in the Sea of Okhotsk from reaching their targets. In response, Russian leaders speak of having to spend scarce resources to modernize offensive forces and of terminating the nuclear arms reduction process should such deployments proceed. Some Russians now argue that their country is a regional power competing with China, rather than a superpower competing with the United States. Even under such revised guidance, Russian defense planners would not sit idly by and witness a substantial modernization of the Chinese strategic nuclear force without responding in kind.

The emergence of these difficult tradeoffs suggests that the future of strategic arms control may require freedom to mix agreements involving both offensive and defensive forces. It is certainly in U.S. interests to deploy TMD systems to defend U.S. troops abroad and close allies from real ballistic missile threats. But it is not in U.S. interests to stimulate Chinese or Russian nuclear force planning. A mutually agreed- on U.S.-Russian formula of offensive and defensive forces, although difficult to develop, could eliminate, or at least forestall, this problem. Such a strategic bridge may well have to be crossed during the next decade if not by 2017.

Peacekeeper ICBM

North Korea

Should North Korea collapse in the next decade, as many believe will happen, new security concerns will emerge in Northeast Asia. A unified Korea with a nuclear weapons capability would pose a serious threat to Japan. China has already made great strides in improving economic relations with South Korea--for its own economic gain, to begin to drive a wedge between the United States and the South, and perhaps to lay groundwork for close Sino-Korean relations aimed against Japan after Korea is unified. It would be politically difficult for the United States to retain military forces in Japan if they were withdrawn from Korea. For the United States to maintain a stable balance of power in Northeast Asia, it might be useful to consider an idea proposed by Japanese analysts: a nuclear-free zone in the region. This would preclude a unified Korea having nuclear weapons and a volatile Japanese response to such a development. The United States must think ahead as to how its nuclear weapons policy could instill stability into the region once Korea has become one nation.

Control of Nuclear Materials

Another issue concerns promoting the transparency of nuclear materials in the Russian federation. Once the Soviet Union had collapsed, the serious problem in Russia of control of fissile material became clear. A combination of lax security measures; poorly paid military, law enforcement, and technical personnel; inadequate equipment; and the creative inroads of organized criminal elements and other buyers from the Middle East and Persian Gulf taken together constitutes a serious "loose nuke" problem in Russia. This problem has led to several initiatives, including the cooperative threat reduction (CTR) program (the Nunn­Lugar and now Nunn­Lugar­Dominici Program), which has been funded for five years at $300­$400 million per year to assist in the denuclearization of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus and in the control of nuclear materials in Russia. A key element of an effort by the Clinton administration that has not been successful was a diplomatic initiative to reach a bilateral U.S.-Russia agreement on exchange of classified information that would lead to a "chain of custody" formulation in which both sides would know the whereabouts of the fissile material of the other. Owing to resistance from leaders of the Russian atomic energy community to opening up their vast network of facilities to external observers ensured very limited progress.


According to the 1997 Clinton­Yeltsin agreement in Helsinki on future reductions of nuclear forces, once START II was ratified a START III agreement would include measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions. This would be the first time that a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement would constrain warheads, not merely the means for their delivery. After hard bargaining, Russia agreed to an element that calls for both sides to consider issues related to transparency of nuclear materials.

That nuclear warheads would be eliminated in subsequent arms control agreements is a potentially very important step. But such elimination would lead to the proliferation of more nuclear materials outside the hands of the strategic rocket forces, thereby exacerbating the "loose nukes" problem. The Helsinki agreement calls for these matters all to be worked out and completed by 2007, but allowing for diplomatic slippage--a safe bet--these issues may still be on the negotiating table in 2017. The establishment of a sound basis to account for Russian nuclear materials will minimize the probability that such lethal material will fall into the hands of adversaries of the United States.

Core Nations

A not very subtle objective of U.S. national security policy throughout the Cold War was to enmesh both Germany and Japan in a web of international security and economic relationships to ensure both were dependent for national security on the United States while, at the same time, allowing them every opportunity to prosper economically. This strategy worked beyond anyone's wildest imagination, and Germany and Japan, both now robust democracies, have been conflict free for half a century while their citizens enjoyed unparalleled achievements in quality of life. A key element of the security part of this equation has been the nuclear guarantees offered to both countries by the United States. These guarantees were formulated as part of a nonproliferation strategy seeking to convince leaders in both countries of the credibility of U.S. assurances and dissuading them from following extreme nationalist sentiments favoring independent nuclear forces.

In the next 10 years the United States will face the task of sustaining this policy, which has implications not only for alliance cohesion but also for relations with China and Russia. Virtually nothing else would stimulate Chinese defense expenditures more vigorously than an independent Japanese military force armed with nuclear weapons. The unilateral strengthening of Chinese military power will further strain the United States to demonstrate to Japan that it is still a credible guarantor of Japan's security. A somewhat similar interconnectedness affects Europe. Nothing would exacerbate Russian fears more than a newly mobilized, independent-minded, nuclear-armed Germany. But a Russia that begins to recover from its post-Cold War doldrums and reassert itself would stimulate renewed demands from Germany that the United States shore up its security commitments. For the next decade, the United States would be prudent to maintain in Europe a residual nuclear arsenal of a few hundred weapons, to reinforce alliance cohesion, mute independent German defense aspirations, and demonstrate to Russia a continued U.S. commitment to European defense.

In sum, by 2008 the United States will be in the daunting position of playing the crucial role to keep in balance both the Sino-Japanese and Russo-German relationships. Economic prosperity and thriving democracies in all four countries would make the task far easier, but at present that is not the case nor may it be 20 years hence. Promoting nuclear transparency and coordination with both Russia and China may well prove a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to maintain these critical regional balances.

The Gulf War, although it may prove to have been a unique event, demonstrated the enormous power of a U.S.-led international coalition. By 2008, future adversaries may well be armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which will greatly increase the difficulty of forming and sustaining such coalitions. The United States requires at its disposal a wide range of highly sophisticated nuclear and conventional arms to demonstrate a priori that it can lead the way in such dangerous situations. Planning for this eventuality would point the way for the United States to maintain a decisive edge in military power against any plausible regional adversary.

The Future

One obvious manifestation of the post-Cold War world has been the proliferation of WMD--nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; ballistic missiles; and, soon, cruise missiles. Their use by rogue states and non-state groups will pose a first-order challenge to the United States two decades from now. The Defense Counterproliferation Initiative was established in 1993 to develop a coherent approach to the problem. Diagnosis of the issue led to two basic conclusions. First, the problem is clustered in four geographical regions: Northeast Asia, especially North Korea as a developer and China as a proliferator of these weapons; the Middle East and North Africa, focusing on Iran, Iraq, and Libya; the former Soviet Union; and South Asia, notably the Indo-Pakistani rivalry. The regional perspective is complicated by cross-regional links such as the sale of relevant systems and technologies by China to Pakistan and Iran, by North Korea and Russia to Iran, by Russia to China, and by Pakistan to Libya.

Second, the problem is not limited to nation states in these regions but now has a pronounced transnational character involving terrorist groups, insurgents, civil war factions (e.g., Chechens versus Russians), and organized criminal elements. Analysts have noted that the number of actors has expanded, as have the types of materials involved, their means of delivery, and the ease with which the technical know-how, materials, and equipment can be acquired.

The United States has sought to manage the growing threat, as noted above, through arms reduction agreements, the CTR program, and the establishment of international norms. It also seeks to deter the threat by maintaining robust conventional and nuclear forces. And it seeks to defend against the threat. The Defense Counterproliferation Initiative is designed to meet this last objective through measures for prevention and protection.

The proliferation of WMD by rogue states and terrorist groups and the emergence of China as a power with global reach will be the two dominant challenges facing the United States by 2018.

Larger Adversaries

One prospect for the world of 2018 is of the United States facing a substantial military adversary. Two old adversaries could become new ones, though the probability of that is not high. Germany would have to take off on a totally different political and economic course from the one it has followed for 50 years, and that is a very low-probability, high-consequence event. Germany today remains enmeshed in international security and economic relationships and has faced up to its behavior during World War II. The threat from the East has markedly declined, and several generations have been brought up on democratic political values and a market economic system that has made Germany one of the strongest and most free countries in the world.

In Japan the story is a little less certain. Japan has moved very slowly to confront its horrific behavior in the 1930s and 1940s and remains widely distrusted throughout East Asia. Even assuming the threat from North Korea disappears by 2018, as seems probable, a unified Korea may seem even more problematic from Tokyo's perspective. China, far stronger in 20 years than today, will surely be seen as the dominant national security issue for Japanese policymakers. And new generations of younger Japanese may feel much less inhibited about exercising Japanese military power than has been the case for five decades. The responsibility will fall on the United States to manage these complex interrelationships so that Japan feels secure and not in need of reestablishing itself with power projection forces. It is imperative that U.S. nuclear policy be sufficiently nimble and credible to dissuade Japanese decisionmakers fully of the need for acquisition of nuclear weapons. Overall, both Germany and Japan have so much to lose by embarking on independent nuclear weapons paths that the probability that either will choose this option, even in 20 years, is remote.

Without Germany or Japan, the only candidates in the "larger" category are China (having converted its growing economic prosperity into military might) and Russia (once recovered from its post-Cold War economic collapse). In this evolving situation the United States will be faced with tough choices in continuing nuclear reductions and altered declaratory policies.

Already today many notable voices are calling for major changes in U.S. nuclear policy. Suggestions include the following:

Prominent retired military officers of the United States and other countries, distinguished scientific panels, and some prominent defense analysts have endorsed one or more of these measures. Some argue that the best way to avoid a nuclear showdown with a future Russia or China is to implement these measures now, when the United States enjoys enormous conventional force superiority, as demonstrated in the Gulf War. They also argue that these steps are needed to gain control over a dangerous situation in Russia where military leaders have neither command nor control of their nuclear forces.

Political realities, however, dictate just the opposite approach. A world in which Russia, China, and India are not a threat to the United States would make it easier to sell some of these measures to the domestic political elites who debate them. A world in which a potentially hostile Russia or China looms over the horizon, which some would argue will be the world for the next two decades, would be a far less hospitable climate in which to garner support for such initiatives. More than a decade must pass without a larger threat before a number of these measures could be given serious consideration.

To deal with a substantial Chinese nuclear force, Washington will have to become as focussed and as knowledgeable about Chinese weapons, doctrine, organizational structure, decisionmaking processes, and technological base tomorrow as it is about these aspects of Russia today. Today, the top leaders in the Department of State all are specialists on Russia. The United States discusses nuclear weapons issues with Russia in many forums:

Through the end of 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin had met some 15 times and had held detailed discussions on nuclear issues at many of these meetings.

There is nothing like this in the dialogue with China. The United States meets sporadically with Chinese officials to complain about China's proliferation of WMD, ordinarily at the deputy assistant secretary of state level. Occasionally, meetings are repeated at the Under Secretary of State level. Other contacts at higher levels deal with broader security issues, are much less frequent, and far more formal. A few efforts have been made to initiate a dialogue on nuclear arms control, confidence-building measures, and transparency, but, as said above, China's insistence on a U.S. no-first-use pledge has blocked progress. In this regard it would be interesting to see Chinese reaction to a U.S. no first use of WMD.

The U.S. approach to an emerging powerful China, somewhat similar to the policy toward the Soviet Union, must be one of military strength, transparency, communication, and engagement at many levels. It is encouraging that China is now developing a serious arms control community in many institutions, including the following:

Many Chinese have studied in the United States and are therefore familiar with the U.S. approaches to arms control. For the United States, with respect to China, engagement is containment. It is the only way to reduce tensions and minimize misunderstandings.

Peacekeeper ICBM

If the Chinese nuclear force grows from several hundred to more than 1,000 deployed weapons, the United States will find it difficult to continue to discuss arms reduction with Russia. There will be tremendous political pressure at home to maintain substantial numerical and operational superiority over Chinese forces, which would lead to more rapid modernization of nuclear forces and deployment of NMD systems. It seems implausible, though not impossible, that China's leaders would want to trigger such a response in the United States. Beijing, however, is more likely to continue deploying a small number of warheads while keeping a much larger stockpile in covert reserve status so that other nations would be highly uncertain of the size of the its nuclear force. China surely does not wish to engage in a technological nuclear arms race with the United States, with everything to lose and virtually nothing to gain. But it may well continue to show independence from U.S. wishes by being a supplier to rogue states--partly for economic gain, partly to show great power reach around the world, and partly to defy U.S. preferences. The United States will continue to need to refine its counterproliferation policies but will be hard pressed to influence China's behavior.

A U.S.-China showdown over Taiwan could materialize by 2018, and it is imperative that the United States have the offensive and defensive forces that would actually be used in such a crisis. High-accuracy standoff precision conventional weapons that could destroy targets of vital interest to Chinese leaders are the most credible and potent weapons. Defenses to protect U.S. forces, Japanese allies, and selected military targets in the continental United States would also be highly valuable.

In sum, there will be no magic answer to coping with China as a great power. The Chinese believe in power and the balance of power. The United States must always retain a mix of nuclear forces and a doctrine for their use that the Chinese find credible under certain circumstances and that will constrain China from aggressive actions inimical to U.S. interests.

Nastier Adversaries

In a "nastier world" the proliferation of WMD systems by rogue states would be the foremost U.S. national security concern. As discussed above, such a world would put tremendous strain on U.S. decisionmakers not to break the tradition of nonuse of nuclear weapons. The use of CBW systems in anger against assets highly valued by the United States would involve the military immediately in efforts to punish the perpetrators. This would most probably require the engagement of sophisticated conventional weapons, ground forces, and special forces. U.S. decisionmakers, de facto if not de jure, would consider nuclear weapons as weapons of last resort, as they have for the past 50 years. In the past, U.S. presidents were confronted with several prospects of using nuclear weapons but always sought an alternative means of prevailing:

It would probably take a direct attack using WMD on a major U.S. military force or population center for U.S. leaders to abandon this norm. This is not to suggest that they would not respond, and respond vigorously, but that nuclear weapons remain unique among the arsenal available to the president. An extraordinary provocation would be necessary before their use would be authorized.

One of the questions raised by the prospect of nasty rogue states armed with WMD is whether the United States should reconsider the deployment of intermediate-range or shorter range nuclear systems as a threat to such states. This approach does not appear very promising. It would place highly vulnerable nuclear systems in volatile regions of the world where they could be attacked by unconventional means (such as truck bombs) with devastating results. To the contrary, the development of rogue states or terrorist groups armed with WMD would best be dealt with by precision-guided standoff conventional weapons that have a high credibility of being used and of acquiring their targets. By 2018 the United States will presumably have destroyed all its chemical and biological stocks; therefore the right mix would be a robust nuclear force useful for retaliatory purposes, plus precision-guided conventional weapons plus, perhaps, a doctrine of NFU of WMD that has political value.

Messier Adversaries

A "messier" world would be one dominated by failed states where internal strife would be the hallmark of contemporary security affairs. The most extreme case would be a civil war in Russia or China with nuclear weapons used in the strife. Such use would be seen on television around the world, and the horrors of nuclear war would be immediately visible to citizens everywhere. Rather than prompt U.S. military involvement, such a horrible eventuality would probably stimulate enormous U.S. diplomatic and political efforts to end the struggle. In these circumstances, the United States would need to ensure that its own assets, including nuclear forces, were adequately protected against desperate attempts by civil war antagonists to lash out at the United States, its forces, or its allies.

Perceptions matter. After the Vietnam conflict revealed a pronounced U.S. sensitivity to taking casualties, some believed the United States did not have the staying power to fight almost anywhere. Chinese analysts believed the United States would be defeated by Iraq in the Gulf War because of its inability to sustain casualties and maintain political will. The Gulf War proved, however, the enormous value of precision and standoff weapons, even if other lessons of the conflict remain highly debatable.

A messier world could indeed be dangerous. The proliferation of substantial amounts of nuclear, chemical, and biological materiel and missile technology in the hands of rogue states and nonstate actors accountable to no one is unsettling at best. Russia would be a major source of this materiel, and Russia or China, in political turmoil or civil war, could conceivably turn to WMD to resolve its conflict. In this messier world, WMD could be used on U.S. targets, mimicking the bombings in Oklahoma City and at the World Trade Center, with more devastating effect.

Such a world would be horrific. In it, the United States would need to maintain tight control over its nuclear forces, use satellite technologies and all available censors to determine the identity of the perpetrators (a very demanding task), and deliver lethal force to destroy the users of WMD. Precision and control would remain the fundamental desirable attributes of U.S. nuclear and nonnuclear forces.

The irony of a messier and even a nastier world is readily apparent. The United States fought the Cold War for 50 years against a highly dangerous adversary that had the ability to annihilate it. It triumphed without a nuclear weapon being used in anger. Now, in the aftermath of this great victory, unexpected to most in its swiftness and decisiveness, the United States is on the verge of confronting a new series of threats. None of these is individually so daunting as the nuclear-armed Soviet Union at the peak of the Cold War, but collectively they could create an international environment so poisonous and challenging that the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used in the post-Cold War world could rise, alas, rather than fall.

No one can anticipate with confidence the global impact of the use of nuclear weapons in anger. Would it stimulate nuclear proliferation and make subsequent use even more probable? Would it generate global condemnation, followed by the most robust nuclear disarmament movements ever seen? It is in the U.S. national interest, and arguably in the interest of the entire international community, that no one have to answer these questions.

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