During the election cycle, Orange Thing portrayed himself as a non-interventionist - yet another lie. The first six months of Trump's administration have shown him to be the "most hawkish president in modern history." Data released in an article in Foreign Policy reveals "the United States has dropped about 20,650 bombs through July 31, or 80 percent the number dropped under Obama for the entirety of 2016. At this rate, Trump will exceed Obama’s last-year total by Labor Day." The report goes on to say:
In Iraq and Syria, data shows that the United States is dropping bombs at unprecedented levels. In July, the coalition to defeat the Islamic State (read: the United States) dropped 4,313 bombs, 77 percent more than it dropped last July. In June, the number was 4,848 - 1,600 more bombs than were dropped in any one month under President Barack Obama since the anti-ISIS campaign started three years ago.
In Afghanistan, the number of weapons released has also shot up since Trump took office. April saw more bombs dropped in the country since the height of Obama’s troop surge in 2012. That was also the month that the United States bombed Afghanistan’s Mamand Valley with the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped in combat.
Trump has also escalated U.S. military involvement in non-battlefield settings - namely Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In the last 193 days of the Obama presidency, there were 21 lethal counterterrorism operations across these three countries. Trump has quintupled that number, conducting at least 92 such operations in Yemen, seven in Somalia, and four in Pakistan.
Hand in hand with Trump’s enthusiasm for air power comes a demonstrated tolerance for civilian casualties. Increased air power in Iraq and Syria has resulted in unprecedented levels of civilian deaths. Even by the military’s own count, civilian casualties have soared since Trump took office, though independent monitors tally the deaths as many as ten times higher. In Afghanistan, Trump’s tolerance for killing civilians has led to 67 percent more civilian casualties in his first six months than in the first half of 2016, according to the United Nations.
The connection between increased air power and a reduction in hostilities is made even more tenuous by the gutting of the State Department, which Trump has proposed cutting funding by around 30 percent and for which dozens of critical senior posts remain vacant. Without the expertise and resources of a fully staffed diplomatic corps, it’s implausible that there will ever be a U.S.-led or U.S.-supported negotiated political settlement between combatants. In the absence of any coordinated approach to ending these conflicts, Trump is resorting to the default tactic that policymakers have become addicted to over the past nine years: low-cost, low-risk (to U.S. service members) standoff strikes. Under Trump, that military addiction has deepened, demonstrably so.
Trump has shown a strong affinity for, and deference to, military men - the Trump junta now includes John Kelly as Chief of Staff, Jim Mattis as DefenceSecretary, and H. R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. Clearly, the strong military influence within 45's cabinet is worrisome. But combined with a badly hobbled State Department, a much greater danger lies in Trump's outsourcing of U.S. foreign policy to the Pentagon. As Larry Wilkerson said on TRNN, "he has given the war zones to the Pentagon. So what we're seeing is the Pentagon taking ultimate advantage of this president's not really caring about the details of what they're doing." Speaking to the basic notion that civilian leaders should never turn wars over completely to the generals, Wilkerson then said:
Any time you turn the United States military loose - believe me, I was there for 31 years - and you tell them they've got carte blanche, they are gonna drop bombs until the cows come home. They know that their bread is buttered with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin and other makers of these armaments, and they know that in order to keep a good, warm production base and a relationship with these defense contractors, that they gotta drop a lot of bombs and shoot a lot of bullets.
"We can have every expectation that with the Pentagon running Afghanistan, and for that matter everything else we're doing right now militarily, we will deepen the failure, and we'll be even in worse trouble than we are now."
Trump reinforced his outsourcing of U.S.foreign policy to the Pentagon when he outlined a "new" strategy for the Afghan War. In his commentary on Trump's plan, Colonel Wilkerson made this critical point:
"What we just saw in Afghanistan is an illustration of 5,000 years of military history's most egregious mistake by military commanders, and that is to reinforce strategic failure. That is the first desire of military officers in the field when they're losing is to say, "Give me more troops, and I will win." Rarely do they win. What they do is they commit that incredible error of reinforcing strategic failure and thus deepening that failure. So we can have every expectation that with the Pentagon running Afghanistan, and for that matter everything else we're doing right now militarily, we will deepen the failure, and we'll be even in worse trouble than we are now."
It is unclear - and Trump, of course, provided no explanation - just how 4,000 more troops, added to the 11,000 now in place, will change a military situation that 100,000 troops have in the past been unable to, particularly in light of his past commentary on the need to get out of Afghanistan. Perhaps the point is not so much to change the situation as maintain it, signalling the Pentagon's intent to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.
"There is a bias in this town towards war."
In giving over the war zones to the Pentagon, Trump has not only allowed his commanders to reinforce strategic failure, but he has also given in to the professional predilection of the military for war. As Wilkerson says:
The professional predilection of military ... Remember, I was one for 31 years, schooled, educated, and trained, and experienced to be one. The professional predilection is to keep the war going, not to end it because that's where you get your rank, that's where you get your progression, your notoriety, your fame, your fortune, and so forth. So it hasn't changed in 5,000 years. It's just gotten a little more sophisticated. That's where you make yourself. So there is this professional predilection for war. It can be selective, and with Mattis and McMaster and Kelly, it will be selective because they don't want to break the bank, as it were. But it will still be a predilection for war.
In the White House while Obama was still president, I sat in front of him and Secretary Kerry, and President Obama said to me that he had learned something while he had been in the White House. His sentence was this, and I quote it directly, "There is a bias in this town towards war." That president had figured it out, and at that moment in his administration was fighting, fighting hard not to put troops on the ground seriously in Syria. Well, it took him a long time to figure that out, but he figured it out. This president has no inclination whatsoever to even attempt to figure that out. He's turned it all over to those people who have a predilection, a professional predilection for war.
In turning it all over to people with a professional predilection for war, Trump may be creating the conditions for even greater conflagration.
The most dangerous nuclear situation in the world is right next door to Afghanistan, that between Pakistan and India. By inviting India into the mix as part of his new Afghan strategy, Trump brings these two adversaries into ever closer proximity, along with the U.S. and China, in what Wilkerson calls the "new Great Game,"
[W]hat we're seeing right now is a beginning of the new Great Game, that it involves China, it involves Russia, and it involves the United States, and all those people who get in the way in Central Asia.
The United States will probably be in Afghanistan, I've said repeatedly, for the next 50-plus years because it is the only place geographically speaking in that region from which the United States with military power, hard power can affect China's OBOR, its One Belt One Road excursion through the old Silk Road into the soft underbelly of Europe, and to economically supplant both Russia and the United States in terms of supplying key commodities and oil and gas and so forth to Europe, those 400 million people who can afford to buy it. So this is a new game, and I don't for a moment think that the smarter strategic thinkers in the Pentagon don't see the outlines of this game and aren't ready to stay in Afghanistan as we've stayed in Germany and in Korea and in Japan for a half a century or longer, and it has nothing to do with terrorism.
Right now, you have a rather difficult situation on India's eastern border up in the mountains by Bhutan where the Chinese and the Indians are facing each other at about 100-meter standoff with artillery wheel to wheel and other assets of military power tending to be in a place where their proximity alone might start something any moment. At the same time on the other side of India, on the western side, you have the Chinese having developed an economic corridor through Kashmir that looks a lot like it is tending towards Pakistan, which means that sort of says a statement, from China at least, tacitly, that maybe Kashmir ought to be Pakistan's and not India's. This is a casus belli for India, too.
So you've got a strategic situation developing right now that probably Trump is utterly ignorant of that's extremely dangerous between two nuclear powers, and he's pontificating about one of them and driving it even further into Beijing's camp. So this is not a very smart thing to be doing.
Trump has surrounded himself with - in addition to the richest cabinet in history - military men, and has given over much of his foreign policy to a Pentagon that considers the Afghan withdrawal irresponsible, that believes greater involvement in Iraq is required, that seeks to expand U.S. operations in Syria and to finally crush Iran, and that actively supports Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. As the strategic failure in Afghanistan is reinforced through his indifference, the potential for greater failure may arise in any of the brewing situations around the world - several of which could become a nuclear failure.
A Fascination with Nuclear War It is incomprehensible that a group of West Wing advisors have found it necessary to coalesce, informally, in the so-calledCommittee to Save America, "to prevent Trump from acting on his most unhinged impulses." It is clear that their efforts are not always successful, just as it is clear that Trump will not be controlled.
No issue is more frightening in relation to Trump's unhinged impulses than the nuclear issue. When he said of North Korea, "They will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which the world has never seen before," Trump set off alarm bells around the world. William Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, who has gained a lifetime of depth on the nuclear file, released this statement in response:
On August 8th, President Trump appeared to threaten first use of nuclear weapons against North Korea. This is a dangerous departure from historical precedent. The policy and practice of the United States on threats to use nuclear weapons has been consistent for many decades, and for presidents of both political parties.Historically, the threat to use nuclear weapons has always been tied to deterrence or extended deterrence; unofficial U.S. policy is that the use of nuclear weapons would only be in response to the first use of nuclear weapons against the United States or an ally covered by our extended deterrence.We do not make empty threats, because empty threats weaken our credibility, and weaken the strength of threats that we do intend to carry out. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “speak softly but carry a big stick.” During the early Cold War, the more shrill the language used by Premier Khrushchev against the United States, the more tempered was the response of President Eisenhower. Just as in those tense times, today’s crisis also calls for measured language.
Heightened tensions arising from the intemperate ravings of an unhinged president with unilateral control over the nuclear football raise considerably the spectre of an unintended nuclear conflict. As the Union of Concerned Scientists report in a Fact Sheet of close calls with nuclear weapons, "there is a long list of past incidents when accidents and errors increased the risk of a nuclear explosion." As the Fact Sheet notes,
The fact that many dozens of incidents involving nuclear warheads are known to have occurred in the United States - and likely many more that have not been made public - indicates weaknesses exist in the chain of controls. There is presumably a similar list of Soviet and Russian incidents, only a few of which have been made public.
As Trump continues to limit his day-to-day responsibility as commander-in-chief to 144 characters, his views on the nuclear issue take on ever greater importance; though, as with much else he has said in the past, what is real and true is anybody's guess. Even before Trump took office, and in a foreshadowing of the North Korea incident, one journalist got it right when he made this alarming comment:
In just seven weeks, a man known for being ill-tempered, thin-skinned, narcissistic, and erratic will take control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Donald Trump will have the authority and power to launch any combination of the country’s4,500 nuclear weapons. At any time and for any reason he deems fit, Trump could destroy a nation and, through miscalculation, the world.
Trump has repeatedly expressed fascination with nuclear weapons over several decades and in many interviews. On the one hand, he has demonstrated a rather fatalistic streak on the subject of nuclear weapons, while on the other, he'd imagined himself the prime U.S. negotiator to the Russians on nuclear disarmament. With typical Trump braggadocio, he said this in an interview with the Washington Post,
“It’s something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate and not the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past." He could learn about missiles, quickly, he says. “It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles … I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation …”
(YIKES!!!) The contradictions in Trump's own statements on nuclear weapons are themselves troubling, made more so when his volatility and unpredictability are factored into the mix, as in this sampling of his thoughts:
In March of last year, Trump told Bloomberg News, “At a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them.”
Also in March of last year, Anderson Cooper asked, "So if you said, Japan, yes, it's fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?" And Trump responded, "Can I be honest with you? It's going to happen, anyway. It's going to happen anyway. It's only a question of time. They're going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely."
And in August of last year, Joe Scarborough reported, "Several months ago, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump. And three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can't we use them." A Trump spokesperson later denied the report.
In February of this year, Trump told Reuters, “It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”
Trump's temperament and stability are now regular topics of commentary, both in the press and by members of congress. His behaviour and statements, such as those on Charlottesville and North Korea, reveal a belligerence that lurks just below his imperial facade. In matters of nuclear security, this is a major concern, given his access to and unfettered control of the nuclear football. While it is unlikely Trump is crazy, he is certainly self-absorbed and impulsive, undisciplined and inattentive. He has shown no capacity for critical thinking, but rather a breezy comfort that he's got this whole nuclear thing under control. In his temperament and stability, 45 represents a looming existential threat to the world.
And he loves it! He feeds on the attention created by his unpredictability - a commentary posted well before the election captures this notion perfectly:
"More than even Ronald Reagan, Trump seems supremely cognizant of the fact that he is always acting. He moves through life like a man who knows he is always being observed."
So how likely is it that Trump will enter the codes? We would like to think, not very. Perhaps more likely is the unintended consequence of 45's outsourced foreign policy to the Pentagon. With the impending exit of Rex Tillerson from State, and control of U.S. policy abroad in the hands of the generals, the military will do what the military does, sure to reinforce its own strategic failure. The risk of miscalculation or error during moments of heightened tension - in Pakistan or India or North Korea - may be greatly exacerbated when stirred by the erratic temperament of Donald Trump.
And the temperament of the moron-in-chief has stoked such fears that Senate hearings have been convened to discuss limiting his capacity to launch nuclear war. As Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said:
"We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests."
But he does retain the ability to take such a disastrous decision, which is why the Markey-Lieu bill H.R.669 would require a first strike be undertaken only after consultation with Congress. This was followed by the Adam Smith bill H.R.4415, saying, "United States will never use nuclear weapons first," so there would never be a first strike. As William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, has said, "At least with bills like those in place, there'd be some sort of a break on the President who now basically has sole authority. I don't think Trump should have that, I don't think any President should have that."
The case for eliminating Orange Thing's authority over the nuclear football again became an urgent subject for the pundit class when the moron-in-chief exchanged taunts with Kim Jong Un over the size of his nuclear button.
Trump's Interim Nuclear Report Card Amidst the latest report of The Donald's historically low public approval ratings, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists released at the end of October a special issue titled A Year of Trump: The Existential Risk Scorecard. The chapter on Orange Thing's actions to date on the nuclear file suggest "the Trump administration is hampered by a deficit of expertise, of patience in the White House and of deference for the normal workings of government."
The chapter suggests: "Were it not for nuclear weapons, the political journey that Donald J. Trump embarked upon in January 2017 as the 45th president of the United States might display a Through the Looking-glass kind of charm." Alice's visits to Wonderland did, after all, offer "stimulating, if slightly disconcerting, escapes from the tedious and real responsibilities of future adulthood." Such an escape from reality, however, "is a less than charming exercise to watch when that world includes weapons with the power to end civilization."
As the Atomic Scientists' report states, while the most important relationship for nuclear equilibrium in the 21st century is the one between the U.S. and Russia, it is "on rocky ground." Issues such as the restoration of Crimea to Russia and military tensions on Ukraine's eastern border prompted America and its allies to impose economic sanctions. The report goes on to say, "since then, the United States and Russia have pursued different and often conflicting policies on Iran, North Korea, and Syria and traded allegations of noncompliance with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, complicating diplomacy before Trump ever entered the White House. President Trump clearly inherited a downward-spiraling relationship with Russia, and has not yet been able to set it right, despite his repeated support for improving the Russo-American relationship." Any hope for improved prospects in this regard are hampered by a "scarcity of experts in the U.S. government to negotiate with Russia on nuclear weapons – the result of the administration’s desultory transition and staffing efforts." The report states that, while Russian officials have expressed a desire to discuss with U.S. officials issues such as an extension of New START, "there is no one empowered in the State Department to do so." Today, there remain unfilled key positions at State, including the undersecretary for arms control and international security and the assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Director of the Department for Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the situation this way in a September 2017 interview with Kommersant: “Regrettably, there is nobody in the Department of State to discuss this matter. Almost all former high-ranking people have been dismissed, and new ones have not yet been appointed. Nevertheless, when the Department of State begins to function again, we will do this, and, I hope, we will find a common language with our American colleagues.”
Not to worry, though, since Trump recently stated these unfilled positions are largely unnecessary, since he really is U.S. foreign policy. "Let me tell you, the one that matters is me," Trump said in an interview on Fox News. "I'm the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be. You've seen that, you've seen it strongly." L'etat C'est Moi!!
The report suggests "Trump administration has failed to craft a broad-based approach to China, focusing instead on two issues (North Korea and trade) that may defy successful resolution." On North Korea, the administration has assigned to China the role of regional enforcer to exert economic leverage over Pyongyang.
China halted coal imports from North Korea in February, a measure estimated to cost North Korea almost $1 billion per year in lost income. And China has strengthened other export controls. But both Russia and China balked at the recent US request for a complete ban on oil exports to North Korea, which experts assess could collapse the regime.
And so there "may be nothing to compel China to cut off all oil exports to North Korea, since regime collapse is something Beijing seeks to avoid. The Chinese may be asking themselves what the United States might be willing to trade for measures short of an oil ban. U.S. flexibility in areas important to China, like missile defenses in South Korea, is unlikely. Having confined the broader relationship to trade and North Korea, the Trump administration has left itself little room for linking Chinese concessions on North Korea to Chinese benefits in other areas."
The belligerence of North Korea's Kim Jong Un has led the Trump administration to initiate a policy of "maximum pressure and engagement." In reality, there has been little engagement, and much pressure. As the report notes, the elements of this pressure "include prescriptions for other countries to better implement existing sanctions, suspend or downgrade diplomatic ties, and halt trade with North Korea." At the same time, the administration "has failed to identify elements of engagement." The report states: "The cacophony of clashing pronouncements emanating from the Trump administration has been nothing less than astounding to hear." Two assumptions the administration has made, the report notes, makes diplomacy difficult:
The first: North Korea should give up its weapons before talks start. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July that “North Korea will not give up its weapons in exchange for talks… We will not negotiate our way to talks.”
The second: the belief that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cannot be deterred from using nuclear weapons. It is not clear whether this reflects general uneasiness about crafting a deterrence relationship with North Korea, or an assessment that Kim Jong Un is not a rational actor. (After all, use of nuclear weapons by the isolated North Korean regime would certainly provoke a devastating US response that would almost certainly spell the end of Kim family rule.)
Trump’s astonishing declaration at the UN General Assembly that the United States, if forced to defend itself or its allies, would have “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” was perhaps a poorly constructed attempt at creating a deterrence relationship with North Korea. In any case, as the report notes, "The outlines of the 'maximum pressure and engagement' policy remain vague."
The multilateral Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), remains a target of Orange Thing's considerable and irrational ire. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Iran's compliance with the agreement, which has "reduced Iran’s fissile material stockpiles, capped the amount of material it can produce, capped its production capabilities, and converted a reactor that could have been a source of bomb-grade plutonium." But this is insufficient for The Donald, because Iran is somehow violating the "spirit" of the agreement, and so he has demanded Congress re-negotiate the terms of the deal (though, Donald continually styles himself as the resident deal-maker-in-chief). By these actions, the United States would lose considerable credibility:
A United States decision to walk away from the JCPOA would essentially guarantee that North Korea never negotiates another nuclear deal with United States. Even those who believe that negotiated solutions are not possible with North Korea should be wary of hamstringing US ability to negotiate deals with other countries in the future.
The uncertain fate of the JCPOA reflects the generally dismal prospects for progress on other multilateral nuclear agreements. The Atomic Scientists' report suggests "the Trump administration is unlikely to seek progress on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which the United States has signed but not ratified, and equally unlikely to pursue a treaty to stop producing fissile material for nuclear weapons (a so-called fissile material cutoff treaty)." The Trump administration is unequivocal in its disdain for a nuclear weapons ban treaty, which was completed in July at the United Nations, which prompted UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to declare that the United States will never, ever, sign the treaty.
In looking to the future under the Trump administration, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists states "the impatience exhibited by the US commander-in-chief appears to make it difficult for the administration as a whole to follow through on policies that do not yield immediate results." With respect to nuclear weapons, the report correctly notes "the value of patience undoubtedly outweighs the risks of rash decisions." Unless it can create a coherent and consistent set of policy guidelines across the entire range of nuclear issues (unlikely, as Trump continues to view himself as The State), "allies and adversaries alike must navigate their way through the set of confusing and sometimes contradictory statements and actions that have characterized US nuclear policy during the first nine months of the Trump presidency."
On This Page We don't know what 45 will do, but we can see what he is doing. The article below from the New York Times reveals the Trump Administration's plans to forge ahead on a costly overhaul of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, even before a review of American nuclear strategy is completed later this year.
Trump Forges Ahead on Costly Nuclear Overhaul
by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad...
During his speech last week about Afghanistan, President Trump slipped in a line that had little to do with fighting the Taliban: “Vast amounts” are being spent on “our nuclear arsenal and missile defense,” he said, as the administration builds up the military.
The president is doing exactly that. Last week, the Air Force announced major new contracts for an overhaul of the American nuclear force: $1.8 billion for initial development of a highly stealthy nuclear cruise missile, and nearly $700 million to begin replacing the 40-year-old Minuteman missiles in silos across the United States.
While both programs were developed during the Obama years, the Trump administration has seized on them, with only passing nods to the debate about whether either is necessary or wise. They are the first steps in a broader remaking of the nuclear arsenal - and the bombers, submarines and missiles that deliver the weapons - that the government estimated during Mr. Obama’s tenure would ultimately cost $1 trillion or more.
Even as his administration nurtured the programs, Mr. Obama argued that by making nuclear weapons safer and more reliable, their numbers could be reduced, setting the world on a path to one day eliminating them. Some of Mr. Obama’s national security aides, believing that Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election, expected deep cutbacks in the $1 trillion plan. Mr. Trump has not spoken of any such reduction, in the number of weapons or the scope of the overhaul, and his warning to North Korea a few weeks ago that he would meet any challenge with “fire and fury” suggested that he may not subscribe to the view of most past presidents that the United States would never use such weapons in a first strike.
“We’re at a dead end for arms control,” said Gary Samore, who was a top nuclear adviser to Mr. Obama. While Mr. Trump is moving full speed ahead on the nuclear overhaul - even before a review of American nuclear strategy, due at the end of the year, is completed - critics are warning of the risk of a new arms race and billions of dollars squandered.
The critics of the cruise missile, led by a former defense secretary, William J. Perry, have argued that the new weapon will be so accurate and so stealthy that it will be destabilizing, forcing the Russians and the Chinese to accelerate their own programs. And the rebuilding of the ground-based missile fleet essentially commits the United States to keeping the most vulnerable leg of its “nuclear triad” - a mix of submarine-launched, bomber-launched and ground-launched weapons. Some arms control experts have argued that the ground force should be eliminated.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress in June that he was open to reconsidering the need for both systems. But in remarks to sailors in Washington State almost three weeks ago, he hinted at where a nuclear review was going to come out.
“I think we’re going to keep all three legs of the deterrent,” he told the sailors.
The contracts, and Mr. Mattis’s hints about the ultimate nuclear strategy, suggest that Mr. Obama’s agreement in 2010 to spend $80 billion to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal - the price he paid for getting the Senate to ratify the New Start arms control agreement with Russia - will have paved the way for expansions of the nuclear arsenal under Mr. Trump.
“It’s been clear for years now that the Russians are only willing to reduce numbers if we put limits on missile defense, and with the North Korean threat, we can’t do that,” said Mr. Samore, who is now at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “I think we are pretty much doomed to modernize the triad.”
At issue in the debate over the cruise missile and the rebuilding of the land-based fleet is an argument over nuclear deterrence - the kind of debate that gripped American national security experts in the 1950s and ’60s, and again during the Reagan era.
Cruise missiles are low-flying weapons with stubby wings. Dropped from a bomber, they hug the ground to avoid enemy radars and air defenses. Their computerized brains compare internal maps of the terrain with what their sensors report. The Air Force’s issuing last week of the contract for the advanced nuclear-tipped missile - to Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Missile Systems - starts a 12-year effort to replace an older model. The updated weapon is to eventually fly on a yet-undeveloped nuclear bomber.
The plan is to produce 1,000 of the new missiles, which are stealthier and more precise than the ones they will replace, and to place revitalized nuclear warheads on half of them. The other half would be kept for flight tests and for spares. The total cost of the program is estimated to be $25 billion.
“This weapon will modernize the air-based leg of the nuclear triad,” the Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson, said in a statement. “Deterrence works if our adversaries know that we can hold at risk things they value. This weapon will enhance our ability to do so.”
The most vivid argument in favor of the new weapon came in testimony to the Senate from Franklin C. Miller, a longtime Pentagon official who helped design President George W. Bush’s nuclear strategy and is a consultant at the Pentagon under Mr. Mattis. The new weapon, he said last summer, would extend the life of America’s aging fleet of B-52 and B-2 bombers, as Russian and Chinese “air defenses evolve to a point where” the planes are “are unable to penetrate to their targets.”
Critics argue that the cruise missile’s high precision and reduced impact on nearby civilians could tempt a future president to contemplate “limited nuclear war.” Worse, they say, is that adversaries might overreact to the launching of the cruise missiles because they come in nuclear as well as nonnuclear varieties. Mr. Miller dismisses that fear, saying the new weapon is no more destabilizing than the one it replaces. Some former members of the Obama administration are among the most prominent critics of the weapon, even though Mr. Obama’s Pentagon pressed for it. Andrew C. Weber, who was an assistant defense secretary and the director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, an interagency body that oversees the nation’s arsenal, argued that the weapon was unneeded, unaffordable and provocative.
He said it was “shocking” that the Trump administration was signing contracts to build these weapons before it completed its own strategic review on nuclear arms. And he called the new cruise missile “a destabilizing system designed for nuclear war fighting,” rather than for deterrence.
The other contracts the Pentagon announced last week are for replacements for the 400 aging Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles housed in underground silos. The winners of $677 million in contracts - Boeing and Northrop Grumman - will develop plans for a replacement force.
During Mr. Obama’s second term, the ground-based force came under withering criticism over the training of its crews - who work long, boring hours underground - and the decrepit state of the silos and weapons. Some of the systems still used eight-inch floppy disks. Internal Pentagon reports expressed worries about the vulnerability of the ground-based systems to cyberattack.
Mr. Perry, who was defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, has argued that the United States can safely phase out its land-based force, calling the missiles a costly relic of the Cold War.
But the Trump administration appears determined to hold on to the ground-based system, and to invest heavily in it. The cost of replacing the Minuteman missiles and remaking the command-and-control system is estimated at roughly $100 billion.
Written by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, first published in the New York Times, August 27, 2017