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Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture
May 16, 2012 2:24 PM   Subscribe

The nuclear-disarmament group Global Zero just released a report proposing a ten-year plan for the United States and Russia to reduce their arsenals below 900 warheads each, well below the New START treaty limits of 1,550 deployed warheads each by 2018. Implementation is unlikely in an election year.

Global Zero's plan would also dismantle all of the Air Force's land-based ICBMs and remove remaining nuclear forces from "alert" status, disabling the ability to launch a massive strike within minutes. The primary author, retired four-star General James Cartwright, led the U.S. Strategic Command (the unified combatant command for all American nuclear forces) from 2004 to 2007.

Read the full report here (26-page PDF).
posted by haltingproblemsolved (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think I'm more comfortable with the Russian military pointing nukes at my head opposed to decommissioning them and having the plutonium vapourize into the ether. The ether being likely somewhere near Peshawar just east the Afghanistan border.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:33 PM on May 16, 2012


I think dropping to 900 deployed is more than possible, presuming we get one party to stop crying and taking their ball home.

Removing all forces off of alert status will be harder, and I don't see either side going for that. I can see why they'd want to get rid of land based ICBMs -- it's practically impossible to see the alert status of those. SSBNs are much easier -- if they're in port with the hatches open, they're not on immediate alert. Unless, of course, they are able to surface launch and have the range to strike from home ports, in which case, then you can't tell if they're just servicing in port or prepping a first strike.

The limit on first strikes is that you know you will be destroyed if you try it, but if you can see that the other side is more than, say, 20 minutes from a deployable weapon, you could theoretically take them out before the counterstrike can't happen. Part of the whole strategic treaty process has been to make sure that MAD doesn't go away unless it is clear and convincing that it goes away from both sides -- it was the core reason for the ABM treaty (if you can't defend against ballistic missiles, there's that much more chance you'll be destroyed after a first strike, and you will.)

MAD may seem like a crazy way to run a world, but ever since two opposing sides have had nuclear weapons, nobody has used them, and people advocating their use get shut down by smart people who realize that everybody dies if they try. MAD has worked, and I'm not sure anything else would when you're talking about 900+ nuclear weapons.
posted by eriko at 2:36 PM on May 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think I'm more comfortable with the Russian military pointing nukes at my head opposed to decommissioning them and having the plutonium vapourize into the ether. The ether being likely somewhere near Peshawar just east the Afghanistan border.

I think the first round of decommissioning worked perfectly fine in the 90s, with no worries about plutonium.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:40 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Implementation is unlikely in an election year.

"The commie Russians might get us" is still an effective bogeyman?
posted by DU at 2:44 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The commie Russians might get us" is still an effective bogeyman?

Don't know if it's terribly effective (or just effectively terrible), but Romney's been rambling about the Russian menace already.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:48 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I'm more comfortable with the Russian military pointing nukes at my head opposed to decommissioning them and having the plutonium vapourize into the ether. The ether being likely somewhere near Peshawar just east the Afghanistan border.

Into the ether? Just how stupid do you think these governments are? The nuclear material will be powering a home near you.
posted by Dasein at 3:32 PM on May 16, 2012


The Russians and Americans aren't the ones I'm worried about.
posted by fshgrl at 4:02 PM on May 16, 2012


Yeah, it's very cool that 10% of US electricity comes from decommissioned Soviet nukes right now. It can be done safely, and we should keep doing it.

If we need a nuclear deterrent, why not just scrap all nukes but the ones on subs? We'd have fewer nukes floating around causing accidents, yet maintain a well-protected and mobile second-strike capability. According to a book on the topic (sorry, forgot the title) this has been suggested many times within the US government, but has been shot down by the non-Navy parts of the Pentagon every time.
posted by Triplanetary at 4:14 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I'm more comfortable with the Russian military pointing nukes at my head opposed to decommissioning them and having the plutonium vapourize into the ether. The ether being likely somewhere near Peshawar just east the Afghanistan border.

You should fucking run for office.

Everyone knows that 900 nukes isn't nearly enough nukes.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:26 PM on May 16, 2012


How does 900 equal zero?

Thinking more broadly, until and unless the USA and other countries disarm, they have absolutely no leg to stand on morally when it comes to lecturing other countries (e.g. Iran) about nuclear weapons. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Unless you believe in US exceptionalism (I know, I know) and that they have some god-given right to nukes that is not possessed by other countries, every time a US President opens his mouth about disarmament all that comes out of his mouth is cant and hypocrisy.


Mind you, the UK is worse. That's just the last tattered remnant of their pretensions to Great Power status. If they didn't have nukes you'd really have to ask why they got a permanent seat at the UN security council. They can't afford them, and who do they think they're going to blow up anyway?
posted by wilful at 5:22 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The best argument against ICBMs is that eliminating them is that ICBMs are targets for counterforce strikes. A couple hundred nukes apiece would be enough to flatten each other's cities (and perhaps end civilization), but when the enemy's nukes are sitting in fixed locations in silos the temptation is to try to destroy their nuclear deterrent with a first strike. Counterforce, counter-counterforce and next thing you know both sides have ten thousand. Submarines at sea aren't vulnerable to counterforce strikes, and so a much smaller number of SLBMs missiles is enough to guarantee that destruction would be mutually assured.

Of course, submarine launched missiles are a fine example of the paradox of deterrence: if the enemy has already destroyed your country, shooting back seems like pointless slaughter. The answer seems to be that uncertainty is enough. No one actually knows what British submarines would do if the Russians destroyed London. The answer is written in the form of a letter from the Prime Minister to each submarine Captain, but that letter is locked in a safe within a safe in each ship's control room, and will not be read unless it is needed. The Letter of Last Resort.

Anyhow, we can't pull a Superman and fling surplus nukes into space, but we could use them to fling ourselves into space. Who cares about fallout, we're going to Callisto!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:40 PM on May 16, 2012


but Romney's been rambling about the Russian menace already.

That's funny, the Russians have been rambling about the Russian menace lately, too.
posted by codswallop at 6:44 PM on May 16, 2012


MAD works until it doesn't. I guess a more statistically significant sample size of nuclear crisis is needed before we can say for sure how well MAD works empirically. They came pretty close in Cuba.

We had to send a U-2 over to gain reconnaissance information on whether the Soviet missiles were becoming operational. We believed that if the U-2 was shot down that—the Cubans didn't have capabilities to shoot it down, the Soviets did—we believed if it was shot down, it would be shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air-missile unit, and that it would represent a decision by the Soviets to escalate the conflict. And therefore, before we sent the U-2 out, we agreed that if it was shot down we wouldn't meet, we'd simply attack. It was shot down on Friday [...]. Fortunately, we changed our mind, we thought "Well, it might have been an accident, we won't attack." --McNamara

In early 1992, it was confirmed that Soviet forces in Cuba had, by the time the crisis broke, received tactical nuclear warheads for their artillery rockets and Il-28 bombers.[72] Castro stated that he would have recommended their use if the US invaded despite knowing Cuba would be destroyed.[72]

It's hard to imagine that the U.S., Russia, and the PLA would trust each other enough to go off "alert" status now.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:08 PM on May 16, 2012


Highly readable report, thank you for sharing.

And it makes so much sense. Obviously I just don't understand. I suppose it must be part of Obama's Secret Plan to Destroy America.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2012


Mind you, the UK is worse.
Hmm...and just why does Australia have those F-111 bombers?

In any case, I can't believe there are defenders of MAD opposing a reduction to a paltry 900 warheads each. How many cities turned to glass is necessary to deter destruction? I would have thought just few, but apparently 900 is too little.
posted by bystander at 1:30 AM on May 18, 2012


I had to post this:

America
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.

--Allen Ginsberg
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:04 AM on May 18, 2012


> and just why does Australia have those F-111 bombers?

Check their range. From Tindal to Jakarta and back again with two 500kg bombs. OK not back again with the bombs. It was an insurance policy.
posted by wilful at 2:39 AM on May 19, 2012


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