Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Blog-On-Blog: Strategic Security Blog Tackles RRW and More

Posted by K.E. White on October 12, 2007

The Strategic Security Blog offers this very insightful entry on the Reliable Replacement Warhead. The post explores the shortfalls of the Bush administration backed proposals for creating a new warhead for America’s nuclear weapons.

Furthermore, the comments—and the speedy answers—are definitely worth the scroll down.

I want to highlight this reply to a comment that 1) that sees the RRW as necessary for WMD deterrence and 2) strike down any notion of an American ‘first strike’ capability:

The argument that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter attack by chemical and biological weapons assumes some equivalence. This is an unfortunate consequence of the wildly overused and misleading term “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which lumps all all of them together. A contagious disease could have worldwide effect comparable to a nuclear attack but is not a useful battlefield weapon. Other biological and chemical weapons are not in the same class as nuclear weapons. And the assumption that nuclear weapons are needed to deter chemical or other unconventional attack is unsupported. One could make exactly the same argument about any form of attack, whether conventional military or roadside bombs; if the US were attacked by any means it could reply with nuclear weapons, but we don’t. We don’t always need nuclear weapons to deter even nuclear attack. If N. Korea used a nuclear weapon against the US or its allies, I am confident we would destroy and probably occupy the country. We might or might not use nuclear weapons during that process but whether we do or not is hardly relevant to N. Korean deterrence calculations. The commenter rejects a minimal deterrent doctrine. During the Cold War, the US needed to maintain a nuclear arsenal to (among other things) deter conventional attack against NATO. Today, with conventional superiority, any use of nuclear weapons works against US interests so the only use of nuclear weapons that contributes to US security is to try to deter their use.

Concerning first strike capabilities: The commenter lists the weapons we have retired, which is not the right measure. We have to look at what US weapons remain compared to the targets. Remaining US weapons are formidable and are on constant alert. I know of no other mission that could justify US nuclear force posture. The commenter may wish to consult a recent paper in International Security. It is true that Russia still has the huge SS-18s but these are considered beyond their life span and are being steadily replaced but, again, even if the Russians had a disarming first strike capability (which they do not) does not mean that the US does not have such a capability. The comment on damage limitation seems to suggest a distinction between a first strike capability and a disarming first strike capability.

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