Proliferation Press

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

The Nuclear Numbers Game: Global News Wire & Keith Payne’s Worry Over the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella

Posted by K.E. White on May 10, 2011

Global Security Newswire should really contextualize their sources.

In their May 9th piece on Obama’s push to cut the U.S. arsenal, the focus is on former Deputy Aassistant Defense Secretary Keith Payne’s testimony to a Congressional commission.  His main point:  be very wary of cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal–

Washington provides “extended deterrence” to each of its 27 NATO allies as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea. By doing so, Washington promises to defend partner states with its nuclear arsenal in the event of an attack or the threat of one.

As of one year ago, the Pentagon had 5,113 strategic and tactical warheads in its commissioned nuclear arsenal (see GSN, May 4, 2010). The recently implemented New START pact requires both Russia and the United States to reduce their stocks of deployed long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550.

Payne said the commission heard from “senior voices” in Japan that “the threshold at which point they start to become very worried about the credibility of the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent is if the U.S. starts moving down to 1,000 nuclear warheads.”

“When we start looking at numbers that potentially go well below that, we will be potentially jeopardizing the credibility” of the nuclear umbrella in the eyes of U.S. allies, he said, without detailing the reasoning behind the criticality of the 1,000-weapon count.

Yet, as Fred Kaplan documented in a 2003 article, Payne is not exactly netural when it comes to nuclear assessments:

Payne is not a well-known figure, even in Washington policy circles. But he ought to be. He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for “forces policy”—essentially, the Pentagon’s top civilian official assigned to the development, procurement, planning, and possible use of nuclear weapons.

For 20 years before he came to the Pentagon at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Payne was at the forefront of a small group of think-tank mavens—outspoken but, at the time, marginal—who argued not only that nuclear weapons were usable, but that nuclear war was, in a meaningful sense, winnable. He first made his mark with an article in the summer 1980 issue of Foreign Policy (written with fellow hawk Colin Gray) called “Victory Is Possible.” Among its pronouncements: “an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million … a level compatible with national survival and recovery.” (As Gen. Buck Turgidson, the George C. Scott character in Dr. Strangelove, put it, “I’m not saying we won’t get our hair mussed up, but 10-20 million tops, depending on the breaks.”)

Payne was in his 20s, working for Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute, at the time he co-wrote the article, but anyone who would dismiss it as youthful extremism should look at a paper he wrote in January 2001, titled “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control.” Payne wrote it as president of the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative research organization in Fairfax, Va. The paper came out of a panel that included Payne’s old colleague Colin Gray, as well as Stephen J. Hadley (who is now Bush’s deputy national security adviser) and Stephen Cambone (now an assistant secretary of defense and a member of Rumsfeld’s inner circle).

The NIPP study was intended as that “coolly reasoned response,” written for the incoming administration. In it, Payne laid out a post-Cold War rationale for the continued deployment of thousands of nuclear weapons and the development of new, specially tailored nukes. Parts of the rationale were fairly routine: to deter a potentially resurgent and hostile Russia, to dissuade rogue regimes from trying to threaten to us, and so forth. But there were some eyebrow-raising parts as well. For instance, Payne noted that, in Operation Desert Storm, allied forces had a hard time finding and hitting Iraqi Scud missiles. In a future war, he wrote, “If the locations of dispersed mobile launchers cannot be determined with enough precision to permit pinpoint strikes, suspected deployment areas might be subjected to multiple nuclear strikes.”

Note the phrasing. It’s startling enough that Payne suggests attacking (even non-nuclear) mobile missiles with nukes. But he goes further, suggesting that we attack whole “areas” where mobile missiles are merely “suspected” to be deployed. And he suggests attacking these with “multiple” nuclear weapons. Payne also argues that nuclear weapons might be needed to destroy “deeply buried facilities … such as underground biological weapons facilities.” He leaves unanswered why simply disabling such a facility—which he admits can be done with conventional weapons—wouldn’t be good enough. He then says the need to destroy these sorts of targets means we cannot afford to make deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal but should instead continue to build new types of nuclear weapons.

Payne is an expert, and should be heard.  But quoting him without any of context fails to convey the concrete costs and benefits of Obama’s push to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: