The nonproliferation regime isn’t close to dead. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) just went into force
Hawkins, 10-24, 20, Dimity Hawkins AM is a PhD candidate at Swinburne University researching nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. She is a co-founder of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican), which won the 2017 Nobel peace prize, The Guardian, Now that nuclear weapons are illegal, the Pacific demands truth on decades of testing, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/25/now-that-nuclear-weapons-are-the-pacific-demands-truth-on-decades-of-testing
With a 50th nation ratifying it, the treaty outlawing nuclear weapons for all countries will come into force in 90 day Nuclear weapons will soon be illegal. Just over 75 years since their devastation was first unleashed on the world, the global community has rallied to bring into force a ban through the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Late on Saturday night in New York, the 50th country – the central American nation of Honduras – ratified the treaty ‘Poisoning the Pacific’: New book details US military contamination of islands and ocea It will become international law in 90 days For many across the Pacific region, this is a momentous achievement and one that has been long called for. Over the second half of the 20th century 315 nuclear weapons tests were conducted by so-called “friendly” or colonising forces in the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Australia and Maohi Nui (French Polynesia). The United States, Britain and France used largely colonised lands to test their nuclear weapons, leaving behind not only harmful physical legacies but psychological and political scars as well. Survivors of these tests and their descendants have continued to raise their voices against these weapons. They are vocal resisters and educators, the reluctant but intense knowledge holders of the nuclear reality of our region.In the formation of the nuclear ban treaty, Pacific survivor voices were prominent alongside those of Hibakusha survivors from Japan. Pacific islands were early adopters of the treaty. Fiji, Kiribati, Palau, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, New Zealand and Nauru have signed and ratified. Niue and Cook Islands have acceded. Australia is notably absent, reflecting the vested interests of its alliance partner the United States, and a misplaced reliance on outdated and opaque doctrines of extended nuclear deterrence.
The highest risk of nuclear war is an accidental nuclear war
Dr. William Hartung, 9-23, 20, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/09/13-billion-contract-icbms-whats-rush/168683/, A $13 Billion Contract for ICBMs: What’s the Rush?
The deal needs closer scrutiny — as does the purported need for new long-range ballistic missiles at all., DIRECTOR, ARMS AND SECURITY PROJECT AT THE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY
The recent announcement by the U.S. Air Force that it will award Northrop Grumman $13.3 billion to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile raises more questions than it answers. First and foremost: what’s the rush? The move greatly complicates the ability of the next administration – whoever wins the election in November – to rethink the Pentagon’s $2 trillion nuclear modernization plan in light of other demands both within and outside of the department’s budget. Former Defense Secretary William Perry hit the nail on the head when he said, “The highest probability of starting a nuclear war is a mistaken launch caused by a false alarm and a rushed decision to launch nuclear-armed ICBMs. Instead of spending billions of dollars on new nuclear missiles we don’t need, we must focus on preventing accidental nuclear war.” In keeping with Perry’s view, a June 2020 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (of which I was a co-author) argues that rather than building a new ICBM at a staggering price tag of $85 billion to $150 billion, the current generation of ICBMs should be taken off of hair-trigger alert and refurbished, as the first steps towards eliminating land-based nuclear missiles altogether.
High risk of China-US crisis and accidental escalation
Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a columnist for the Washington Examiner, 10-5, 20, Why We Must Step Back from the Brink on China, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/skeptics/why-we-must-step-back-brink-china-170183
Most importantly, both the U.S. and China have a paramount interest in avoiding a military accident that in the heat of the moment could mushroom into outright conflict. Needless to say, a clash between the world’s two largest defense spenders and economic powers—and all the human, economic, and material damage such a conflict would produce—is a dreadful scenario both powers should do their utmost to prevent. This will require level-heads on both sides, bold leadership at the top, and diplomats actually willing to listen rather than lecture. Now that President Trump has been diagnosed with what he frequently characterizes as the “China virus,” this trend is likely to accelerate. COVID-19, however, is only one crisis that threatens to push Sino-U.S. relations off the cliff. Washington and Beijing both have an interest in salvaging one of the world’s most critical bilateral relationships. Two reports, one published by the House Intelligence Committee and the other released by the GOP-led China Task Force, illustrate just how serious the U.S. foreign policy community writ-large views Beijing’s rise in the 21st century. Both documents paint China as a dangerous, malignant force whose quest for global dominance will remain unchallenged unless the United States marshals the resources to stop it. This recommendation comes at a time when Washington and Beijing are in the midst of an escalatory cycle on everything from trade and technology to cyber-espionage and geopolitics. The U.S. and China are increasingly convinced they are on the right side of history and have an obligation to obstruct the other lest they lose an advantage. The same U.S. and Chinese officials who should be searching for off-ramps from confrontation are instead contributing to it. Taiwan is an especially dangerous issue in the U.S.-China rivalry. The small, autonomous island has become far bolder in pushing back against Beijing’s intimidating behavior. Taipei is intent on deepening its strategic partnership with Washington, which a large majority of lawmakers on Capitol Hill are more than willing to support. The Trump administration has already sold $15 billion of military equipment to Taiwan and is preparing to sign an additional $7 billion package complete with cruise missiles, MQ-9B Reaper drones, torpedoes, and mines. Beijing has no intention of letting these developments slide without a response. In September, the Taiwanese air force scrambled fighter planes every day for two consecutive weeks to intercept Chinese military aircraft approaching Taiwanese airspace. On the same day U.S. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach visited Taiwan, China dispatched 16 fighters and 2 bombers over the Taiwan Strait in a forceful show of displeasure. The mutual escalation between Washington and Beijing has led respected China scholars to counsel the next U.S. President to refrain from resetting bilateral relations. Others, including President Trump, have gone even further by suggesting a complete decoupling with Beijing—a move that would hurt the U.S. economically as much as it would hurt China. The U.S., however, doesn’t need to execute a reset with China in order to prevent the relationship from going off the rails. All it needs to do is adopt a more prudent outlook on the China challenge. While one can understand why the U.S. foreign policy community is so concerned about Chinese activities around the world, none of these activities should be a shock to students of history. China is doing what rising powers have done since time immortal—utilize a period of extensive economic growth to modernize its military, actively search for new opportunities as they arise, and increase its overall power relative to its neighbors and competitors. China’s strategy is less about military conquest and global supremacy and more about carving out a role for itself as a world power. The likelihood of a U.S.-China rapprochement in the near future is nonexistent. But the likelihood of a mini-detente on specific issues is well within the realm of possibility. As the U.S. learned during its 40-year strategic contest with the Soviet Union, rivalry need not automatically translate into a no-holds-barred slugfest where strong disagreements on some issues shuts down collaboration on everything else. Good statecraft means recognizing when interests align to the point where collaboration becomes possible. There are no shortage of problems Washington and Beijing can work on together. COVID-19 has taught the entire world just how devastating a public health crisis can be if the world’s major powers allow it to run rampant. Terrorism, another transnational problem, impacts U.S. and Chinese interests. Both powers also have an interest in ensuring global markets are stable and that the bilateral trade relationship continues to run smoothly—even as the two continue to disagree over specific export and import levels. Most importantly, both the U.S. and China have a paramount interest in avoiding a military accident that in the heat of the moment could mushroom into outright conflict. Needless to say, a clash between the world’s two largest defense spenders and economic powers—and all the human, economic, and material damage such a conflict would produce—is a dreadful scenario both powers should do their utmost to prevent. This will require level-heads on both sides, bold leadership at the top, and diplomats actually willing to listen rather than lecture.
No nuclear acquisition and no prolif impact
Mueller 20 [John Mueller is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, 6-22-2020 https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/nuclear-anti-proliferation-policy-korea-conundrum-some-policy]
Nuclear Proliferation Like the notion accepted in the 1950s that World War III was pretty much inevitable, the notion that nuclear weapons proliferation is a major problem has been substantially overwrought.2 At the same time, the costly impact of aggressive policies to combat proliferation has often been overlooked or ignored. The Benign Consequences of Proliferation When China began building a nuclear capacity, President John F. Kennedy seriously considered bombing Chinese nuclear facilities. He was heard to declare that “A Chinese nuclear test is likely to be historically the most significant and worst event of the 1960s,” and his director of the Central Intelligence Agency soberly prophesied that, with that event, nuclear war would become almost inevitable.3 Declamations like Kennedy’s continue to this day.4 Elected officials and foreign policy experts have repeatedly warned that if Iran or North Korea were to get a nuclear weapon, there would be a proliferation cascade, resulting in an increased risk of nuclear war or, in the words of Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, “the beginning of the end of our civilization.”5 North Korea has now had the weapons for well over a decade, but there is little sign of the warned‐about cascade: thus far, no country in the region has altered its commitment to remain a nuclear‐weapons‐free state. Despite decades of such fears, the consequences of the nuclear‐weapons proliferation that has taken place have been substantially benign. As it turned out, the United States did not attack or otherwise punish China for developing nuclear weapons, and a nuclear‐armed China did not become more aggressive: in fact, the existence of its arsenal has proved to be of little historical consequence. In retrospect, “historically the most significant and worst event of the 1960s” stemmed not from China’s nuclear weapons, but from Kennedy’s tragically misguided decision to begin sending American troops in substantial numbers to Vietnam — largely to confront the Chinese threat that he believed lurked there.6 In general, regimes that have acquired the weapons have used them to stoke their egos or to deter real or imagined threats. They have quietly kept the weapons in storage (or even denied their existence) and haven’t even found much benefit in rattling them from time to time. Ego‐stoking was on full display in France when it exploded its first nuclear bomb in 1960. President Charles de Gaulle was jubilant: “Hoorah for France!” he proclaimed, “since this morning she is stronger and prouder.”7 There are conceivable situations under which nuclear weapons could serve a deterrent function: perhaps if Iran had possessed them in 1980 or Kuwait had possessed them in 1990, Iraq would not have invaded those countries. However, under the conditions in which we have actually lived, it is questionable whether nuclear weapons have ever been deterrents.8 In particular, it is far from clear that nuclear weapons are what kept the Cold War from becoming a hot war. Indeed, the Soviet Union seems never to have seriously considered any sort of direct military aggression against the United States or Europe. As the respected scholar Robert Jervis notes, “the Soviet archives have yet to reveal any serious plans for unprovoked aggression against Western Europe, not to mention a first strike against the United States.” And, after researching those archives, historian Vojtech Mastny concludes that “all Warsaw Pact scenarios presumed a war started by NATO” and the “strategy of nuclear deterrence [was] irrelevant to deterring a major war that the enemy did not wish to launch in the first place.” As Andrian Danilevich, a top Soviet war planner, put it in a 1992 interview, “We never had a single thought of a first strike against the U.S. The doctrine was always very clear: we will always respond, but never initiate.”9 It could be argued, of course, that this perspective stemmed from American nuclear deterrence policy. However, those who would so contend need to demonstrate that the Soviets had any desire to risk provoking anything like the catastrophe they had just endured in World War II, in which an estimated 26 million Soviet citizens died. Moreover, they were under the spell of a theory that said they would inevitably come to rule the world merely by inspiring, encouraging, and aiding like‐minded revolutionaries abroad. Some have suggested that nuclear proliferation has had little consequence because the only countries to possess nuclear weapons have had rational leaders, and that circumstances would be far different when dictators get the bomb.10 But nuclear weapons have proliferated to large, important countries run by unchallenged monsters who, at the time they acquired the bombs, were certifiably
deranged. For example, Joseph Stalin had been plotting to transform nature by planting lots of trees and was given to wandering around the Kremlin mumbling that he could no longer trust anyone, not even himself. And Mao Zedong had launched an addled campaign to remake his society that instead created a famine that killed tens of millions of people.11 Yet neither country used its nuclear weapons for anything other than to seek prestige and to deter real or imagined threats, and China has so far built far fewer of the weapons than it could afford to. Moreover, nuclear proliferation has proceeded at a remarkably slow pace and the nuclear club has remained a small one, confounding the somber prophesies of generations of alarmists: even the supposedly optimistic forecasts about nuclear dispersion have proved to be too pessimistic.12 It was in 1960, for example, that presidential candidate John F. Kennedy insisted there might be 10, 15, or even 20 countries with a nuclear capacity by 1964.13 However, although dozens of technologically capable countries have considered obtaining nuclear arsenals, very few have done so. A key reason for this is that the possession of such expensive armaments generally conveys little advantage to the possessor. They are difficult to obtain and of dubious military utility. The effort of becoming a nuclear‐weapon state requires a spectacular investment of time, money, and scientific talent, and it has been particularly difficult for administratively dysfunctional countries.14 And an enthusiastic effort to enter the nuclear‐weapons club may well rile neighbors.15 [Footnote 15] For an extended discussion, see Mueller, Atomic Obsession, chaps. 7, 8. For the argument that the slowness of proliferation has not been due either to the efforts of the United States or the 1968 Non‐Proliferation Treaty, see pp. 118–27.
Edel and Mohandas 10/15
Charles Edel (Charles Edel covers North East Asia, the South China Sea, and the Western Pacific region. He is serving on the Policy Planning Staff as a CFR International Affairs Fellow, on leave from his role as Assistant Professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College.) and Siddharth Mohandas (Siddharth Mohandas is an Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Director of Research and a Principal at The Asia Group.), 10-15-2020, “Enhancing Forward Defense: The Role Of Allies And Partners In The Indo-Pacific,” Center For A New American Security, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/enhancing-forward-defense-the-role-of-allies-and-partners-in-the-indo-pacific sjt
The alliance management challenge facing the United States today stems from at least three interrelated factors. First, U.S. allies and partners are asking fundamental questions about American reliability and capability, particularly in light of the U.S. president’s public questioning of the value of alliances, concerns about an inward turn in U.S. public opinion, basic failures of competence in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a belief that a politically distracted, economically depleted United States will be less able to honor its commitments. A second, and related, factor is that China has used this moment of global disruption to push harder and in more places, including in the South and East China Seas and the Taiwan Strait, and has sought to play on concerns about American reliability to undermine U.S. security relationships in the region. As a consequence of both of these factors, some U.S. allies and partners have moved toward pursuing more independent defense capabilities that are focused, in part, on securing their immediate neighborhoods in the event they cannot count on U.S. assistance. On the whole, such new investments and approaches by allies are desirable and help address long-standing U.S. concerns about their capabilities and burden sharing. However, they also risk creating new strategic and coordination challenges for the United States.
Risks of accidental nuclear war with China are increasing, triggering the first use of nuclear weapons
Logan, 9-18, 20, David C. Logan is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and an expert consultant at the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, which is part of the National Defense University’s Institute of National Strategic Studies, The Dangerous Myths About China’s Nuclear Weapons, https://warontherocks.com/2020/09/the-dangerous-myths-about-chinas-nuclear-weapons/As China’s growing nuclear forces have garnered new attention, so have some persistent myths about them. There are many legitimate concerns about China’s nuclear arsenal. China’s nuclear expansion and modernization is loosening longstanding technical constraints that have guided the country’s nuclear policies. The potential entanglement of Chinese conventional and nuclear forces raises the risks of misperception leading to nuclear first use in a crisis or conflict. And China’s opacity in the nuclear domain exacerbates dangerous misperceptions and misunderstandings between Washington and Beijing.
Network centric war makes miscalculation more likely now than ever.
Stephen J. Cimbala, Political Science @ Penn State, ’20, The United States, Russia and Nuclear Peace, Springer, ISBN 978-3-030-38088-5
The 1983 “war scare” as between Moscow and the West was a sufficiently serious and dangerous Cold War confrontation to merit retrospective interest and analysis. Not all aspects of the issue can be dealt with here. A series of apparently discrete events between 1979 (NATO’s INF modernization decision) and November 1983 (“Able Archer”) cumulated unexpectedly into a “positive feedback loop” of negative expectations. Soviet foreign and military intelligence, tasked by their uptight political masters, reported back to Moscow Central some indicators and pessimistic appraisals that seemed to confirm initial suspicions that the West was up to something unusual. Fortunately, neither all Soviet and allied intelligence organs, nor most of the Soviet leadership, adopted the most pessimistic interpretation of US and NATO military exercises in the fall of 1983 In addition to findings with implications for policy, the study also holds implications for policy-relevant theorizing in international relations and in security studies There are two different ways in which the manipulation of risk, within the context of nuclear crisis management, can take place. The first context is that a risk with a known and bounded range of outcomes is used by one side to test the resolve of the other. This is a true competition in risk taking: the uncertainties have mainly to do with the willingness of each side to stay in the bidding. Games of “chicken” played on highways by risk acceptant motorists (or by policy makers in crises) illustrate one dangerous variation of this kind of competition Another kind of competition in risk taking differs from this linear test of resolve. In the more complicated kind of risk manipulation, the universe of potential outcomes is more unstructured. Because the range of outcomes is less predictable, the ability of leaders to rank order or otherwise prioritize preferred outcomes, or to attach probabilities to desired outcomes, is reduced in comparison to the bounded-outcomes case. One reason why nuclear bipolar systems may be more manageable and more stable than multipolar systems is that bipolar systems reduce the cognitive complexity of leaders’ assessments by offering them a more structured array of potential outcomes. A two-sided crisis or war cannot usually be complicated by third parties unless those parties have sufficient military power and political influence for a seat at the great power table The 1983 war scare also reminds us that policy makers are challenged to keep distinct the possibility of two kinds of failure in crisis decisionmaking: miscalculated escalation and loss of control. Miscalculated escalation is a deliberate but mistaken decision taken to raise one side’s military stakes and/or policy commitments, in the erroneous expectation that the other side will back down as a result. Loss of control is an inadvertent or accidental lapse of policy control over military actions, or the failure of standard operating procedures to cope with the stress of crisis management, that is neither designed nor intended. Examples of miscalculated escalation are provided by the behavior of various European heads of state during the July crisis of 1914. Examples of loss of control were apparent during the Cuban missile crisis, including a U-2 “routine” air sampling mission that strayed into Soviet air space at one of the tensest moments of that confrontation. A nuclear crisis could be marked by either miscalculated escalation, loss of control or both to some degree. In the case of the war scare of 1983, there was less of an aspect of loss of control and more of a danger of miscalculated escalation based on flawed or tendentiously interpreted intelligence. Fortunately, neither the Soviet Union nor NATO undertook provocative military moves in Europe that would have confirmed the worst case fears of Soviet or US threat assessors.
Finally, as Paul Bracken reminds us, institutions matter—and so do people.36 Persons so tasked by intelligence organs, following orders from superiors, fed expected indicators into action channels. The interpretation of accumulated anecdotal and other intelligence pertinent to RYAN was left to higher levels but there was not necessarily effective coordination across those “stovepipes” of intelligence and policy making. Fortuitous disconnection within and between stovepipes might have decelerated the shock effect and dissipated the alarmism otherwise held in some more threat-inflating bureaucratic quarters. Ironically, had the Soviet commandcontrol, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems been operating according to principles of modern hyperactive “network-centric warfare”, the amount of misinformation in the system and its exchange velocity between and among bureaucratic channels might have been greater than it was People also matter. It mattered that Soviet Colonel Petrov used his head in late September 1983 and remained skeptical of a false missile attack warning, due to the absence of confirming indicators from other sources. Given the tense political atmospherics as between the US and the Soviet Union at the time, a less clearheaded thinker and a more backsidecovering bureaucrat might simply have rocketed the warning up the chain of command, with unpredictable results. It also mattered that an experienced spymaster like Markus Wolf was in a key position to separate fact from fiction, and to distinguish concern from undue alarmism, in collecting and analyzing intelligence relative to RYAN tasking. Germany was, after all, the most likely place for an eruption of miscalculated escalation based on false positives among indicators of plans for nuclear attack. With respect to people, it also mattered that Ronald Reagan was US President because, notwithstanding his tough rhetoric toward Moscow, Reagan was horrified by nuclear weapons and actually attracted to the idea of nuclear abolition and-or negation by futuristic defense systems. This deep structure of Reagan’s thinking about the Soviets and nuclear war led him to draw some conclusions about nuclear danger after 1983 that paved the way for US-Soviet rapprochement when Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Reagan’s view, that a nuclear war could never be won and must never be fought, was reinforced by the experience of Able Archer and other events of those dangerous days. The significance of nuclear deterrence in the “war scare” episode of 1983 is debatable. It could be argued that the two sides’ nuclear forces inhibited undue adventurism and any outbreak of war in Europe, not only in 1983 but throughout much of the Cold War. On the other hand, it is notable that the “war scare” of 1983 was about fear of nuclear attack and specifically about Soviet leaders’ possible fears of US and NATO intentions with respect to nuclear first use or first strike. More broadly, deterrence as an intellectual construct for discourse among academics, policy makers and others had certain uses as a common frame of reference that expedited discussion about strategy and policy. But deterrence theory offered little guidance for military tactics and operational art, and even more problematically, often fell short of strategic effect when it failed to create a viable “bridge” between policy and the threat or use of force.37 In the aftermath of the US and Russian decisions in 2019 to abrogate the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987, a mainstay of Cold War and later nuclear arms control that eliminated an entire class of ground-launched missiles with ranges from 500 to 5500 kilometers, the nuclear uncertainties of Europe in the 1980s suggest warning lights for twenty-first-century US, allied NATO and Russian leaders.38
Unpredictability is key – that makes extinction from accidents inevitable
Scientific American, 17
(The Editors of Scientific American, No One Should Have Sole Authority to Launch a Nuclear Attack, August 1, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/no-one-should-have-sole-authority-to-launch-a-nuclear-attack/)
In just five minutes an American president could put all of humanity in jeopardy. Most nuclear security experts believe that’s how long it would take for as many as 400 land-based nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal to be loosed on enemy targets after an initial “go” order. Ten minutes later a battalion of underwater nukes could join them. That unbridled power is a frightening prospect no matter who is president. Donald Trump, the current occupant of the Oval Office, highlights this point. He said he aspires to be “unpredictable” in how he might use nuclear weapons. There is no way to recall these missiles when they have launched, and there is no self-destruct switch. The act would likely set off a lethal cascade of retaliatory attacks, which is why strategists call this scenario mutually assured destruction. With the exception of the president, every link in the U.S. nuclear decision chain has protections against poor judgments, deliberate misuse or accidental deployment. The “two-person rule,” in place since World War II, requires that the actual order to launch be sent to two separate people. Each one has to decode and authenticate the message before taking action. In addition, anyone with nuclear weapons duties, in any branch of service, must routinely pass a Pentagon-mandated evaluation called the Personnel Reliability Program—a battery of tests that assess several areas, including mental fitness, financial history, and physical and emotional well-being. There is no comparable restraint on the president. He or she can decide to trigger a thermonuclear Armageddon without consulting anyone at all and never has to demonstrate mental fitness. This must change. We need to ensure at least some deliberation before the chief executive can act. And there are ways to do this without weakening our military responses or national security. This is not just a reaction to current politics. Calls for a bulwark against unilateral action go back more than 30 years. During the Reagan administration, the late Jeremy Stone, then president of the Federation of American Scientists, proposed that the president should not be able to order a first nuclear strike without consulting with high-ranking members of Congress. Such a buffer would ensure that actions that could escalate into world-destroying counterattacks would not be taken lightly. Democratic legislators recently introduced a law that would require not just consultation but congressional support for a preemptive nuclear attack. Whether or not that seems like the best check on presidential nuclear power is a matter for Congress. We already know that second-check plans would not compromise American safety. Security experts used to worry that a hair-trigger launch was needed to deter a first strike by an enemy: our instant reactions would ensure that our opponent would feel catastrophic consequences of aggression. In the modern world, that is no longer the case. The U.S. has enough nukes in enough locations—including, crucially, our roving, nuclear-armed submarines—that nuclear strategists now agree it would not be possible to take out all of the nation’s weapons with a first strike. The Pentagon, in a 2012 security assessment, said the same thing. It noted that even in the unlikely event that Russia launched a preemptive attack on the U.S.—and had more nuclear capability than current international agreements allow for—it “would have little to no effect on the U.S. assured second-strike capabilities.” That conclusion suggests that we will have ample firepower even if two or more people discuss how to use it. We have come close to nuclear war in the past because of misidentified threats, including an incident in 1979 in which computers at a military command center in Colorado Springs wrongly reported the start of a major Soviet nuclear offensive. Ballistic and nuclear bomber crews immediately sprang into action. Crisis was averted only after satellite data could not corroborate the warning, and American forces finally stood down. In our March issue, Scientific American called for taking the U.S. nuclear arsenal off high alert because of this and other such near misses. Taking the arsenal off high alert is an important step. But putting another check into the system—removing one person’s unfettered ability to destroy the world—will create another essential, lasting safeguard for the U.S. and the planet.
A statutory NFU is key to prevent crisis escalation from ambiguity
(Bruce Blair, nuclear security expert and a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton and the co-founder of Global Zero, Strengthening Checks on Presidential Nuclear Launch Authority, January/February 2018, Arms Control Today, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2018-01/features/strengthening-checks-presidential-nuclear-launch-authority)
U.S. nuclear launch protocol has important virtues and serious liabilities. Major changes are needed to constrain a president who would seek to initiate the first use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause and to prevent him or her from being pushed into making nuclear retaliatory decisions in haste.
The virtues of the protocol—the procedures and timelines for ordering the use of nuclear weapons and for carrying out such an order—are twofold. First, it concentrates launch authority at the highest level of the executive branch, the presidency, taking it out of the hands of the military and others. This is a function of paramount importance. The principle of civilian control over weapons of mass destruction must never be compromised. Together with the imposition of organizational and technical safeguards on the weapons and their handlers, the protocol elevates the locus of launch capability, as well as of launch authority, to the highest practical level.1
Second, it is designed to allow the president and the nuclear forces under his command to respond rapidly and decisively in the face of an enemy attack by nuclear-armed missiles that can fly from the opposite side of the planet to U.S. territory in 30 minutes or from forward-deployed submarines in 15 minutes.2 This is of critical importance in view of the acute vulnerability of U.S. nuclear command, control, and communications, as well as of a large portion of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, particularly the silo-based missile force and the bomber fleet in its normal peacetime posture.3
Despite fast-flying inbound warheads, the protocol on paper provides enough time for detecting and assessing an attack, convening an emergency conference between the president and his top nuclear advisers, briefing the president on his options and their consequences, authenticating the president’s decision, and formatting and transmitting a launch order to the launch crews in time to ensure the survival and execution of their forces.
The flip side of these virtues are serious liabilities. The protocol concentrates authority and emphasizes speed to such a degree that it may allow a president to railroad the nuclear commanders into initiating a first strike without apparent cause and quickly executing an order that may be horrifyingly misguided, illegal, or both. A demented commander-in-chief could start a nuclear conflagration that no one could forestall, veto, or stop.
Equally deleterious, a president can become hostage to the protocol itself, like a conductor on a runaway train, if an enemy nuclear strike appears underway. He may be pushed into hastily ordering “retaliation” in response to a false alarm. Rationality would be lost in the fog of crisis under a short deadline fraught with confusion and emotion.
Protocol for Intentional First Use
If the president wishes to order the first use of nuclear weapons, he would be expected to do so in close consultation with his top national security advisers, particularly the secretaries of defense and state (statutory advisers on the National Security Council), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the national security adviser, and the senior generals who command the military forces. Depending on the urgency of the situation, this could be a protracted process with extensive planning, heightened force readiness, and regular briefings of the president, or it could be truncated to minutes if an imminent attack is perceived.
When a decision is imminent, the process goes critical. The commander-in-chief would be connected to his key advisers via a secure communications network designed to support nuclear emergency actions. The president could initiate this conference anytime, even abruptly in the night, through his military aide who is always nearby with the “football”—a satchel containing the nuclear war plans, including a one-pager graphically depicting the major options at his disposal.
Reforms: Toward a True Retaliatory Posture
A six-minute deadline for deliberation and decision is ridiculous. The president needs much more warning and decision time to rationally cope with indications of a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. He must no longer be jammed to authorize what could be a civilization-ending response to attack indications that may be false. The risks of miscalculation and irrational decision-making leading to incoherent operations and further escalation are unacceptably high.
This terrifying reality has been ignored for decades. Reform is long overdue.
This means that the current prompt-launch posture must be drastically altered. Use-or-lose forces such as the silo-based missile force should be eliminated. Launch on warning should be eliminated. Reducing the vulnerability of command, control, and communications to kinetic attack and cyberattack should be the top priority of the nuclear modernization plan, even if it means cutting spending on replacement forces in the pipeline. The submarine force has already become the premier leg of the strategic triad, the central component of U.S. deterrence policy. This force can patiently wait for months for direction from higher authority.
Equally overdue is the adoption of a policy that eschews the first use of nuclear weapons. A clear marker would be established in limiting the president’s leeway to initiate a first strike.17 If taken seriously, the operational plans would also be modified in ways that would hamstring any effort to order the use of nuclear weapons without apparent cause.
Congress has considerable legal standing to pass legislation that prohibits first use. A recent bill introduced by Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is a step in this direction,18 but a law would draw real redlines around the policy. Crossing them would make the president accountable and even impeachable.
The Trump administration appears to be heading in the opposite direction. Its nuclear review in the works is leaning toward the deployment of smaller-yield nuclear weapons (e.g., a primary-only warhead on Trident missiles) that will make them more usable in both first- and second-use scenarios. It is also leaning toward widening the conditions under which nuclear weapons may be used first in response to non-nuclear strategic aggression and toward revoking Obama-era assurances given to non-nuclear countries that the United States would never attack them with nuclear weapons.
The key internal link is the credibility of our position
(Bruce G. Blair, nuclear security expert and a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton and the co-founder of Global Zero, How Obama Could Revolutionize Nuclear Weapons Strategy Before He Goes, June 22, 2016, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/barack-obama-nuclear-weapons-213981)
Why are these changes necessary? Our current, outdated nuclear strategy requires preparations for the first use of U.S. nuclear weapons, including preemptive nuclear strikes against Russia, China and North Korea as well as nations that do not even possess nuclear weapons, such as Iran (and until very recently, Syria). The strategy emphasizes war-fighting—meaning that the majority of targets are nuclear forces and the command centers that direct them. Dressed up as “deterrence requirements,” the war-fighting goal is to destroy the vast bulk of nearly 1,000 aim points in Russia (including 100 in the Moscow area), 500 in China, and scores in North Korea and Iran. It defies common sense that this degree of overkill is needed to deter; the scale of destruction vastly exceeds any reasonable person’s notion of what is necessary to deter an adversary from attacking the United States. This excess also begets excessive counterpreparations that only stimulate arms racing in peacetime and fuel instability during a crisis. The strategy also sustains dangerous “hair-trigger” operational practices that risk causing an accidental, unauthorized, or mistaken launch of strategic missiles. Both the United States and Russia are poised to launch quickly on warning of an incoming strike, and to a significant degree each relies on it in order to be able to destroy the very long list of targets on the other side. Their “launch-on-warning” options impose extremely short deadlines for assessing warning and rendering a decision. The U.S. president would have only minutes—at most 12 minutes—to determine whether and how to respond to indications of an apparent missile attack. Because of Russia’s decrepit satellites, its president has only two to four minutes to sort out the situation and order a response. Their hair-trigger postures carry a very real risk that a catastrophic nuclear exchange could begin with a false or confusing report from early warning sensors compounded by fear and panic. The strategy also drives wasteful investments in nuclear weapons “modernization.” The United States is embarking on a trillion-dollar investment to trade in its aging strategic land-based missiles, submarines and bombers (the “Triad” of nuclear attack vehicles) for newer versions in order to sustain its accident-prone, destabilizing, first-use and quick-second-use (launch on warning), war-fighting strategy designed for Cold War scenarios that no longer make any sense. The perverse misallocation of investment driven by such Cold War anachronisms as the strategic requirement to maintain three kinds of attack vehicles—the Triad—is exemplified by plans to replace the vulnerable land-based strategic missile force in fixed underground silos with—yes, you guessed it—vulnerable land-based strategic missile forces in fixed underground silos. These sitting ducks are an albatross around the neck of any president who might not wish to be saddled with highly vulnerable forces at a moment of confusion over reports of enemy attack coming from early warning sensors. Lastly, the strategy thwarts progress toward Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It works to stimulate nuclear arms competition among the rivals, whose numbers have risen to nine, with the jury still out on a 10th (Iran) and with dozens of potential proliferators in the wings. A nuclear war-fighting strategy that requires the destruction of several other countries’ capacity for nuclear war-fighting is a formula for preserving, not eliminating, the arsenals. Obama is undoubtedly reconsidering no-first-use and no-launch-on-warning as ways to break out of this hoary strategic dead end. The logic for adopting no-first-use begins with the hard fact that the first use of U.S. nuclear weapons on any scale against Russia or China would only ensure the destruction of the United States by their nuclear forces launched in retaliation. Some observers challenge this conclusion on the grounds that the United States possesses nuclear primacy over these countries and could effectively disarm them in a first strike. This argument is wrong, but even if the United States achieved such superiority and could sustain it over time, its security would only be undermined because it would create a powerful incentive for an adversary to launch a preemptive attack in a crisis out of fear of a U.S. disarming strike. U.S. security would be far better served if we lacked such primacy and convinced potential nuclear aggressors that we neither possess nor want it, and in fact have abandoned first-use plans and placed top priority on survivable forces that do not project a first-strike threat. Regarding other adversaries such as Iran and Syria, “sole purpose” implies that U.S. nuclear forces would not be used in conflict with them because they lack nuclear weapons. Nor would U.S. nukes be needed in fighting them, or for that matter fighting any other challenger. The capabilities of today’s non-nuclear U.S. forces constitute a juggernaut capable of delivering a fatal blow to Iranian, Syrian, and terrorist threats to U.S. interests, including biological or chemical weapons threats. U.S. conventional capabilities in combination with South Korean armed forces could also handily defeat North Korean conventional, nuclear, biological or chemical aggression. Although U.S. nuclear forces would serve to deter North Korea from initiating a nuclear strike against the U.S. or our allies, there exist strong disincentives against their actual use against the DPRK. Such use would cause a huge self-inflicted wound from the prevailing winds on the Korean Peninsula blowing deadly radioactive fallout onto Japanese territory. At any rate, U.S. and South Korean non-nuclear forces would prevail in any conflict with North Korea. The second reform of eliminating plans for and exercising of “launch on warning” would increase the president’s decision time and reduce the risks of the mistaken launch of U.S. strategic missiles on false warning. Given the 15- to 30-minute flight times of incoming missiles, a presidential launch decision must be made at such lightning speed that careful deliberation is simply impossible. As long as they retain and rely upon launch on warning, both the United States and Russia will run the risk of launching on false indications of enemy attack—indeed false alarms have brought both close to mistaken launch on numerous occasions—and the emergence of cyber warfare threats to early warning data bases has increased the risk. The launch-ready nuclear postures of Russia and the United States are throwbacks to a bygone era. The likelihood is extremely remote that either nation would deliberately initiate a massive strike aimed at comprehensively destroying the other side’s strategic forces. (No-first-use policies would further reduce this likelihood.) The risks run by these archaic postures are thus unnecessary because the underlying attack scenario is implausible. There is therefore an urgent need and opportunity for the U.S. and Russia to immediately eliminate “launch on warning” from their operational repertoire, either by mutual agreement or independent action. In short, there exists no plausible circumstance in which nuclear first use would be in the national security interest of the United States. Although U.S. nuclear forces would continue to deter the first use of Russian, Chinese, and North Korean nuclear weapons, this role is not served, but rather is undermined, by any first use of U.S. nuclear weapons. The removal of the U.S. threat of a nuclear first strike would strengthen strategic and crisis stability, and would also exert pressure on other nations whose doctrines allow for nuclear first use—Russia and Pakistan in particular—to revise those doctrines accordingly. Secondly, since the risks of launch on false warning outweigh any plausible benefits, the president should order an end to planning, training and exercising it.
NFU prevents circumvention and lowers the risk of a civilization ending war.
Lisa Fuller 17. Senior staff member and a civilian peacekeeper at Nonviolent Peaceforce, working in war zones such as Iraq, South Sudan, and Sri Lanka. “Lawmakers Are Scrambling to Prevent Trump from Launching a Nuclear War.” Foreign Policy in Focus. https://fpif.org/lawmakers-scrambling-prevent-trump-launching-nuclear-war/.
Former National Security Council Director Peter Feaver recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “even a single nuclear detonation” could “trigger an escalatory spiral that would lead to civilization-threatening outcomes. Two days later, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill that could therefore save civilization. The entirety of the No First Use bill reads: “It is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first. The risk of nuclear war is at an all-time high, according to Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and expert Scott Sagan. Smith’s bill could be one of the most effective ways to mitigate that risk. It would substantially reduce the likelihood that either the U.S. or North Korea would start a war, whether through a pre-meditated attack or as a result of miscalculation First, the policy would constrain the Trump administration from launching a preventative nuclear strike on North Korea — a scenario that has become a realistic possibility The problem isn’t only that nobody can stop Trump from realizing his long standing desire to use nuclear weapons. It’s also that Trump’s advisers may now be more likely to toss him the nuclear football than to pry it out of his hands. Top administration officials — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford — have all voiced support for using a preemptive strike to prevent North Korea from developing the capacity to strike the continental U.S., even while acknowledging the “horrific” ramifications. As U.S. intelligence indicates that North Korea could attain such capabilities in early 2018, former U.S. General Barry McCaffrey’s predicts that we’ll be at war by summer 2018. North Korea’s latest missile test confirms that they are making rapid progress Rep. Ted Lieu and Sen. Edward Markey had enough foresight in January to introduce other legislation intended to prevent Trump from launching a pre-emptive strike. Unfortunately, their bill had too many loopholes to be reliable — including an exception in the event of an “imminent threat.Unfortunately, the restriction becomes impotent if the Trump administration uses “elastic definitions of the phrase ‘imminent threat,’” as the Cato Institute’s John Glaser puts it. Given Trump’s propensity for stretching the truth, it’s safe to assume that he considers definitions to be elastic as a general rule.
Smith’s bill, in contrast, allows scant wiggle room. Unless we fall down the Orwellian rabbit hole into a world where “war is peace and freedom is slavery,” it will be difficult to falsely claim that North Korea dropped a nuclear bomb Of course, a U.S. pre-emptive strike isn’t the only way to start a war — North Korea could also initiate hostilities. Smith’s bill would reduce the likelihood of that scenario as well While the CIA and independent experts agree that Kim Jong-un would only launch a pre-emptive attack if he believed that a U.S. offensive was imminent and unavoidable, the risk of miscalculation remains high. Misunderstandings and computer errors nearly led to nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union on at least seven occasions during the Cold War Given that U.S. and North Korea are not even on speaking terms, the risk of miscalculation is even higher now. Even when Cold War tensions peaked during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were in direct communication Plus, it would be understandable if Kim were feeling a little jumpy, given that the U.S. has deployed all of the military assets needed to launch an offensive over the last three months — including aircraft carriers, ships, and submarines armed with missiles, as well as bombers, munitions, and fighter jets — and has been practicing large-scale attacks off the Korean coast.
The most effective way to reduce the chances that Kim Jong-un will press the nuclear button would therefore be to convince him that the U.S. won’t drop the first bomb Opponents of Smith’s bill would likely claim that this strategy is counterproductive because it undermines U.S. deterrence capabilities. However, as Senator Ben Cardin points out, this argument is based on Cold War realities, and doesn’t apply to the North Korea crisis: Unlike the Soviet Union, North Korea doesn’t have the ability to obliterate U.S. nuclear assets in a first strike There is little reason to believe that the North Korea crisis will de-escalate if we continue on our current trajectory. Sanctions are unlikely to succeed, diplomatic deadlock has set in, and talks have ceased. Trump will continue to spout off threats and other dangerous rhetoric as long as he retains the ability to speak or tweet, and he may well undermine any serious attempts to restart diplomacy As long as Trump is in office, therefore, the No First Use bill is our best hope of preventing war Our survival may depend on it.