Washington, D.C. — As relations with Russia reach a low not seen since the end of the Cold War, and with China’s expanding territorial claims, some have called for a nuclear modernization program that would replace older U.S. nuclear systems with those possessing qualitatively new capabilities. A report released today by the Center for American Progress refutes this call as a needless and dangerous reversal of decades of U.S. nuclear policy that could trigger a new arms race.
The report, written by CAP Senior Fellow Adam Mount, points to a mistaken understanding of nuclear deterrence as a main justification for revamping the nuclear arsenal and instead shows that an existing arsenal modernized for safety and reliability, rather than increased capability, can be coupled with conventional means of deterrence to counter any potential threat.
“Increasing nuclear weapons capabilities and deployment, especially during times of heightened tensions with other nuclear powers, would reverse decades of U.S. nuclear strategy and open the nation and the world up to a new arms race,” said Mount. “The United States should concentrate its scarce modernization funds on ensuring the safety, security, and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which will remain the most capable in the world for the foreseeable future.”
The paper argues that the current nuclear arsenal has sufficient capability, flexibility, and readiness to meet deterrence requirements and where modernization is needed is in its ability to operate safely and reliably, not with added power or capability. The paradigm shift of a nuclear modernization program built on added power and capability could signal to adversaries a change in U.S. strategy on nuclear employment.
The paper makes recommendations that draw a distinction between responsible and irresponsible nuclear modernization. It is necessary to replace aging delivery vehicles and warheads to ensure the arsenal is safe, secure, and effective. But there should be no qualitatively new capabilities, no new deployments, a robust plan for conventional deterrence, and the understanding that other nuclear armed nations will need to make the same improvements to their arsenals as the United States. These constitute a responsible way to keep the U.S. nuclear deterrence power strong without being so strong as to invite unintended nuclear aggression from others.
Click here to read the report.
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