July 30, 2015

One Last Excerpt From "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb"


An excerpt from, "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb" by Philip Taubman:
"If the United States ever sweeps away its Cold War cobwebs, how could it and other countries manage a nuclear countdown to zero? And once there, how could they sustain a nonnuclear equilibrium?

Realizing that answers to these questions are a precondition for nuclear disarmament, Shultz and his partners have spent a good deal of time trying to come up with sensible suggestions for what nuclear specialists call end-state issues. The ideas they are exploring are far from perfect or comprehensive, but they do suggest there is a way forward.

The five men start with a phased drawdown of American and Russian weapons that eventually expands to include other nuclear-armed nations. They imagine a reconsideration of defense strategy to make it less dependent on nuclear weapons and favor new technological measures that can verify the elimination of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of a nonnuclear state.

A core problem is adapting deterrence theory to a nonnuclear world. Bernard Brodie, one of the first and most influential nuclear weapons theorists, accurately predicted the shape of nuclear deterrence not long after the 1945 surrender of Japan. He said, "Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose."

Yet, while it is true, as General Chilton suggested, that the presence of nuclear weapons has inhibited global war, and the blockbuster American and Soviet arsenals sustained an uneasy Cold War peace, a  great deal of blood has been shed in local and regional military conflicts since the bomb was invented. Nuclear weapons did not prevent the Korean War or the Vietnam War, nor the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. Moreover, a nuclear deterrent is also only as credible as the prospect that nuclear weapons would actually be used, and there is only the barest chance today that the United States would fire its weapons in self-defense. That seems especially so given the nature of current threats---trying to retaliate against al-Qaeda with a nuclear volley makes little sense.

That means the United States is left with an overwhelmingly powerful arsenal of weapons for which there is no obvious target, and a deterrence strategy that lacks credibility. We are like a muscle-bound giant. As Shultz, Drell, and Jim Goodby have noted, "Much has changed in the past twenty years, yet the basic concepts about how deterrence works have changed hardly at all in the popular imagination and even in a number of official statements about national policy. Conventional concepts about deterrence need to be reconsidered in the context of the specific contemporary threats our nation faces. Otherwise, national security policies will become detached from the reality that they are devised to influence, and our national security will become endangered."

What to do? Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, and Nunn gave their answer in another Wall Street Journal op-ed article in March 2011. As with the three earlier Journal articles, it took weeks of discussion and numerous drafts to come to agreement. They haggled for two weeks over the use of one word in the essay before settling on a final version that could be submitted to the Journal. The nub of their assessment: "Nations should move forward together with a series of conceptual and practical steps toward deterrence that do not rely primarily on nuclear weapons or nuclear threats to maintain international peace and security."

Shultz and his colleagues did not go into detail, but it would seem logical that the United States and Russia should scale back to a modest number of weapons more relevant to today's threat, and no longer pivot defense strategy around the threat of massive nuclear retaliation. America's conventional military forces, even if they are reduced over time, can provide ample firepower to defend the country and look after its interests abroad. And new technologies, such as hypersonic weapons that can deliver powerful conventional warheads to distant targets, are on the drawing board. Using a conventional intercontinental missile for that purpose sounds appealing on paper. Such a missile strike, for instance, might have reached the Afghan redoubt where Osama bin Laden was sighted in 1998 in time to kill him. The subsonic cruise missiles fired at President Clinton's order arrived too late. But launching long-range missiles runs the risk that Russia would think it was coming under attack as ballistic missiles headed in its direction.

If the nuclear deterrence spell can be broken, the path to nuclear disarmament will look more navigable. Reconstitution is likely to be a central element of any approach. A host of difficult issues are associated with reconstitution. One involves the terms of an international treaty that would govern a zero world, including permissible reconstitution enterprises. Another issue is how to monitor nuclear arsenals as they come down toward zero, and at zero, and how to ensure that reconstitution facilities operate within treaty limits. These can be arcane matters that scientists like Drell are exploring and are grist for niche publications like Nuclear Weapons Journal, which is published by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The science of arms monitoring has come a long way since the 1940s and early '50s, when the United States dispatched manned aircraft along the periphery of the Soviet Union hoping to get a glimpse of military installations inside its borders. The U-2 spy plane gave Washington a deeper look inside the Soviet Union from 1956 to 1960. Since then, spy satellites have provided a torrent of data by photographing and using other surveillance technologies while orbiting overhead. In recent years, more intrusive practices have been employed, including on-site inspections of military bases and missile factories. Ronald Reagan never tired of using the phrase "Trust but verify" when discussing arms control issues.

Edward M. Ifft, a former State Department on-site arms inspector and an expert on these matters, imagines four stages of monitoring and verifying a zero world. At stage one, the starting point for final reductions would have to be confirmed---if the number of warheads or delivery vehicles that a nation starts with were unknown, counting down to zero would be impossible. Then the retirement and dismantlement of warheads, or at least their separation from delivery systems like missiles, would have to be meticulously tracked. Next, the removal and storage or disposal of fissile material must be monitored. Last, surveillance would be required to ensure that reconstitution activities---at defense labs, bomb-making facilities, missile bases, and so on---did not exceed international limits.

The United States and other nations have some experience monitoring these sorts of things, but the degree of difficulty would be much higher in dealing with a countdown to zero and reconstitution facilities and materials. Drell and Goodby described a few techniques involved: "National technical means [satellites], data exchanges, on-site inspections (both routine ones and those prompted by a challenge), perimeter and portal continuous monitoring, tags and seals, sensors and detection devices to monitor nuclear activity and the resulting effluents, remote viewing as conducted already by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and---no less important---human intelligence, or good old-fashioned spying."

In 2011, Drell and Christopher Stubbs, a Harvard physicist, came up with an ingenuous proposal to expand aerial surveillance already conducted under the 2002 Open Skies Treaty. Dwight Eisenhower suggested in 1955 that countries open their skies to aerial surveillance of military installations by other nations but the Kremlin quickly rejected the idea. It was reborn after the Cold War. There have been more than 750 such flights involving dozens of countries since 2002. In 2010, the United States conducted fourteen Open Skies flights over Russia, and Russia conducted six in American airspace. Airmen and technical crews from both nations participated in both sets of flights.

Drell and Stubbs suggested that the practice could be used to monitor various aspects of a zero treaty and reconstitution activities. Flights, for instance, could be used to sample atmospheric gases and particulates that can signal the production of fissile materials. Aerial surveillance could also provide higher resolution images of ground facilities than spy satellites do. Exotic new monitoring technologies may appear in coming years, including laser-based techniques to detect uranium and its compounds from afar.

Their work fits nicely into the approach that Shultz, Kissinger, Perry, Nunn, and Drell have taken since the first Wall Street Journal article. "We have always insisted on saying, 'Let us test each proposition and see how it actually works and see whether it can be made to work,' " Kissinger said. "And we have not come to a point yet where one could say, 'It's unworkable.' And that I consider great progress." [Source: Taubman, Philip. 2012. "The Partnership: Five Cold Warriors And Their Quest To Ban The Bomb," Pg. 386-390. HarperCollinsPublishers: New York].