The following is an opinion piece by Dr. Peter Pry who is the Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, and who has written extensively on the topics of energy security, nuclear proliferation and cyber-security. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the MI, but are presented to encourage informed awareness and discussion.
“Nuclear Weapons Chief: Doctrine of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ Is Good For Another 10 Years” headlines the Washington Examiner (March 7, 2018). General John Hyten, U.S. Strategic Command, tells Congress that despite Russia’s new nuclear super-weapons, the U.S. can continue to deter Moscow for another decade through the Cold War-era doctrine known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).
MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction)
Conceived in the 1960s by Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara, MAD holds that Moscow will be deterred from nuclear war as long as the sides are capable of destroying each other with a retaliatory strike.
“In fact, the U.S. no longer has the ability to deliver 400 equivalent megatons (EMTs) to destroy 25 per cent of Russia’s population and 75 per cent of industry after a Russian first-strike, which is the classical definition of MAD requirements for the U.S. In contrast, Russia—after a U.S. first-strike—has the capability to destroy more than 25 per cent of U.S. population and 75 per cent of industry by delivering 100 EMTs against the U.S., whose population and industry is much more urbanized and concentrated than in Russia. U.S. population and industry is also much less well protected.”1
General Hyten’s resurrection of MAD as the answer to growing unprecedented nuclear threats from Russia may be intended to comfort the naïve on Main Street USA. But crying MAD must surely look like a desperate bluff to Moscow, and encourage the Kremlin that their nuclear blackmail is working.
The Real Nuclear Threat
General Hyten knows that the real issue is deterring Russia, China, or North Korea from credibly threatening or actually making a nuclear strike against U.S. allies to achieve through nuclear diplomacy, or through limited nuclear war, allied and U.S. submission. Peace and deterrence depends on Moscow, Beijing and Pyongyang believing that their nuclear aggression against, for example, European NATO, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea, or Japan, will assuredly provoke a U.S. nuclear response.
But our potential enemies are increasingly skeptical that the U.S. is really willing, as China’s General Xiong Guankai put it, to sacrifice Los Angeles for Taipei. Or as General Zhu Chengu threatened, if the U.S. tries to protect Taiwan from China: “China should use nuclear weapons against the United States…I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons. We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds…of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”234
Would any U.S. president or Mainstreet USA really be willing to risk New York or Chicago or the existence of the United States to save Taiwan, Lithuania, Slovakia, the Free Syrian Army, Mischief Reef and free navigation of the South China Sea, or any U.S. ally no matter how important?
The credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence has been deeply eroded by many factors. For example:
- U.S. arms control philosophy is premised on fear of nuclear weapons (as if nuclear arms are inherently evil, and not just machinery) such that the U.S. surrendered an opportunity to achieve unrivaled nuclear superiority by keeping 15,000 strategic nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War, instead agreeing to deep reductions with bankrupt Moscow, that could no longer sustain its large nuclear forces. The U.S. voluntarily reduced its nuclear deterrent to 1,300 strategic and 200 tactical obsolete nuclear weapons, while Russia built 1,800 strategic and at least 5,000 tactical modern nuclear weapons, achieving nuclear superiority. Russia, China, and North Korea know that this dramatic shift in the nuclear balance happened only because the U.S. fears its own nuclear deterrent as much as their;
- President Obama’s pursuit of “a world without nuclear weapons” leading the way by neglect of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, even while Russia, China and North Korea build-up, further underscores U.S. fear even of its own nuclear weapons;
- While Russia, China and North Korea celebrate their nuclear prowess, Western officials, press, academics and entertainers condemn U.S. nuclear modernization, focus on the alleged uselessness of nuclear weapons and the horrors of nuclear war. Our people and elites have been brainwashed into despair and nuclear defeatism;
- Recently, members of Congress, academics and the press challenged whether a decision by President Trump to use nuclear weapons must be obeyed and would constrain presidential launch authority.
No wonder the bad guys think nuclear blackmail and nuclear war are winners.
Nuclear Deterrence Already Failing
Adversaries need not make President Trump retreat in order to win a nuclear confrontation. Nuclear deterrence, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. President Trump cannot prevail if our allies want to surrender.
For example, Chancellor Angela Merkel or President Moon, if an EMP attack blacks-out Germany or South Korea, almost certainly would flee in panic for the first off-ramp. Globalists in the State Department, NATO, and UN would sacrifice U.S. and Free World interests, sacrifice almost anything, to prevent further nuclear escalation and serve “the greater interests of humanity.”
Today’s Free World elites mostly think of nuclear warfare in the same way elites of the 1930s thought about a replay of the First World War, and would do almost anything to avoid the feared Apocalypse. Appeasement to placate aggression by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan supposedly served the greater interests of humanity—but resulted in the Second World War and 60 million dead.
U.S. nuclear deterrence is already failing:
- Russia annexed Crimea and crucified Ukraine, despite U.S.-U.K. promised protection under the 1994 Budapest Agreement, demonstrating to NATO that U.S. security guarantees are worthless;
- China has annexed the South China Sea and international trade routes to U.S. Pacific allies, North and South America, in defiance of international law;
- North Korea regularly threatens nuclear strikes against the U.S. and allies, and now for the first time has coerced a sitting U.S. president to meet with dictator, Kim Jung-Un for almost certainly bogus negotiations over denuclearization.
Are MAD And Nuclear Deterrence Sustainable?
Even in the face of possibly imminent nuclear conflict, U.S. strategic modernization is so slow that new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), bombers and submarines are mostly many years in the future, well past 2024. No U.S. advanced generation nuclear weapons—like Russia’s Super-EMP warheads and ultra-low-yield N-Bombs—are planned.
The truth is the bipartisan Republican-Democrat political consensus that maintained a nuclear deterrent “second-to-none” and enabled the U.S. to win the Cold War peacefully is now broken. Since the end of the Cold War, neither party has had the political will to modernize the nuclear deterrent, let alone out-race growing nuclear threats from Russia-China-North Korea.
Nuclear weapons of mass destruction are so contrary to the values of everyone in democratic societies—Judeo-Christians, secular humanists, and “useful idiots” of the Left—that the increasingly polarized U.S. is systemically disadvantaged in nuclear arms-racing with totalitarian states.
SANE (Strategic Assured National Existence)
Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), premised on deterring aggression through the threat of mass killing, should be replaced with a new doctrine focused on strategic defense and protecting U.S. and allied lives—call it Strategic Assured National Existence (SANE). SANE can be implemented faster than MAD modernization, and would cost less:
- Hardening the national electric grid against nuclear EMP attack and worst-case cyber threats could be accomplished in 3-4 years, much in 6 months on a crash basis, costing $2-3 billion, eliminating an existential threat that could kill up to 90% of Americans through starvation;
- “Star Wars” President Reagan’s space-based defense to render nuclear missiles obsolete, would replace mass killing of people with killing nuclear weapons. Brilliant Pebbles, canceled by the Clinton Administration for ideological reasons, could be resurrected and begin deployment before 2024, total cost $20 billion or less. The current National Defense Authorization Act in Sections 1685 “Boost Phase Ballistic Missile Defense” and 1688 “Plan For Development Of Space-Based Missile Intercept Layer”opens the door for the return of “Star Wars;”5
As long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. must modernize its nuclear deterrent. Nuclear deterrence saves lives by preventing war. Cost of current strategic modernization program: $704 billion. But modernization needs acceleration, including development of advanced generation nuclear warheads.
President Trump, please tell DOD, DHS, and DOE—“Do it or you’re fired!”
- “Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) No Longer Mutual: U.S. Unilaterally Vulnerable” Family Security Matters (March 14, 2018).
- Kahn, Joseph. "Chinese General Threatens Use of A-Bombs If U.S. Intrudes." The New York Times. July 15, 2005. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/15/washington/world/chinese-general-threatens-use-of-abombs-if-us-intrudes.html.
- Newman, Alex. "Chinese General Who Threatened to Nuke U.S. Leads Delegation to DC." The New American. March 5, 2013. https://www.thenewamerican.com/world-news/asia/item/14687-chinese-general-who-threatened-to-nuke-u-s-leads-delegation-to-dc.
- Bender, Jeremy. "That Time China's State Media Ran an Article about Nuclear Strikes against Los Angeles." Business Insider. June 07, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/china-nuclear-strikes-against-los-angeles-2016-6.
- Cooper, O’Neil, Pfaltzgraff, and Worrell, “How Trump Can Fulfill Reagan’s Defense Vision” National Review, November 29, 2016.