In the 1964 movie Fail Safe, Dr. Groeteschele explains to a fellow guest at a social gathering:
“Face facts, Mr. Foster. We’re talking about war. I say every war, including thermonuclear war, must have a winner and a loser. Which would you rather be?”
If you want to see the lefties go apoplectic while achieving high Earth orbit faster than you can say, “Elon Musk Space X Rocket,” just mention the U.S. possibly resuming nuclear testing. True to form, House of Representatives Dems added Representative Ben McAdam’s (D-UT) amendment to the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Bill that passed along party lines to prohibit funding for live nuclear weapons testing. Liberty Nation has covered U.S. nuclear policy, including the subject of nuclear proliferation and the U.S. – Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) talks. The Dems on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee approved similar language prohibiting nuclear testing.
During the Cold War, the subjects of nuclear war, mutually assured destruction, and global annihilation were common geopolitical topics for discussion at policy-wonk gatherings. Well, what was old is new again. What has gotten the liberals’ noses so out of joint is the speculation that President Trump will begin testing nuclear weapons, breaking with a 28-year old cessation of such testing. Though no official announcement of a change in U.S. policy has come from the Trump Administration, according to a May 23 New York Post article, the subject was an agenda item at a May 15 meeting of national security officials. Now, keep in mind that the U.S. and Russia are negotiating to determine whether to extend the START.
Many believe that raising the possibility of resuming nuclear testing could be an effective lever to get Russia to be more conciliatory in the START talks and persuade China to be an active participant in discussions as well. China has steadfastly refused to be part of the START negotiations, and the U.S. sees no realistic future in any meaningful treaty without China.
The chief negotiator for the U.S. at the START talks, Marshall Billingslea, as reported on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website, explained to journalists last month that, “We made very clear, as we have from the moment we adopted a testing moratorium in 1992, that we maintain and will maintain the ability to conduct nuclear tests if we see any reason to do so, whatever those reasons may be.” Billingslea qualifies his statement with, “But that said, I am unaware of any particular reason to test at this stage. I won’t shut the door on it, because why would we?”
There is another reason that resuming nuclear testing could have value. Testing confirms that the expected explosive yield of particular weapon is realized. Live testing of nuclear weapons provides the best data on the reliability and credibility of our nuclear deterrent. The free world has relied on the confidence it has in the U.S. providing a “nuclear umbrella” for our allies. The Hill quotes Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY), saying, “If this amendment becomes law … the United States loses the ability to ensure that we can test if necessary, to ensure that our deterrent is reliable and therefore credible.” Cheney went on to say that “prohibition emboldens our adversaries, and it undermines our allies’ faith in the nuclear umbrella.”
Again, from Defense News, “‘ We need to be ready,’ said HASC ranking member Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX). The harder we make it to test, the more obstacles we put in the way of a test – only if needed, but the harder we make it for a test, the less credible our nuclear deterrent is.” According to The Epoch Times, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) takes the nuclear testing issue further than the president’s position of leaving open the option of testing. Senator Cotton called for a withdrawal from the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty since, according to The Wall Street Journal, there was a State Department report of a secret Chinese low-level underground test.
Those in favor of keeping the test ban in place hold that live testing is not necessary. Computer simulations and test-effects models are adequate. There is a saying among those who rely on models to approximate reality. “All models are wrong. Some models are useful.”
There is a moral dimension to keeping the option open to test nuclear weapons, as counterintuitive as it may sound. As a nuclear power, the U.S. has an obligation to know precisely what its atomic weapons will do. There can’t be any guess work with nuclear capability.
Having the capability to use nuclear weapons with greater precision, smaller yield, and without enormous collateral devastation has a deterrence of its own. During the MAD (mutually assured destruction) era, mutual fear between the nuclear powers U.S. and the Soviet Union created the standoff. The dynamic is different today. The U.S. ability to extend its power with precision creates doubt in an adversary’s mind. Doubt as to the will of America to use its precision nuclear capability establishes a deterrence all its own.
When the dust settles, hobbling the U.S. with a ban on nuclear testing when a significant nuclear player, China, does not comply with it seems a symbolic gesture not worth continuing. The option to resume in some way live nuclear testing, even extremely low yield to test the weapon reliability, should remain open. After all, wars have “a winner and a loser. Which would you rather be?”
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.