Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea all pose a nuclear threat to the US, to some degree. The recent report from the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States (SPC) has concluded that with a rapidly changing threat, the US nuclear posture is not up to the task. President Biden’s national security team has not kept up with the growing ubiquitous threat of atomic attack in a great power conflict or by rogue, out-of-control, smaller nuclear-capable nations.
Russia has signaled an intention to change the nuclear weapons dynamics between Moscow and the West. As Liberty Nation reported in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shed any pretense of preserving agreement on managing atomic weapons when “in a 100-minute speech to the Russian parliament, he pulled out of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement.” Using its unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine and the solidarity and decisive response by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members as well as other friends of Kyiv as a pretense, the Kremlin has threatened a nuclear response. Along with the rapid buildup of the number of China’s nuclear launch sites, clearly, the nuclear weapons landscape has changed, and with that change, the US needs to modernize its thinking and nuclear force structure.
Commission Findings on the Mark
Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) welcomed the SPC final report, saying, “The Commission’s report includes a comprehensive review of the current and projected threat environment.” He lauded the report for providing “recommendations for the most appropriate strategic posture and nuclear deterrence strategy.”
The SPC concluded the existing “2022 Nuclear Posture Review” and accompanying “National Defense Strategy” (NDS) do not satisfy a need to address a rapidly evolving threat. As the report explains:
“US strategic force requirements were set more than a decade ago and anticipated a significantly more benign threat environment than the one the United States now faces. Therefore, the United States requires an updated strategic posture to address the projected security environment. This is an urgent task that has yet to be acknowledged. US deterrence requirements must be tailored to each adversary in light of characteristics specific to their regime (e.g., goals, values, capabilities, vulnerabilities). Chinese and Russian force modernization and expansion confronts the United States with a two-peer threat environment.”
The report makes the point emphatically: The new strategic landscape includes a potential Russia-China combined threat that raises the risk substantially to an unacceptable level. Particularly troublesome from a deterrence perspective is the portrayal of the Biden administration’s current approach to its nuclear modernization program of record (POR). As legacy nuclear weapons systems retire, the “just-in-time” delivery of replacements or enhancements will keep the nuclear capability level steady. However, as the report describes, “Although the POR is underway in both DOD (Department of Defense) and DOE/NNSA (Department of Energy/ National Nuclear Security Administration), significant risks to the schedule are apparent as most margin has been used.” That’s government study lingo for “the replacement nuclear weapons programs are already late.”
The National Nuclear Defense Strategy Falls Short
The Pentagon’s most recent statement of defense strategy states that one of its pivotal strategic initiatives is something it calls “Integrated Deterrence.” This strategic approach “means using every tool at the (Defense) Department’s disposal, in close collaboration with our counterparts across the US Government and with Allies and partners, to ensure that potential foes understand the folly of aggression,” according to the “National Defense Strategy.” The strategy was released in October 2022, missing Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by just eight months. Russia obviously did not “understand the folly of aggression.” This strategic sentiment of the barndoor closing after the horse is out caught the SPC’s attention. One of the commission’s recommendations was that an all-of-government approach would be critical in establishing an effective deterrence to a Russia-China nuclear threat. Unfortunately, Integrated Deterrence as a concept “is a good start in this direction, but the Commission sees little evidence of its implementation across the interagency,” the SPC concluded.
Not only is there a need to address the National Defense Strategy to address offensive nuclear weapons modernization, but also defensive capabilities need attention. The report explained:
“U.S. Northern Command needs improved warning and defensive capabilities to protect critical US infrastructure from conventional or nuclear attack from air- and sea-launched cruise missiles—systems that ground-based interceptors are not designed to counter. In addition, Commander of U.S. Northern Command has limited authority to detect and defeat such missiles inside US airspace.”
The Biden administration’s infamous Chinese balloon escapade last February was evidence of the truth of the commission’s recommendation. Nonetheless, another way to determine the report’s impact is to examine how America’s enemies view the conclusions and recommendations. “Analysts said Friday that the report will harm the fragile thawing in relations between China and the US. The report came at a time when Beijing-Washington ties showed signs of warming, after a slew of meetings between high-level officials,” is how the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) news service, Global Times, portrayed the report.
It’s unclear what warming relations the CCP is talking about. To the rest of the world, any reduction by the People’s Republic of China in hostility and aggression toward its Indo-Pacific neighbors and Taiwan is a fiction.