Session 11: Wednesday, 14:00 -- 15:30
Modifying Operational Practices -- Bruce Blair and Frank von Hippel
Blair and von Hippel presented their arguments for De-Alerting, a process of stepping down the tight coupled tension between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.
The U.S. and Russia have carried over the targeting practices of the Cold War, maintaining thousands of warheads ready for launch on minutes of notice. This situation presents several problems, which de-alerting is intended to cope with.
First, this posture on both sides impedes the normalization of relations between the United States and Russia. It foments suspicion, and emphasizes memories of the Cold War and its associated difficulties.
Second, Russian forces are now not deployed as much as they were during the Cold War. Submarines and mobile missiles spend less time deployed and more time in port or in garrison. This increases the vulnerability of the Russian forces. This, in turn, means that at any given time Russia has perhaps 200 survivable warheads, while the U.S. has approximate 2,000. This imbalance is detrimental to stability.
In crises, the forces of both sides would operate much as they did during the Cold War. This raises the danger that rational decisionmaking will not prevail in times of crisis, as these postures make unauthorized, mistaken or accidental launches more likely; and during crises, any number of dangerous events could take place.
From a U.S. point of view, things look worse in Russia than perhaps they are; however, they look quite bad. Going back only seven years, there has been a coup, a parliamentary crisis resolved by force, and so on. In addition, the problems facing the Russian nuclear forces are large: morale is low, the pressure on them is high for the reasons outlined above, and economic difficulties abound. Despite the repeated assurances of Russian officials and U.S. official visitors to Russia that everything is under control, Russian personnel are under tremendous stress.
Recalling the sudden unexpected disintegration of the USSR in 1991 and the trends observed before it, the Russian command and control network is now displaying characteristics that closely resemble indicators observed in the USSR in the 1980s.
De-alerting aims at extending the time required to prepare nuclear forces to launch. The United States and Russia need to fulfill the spirit of the 94 detargeting agreement, rather than just the letter of it. De-alerting would allow us to redress the problems of the current strategic imbalance described above. It would address the problem of accident, etc. by removing the availability of weapons.
For a proposal to satisfy de-alerting requirements, it must have three characteristics. First, it must actually increase launch preparation time; second, it must be verifiable; and third, it must not jeopardize the existence of a core force which is survivable, reconstitutable and capable of deterrence.
Blair noted at this point that deterrence should not be the primary concern of nuclear planners. Rather, safety and reassurance should take center position. The United States and Russia should take the lead in creating an international norm against the maintenance of alerted nuclear forces. Further, de-alerting projects movement in the direction of the elimination of nuclear weapons.
Blair and von Hippel closed their session with a brief discussion of various specific de-alerting proposals as described in their article in Scientific American.
A general question was posed to Blair and von Hippel, asking them what the response had been at STRATCOM (U.S. Strategic Command) to the proposed removal of W88 warheads from Trident. Von Hippel replied that it was not really discussed, but referred to Ted Postols analysis demonstrating that it wouldnt actually make a difference. Blair referred to his article, written with U.S. Senator Nunn in June 1997 which laid out many of the specific de-alerting proposals. This in turn led the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to do a detailed study of de-alerting options (led by then Vice-Chairman Ralston). That study was astonishingly positive on de-alerting in general. Its primary reservations were: a good deal more intensive verification was required; concern was expressed over the stability of realerting forces, and the possibility that even if the U.S. deeply de-alerted, this might not remove the pressure for launch on warning policies because of command and control vulnerability,.
In response to a comment about the recent Nuclear Posture Review being in conflict with many of these proposals, von Hippel argued that people are much less invested in counterforce today, and we should be able to scrap it as a policy.
Blair announced that he'd like to 'pass the buck' to Robert Wertheim, who was on a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel on deep cuts. Wertheim said that the NAS study report on the future of U.S. nuclear policy defines preconditions necessary for deep cuts, along with associated changes in employment policies. For example, as the number of weapons decreases, the United States will have to get away from preplanned SIOPs (Single Integrated Operation Plans) altogether and move towards 'adaptive targeting'.
Ted Postol added that one benefit of the de-alerting proposal is that it stops ICBMs from firing at each other. Examination of U.S. and Russian silo-based ICBMs shows that they were designed to hit the other sides silos, which would be empty after a strike anyhow. So counterforce is irrational in any case. He noted that the countersilo capability of Trident might make even a survivable Trident force a counterforce threat, which must be taken into account.
Harold Feiveson reported that during the visit to STRATCOM, he had expected to hear that de-alerting would drive the United States below a minimum required number of warheads. However, he didnt hear that; in fact, STRATCOM personnel seemed quite comfortable with START II/III levels, etc. At present the United States has 2,400 warheads on alert; it would have 980 after START II, and about 680 under START III. The target set hasnt been shrinking that fast; Feiveson stated that he believed STRATCOMs numbers were driven more by a desired number of U.S. launchers on alert than by the target set.
Bob Dietz noted that downloading the Trident to 4 warheads, a popular proposal, has the unintended and potentially serious side-effect of increasing the missiles range from 4,000 to approximately 6,000 nautical miles.
A discussion of a proposal to store guidance sets outside of missiles ensued; pertinent facts included the following: U.S. SLBMs can have their guidance sets removed/installed on board; it is a long process, and storage space in the submarine for the guidance sets may be a problem. Petr Romashkin reported that Russian ICBMs can have their guidance sets removed, but Paul Podvig noted that Russian SLBMs cannot be accessed in this fashion while on board.