Archive for the ‘nuclear posture review’ Category

The Guardian reports a draft Nuclear Posture Review (being performed by the Department of Defense) has been rejected by President Obama for its ‘timidity.’ According to “European officials,” (they’re ubiquitous, aren’t they?) the rejection regards three reasons:

1. The President wants to measure the U.S. nuclear arsenal in “hundreds rather that thousands of deployed strategic warheads.”

2. The President wants to narrow the range of conditions under which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons.

3. The President wants to explore ways of ensuring the reliability of nuclear weapons without testing or making new weapons.

These three points are interesting to say the least. Here are some things to think about that correspond with each of the three items mentioned above:

1. The arsenal is already measured in hundreds. It’s twenty-one. If we measured it in thousands, we’d call it 2.1. The reality is we need a nuclear arsenal that optimizes our security and meets our defense needs, whether the number is five thousand, five hundred, or five. Nuclear weapons employment should be strategy based and the number of weapons required is a reflection of the strategy, not the other way around.

2. Only the President has the authority to release nuclear weapons (unless we get into one of those de-evolution of command scenarios).  As such, the President determines the conditions when nuclear weapons will be used.  Was the use of nuclear weapons (some would call them atomic weapons) at the end of World War II against Japan not justified? That’s the only time they’ve ever been employed for effect.

3. Ensuring nuclear reliability without testing is analogous to ensuring your car will run without ever driving. Yes, you can make sure you know where the key is, check the battery, electrical system, air in the tires, and gas supply, but unless you start the engine and move it out of the garage, you’re never quite really sure. And after not moving the car for twenty years, you’re really not sure.

If the article is true, the President’s position may present a challenge for Secretary Gates, who has been a nuclear realist and has in the past advocated for a reliable replacement warhead.

It will be interesting to hear how Thursday’s UN address plays out, but as my mother would say, when nukes are outlawed, only outlaws will have nukes. OK, she really doesn’t think in those terms, but it is something beyond a bumper sticker.

It’s been said don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight. How about don’t bring a daisy cutter to a nuclear war?

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Strive for excellence, not perfection. Perfection is God’s domain.
– Unknown

The Air Force’s top priority is to restore its nuclear enterprise. This priority has been in place for about a year and accomplishing the task has been an exceedingly challenging endeavor. Just as you don’t become physically fit or highly educated overnight, it is similarly difficult to restore a bureaucratic, flaccid, and far flung nuclear enterprise to a pristine condition in a year or two when it has been in a state of institutional decline approaching two decades.

Part of the restoration included creating an Air Force major command to oversee its nuclear forces. This was realized with the recent activation of Global Strike Command and its dedicated focus on the USAF strategic nuclear deterrence mission. However, the activation has made some nostalgic for a modern-day return of the Strategic Air Command, that not-forgotten Air Force within the Air Force. With its bomber and ICBM fleets, SAC provided the preponderance of the nation’s nuclear deterrence for 40-plus years until its deactivation in 1992.
SAC was notorious for its mission focus. While normal operations included the day-to-day activities of pulling alerts, training, and testing, there were also major but less frequent activities such as implementing revisions to the nuclear war plan and changing the cryptographic codes. However, for many former SAC warriors, the preeminent memory of the command is probably the many months spent in the “inspection prep” mode, readying oneself or one’s organization for a never-ending cycle of inspections and evaluations. First in precedence was the SAC Inspector General, followed by SAC’s command evaluators, with the numbered air force evaluators bringing up the rear. Headquarters Air Force inspectors, you ask? No one ever gave them a second thought.
Inspections and evaluations were SAC’s way of proving to itself that the mission was being performed correctly. Within SAC’s mission focus, two particular areas were emphasized. The first was readiness and the second was compliance. Compliance, in its extreme form, becomes focused on perfection, which for some epitomized SAC’s basic character. However, as with anything, an inordinate preoccupation on perfection can create some unintended consequences which are worthy of exploration.
The first and most dangerous unintended consequence is that any culture which requires exceedingly high achievement as its minimum standard is capable of endangering personal and institutional integrity. Top-level sporting activities provide any number of excellent examples, with many coaches and athletes in professional football, baseball, cycling, and Olympic sports doing whatever it takes to win. While the analogy is incomplete in that you didn’t “win” an inspection, test, or evaluation in SAC, you certainly could lose one. Unqualified or unsatisfactory ratings were able to create dire career consequences that were capable of motivating some to avoid failure “by any means necessary.” However, the SAC IG, to its great credit would almost never write errors for program-type discrepancies–even some whoppers–that had been previously self-identified and documented by the unit. SAC wanted integrity to be preserved and felt that could be done with a robust self-examination program that encouraged organizations to first search out and find problems and then, to take action to solve the issues.
Next, a preoccupation with perfection can lead to an overemphasis on rework. Regarding inspections, and while it’s unlikely SAC intended things to work out this way, the goal for many units was not to achieve true-perfection, but rather, to achieve inspection-perfection. For example, regarding nuclear-associated paperwork and documentation, it was never good enough to merely do something right the first time and file it away until it was inspected; rather, the documentation had to be checked again and again and again. With the seldom-ending litany of inspections, re-checking already done work came to be viewed as a sort of insurance that had to be purchased. While it could sometimes help avoid poor inspection results, fixing things after the fact (but before they were inspected) could in no way ensure excellence. Getting it right to begin with was desirable; having it right for the inspection was mandatory. As Bill Creech would tell us, inspecting for quality at the end of a process is generally much more difficult, costly, and time-consuming than building it in throughout the process.
Finally, an overemphasis on perfection can lead to a reduction in initiative. When much of the focus is on rework and checking (and checking the checkers), it can have the unintended detrimental effect of reducing initiative for other important but less urgent work. Even if there were ways to do things cheaper, faster, and better within the nuclear community, the culture was one of extreme compliance and was not one of improvement. While a checklist mentality can be useful, compliance itself is not sufficient for true excellence. In SAC, there was little time or energy left for institutional processes to improve existing nuclear practices.
This discussion on perfection has relevance given the tone of the Air Force’s February 2009 Communications Background Sheet on the Nuclear Enterprise. The background sheet states “Regardless of the size of the nuclear enterprise we are entrusted with, the standard — perfection — remains the same.” Later in the same document, this theme is rephrased as “Perfection isn’t the goal, it is the standard. That’s the demand of the business.” So, is actual perfection a viable standard or is it really a metaphor for excellence and compliance? Certainly that’s an area that can be given some literary clean-up as it seems there should be standards other than 1) perfection and 2) failure. Second, if a unit’s nuclear program actually is perfect, that only means they’ve met the minimum standard. There is lots of stick and very little carrot here, which hearkens back to an old SAC-era phrase “Reward is the absence of punishment.”
For some time, Air Force leaders have been running away from the nuclear mission. This was no doubt due to a variety of factors. First, with the end of the Cold War, the large cuts in the nation’s nuclear weapons inventory signaled the national-level significance of the nuclear mission had diminished. The Air Force’s corresponding de-emphasis–and its consequences–should have been an easily expected and better managed corollary. Second, with the merger of the space operations and missile operations career fields, space and not ICBMs, has become the long-term place to be. Similarly, for bomber crews, conventional and not nuclear missions were preeminent for some time. Third, with more cuts looming in the pending end-of-2009 Nuclear Posture Review and with nuclear modernization serving as a political football, the challenges associated with the long-term viability of the nuclear career fields will be bigger than ever. If the Air Force wants to have enduring and exquisite competencies in the nuclear arena, two elements, promotions and pay, hold the keys and other areas, such as follow-on assignments and education programs will compliment the first two. In the meantime, a reasonable and prudent Airman might see some benefit to moving as far away from a mission area that demands perfection as a minimum standard.

Oh the apoplectic comments we’ll hear if a pro-nuke Newsweek think-piece should appear.

Dude, where’s my unicorn?

While nukes are not our future, they are in our future and will be for a very long time.

Nukes will go away when their value is or approaches zero, which will likely mean when they are made obsolete by anti-nuclear methods yet to emerge or are superseded by superior weapons.

Today, people aren’t calling for a world without flaming buckets of oil launched via catapult for the same reasons–it’s just no longer the best way to storm the castle.

Similarly, instead of being made obsolete, nuclear weapons could have their value greatly reduced by affecting the efficacy of their delivery systems, via viable missile and air defense systems.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who work directly for the President, is not mentioned anywhere in the article, despite the fact he is known to advocate for the Reliable Replacement Weapon, a modernization effort to ensure the viability of our nuclear deterrent. Part of the concept of deterrence is possessing a consequence should deterrence fail. If a U.S. adversary has no fear of the U.S. nuclear enterprise because the weapons won’t work–or because there aren’t any–deterrence is obviously greatly reduced.

For all the purported pushback the President is getting regarding the U.S. going to zero nuclear weapons from “generals in the nuclear chain of command,” only two are mentioned, General Kevin Chilton, the Commander of USSTRATCOM and USAF Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz. Chilton is critiqued for correcting the assertion U.S. nuclear forces are on a “hair trigger,” which those who have experience in the nuclear community know to be untrue. Then, Schwartz is critiqued for agreeing with Chilton. The author suggests these men are somehow disloyal by correcting an error in fact.

The “bolt out of the blue” scenario the author incorrectly characterizes as “launch under attack” is likewise flawed. We have ways of knowing what’s going on well before an adversary gets to the point they would be starting a nuclear war, and it’s called posturing. Tensions would likely take a significant amount of time to reach the point nuclear weapons would be considered and all elements of U.S. power would be put to use to avoid war well before a nuclear attack. Because no rational player wants nuclear war, these parties will be exceedingly reasonable and prudent in taking actions to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen.

In the end, the issue is not nuclear weapons per se, rather the issue is national security. As such, the real question is not “Should the U.S. pursue a zero nuclear weapons cram-down?” but rather “Is our national security best served by a world with no nuclear weapons?”

If the answer is yes, a follow on is “How do all those holding nuclear weapons get rid of them simultaneously?” with the final question being “How do we ensure they never come back?” If the follow on questions can’t be adequately addressed, the goal of a world without nuclear weapons matters not.

As for me, I dream of a world with no cigarettes.