In 2019, I was honored to receive the Hudson Institute’s Herman Kahn Award. Herman Kahn, the esteemed physicist, strategist, and futurist, founded the Hudson Institute. No book is more aptly titled than Kahn’s Thinking about the Unthinkable, published in 1962.
Kahn forced American strategists, our military, and our political leaders to confront issues that are supremely important, but, in equal measure, repellent. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to confront our nation’s strategic threats and options.
At Los Alamos in 1946, Dr. Louis Slotin placed pieces of fissile material near each other to calculate critical mass. Slotin died from a fatal dose of radiation.
The People’s Republic of China is conceptually engaged in the same exercise by radically expanding its nuclear forces while engaging in unprecedented bellicosity. China is tempting the boundaries of critical mass in its geostrategic intentions, gambits, and forays. In this, China exceeds the threats posed by Russia, Iran, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Vladimir Putin seeks global relevance for Russia, through parlays involving its military strength or through its dictatorial energy policies. Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, seeks global dominance in a world he seeks to control through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). China’s economy eclipses Russia’s, being an order of magnitude larger: China’s gross domestic product (GDP) is second only to America’s.
With callous and unbridled ambition, President Xi seeks to mold the existing world order into a system of global governance controlled by Communist China through its prophesied future supremacy in all forms of international power. China, therefore, represents the greatest threat that America has faced in the modern era, for no other nation that has contested the United States has possessed China’s relative economic power or population.
As secretary of state, in London, on January 30, 2020, I called the Chinese Communist Party “the central threat of our times.” China today epitomizes an unmatched danger to the free world. In the wake of COVID-19, the NATO alliance and the leadership of many nations comprehend the Chinese threat, having embraced my assessment due to revealed facts.
China is tempting global catastrophe in its ill-administered gain-of-function experiments that could release another deadly pathogen; in its taking Hong Kong; in its threatening Taiwan; in its building militarized, artificial islands in the South China Sea; and in its testing of a new class of nuclear-capable weapons, its orbital hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV).
The enhancement of America’s nuclear deterrent is essential, for it must continue to be resilient and be capable of coping with reductions in warning that could arise from technological or doctrinal innovations. China’s orbital hypersonic missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads, are a grave threat to world peace in that they have the potential to limit strategic warning. The diminution of strategic warning could escalate the risks of global nuclear war, due to miscalculation.
In this, and in so many other matters, China is acting in a manner contrary to the most basic of human objectives and expectations. Harnessing the might of emergent technologies, new media, and coercive forms of manipulation and censorship, defined as sharp power, China manifests a belligerent form of historical and geopolitical revisionism, which it directs against America and other countries it seeks to dominate or usurp, including many of its neighbors in the Indo-Pacific region.
Bernard Brodie, who preceded Herman Kahn as one of America’s foremost nuclear strategists, in part framed our conception of nuclear weapons in terms of deterrence. The concept of deterrence may be defined as the prevention of aggression due to the fear of unacceptable counteraction. It is to avert armed conflict by the establishment of the certitude that any first strike by a belligerent force will be unsuccessful in its aims and be disastrous for the aggressor.
Deterrence arises from strength and never from weakness because weakness invites belligerency. Unilateral restraint in the maintenance and disposition of forces does not support deterrence, for deterrence cannot arise from unilateral restraint if such restraint circumscribes power in the face of burgeoning threats. Unilateral restraint can signal weakness, which may begin a dangerous cascade of responses by nations that believe they are unbound.
Meaningful, stabilizing strategy must pose a convincing deterrent composed of survivable strategic systems, which are complementary, for deterrence is a function of the credibility of a nation’s armed forces as seen by an opposing state. To deter effectively, we must be capable of posing accurate and certain counteraction that is unacceptable to an adversary, given its beliefs, values, and intentions.
American nuclear policy is a product of presidential directions to the Departments of Defense and Energy. It is also a product of our strategic forces in being as well as their technology, accuracy, yield, and readiness.
The budgetary atmosphere, Congress, and prevailing strategic philosophies, held by our country and by potentially belligerent states, combine with geopolitical events and intelligence assessments to define threats, costs, opportunities, and programs. A strategic doctrine, to be relevant, must codify the strategic forces and threats at hand as well as those that may evolve.
In the aftermath of 9/11, a new articulation of American strategy might have checked our enemies more successfully than any single military action if we had clearly stated that what such extremists hold most dear, their domains, redoubts, and means of support, would be devastated by us, in response to any future terrorist use of a weapon of mass destruction. A coherent strategy for the post-9/11 world was not developed. Our country and our brave servicemen and women have paid dearly for this abrogation of the core responsibility of national leadership.
This is a domain that must be navigated with precision and strength. President Ronald Reagan in his March 23, 1983, defense address proclaimed a profound shift in American nuclear strategy with these words, “Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them?”
Defense is different than deterrence, though it should enhance it. Defense is to pose effective interdiction once confrontation is apparent; it is to oppose an attack.
Simplicity is often its own reward. A modern strategy for addressing the threats we now confront must be conceptually similar to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative and draw from the lessons it conveyed. It must also maintain the sufficiency of our triad and apply technologically advanced answers to the array of new threats we face.
The announcement of this program by President Reagan rendered the USSR’s strategic missiles essentially useless as accepted and enduring measures of national power or intimidation, for their vaunted military utility would be diminished, and thus uncertain, as the United States deployed defensive systems. This drove the Soviet Union into a technological race that helped ensure its demise.
Are there strategic policies and choices that can be enunciated that would help neutralize the nuclear threats posed by China, Russia, or other potentially belligerent states? Certainly, a precisely articulated strategic doctrine is needed to combat America’s present lassitude. Thus, proper doctrinal choices are compulsory and will be of immense benefit to world stability and peace, whereas choices made through the opaque lens of puerile narratives will invite disaster.
Nuclear Posture Review
Though Russia’s and America’s present nuclear capacities are far greater than China’s, China is arming itself at an unparalleled pace, building hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) emplacements. These are in addition to China’s formidable ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) force and its development of a stealth bomber, which is expected to be capable of carrying nuclear missiles.
Faced with an adversary that possesses wealth almost equal to our own, America must innovate constructively if it is to preserve an implacable deterrent posture against China, Russia, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A Strategic Defense Initiative for our time, the SDI II, which should exemplify President Reagan’s vision of defense in depth, is mandatory.
In expectation of the Biden administration’s soon-to-be-released Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), we must be concerned that if the weakness manifested in this administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan be repeated, our homeland’s safety will be placed in grievous jeopardy. The often-proposed substitution of imagined arms control accords for nuclear capabilities is neither acceptable nor wise. Such pablum will be viewed by our adversaries as American fragility and thus as an inducement for caustic adventurism.
The new review is the fifth since this process was established in 1994. Since then, reviews were undertaken every eight years, to promote continuity.
The Biden administration broke this established precedent by rejecting this time interval, for the Trump administration conducted a comprehensive NPR in 2018. That review charted a prudent course for updating America’s triad to support deterrence. The administration, which I served, rejected insincere arms control posturing while pressing for substantive and verifiable accords to include China.
Of concern, too, is the Biden administration’s Missile Defense Review (MDR), expected in 2022. It should address emergent threats in its consideration of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. It needs to be complementary to the NPR and should note areas of overlapping concerns.
First-generation nuclear weapons employed fission, the splitting of atoms, to create explosive force. Second-generation weapons employ fission to trigger fusion, which is the power of the sun. New nuclear weapons could be more focused in their conveyance of energy and in their possible uses.
America cannot be defeated from without, but we can defeat ourselves from within, through the substitution of facile dreams for hard realities. What steps might the Leftist elites who now hold sway in our government take to disarm America’s strategic deterrent? A number bear mentioning.
First, the Biden administration could announce comprehensive nuclear talks in order that “unprecedented” reductions in nuclear systems be achieved. The administration, however, may ultimately decide to proceed bilaterally with Russia. China’s intransigence or gamesmanship might be expected to be placated by our present officials, to Beijing’s benefit.
Second, although seemingly wedded to the maintenance of our triad, composed of ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines, and bombers, the Biden presidency may delay the procurement of the Minuteman III ICBM replacement, though our existing ICBM force is fifty years old, but nevertheless constitutes, along with our submarines, our most survivable deterrent.
Third, with our land-based deterrent in its nadir, the administration could then agree with Russia to eliminate all fixed, ground-based strategic missiles, thus canceling the Minuteman’s successor, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). This could conceivably be done while permitting Russia to retain its land-mobile ICBMs, though America has none and would almost certainly never be able to deploy such systems, given the nature of our political process.
Fourth, the administration could thus sidestep into a two-legged dyad, which would consist of SSBNs and bombers, while Russia and China would each retain strategic triads, now enhanced with HGVs.
Fifth, the administration could announce a unilateral moratorium on the development of strategic, as opposed to tactical, anti-ballistic missile systems, and invite Russia and China to do the same, which they will never, in practice, effectuate, for the boundary between strategic and tactical ABM systems is no longer clearly demarcated due to technology and operational doctrines.
Sixth, the administration could hobble our bomber fleet by announcing that the new B-21 Raider bomber will be rendered incapable of carrying nuclear weapons and that the B-52 re-engining program will be canceled. (In 2011, the Mach 1.2 B-1B bomber was modified to make it incapable of carrying nuclear weapons.)
Seventh, the administration could declare America’s continued commitment to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty with no preconditions, despite indications of Russia’s and China’s non-compliance. This will inhibit our ability to deploy next-generation nuclear weapons, which promise enhanced dependability without the requirement for recurring underground testing.
Eighth, the administration, in contravention of all precedents since World War II, could declare a no-first-use policy with regard to nuclear weapons, which will undermine and degrade America’s ability to respond to a range of fateful threats.
Any of these actions are unacceptable. Any combination would be ruinous to deterrence.
No First Use
A no-first-use doctrine would place America at a grave disadvantage in responding to a large chemical or biological attack. We need the ability to answer a strike that employs weapons of mass destruction (WMD) with the armaments we have, not ones that we do not possess and will never develop. This capacity is intrinsic to deterrence across a wide spectrum of potential threats.
America’s strategy concerning weapons of mass destruction, nuclear forces, and arms control demands clarity of voice. Disorganization in the proclamation of policies, which affect ongoing force structure decisions, undermine deterrence, prolong strife, and inhibit resolution by the involved parties. Yet, there has been a concerted attempt to obfuscate President Barack Obama’s and President Joe Biden’s policy objectives.
In his remarks on nuclear security made on January 12, 2017, then-Vice President Biden declared that retaliation in the wake of a “nuclear attack should be the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.” In the same statement, Vice President Biden averred that once unstated future conditions were established, “the sole purpose of nuclear weapons would be to deter others from launching a nuclear attack.” Thus, the term “sole purpose” is operationally equivalent to no first use.
The vice president also stated, “Given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats—it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense.”
Today, we must realize that such a hypothesis is not true. The present pandemic has killed more than one-and-one-half times as many Americans as World War II. If, in the future, such a level of carnage issues from a planned non-nuclear attack, it is difficult to envisage how a conventional response would be sufficient to reestablish deterrence.
As secretary of state, I considered it crucial to articulate policies in the context of providing certainty in a world permeated with disinformation. There is no more important realm for the assertion of clear policy objectives than that involving the greatest power held on earth.
All too frequently, however, false narratives or unreal histories are propelled by a malignant constellation comprised of foreign actors, demagogues, and an elitist media divorced from reality. Crucial information as well as subtleties may be lost, which is counterproductive in a world imbued with technologies that instigate actions before needed information is often assimilated. We must remember that war is frequently traced to a predicate of miscommunication or disguised malice.
Clarity of voice is the sine qua non of effective statecraft and principled leadership. It is essential to consequential arms control. Such strategic clarity should not be confused with realpolitik, which lacks a moral core.
We cannot, in our information age, speak imprecisely. A new paradigm is required.
Strategic clarity is the means to impart critical advantages through the clear articulation of national objectives with regard to potential adversaries or enemies. It helps preclude conflicts and aids in deconfliction by clearly delineating stakes; such a policy rests on the certitude of actions, which uphold declarations.
Clear-sightedness permits insight that allows us to frame plausible goals and perspectives for the future. Moral clarity and strength are critical to operationalize these imperatives. The world is dynamic: Leaders must comprehend that communication derives from what is understood and often not what is said. Thus, diplomacy’s objective is to ensure that what is grasped is what is conveyed, which is difficult.
Tactical uncertainty is the means to confound adversaries or enemies as to the tools and methods we will employ to enforce a national policy governed by strategic clarity. This conceptualization must be undergirded by our appreciation of the world as it exists, not by narratives driven by geopolitical convictions that are often static or blinding.
In the domain of nuclear weapons, our enunciation of policies must be clear. The corollary to this statement is that the projected outcome of a nuclear exchange must never grant potential adversaries the foreknowledge that their use of nuclear weapons will convey any subsequent advantage vis-à-vis America’s arsenal.
It is the effectiveness and surety of America’s nuclear response that secures deterrence against an array of WMDs that we face. These include nuclear, chemical, biological, or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons of devastating or annihilative capabilities.
New nuclear weapons could employ intense EMP fields to surmount our military’s current EMP hardening. Such a weapon would also devastate civilian power transmission and interrupt the provision of electricity to military bases within the United States that are served by unhardened commercial powerplants.
Factions within adversarial nuclear states may adhere to strategies that hold that a nuclear EMP attack is not necessarily the equivalent of nuclear war. Such conceptions are destabilizing but can only be operationalized if the United States does not pursue EMP offensive and defensive measures.
To declare a no-first-use doctrine, with regard to our nuclear forces, is to rob America of its most potent deterrent to a large-scale chemical or biological attack. In the aftermath of the millions of deaths not caused by nuclear war but by SARS-CoV-2, the risks are patent, for viruses, in the future, might be weaponized.
Indeed, the potential now exists to create a new class of weapons, which must never be allowed. So-called ethnic bioweapons could be used to target the gene sequences of selected groups; it is time to create ironclad barriers to the conception of such horrific weapons through the creation of new modalities in arms control.
Imbued with resolve, the world must come together now to ban any work that could yield such pathogens. As COVID-19 proves, oversight is needed before the fact, not after. Comprehensive and intrusive laboratory inspection regimes, increased intelligence protocols, and meaningful international coordination and agreements are obligatory to prevent such weapons from ever being produced.
We must not allow the militarization of a new stage in science to be used for eugenic or hegemonic objectives. We must not permit science to alter or to rescind the diversity of humankind, to create a world in which global dominance could be achieved with a ferocious, weaponized plague, whose totality could be held in a single dish.
We must grasp this threat to prevent its emergence. Although it is abhorrent to contemplate, we must imagine what a psychopath might do with an ethnic bioweapon that could devastate opposing armies and innocent populations, through its mechanism of attack on unique and specified polygenic sequences. This unprecedented nightmare is what we must confront and eliminate.
A no-first-use doctrine, if embraced by the United States, would make massive chemical or biological attacks more likely, not less. For this reason alone, America must eschew such callow posturing, while securing deterrence and meaningful arms control that cover new classes of weapons of mass destruction.
The Hypersonic Threat
China and Russia, separately or possibly in coordination, seek permanent geostrategic advantages by overmatching our military forces. Hypersonic weapons, which fly faster than five times the speed of sound, are extremely difficult to counter. America must stress the development of advanced defensive and offensive systems.
Hypersonic weapons may be conventional or nuclear; they include missiles; Fractional Orbital Bombardment Systems (FOBS), which traverse part of an orbit; and new weapons called hypersonic glide vehicles, which may have persistent orbital capacities. If armed with nuclear weapons, they could violate the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to which China and Russia are signatories. Hypersonic weapons may also be armed with electromagnetic pulse devices to disable America’s electric grid, causing massive casualties over time, due to the resultant loss of food supplies, medical care, heating, and other basic services.
HGVs are destabilizing, for they can maneuver at speeds that make interception by current anti-ballistic missile systems highly uncertain. We must fast-track the design of new defensive and offensive technologies.
Chinese hypersonic glide vehicles can orbit the earth, posing for months or years as satellites, before being summoned to attack without warning. Russian HGVs, such as the Avangard, which can carry both nuclear and non-nuclear payloads, can be launched by massive RS-28 ICBMs as well as other missiles.
The Avangard glide vehicle, which can reach speeds above Mach 20, was deployed in 2019, years before our analysts expected. The United States has no known comparable system within our force structure.
Key to the capabilities of hypersonic weapons is their ability to reach immense speeds and to maneuver within the earth’s atmosphere. These attributes require an enhanced strategic defense if these weapons are to be countered.
Dual-use technology transfers from the United States, which have both civilian and military applications, permitted a determined China to leap generations ahead in the design of this new class of weapons. Stolen American software, machinery, and data are at the core of China’s advance.
America’s investors have—without their consent—funded HGV development and other Chinese military programs. Through a complex web of Chinese front companies, subsidiaries, and exchange-traded funds (ETF), American investment capital is financing the research, development, and procurement activities of banned Chinese companies, which are linked directly to China’s military. This must end.
Preservation of the Triad
The Biden White House and Pentagon must not eclipse a future administration’s prerogatives in the domain of strategic offensive or defensive systems. America’s triad became operational in 1959, though the Soviet Union demonstrated this multidimensional capability first.
Today, the nuclear forces of Russia, China, India, and the United States are all based upon the concept of the strategic triad. By deploying forces on an array of platforms, by land, sea, and air, deterrence is supported because a disabling first strike is all but impossible if each arm of the triad is structured to correspond to the threat.
Fundamentals of Deterrence
Strategic deterrence reduced the chances of conventional wars becoming global conflagrations in the aftermath of World War II. The perilous stakes present in any nuclear exchange led to caution and forbearance in confliction zones or in regional wars in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The nuclear forces of the United States and the Soviet Union provided a backdrop of stability through the absolute certainty of retaliation in response to a first strike.
Nikita Khrushchev’s removal of the USSR’s nuclear-armed intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) from Cuba, during the 1962 crisis, occurred primarily because of the assurance by President John F. Kennedy of overwhelming American escalation, should the missiles not be removed, which would lead to warfare. Post-de-escalation, the United States removed its Jupiter IRBMs from their base near İzmir, Turkey, and from sites within Italy.
In the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, multifaceted deterrent forces on both sides, coupled with sound intelligence and warning by the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, which determined that the Soviets were placing nuclear warheads in Cuba, allowed President Kennedy to act prudently, not precipitously. This combination of a spectrum of strategic forces and intelligence capabilities is the foundation for deterrence. This bedrock has been greatly enhanced by America’s emphasis on defensive systems, employing advanced radars, ABMs, and Aegis cruisers and destroyers, which possess inherent anti-ballistic-missile capabilities.
America must not degrade our means of defense. In this regard, we should recall that President Jimmy Carter ordered that the Patriot surface-to-air missile (SAM) system have its anti-missile capability rescinded. This action was in addition to his cancellation of the B-1A bomber on the cusp of its planned production.
The Soviet Union took no reciprocal actions, for President Carter sought deterrence through unilateral restraint. In removing the anti-missile capability from a system about to be deployed and in canceling a new bomber, which had been in development since 1963, President Carter demonstrated weakness, which was not respected.
Ronald Reagan restored the Patriot’s capability against IRBMs. He also ordered that 100 B-1Bs be built, in addition to the B-2 stealth bomber.
It was strength and determination that drew the USSR to meaningful arms control deliberations that ultimately yielded the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START), which compelled extraordinary cuts in the nuclear arsenals of two great powers. Reagan’s earnestness and his ability to act on the basis of our adversary’s capabilities and not our expectations, which are too frequently governed by errant presuppositions, must frame America’s strategic choices.
Convictions may subvert truth if they are immutable. Yet unsupported convictions and naïve expectations seem to frame everything the Biden administration does. This must not be so in the realm of nuclear weapons. The stakes are far too important.
It must be remembered that the Soviet Union pursued an antagonistic strategic posture through the 1970s and through the first half of the 1980s. This constituted a crucial substrate for that communist state’s use of intimidation in other international domains.
The USSR’s military focus was to preempt American strategic forces in order to degrade our retaliatory power. Complementary air, submarine, ICBM, and civil defense measures, by the Soviets, were pursued to limit the destructiveness of America’s residual strategic capability in the wake of a preemptive Soviet first strike. This destabilizing posture, however, contradicted the expectations of many U.S. planners and decisionmakers.
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, their prevailing belief held that once the Soviet Union achieved strategic equivalence, it would limit its nuclear force programs. In fact, the USSR did the opposite and, in so doing, placed strategic stability in doubt.
In 1983, the President’s Commission on Strategic Forces, formed by Reagan and chaired by General Brent Scowcroft, concluded that “If there were ever a case to be made that the Soviets would unilaterally stop their strategic deployments at a level short of the ability to seriously threaten our forces, that argument vanished with the deployment of their SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs.”
Had it not been for Reagan’s grit, clear-sightedness, and determination, the outcome of the Cold War would have been vastly different. Our watchwords must be capabilities and history, not rhetoric and disingenuous expectations, grounded in politics.
Indeed, of concern today is the potential deployment by Russia of unmanned, undersea weapons that could house nuclear warheads; these platforms may be able to traverse vast distances and are reported to be nuclear-powered. Such a development is unacceptable and must result in a panoply of appropriate programmatic, diplomatic, and non-military responses.
Force Structure and Stability
The preservation of the strategic triad through concerted programmatic actions to build a force of a minimum of 150 B-21 Raider bombers, at least twelve Columbia-class SSBNs, and 400 or more deployed GBSDs is imperative. Immediate measures must be taken to secure the components for both America’s Columbia-class and the United Kingdom’s new Dreadnought-class SSBNs.
Each class will house Trident D-5 missiles, but each nation’s warheads will be different and be designed in parallel by each country. The American warhead is to be a new design, the W93; Britain is defining its blueprint. The new warheads of each nation will, however, share the American Mark 7 reentry-vehicle aeroshell casing.
Failure to secure these key programs will result in serious force structure gaps for both nations and presage a crisis similar to that wrought by America’s unilateral cancellation of the Skybolt missile in 1962, which did substantial damage to our alliance. This is because Britain terminated both its Blue Steel II air-launched standoff missile and its TSR-2 nuclear-capable strike aircraft in expectation of American programs that were cancelled without adequate explanation, in the case of the Skybolt, or abandoned, in the case of the F-111K strike fighter, due to programmatic issues.
America’s alliance with the United Kingdom must be held as sacrosanct. It must not be subject to the caprice of an irresolute administration. Neither should our constellation of alliances be shortchanged. Shared purpose with our NATO partners as well as our alliances with Japan, Australia, South Korea, and India are essential in countering China’s march.
Ballistic and Cruise Missiles
The GBSD force will replace 400 Minuteman III ICBMs and achieve its initial operational capability (IOC) in 2029. Full operational capability, however, is not expected until 2036, meaning that some Minuteman missiles will be more than sixty years old before their replacement.
Also critical will be our development and deployment of the Long-Range Standoff Cruise Missile (LRSO). Our B-52 force is scheduled to be operational through its ninth decade of continuous service. It is not a platform that can penetrate defended sites; therefore, a modern standoff weapon is required if the B-52 is to continue its service in our triad.
The LRSO is also a hedge against a defensive breakthrough that could impair our stealth bombers from reaching their targets undetected. Crucially, our maintenance of a capable bomber fleet exacts huge defensive expenditures for adversarial states.
If not for our strategic bomber force, these expenditures would, in all likelihood, be redirected to offensive weapons. The fact that bombers are slow in comparison to missiles is an unmatched factor for crisis de-escalation; permitting precious time in which strategic forces can be recalled.
The Strategic Defense Imperative
For strategic deterrence to maintain, the calculus concerning the outcome of any first strike must be uncertain for the aggressor. Strategic defense complicates this calculus enormously, for the actual capabilities of defensive systems are extremely difficult to ascertain or model with accuracy. This deficit in knowledge promotes stability, which secures peace.
Present and future programmatic elements designed to defeat strategic weapons must be fused and prioritized within a new Strategic Defense Initiative: the SDI II. Disjointed and disparate efforts must be replaced with unyielding timelines so that America will be defended.
SDI II must investigate the role that space could play in our defense. In addition to sensors, the United States has no choice but to investigate the deployment of anti-missile systems in space. Advances in HGV technology pose a particular threat that may not be overcome by terrestrially based ABM systems.
Unfortunately, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, whose immense size is matched by the latency of its actual productive output, appears incapable of meeting this challenge. Therefore, true bureaucratic reform is a necessity. This will require empowering our nation’s warfighters, thus upsetting the department’s status quo, which, alarmingly, is now bound by politics.
Although the Chinese or Russian orbital HGVs do not presently threaten the survivability of America’s triad, their speed and their inherent ability to loiter in space, are destabilizing, for their stealth, while in orbit, and their swiftness, once committed, could delay, perhaps catastrophically, America’s ability to determine the nature and the magnitude of an attack.
No present defensive systems to counter HGVs have been publicly deployed by our nation. It is not certain that we will be able to defeat these hypersonic vehicles, at least in the near term.
Once an HGV is committed to attack, its heat signature, due to its immense speed, will be observable to a constellation of infrared satellites. One important program known as the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) was initiated by the Trump administration. It is to be part of the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Polar (NG-OPIR) program.
Contracts for this multi-billion-dollar investment were awarded by the United States Space Force, after this service’s creation by President Donald Trump. The first satellites could be operational by 2025.
Of concern are Chinese and Russian anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon systems, which have not been matched or challenged for decades. On January 11, 2007, the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) successfully tested an ASAT weapon by destroying a Chinese satellite with a kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) placed into orbit by a solid-fuel, multistage rocket.
On November 15, 2021, Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon, which destroyed its target, creating over 1,500 shards in space. Both nations have conducted many other tests of ASAT systems or system components. Advances in Chinese and Russian ASAT capabilities thus threaten to blind our assemblage of space-based sensors.
The creation of the Space Force by the Trump administration was a pivotal step in securing a reciprocal American ASAT ability. American ASAT programs were quiescent since our ASM-135 ASAT, which was to be carried by a fleet of modified F-15 Eagles, but was canceled in 1988, due, in part, to congressionally mandated restrictions that led to cost overruns and pauses in testing.
The errors in the management of that ASAT program must not be repeated, for we must now contend with both Chinese and Russian threats to our space-based systems. Crystallized by the Trump administration’s concerns regarding the magnitude of the Chinese and the Russian ASAT threats, the United States has no choice but to deploy ASAT systems expeditiously.
HGVs may contain kinetic or conventional warheads (this capability is in addition to their capacity to carry nuclear payloads). By dint of their unprecedented speed and their ability to evade and to maneuver, kinetic or conventionally armed HGVs could be able to attack U.S. strategic assets in the future. These could include missile silos, bomber bases, or submarines in port.
Aircraft carriers or airbases are vulnerable today due to the deployment of intermediate-range HGVs, which are being produced by Russia and by China in significant numbers. China, which pretends to be a reliable trading partner, has recently built a life-sized depiction of a Ford-class carrier on rails, to be used as a moving target in the desert it employs for weapons tests.
Development, therefore, of defensive systems, incorporating new technologies, is imperative. The time-urgent design and procurement of anti-HGV sensors and weapons must be a priority.
Indeed, a system of defense priorities was employed by Project Silverplate, in World War II, which enabled B-29 bombers to be rapidly redesigned in order to carry America’s first atomic bombs. This system of defense priorities cut through a vast array of bureaucratic red tape, enabling war-winning weapons to be deployed.
It is critical that anti-HGV weapons be recipient of the same type of emphasis, so that bureaucratic indifference be quelled. It should also be recalled that Project Silverplate made use of bomb-carriage attachments from a version of Britain’s Lancaster bomber. To defeat HGVs, America should work closely with our most-trusted allies to glean if any of their technologies may be applicable in defeating this threat.
Military leadership is required, but many of our nation’s civilian officials, and some of our flag officers, appear more concerned with progressive politics and sociological constructs, which should have no presence in our armed forces. A primary mission of our military should be the fielding of crucial weapons in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Too often, however, managerial and programmatic incompetence are masked by feigned concern for social issues. This must end. This is not our military’s mission.
The formation of a Chinese-Russian military bloc would constitute a grave threat to the safety and security of the United States and its allies. China’s wealth, population, and irredentism, if coupled with Russia’s technical brilliance, natural resources, military traditions, and knowledge, would form a colossus. This union must not transpire, for it could displace America’s international leadership and presage world domination by a Chinese axis, intent on enforcing its avaricious and assaultive form of communist authority and control.
Russia’s universities, defense laboratories, and military production capabilities must not fuse with China’s capital and labor. Though China has equipped itself with Russian weapons for many years, China and Russia do not yet constitute a combine with shared hegemonic goals. Beijing’s incendiary ambitions must be restrained from metastasizing into a dynamism that would employ an overt force of arms against Taiwan or nations aligned with America, for such a course could escalate into war with the United States.
The accelerated potential for the union of China and Russia could have been avoided had not America been submerged into a miasma of deceit, due to the false Russian-collusion narrative, which undercut the Trump administration’s attempts to forge better relations with Moscow. We understood that a series of missteps by administrations, after President Reagan, stimulated the rise of Russian authoritarianism.
We recognized that a more nuanced yet resolute strategy toward Russia was required, for episodic admonishments do not work. Debilitating mistakes were made by President Obama in his uncertain handling of Russia’s incorporation of Crimea in 2014, for Crimea’s complex history was not considered, nor was Russia’s aggression adequately contested
Ukraine, formerly one of the USSR’s captive nations, suffered enormously under occupation. Many millions of Ukrainians died in the Holodomor from starvation and other causes, due to Soviet decrees that devastated agricultural production. Russia’s revanchist objectives should be thwarted, but this requires statesmanship, not vacant demarches.
After the USSR
In 1997, fifty former U.S. statesmen wrote to President Bill Clinton to warn of the costs of policies driven by politics, rather than geopolitical assessments and imperatives. These experts were bipartisan.
Signatories included Senator Sam Nunn and two prominent Russia experts who served on the Reagan National Security Council staff, Dr. Richard Pipes of Harvard, and Jack Matlock, who served as our ambassador to the USSR from 1987 to 1991. Their analyses issued from a comprehension of Russian history, which includes the loss of more than twenty-five million of its citizens to Adolf Hitler’s onslaught.
Our commitments to the present members of NATO must endure without question and be exemplified by our steadfastness. This, however, must not preclude our seeking to reach new understandings and accords that will help the Russian people, thus limiting the prospects for enhanced Sino-Russian cooperation.
Russia’s population is dwindling, but it remains a great military power with profound intellectual capital and a long history of outreach to the West. Russia is fundamentally a European state: Moscow’s future must not lie with China. A new relationship with Russia must be based on fairness, reciprocity, and an unceasing commitment to expose malevolence and corruption when expressed by that state.
The Sino-Soviet Alliance began on February 14, 1950; months later, the Korean War would begin. This alliance began to cleave in the mid-1950s over doctrinal differences. By 1959, relations were in a state of freefall, with the USSR’s withdrawing its technical support for China’s atomic bomb program, which, nonetheless, did succeed in exploding a device in 1964.
Although its understandings with China predated the propagation of the Russian collusion hoax, Russia was propelled further into China’s orbit by this fabrication. Indeed, in November of last year, Russia announced that a roadmap for future military ties with China was signed. We, therefore, have no choice but to be concerned that a Sino-Russian alliance may emerge.
Russia’s military technology, buttressed by China’s ongoing theft of American intellectual property, threatens to equip the People’s Liberation Army of China, so that, within the next decade, it may credibly rival the military power of the United States. China’s economy dwarfs Russia’s, but Russia offers military technology, energy resources, intelligence, and diplomatic relationships that China does not possess; thus, Russia’s correlation with China must be stopped.
Russia and China are building dozens of nuclear power plants throughout the globe. These plants may serve as redoubts for Russian or Chinese forces, even as these nations conscript the elites of the developing countries in which they are built.
China has deployed its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which seeks to shape its relations, alliances, and connectivity on a global scale. To this might, Russia brings its supremacy in the provision of natural gas to NATO nations. Turkey and Germany are already bound to this font.
How must we respond? Our reply must be multifactorial. We cannot act alone. Our outreach must be to the Russian people, for our nations have excelled in science, in literature, and in all the arts.
Our shared history reaches back to John Paul Jones’s service as an admiral in Catherine the Great’s navy. Russian trading forts and settlements once dotted Alaska’s and California’s coasts, and, in 1863, Russian naval ships took positions off New York and California to express support for the Union, thus helping to thwart possible European intervention on the side of the Confederacy. Most memorably, our citizens, as allies, defeated Hitler’s evil through monumental, shared sacrifices.
America’s affinities with the Russian people must not be subverted by kleptocratic elements within the Kremlin that seek power through volatility and subversion. Both sides must step away from dangerous rhetoric, voiced by demagogues and unaccountable commentators, and speak to issues of common interest. Positive rhetoric will enable us to contest Russia where we must, without placing a pall over any chance of progression in our relationship.
To separate Russia from China, we must offer an alternative. Reincorporation of Russia into the Group of Eight and greater American and Western European economic investment in Russia, in exchange for its curtailing aspects of its relationship with China and with Iran, can offer a way forward.
As was demonstrated during the communist era, Beijing’s and Moscow’s interests are not convergent. Russia’s outlook is primarily European; its people oppose communism and do not seek to live under any other nation’s shadow. China, in contradistinction, has enshrined a neo-imperialist form of Marxism-Leninism to suit the prerogatives of its new emperor, Xi Jinping.
With these facts in mind, America and its allies must use the full spectrum of soft power to delimit and, in time, rupture Russia’s relations with China. The world is at risk. Bold diplomacy and action are needed.
To deter nuclear war, arms control agreements must be married to prudent force structure policies and initiatives. To serve the cause of peace, arms control agreements must be both equitable and verifiable. To be meaningful, they must lead to binding force structure reductions. Further, the reductions of specific systems must enhance and not perturb strategic stability, which is a function of deterrence.
The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty and the London Naval Treaties of 1930 and 1936 were not farsighted, verifiable, nor comprehensive in their membership, for Japan and Italy were not parties to the final treaty. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, which limited Germany’s naval tonnage, was construed differently by both parties, for Germany errantly viewed the treaty as the beginning of an Anglo-German alliance.
This misconstruction emboldened Hitler’s aims: The treaty did not quash them. Together, these documents failed to prevent global war. Multiple parties to the treaties violated provisions and disguised their substantial preparations for conflict.
America’s treaties with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear weapons have produced inconsistent results. SALT I and SALT II were proven to be both difficult to verify and ineffective in limiting the Soviet Union from dramatically increasing its nuclear forces. START I, SORT, and the New START Treaty led to historic reductions in Washington’s and Moscow’s nuclear arsenals, but never included China.
The New START Treaty has been extended by the Biden administration until 2026, but since it constrains America and Russia, but not China, its utility is limited. This treaty does not meaningfully address the destabilizing nature of HGVs.
As secretary of state, I directed that an American delegation meet with its Russian counterparts in the summer of 2019, in Geneva, to discuss future pathways for arms control. I also directed that steps be taken to include China in three-party talks, while recognizing that multiparty negotiations are extraordinarily challenging, for if handled improperly they can instigate the formation of deleterious unions.
China rejected this invitation; while U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces have been constrained, to a degree, by arms control, Beijing is committed to achieving formidable nuclear capabilities. The difficulties in attaining meaningful and enduring arms control treaties were illustrated in 2019, for the United States was compelled to formally withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), due to Russian non-compliance.
During the past decade, China’s expansion of both its strategic and intermediate-range nuclear forces placed the limits expressed in the bilateral treaties between the United States and Russia in sharp relief. Chinese nuclear forces represent a palpable threat in that their rapid expansion in capabilities is woven into conventional and regional strategies that seek to displace the United States as the preeminent power in the Indo-Pacific. America’s position, once considered unalterable, is the foundation for peace in the Indo-Pacific and must be preserved.
China’s nuclear forces provide a final component in its spectrum of power, which it wields to intimidate and to control. In response, America must induce economic costs for China if it does not agree to negotiate meaningful limits on its offensive nuclear capabilities, which must include its hypersonic weapons.
America must pursue tripartite arms-control outcomes that support security and stability; China’s nuclear ambitions must be constrained. We must use various means of power to compel Chinese force reductions, which need to be codified in verifiable nuclear accords.
Our conception and paradigm for global arms control must reflect today’s realities. Any acceptable arms control regime involving nuclear weapons must include China for it to be meaningful.
China must be an active participant moving forward. Further, we must not condone negotiations that devolve into mere concerns for lower system numbers on our part, when such cuts might lead to instabilities due to reductions in either the diversity or the survivability of approved platforms.
Of special concern are next-generation weapons, being developed by our adversaries, which could reduce the threshold for the tactical employment of nuclear weapons of reduced yield. A tactical nuclear exchange, at whatever level, would dramatically increase the potential for global nuclear war by escalation or miscalculation.
America must retain tactical nuclear weapons to deter this type of aggression. Advanced weapons must be pursued if they are necessary to match potential belligerents. Further, we must not agree to any limits on overseas deployments, in order to preserve our geostrategic options.
Arms control must not be used as a tool to thwart our development of offensive or defensive weapons needed to match our adversaries’ potentialities. We cannot permit conceivable belligerents to use a myriad of intelligence operations, centered on the manipulation of media across traditional and social platforms, to subvert America’s intrinsic right to protect itself through deterrence coupled with defense.
Crucially, America must always be prepared to walk away from the table. This is the prerequisite for successful negotiating that President Reagan and President Trump exemplified on numerous occasions.
A sagacious approach to stability should also consider India’s position. World peace may hinge on India’s not being overmatched by a rapacious China. Specific, regional deconfliction and confidence-building measures should be pursued with our encouragement.
Arms control must be comprehensive in its objectives. If China is not a committed participant in this process, it is doubtful that arms control will yield true dividends in global stability.
We must always keep in mind that arms control can be dangerous if its objectives are not consonant with American and allied interests. I am proud that President Trump and I terminated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that would have aided Iran in amassing the resources to build nuclear weapons as well as the means to deliver them.
The present administration removed sanctions, which we imposed, in its hope of restarting negotiations to limit what Iran will never willingly limit: its nuclear weapons program. The Biden administration must not resume this disastrous farrago of deception that only emboldens a terrorist state.
Nuclear force structures, defensive systems, intelligence, and arms control must serve the objectives of deterrence and stability. That the world has not known global war since the first atomic bombs were used, gives us hope, but this hope must rest on action and not the avoidance of difficult choices.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law on November 15 by President Biden, allocates millions of dollars for studies on how to protect critical infrastructure from the effects of an electromagnetic pulse, which could be induced by the explosion of a nuclear weapon or by other means. What is actually necessary, however, is a multi-billion-dollar program to build national EMP preparedness, to harden our electric grid, which will protect our military assets, infrastructure, businesses, and people.
This was not funded, though the requisite studies had, indeed, been completed by the congressional EMP Commission. This commission released its report to Congress and to the White House in 2008.
What are the potential consequences of such inaction in the face of this present danger? An EMP attack against the United States could, in a period of months, result in more deaths than a limited nuclear attack against the homeland. These deaths would be due to the collapse of infrastructure, which would block food and medicine production and delivery and deny the necessity of electricity to millions.
The severe supply-chain problems of today would be amplified a thousand-fold. This is not preparedness, but the abdication of the grave responsibility vested in our president to protect the American people.
It should also be noted that a massive solar flare, if on the scale of the Carrington Event of 1859, would devastate our electric grid if it is not hardened. Such phenomena, on smaller scales, occurred in 1921 and in 1989 due to coronal mass ejections. A massive solar storm, of similar magnitude to the Carrington Event, missed our planet by just nine days in 2012.
As we consider the steps we must take as a nation to secure peace and promote world stability, we must enshrine America’s illustrious history. We must draw on our record of averting conflict through preparedness.
George Washington’s admonition, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace,” has never been surpassed in its profundity or in its application. Though nuclear war is unconscionable, we must grasp, as Herman Kahn did, many decades ago, that it is our preparedness for conflict that substantiates deterrence.
Michael R. Pompeo served as Secretary of State and as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Donald Trump. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute.