Nuclear Weapons, China, and a Strategic Defense Initiative for this Century

Nuclear Deterrence

Nuclear Weapons, China, and a Strategic Defense Initiative for this Century

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.

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.

Strategic Clarity

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

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.

Science Misused

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.