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.

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.

Anti-Ballistic Missiles

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.