Nuclear Weapons in 21st Century U.S. National Security
During the Cold War, the purpose of the United States nuclear arsenal was to deter nuclear threats to the United States, primarily from the Soviet Union. Today, in the post-9/11 world, the most urgent nuclear weapon threats to the United States are not from another major power’s deliberate use of them, but instead are from non-state terrorist actors or from the regional proliferation of such weapons into unreliable hands.
U.S. nuclear policy and strategy in this post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment have not been well articulated and as a consequence are poorly understood both within and outside American borders. This situation has led to doubts and uncertainties about the roles and missions of nuclear weapons and their value against 21st century security threats, including allies’ uncertainties about U.S. assurances as they relate to emerging nuclear-armed neighboring states.
Lacking a coherent and compelling rationale for U.S. nuclear strategy and policy, Congress has been unwilling to fund some Bush Administration requests for new nuclear refurbishment efforts (both stockpile and infrastructure). Meanwhile, serious strains on the human, technical, and scientific infrastructure could undermine whatever strategy is ultimately adopted. Clearly, this policy vacuum regarding our nuclear deterrent must be addressed alongside our efforts to prevent further nuclear proliferation.
The purpose of this report is to inform the next administration’s decision-making on U.S. nuclear strategy, policy, posture, and related proliferation and arms control issues. Any decision that the United States makes with respect to its own nuclear stockpile and infrastructure must also address how these decisions (and perceptions of those decisions) may affect U.S. efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and pursue lower global inventories of nuclear weapons. To address 21st century nuclear threats, and growing challenges to sustaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, the next administration should build a package of nuclear initiatives that can attract broad support both at home and abroad. This study seeks to identify the components of a new centrist way forward to end the post-Cold War drift on U.S. nuclear strategy, policy, and capabilities.
The American Physical Society (APS), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) collaborated in this study in an effort to bring together the technical expertise of the scientific community and the policy expertise of the security studies community. This collaborative effort was organized around a series of four workshops,1 held in the first half of 2008, that ensured cross-fertilization across disparate disciplines and perspectives without sacrificing issue-specific depth. Despite diverse views about the role of U.S. nuclear weapons and their importance to U.S. security, workshop attendees found they held common, though not necessarily unanimous, views on how the next administration could assemble a package of initiatives that, if taken together, could attract broad support. Throughout this report, these commonly held views will be expressed in bold type. It should be noted, however, that no participant held all of these views and that no single view was held by all attendees.
The interpretations and conclusions contained in this report are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the APS Executive Board, the AAAS Board of Directors, the APS and AAAS Councils and memberships, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, or the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
About APS & POPA
Founded in 1899 to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics, the American Physical Society is now the nation’s leading organization of physicists with approximately 50,000 members in academia, national laboratories, and industry. APS has long played an active role in the federal government; its members serve in Congress and have held positions such as Science Advisor to the President of the United States, Director of the CIA, Director of the National Science Foundation and Secretary of Energy.
This report was overseen by the APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA). POPA routinely produces reports on timely topics being debated in government so as to inform the debate with the perspectives of physicists working in the relevant issue areas.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. AAAS was founded in 1848 and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million.
AAAS participation in this report was through its Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. The Center’s mission is to provide objective, high-quality, scientific information and analysis on a wide range of security issues to the Washington policy community, by drawing on the best academic research on these issues in the nation’s universities. The Center is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts research and analysis to provide strategic insights and policy solutions to decision makers in government, international institutions, the private sector, and civil society. Founded in 1962, CSIS has grown to become one of the world’s preeminent international policy institutions, with more than 220 full-time staff and a large network of affiliated scholars focused on defense and security, regional stability, and transnational challenges ranging from energy and climate to global development and economic integration.
Joint Working Group
John C. Browne
Hon. John Hamre
J. Michael Cornwall
Hon. James Leach
Franklin C. Miller