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Nuclear Deterrence: The Uncertain Future of the Creaky Missiles

Posted By Michaela Dodge On February 1, 2013 @ 2:15 pm In Security | Comments Disabled

Recently, Time magazine [1] covered the aging status of the U.S. Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The article shone a spotlight on the problem of the deteriorating U.S. nuclear deterrent.

The United States is the only nuclear power that does not have a nuclear modernization program [2]. The U.S. approach to the nuclear triad during the Cold War was different than that of today: Replacing weapons was routine, with updates occurring every decade. This is not true today.

The ICBMs, however, are not the only aging leg of the nuclear triad [3]. The Navy has been relying on Ohio-class submarines for about 30 years. Its replacement is scheduled for the 2030s. The B-2 bomber has been in service for more than 14 years and the B-52 bomber for more than 50 years.

When it comes to modernizing nuclear weapons programs, other countries are not being timid. Russia is aggressively working on a new class of nuclear-capable submarines [4] that have already begun sea trials. The threat of a nuclear Iran persists. North Korea has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and is allegedly preparing for a third one. The extent of the Chinese nuclear weapons modernization is unknown.

Calls for abandoning the triad (in favor of a diad or a monad) are misplaced, because the triad continues to provide the best set of options in the case the U.S. is faced with a crisis involving nuclear weapons. Of all the systems in the nuclear triad, ICBMs [5] are the most numerous, most reliable, most cost-effective, and most responsive.

Addressing future security challenges includes understanding the requirement for a formidable military capable of deterring and defeating potential adversaries. The U.S. cannot responsibly abandon its deterrent strategic capability. Rather, it should expand [6] its arsenal to provide for a more credible nuclear deterrent. Failing to modernize U.S. ICBMs, as well as the other two elements of the triad, may well call deterrence into question.

Jordan Harms is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm [7].

Article printed from The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation: http://blog.heritage.org

URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2013/02/01/nuclear-deterrence-the-uncertain-future-of-the-creaky-missiles/

URLs in this post:

[1] Time magazine: http://nation.time.com/2013/01/23/the-nations-icbm-force-increasingly-creaky-broken-missiles/

[2] only nuclear power that does not have a nuclear modernization program: http://blog.heritage.org/2013/01/14/nuclear-modernization-the-state-department-would-have-you-think/

[3] not the only aging leg of the nuclear triad: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/06/nuclear-weapons-modernization-priorities-after-new-start

[4] nuclear-capable submarines: http://blog.heritage.org/2013/01/09/russia-sails-new-nuclear-submarine-while-u-s-continues-fleet-delays/?query=Russia+Sails+New+Nuclear+Submarine+While+U.S.+Continues+Fleet+Delays

[5] ICBMs: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/01/time-to-modernize-and-revitalize-the-nuclear-triad

[6] expand: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/11/deterrence-and-nuclear-targeting-in-the-21st-century

[7] http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

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