Commentary Magazine


The Times They Are Not A Changing

Should the United States build new and more reliable nuclear warheads? In the face of the aging and deterioration of weapons in the existing arsenal, the Bush administration is pushing ahead with a plan to do just that. And the New York Times, among other liberal outlets, has been pushing back.

The paper’s argument is that the nuclear modernization program

is a public-relations disaster in the making overseas. Suspicions that the United States is actually trying to build up its nuclear capabilities are undercutting Washington’s arguments for restraining the nuclear appetites of Iran and North Korea.

In other words, the United States is in danger of provoking an arms race.

But Iran and North Korea are not the only players in this game. What, one might ask, are Russia and China doing in this realm? And there are some other pertinent facts one might consider that the Times, the Washington Post, and other critics of the Bush “build-up” also never mention.

One such fact is that the Bush ”build-up” is not a build-up at all but a build-down. Last week, two ranking officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration testified before Congress and reported that

we continue to reduce the stockpile to meet the President’s mandate to have the smallest nuclear stockpile consistent with our national-security objectives. As a result, today the stockpile is half of what it was in 2001, and by 2012, the United States will have the smallest stockpile since the 1950′s. Additional reductions in the stockpile are possible, but these reductions will require changes to the weapons complex and the composition of the stockpile. . . .

In 2004, the President directed a 50 percent reduction in the size of the [nuclear] stockpile, and, in December 2007, he ordered an additional 15 percent cut. The result will be a nuclear stockpile one quarter the size it was at the end of the cold war and the smallest since the Eisenhower Administration.

So much for the alarming Bush build-up. What about China and Russia?

The Pentagon has just issued its annual report, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China. China, it states,

is qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic forces. These presently consist of: approximately 20 silo-based, liquid-fueled CSS-4 ICBMs (which constitute its primary nuclear means of holding continental U.S. targets at risk); approximately 20 liquid-fueled, limited range CSS-3 ICBMs; between 15-20 liquid-fueled CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs); upwards of 50 CSS-5 road mobile, solid-fueled MRBMs (for regional deterrence missions); and, JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) on the XIA-class SSBN (although the operational status of the XIA is questionable).

By 2010, China’s nuclear forces will likely comprise enhanced CSS-4s; CSS-3s; CSS-5s; solid-fueled, road-mobile DF-31 and DF31A ICBMs, which are being deployed to units of the Second Artillery Corps; and up to five JIN-class SSBNs, each carrying between 10 and 12 JL-2 SLBM. The addition of nuclear-capable forces with greater mobility and survivability, combined with ballistic missile defense countermeasures which China is researching — including maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRV), multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV), decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and ASAT weapons — will strengthen China’s deterrent and enhance its capabilities for strategic strike. New air- and ground-launched cruise missiles that could perform nuclear missions would similarly improve the survivability, flexibility, and effectiveness of China’s nuclear forces.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month about Moscow’s efforts to augment its nuclear forces.

Russia has made a major commitment of almost 5 trillion rubles to its 2007-2015 budget to develop and build new conventional and nuclear weapon systems, with Moscow’s priority on the maintenance and modernization of the latter.

Development and production of advanced strategic weapons such as the SS-27/TOPOL-M ICBM and the Bulava-30 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) continues.  In April, Russia rolled out the first Dolgorukiy-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) designed to carry the Bulava-30 SLBM which continues testing despite several publicized failures. . . .

Russia retains a relatively large stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

“[W]hen we build, they build; when we cut, they build,” is what Harold Brown once said about the USSR back when he was Secretary of Defense under Jimmy Carter.

The times appear not to have changed all that much since then, and neither, in its consistent effort to blame the ills of the world on the United States, has the New York Times.