JUST IN: U.S. Strategic Posture Called ‘Insufficient’ for Future Threats
A report from the U.S. Strategic Posture Commission released this month found the United States’ current nuclear forces are not sufficient for future threats posed by China and Russia.
The nation is on the cusp of a “fundamentally different global setting for which we did not plan and we are not well prepared,” Madelyn Creedon, the commission chair of the Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, and Brookings Institute nonresident senior fellow, said during a Hudson Institute panel discussion Oct. 23.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a commissioner and Hudson Institute senior fellow, called the difference between the last report in 2009 and the commission’s current findings “dramatic,” including how optimistic the commissioners were 14 years ago about the direction of the threats facing the United States.
“We are facing two nuclear peers and that is unprecedented,” Creedon said. “And so the nation must act now and with a sense of urgency. Steps need to be taken again now to enable both near and longer term decisions.”
The nearly 150-page report offered 81 recommendations, but the panel highlighted, among others, a need to bolster conventional forces and address a dwindling nuclear workforce.
The report’s timeframe examined the last 14 years since the 2009 report with a focus on 2027 to 2035, and the transition phase stretching from present to 2027.
Creedon called out five assumptions she said underpin the report: Russia and China will continue to grow their nuclear arsenals, a ‘one major war’ construct is no longer viable, the foundational tenants of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy remain valid, strong allies and partners are essential, and the U.S. deterrent must be credible.
The United States needs to prepare for the possibility of a two-theater conflict, she said, “even if one of the conflicts is opportunistic. The U.S. defense and nuclear strategy must be implemented to effectively deter and defeat if deterrence fails simultaneous aggression in two theaters.”
According to the report, that makes the execution of the nuclear modernization programs of record “urgent,” which includes the replacement of all U.S. nuclear delivery systems, modernization of their warheads, comprehensive modernization of U.S. nuclear command, control and communications, and recapitalizing the nuclear enterprise infrastructure.
While recognizing the imperative of the modernization strategy, the report also found it wasn’t enough. Avoiding specific numbers, the report recommended increases in the planned number of deployed Long-Range Standoff Weapons, B-21 bombers and Columbia-class submarines.
“We … feel that the currently planned number of Columbia-class submarines is insufficient,” Marshall Billingslea, commissioner and Hudson Institute senior fellow, said during the panel. Current plans call for 12 of the new subs with the first to be delivered in 2031.
He also said a third shipyard is needed to build up capacity.
“We will need to both increase plant production as well as a third shipyard in order to accomplish that,” he said, also noting that the report recommends the current ballistic missile Ohio-class submarines “will need to be extended longer than originally planned.” The report pays “a lot of attention” to the submarine force, “and it’s not in a good place right now,” he added.
The report also touches on the larger submarine industrial base, “and it’s not just the Columbia class,” Creedon said. “It’s also the Virginia-class submarines that, at the moment, are way behind schedule.”
The industrial base that supports both the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration “is out of date, unusable, or in some case, literally falling down,” Creedon said, adding that both departments are struggling with supply chain issues and “neither have enough capacity to meet future requirements.”
Workforce and supply chains need to be considered, Heinrichs said. “If we’re not doing that, then really all of this is impossible. Or very, very difficult to do.”
Another highlight was the need for increased conventional forces. “Without conventional forces to deter regional wars, the use of nuclear weapons regionally becomes more likely,” Creedon said. “And without significant conventional increases, the U.S. will need to rely more on nuclear weapons, increasing their role, not decreasing their role, as we have sought for years to achieve.”
Rose Gottemoeller, commissioner and Hoover Institute research fellow, said some may read the report as an embrace of nuclear warfighting, and an “escalate to deescalate” strategy.
“I think this is total nonsense,” she said. “We clearly express here as a commission a preference to continue to focus on our conventional force posture. Yes, we spend a lot of time talking about nuclear force posture … but we also focused on the need to build up our conventional capabilities as well.”
Lastly, the panel emphasized the importance of allies and partners.
“Strong allies and partners are essential and make us all stronger together,” Creedon said.
Gottemoeller called their role “exceptional,” and that the commission recognized their “importance overall to the security of the United States of America.”
Heinrichs added that both the United States and its allies and partners have long benefited from the stability and order of the systems of alliances and sovereignty of nations.
“We literally cannot win a long Cold War against the Chinese without our allies,” she said. “They have advantages that we can cooperate with and take advantage of.”