Dirk Jameson: A new approach to nuclear weapons

April 27, 2012 By DIRK JAMESONWASHINGTON The Obama administration is preparing to review the size of America's nuclear force, and develop a plan for its future. The Defense Department will present the president with three options for the size of our arsenal: high, medium and low. The current stock of 1,550 deployed weapons mandated by the recently ratified New START Treaty is the highest option. It's time for the U.S. to scale down its stock of nuclear weapons. A new and effective strategy for deterring a nuclear attack can be achieved with a substantial cut in our nuclear force. Our present nuclear-war-fighting strategy is outdated and geared against an enemy that hasn't existed for more than 20 years -- the Soviet Union. Today, the greatest threats to our security are weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, biological or chemical -- in the hands of terrorist organizations or rogue states. These threats are not deterred by America's massive arsenal of 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons, or the thousands more we have in reserve. Indeed, these weapon systems are of limited practical use and pose tremendous costs that we can ill afford. Some in Washington continue to hold on to the idea that America needs a massive nuclear force. But such thinking is outdated and no longer addresses today's strategic reality. Times have moved on, and so should we. The U.S. can still maintain a strong, effective nuclear deterrent with a dramatic reduction in deployed and non-deployed weapons. Combined, America and Russia control 90 percent of nuclear weapons. But Russia is not our enemy today. We must work together to reduce the nuclear threat to both our nations and to the world. So how do we arrive at an appropriate level for our nuclear deterrent?

First, U.S. nuclear policy must remain nonpartisan. Our strategic security must not be influenced by politics. Only by looking practically at our nuclear policy will we achieve one in line with our interests and the threats we face. Second, we need to remember that having more weapons doesn't mean we are "winning" -- or will even succeed in deterring others from pursuing nuclear weapons. It merely reflects that our nuclear strategy is ill-suited to our times. Third, the Cold War is over; we won. We no longer need thousands of nuclear weapons ready to deter an enemy that no longer exists. Remember, at the end of World War II, we began rapidly dismantling and recycling our massive and expensive arsenal of weaponry to a size sustainable in peacetime. Finally, we must work with other nations to mutually reduce unnecessary weapons. That is in everybody's interest. The New START Treaty with Russia provides an instructive example. It established modest reductions in each side's strategic nuclear forces in conjunction with boots on the ground in Russia to verify the treaty. The result was improved intelligence on Russian strategic nuclear weapons through mutual reporting and data exchange. Such information relieved our intelligence agencies of the expensive burden of keeping an eye on Russia's arsenal by other means. The treaty created both stability and predictability between our two nations. Consequently, we've been able to free up assets and money to spend elsewhere. American policymakers should recognize the success of New START and take things further with Russia, not just by seeking additional reductions in nuclear arms, but also working to scale down our reserves of strategic and tactical weapons. The bottom line is that with modern nuclear strategy and geopolitical reality, we no longer require a massive and complex Cold-War-era nuclear force. We can reduce the numbers of these weapons while still providing our nation with a strong and appropriate deterrent. Let's get on with this task so we can focus on truly strengthening our national security. Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson (ret.) was deputy commander in chief and chief of staff of the U.S. Strategic Command before retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1996 after more than three decades of active service. He is a member of the Consensus for American Security.