An Escalating Arms Race: Is A New Cold War Inevitable?

Over the last year or so, it has seemed increasingly so. Consider the evidence:

  • NATO has agreed to have combat brigades rotate through eastern European countries that formerly were under the domain of the Soviet Union. This follows the announcement of a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) that would enable the U.S. and its NATO allies to respond rapidly to a security crisis with Russia. The administration has asked for $3.4 billion in the FY-2017 budget (versus the current $789 million) to be used for “prepositioning war fighting gear,” training and exercises.
  • Russia and the U.S. each charge the other with violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Michael Gorbachev, the treaty stated that neither country would “possess, produce or flight test ground launched cruise missiles with a range of 3000 – 3400 miles.”

  • China is reportedly converting its long range ballistic missiles (the Dong Feng-31 or East Wind) to multiple nuclear warheads, all at a time when it is exerting power over islands, reefs and water in the South China Sea. The world awaits nervously in the wake of the International Tribunal rejection of China’s assertion to the area, especially its talk of establishing an “Air Defense Zone.”
  • To the dismay of China and North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. appear to have agreed on installation of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) Battery, this after a fourth nuclear test in North Korea in January.
  • Russia and China, among others, are reportedly developing longer range missiles some with miniature warheads. Both are said to be flight testing hypersonic glide vehicles that could deliver conventional or nuclear devices at devastating speeds.

a new cold war, nuclear modernization,When President Obama came into office he reversed President Bush’s plan for placing anti-missiles and supporting radar in Poland and the Czech Republic. Much to the relief of Russia, AEGIS destroyers with SM-3 missiles would be stationed in the Mediterranean, all with the intent of destroying a missile launched from Iran. However, new versions of the SM-3 were developed, and to the consternation of Russia, new plans developed for placement in Romania and Poland. In May, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the Romanian facility was in place, but only to defend against short and intermediate missile threats from outside Europe (read Iran). Russia was not pleased, claiming that this was a direct action against them.

Nuclear Modernization

Another of President Obama’s early achievements was the New Start Treaty, which called for the reduction of delivery vehicles (to 700 maximum) and war heads (to 1500 maximum) for both Russia and the U.S. However, to get the Congress to approve the treaty, the President agreed to a stipulation that America “modernize” its nuclear weapons. Current estimates are that this will cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

In 2010, President Obama stated the following: “The U.S. will not develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions or new capabilities from nuclear weapons.”

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be what has happened. People like Hans Kristensen and others at the Federation of American Sciences have described what the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and others are actually doing:

  • B61-12 (estimated cost: $10 billion). This will be a guided nuclear bomb, made possible with a Joint Direct Attack Munition Tail Kit (developed by Boeing), and one that can be “dialed” to result in various yields (0.3 kilotons to 50 kilotons). It is said to be three to four times more accurate than existing nuclear gravity bombs. It is also able to control the amount of radioactive fallout. It will fit into three stealthy aircraft – the B-2 bomber, the B-21 bomber and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Can anyone argue that the B61-12 is not a tactical weapon with the capability to undertake new military missions?
  • Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) (estimated cost: $20 – 30 billion). In Fiscal Year 2015, the Department of Defense requested that the next generation of cruise missiles be delayed by three years. Last year, it changed its mind and requested that the LRSO be accelerated. Reportedly, it now wants to purchase 1000 of the new nuclear cruise missiles, twice as many as what currently exists. They will contain a warhead (W80-4) with lower yield options, faster speeds, and the ability to travel within the B-2 and B-21 stealth bombers. Earlier Nuclear Posture Reviews said that any decision to replace the existing cruise missile (Air Launched Cruise Missile – ACLM) system should be postponed. The LRSO sure looks like a new weapon designed to take on new military missions.
  • W 76 Life Extension Program – This is a nuclear warhead that has been a central element of the U.S.’ nuclear inventory over the years. A new “radar-updated, path-length compensation super fuse” is apparently being developed to improve the warhead’s ability to destroy “hardened targets.”  This sure sounds like a new bunker busting capability.

Remember the MAD nuclear policy – Mutually Assured Destruction?  The idea was that as long as countries believed that their adversaries could retaliate from a nuclear attack with their own nuclear response, then they wouldn’t be used. But when nuclear weapons are perceived as tactical weapons that can be used by local commanders to attack a relatively small target, the chances of their use would seem to expand. Former Defense Secretary William Perry believes that these new weapons will be “uniquely destabilizing.” So do those in Congress. Ten senators recently asked President Obama to cancel development of the LRSO. But their views are far from popular. Last month, the House of Representatives turned down (159 – 261) a proposed amendment to remove $76 million for development of the missile.

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