Managing Risk: Nuclear Weapons in the New Era of Geopolitics

Table of Contents

Introduction: The New Nuclear World Order

  • Bruce Jones:
    • For the past two decades, governments and observers have paid more attention to nuclear non-proliferation than to the more traditional concerns of deterrence, strategic stability and arms control
    • These concerns are once again coming to the forefront with the new era of great-power competition
    • Discuss the intersection of strategic stability and non-proliferation – these two concerns don't always align
    • Discuss whether the US government is well-positioned to handle contemporary challenges posed by nuclear weapons
  • Frank Rose:
    • For the past 25 years, our nuclear policy has been about reducing the number of nuclear weapons
    • We are now probably at the end of that process and we won't be talking about reductions for some time
    • How do we manage great power competition with Russia and China
    • Nuclear deterrence is necessarily a part of this competition
    • Nuclear modernization is a components of deterrence
    • Keep in mind the real goal of arms control: prevent nuclear war
  • Strobe Talbott:
    • Examine deterrence and arms control together
    • "Classical" approaches to arms control are obsolete
    • Evolution of Russia's strategy has made the old discussions around arms control obsolete
  • Robert Einhorn:
    • Stability has to take priority over reductions
    • Prevailing framework is out of date
      • Prevailing framework was focused on bilateral deals between the USA and the USSR
      • Provide for equal numbers of nuclear weapons on equal numbers of 3 types of delivery vehicles:
        • ICBMs
        • Land-based missiles
        • Strategic bombers
        • Surprised that he doesn't mention submarine launched missiles, but perhaps that's because submarine-launched missiles weren't subject to arms control treaties?
        • Submarine-launched missiles are covered by arms control treaties, both directly and as a result of limitations on numbers of warheads and delivery systems
        • Maybe he misspoke, and meant submarine-based missiles instead of land-based missiles
    • 2 things have made this old framework obsolete
      • Emergence of China as a near-peer great-power competitor
      • Advent of new offensive and defensive systems
        • Missile defenses
        • Long-range high-precision conventional strike systems
        • Anti-space systems
        • Cyber-warfare
      • Adversaries now have credible non-nuclear ways to cripple their enemy's ability to launch a retaliatory counterstrike
    • We need to think about many more variables when considering arms control and strategic stability
  • Madelyn Creedon:
    • Some of this is due to natural forces of economics and politics
    • At the end of the Cold War, it was clear that neither the US nor Russia needed as many nuclear weapons as they had
    • Russia's dire economic straits created an opportunity where Russia was willing to negotiate arms reduction
      • They gained directly by having fewer weapons to maintain, which was an important concern, given how many weapons they had and how much maintenance nuclear weapons need
    • US, meanwhile, was focused on terrorism rather than great power conflict
      • Allowed the US government a freer hand on negotiating arms control because the US public and US politicians were more focused on the threat posed by transnational terrorism – didn't seem as important for the US to maintain an unassailable lead in nuclear weapons
    • The new environment is a result of states wanting better, not necessarily more, nuclear capability
      • Russia needed a credible nuclear arsenal in order to be taken seriously as a world power, and it began to modernize its weapons as soon as it had the money to do so
      • United States had a series of unfortunate incidents which brought to light how badly its nuclear arsenal had deteriorated in the post-Cold War era
      • China needed a more credible nuclear deterrent in order to exert more influence in its region
        • Remember, unlike the US, China has two nuclear states bordering it: India and Russia
        • The US nuclear arsenal would get a lot more attention too, if:
          1. Canada and Mexico were both nuclear armed powers
          2. They had expansionary geopolitical ambitions of their own
    • We need to worry about the qualitative capabilities of nuclear weapons, not just absolute numbers (like "throw weight", or numbers of delivery vehicles)
  • Frank Rose:
    • Thomas Schelling, in the '60s, wrote about how the "character" of weapons mattered, in addition to the numbers of weapons
    • We can no longer used the "two-states/one-weapon" paradigm when discussing arms control
      • Two states: US and USSR
      • One weapon: ICBMs
    • Today, we need to think about not just the US-Russia relationship, but the US-China relationship, the Russia-China relationship, the India-Pakistan relationship…
    • Meanwhile, the introduction of new technology means that we can't discuss arms control solely in terms of a single weapons system
    • Can't just talk about how many ICBMs we have vs. how many they have

Arms Control

Russian Resurgence

  • Bruce Jones: Given Russia's modernization and its threats to explicitly use nuclear weapons, how should the US approach the bilateral nuclear relationship with Russia?
  • Michael O'Hanlon:
    • Nuclear stability depends on great-power stability
    • The only way that nuclear weapons become safe is if the great powers outline which domains they're going to compete in and which domains are off limits
    • Russia's nuclear threats are in service of other goals
    • The Russian government is not interested in pursuing a nuclear stability strategy for its own sake
    • They're willing to violate arms control treaties if they think it will serve their broader strategic objectives
    • It is a mistake to think that everyone is after nuclear stability
  • Frank Rose:
    • Nuclear weapons are critical to Russian geopolitical strategy
    • Russia has no real allies, other than maybe Syria and Belarus
    • Demographic challenges
    • Economy that is still dangerously dependent on commodities and resource extraction
    • While they have modernized their military to some extent, their military still lags far behind the US, especially in its ability to operate globally
      • For example, look at all the problems they had with their sole aircraft carrier when they attempted to perform combat operations in Syria
      • There were so many issues that the airplanes were transferred to a land base, and the carrier sailed back to Russia, empty
      • Meanwhile the US routinely conducts combat operations from two or three carriers at the same time
    • The Russian "strategic partnership" with China is solely about balancing the US
    • Nuclear weapons are the only thing where the Russians can credibly claim that they are the equals of the US
    • What are the geopolitical implications for the US?
      • Russia does not believe that the European security infrastructure that was built up in the '80s and the '90s is in its interest
      • View that arms controls treaties were imposed upon Russia when it was weak
      • Shades of German dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles
      • Russia has a different view of bilateral nuclear treaties than the US
        • Treaties are about ensuring that they maintain parity with the US
        • What the treaty bans and does not ban gives Russia insight into our nuclear strategy and our technological capabilities
        • Anecdote time:
          • Payne, in The Great American Gamble, talks about how the Russians were absolutely baffled when the US proposed ABM treaty banning missile defense research
          • The Russians considered US missile defense capabilities to far superior to their own, and could not understand why the US would throw away the possibility of a decisive strategic advantage
          • Of course, that didn't stop them from signing the ABM treaty
  • Bruce Jones: What role does Russia play in the North Korean and Iranian proliferation efforts?
  • Madelyn Creedon:
    • With regards to North Korea, Russia plays a disruptive role
    • Not viewed as a major player by Pyongyang
  • Suzanne Maloney:
    • With regards to Iran, it's the US that's the disruptor
    • Russia played a crucial role in negotiating the JCPOA and continued to participate productively in those negotiations even as US-Russia relations deteriorated elsewhere
    • It is in Russia's interest to appear to be the more reliable partner after the US walked away from the JCPOA deal
      • Deepen ties with both Iran and Syria
      • Simultaneously benefit from higher oil prices due to reductions in Iranian exports due to US sanctions
  • Robert Einhorn:
    • Russia genuinely does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons
    • Russia also has a commercial interest in being able to sell nuclear reactors and fuel to Iran
    • The US and Russia have a common interest with regards to Iranian nuclear capability
    • While we cannot currently act on those interests, we will need to do so in the future to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons

The China Challenge

  • Bruce Jones: China is also seeking to change the world order to its benefit, but in a very different way than Russia. Where do nuclear weapons fit into Chinese thinking?
  • Frank Rose:
    • China presents a fundamentally different nuclear challenge
    • Russia has been very belligerent with its nuclear policy
    • China continues to maintain a no-first-use policy
    • Restrained nuclear rhetoric
    • Aren't trying to match US or Russian arsenals
    • China's primary priority is to maintain a survivable second-strike capability
    • To this end, they see US missile defense initiatives as an existential threat to their nuclear deterrent capability
    • The main concern with China is their offensive anti-satellite and cyberwarfare capabilities
    • We have a (fraying) dialogue with Russia on cyber and ASAT
    • We need to start a similar dialogue with China
  • Michael O'Hanlon
    • It's a mistake to treat Russia and China similarly when it comes to nuclear policy
    • Russia is far more reckless than China – Russia knows that its power is on the wane, long term
    • China, on the other hand, is more confident – it knows that its conventional capabilities are on the rise
    • We should be more grateful that China hasn't been more belligerent with their nuclear policy
  • Strobe Talbott
    • China has been a beneficiary of globalization
    • They see it in their best interest to maintain a peaceful world order
  • Michael O'Hanlon
    • Russia is much more willing to overturn international norms
    • China wants to be seen as an equal, but it is willing to work within existing institutions and structures
  • Bruce Jones:
    • China and Russia are playing complementary strategies
    • While China may not condone what Russia is doing, it benefits from Russia's disruptiveness
      • Distracts the US
      • Weakens Europe
    • Main risk for China is that Russia will go too far and will cause a breakdown in the world order which will harm China

Technology and nuclear weapons

  • Bruce Jones: What impact does cyberwarfare have on nuclear strategy?
  • Frank Rose
    • Cyberwarfare fundamentally changes the nuclear threat landscape
    • We need to keep the potential for cyber-attack as we modernize our nuclear command and control systems
    • Strategic capabilities (nuclear, cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence, missile defense, space-borne weapons) are increasingly becoming integrated
    • One of the mistakes that the Obama administration was that it eliminated the position of Undersecretary of Defense for global strategic affairs
    • Russia and China most definitely do not consider nuclear, cyber and space as separate – why should we?
    • Unlikely that future conflict will be limited to a single domain
  • Bruce Jones: Could cyber operations be met with a nuclear response?
  • Frank Rose
    • No, there is no cyber-attack which would merit a nuclear response
    • More generally, we need to be more careful about threatening a nuclear response
    • Given that we're not going to use nuclear weapons to respond to a cyber-attack, we need to formulate credible cyber and conventional responses which can be used to meet a cyber-attack
  • Michael O'Hanlon
    • If a cyber-attack, biological weapon or artificial intelligence caused as much damage as a nuclear strike, then we should be open to using nuclear weapons in response
    • Taking nuclear weapons off the table prematurely ties our hands
  • Madelyn Creedon
    • We need to maintain some level of ambiguity in our response
    • In the near term, however, the main danger is theft of intellectual property
    • Even the most severe cyber-attacks perpetrated by Russia have been relatively minor things
  • Strobe Talbot: We can't count on cyber-attacks remaining mild
  • Madelyn Creedon
    • Need to better protect military and critical assets against cyberattack
    • Maintain flexibility in response (be it conventional, cyber, or nuclear)
    • Response should depend on the consequences of the attack, not the nature of the attack
    • Cyberwarfare is part of a strategic whole
    • Need to figure out how we can achieve strategic stability in a world with advanced cyberwarfare capabilities and artificial intelligence
  • Frank Rose
    • Need to improve our ability to adopt and adapt new technology
    • Plans need to be flexible so that our modernization programs can pick up new technologies as they become available
  • Bruce Jones: Should we worry about a medium or longer term future where nuclear launches are automated?
  • Frank Rose:
    • China, Russia and other authoritarian countries don't have the same qualms about AI that we do
    • Need to come up with guidelines about launch automation that everyone agrees to stick to for the collective good
    • It will be difficult to get a formal treaty restricting AI in nuclear weapons so long as nations think the technology can be used for strategic advantage

Non-Proliferation

Crisis In North Korea

Author: Rohit Patnaik

Created: 2019-02-26 Tue 21:16

Validate