All the modernisation options would meet the requirements of deterrence against nuclear-armed states, but current US plans fare less well in terms of strategic stability and arms control; nuclear security and non-proliferation; and trade-offs with conventional operations.

This book has assessed the US plan for nuclear modernisation and three alternatives against a range of criteria: deterrent power and flexibility; strategic stability and arms control; nuclear security and non-proliferation; and trade-offs with conventional procurement as well as contributions to conventional operations. All the modernisation plans would meet the requirements of deterrence against nuclear-armed states. On the other criteria, the existing plan fares less well, in large part because it replicates the Cold War triad despite enormous changes in the strategic context.

The full triad plan and its alternatives
Although the default plan’s force structure is compliant with New START, it threatens crisis and arms-race stability with Russia by enhancing capabilities that – in tandem with advanced US conventional weapons and ballistic-missile defence – exacerbate Russian concerns that the US intends to negate Moscow’s nuclear deterrent. It contains weapons systems that can destabilise the nuclear balance and create incentives for potential adversaries to place their nuclear forces on higher alert status and increase their nuclear war-fighting capability. For example, US plans to continue improving the hard-target-kill capabilities of US nuclear warheads and to deploy the B61-12 guided bomb and a nuclear-armed LRSO are further stoking Russian threat perceptions. This could prompt reciprocal deployments of new Russian nuclear-armed air- and ground-launched cruise missiles. The risk increases if the US deploys the thousands of conventional long-range cruise missiles it is purchasing.1 Russia has not matched the United States’ development of very precise and highly destructive conventional weapons, together with ballistic-missile defences, and these alter the strategic balance between the two states.

Dr James E. Doyle formerly a specialist in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, focuses on strategic planning and policy development in the field of nuclear weapons.

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