1997 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


THE FUTURE OF NUCLEAR DETERRENCE




               TESTIMONY OF HON. WALTER B. SLOCOMBE,
               UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY,
                       DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE


                                HEARING
                               before the
                SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL SECURITY,
                  PROLIFERATION, AND FEDERAL SERVICES
                                 of the
                              COMMITTEE ON
                          GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
                          UNITED STATES SENATE
                       ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
                              FIRST SESSION
                               __________

                           FEBRUARY 12, 1997



                PREPARED STATEMENT OF SECRETARY SLOCOMBE

Introduction
    Mr. Chairman, I am delighted to meet with this subcommittee today 
to discuss a topic of great importance to the American people and to 
our security and that of the world as a whole: nuclear weapons and 
deterrence.
    Nuclear deterrence has been the subject of much debate over the 
decades, and, appropriately, this debate has been resumed after the end 
of the Cold War. Most recently, the nuclear question has been given 
prominence by respected individuals and committees who advocate a 
radical change--setting as a policy goal the complete abolition of 
nuclear weapons.
    Indeed, such calls underscore the continuing American and global 
interest in a deliberate process to further reduce--and ultimately 
eliminate--nuclear weapons. The U.S. has embraced this commitment for 
many years. When the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was signed in 
1968, we signed on to Article VI of the NPT, which calls for the 
parties to undertake ``to pursue negotiations in good faith relating to 
cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear 
disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under 
strict and effective international control.'' In 1995, when the NPT was 
indefinitely extended, we reiterated this pledge to work toward the 
complete elimination of nuclear weapons in the context of general and 
complete disarmament. President Clinton, in a speech to the United 
Nations this past September, said he looks forward to a new century 
``in which the roles and risks of nuclear weapons can be further 
reduced, and ultimately eliminated.''
    The United States has made remarkable progress in fulfilling our 
NPT Article VI commitment. The nuclear arms race has, in fact, been 
halted. The United States has been reducing its nuclear stockpile in a 
consistent fashion through both its unilateral and bilateral 
initiatives. For example, the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear 
Forces eliminated an entire category of U.S. and Russian nuclear 
weapons. In 1991 we and our NATO allies decided to retire all nuclear 
artillery shells, all nuclear warheads for short-range ballistic 
missiles, and all naval nuclear anti-submarine warfare weapons. None of 
these weapons is deployed today, and the majority of them have been 
destroyed.
    Over the past four years, the Clinton Administration has worked 
hard to secure detargeting of U.S. and Russian strategic missiles; the 
entry into force of the START I Treaty; the complete denuclearization 
of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan; the indefinite extension of the NPT; 
Senate ratification of START II; and negotiation of the Comprehensive 
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And we have made clear that, once START II 
enters into force, we are prepared to work on further reductions in 
strategic nuclear arms as well as limiting and monitoring nuclear 
warheads and materials. Thus, lifting the threat of nuclear weapons 
destruction and limiting their spread has been and remains at the top 
of President Clinton's foreign policy agenda.
    However, we are not yet at the point where we can eliminate our 
nuclear weapons.
    For the foreseeable future, we will continue to need a reliable and 
flexible nuclear deterrent--survivable against the most aggressive 
attack, under highly confident constitutional command and control, and 
assured in its safety against both accident and unauthorized use.
    We will need such a force because nuclear deterrence--far from 
being made wholly obsolete--remains an essential ultimate assurance 
against the gravest of threats. A key conclusion of the 
Administration's National Security Strategy is that the United States 
will retain strategic nuclear forces sufficient to deter any future 
hostile foreign leadership with access to strategic nuclear forces from 
acting against our vital interests and to convince it that seeking a 
nuclear advantage would be futile.

    To summarize the argument I will develop in more detail:

    
  • We have already made dramatic steps in reducing U.S., Russian, and other, nuclear arsenals and potentials. We have also taken important steps to ensure safety, security--and non-diversion.
  • We can and should do more on both the reduction and safety/security fronts.
  • Nonetheless, nuclear weapons remain essential to deter against the gravest threats, actual and foreseeable.
  • Abolition, if understood as a near-term policy, rather than, as President Clinton has stated, an ultimate goal, is not a wise and surely not a feasible focus of policy.
  • Therefore, assuring the reliability of our nuclear forces and the nuclear stockpile remains a high national security priority. Let me turn to the rationale behind our nuclear forces, how and why we have been able to reduce our dependence on them in recent years, and then address why abolition in the near future is not a good idea. I should note that while there is a good deal that cannot be said in an unclassified session, the broad outlines of our nuclear policies have been available for years.

    Nuclear Deterrence: The Cold War Experience

    Because the past has lessons for the future, let me review briefly how our nuclear forces have strengthened our security. First, they provided a principal means by which the United States deterred conventional and nuclear aggression by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact against itself and its allies. Second, the extension of the U.S. nuclear umbrella allowed many of our allies to forego their own nuclear weapons, even though they had the technological know-how to develop them. Third, although the East-West competition spilled over into numerous regional conflicts during the Cold War, the nuclear capabilities possessed by the superpowers instilled caution, lest the United States and the Soviet Union be brought into direct, and possibly nuclear, confrontation. It is a remarkable fact that for almost half a century, the U.S. and its allies faced the USSR and its coerced auxiliaries in a division over ideology, power, culture, and the very definition of man, the state, and the world, and did so armed to the greatest extent huge sacrifice would afford, and yet did not fight a large-scale war. No one can say for sure why that success was achieved for long enough for Communism to collapse of its own internal weakness. But can anyone really doubt that nuclear weapons had a role? Some argued, even in the Cold War, that the danger of a nuclear holocaust was so great that the risk of possessing these weapons far outweighed their benefits. I do not agree. Nuclear deterrence helped buy us time, time for internal forces of upheaval and decay to rend the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and bring about the end of the Cold War.

    The U.S. nuclear deterrent has been transformed in the post Cold War period

    But the Cold War is over, and it is important to recognize the great degree to which our nuclear deterrent and indeed that of Russia has been transformed from that period. The role of nuclear weapons in our defense posture has diminished--we welcome this trend and expect it will continue in the future. U.S. spending on strategic forces has declined dramatically from Cold War levels--from 24 percent of the total DoD budget in the mid-1960s, to 7 percent in 1991, to less than 3 percent today. Moreover, we currently have no procurement programs for a next generation bomber, ICBM, SLBM or strategic submarine. The programs we do have are designed to sustain the effectiveness, safety and reliability of remaining forces, and to ensure the continued high quality of our people. Russian spending on strategic forces has also declined substantially. The Russian Federation has some strategic systems under development--for example, a new single warhead ICBM (the SS-X-27) and a new strategic ballistic missile submarine but these programs are fewer in number (and their development pace slower) than at the height of the Cold War. These systems will replace deployed systems that will reach the end of their service lives over the next decade; or that would be eliminated under START II. Stabilizing agreed reductions in nuclear forces have been, and continue to be, a primary objective of the United States. The U.S. and Russia have taken great strides in this regard in recent years. START I will reduce each side's deployed strategic weapons from well over 10,000 to 6,000 accountable weapons. Russia, like the U.S., is actually somewhat ahead of schedule in meeting the START I reduction requirements. START II, when it is ratified by the Russian Duma and enters into force, will further reduce to 3,000-3,500 each side's weapons. Following START II's entry into force, we are prepared to engage in negotiations further reducing strategic nuclear forces. Meanwhile, the U.S. has unilaterally reduced its non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNF) to one-tenth of Cold War levels. While Russia pledged in 1991 to make significant cuts in its non-strategic nuclear forces and has reduced its operational NSNF substantially, it has made far less progress thus far than the U.S., and the Russian non-strategic arsenal (deployed and stockpiled) is probably about ten times as large as ours. In addition to START reductions, there have been qualitative changes in our nuclear arsenal. There used to be nuclear land-mines, artillery, infantry weapons, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to- air weapons, air-to-air weapons, depth-charges, and torpedoes; all these have gone. In 1991 and 1992, the U.S. unilaterally eliminated several nuclear weapons systems (e.g., Lance, FB-111, SRAM-A), halted a number of planned or on-going development programs (e.g., Small ICBM, Peacekeeper Rail Garrison, Lance Follow-on), took nuclear bombers off alert, and removed from alert, well ahead of the required schedule, those ICBMs and strategic missile submarines planned for elimination under START I. In 1994, further reflecting the changed international situation, the U.S. and Russia agreed to no longer target their ballistic missiles against each other on a day-to-day basis. Nor is the non-proliferation picture all bleak. No nation has openly joined the nuclear club since China in 1964. There are only three unacknowledged nuclear powers. South Africa has abandoned its capability, as Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan have theirs. Argentina and Brazil have renounced the option, as Sweden and Canada did long ago. North Korea's program is frozen. Iraq is under a special and highly intrusive UNSCOM regime. The vast majority of countries support a permanent Non-Proliferation Treaty--mostly a benefit which non- nuclear countries confer on one another, not a favor they do for the nuclear powers. We have negotiated an end to nuclear testing.

    Why nuclear deterrence?

    The question, however, is rightly asked: Granted all these reductions, with the end of the Cold War, why do we continue to maintain a nuclear deterrent at all? In September 1994, the Clinton Administration answered this question in its Nuclear Posture Review, the first comprehensive post- Cold War review of U.S. nuclear policy. The NPR recognized that, with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the demise of the Soviet Union, and the embarkation of Russia on the road to democracy and a free market economy, the strategic environment has been transformed. Conventional forces, therefore, could and should assume a larger share of the deterrent role. We concluded, nonetheless, that nuclear weapons continue to play a critical role in deterring aggression against the U.S., its overseas forces, its allies and friends. This conclusion is entirely consistent with NATO's Strategic Concept, adopted in 1991 after the end of the Cold War, which states that the fundamental purpose of NATO's nuclear forces is to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war. Why did we reach this conclusion? Most importantly, because the positive changes in the international environment are far from irreversible. There are broadly, two classes of threats to which nuclear weapons remain important as deterrents. First, Russia has made great progress and we do not regard it as a potential military threat under its present, or any reasonably foreseeable government. We wisely invest substantially in the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, in future arms control--and we share with the current Russian leadership (and most of their opponents) a determination not to let our relations return to a state of hostility in which these weapons would be a threat. All that said, Russia continues to possess substantial strategic forces and an even larger stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons. And because of deterioration in its conventional military capabilities, Russia may be placing even more importance and reliance on its nuclear forces. We cannot be so certain of future Russian politics as to ignore the possibility that we would need again to deter the Russian nuclear force. Second, even if we could ignore the Russian nuclear arsenal entirely, there are unfortunately a range of other potential threats to which nuclear weapons are a deterrent. One cannot survey the list of rogue states with potential WMD programs and conclude otherwise. I do not, by the way, regard such states as undeterrable, either in the long-run sense of the incentives to acquire WMD capability, or the short-run sense of incentives to use such a capability. Indeed, the knowledge that the U.S. has a powerful and ready nuclear capability is, I believe, a significant deterrent to proliferators to even contemplate the use of WMD. That this is so will, I think, be clear if one thinks about the proliferation incentives that would be presented to the Kaddafis and Kim-Chong-Ils of the world if the U.S. did not have a reliable and flexible nuclear capability. In view of this, it would be irresponsible to dismantle the well- established--and much reduced--system of deterrence before new and reliable systems for preserving stability are in place.

    Argument: Our weapons cause others to seek their own.

    What about the argument that our weapons promote proliferation, that states seek to acquire nuclear weapons in response to possession by nuclear weapons states? A more compelling case to me is that proliferant states acquire nuclear weapons not because we have them but for reasons of their own--to counter regional adversaries, to further regional ambitions, and to enhance their status among their neighbors. And, insofar as our nuclear capability is an issue, if a successful proliferator knew he would not face a nuclear response by the U.S., it would scarcely reduce his incentives to acquire a WMD capability. The incentives to proliferate would hardly be reduced if a rogue state would, through a successful nuclear weapons program, acquire a nuclear monopoly, not a token capability facing far stronger forces possessed by the U.S. and other world powers. Some people claim that once proliferation does occur, U.S. nuclear forces lack any utility in deterring rogue leaders from using nuclear weapons because those leaders will not regard the costs, even of nuclear retaliation, as sufficiently great. But experience suggests that few dictators are indifferent to the preservation of key instruments of state control, or to the survival of their own regimes (or, indeed, their own persons). Thus, I believe the reverse is true-- our nuclear capabilities are more likely to give pause to potential rogue proliferants than encourage them. The important role of U.S. nuclear capability in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons often goes unnoticed. The extension of a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent to allies has been an important nonproliferation tool. It has removed incentives for key allies, in a still dangerous world, to develop and deploy their own nuclear forces, as many are technically capable of doing. Indeed, our strong security relationships have probably played as great a role in nonproliferation over the past 40 years as has the NPT.

    Argument: Nuclear weapons should be eliminated because they are dangerous and unsafe.

    Of course, nuclear weapons are dangerous; they contain high explosives and fissile material. But they are not unsafe in the sense that they are susceptible to accidental or unauthorized use. Our nuclear weapons meet the highest standards of safety, security, and responsible custodianship. Moreover, we place high priority on maintaining and improving stockpile safety. Our nuclear safety record is extraordinary. Although a few accidents involving nuclear weapons have occurred, no accident has ever resulted in a nuclear detonation and the last accident of any kind was almost twenty years ago. We believe the likelihood of accidents has been dramatically reduced since the end of the Cold War. Our strategic bombers are no longer on alert; our surface ships and attack submarines no longer carry nuclear weapons. The Army and Marines have eliminated their nuclear weapons. Older weapons with less modern safety features have been removed from the stockpile. Technical safety mechanisms have been improved. Detargetting means that the missiles, even if somehow launched in error, would no longer be aimed at targets in Russia. The number of nuclear weapon storage sites have been decreased by 75 percent and weapons consolidated. As a result of all these changes our weapons are much less exposed to accident environments. In addition, nuclear weapons security has been a key element of DoD's Cooperative Threat Reduction Program with Russia from the beginning. A total of up to $101 million in CTR assistance has been made available under these CTR agreements for projects to enhance security of nuclear weapons under MoD control. In addition to agreements already signed on armored blankets and security upgrades to nuclear weapons railcars, other nuclear weapons transportation and storage security projects are underway or being developed. On balance, the safety risks of maintaining a smaller nuclear arsenal are far outweighed by the security--and non-proliferation-- benefits that we continue to derive from nuclear deterrence.

    The Bottom Line on Abolition

    I would summarize the case for retaining nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future as follows:
  • There is no reasonable prospect that all the declared and de facto nuclear powers will agree in the near term to give up all their nuclear weapons. And as long as one such state refuses to do so, it will be necessary for us to retain a nuclear force of our own.
  • If the nuclear powers were, nevertheless, to accept abolition, then we would require--and the Congress would rightly demand--a verification regime of extraordinary rigor and intrusiveness. This would have to go far beyond any currently in existence or even under contemplation. It would have to include not merely a system of verification, but what the ``international generals statement'' calls ``an agreed procedure for forcible international intervention and interruption of current efforts in a certain and timely fashion.'' The difficulties with setting up such a system under current world conditions are obvious. Such a regime would have to continue to be effective in the midst of a prolonged and grave crisis--even during a war--between potentially nuclear-capable powers. For in such a crisis, the first question for all involved would be that of whether--or when-- to start a clandestine nuclear program. For the knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons cannot be abolished.
  • Finally, we who are charged with responsibility for national security and national defense must recall that we are not only seeking to avert nuclear war--we are seeking to avert major conventional war as well. As I indicated earlier, during the Cold War nuclear weapons played a stabilizing role in that they made the resort to military force less likely. The world is still heavily armed with advanced conventional weapons and will increasingly be so armed with weapons of mass destruction. The existence of nuclear weapons continues to serve as a damper on the resort to the use of force.

    Need to Maintain Safe and Reliable Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

    Because nuclear deterrence is to remain part of our national security policy for the foreseeable future, the U.S. nuclear deterrent must remain credible--weapon systems must be effective and their warheads safe and reliable. The quality, reliability, and effectiveness of the forces themselves (including their communication and command systems) and the people who operate them, is one of our top priorities in DoD. With respect to the nuclear devices themselves, DoE has an aggressive, well-funded, program designed to ensure our weapons remain safe and reliable in the absence of nuclear testing. The Department of Defense fully supports this program. Today, we have high confidence in the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent force; the stockpile stewardship and management program is designed to provide the tools to assure this in the future. Summary Our objective is a safe, stable world. But we must develop our national security policy with the understanding that nuclear weapons and the underlying technical knowledge cannot be disinvented whether or not the U.S. retains its weapons. In this connection, the U.S. will continue to lead the way to a safer world through the deep reductions in nuclear forces undertaken in START and through Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction and other actions. At the same time, we will maintain a smaller nuclear force as a ``hedge'' against a future that is uncertain and in a world in which substantial nuclear arsenals remain. Successive U.S. administrations have embraced the objective of nuclear disarmament as our ultimate goal. Two years ago at the NPT Review and Extension Conference, the U.S. reaffirmed its commitment to this goal in the Conference's statement of principles and objectives. In an uncertain world, however, the path to this goal is not clearly marked. What is clear is that the ultimate goal will be reached only through realistic moves forward, as genuine security permits, with each step building on those before it. We will continue to strive to make the world a safer place for our children and grandchildren. In this regard, the United States is committed to Article VI of the NPT which calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons in the context of general and complete disarmament. Until these conditions are realized, however, I believe that nuclear weapons will continue to fulfill an essential role in meeting our deterrence requirements and assuring our nonproliferation objectives. A further problem is that among some military colleagues, there is a deeply-felt concern that by urging nuclear arsenal reduction we are somehow denigrating the important--indeed vitally important--role that these nuclear-armed military forces successfully served during the Cold War. It would be a regrettable mistake to be drawn into such a view. During that time our very survival was at stake. Our nuclear weapons served their Cold War purpose, and served successfully. Security was successfully preserved, and war with the Soviets was successfully avoided. I at least, and many others who served in the military forces--including notably our highly-trained, highly-skilled nuclear forces--have no doubt that our nuclear forces played a central, crucial, indispensable role in that process. I myself was drawn into the argument ``Better Red than dead.'' My response was always ``Better neither than either,'' and that in fact was the outcome, thanks in crucial part to our highly capable nuclear weapons and forces. But the Cold War is gone. And now it is time to look at the new possibilities and new era.