- - Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Nuclear weapons are back on the front burner. China is modernizing its nuclear weapons and continuously adding to its nuclear arsenal. For many years, Russia has given top priority to modernizing its nuclear weapons, increasing range, accuracy and novel delivery systems. North Korea is advancing its nuclear weapon capabilities and its long-range missiles. All are aimed at the United States or our allies.

We are behind in nuclear modernization. The United States put off modernizing the three legs of its nuclear deterrent for 25 years. We thought we might get a peace dividend when the USSR collapsed in 1990 and when China adopted some trade and capitalistic ways. That was not to be. It is essential we modernize our air, land and sea nuclear forces to guarantee our safety and security by regaining technological superiority over China and Russia.

There is no more can to kick down the road. The U.S. Air Force has figured out ways to keep our nuclear missile system going for another 10 years — 49 years beyond its intended life — but we have to use that time to replace it with a more modern system soon.

Nuclear deterrence works. Nuclear weapons remain the ultimate military force and they remain essential tools of great power competition. How do we know deterrence works? No one has dared use another nuclear weapon in 75 years. That is the evidence of effectiveness.

We have to maintain a nuclear force modern and large enough to be capable of absorbing an enemy nuclear attack, yet retain enough surviving nuclear force to retaliate with a devastating counterattack knocking out its ability to strike again with nuclear or conventional weapons. Nuclear superiority means our enemy loses everything. Our losses would be high, but we would be wounded yet remain viable and strong. Bullies do not hit — or play chicken — if they know they will get hit with a lethal force.

This is about protecting our homeland, and more. To prevent nuclear proliferation, the United States provides “nuclear umbrella” protection to more than 30 allied countries with whom we have treaties, which includes NATO members, Japan, South Korea, Australia and other distant nations. We protect the free world from dangerous authoritarian rivals. Protecting freedom is a big, important job.

Can we afford to modernize? The Congressional Budget Office’s report, “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces from 2019 to 2028,” estimates the Department of Defense needs to invest $326 billion over the next 10 years to modernize the nuclear triad. That is a lot of money. But it is 6.4 percent of the defense budget at its peak, and just 3 percent most of the years. This is less than 1 percent of our federal budget. Effective defense and strategic deterrence are affordable. Let your senators and congressmen know nuclear modernization is of vital importance.

We need to modernize to reduce U.S. vulnerability to nuclear war to the greatest extent possible, while simultaneously maximizing adversary vulnerability. With strong deterrence the world’s most destructive weapons will likely never be used again.

• Rod Nenner is a Joint Base Andrews ambassador and was appointed to the USAF Civic Leaders Program by the USAF chief of staff in January 2019.

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