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If President Obama ever had a rationale for moving away from his personal belief in nuclear disarmament, Vladimir Putin has provided one in Crimea. Russia’s annexation is a game-changer that will likely change the strategic dynamic in Europe in ways that neither Putin nor Obama fully understands.

If deterrence equals capability plus will, then the nuclear disarmament crowd is concurrently undermining both at a time as Putin gauges President Obama’s reactions and wonders just how much he can take before the US and the West respond with more than sanctions on Russian plutocrats.

What European Allies May Want

NATO member states on the alliance’s eastern periphery will undoubtedly see an imminent threat to their own independence and expect greater commitments from NATO. Poland, for example, may seek faster deployment of Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) batteries on their soil. And Romania, also scheduled to receive SM-3 batteries, may join them. Currently, the missile batteries are not scheduled to be complete until 2018.

The Czechs may reopen talks with the United States for deployment of anti-ballistic missile radars on their soil.

Poland and the Baltic states appear to be contemplating the benefits of nuclear-capable aircraft and of the stationing of American nuclear weapons on their soil. On January 6, two months before Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Estonian Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu told a public audience in Washington that “nuclear deterrence is badly needed for NATO. Surely it is a very valuable ‘pro’ which the U.S. provides to the security of the alliance.”

If Russia’s annexation of Crimea taught the Ukrainians—and everyone else watching—anything, it was that their decision to give up nuclear weapons two decades ago was a mistake.

In Western Europe, leaders will undoubtedly seek to keep every last nuclear weapon now in Europe right where it is. In fact, NATO members may begin to forcefully encourage President Obama to stop reductions to the American nuclear arsenal and to vigorously fund programs that sustain weapons and delivery platforms.

What Should Be Done?

Research and development funding for a Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) replacement and the next-generation nuclear bomber (Long Range Strike Bomber) should be dramatically increased. The administration could also end the delay in funding the nuclear air-launched cruise missile replacement. Nothing signals what is important better than where you spend your money.

The Senate should schedule all nuclear-related nominations for an immediate vote — and in a very public fashion. Currently, the National Nuclear Security Agency,  responsible for building, maintaining and safeguarding our nuclear weapons enterprise has no leader. President Obama’s appointee has been waiting for a vote since the fall of 2013.

The defense and energy committees in Congress should ensure that the nation’s nuclear programs are fully funded. At less than 5 percent of the defense budget, the advantages of signaling support for the arsenal outweigh potential cost savings.

With the fiscal constraints of the Budget Control Act reducing the United States’ conventional capabilities, the nuclear arsenal is likely to grow in importance, not diminish. If the United States is to effectively deter Vladimir Putin from grabbing more of his neighbors’ lands, it will require an increase in the credibility of our nuclear arsenal. Being unprepared or unwilling to react will only increase the probability of conflict.

Adam Lowther is a professor at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base. He specializes in the study of nuclear weapons policy and, obviously, air power issues. He was deeply involved in the Commander Directed Investigation about cheating and drug use among missileers at Malmstrom Air Base.

 

 

 

Comments

  • Gary Church

    “Russia’s annexation is
    a game-changer that will likely change the strategic dynamic in Europe
    in ways that neither Putin nor Obama fully understands.”

    I guess in ways only the Professor “fully understands.”

    “Game changer” is the first clue that this is an advertisement for the defense industry. That term has been so worn out it can only be used to impress the double digit IQ crowd. This is the second time in the last week I have been surprised at the low quality of journalism appearing in my favorite blogs. The first time was here;

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/blog/surrendering-in-space/

    Dr. Spudis refused to post my comment on the obvious defense industry sponsorship of the “fair and balanced” television show he endorsed. Now I see this second advertisement for the missile defense lobby contaminating the internet. I guess I should just stop being lazy and create my own blog to comment. No disrespect to my host but Breaking Defense can do better than this.

    • Gary Church

      “Nothing signals what is important better than where you spend your money.”

      Indeed. Only whose money is it? Those are tax dollars the Professor is talking about. Over 8 billion dollars for missile defense next year to cite just one chunk of change disappearing into the DOD black hole. 15 billion on a single engine tactical aircraft- the junk strike fighter. Just the tip of the iceberg.

      It should read, “Nothing signals who is making money better than where others people’s money is spent.”

  • bobbymike34

    Great article and right on point. I would make it very clear that we will have a fully modernized Triad and begin research into a new generation of nuclear weapons. Let no country doubt our resolve to defend ourselves and our allies.

    Also why reducing below SORT (I would have stayed at START II levels of deployed warheads and delivery systems) with New START was waaaaaaaay premature. Every time they tell us it’s ‘the end of history’ I start stocking up on canned goods.

  • Gary Church

    “If the United States is to effectively deter Vladimir Putin from
    grabbing more of his neighbors’ lands, it will require an increase in the credibility of our nuclear arsenal.”

    That is incredible B.S.
    I have to stop re-reading this article because it just strikes me as ever-more lousy every time I look at it.

    Our arsenal is credible; we have enough warheads and delivery systems a dozen times over to blow Russian to hell and back again. Puh-leez.

    Putin was not giving up the military base there. Neither would we. End of story.

    The Crimea is meaningless.

    Give it a rest.

    It is not a new cold war no matter how much the defense industry wants it to be.

    • Bob

      The amount of warheads is irrelevant when Russia possesses the capability to shoot down aging delivery systems in the upper atmosphere.

  • Rob

    Wow, this article was linked in G2mil, referring to the author as a MAD man.

    Apr 1, 2014 – Budget and Base Closure
    Games

    Has anyone checked allegations that Russians troops are massed on the
    Ukrainian border? Yes, NBC news, and found
    none, yet other media sources failed to issue a correction. And this occurs just as the Pentagon is pressing for increased spending as the FY2015 budget is proposed, and as a long delayed
    review to close some of our excess bases in Europe is due for release.
    Even the nuclear weapons MAD men have reappeared
    to declare a need to spend trillions more dollars for a renewed Cold War.

  • H. H. GAFFNEY

    I agree with most of the comments already posted. Are we really going to nuke Russia if it invades Ukraine? We already have a formidable nuclear force — so does Russia (it’s the only formidable force they have). “Two can play at that game” — at least in bluffing. And there’s that silly business of the “nuclear disarmament crowd” that keeps popping up in these articles. Obama has been playing them off nicely — who wouldn’t want complete nuclear disarmament? — but that’s politics. We are stuck in nuclear balance with Russia for a long as anyone can see — who would ever suggest we would have less than Russia (except maybe Nixon)?

  • Carter Lee

    Here is this Adam Lowther devoting his life to nuclear weapons study declaring that we need more and newer nuclear weapons in order to deter Russia from taking over parts of dysfunctional and corrupt (evidently even more so than Russia) Ukraine?

    Does Mr. Lowther actually think that anybody would take a threat of mutual thermo-nuclear destruction over the issue of Moscow taking over Russian speaking areas of eastern Ukraine? They must get a good laugh out of that one in the Kremlin.

    If this the best that Mr. Lowther can come up with regarding nuclear weapons policy then the Air Force should demand its money back. Dr. Strangelove was more creative than that.

    • Truth_in_Defense

      Russian “speaking” areas are not a right to invade and take over. You evidently don’t defend sovereign rights or liberty.

      • http://www.breakingdefense.com/ Colin Clark

        Putin did a great job of learning from his country’s horrendous experience with Germany. Lay claim to neighboring territories through the utterly ridiculous claim that people who speak the same language share the same nationality.
        By that logic, the United Kingdom could lay claim to the United States, Ireland and much of the Commonwealth.
        Anyone who doesn’t think of Sudetenland, Austria or the various German-speaking parts of central Europe when they look at what Vlad has done in Crimea is kidding themselves. It doesn’t mean Putin is a Nazi, just that he learned some basic lessons from his former enemies.
        By the logic of Vlad’s argument, China could claim portions of Russia, as could various of the Stans. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

        • Jim King

          Doesn’t matter.
          1. Crimea was illegally given to Ukraine.
          2. National security comes 1st. USA would do the same to Mexico or Canada. Remember Monroe Doctrine? Russia has had that policy before US was even a country.

      • Jim King

        Crimea belonged to Russia and should have never been given away.
        USA invaded more countries in the last 20 years than Russia btw.
        The so called Russian speaking areas belonged to Russia also..maybe they want it back?
        Liberty? WHAT LIBERTY?
        The US supported a coup e tat that polls showed 55-57% of the population was against. Only 42-45% wanted closer relationship to EU. That means we basically supported the minority over the liberty of the majority.
        Btw Russia is more FREE than America. Sure less political rights on the service but more individual freedoms. But in reality since US gov’t doesn’t listen to the polls/views of its citizens..we aren’t free at all.

  • jgelt

    The Crimea has been the site of a Russian naval base for 231 years. It allows them access to the Black Sea. The Black sea can only be exited via a narrow strait called the Bospheros. The Bospheros is solely controlled by Turkey a member of NATO. We are currently capable of containing the Russian Navy in the Black Sea if the need should arise.

    Who wants to end civilization with a nuclear war to keep the Black Sea Russian free?

    How many American lives is this noble endeavor worth? Would you care to sign up yourself, your son or your daughter to keep the Russians out of the Black Sea?

    Pretend for a second that you actually had to pay for this yourself, above and beyond your current taxes. How much of your own money are you willing to spend?

    It would make an amusing group or crowd funding project. However sending the the C note I might raise back to their donors would probably be more effort than the joke would be worth.

  • pro russia

    the US and its allies have gone way to far – Russia with Crimea is a Game-Changer

    but not only that – Russia will place its Russia is to return Tupolev Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’ long-range supersonic bombers to Crimea with long-range KH-22 cruise missiles
    with thermonuklear warheads also Russia will place its ” Iskander-M ”

    their is no doubt whatsoevrer Russia is preparing the Doomsday for the NATO incl. the US …i have said it over and over again . The Day will come when you have to pay
    and this Day will come ! btw Turkey should be very careful supporting international
    Terrrorism will be not unpunished

  • Truth_in_Defense